You know those things that, once they occur to you, seem glaringly obvious? The issue with the color palette I’ve been using for the design of the Cultus cards is one of those things. The problem is, I fell in love with a palette. It was bright, pretty, cheerful and modern. It looked great on the geometric forms in the game. The glaring problem with this is, of course, that the game takes place in a post-apocalyptic world that is neither bright, cheery nor modern. Duh.
So the card icons got a makeover! I figured it’s the least they deserve, after such a long hectic weekend at Boston FIG. You’ve got to treat yourself!
A liiiiittle bit of texture was also added to all the outlines so they wouldn’t look so straight and perfect. A little hard to detect on such a small size, but I think it’s enough to give it some oomph.
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:
The 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.
We’ve been quiet here for a while, but at last we have some exciting news to share. We’ve been selected to show off our game at the Boston FIG Tabletop Games Showcase!
This will be our first public showing of the game and we’re really looking forward to seeing what people have to say. This could be a big opportunity for us to gain some exposure and get people interested in what we’re doing. It also means we have a lot of work to do!
Right now, our main focus is getting a few copies of our game professionally printed on real card stock. This is something we’ve wanted to do for a while and this event is the perfect excuse to finally make it happen. Once that’s ready, we’ll be shifting our focus to putting together some promotion materials and sprucing up our social media.
The Boston FIG curators also sent us back some amazing feedback, and I thank them for their thorough and thoughtful comments. Blind playtests are very scary, but I’m happy to say that the feedback was largely positive. There were also some valid criticisms leveled and I’m going to be racking my brain trying to come up some solutions to these pain points that don’t involve increasing the complexity of the game. I think we have something clever and unique and we’re all going to be working hard to make it the best it can be.
I hope you can come out to Boston on September 14th to see us (it’s free!). And if you can’t, wish us luck!
An art post has been a long time coming – so here’s a peek into what I’ve been working on lately.
There’s a lot going on in the world of our game, but I like to keep the art a little more on the simple side. To fit our theme, I felt we should add a lot of texture to the cards, and keep the images rather simple but colorful, and full of symbolism.
The cards below are all for the influence pile. All the idea cards fall into the categories of “Favor,” “Faith” or “Zealotry.” Since there will be a lot of idea cards, we’re going to use a consistent background for each to quickly visually identify that it is an idea card, and then vary the symbol used in the center of the card to quickly determine which category the idea falls into.
Another card that will share the same visual characteristics of the above three is the prophecy card. This symbol was a lot of fun to create – I drew on traditional symbolism used to represent a prophecy, as well as native imagery such as the Nazca Lines.
I’d like to work on the texture a bit more – it’s a challenge to create a texture that’s visible on a small image.
Most of the icons I used came from The Noun Project. This is a fantastic resource for icons of virtually any noun you can think of. In the future I’d like to customize our symbols a little more, but The Noun Project was a great resource that helped me pull this together quicker than if I had created each icon myself. Perfect for getting great art ready for future play-tests!
We have been especially productive these past few weeks and have been getting a lot of playtests in. I’m really happy with how the game has been playing. It feels like we’ve reached an important development milestone. Most of the feedback from our recent playtests has been about individual card balance and improving the way our cards communicate information. It’s a pleasant change and I’m excited about shifting my focus to address these challenges.
The main reason we’ve been able to get in so many playtests lately is that we figured out an effective way to play the game online. Having in person meetups has been great, but I had been searching for an easy way to play with remote friends and teammates. I learned about a really cool tool called Roll20 that was often used to play pen and paper role-playing games online. However, it is flexible enough to allow the creation of all kinds of games, including ours.
The above picture is a zoomed out subsection of a game the team played over the weekend. It took quite a bit of effort to put the prototype together, but it actually took less time than printing out a physical copy of the game. Roll20 isn’t perfect and often requires a bit of fiddling, but the ability to play with people on the opposite coast is well worth the effort. I definitely see myself using this tool as a supplement to physical playtests for the duration of this project and for future projects.
Born from a desire to get some more playtesters for the game and to network with other game designers, I started a Meetup group: http://www.meetup.com/NYC-Tabletop-Game-Designers/. The idea is that designers can bring their prototypes, help test other people’s games, and get theirs tested as well. And even if you aren’t working on anything currently, you can still go to meet other designers and maybe get inspired.
We had our first session on Tuesday (2/19/13). There were 4 prototypes to test, including our own, in various states of polish. The 2 games that I played were really fun and I’m looking forward to playing the other. The people that came were great, too. There was a lot of great feedback and ideas flying around.
Jesus running our game.
Jesus ran our game and said that it was well received. The players seemed engaged and caught on quickly. They also gave us some really great feedback.
We’ve always struggled to keep the game going at a good pace and keeping turn length down. There have been some mechanics changes to help with that, such as having players draw their cards at the end of their turn. Our playtesters suggested that we could use the card aesthetics to help speed up the player’s analysis of the cards. As a result of that feedback, we are going to try putting icons on the Influence cards to indicate what “category” the card is in. Example categories could be attack, defense, or economy. This will help players quickly understand the purpose of a card and if they want to use it during their next turn.
The playtesters also suggested that the discard mechanic was counterproductive to keeping turns quick. Players may have spent time figuring out how their turn was going to go, but when they are forced to discard they will likely need to re-plan. On top of being frustrating, this ends up slowing down the game. We could also get into the even worse situation, were as a result of having to discard, a player has no options during their turn. Our playtesters suggested a possible solution to help deal with this problem. Instead of having a player discard a card, they receive a mark. This mark indicates that they will draw less cards at the end of their next turn, rather than discard immediately. The benefit here is that the victim is not forced to re-plan. The mark also sets expectations. Rather than planning a huge turn only to have it shut down before they could do anything, the player has fair warning about how their next turn is going to go.
Overall I thought the meetup was very valuable and fun. I’m really grateful for the amazing feedback we received. I’m definitely looking forward to the next one.
I have been making learning a priority these past few years. And lately I’ve been focusing my efforts on design and business. This project has been great for that and I’m really happy with how I’m growing. I’ve also been rounding out my education by listening to podcasts and reading. I thought I’d talk about a few podcasts and books in case anyone was interested in checking them out.
The Dice Tower – This podcast is about board and card games and industry news. It’s great for learning about new games to try, cool new mechanics, and what the industry is like.
Gamers With Jobs – This one is more about video games, but they talk about the occasional board game. This one is great just to hear people talk about what they liked about a game and what turned them off.
Seth Godin’s Startup School – Seth teaches you how to start projects and bring them to completion. If nothing else, it is extremely motivating.
Tribes by Seth Godin – While we’re talking about Seth Godin I should mention Tribes. A short and sweet book about how to get people interested in what you’re doing.
Getting to Yes by Fisher, Ury, and Patton – This book is primarily about principled negotiation, but I’m finding it useful for communication in general.
Rapid Development by Steve McConnell – I’m a software engineer by trade and this book is tailored to software development, but it has taught me about how to lead and how to run a project better.
The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler – This book teaches you about the structure of a story. I think knowing how to create a good story has a lot of applications, including game design.
The Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell – This is the number one book I would recommend to an aspiring game designer. The book is divided up into lenses that you use to inspect various parts of your game. I still occasionally break out their nifty app that serves as a quick reference for all the lenses in the book.
It has been about a year and a half since Cindy and I first got it in our heads to make a game. We had just finished listening to a talk by Sarah Mayhew in July of 2011. Sarah talked about how she was using her passion for manga and fantasy to have a positive impact on the world. Cindy and I talked afterwards about what skills we had, and what we could do with them.
This thought festered in me for a long time after the conference. I started working on a variety of board and card games. Cindy and I would occasionally chat about some of the ideas. But on November 21, 2011 we had the idea that would go on to become our Cult Leader game.
Truth be told, it was Cindy’s idea. I know because I just reviewed the Gtalk conversation that we had the good sense to save. Both of us were interested in cults from an academic perspective, and I had been working on a game where you combat the spread of infectious and dangerous ideas. However, none of these games were really capturing the core idea that we wanted to get across. Cindy had the bright idea to flip the whole thing on its head and have the player take on the role of the cult leader. In this way we would be delivering our idea through role play, rather than a more ham-handed good vs. evil approach.
That was when development of our game began in earnest. It’s been a long road since then and the game has changed quite a bit. We also added Jesus to our team a few months ago to help us with the theme. We’ve learned a whole lot during this process, and I’m sure we’ll learn a lot more as we progress to the completion of this game and future games to come.
In light of that, I thought it would be fun to catalog our journey. The plan is for all of us at CRAM Games to occasionally come on here and talk about our progress, both on the game and within our skill sets. Our wish is that our readers glean some small amount of inspiration and wisdom from our efforts.
Thanks for taking an interest in us, we hope you like watching our project grow.