New and Improved Color Palette!

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!

color_palette_preview

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.

Now time for a relic makeover!

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.

Boston FIG!

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!

boston_fig_logo

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!

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.

Streamlining

It’s been a while since we’ve updated you on our progress, but we’ve been working hard. Most of the mechanics work has been focused on streamlining the game and making it more accessible to new players. I wanted to give you all an update on the things we’ve been doing to that effect.

We used to have a concept called “Storage”, which determined how many Relic cards you could have in play. Players started with a default storage of 1 and could get more by playing or buying certain cards. Storage was a value that would frequently change, which made it tough for players to keep track of and make sure they had enough storage for all their Relics. We wanted to get rid of this confusing concept while retaining the limiting factor on the Relics. Our current solution is to say that each Shrine can hold 1 Relic. This is a more natural progression and is very easy to visualize. It has the added bonus of increasing the value of Shrines and makes more sense thematically.

Previously, the mechanics wording on Influence cards were very flavorful. I was using a lot of keywords like “Discredit” and “Sacrifice”. To justify using these words, the rules had a glossary that players could use to look up their meanings. With the help of our playtesters, I came to realize how silly this was. By using direct and unambiguous language we make the game easier to learn and teach. Now instead of telling a player to “Sacrifice a Follower”, I tell them to “Remove a Follower you control from play”. It’s not very flowery and it’s much wordier, but a player can pick up this card and know what it does without having to cross reference the rules. We can just let the flavor text handle all the thematics.

One thing we are consistently working towards is reducing the amount of information we bombard the player with. We moved in the right direction with the Tribute changes, but we are now taking it a step further. Now whenever you draw a card, including at the end of your turn, you draw it face down. Face down cards can be spent, just like cards in your hand. At the end of your turn you can put these face down cards into your hand, up to a maximum of 6 cards in hand. This means that a player will only have to read, understand, and plan based on a maximum of 6 cards at a time. Since the players can still spend these face down cards, it doesn’t impact our existing economy. This also creates some consistency in how players draw cards, instead of having them sometimes draw face down and sometimes draw to their hand.

Lastly is a change that I will be trying out at our next playtest, so it may not stick. When we first introduced the idea of Prophecies I was very pleased with them. However, I’ve become less taken with them as time has gone on. The purpose of Prophecies was to make the game end dynamically so that players wouldn’t get an advantage based on turn order. While they perform this function well, Prophecies add quite a few rules to the game. I’ve also seen an unpleasant phenomenon where a player will need to completely calculate the current score of each player before they can feel confident playing the Prophecy that will end the game. In light of these issues I plan to do away with Prophecies and instead have Event cards trigger when a purchase pile is emptied or the Influence deck runs out and is reshuffled.

Combined, these modifications significantly reduce the length of my rules explanation. And while I’m not sure we will end up using all of these changes, I think we’re heading in the right direction. I’m looking forward to further playtests.

Influence Card Art

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.

Favor:
favor

Faith:
faith

Zealotry:
zealotry

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.

Prophecy:
prophecy

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!

Online Playtesting

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.

roll20_prototype

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.