Friday, August 29, 2014

The Spoils

If you were playing games in the 1990s you probably remember games like Magic: The Gathering, in which you'd lovingly customize your deck of cards over time then go head to head with other players to do battle. Magic was so popular, in fact, it spawned a new genre: Collectible Card Games, or Trading Card Games (TCG).  The Spoils is a TCG with some aspects in common with Magic, but as you'll see, it handles things differently and fixes a lot of the gripes players have had with other CCGs.  Let's take a look.
The Spoils TCG

The game unfolds in the unhinged and chaotic realm of Luridia, "a fantasy world gone horribly wrong".  Some of the themes are adult in nature, so the publisher recommends that everyone who plays be at least 13 years of age (the game is fairly complex, so little kids probably wouldn't be drawn to it anyway).  I found the cards to be of good quality stock and the imagery didn't bother me - I found the violence more comical than disturbing, and in the box I received there were alternative "staple resources" cards for those who might wish to replace the regular ones, which depict beautiful (and strategically draped) women.

You'll start the game with a card representing the Faction to which you belong - you're a member of a like-minded group who share common goals. Each Faction card gives unique abilities you can use during the game, on your turn or even sometimes on your opponent's turn.  You build your deck using the cards of the five professions, or "Trades" in the game: Warlord, Banker, Arcanist, Gearsmith, and Rogue. You play cards by spending resource cards. Card types are as follows:
  • Character cards: you use characters to attack your opponent's faction.
  • Location cards: locations and items stay in play and confer specific advantages.
  • Tactics: tactics cards are one-time-use and cause a powerful effect to surprise your opponent and hopefully turn the tide of battle.

So what's new about The Spoils?  The luck of  the draw will be a  factor in any card game, but The Spoils has some good ideas to keep you in control.  Here are some of the innovations that make it more strategic and less random than other TCGs:

  • You always start out with two resources in play. In other games you could find yourself screwed from the outset and unable to play a card - this alleviates that.
  • Players can use any card and play it face down as a resource, so even if you do not draw actual resource cards, you can still build more resources to play more cards.  You always have options.
  • The game employs a partial "mulligan" system to "recycle" worthless cards with no penalty (As a one-time action, you may take any number of your opening hand cards, place them on the bottom of your deck and draw back up to a full hand).
  • A “Threshold Icon” system is used to unlock the ability to play cards. This system makes it easier to play the cards in your hand and opens a lot more room for deck building options.
  • There is no maximum hand size.  Hoard as many cards as you think you will need.
  • You do not lose the game if you cannot draw a card.
Your mileage may vary, but I enjoyed The Spoils' madcap aesthetic of anthropomorphic animals, semi-comical violence and off-beat humor.  This combined with a gameplay system that improves how this type of game works, makes for a game that any fan of collectible card games.should definitely take a look at.



Tuesday, August 19, 2014

God Hates Charades

God Hates Charades is a game launching on Kickstarter today.  The creators bill the game as "A chance to act out the vile and despicable in all of us."  The premise is easy to pick up - draw an ACTOR card (will have a celebrity or character written on it) and a SCENARIO card (will have a ridiculous situation or action on it) and try to get the other players to guess both.  It's fun, it's edgy, and it's perfect for those who love - or think they might love - inappropriate behavior.  Learn more at godhatescharades.com or in the interview below.

What was the impetus for God Hates Charades?  Do you guys actually hate Charades, and if so why?  Where did this idea come from and how has it evolved over time?
God Hates Charades came from the idea that we thought too many party games focused too much on mechanics and not enough on your friends acting and joking around like idiots. What evolved over time is the guessing and acting mechanics. The actual experience of playing the game was something we captured pretty early on in our play test and made sure to maintained as rules changed.

Your animated videos are very impressive.  How'd you make them and where did you get the music?
So I play music in the band Giggle Party. Some of the music I wrote and some of it is bands whom we are friends with. I felt like the art, music, and game itself all had to match. I think we did a good job getting those things to aligned. If you check out Giggle Party's art work you'll see I've had a long history of working with artist Damien Weighill as well.

In the example video, in which Batman is banging away the pain, he says the word "pain".  Shouldn't he get gonged for that?
Good catch. I did get gonged for that. During editing we left it in because we thought my act out was funny. Bad job at playing the game. Good job at "Batman banging away the pain." I love that combo by the way. It's just so perfect and explains why Bruce can just never get over it.

After the release, what are your plans for God Hates Charades?  Are you going to release a whole series of God Hates games?  Perhaps a game show on premium cable with celebrities doing charades and impressions of each other and other shocking things?
God Hates Charades is going to be our primary focus for the next couple of years. I think lots of companies have made it a habit of continuously going to Kickstarter, which I can see the appeal of, but we don't really want to do that. We just want to see GHC continue to work with the community of fans we've already had success with.  We announced a voting feature on our  our site and in the first seven days we received 81,000 votes. That was pretty shocking. So we can really imagine getting the community involved in helping evolve the game into something better than we could have ever imagined.

Any word yet from God on what he thinks of the new game?  Should we expect a release of "God Hates 'God Hates Charades'"?
God has his/her hands full. I don't think it's spending much time thinking about our game.

Describe a day of game development with your team.
We start each day off by playing a game and breaking it down into what we liked and didn't like about it. We then usually pitch ideas for other mechanics and games just to get the creative juices flowing. We usually prototype that out to some degree. And once we feel real good and loosened up we start work on God Hates Charades. We are a very modern gaming company, all of us have worked on games or computer software in the past, so we usually scrum and get to work building out new game content, website features, or mobile versions of our game.

The rules seem to say it's ok - but not recommended - to simply describe the actor and the scenario.  Any tips for motivating players who might be a little shy about actually acting out some of these things?
We find if you start acting out the scenario before you start acting out the actor you can get more into character. The most important thing to keep in mind is that everyone looks stupid acting like "Nick Cage trying on pants that are too small," so just have fun with it. That's the best thing about the game. It's not serious. So get over yourself. Let out some giggles. And if all else fails, drink.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Tapple

Tapple is a fast and fun party game of shouting out words.  It's a sort of real time "Scattergories," where your goal is to think of words that begin with a certain letter, but instead of writing them down, you're tapping a letter on a device, saying your word, then passing the device, a la "Catchphrase."



What makes the game fast?  You have only 10 seconds to think of a word that fits the category (Pizza toppings, cars, laundry detergents, things that get wet, etc) and as the round progresses it gets harder - each letter can be used only once.  (For example, if someone before you said "pepperoni," you can't say "pineapple" - the P has been pressed down and stays down until the round is over.) If you can't think of a word that works, you're out for that round, but rounds end quickly enough that you won't get bored waiting to jump in again.

What makes the game fun?  Surprisingly, there was relatively little arguing over what constituted an appropriate response - always the Achillies' heel of this type of game.  The rules specify that in answering you may use specific brand names (Jeep, Jetta) as well as related, more general terminology (junker, jalopy.)  This makes it possible to be creative in your response without getting dinged by the other players.  It's challenging and a little stressful - in a good way - to think of something with the time constraint and the loud ticking of the device.

Though the stack of category cards is small, it does fit nicely inside the device, and is color coded so you can play with easier categories for younger players.  It's also quite fun and easy to make up your own categories.  The categories are nicely varied so that everyone will eventually have a chance to do well.

If all the letters get used, a new round begins, with a new category, and everyone who has not been eliminated now must tap TWO letters and say two words.  If more than one player survives that round, a THIRD round begins and players must now tap three letters and think of three words!

Tapple is a simple and quick game that many people will enjoy.  It's as accessible as older possibly played-out games like Apples to Apples, and it's quicker and more challenging too.

One caveat: you will need to purchase batteries or pillage them from a remote control (as I did), as they are not included.

Tapple at USAopoly's web site

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Pixel Tactics 3

Pixel Tactics 3 is, as the name suggests, the third in the Pixel Tactics line of player-vs-player tactical card games from Level 99 games, using characters from their fictional world of Indines.  If you're already a fan of the Pixel Tactics games, you'll find some nice new features... if you are new to the games, you can start playing right away - these decks work on their own or combined with their predecessors.

There is a lot to like about Pixel Tactics 3, but I will get my one caveat out of the way right off the bat.  There is a lot of text on the cards and the cards are not large.  This means a lot of reading and reasonably sharp vision will be required.  The artwork is highly stylized to appear as old fashioned 8-bit computer graphics.  This will be nostalgic to some, annoying to others.  I happen to own (and occasionally use) a collection of 1980s-era computers, so it's right up my digital alley.  But a painter I tested the game with couldn't understand why a game would intentionally make artwork MORE blocky.  Your mileage - as with any game - will vary.  This is a gamers' game.

Now the good stuff.  Pixel Tactics is a head to head game of commanding a force of up to nine characters against your opponent's up to nine characters.  Each of your heroes is a card you play from your hand, and the one you play first is the "Leader" - this one has an over-arching passive game effect that continually modifies all your other characters (and thus, directs your strategy.)  The regular heroes can be played in a variety of ways.  Their capabilities depend on where you place them - each hero has a front line effect (melee attacks on the other unit, intercepting incoming ranged attacks etc), a flank effect (maybe giving you extra actions, etc) and a rear effect (ranged attacks, healing, etc etc).  You may also choose to discard a card to use its "Order" effect, which is powerful but will remove that card from play for the rest of the match.

The game is fun in both the short term and the long term. Discovering how the cards work together is very fun.  You can bide your time to see what cards come out, then build a strong strategy, or you can try and go for a quick kill - as the instructions warn, you'll likely do better if you go the former route.  Once you know all the cards you can have even more fun since you now know what you're doing.  Essentially, the possibilities unfold and then begins the battle royale.

The synergy between the cards is effective and multi-varied and there are always interesting decisions to be made.  The Leaders have interesting and powerful effects - one lets you use 14 heroes instead of 9 in your unit; one lets you play heroes out of turn (usually you play from one row at a time, front to back), one lets you switch leaders mid-match.  Here are three cards as an example.  The Leaders are used by turning the card upside down, so each card can be either a Leader or a Hero. Click on the image below for a larger scale image.

Pixel Tactics is designed to be a relatively quick game, and it is.  The package says 30 minutes - the web site suggests 30 to 60 minutes - my games were longer, but my testers and I were being leisurely about it.  Once you and your opponent understand the game and know all the cards, the game will play quickly - so you can knock out a game whenever convenient, unlike those strategy games that take hours - you know the ones!

Playing the out-of-the-box game means you and your opponent will have identical decks, which means you'll know what cards each other have and be playing the same cards on each other.  This is mitigated by all the different card effects.  Because cards behave in different ways depending on how they are used, the cards stay interesting longer.  Expert players can combine cards from Pixel Tactics 1 and 2 and even play with card drafting to create their own decks.  Some special cards are included - I was amused to see Tom Vasel, game reviewer, in pixel form - and there's a blank card so you can make your own.

As with films, my test of a good game is - was I thinking about it later after it was over? - and with Pixel Tactics 3, the answer is yes!  If you like tactical games with lots of options - be sure to check it out.   There's a video showing how to play it at Level 99 Games' web site.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Interview with the creators of "Krackades"

I had an opportunity to sit down (virtually) with the folks behind the new game KRACKADES (Charades on crack) and get a few questions asked about this new game that does for charades/drawing/sculpting games, what Cards Against Humanity did for Apples to Apples - bust the game wide open into a much more risque, less uptight topical space.  Here's what they had to say. Learn more at krackades.com.

1)  How did the idea arise for "Krackades"?

We wanted to create a game for our generation that's all about unadulterated raunchy fun.  It started nearly a year ago at a Christmas party after playing a round of Cranium.  We really wished it had a little more edginess and over-the-top aura similar to Cards Against Humanity but without extremely sensitive non-politically correct subjects.  So we decided to make our own game and play it with friends.  It was an instant hit on a conceptual level and a bunch of people started chiming in asking us to include even more outrageous and raunchy cards to our current deck of act, sculpt, and draw.  It started to grow from there and we threw in our unique twists to the game mechanic with Krack Attacks.

In fact, we actually got strong encouragement from one of our friends from undergrad and co-creator of CAH, Josh Dillon, to keep developing the game and pushing the envelope.    



2)  The theme of the game is a bit risque.  How have people reacted to the game?  What's it like playing it with strangers for the first time?  Have you introduced it to your families?

We noticed an interesting pattern: people who are generally timid to join in the game on the first round sit on the side lines, then when they see how much fun everyone is having trying to guess something like "Dick in the Box" as someone frantically tries to sculpt it under 60 seconds, then they end up joining in too.  Generally, ethanol speeds up this process.

Overall, we've received pretty positive reviews from people except for one time a girl playing the game literally started laughing and crying because she had to draw "Gerbil up the butt."

Our families know of the game.  They have still yet to play it.

3)  In "Krackades Mini" you have a proof of concept and can generate some buzz.  How many copies did you make?  What's the plan for the next version of Krackades?  Are you going the Kickstarter route?

We sold out our original batch of Krackades Mini, roughly 100 copies, in about two months and this was with virtually close to zero publicity.  We currently re-stocked it on Amazon in order to quench growing demand and generate greater awareness before launching another Kickstarter.  Krackades Mini is simply a portable version of the game that people can put in their pocket and take to any party anywhere.

Our goal is to create a complete game with larger cards (featuring fan-favorite's from act, sculpt and draw cards that optimizes fun and difficulty level), more outrageous Krack Attacks -- all included with clay and a paper pad.


4)  Your video on krackades.com is really impressive, the production values and visual graphics especially.  What software did you use to create it?  Did you hire a professional (or is one of you a professional)?

One of our friends is a motion graphics artist with insane skills. He used Final Cut Studio and Adobe Creative Suite to pull it all together.  We paid him with pancakes and syrup at a local diner for brunch.  We also gave him the inflatable blowup doll "Dolly" as a token of our appreciation, I'm sure she has her own channel now on Snapchat.


5)  What do you do with your spare time?  What other games do you guys enjoy?

We enjoy playing chess and sometimes playing 2048 or even Flappy Bird.  In our spare time, we really enjoy game design and watching funny serials on Netflix, like Community or The Office.

6)  Got any advice for the aspiring game creators out there?

Try to get Jimmy Kimmel or Ashton Kutcher to sponsor your product -- it's more likely to go viral that way.  If that approach fails, hard work, creativity, and being smart can also pay dividends.  Also, playtest relentlessly and don't be afraid to modify things based on input you get from early adopters.

7)  What, to you, makes a game good / fun ?  

I think a hallmark of a good game is one where you willingly put your own social capital on the line and introduce it to new acquaintances and friends because you believe it's something that's really fun and fresh.  In terms of game mechanics, it's something that operates fluidly and is easy to understand while maintaing a certain competitive and/or challenging aspect to it.

I suppose you can also say a good game ought to be addictive too.

8)  Is Krackades your first game you've put together?  Do you expect to do more in future?

Krackades is the first game we put together.  We have other ideas in the works but we want to see Krackades blossom into its true potential first.

9)  What lessons have you learned in producing the game, that you'd pass on to other aspiring game creators?

It's a lot of hard work but also a lot of fun too when you share the experience with friends and strangers.  Always have an open mind to incorporate feedback during play tests.    Working out logistics and choosing the right producer for the game is also key for quality.  Creating a game for the first time is a continual process of refinement.  Also, it's not enough that you create a great game that's well playtested, conceptually sound, and fun -- you must find a way to spread it to the masses.  Growing your base of followers is probably one of the most critical challenges to overcome and it requires an intrepid spirit to get people to not only love your idea but also actively play and share it with others as well.

It's all too easy to give up and get depressed if your crowdsourcing campaign fails initially.  If you really believe in your idea don't give up or at least consider modifying your approach.  Altogether, it's an exciting process and we can't wait to share it with the masses.


Cheers,
Krackades Team (Cyrus)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

ApocalypZe: it's all about survival

Zombies are overrepresented in today's entertainment market.  Movies, TV shows, and all sorts of games feature these rotten critters.  But ApocalpyZe, a unique card game originally promoted through Kickstarter, is not just another brain-munching splat-fest.  Rather, the game presents a post-apocalyptic setting with real tension and make-or-break decisions.  The zombies are only a part of what you'll face as you attempt to survive - the most dire enemy being ultimate starvation, simulated by your ever-shrinking draw pile.

Each player gets a customizable deck of 60 cards (you may use 45 if you want a shorter game) including one "stronghold" card, representing your "home base."  Cards consist of scavenging locations (which give you an opportunity to replenish your deck), defenders (who you place on your locations), raiders (who you deploy to other locations) and weapons and equipment (which you "attach" to your defenders or raiders to assist them.)

Although there is a combat phase in the game, the essence of this game is resource management.  During the session I played in, I seemed to be doing quite well, and attacked my neighbor repeatedly.  Because I had so many defenders, I needed to consume more cards, while she hung on and I basically fought myself into starvation.  The decisions about how and where to do battle are more interesting than the battles themselves; the outcome of the game is often going to be close (and often surprising.)  

Don't dismiss ApocalypZe just because it has zombies.  This is a game with a unique feel and some very unique gameplay mechanisms.  The end of the world has never been this much fun.

You can learn more and purchase the game at the Nine Kingdoms web site.  Also be sure to see the updated rulebook.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Interview with Galactic Sneeze

I have a special treat for y'all today, an interview with Sara and Bryan from Galactic Sneeze, creators of SCHMOVIE (reviewed on this blog last December.)  Schmovie is available for purchase at Amazon.  Cheers!

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How did you get the idea for SCHMOVIE?  Did other games inspire you, and if so, which?  Or some random event?
Schmovie actually started as a film-themed spin-off of an earlier game we designed called “Pitch King”, where players came up with names for wacky inventions. We were also working on writing a screenplay for an animated film at the time, and had been reading a ton of books about screenwriting and story structure. We applied the film theme to the other game and ended up liking it better since it was more replayable and had a universal theme... everyone likes movies!

About how many times do you think you play-tested the game before printing?  What was your strategy in finding testers? 
We tested the game a lot. We played with friends, family, our friends’ families, and our family’s friends. We started with people we knew since it was easiest to pull folks together quickly that way. We sent out testing/scoring sheets with the prototypes so we could get feedback.

Did the game change much over the course of development?  If so, how?  What was the game like when you first created it?
The core mechanic of the game has stayed the same, but pretty much everything around it has evolved: the name, the branding, the trophies, and the design. Schmovie was originally called “Screen Play”, but we realized pretty quickly that it would be hard to secure the URL for that name, or have the game come up readily in online searches. So we knew we had to come up with a name that was more unique and ownable. We tried out a bunch of different names, and Schmovie just sort of schtuck!
The original design of the game was black, white, and gold… pulling inspiration from Hollywood and the film industry. It made sense but lacked our current playfulness. Once we changed the name to Schmovie, we got a little sillier. It was actually through our play-along Facebook page that the Schquid Trophy (our reward system) evolved and ultimately became the face of our brand.

Why did you decide to go the "start a small business and do everything yourself" route, rather than "try and find a company to license and publish the game for you" route (or did you try that too?)  Are you happy you went this direction?
We originally formed Galactic Sneeze as a “fun stuff think tank” with the goal of pitching toys, games, and IPs to larger companies. And that’s exactly what we did… at first. One company was interested in Schmovie (when it was still “Screen Play”) and considered it for about 6 months. We grew increasingly excited as it made it to subsequent review rounds within the company. They ultimately passed, but the fact they had been so interested inspired us to pursue self-publishing. It has been a tremendous learning experience, and although bringing a game to market is a ridiculous amount of work, the reward is greater.

How much of a time and effort commitment is it to run Galactic Sneeze, on top of family and other work considerations?  What do you two do in your other lives?
Galactic Sneeze is 24/7. We talk about projects over morning coffee, while grocery shopping, on the subway, and while cooking meals. On weekends, we put our 2-year-old daughter down for her afternoon nap and then squeeze in a few hours of work. It is extremely demanding to run a business with your spouse and also have a family. You become partners on all levels, which is also uniquely awesome.
Up until recently, Bryan was a Creative Director at an advertising agency. He now focuses on Galactic Sneeze full time. I (Sara) still do freelance toy and game development for larger companies. I really enjoy the creative work involved and feel fortunate to be able to continue to do that in addition to Galactic Sneeze projects.

Is "Galactic Sneeze" a callback to Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy books, one of which mentioned a competing theory to the Big Bang theory, in which the universe was sneezed out of a creature called the Great Green Arkleseizure?  If not, where does the name come from?
No… but we’re fans of the series. :) We wanted to come up with a name that felt big and fun. It captures the moment when you’re first struck with a great idea, as well as the energy of it growing and spreading. This lead to our tag line: Contagious Concepts.

What has your experience been in creating, publishing and marketing SCHMOVIE?  Was it difficult to find distribution and to get your game on Amazon?  Do you have any advice for aspiring game company startups?
It takes a tremendous amount of time and energy to create, publish, and market a game. Bryan’s background is in advertising, and I come from the world of toys. And even with our experience, we had a huge learning curve ahead of us. There are several ways to get your game onto Amazon, so depending on your goals, that part isn’t too difficult. We’ve been working hard to get our game into retailers, and it’s awesome when they call us to reorder because they’ve sold out. We’re now working with a distributor to get Schmovie into larger stores... and we’re excited to announce it’ll be available at Barnes & Noble starting in April!

What other game ideas are you working on, if you can disclose them yet?  What sort of game would you like to do next?
We have a couple game concepts/prototypes currently being reviewed by larger game companies, which is promising. We’re not opposed to self-publishing future games, but we’re going to focus on growing Schmovie before bringing another  one to market on our own. All of our current concepts are in the Party and Family Games category. We also pitch toys, intellectual properties, and kids’ TV shows.

What is your favorite thing about making games?
Sara: My favorite aspect is the creative process, and the joy that stems from that “aha” moment when you figure out the solution to some creative problem that’s been plaguing you for weeks.
Bryan: I love watching people play our games. I’ve seen folks laugh so hard that beer came out their nose.
Sara: And they weren't even drinking beer. Ha ha.

Thank you so much! :)  Much success and best of luck in your continued endeavors!