I also should mention that the kickstarter for After the Empire has been pushed back 6-8 weeks from the expected mid-May launch, so that Grey Fox can fulfill Run, Fight, or Die before starting ATE. Thanks for hanging in there!
We were recently contacted by a group working on a game creation centered story-telling project for a large sporting goods company. They had lots of questions regarding the creation of games. I’m modifying the format to fit this blog, but here’s generally what was asked and answered if you find such discussions interesting:
1) Take us through what you think makes a great game and perhaps some key considerations that you make.
Maybe I'm pigeon holing your company here, but I'm assuming they're looking more for a physical game, like basketball or hopscotch, whereas we create tabletop board games. I've never created a more physical type of game and don't see myself as a great story-teller. That being said, there are inevitably some overlaps between the two disciplines. Off the top of my head, these might include:
- must balance excitement of possibility with frustration of randomness
- must reward skill and practice while not turning away new players (unless high level competitive)
- minimize 1 off rules and exceptions for smoother and more consistent common sense gameplay
- minimize player elimination or waiting times in longer contests (games lasting >15-20 minutes)
- setting limitations and parameters up front is important
I'm sure there are many more, but I'm not sure I quite understand the specifics of what you're looking for. Also, some games are quite popular despite breaking 1 or many of these rules, so they're more general recommendations rather than game design commandments. So, hopefully that helps.
2) What brings people together and allows them to bond around a set of arbitrary rules?
This very much differs depending on the game. You'll notice the sort of folks that come together to play a heavy Euro board game do not have high cross over rates with folks who come together to play basketball. So, the answer is game and genre specific. The only common denominator is perhaps exactly what you said...something brings people together around a set of arbitrary rules. Depending on the game and genre, these might include: drive for excellence, competition, community, finding tribe, interest in game subject or theme, enjoy physical exertion, enjoy mental exertion, tradition and history, drive for notoriety, drive for money, healthier alternatives to other activity choices, feeling able to express self in the game's context.
2) Why do people continue to invent games when, surely, there must be enough out there already?
I would ask in return, why do people keep writing books? Surely, there are enough books. Your real question is, why do people create when we have everything required for living? For us it started with a basic knowledge of what was out there and the desire to play something a little different, the whim and will to try to make it ourselves. Our first game was initially just for us to play and a fun exercise to accomplish, but eventually we realized others might really like it, too. Many other reasons could include: money, notoriety, sense of accomplishment/acceptance, a need to express oneself in a medium of preference, a feeling of duty or pleasure as it may improve the lives of self or others, sense of purpose/meaning, desire to shape self-identity.
3) What drives game development - culture, environment, beliefs?
Yes, plus self.
4) How do you take action and test an idea?
Again, this will vary greatly depending on the game. General rules are: set intention, ideate, shape to restrictions, make sure it answers or fulfills intention, update, start with the minimum work/money necessary to create a working prototype, test it with self to find flaws, update, test it with trusted groups to find flaws, update, repeat until it's the best you think it can be, test with outside groups, update, repeat until it's the best you think it can be. There are more specifics depending on genre/game and whether you intend to just play it yourself at home, want to sell it to the public, want to sell it to another company, etc.
Thanks to Tom and crew for meeting me down at Gamestorm in Portland this Saturday to play some After the Empire. Tom won yet again! He’s defeated me the last few times we played. I keep pushing my luck to finally crush him again, but always just a little too far, and I came up short once again. Next time!
Additional thanks for play-testing our fairly dense 4x game currently in development; they were troopers for slogging through the complexity of such a game based solely on handwritten cards, paper scraps, lots of white out, and my brief explanations. They also taught me Horizons, which I hadn’t had the chance to play before. Special thanks to Levi Mote for being an all around awesome person and signing their copy. Also all too briefly, I saw Sarah Sharp of Creator’s Companion, who specializes in all your game related editing needs.
And of course the local designers Tim and Ben Eisner were there with their awesome new game Tidal Blades, as well an expansion for Tim’s first hit, March of the Ants. Keep watching these guys, they’re making lots of great games!
Okay, so the After the Empire kickstarter is officially slated to run after Tsukuyumi (looks really cool), which Grey Fox is running in March. So, After the Empire goes to kickstarter in May, 2019! It’s just a couple months past what we expected, and we are very excited, to say the least! Also, we just looked at a work in progress on some more art they’ve commissioned for ATE, and it’s looking awesome!
On a side note, I recently poked around BGG for mentions of After the Empire. Thanks for everyone who put us on your lists! Here are a few highlights from what I found:
We had a great time at PAX Unplugged! We showed lots of people After the Empire, and some of them wrote or spoke a little bit about it. We made Eurogamer’s best 5 PAX Unplugged games list, and Eric from Punchboard Media along with Jake of Draft Mechanic had some nice things to say on the podcast. (Edit: in case you´d like to skip directly to After The Empire conversation, it starts at 01:17:09…thanks I.M).
We had a couple meetings, and we’re still looking to be on track for the first quarter 2019 kickstarter for After the Empire through Grey Fox Games. Let this young gentleman’s double fist pump show you how excited we are:
We also had some very productive meetings with publishers on a couple of our other games, like Mountain God’s Revenge, 3 Ways to Die (working title), and even my old little family game Big Fish River got a little bit of love. And of course we spent some quality time with our good friend Tim Eisner (watch for his new release Tidal Blades to come out).
Big things are happening!
After the Empire will be making a special appearance at this year’s “hot games” first look! The wonderful crew at PAX Unplugged will be showing our upcoming medium-heavy euro game, currently looking at a 1st quarter 2019 kickstarter launch through Grey Fox Games.
If you’re excited to try it out, check out all the details here and be sure to find After the Empire on the list and give us a thumbs up! Last I checked, we were #5 below the post. So, come on down to Hall A this Friday starting at 10am. We’re not sure when they’ll need to make room for other games throughout the weekend, so if you missed it and really wanted to check it out, send us an email and we can probably setup another play for you or at least tell you when we’ll have it back in first look.
We’re very excited, please come by and take a look! Just keep in mind it’s still a prototype!
Just in case we thought perhaps we’d been dreaming all this time, Grey Fox Game recently teased about the upcoming release in their newsletter! Here’s what they said:
“We're excited to announce that our first major project for that year will be After the Empire, a game we've been developing for quite some time now.
After the Empire is a worker placement game set in the Middle Ages where you fortify your castle against invaders, all while competing for limited resources and recruiting those left without a home as a result of the ongoing wars.”
“As you can see from the prototype, this game will have a big-time table presence and really delivers on creating the kind of engaging, immersive experience we specialize in.
More details to come!”
We’re super excited to be working with Grey Fox, and look forward to getting this game to you all!
We’re also bringing our new designs with us to PAX Unplugged in Philadelphia at the end of November! Shoot us an email if you want to meet up with us check out what we’ve been working on!
Since Origins, we've been working hard on our games. We gave our good copy of Mountain God's Revenge at Origins to a prospective publisher, and are cobbling together another working play-test copy to further develop some exciting new ideas.
We've also been working hard on getting 3 Ways to Die ready for an upcoming publisher review and possible signing. This coop zombie map and event deck based adventure game with luck and gambling was originally developed by Evan Halbert and Cris Kelly, now with Ryan Mauk lending his assistance after it was resurrected again from my bookshelf. We're having a lot of fun with this one! Here's Cris and his family during one of our play-testing sessions:
I was also lucky enough to help play-test an upcoming solo version of the board game Santorini. Made by the friendly folks at Roxley Game Laboratory, this is one of my very favorite abstract games. Here's a progress shot of one of my many games ending in defeat:
Things are also hectic here since Origins because Evan is moving (from one part of Portland to a different part of Portland), which includes selling one thing and buying another. These processes are not user-friendly and could really stand some revision and rules updates.
As always, if you're in or around the Portland area, please don't hesitate to join us for our regular play-testing sessions. Hopefully, we'll see you all soon!
We had a great time at Origins! Hanging out with friends, pitching games, and playing new ones! We got to hang out with our amazing fellow local game designer friends Tim and Ben Eisner, which is always a blast. We got to hang out and catch up with our friends at Grey Fox, who will be publishing our game After the Empire in the first half of 2019. Josh Lobkovicz, the amazing developer at Grey Fox, graciously took the time to give us some great tips on another project we're working on, but not quite ready to pitch at Origins.
But, we did bring a couple games that were ready to pitch, both of which saw significant publisher interest. You've seen Mountain God's Revenge before, but here's Ryan posing for the camera as we play 3 Ways to Die:
3 Ways to Die (current working title) is a coop zombie map and event deck based adventure game with elements of luck and gambling to keep it interesting! I don't think I've played a game yet where we weren't sure we were going to lose only to narrowly escape with our lives at least once! Each player is generally fighting their own battles and making their own choices of how to best use their resources to stay alive, so the loudest player telling everyone else what to do is not as prevalent here as in most coop games. Evan designed this one with his friend Cris Kelly about 6-7 years ago. We've been having a blast playing it ever since, and Ryan is helping put the finishing touches on it.
Evan got the chance to play the up and coming Fireball Island reboot. The original version helped form some of his lasting childhood friendships (they wanted to come over to play), and is at least partially responsible for his general nerdiness.
If you haven't already seen this, watch us show Mountain God's Revenge to Tom Vasel at 1:22:00. Ryan does the talking, while Evan's injured wrist does the setup!
Ryan and Evan have frequent playtesting sessions with occasional guest stars for After the Empire and several other games being developed currently. We get together to play-test these games on the regular, and we need to grow our pool of play-testers! So, if you're in the Portland area and are the type of person who is excited to play and give feedback on unpublished works-in-progress for the low low price of we'll buy you a fancy coffee, please go on the website and shoot us an email saying as much. Thanks!
Here's us on Monday having fun working on Mountain God's Revenge:
We had a great time with many other great local designers this weekend, like Tim Eisner (The Grimm Forest & March of the Ants), Ben Eisner (Dungeon Hustle), Ryan Swisher (March of the Ants), Ryan Spangler (Sol: Last Days of a Star), Taran Kratz (Helionox), and others you'll hopefully hear about sooner than later! We play-tested and critiqued tons of our current board game projects, and of course squeezed in a game of Magic. Everyone was great and generous with their time, helping play-test and work on development issues with other design projects. We had some great feedback for After the Empire, and got to pull out an ancient design from 6 years ago. Ryan Swisher and Ben & Tim Eisner were kind enough to cook-up delicious food for the pack to keep us gaming all day and night. We also had a really fun break-out session game design challenge of sorts, where randomly selected groups of 3-4 designers were put together to work with some drafted components and randomly selected mechanics. While we were mostly working on our design chops, strengths, and weaknesses, we actually had a couple promising game designs come out of that experiment! Thanks again to Chase Van Epps and Print and Play for providing the components for us! Here's the one my group was working on that turned out surprisingly playable and interesting:
We While we're not spending weekends hanging out with awesome designers, we're busy working on our games. Here's my photographophic wife helping me play-test a few little tweaks on After the Empire and critiquing my color saturation and lightning choices for some newly printed cards:
Here are a couple good friends helping us continue to develop our more abstract design, Mountain God's Revenge:
We hope you all had a great weekend filled with gaming, too!
Here's his rendition of the Oxcart Teamster, who was actually first seen on the game board itself. This is a card we've added in recent months of development as one of our starting refugees, to help balance availability of resources. I love the adorable oxen!
Yet another in our amazing series of invader cards by Tomas, to round out new additions to the base game invaders! His lighting skills really shine in this one!
Also, we had a great time at Gamestorm this weekend. We had lots of great feedback from play-testers on our new game, Mountain God's Revenge. We had the pleasure of playing After the Empire with one of our long time supporters, James Hampton, who's been playing throughout the evolution of the game and can give us great insights. After a long day of play-testing, Ryan went home and I was privileged to play a late night game or two with local design legends Tim Eisner (March of the Ants and Grimm Forest) and Ryan Spangler (Sol).
First, we three played Antiquity. This was my first Splotter game, so now I get what people were talking about. This game is everything I didn't know I wanted from Settlers of Catan: bigger, better, heavier, and more engaging. And, if you're not careful, you can totally mess it up! Can you accidentally spend all your wood, then have no way to get more necessary resources for the rest of the game? Yep. Don't spend all your wood, unless you already have a woodcutter who can get you more next turn!
Then, Ryan and I twice played Tak, a great abstract game in the vein of chess, checkers, and go. The first game and a half I was basically convinced that it was mostly blind luck and there was no way to know or plan what to do more than 1-2 moves in advance. But, eventually things gelled, and it's really quite a deep and engaging yet quick play experience.
Check out another one of our new refugee cards! Ted has really captured the feel we were hoping for on this one!
Check out this new piece from our old friend Tomas O. Muir! As we've been figuring out what exactly is in the basic game and what is in the advanced play variant, we needed to add a little more content! So, here's one of the new invader cards!
Hello all! We've been more focused on our new highly-themed abstract game, Mountain God's Revenge for a few months now. But, recently we've been bringing After the Empire back to the table more frequently as we continue to work with Grey Fox in preparation for an early 2019 campaign. They've been great to work with, giving us the leeway to keep our design ideas intact while helping us to hone a few of the details. The game is more approachable than ever, but still rich and with enough variation and complexity to keep it interesting from play to play. We've been having lots of fun digging back into it with a fresh perspective, and it just keeps getting better. If you want to check out the current state, come find us at Gamestorm in April or shoot us an email!
Hi, everyone! We've been having a great time lately playtesting and developing our new lineup of games! We went to PAX Unplugged in Philly recently, which was awesome! We got to hang out with and bounce ideas off other awesome Portland-area designers Tim and Ben Eisner of Weird City Games, with hits like March of the Ants and The Grimm Forest, and Mohammad Ali, another up and coming designer! We pitched several of our new games and had significant interest from publishers. We are in early talks now with a publisher to work with us on what we're tentatively titling Mountain God's Revenge! It's a heavily themed abstract strategy game that will eventually have awesome art, rather than white hexes with black strips and red dots.
What about After the Empire? Yes, that's still our #1 board game baby! It was tentatively slated for a quarter 2, 2018 kickstarter by Grey Fox Games, known for awesome games like Champions of Midgard. They recently sat down to plan out their production calendar for next year and after deliberation have decided that to do it right and make After the Empire the best game possible, that timeline will be pushed back to quarter 4 of 2018 or early 2019. Obviously, we were very anxious and excited for the upcoming kickstarter, and this wait will be difficult for us. But, we are also excited for making sure After the Empire gets done well and is as amazing as possible. We have full confidence our friends at Grey Fox will do an outstanding job. So, we are truly sorry for the wait, but we believe it will be worth it!
So, what's been happening? Lots! So, we've been subjecting After the Empire to some penultimate playtesting rigors by even more people as we get closer and closer to the final stages of getting the game ready! Believe it or not, that's actually leading to some down time for Ryan and Evan here at Portland Gamecraft.
Downtime!? Not really. Actually, we've been busy working on lots of new designs and having fun playtesting them all:
What's this monstrosity? It's a secret...unless you can read Evan's chicken scratch on paper scraps for a game he's wanted to make for well over a decade. This one's going to take some time, so you might not see it any time soon unless you live in Portland and come by one of our playtest sessions.
Here's a lighter weight physical strategy game prototype we're excited about that's pretty darn unique. We're getting ready to bring it with us to PAX Unplugged in Philly next month. It'll be a little less stark white by that point...but probably not too much!
Here's another one we've been fiddling around with for about a year now! A big thanks to the gentleman who was still up with us at 3am Sunday morning at Gen Con.
And, of course, we're still playing lots of After the Empire and dreaming big for our release with Grey Fox Games next year! Thanks to Thomas for getting me out to Guardian Games in Portland this weekend to play a couple more rounds with him. It's always a pleasure to get destroyed by a fledgling upstart! I've played this thing well over 300 times, and you still kicked my butt twice in a row! We also met Jonas and Anders, who put up tough competition and provided some great feedback! I forgot to take photos!
Of course, there are lots of other ideas and things on the horizon for Portland Gamecraft, but rest assured, our primary focus is making our first game the best game it can possibly be. We're very excited to be working with Grey Fox, and we're very excited that they're helping to make one of my favorite games ever become a reality!
Well, we're finally recovering from a crazy sleep-deprived weekend in Indianapolis. There were so many amazing games and people there, it was almost too much. Our highlights were meeting up with Grey Fox's Shane and Josh, seeing our good friend's The Grimm Forest hit #1 on the hotness list, 7 minutes of heart-pumping mech-battling video-game action, meeting the incredible and friendly Margaret Weis, play-testing one of our currently unnamed projects, hanging with some hometown friends, and of course, playing After the Empire with friends both old and new.
We are very excited for the direction After the Empire has taken since working with Grey Fox, and we are looking forward to finishing it up and finally getting it out to all of you mercifully patient folks! We promise it's even better than before and hope you like it as much as we do!
As always, if you're in the Portland area, just get in touch with us if you want to join in on our playtesting sessions to help us make our games even better!
We're stoked to be at Gen Con 50 this year. It'll be our first, and we think we're jumping in on a good one!
Since signing on with Grey Fox for publishing, we've been working hard and focusing on making After the Empire the best possible game we can now that they're taking care of all the marketing and other heavy lifting. This has enabled us to make some really good changes, improve the experience for the first time player, and clean up a few things that had always felt just a little bit off.
The base game design is ready to go and we're excited to show it to Grey Fox for final approval, as well as all the last minute play-testing with you in case we totally missed something! We don't have a booth, so be on the lookout for us or just shoot us an email if you'd like to meet up and get a sneak peak or play-test. Here is our last play-test board by Print and Play in Vancouver, WA before Grey Fox helps us clean it up and make it all shiny, professional, and otherwise amazing!