Argh! Who am I? – Playtest

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Finally got round to playtesting Argh! Who am I?! this week, you can read about the making of it here. Although the general feel and mechanics of the game was good there were some issues which need improving on.

1. The playtime was a little long for the type of game it is.

This could be relatively easy to solve on it’s own, the answer would be to simply reduce the number cards in the play session. So instead of removing only 1 card at the beginning of the game, you could remove three. However, I feel there is more to this issue.

2. The fish-man was the least interesting character to talk about.

This is likely because there is less popular culture about the fish-man monster when compared to vampires, werewolves, ghosts, etc. The answer is remove it, or find a replacement. Doing this would actually help neatly with issue 1.

3. It is difficult to keep coming up with interestingly differences between the characters.

One issue might be the range of characters, in the first version of the game they are all classic monster tropes. This means all of them are already grouped by one sort of characterisation, removing the opportunity to explore. This could be resolved by increasing the number of groups in the set, i.e. sci-fi characters, fantasy characters, monsters, etc and reducing the number from each set.

4. Giving a true information, is very precise. Giving a false information is vague.

Once someone was found to be giving the true statements, players who had lying cards could abuse the imbalance of power between the two. There’s 8 characters, so the player eliminating the options through negative comments are at a distinct disadvantage. In short, the difference between having a truth card and a liar card are too great. By reconsidering the objects/characters on the card this could be improved. For example if instead of characters there were objects which were a set of binary choices:

  • Black / White
  • Round / Square
  • Edible / Non-edible

e.g.

  • 8 ball – black, round, non-edible
  • slice of bread – white, square, edible

If I ask am I round, and I know if you are lying or telling the truth, then I can deduce the truth relatively easily. However, this really reduces the number of questions which are usable, and the game is significantly reduced in terms of creativity and free thinking. This idea is part way to a potential solution but not the full answer. Each character card needs similarity with some of the other cards but not with all the other cards.

Other ideas for variations

Whilst thinking about these issues I came up with a few ideas for the game that I need to consider for a little bit before making the next version. Some of them should be easy to test, just by varying the rules.

  • When you ask a question everyone else answers. Removes the need for a statement.
  • Players with liar cards, can both lie and tell the truth. Add some chance for deviance, will depend on what the items are on the cards whether or not this is suitable.
  • After a player is asked a question, they cannot be asked another question until everyone else has been asked. Removes the need to give a statement. Requires a neat way of keeping track of this.
  • Have players create their own cards, i.e. the backs follow truth and lies but the characters / items are decided by the group who play. This adds another element of creativity to the game.

The big question – what or who do I put on the cards?

The main issue I need to consider is what it is that goes on the cards in the first place. Monsters was a quick idea I had and it worked well enough for the playtest, but I feel that this is the thing that needs changing, it’s also the most time consuming thing to do, both in thinking and time spent creating cards that are nice enough to play with.

Thinking about the theme of the game might help, mechanically it’s about truth, lies and deduction, which sounds a little like a murder mystery. Perhaps you’re removing suspects, finding locations and looking for specific objects. Not sure how all this ties in with not being able to see what you’re holding, but their could be an answer somewhere.

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Making: Argh, who am I?! – A game of truth, lies and deduction

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Argh Who Am?! Print and Play.pdf

I’ve had an idea floating round my head for a while, being a fan of Werewolf and other hidden role games, and having at that point recently played Hanabi by Antoine Bauza (@Toinito) I wanted to make a hidden role game but where the players are aware of everyone else’s role but not their own.

The only other game I’ve seen look at this is Pair of Ducks by Tuesday Knight Games (@TuesKnightGames), the creators behind the fantastic Two Rooms and Boom. In Pair of Ducks each role that the players can see changes how they play, whether they answer ‘yes or no’ questions silently, audibly, truthfully or with lies.

I wanted to avoid covering the same ground so I put the game on the back burner for a while. This was probably about a year or two a go.

Over the last couple of weeks, the idea bubbled up to the top of my mind again and I started mulling it over once more.

For a game like this it seemed to me that the players would need to deduce who they were. The major question in designing the game, is what mechanisms are in place for them to do this. I had a number of thoughts/concepts I was puzzling over.

  • Have pairs of roles, and they need to work out who their partner is.
  • You win if you are the only person who is alone, i.e. no one else has the same role card as you.
  • Certain roles can perform certain actions, other players can stop you from attempting actions that you cannot perform.
  • Having to ask players to perform actions that only they can do.

Taking some influence from Coup by Rikki Tahta I started to think about the passing of tokens, and certain roles being able to do certain things. Players would balance moving tokens around as they needed with giving other players information about their character. So, what could the players do with tokens:

  • Take a token from someone.
  • Give a token to someone.
  • Take a token from a shared pool.
  • Give a token to a shared pool.
  • Swap two piles of tokens.

The thought being at this point, that not only would you need to work out what role you are/if you’re alone/in a pair, you would also need to meet certain conditions, like have the more than/less than/equal number of tokens than another player.

The problem with all of this was the amount of complication and all the information the players would have to deal with, they would need to know which characters could do which actions, without actually knowing the character they currently are. It just all seemed too much. I needed to simplify things.

I still liked the idea of having two of each role, and felt this needed more exploring. Then I was hit with a thought, what if one of each of the pairs had to tell the truth and the other had to lie. Things then started coming together.

Players would ask questions about their character of another player and they would respond truthfully or not depending on the card they had, information that could be shown by text on the back of the playing cards like this:

The issue with this rule alone is that, as soon as you have determined that a player is telling the truth all players would ask that player question rather than anyone else. There needed to be some sort of price for asking a question, something that would stop this happening.

The solution was to have those players give the player they ask some information about their card. In this situation, if everyone keeps asking the same person questions they will get more and more information about their card, giving them a big advantage, which you would want to avoid.

After a little more work and thought, here it is:

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Argh Who Am?! Print and Play.pdf

How to Look at Your Card

In this game of truth, lies and deduction you do not see the Monster on your own card, but you can see the Monster on everyone else’s.

  • There is both a truth and a lies card for each of the eight Monsters. By orientating your Monster portrait correctly, the text on the back of your card will show you which of the two you have.
  • If your card is a truth card then you must tell the truth during the Exchange phase, if it is a lies card you must lie during the Exchange phase.

Setup

  • Shuffle all the Monster Cards together.
  • Deal one card to each player and one card face down into a discard pile.
  • Place the remaining cards face down where everyone can reach them, this is the stack.
  • Hold your card so everyone but you can see the Monster you are.
  • Help everyone orientate their Monster portrait correctly.

Play

Starting with the player explaining the rules, then continuing clockwise, players take turns to either Exchange or Declare.

Exchange has two stages, statement and query, both which must be done with players telling truth or lies depending on their current card.

  • Statement: Tell another player something about their Monster.
  • Query: Then ask the same player a question related to your Monster that they will answer with either a “yes” or a “no”. You cannot directly ask if you are a specific Monster.

– or –

Declare, state the Monster you believe yourself to be, then place the card face up in front of yourself:

  • If correct keep the card in a pile in front of you.
  • If wrong place the card in the discard pile.

Then take another card from the stack.

End of the Game

Continue taking turns until a player attempts to take a card from the stack but cannot because the stack is empty.

Count how many cards you have correctly identified, the player with the most cards wins.

At the moment the cards have classic monsters on them (and very basic art), but that may change with playtesting, in theory they could be any thing which gives a lot of options for making custom decks for different player preferences. Here are snapshots of the font and backs of some of the cards.

If the game goes well, I’ll look into producing some better art work for it. If you manage to play it or have any thoughts or suggestions please let me know.

I think the game will work with between 3-10 players, but this needs further testing to see if this is true.

Argh Who Am?! Print and Play.pdf

Nineworld’s Roleplay Game Jam

Final Chase of Winter’s Wolves

A pack of wolves rest in their den, tired and hungry the winter has been cruel to them. Outside is the wilderness, cruel and relentless but filled with memories of times they have shared. At deaths door they need to have a successful hunt to get through the rest of winter. Nostrils widen, ears twitch and hairs bristle on the back of their necks. The scent of prey is in the air, all or nothing, they make their way out of the den.

Final rules here: Final Chase of Winter’s Wolves

Nineworlds

Earlier this month I attended the Nineworld’s (@London_Geekfest) Convention in London. It was a fantastic event filled with really interesting talks and activities, it was also a incredibly friendly and considerate place to be.

At the event, I attended a Roleplay Game Jam which was run by Ben Meredith (@BenRLMeredith) and Tom Hatfield (@WordMercenary). Each participant was given two words/concepts and asked to make a roleplay game in the theme of wilderness.

The two concepts I got to work with were Blizzard and Wild Animals. With the approximately two hours we were given I was quite pleased with what I developed. Here are the original hand written notes.
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rule2

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I’ve only had chance to write up the notes fully, and in doing so I have made a few changes. So instead of the wolves finding their way home, they are adventuring out. I changed the location card variables to follow heart, club, spade, diamond to keep them in keeping with the other two parts. There were a couple of other minor changes and I tried to improve the explanations in the rules to make them clearer. Finally I settled on the title and added a little pre-ramble to set the scene.

If you would like to read the rules in full they are available here: Final Chase of Winter’s Wolves

10 Questions to Consider when Exhibiting Games and Designing Games for Exhibitions

More spaces are showing games for many different reasons. It might be demos for games that are available to purchase, games that are in development or perhaps the game itself was specifically designed to be shown in an exhibition. Whatever the reason there are a few questions that I think we should start asking ourselves about showing games in these spaces. This is not a definitive list but a work in progress, the beginning of a wider conversation we as designers, exhibitors and curators should be having. Games are certainly worthy of a platform and space to be shown, and we can learn a lot from other mediums, art, design, performance and theatre, but there are somethings that games do differently. Therefore we must consider what is special about how people view and experience games and how we can make exhibitions and spaces for games better, for those that attend and those that are showing.

Here are ten questions to start that conversation:

  1. How easy is it for someone else to set-up, are there clear instructions, can you make it automatically load when turned on?

It might be that your game is going to be set-up or looked after by someone else, or you be looking after many different games. Make it as easy as possible to go from a crashed or broken state to ready to play. In the case of games on PCs and Macs put a little extra effort in so the game automatically loads up when you either turn on or reset the system. This will make your life and the life of others a whole lot easier.

  1. Is it simple and clear for a new player to restart the game, do you need a big red reset button?

I’ve seen it happen in a number of places. People play a game for a while and then leave it part way through. If a new player with no experience of the game comes to play at this point they may have missed the ‘tutorial’ or learning experience crucial to the overcoming the next obstacle. In fact people often put down the game when they get stuck, so someone picking up the game at this difficulty spike can stop them getting into the game completely. Your game may well have a menu and a restart option but this may not be clear on its own. Is there a way to have a big reset button so a new player can walk to the system and hit it knowing they’ll go back to the beginning? Something like a MakeyMakey could be used for doing this.

  1. How long does it take to learn to play the game, how long to get a good appreciation of the game?

When exhibiting a game, a player will not necessarily have a long time to play your game. There will hopefully be people waiting behind them to have a go, which will add pressure to them. Is the player going to get a suitable understanding of the games rules or controls and a reasonable impression of the game in the time given? If you are showing part of a larger game choose carefully which part it is you show. If you are creating a game specifically for exhibition take this consideration into account at the design phase.

  1. Does your game implicitly state to allow someone else to have a go, after a certain amount of time, after reaching a fixed point?

Again you are probably hoping that lots of people will want to play your game, but games generally are not designed with systems for allowing new players to enter and old players to leave. Consider changing your game to allow for this. At certain points in the game, controlled by time or achievement add an on screen prompt (or non-digital equivalent) that says, ‘You’ve been playing for a while, can you see someone else who would like to play.’ If there isn’t anyone they can keep playing but if there is someone else can have a go without having to ask.

  1. In multiplayer games, could those who have won be encourage through the game itself to look for someone else who might want a go?

In a similar way, multiplayer games should encourage you to share. After a round, match or turn, specifically consider having the winning player give up their spot. Again this can be an onscreen prompt. I have always disliked the often used ‘winner stays on’ rule for game all this does is give the best player more opportunity to get better rather than allowing less skilled players the opportunity to improve.

  1. Who can see your game being played, should it be private just the current player(s), or should it have an audience?

Depending on the type of game and the subject matter there should be some consideration to who can see the game being played. Should it just be the people playing, perhaps they are being asked personal questions or they need a safe space to fail and get better. Possibly showing someone the game before they play will spoil it for them. On the other hand is the game improved with a audience of spectators encouraging and reacting to the players playing. Either way the space and the way the game is set up should really consider that. You can put a curtain around a game, or hide it in a booth. You can put large screens high so others can see them. You can have secondary screens which show the action to the audience specifically.

  1. Are the controls intuitive and clear, do you need to have all those extra buttons accessible when they’re not going to be used?

The worst thing that can happen when learning to play a game is that there are not any clear instructions for the controls. This leads to bashing buttons and hoping things will happen. This is worse with keyboards as there are so many additional potential buttons to try. A simple way to reduce this complexity is by removing the buttons, or highlighting the buttons that are used with stickers or some other markings. A potentially better way is to make a bespoke controller, which through its design communicates intuitively how to use it.

  1. Can you reduce the potential embarrassment that someone may feel if they are not good, or do not understand how to use your game?

A lot of the time we play games in our own homes or with friends, this is somewhere we likely feel safe to fail and get things wrong, and can slowly learn how to play. Picking up a game in a public space and not being able to play can be embarrassing and frustrating. I am not sure what the best way is to solve this in general as it will very much depend on the exact nature of the game and the player, but it is certainly something to take into consideration. If your game is specifically hard maybe having multiple systems, some with an amount of privacy may eliminate the problem.

  1. Could your game disguise the computer and screen, can you hide the familiar technology in cabinets, tables or other bespoke creations?

It is a big challenge but sometimes it is just a little dull seeing rows of computers lined up showing games. I know it makes life and set-up easier but it lacks a little of the potential magic of games. There is potential, given enough budget, time and effort to make bespoke cabinets and tables to hide the hardware in. Instead of mounting screens on walls, they could be behind cutout windows in false walls, giving a flush neat appearance. Instead of keyboards and standard control pads their could be mounted and bespoke controllers. This I admit is a luxury but I think it would help people focus on the games and design rather than the technology used.

  1. What is the purpose of the game, is it advertising itself or is it something that only exists to be exhibited?

Whether the game you are exhibiting is a short demo of a larger game, a full demo for something you wish to sell or something designed specifically for that exhibition the above notions should be considered and potentially embedded into the game. You can design these elements into the fabric of the game itself or you can add a coat of exhibition veneer to an existing game. To make the games exhibition friendly will definitely require more work but it will give the player an experience greater than something they could achieve at home just downloading a demo.

Dwolma – Feedback and Update

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I got my reviews for Dwolma (original post), my GameChef entry today.

Review 1:

Overall, it’s a very interesting concept…I can see if going in multiple ways: creepy-ish, psychological and/or hypnotizing. I’m not really sure how the tokens works, but I could just be reading that wrong. Are the Ushers taking tokens randomly? Are the ushers taking certain numbers of token to manipulate the outcome? I’m not saying that the token should be changed (at this point) , I’m not really sure if it’s fully explained. Which I think is important because that’s really the deciding point of if the subject is moving forward past obstacles.

Review 2:

I really like this game. The structure is great, and the design of how the Abandoned is fleshed out as the game progresses is fantastic. Some minor flavor things are nice too- I appreciated “willing” players.

I feel that the mechanic of Bēodan needs some fleshing out. An example of play is definitely needed! I’m also confused as to the point of the tokens. What’s the goal of the Ushers? Is it to guide the Abandoned past the obstacle, or prevent them from moving on?

Review 3:

Dwolma is an imaginative game that makes good use of the ingredients.

I particularly like the blindfolding aspect, which adds a unique dimension to the game. The bidding mechanic works well and breaks up the game phases nicely.

I would have liked to see a way for the Abandoned to fail as this would have added a dimension of tension to the game, but overall this is a well done, if surreal, storytelling game.

Review 4:

There is something surreal and mysterious about this game. A solid entry that addresses the criteria of the contest in an interesting way. I’d like to see a bit more competition between the ushers who guide the ‘Abandoned’, or even a way for the ‘Abandoned’ to completely fail rather than simply getting more chances to succeed until they finally get through…which basically destroys the tension of the whole thing.

An extended review for Dwolma by Michael Wenman is available here.

Thanks to this insightful feedback, I’ve made a few tweaks to try and clarify the rules for the game.

The updated version of the rules for Dwolma.

Optisocubes – 30 days later and a Curious Event

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Around thirty days ago, I uploaded optisocubes onto itch.io (@itchio), ‘an open marketplace for independent game creators’.

As per usual, I posted the link on facebook and twitter, and wrote a little about it on here. The first day, it was pretty clear that a handful of my close friends had taken a look at the game. However, on the second day I found, much to my surprise, that the game had be put on the itch.io latest featured games list, on their front page.

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My views for that day reached 189, far greater than my previous two itch.io accessible games FoxStar and Bright:Knight:Kite:Fight, to be honest I was pretty pleased and excited. My game got a small number of nice responses on twitter from people I had no connection to.

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Over the next couple of days, things generally calmed down, I was averaging around 40 views a day with a few peaks above 50 and some lows of around 20. All relatively good I thought. Comments came in about the game slowly (twitter search: optisocubes), three people sent me the amount of moves it took for them to complete it, so I at least know some people managed to finish it. I also sorted some minor issues with the games, animations and making sure it worked in most browsers.

One major improvement I made to the game was to make it playable on mobile devices using swipe controls, at the loss of being able to save your progress and come back to play it. This was the first time I had implemented touch controls on one of my games and it was really nice to be able to show people the game on my phone, even if it was only through the browser and not an app.

Being relatively pleased with how the game had been received I planned to write a post about it, which would have looked similar to what is above, however something strange started to happen.

Yesterday (2 July), just around lunch time I decided to check how many people had been viewing the game, and it was about 150, almost as high as the first day itch.io had it in their featured game list. Then I refreshed and it crept up by another 10. After I got back from lunch it kept getting higher. So much so, that I thought there was clearly something wrong with the data. There was no clear indication where these views were coming from. I could not find anything on twitter or through google which gave me any clue. By the end of the night my views chart looked like this:

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There were a total of 1267 views for that day, I still presumed there was some sort of fault. After a little bit of rummaging online I think I found what caused the peak. I managed to find a link to a daily news letter from EmeraldStreet (@EmeraldStreet), which you can read in full here.

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They posted a little section about the game in their In Other News section:

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THIS GAME IS SIMPLE BUT ADDICTIVE

Somewhere on our travels through the internet we came across a clever game designed by first year students of game art at the University of Auckland. To play Optisocubes, press the key named at the top of the screen to guide the cube onto the blue highlighted square. After you hit the fourth level things start getting trickier. Hint – try changing your perspective on things (think about it being upside-down).

From looking at their twitter and facebook accounts it is apparent that they have a large enough readership to account for that days exceptionally high number of views. They have also written some pretty nice words about the game, so at least someone at their office appears to have enjoyed it.

but hang on one minute…

“designed by first year students of game art at the University of Auckland”

(Please read the following in a calm tone, I’m not angry just confused) I assure you that this game was not design by first year students of game art at the University of Auckland. It was designed and made by me. It actually really sucks to have your hard work and effort credited to someone else, something I have not really experienced before. I do not think it would take much of a look on google to find out who the game creator was, it is not some hidden secret.

Additionally there does not seem (I may be wrong) to be a game arts course at the University of Auckland, there is a minor course titled Game and Play Design at Auckland University of Technology. This information just makes the whole thing all the stranger. I cannot fathom why the game has been credited to a fictional course. This accreditation must have originated somewhere, but I doubt I’ll ever know where.

I guess these things happen all the time, some sort of loss of communication at some point, not that it really excuses it, just always be wary of everything you read it’s most likely written by fallible people. I’ve tried to contact EmeraldStreet via twitter to correct them, but so far have had no response, which is a bit of a shame, I hold no grudge just want to help correct their misinformation, I’m genuinely pleased they decided to include the game in the news letter.

Edit: EmeraldStreet have since, retweeted the link with me credited, thank you to them for their understanding.

In the end some more people had a chance to look at and play my game, who may not have had any reason to come across it on their usual trawls through the internet, and that is always a good thing.

If you have not had a chance to play optisocubes yet, why not have a play.

Game Chef 2015 Entry – Dwolma

Dwolma

Game Chef (@game_chef) is an annual Game Design Competition which started running in 2002. Entrants have 9 days to use at least two of four ingredients to create a game around a given theme.

This year the theme was A Different Audience, and the ingredients were abandon, dragonfly, stillness and dream

I was particularly taken with the ingredients abandon and dream and at looking to find a way that different players of the game could be considered different audiences. The answer to this was to have some of the players fight over narrative control for the game, attempting to meet specific moods.

I was also interested with heightening the experience for at least one of the players. I have often found when I play story or role-play games I often close my eyes to imagine in detail my surrounding and what is happening. By forcing one of the players to wear a blindfold and have the other players describing the world to them, that player could potentially have a much richer experience.

Bringing these ideas together after some helpful discussions with Adam (@adtidixon) and Sean (@seanFsmith) I finally settled on the mechanics and theme for the game.

Somewhere between here and there lies the Dwolma, a dream world filled with abandoned souls seeking their escape. Blind to the incomprehensible world around them the Abandoned have little hope. 

A few of the first to be lost in Dwolma have found ways to understand and manipulate the world around them, they are known as Ushers. As the Ushers are cursed to be trapped in Dwolma forever, they seek pleasure in playing with the souls of the newly abandoned.

Ushers will often play Bēodan, a bidding game, and make wagers with each other, attempting to elicit moods from any Abandoned that they find. Appearing to act as guides they will attempt to influence the Abandoned’s mood to create a story to their individual taste, each Usher a different audience to the Abandoned’s misfortune.

The full rules are available as pdf here.