Tagged: board games

Basement Break

This past weekend was ThunderCon, a local fan convention covering all magnet of wonderful geekiness, and at which the shop I work at runs a massive Game Expo (we probably make up at least half the con). I demoed Frostgrave, Batman, and ran Star Wars Armada events (many of which were demos themselves), plus ran an After Dark Gaming Lounge and worked the shop’s massive vendor space. It was a lot of fun, but pretty exhausting, and I of course got totally sick (I still have no voice a few days later). So last night I went down to the basement to do some laundry, tidied up a bit, and then settled into some Neo Geo time. Mark of the Wolves, Last Blade, and of course Turf Masters. Felt good.

This was a very close match. The next opponent crushed me…

I think tonight’s going to be reading and sleep. 

Approaching Beta – improving hel’s BELLEs

More playtesting has occurred. It admittedly feels a bit weird to be trying things out so frequently; in the past it’s been literally months between playtest sessions. That said, the ideas have been flowing, and there are always things that can be done to smooth out the playing experience.
Command tiers. As I mentioned last time, comand tiers were in some trouble, as yellow had been nerfed by a recent timing change. I like the timing change, and so I will probably keep it, which means efforts continue to re-zowie the yellow tier. Last night I tested out the most recent thought, whch was to let opponents ignore a planned move, but it had mixed results. There were opportunities to use it, but just not as many. Or rather, those opportunities simply weren’t very powerful. Mostly the yellow-tiered commands just ended up being cheaper greens. No good.
Next up will be a shot at a simple trumping system, where some command tiers are resolved before others. The nature of turn resolution should prevent it from slowing down the game significantly, while in crucial moments it could be important enough to justify the purchase of one tier over another. Also could make red commands more strategic (they’d go before the other tiers, but would continue to end the player’s turn, as they always have). The colours/codings of the tiers will probably change, but that was always likely, as green, yellow, and red aren’t very colourblind-friendly.
I’ve also made significant changes to the deck makeups, with an eye towards being a bit more consumer friendly where multiplayer expansion is concerned. Previously, while the game was primarily a 2 player duel, I was also working on a 3-4 player expansion that would increase the availability of specific cards to enable multiplayer skirmishes. Much of my effort over the last couple of days has been directed towards changing the deck makeup so that a multiplayer game can be more easily played simply using two decks (whether they be the same one or two different ones). Multiple duel decks would still mean more variety, but multiple copies of one (say, the base game owned by multiple players) would allow for multiplayer without requiring somebody buy a specific expansion. That I won’t be able to fully test without at least a few other people (last night’s playtest only involved 2 of us), but we did give the second deck a go in a 2 player duel and it seemed pretty solid. I have some thoughts regarding cpus and mecha balance that I want to consider a little further, but right now I feel like things are progressing well, and that the game is starting to run much more smoothly.

Keep it or drop it; adventures in game mechanics


Did a bit more playtesting the other day, after making numerous changes to Hel’s BELLEs. Biggest change was the timing resolution that I talked about last time. I cut the individual phases way back (almost halved) while slightly boosting the secondary effects of the cards in question to maintain the value of each upgrade. All of that went really well, and the game played much more quickly and smoothly. All is not perfect though, as the reduced phases have had another effect that hadn’t occurred to me.
The cards that one plays have 3 colour-coded tiers, with each tier effecting gameplay a little. Green resolves normally, red ends the turn, and yellow provides room for an opponent to revise his already-selected actions. I really like this aspect of the game. The yellow effect didn’t become really obvious until later in the game, when an increased number of phases increased the opportunities for revision. Well, now you never get quite that many phases, and as a result I kinda nerfed the effect.
I’ve since come up with a (potentially better) slicker method of revising one’s turn, but in asking one of my regular playtesters, the issue of the mechanic’s validity/necessity came up. He also likes the concept of spontaneous revision,  but isn’t sure whether its really necessary to the game. And if its not necessary, then I shouldn’t keep it around. I agree with the theory, but I’m waiting to see what happens in practice.
With any luck, I might get a couple playtesting games in this weekend. I’ll probably try it both ways with a few different people before I make a decision. I’m tempted to keep it in, even if I need to make it an ‘advanced’ game, but I know that’s partly just me not wanting to let go of something I’m attached to. Wish me luck!

Some changes for Hel’s BELLEs

Had another playtest last night. Once again forgot to snap a photo (I swear I’ll remember one of these days!). Had a new player out, which was fantastic, as it lead to a pretty productive discussion afterwards. He liked it very much (yes!) and had some thoughts regarding streamlining some aspects of the timing. Good stuff, and they look to work really well in conjunction with some ideas I was already messing around with.
At this point I think most of the changes are going to be related to streamlining the gameplay. The game works well, but takes a while. Which isn’t a problem in itself. What I don’t want is for it to take longer than it *needs* to. If 2 hours is what it takes to get the best experience possible then I’m fine with 2 hours. But if 1 hour can accomplish the same experience, then that’s how long it should be.
Right now, simultaneous turn resolution can combine with highly individualised mechs to create a syncopated turn effect that slows gameplay, especially over the available number of phases in a given turn. I had already been looking at methods to eliminate most of the syncopation, but hadn’t wanted to decrease the phases because it would limit customisation options, and I think that the on the fly customisation is a huge strength of the game. Last night’s discussion resulted in a method of decreasing phases that would work with my de-syncopation ideas while maintaining high customisability.
The other thought that my new playtester really liked was the idea of using maps and miniatures/tokens in addition to the cards. Not a new idea – I have it in the ruleset as a potential variant – but his intensity really demonstrated how nice it would be to do that, and I don’t disagree with him. Early iterations of hel’s BELLEs used all of those ideas. I made them an optional variant (or future deluxe version) because they aren’t totally necessary, and they drive the potential cost way up. Right now, hel’s BELLEs fits in a small box (think onirim or chronicle) and requires you to use some dice or scratch paper to keep track of some details. Adding tokens, counters, miniatures, dice, maps, playmats and so on would look fantastic, but would also mean a game that cost much more and took up a lot more space. I really like the idea, I’ve even thought about what those parts would look like and how they’d enhance gameplay, but when it comes down to it I just don’t think it’s feasible at this point. I’d certainly be up for the enhancements if I was in discussions with a publisher, but as I’m more likely to be self-releasing the first edition through gamecrafter, keeping costs down is pretty important to me.
Plus, I love the essential portability of the game in it’s current form.



Got a tiny bit of time to myself while we were at my wife’s mother’s house for the Easter weekend. Used a little bit of it for working on Hel’s BELLEs, a little bit for some Zombie Dice (which my sister and her husband gave me for Christmas this weekend; we gave them Archaeology: the Card Game) and a single very relaxing game of Equilibrion. That would be Urbion to most folks, but being as I live in Northern Ontario, and as I picked it up right away, I wound up with one of the early editions, when Shadi Torbey was still calling it by its original name. The first couple times I played this, when I first picked it up, it gave me a lot of trouble, but in hindsight I have to wonder if I was just really distracted. Because it seems just as smooth and easy as Onirim now. Go figure.

Anyway, its a solid little solitaire game, although it seems a little more beatable than Onirim so far. Could be I need to introduce some of the (included!) expansions already. Also haven’t had the chance to try it two-player. Maybe at some point down the line. If I do, I’ll try to remember to mention it, and pass on any impressions I get. For now, I’ll just say that if you’re looking for a quick solitaire game that you can play when you find a quiet moment, Urbion’s a pretty sweet option.

Mille Bornes

Been checking out Mille Bornes the last couple of days and I’ve got some mixed feelings. Fun enough, and I think a four player game with two teams might play better, but I’ve been checking it out 3-player and it suffers. Entire games have gone to 700 and even 1000 miles without drawing a necessary card. One of these I never drew a go card. Another I got wrecked right away and never drew a repair. Allowing for drawing from the discard pile helps, but other players still aren’t obligated to toss what you need.
All in all, it seemed like a perfect example of what I was talking about the other day. Absolutely needing a card and not getting it. 1954’s own version of m:tg’s manascrew.
Like I said, team games might alleviate this, as you’d draw half the deck,  but I still don’t think it would *solve* the problem.

In other news, introduced my sister and her husband to Justified. So good.

Tweaking BELLEs

Making a few more changes to the hel’s BELLEs prototype before moving on into printing a beta version. Terrain has seen minimal use so far; it’s interesting and fun, but doesn’t quite have the appeal damage-wise. Since the goal of hel’s BELLEs is to destroy your opponent’s BELLE (potentially several times over), there can be a bigger payoff in spenig the time and resources in weapons and armour over terrain. With this in mind, I’ve boosted the collateral damage of terrain significantly. It should make it a more viable option (even more so in games involving more players).
When I first started this project, I knew that balancing would be an important aspect of tweaking the prototype, and it has been, but it’s interesting to note that it hasn’t been in the way that I expected. My expectations were that most tweaks would be cost-to-value ratios on various mecha parts, but a lot of it has been related to card economy. Playtesting has really demonstrated what cards – even if decent value for cost, just aren’t as valuable in terms of gameplay. Some stuff has been cut or pushed back into expansion territory (some ideas are solid, but lack the cohesion you’d get with a larger quantity of similarly-themed cards), but some of the cards, like terrain drops and defensive actions, just need a bit more oomph. Often as not, it’s the cards that I was worried would be overpowered that are lacking (I may have removed their teeth in the early stages without realising it).
All in all, an interesting process.