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!

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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!

2012 Media Dump

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.

Podcasts

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.

Books

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.

The Kingmaker Problem

A kingmaker scenario is a situation in a game in which a player, having lost the potential to win for themselves, is able to decide which of the other players will win. This is undesirable, although almost unavoidable in competitive games involving more than 2 players or teams.

When this scenario arises it lessens the enjoyment of all players, with the possible exception of the kingmaker. The winner, chosen by the kingmaker, doesn’t get as much satisfaction for their victory. The losers may feel as though their performance was not accurately reflected in the outcome of the game.

I was concerned that this problem might be showing up in our game. So when the next playtest came around, I was watching for it.

Co-designers Cindy and Jesus

Co-designers Cindy and Jesus

On December 1st, after a fun filled day at the Museum of Natural History, we found a table at a nearby restaurant for some dinner and a game of Cult Leader. I was extremely pleased that we managed to play the game at our tiny table amidst our plates of food and drinks. I’d say we’re in great shape with our portability design goal. However, it became apparent to all of us that we had a problem akin to the kingmaker scenario. And more importantly, we knew why.

At that point in time, our game was played for a predetermined number of rounds. At the beginning of each round an Event card would be drawn. When there were no Events left, the game would be over.

The player who went last every round generally had a tactical advantage, especially at the end of the game. And since the game had a predetermined end, players could tell whether or not they could win. When a player knows they have no chance to win, they will be more likely to play the kingmaker.

Our first idea for fixing this problem was to modify the turn order every round based on the players current score. The player with the highest power would go first and the player with the lowest power would go last. This meant that the player who was doing the worst would gain a minor tactical advantage, which we felt would balance it out.

However, this would create a lot of overhead at the end of each round. Players would need to calculate their score every round and keep track of changing turn orders. This solution also didn’t really address the kingmaker problem, since the end of the game was still predetermined. It might even have made it worse, since player scores would become more apparent.

Our next set of ideas was to put the power of ending the game into the player’s hands. If the players didn’t know exactly when the game would end they may feel that they still have a chance to claim the victory, thus making it less likely that one of them will turn kingmaker. This also eliminates the last player advantage problem, since a player basically chooses to end the game when they feel they are in the lead. They still get an advantage, but it’s by their design rather than mere happenstance.

We experimented with a few different versions of this, but for now we’ve implemented it using a new card type called Prophecy. I think we’re going to have a lot of fun on the flavor for these. Our plan is to use extremely vague, Nostradamus style prophecies that could mean absolutely anything. They will poke fun at how prophecies will always come true given time and a flexible perception.

Overall, the changes to make this work were pretty minor. We eliminated the concept of rounds, but kept the Event deck largely unchanged. Events are now triggered when a player plays a Prophecy card. The Event triggers as normal, effecting all players equally. After that, the player who played the Prophecy card claims the Event and puts it into play under their control. Events increase the number of cards a player draws at the end of their turn by 1. We are still tweaking the reward for Events, but I feel this makes them appealing while not being to powerful.

The game will now end when the Event deck runs out or if 3 of the Follower and/or Shrine piles run out. The secondary condition gives players another way to end the game and will help prevent games from dragging on.

We will still be making minor tweaks to the cost, reward, and frequency of Prophecy cards, but I feel good about them. It has a strong and fun theme component and it does a lot to help mitigate the kingmaker problem.

The Game

So what are we making? Well, its a card game about rising to power. And you do this by founding a cult, gaining influence, and attracting followers. I confess we haven’t settled on a name yet. We have ideas floating around, but for the time being, let’s give it the code name “Cult Leader”. I had been toying with the idea of calling it “The Good News”, but aside from it being unwieldy it has another major flaw.

It’s too focused on religious cults. While our game does lean toward cults of a religious nature. I don’t really think a deity is required. There are plenty interesting ideas for cults to form around, such as UFOs, cryptozoology, Nostradamus, ancient cultures, and conspiracy theories. Cults are really just like any other tribe. There are leaders, followers, and a shared idea. The only thing that separates a cult from a tribe is reality.

The tendency of people to come together and become champions of a belief is something I find fascinating. Now there are many versions of this that are completely benign and even helpful. However, our game focuses on the more harmful variety.

In the game you take on the role of a sinister cult leader. Your main goal is to have the most Power when the game ends. Spending Influence allows you to acquire Shrines and Relics, attract Followers, and execute Ideas. Doing so will give you Power, abilities, Influence, and other benefits. Your opponents will be doing the same and you can spend your Influence on actions that weaken their cult.

So that’s the basic idea of what we’re building. I’ll be digging into the various mechanics in more detail in posts to come. For now, I’d like to talk about two of our design considerations.

First and foremost, we wanted this game to be firmly based in reality. This one has been tough. It is far easier to dream up card ideas than it is to come up with a realistic justification for them. It is important to us that we adhere to this rule, because we want our game to be about a realistic phenomenon. It wont due for us to lazily insert supernatural powers. If we did, our theme would suffer.

Second, we wanted to make this a pure card game. There are a lot of benefits to doing this. It makes the game more portable. The time it takes to set up the game is reduced. It gives us more publishing options. And most importantly, it makes the game cheaper to produce. If we keep the price low the purchase becomes less risky for the consumer, which make them more likely to pick it up.

We want you to play our game. I think we have something interesting and fun, and it keeps getting better.