All posts by Sam D. Burr

Arc Symphony

A great airship flies above the world, devastated by the Great Flood. Aboard the Arc Symphony, Satoshi Davis of the King’s Guard embarks on an adventure that turns his life upside down. Arc Symphony is a legendary PS1 JRPG by Aether Interactive, standing among the likes of Final Fantasy and Chrono Cross.

But that is not the game you get to play. Instead, you’re playing through the experiences of the game’s early online fandom.

Also call outs to the windows update for ruining the Game Bar screenshot tool

Arc Symphony, by Aether Interactive, is a Twine game revolving around a Usenet group for fans of the in-universe Arc Symphony. You play as a returning poster after a period of inactivity to hang out again with your fellow fans (or Archeads, apparently).

You click on topics, read through the messages and add your own replies. You only get two options for replies: a courteous one and a Something Awful comment, with another reply based on what you’ve sent. More posts crop up as you read on, digging you deeper into this world.

If you played Hypnospace Outlaw early this year and liked its setting and framing, you’ll probably like Arc Symphony in that it’s also a capsule of the early internet – particularly an early form of game forums, in this case. Posters debate on characters and ask questions about the game. There’s fanfiction surrounding the game and hype building up for a sequel. Characters discuss the meanings of their handles all while having each post end in a signature. You get a sense of familiarity between the characters, reflecting the experience of being a newcomer to a community that’s already grown close. It’s all very familiar to me despite being an earlier form of my experiences, though there’s certainly less slurs thrown around.

Arc Symphony also addresses a general, more intimate trait of the internet in how it can provide anonymity to people trying to explore their identities. I didn’t go through this myself during my days of browsing through forums – and god, I’m glad I didn’t because looking back, the people I knew back then would have burned me alive. But I know and seen many people that have explored themselves on the internet and settled into new identities that fit them, so it’s a very worthwhile topic for this game to tackle.

At the very end, the credits roll, and at the bottom is a link. And clicking on the link made me lose my goddamn mind.

As one last gift, you can explore a fan site that the moderators put together. It brought me back to my days in middle school of looking up old RPGs and finding these sites. Folks? Have you ever been on those RPGClassics sites for stuff like Paper Mario? This has the exact same energy to me. There’s even dead links to LiveJournal pages in here. All it really needs is a fake, super condensed walkthrough for Arc Symphony and it’s truly complete.

Arc Symphony is a very short time that successfully captures early online game fandom. It’s a nostalgia trip for, not a game, but the experiences of being in a community surrounding a game. Even though I was not around for Usenet, the experiences on display are universal for anyone that’s grown up on the internet.

Q&Play: Camp Pinetop

The Inquisitive Meeple reviews Camp Pinetop and conducts a short interview with its designer, Stephen B. Davies.

Camp Pinetop is a family/gateway/light euro-style game (we will just call it gateway game henceforth – with the most positive connotation you can think of for that label) for 1-5 players (both the solo story mode and the 5 player mode will be stretch goals in the Kickstarter campaign). Players are leading a group of animal scouts attempting to earn patches and be the first to be promoted from the starting rank of a possum to the wilderness veteran rank of the badger. You will do this with a mix of some set collection and engine building.

 

The rundown ^

I don’t want to get too much into the rules, as you can always read the rule book yourself. However, some need to be explain to understand the review. On a turn, players do 1 of 4 possible actions on their turns:

  1. They can draw 2 supply cards ( or only 1 faceup wild card)
  2. They can draw a single supply card and move one meeple orthogonal on the board (to a different map card) 
  3. Move one of their meeples to a map card and collective a patch (or upgrade a patch they’ve already collected) 
  4. Place a new meeple on the board. 

The core of the game, of course, is to collect (and upgrade) enough patches to level up to the rank of Badger Scout, to automatically win the game. To do that you have to collect supply cards with various symbols on them and trade them in at the right moment, to collect a patch. If you already have the patch, then you get to upgrade it. There are 3 patch types and each one helps you out in some way. Circle/green patches have a 1-time use power you use immediately, square/blue patches give you a new ability to use for the rest of the game and finally diamond/grey help you out by either letting you use one resource as another (wild) or by letting you pay once resource type when trading in your resources for a patch.  

So how do you collect patches? This is one of the things that stands out different from other set collection/engine builder games. You have to move your meeple around a randomly generated map (generated at the start of the game) – and when you move over the map, the patch you cross (each map card has a patch on north, south, east and west direction of the card) is the patch that you can earn. Now you just have to pay the price that map card tells you via supply cards and then find the patch card in your stack of patch cards and place it in front of you. If it is already in front of you, you flip it to the advanced side and gain an even better ability. There is also another way to earn patches that don’t cost supply cards. At the start of the game, 4 Mastery Cards are placed on the table, if you can meet a requirement of a Mastery Card (like “Bushwacker: Have at least 3 scouts on edge of map cards”) then you get to choose 1 of the patches on the card and cover it up with a cube of your color. You do have a limit of 1 cube per master card, and it’s first come first serve as to which of the 4 patches you can get. 

There are of course others rules, like how you pick up cards in the supply deck, what happens if you land on a card that has someone else meeple on it (you have to pay them a supply card), etc – but this is the general gist of the game outside how ranks work. 

If you look above at the picture of the player board, you will get a general idea about how ranking up works. To Upgrade from Possum to Skunk I need to have in front of me either 2 circles, 2 square or 2 diamond patches.  To move from Possum to Woodchuck, I have to meet the requirements there PLUS have 1 of my patches turned to its upgraded side (that is what the arrow with the 1 on it means), etc. You play until one person ranks to Badger, and they are the winner. 

 

The Qs ^

Stephen B. Davies

Stephen, thanks for taking some time out of your schedule and agreeing to do this little interview about Camp Pinetop. What’s the story behind the creation of the game?

Stephen: Of course!  Camp Pinetop is centered around an outdoor summer camp, which is a theme that I’ve been wanting to make a game around for a long time.  I was a Cub Scout when I was younger, worked as an arts and crafts director at a summer camp in college, and thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail right after school; so scouting, summer camps and the outdoors are close to my heart.

I ended up scrapping my first few attempts.  Usually, when I shelve an idea I won’t end up returning to it, but I couldn’t let go of it – the idea of a game where you would collect patches was very appealing, and I was so drawn to the subject and visual design of it.  So I kept testing ideas, eventually finding what was fun and rewarding and expanding on it.

Speaking of those patches. Perhaps the most unique thing about the gameplay is the idea of the direction you come onto a map card corresponds with a different badge (with each cardinal direction being a different patch). What inspired that? 

Stephen: In an earlier version you could complete patches on cards that were adjacent to the one you were on.  The problem was that it was too easy for a player to camp (forgive the pun) on a centrally located card, and I wanted them to move around and get in each others’ way more.  

I get asked sometimes why traveling to the same place from a different direction would give you a different reward, but it makes sense if you think about it.  A mountain has different trails leading up to the peak: the north face might be a technical rock climb, the trail leading up from the west might be through a thick forest, the south might require you to navigate across a river.  Each gives a different experience and reward.

Let’s talk briefly about those earlier versions. What has big the biggest change or two from some of the earlier versions to now and what prompted those changes?

Stephen: There was a pick-up-and-deliver element early on that I got rid of.  You would have to move tents out to areas on the map, which would allow you to start your turn there, as well as stash supply cards in those areas.  So it was almost like you were running a supply chain from a base camp to more remote areas of the wilderness. It was more interesting in theory than in practice, though.  It proved to be a pain to manage multiple piles of cards in different areas and was a stumbling block for a lot of people I taught the game to. I listened to what people enjoyed the most about that early version, which was collecting patches and completing the different adventures on the map, and cut out everything else.

An earlier prototype (from April 2018) of Camp Pinetop, when it was still called Scouts

Did any games influence you in the creation of Camp Pinetop?

Stephen: Well, this may hurt my street cred but gateway games like Ticket to Ride, Splendor and Forbidden Island certainly have.  They are a gateway for a reason, and you have to admire the simplicity in their design and accessibility. But I’ve tried very hard to create a game that is not just easy to pick up but also has a lot of depth and replayability.

This was a theme-first game, so I also surrounded myself with a lot of content to draw inspiration from – I’ve picked up gadgets and manuals from thrift stores and read a lot of books.  Two of my favorites are an old Boy Scout manual from the ’70s and a guide to orienteering from the ’50s. Last week I was listening to a Boxcar Children audiobook where they go to summer camp. Luckily it’s just me and my wife in the office, so I didn’t have to explain it to anyone.

 One of the stretch goals or add ons in the Kickstarter will be the Nature Pack – which introduces animals and weather. How will this expansion work and what does it add to the gameplay?

Stephen: It will be an add-on, and one of the ways you can increase the complexity in the game.  The positioning of the weather and animal tokens will either give you a boost or a penalty, depending on your position on the map relative to them.  There is a deck that forecasts what is going to move, and so you will have to manage the risk/reward you want to take in getting too close. The weather was an element I had in an early iteration of the game but it wasn’t working at that time.  Eric Alvarado at Talon Strikes was able to come up with something really clever and concise that fits in neatly with the current iteration. I have to give him most of the credit for the Nature Pack. 

Talon Strikes Studios are the ones publishing Camp Pinetop. What has been your favorite thing about working with them?

Stephen: So, I just mentioned Eric – he was the one who played it at the most recent Unpub and signed it.  But actually he was watching me develop it for a long time. Three years before I had submitted it to the Cardboard Edison Awards design contest, and he was one of the judges who evaluated it.  He gave me great, helpful feedback. So I knew Talon Strikes would be able to provide fresh insight while we developed on it, while still understanding the evolution of the game. I also knew the quality of help I’d get based on his previous comments from the awards judging.

Finally, as we wrap up. What has been the biggest lesson you have learned as a designer from designing Camp Pinetop?

Stephen: The hardest challenge for me is always getting too attached to certain elements in the design, and that’s especially true with this design, which has had such a long development cycle.  So the biggest lesson might be that you have to be ruthless and cut things that aren’t working, regardless of how clever or unique it is. That’s probably not news for most people, I think designers are told that a lot.  I made it especially hard on myself though, since I was developing the visual design of the game as I went. I’d get attached not just to the mechanics but also to how I imagined it would look in the final.

In the end, there were things that I cut because they didn’t fit at the time that I ended up bringing back… so you never know.

 

The play ^

The first time you play,  the game can have an AP (Analysis Paralysis – or taking forever due to choices) feel since players are all looking at their cards, the table, and the Mastery Cards and deciding what patches/badges you want to achieve (and trying to figure out what power each of those patches gives you). However, once you start to learn what the patches do, you will have a good feel for the game and then the gameplay is MUCH faster by second or third play. Let me also say that the majority of my plays have been 2-players. Though I have played 3-player, and with 3-player there is more player interaction in having to pay your opponent a resource to go onto a space they are currently occupying. With 2-player, this is much easier to avoid. 

Yays: 

  • The powers that patches give you don’t feel overpowered but are well thought out to the gameplay
  • When drawing cards, the draw deck is in the middle with face-up cards on either side. Players must only take face-up cards from one side (or a facedown card). This standout among other card drawing gateway games. Making it feel fresh.
  • The direction you come on a map card matters in what badge you collect is a great twist to the gameplay. 
  • Both the Random Maps (and how collecting patches works) and the Mastery Cards can affect your strategy in the game, possibly making it different from game to game.
  • That there are a number of map cards and you don’t use them all in every game, making each game setup slightly different, as all the map cards have different costs. So one game may have a lot of walking sticks out and not so many fishing rods you have pay, and then the next game maybe vice versa.
  • The theme and art are great and unique. 

Nays: I have only one negative with the game, it’s more of an annoyance than anything else and it may even be fixed with the final version (we shall see). That is – the 12 badge cards in the game that each player gets, if they get mixed up you have to sort them and make sure everyone has the correct 12 badge cards (that is 60 cards so go through to pull out 12 specific cards for each player). Hopefully, they will fix this by putting a tiny player color (paw print like player boards) on the bottom corner of the cards. Then I can sort through the 60 cards fast finding 12 of a certain color and handing them to that player. 

Also, there is one very minor annoyance about setting up so that you have at least one blue tent card in the middle of the map. It’s not a huge deal, you just gotta remember that tiny rule during setup. 

Final Thoughts: I have not played any Talon Strikes Studios games in the past, so Camp Pinetop is my first Talon Strikes game and I was very pleasantly surprised. Camp Pinetop kind of feels like a cross between Ticket to Ride and Splendor, with its own unique game twists.  Now, you may think that marrying those two games, previously mentioned would make the game feel clunky, but that is not the case at all. It plays very streamlined and doesn’t show any hint of clunkiness in its gameplay.

The twists like of moving the scouts on the various maps and how those maps work (you get the badge on the side you cross), as well as, the gameplay of picking from only one side of the deck or the side of the map you cross on to mattering in gameplay, are extremely smart and fresh feeling to this type of game. I also really enjoy pulling off a combo with the Mastery cards, to win a game, it feels very satisfying (I have had this happen to me two different times thus far).  Also, I want to note that Camp Pinetop also has a big game in a small box feel to it – that the game feels bigger than the box size may believe you to think. For example, Traders of Osaka (aka Traders of Carthage) from Z-Man Games would also fit in this category.

Those that follow me on social media, may know that this year we are gameschooling our 5th grader (using games in homeschooling) and this semester he has a 10×5 game challenge to complete. The very first game he chose for his challenge was Camp Pinetop  (it didn’t take him to long to fill in his five plays). He seems to enjoy the game as well. Really and true everyone and anyone looking for a new gateway or family game should at the very least try Camp Pinetop, if not outright buy a copy. It’s a wonderful game.

 

The last word ^

Meeple-Sized Summary:

Camp Pinetop feels like an extremely streamlined classic gateway game, albeit a little think-ier than the average gateway game. I am even willing to take my assessment a step further and say it’s one of those rare ones that feels both classic and fresh at the same time. 

The last word

 

Thanks to Talon Strikes Studios for sending us a preview copy for an honest review. As well, as Stephen B. Davies for the interview.

Talon Strikes Studios can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/TalonStrikes

Stephen B. Davies can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/StephenBDavies

Camp Pinetop will be on Kickstarter on September 24, 2019. 


Chasm, A procedural Adventure platformer

Welcome to Chasm, an action-adventure game in which you play a new recruit undertaking your first mission for the Guildean Kingdom. Thrilled to prove your worth as a knight, you track strange rumors that a mine vital to the Kingdom has been shut down. But what you discover in the mining town is worse than you imagined: The townspeople have disappeared, kidnapped by supernatural creatures emerging from the depths.

Honor-bound to solve the mystery and restore peace to the Kingdom, you embark upon an epic adventure, with deadly battles against cunning monsters, exploration of ancient catacombs and castles, and powerful new equipment hidden at every turn. Though the overall story is the same for all players, your hero’s journey will be unique: each of the rooms has been hand-designed, and behind the scenes Chasm stitches these rooms together into a one-of-a-kind world map that will be your own.

Key Features

  • Explore six massive procedurally-assembled areas from hand-crafted rooms
  • Enjoy challenging retro gameplay and authentic pixel art (384×216 native res.)
  • Battle massive bosses and discover new abilities to reach previously inaccessible areas
  • Customize your character by equipping armor, weapons, and spells
  • Windows, Mac, & Linux versions with full Gamepad support

 

https://store.steampowered.com/app/312200/Chasm/

Component.Studio: In-line Icons

Last week, Fairway wrote a tutorial for Component.Studio that showed off the power of layers, variables, and other elements in creating the cards for Sneeze. This week, he’s looking at another power: variables to create in-line icons.

In my game, Cards of Olympus, players collect “Tribute” and “Drachmas” and “Points.” Like many designs, these are represented on cards by icons. The Tribute and Drachmas are spent to activate actions: blessings, quests, and “conversions.”  In each of these cases, the icons show up within the text as well. You can see this in various locations, but especially in the “Bless” and “Quest” action text of these cards:

This Component.Studio tutorial will take you through an effective way to include these “icons” within your design, but managed in a way that lets you quickly make changes and doesn’t clutter your content.

Uploading your icons ^

There’s a number of ways to do this, but I’m going to use the native, Component.Studio file storage functionality.  Using the “Images & Icons” option, I created a folder for my icons.

Within there, I uploaded each of my icon images. Each icon is the same image dimension. I used 100×100 pixels. As you’ll see below, Component.Studio will do some automatic resizing. Starting with a larger image also let me re-purpose the icons for use on other parts of the cards and in text headers.

Like in the previous tutorial, we’re going to use the “copy URL to clipboard” button to get direct links to the icons for use when creating our variables in the next section.  So, you might want to open another tab and keep this one handy so you can easily copy and paste.

Let’s make Icon Variables ^

In Component.Studio, you can create “Data Set Variables” that function convert a special set of characters within your “Data Set” into some other specified output.  If you’re familiar with any other programming language, these are just really simple “variables.” To use them, we first have to create a data set.

Go to “Data Sets” at the top.  Then create a name and click the green “Create Component Data Set” button:

The first time you create a data set, it’ll be mostly empty. For our purpose, we’re going to create three different icon variables: D, T and V, for drachma, tribute and victory, respectively.

We’ll do “D” first. To create a Data Set Variable, scroll to the bottom, type “D” in the name.

Next, we need to type in the “value” of our new variable. The value is going to be the special “inline image” code and the URL to our drachma icon. The Component.Studio help states that to add images inline with text you type: <|URL TO IMAGE HERE|>. Copying the URL from the icon folder, our “value” looks like this:

<|https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.component.studio/C19D99D6-CD18-11E9-9662/drachme.png|>

We can add this line to our variable and click the green “+” sign:

This gives us a “data set variable” of “{$D}” that we can use through out our data. We can repeat this same process for “T” and “V” until all the variables are created:

Using our inline variables ^

For Cards of Olympus, I used the Google Sheets method I described in the previous tutorial — for brevity, I’m not going to repeat the import steps. In my data set, two of the columns, Quest and Power, make extensive use of the variables. I have bolded the variables in the screenshot below. The power, here, is that when these are eventually resolved in our design, the variables will be replaced with images.

You can use this in any fields that you will reference out of your data set. So, for example, body text, headers, etc.  The “data set” variables will not extend to the designs themselves only to the parts of the designs that rely upon the data set.

To see what I mean, let’s create a design based on our new data set.

Designs using our Data Set ^

We’ll start by creating a new design by clicking “Design” at the top and then naming the design, selecting a poker card, and using our newly created data set:

On our blank card, we’ll add a “Text” box.  Within the “Text” section, we’re going to reference one of the columns that uses the inline variables “DemiGodQuest”:

As you can see, without doing anything else, the “Victory” icon is inserted inline with the rest of the text.  Changing the font and scaling the font will auto-scale the inline image as well.

[Update: ] Changing the “size” of your inline images ^

One other less obvious point that is worth considering: you can change the “size” of your inline icons relative to the size of your regular text by using the “Alternate” font functionality.

For example, if we change the above text to include *s around the variable, we can separately adjust the size of the icon:

Then, in the Text section, we can set the Alternate Font to have a size larger than the standard text.  This results in the icon getting bigger:

Conclusion ^

The technique of using variables and inline images works to create some very vivid results:

Carl Salminen Wants Everyone to Have a Cow

Interview for Carl Salminen about his new family card game, Have a Cow.

Note: This article was originally posted on The Inquisitive Meeple

Hey Carl, thanks for joining us today to tell us a little bit about your new game, Have a Cow.  Could you tell us a little bit about the game and it’s gameplay?

Carl:  Hey Ryan, I appreciate the chance to talk about the game. In Have a Cow, the players are farmers. Their cows are out in the pasture having a snack when strange and unusual visitors out of time begin to arrive. So now the farmers need to get their herds back onto their barnyards. The first player to gather 4 cows, wins. The gameplay uses barn cards that allow players to try and build combos and chains in order to get the most out of each turn. You basically want to make hay bales to attract cows and use the hay to bring them into your herd. All the while, you need to manipulate and use the visitors as best you can.

What the story behind the creation of the game?

Carl:  The inspiration for the game came from a small herd of cows that lived nearby when I was in New Jersey. I stopped while on a bike ride to chat with them one day and someone drove by yelling “Don’t have a cow!” I thought, hey, maybe I want to have a cow and something clicked. I rode home and started working on the first iteration of Have a Cow.

Wow! So you’ve been working on this for quite some time, because as long as I’ve known you, you’ve lived here in Florida, like myself. How long have you been working on the game?

Carl:  I made the original game several years and put it on Kickstarter. It failed to fund but I was very inexperienced and definitely rushed into things. When I first moved to Florida, I kind of got out of board gaming for almost 3 years. I had a job that took all my energy and I was even hit by a car. But mostly, I had a weird experience while developing a game about elephants for someone in the Washington D.C. area. It was moving along and I suddenly got what I can only call “writer’s block” of game development. It was strange. About a year ago, I jumped back in and decided to make Have a Cow that game I always wanted it to be. I think it’s fun, fast-moving and the illustrator I hired did an amazing job of making it look great. I’m feeling good about the games I’m working on again.

Did any games influence Have a Cow?

Carl:  No specific game directly influenced Have a Cow but as a game designer, I know that everything I do has been influenced by the games I’ve played. Basically, there was no point where I said to myself “I want Have a Cow to be like Game X.”

So in Have a Cow, there are a good amount of different visitors that visit the farm. What was your thought process in trying to decide what type of character would show up on the farm? 

Carl:  I wanted the game to be quirky and to spark the imagination so I knew there would be some unusual characters but I first came up with the card effects. So the prototype was just blank index cards with the abilities written on them. After that, I tried to put somewhat thematic characters to each ability. The hope is that after a given game, a player could say An alien came to my farm and took a cow so on the next turn, the pharaoh helped me get a tractor so I could get a haystack but there was a troll in the haystack! Stuff like that. The illustrator came to the rescue and really made some great pieces of art for the cards.

Do you have a favorite character?

Carl:  Some of my favorites are in the upcoming expansion called “Haunted Have a Cow: It Came from the Pumpkin Patch” When I was growing up, I watched all the classic Universal monster movies like Frankenstein and Dracula and so on. They are the inspiration for many characters in the expansion. In the core game, I think I like the Neanderthal and the Detective.

Let’s talk that expansion. Will it be a Kickstarter add on or stretch goal? What does it add to the gameplay? 

Carl:  The expansion “Haunted Have a Cow: It Came From the Pumpkin Patch” is our only stretch goal and will be integrated into the game if we hit that goal. So, backers will get the full game plus the expansion. It adds support for up to 5 players and a Halloween Theme with new barn cards and visitors. If you want to add a 5th player, just shuffle them into the game. If you just want to just add the theme, you randomly discard 10 visitors and shuffle the haunted visitors in.

It includes stuff like a vampire, werewolf, mummy, and trick-or-treaters. The barn deck gets new items like Halloween candy, etc. The KS campaign should wrap up in time to get it all delivered before Halloween, too.

Will we see more expansion in the future not just holiday ones like say Christmas or Valentines but other things as well?

Carl:  Yes. I have a few expansions planned. A Winter Wonderland expansion by the end of November. This will be a general holiday season expansion. Then I’ll be on to another game. later in 2020, there will be more. There’s a lot of fun stuff that can be done with the game.

The Samurai from your other game Don’t Flip A Ninja is a visitor in Have a Cow. That is a nice Easter Egg. Will be seeing the ninja making an appearance at some point as a visitor?

Carl: Ah, yes, I put the samurai in there to see how many people might notice. Good eye! And I do think the ninja will make a showing, too, but I won’t say where.

Don’t Flip a Ninja artwork.

Let’s talk your illustrator for a moment. Who is it and what about their illustration style did you know was right for this game? 

Carl:  The illustrator is Izsák Ambrus, a comic artist from Hungary. I was building the game using clip art but got to the point where I was ready to start gathering some proprietary art so a started searching. I used The Game Crafter, Indie Game Alliance, Fiverr, etc. Anyway… in the game, there is a Hay Troll and I saw a drawing of a troll that was as if it were made just for this game. It was one of those “ah-ha!” moments. I contacted the artist, we started talking and he did a couple of preliminary characters. I was totally delighted and the ball kept on rolling. I plan to use him for all the expansions that are yet to come.

Hey! Or should I say ‘hay.’ I actually wanted to mention the Hay Troll. In the game, the Hay Troll may be on the hay bale side of a card (there is a haystack and hay bale side). What does the Hay Troll add to the game?

Carl:  The hay troll is there to add a sense of tension. I feel like it would be kind of boring if flipping a haystack had the exact same result every time. It’s like pressing your luck a little bit. I get a kick out of those times when someone decides to flip a haystack and they’re like “No troll, no troll, no troll…” And then it’s a troll and everyone has a good laugh.

What was the best piece of advice that you received from a playtester for Have a Cow

Carl:  I think the best feedback I got was about the rules. It’s easy for a game creator to understand the written rules because they are the creator of those rules. When the game is sent out and people read them, that’s when you start to realize that the clarity you imagined being there isn’t really there at all. Also, there are now 2 hay trolls and I think, thanks to your feedback, it has made the game more fun. People are a little more anxious about revealing trolls and I love the look on their faces when they are about to flip over a haystack.

Yeah, it’s true I did suggest that. We’ve been playtesting the game some at our house, my son Gavin and I – in fact, I think we’ve played four times this week already. It’s a really good family card game. There is a little bit of take that, but it’s more of the laughter kind than hurt feelings kind. In fact, you may be laughing that you get to steal an opponent’s cow card with Robin Hood, only to have your next Visitor card be a UFO that will take one of your own cows! So the question in here is, was it hard to balance the take that portion of the game, so it doesn’t feel harsh or hurtful? 

Carl:  I tried to minimize the “take that” by making it mandatory to follow visitor instructions. So if a visitor causes something bad to happen it’s not like a player is doing it, it’s just an effect of the visitor. Even cards played by players, tend to affect where visitors are. So if I send a bad visitor to your farm, you still have your turn to manipulate that visitor. I think that’s why it tends to be funny when things happen, rather than mean.

If you had to choose 3 adjectives to describe the gameplay, what would they be?

Carl:  Surprising, Funny, Clever (I say clever because there really is an opportunity to make big turns by playing your cards right),

What is the greatest lesson as a designer that you have learned through designing Have a Cow?

Carl:  The greatest lesson is that game development is a collaborative process. You need to listen and learn and not be afraid to cut things loose that don’t work.

When should we be looking for the Kickstarter? 

Carl:  It starts Aug 23rd (tomorrow as of this interview). The funding goal is very low. I really just want to get the game to as many people as possible and Kickstarter seems like a good way to get the ball rolling and get the game into gamer’s hands.

Any final words? 

Carl:  My final words would simply be to thank you for the time you took to test the game and to hold this chat with me. My operation right now is completely grassroots. I quit my job a few months ago, invested in incorporating my game company as an LLC and I’ve gone all-in to try and make a living as a game designer. A small success with Have a Cow would be a great step toward building a brand. I’m chasing the dream and you have to start somewhere, I guess. So here I go! Thanks again!

Thanks again, Carl, for taking time out to do this interview. Best of luck with the Kickstarter! If you like to talk to Carl yourself, you can find him at Twitter @N20Games

Let me add that Have a Cow, is a solid and good family card game, for anyone that care to know my thoughts on it. 

If you like to check out Have a Cow on Kickstarter, you can do so by clicking this link


Flatout Games Wants You To Play With Your Veggies

Interview with the gang at Flatout Games about their game, Point Salad.

We are here today to talk to the meeples behind Flatout Games about their game Point Salad. However, before we get to it, let’s talk a little bit about Flatout Games itself – it is a sort of think tank for board game design. Could you tell us about the people behind it and how it all started?

Shawn: Ha! Yes, a think-tank, indeed! We started Flatout Games in early 2017 with the intention of getting together as friends to make board games. We didn’t really have any expectations, other than it is always easier and more fun to do things in groups, so from the outset, we were really focused on working collaboratively. We started with 4 members – all of us were friends who met at one point or another in Winnipeg, Manitoba. 

Molly: We’ve all been really into games for a long time. Robb and Shawn were roommates and had a small game collection. When I met Shawn it was one of the things we realized we had in common: a love of board games. 

Shawn: I have always been interested in creating things. As a landscape architect, I have the opportunity to work within communities and help shape the built environment. Board game design gives me a more immediate outlet to do designs that have a really quick feedback loop. With games, you can have an idea and within a few hours be playing and enjoying it. Obviously, with landscape architecture projects, there is a more structured and lengthy process to seeing your design work come to fruition. When I started to design games, I really appreciated that I could apply my design skills in a different, more immediate way.

The four of us all liked playing games and had some interest in designing them, so we thought – why not!? Initially, the group included our friend Justin Ladia who is a graphic designer, but he left the group to focus on other projects fairly early on. Now, two years later we have a number of games signed to external publishers, we have started work on our own publishing projects, and have opened our doors to a larger collaborative effort called the ‘Co-Lab’. We are really interested in co-designs as well, and we are working on projects with Emma Larkins, David Iezzi, Rob Newton, Jeremy Davis, and Chad Martinell, just to name a few! The spirit of collaboration tends to breed really great ideas, so it’s a lot of fun to find people you like working with and try to find ways to play to each others’ strengths.

Flatout Games. From Left to Right: Molly Johnson, Shawn Stankewich, and Robb Melvin.

Robb: I grew up playing board games with my family and the love for games grew from that for sure. It had never even crossed my mind that designing games could be a reality until Shawn suggested forming Flatout Games. 

How often does the group meet and test out games, and how do you go about deciding which game ideas from the three of you are worth playtesting, etc?

Shawn: It varies quite a bit. I’m in Seattle and I have a lot of support from the local community, so I am constantly designing, prototyping, playtesting, and iterating. We try to hop on calls every week in order to discuss where things are at. I generally have the initial concepts for games and run them by Molly and Robb so that we can discuss and brainstorm different directions that the game could go. It is important to meet regularly because sometimes we move pretty quickly through the design process, especially since we make pretty simple games. 

Molly:  Robb and Shawn can spend a lot of time talking about board games, when they aren’t talking about hockey. The Co-Lab uses Slack. I probably spend a lot of time being the theme police. 

Robb: It’s a bit hard sometimes since the group is so split up physically, but we do brainstorm throughout the week and talk. I’m back here in Winnipeg, where the gaming community is a lot smaller, but there have been opportunities to playtest games with some of the local gamers.

The three of you have a game coming out real soon. That game is, of course,  Point Salad, which is coming out this September from AEG. Could you tell us a little bit about the game and the gameplay? 

Shawn: Point Salad is a card drafting and tableau-building game where players will be collecting ingredients for their salad in order to score the most points. The hook is that players are not only drafting their veggies, but also their scoring conditions. The challenge is finding synergy between the two.   

Molly:  It’s a fast, fun game that works well as a warm-up or filler but also a great game for families and as a light game for those who are maybe not quite so immersed in the hobby.

Robb: One commonality between the three of us when it comes to game preferences is “easy-to-learn but with a surprising amount of depth”. We think Point Salad really fits nicely in that mold.

What is the story behind the idea and the creation of Point Salad?

Shawn: Point Salad came about during a time when I was trying to design a game every week. We had just started weekly designer meetings and I was determined to get something new to the table every week. One week we were joking around about all of the punny-titled games out there – there were quite a few that Dice Hate Me put out a number of years ago – and we imagined that Point Salad the point salad game would be pretty fitting. The running joke was that we mostly designed food games since our first design was Dollars to Donuts (another spatial tile-laying game coming out next year). I made a game that would later become another quick card game we have called ‘CHOP’, but it didn’t really feel like Point Salad. So we went back to the drawing board and brainstormed some new ideas. At one point there were two decks you would take cards from, but then we were using a LOT of cards, so the idea to make them double-sided came about. The game came together pretty quickly – I remember playtesting it with our friend Joseph between Christmas and New Year’s, and it had some superfluous actions that were later cut, but it was essentially the bones of the game. Right out of the gate it just sort of worked!

Molly:  We took the prototype to Orca Con, one of our local conventions, in January 2018 and it evolved quickly. The actions were removed, and we made each turn extremely simple. The gameplay became so fast that it meant we could play it over and over and over to see what worked and what didn’t.

There are 108 different scoring cards – is there any overlap with the scoring, do the cards repeat themselves? 

Molly:  They don’t repeat. There are 108 unique cards and it means that every play will be different.  

Shawn: There are probably about… 15 or so different types of cards that are similar, but with different veggies – but yes, they are all unique, and all the veggies are perfectly balanced – although rumor has it that ONIONS ARE THE BEST.

The game has changed a bit from its beginnings. The veggies originally had special actions (each veggie type), those were later moved to just special action cards and then scrapped altogether. Why did you decide to get rid of the special actions in the game?

Molly:  Because the game doesn’t need them! Someone probably said “let’s just play once without them” and they never came back.

Shawn: I remember the conversation! The actions were in the game so there was a bit more interaction and dynamic to the tableaus. There were a few weird mean ones like taking other peoples’ cards. Partly, they were on coupled with the veggie cards because taking a veggie card didn’t feel as valuable as taking another scoring card. When we decided to try without the actions we said “what if we just let people take TWO veggies or ONE point card? Would that work!?” Amazingly, it just did, and like Molly said, we never looked back!

Robb:  A phrase that I can’t recall where it came from, but we all tend to remember when designing, “Find the Fun”. Pretty early on we realised the actions themselves weren’t a captivating part of the game – if streamlining the game made it easier to learn but didn’t take away from the enjoyment of the game then that’s where we wanted it to be.

Early prototype picture of when the veggies had special powers. Also, note instead of peppers they had kale.

What are some of the changes the game has made to get to this point?

Shawn: Honestly, our original prototypes look pretty similar to the final game! The graphic design didn’t even need much work, it was mostly having Dylan Mangini (our illustrator/graphic designer and good friend) put a layer of gloss over the whole package and really make the illustrations pop! He also did a great job on the box art and rulebook design. The colors in Point Salad are the bold, simple, fully-saturated CMYK values that we use in a lot of our prototypes – we love them! The green for the box is sort of a running joke from my education in landscape architecture, where I would profess to my studio-mates that C50-M0-Y100-K-0 was the best possible green. I am pretty excited that we stuck with it for the box and card backgrounds! It totally pops!

In terms of gameplay, besides taking out actions, not a whole lot changed. Lots of games go through rigorous testing and many many iterations. I wish I could say that designing Point Salad was arduous (for some of our other games it certainly has been!) but it actually just sort of came together really neatly from the start. Distilling the game to its simplest form was the real ‘click’ moment, and after that, it was basically ready to print! We went through some development notes and contemplated a number of minor changes based on blind playtesting at AEG, but a lot of the comments had been addressed already. One issue we were trying to solve was the setup (removal of vegetables per player count). We tried out some different methods of streamlining this, but in the end, we felt that it compromised the integrity of the balance of the game to have a random number of cards or to have a random quantity of each vegetable. In a game with a market that can already be sort of random and volatile, we knew we needed to give players a bit more agency in knowing exactly what the deck still held. 

Was it hard balancing the cards, or relatively easy once you got the 15 types of scoring types figured out?

Shawn: Is it balanced!? That’s good! All kidding aside, it wasn’t too difficult to get a relative ‘feel’ for the balance and the numbers. We needed to add in the negative scoring cards in order to combat the notion that you can collect a lot of one type of scoring card and then just draft those veggies. This is still a viable strategy, but if you collect all of the positive scoring cards for one veggie type, you will essentially be scoring negative for all other types of veggie. The intuitive math for points that we established early on didn’t actually change very much. Some cards shifted by a point or two here or there, but honestly, it was pretty close from the start. We never used spreadsheets or formulas to figure anything out – it was all just playtesting and feeling it out as we played, and then making slight adjustments to what ‘felt right’. 

What has been the best part of working with AEG? 

Molly:  Working with AEG has been excellent. We were always on the same page about the vision for the game.

Shawn: Yeah, it really has been an awesome experience. Point Salad was slated as a Big Game Night game, meaning it would be part of a massive Gen Con event where AEG would teach the game to hundreds of people and give them a copy. This year AEG decided to do something different and rather than keeping the Big Game Night games secret until the event, they would do their best to promote the games and build the hype ahead of time. I think it worked extremely well for Point Salad, as there was already a considerable buzz for the game and it ended up selling out this year at Gen Con!

AEG has a really awesome attitude towards working with designers. They really go the extra mile to make sure that things go smoothly and that everyone is on the same page. Their team is really professional, and it’s been great to get to know them all better – we are hoping we get opportunities to work with them in the future!

Robb: One thing I appreciated was their desire to make a game we would be proud of. Whatever the final product was, they wanted to make sure it aligned with our vision of what the game should be. In the end, we came out with a product everyone was proud of.

What was the best feedback you all received from a playtester about Point Salad?

Molly:  Ha! To take out the action cards. Maybe that was in an early playtest. We never looked back!

What three adjectives would you pick to describe Point Salad’s gameplay?

Molly:  Fast, fun, and friendly?

Shawn: Gotta keep up with the alliteration, let’s go with: Swift, simple, and satisfying!

Before we go, I wanted to ask about Calico? Which is a game Flatout Games is actually publishing. Could you give us the rundown about the game and why you decided to get into publishing to publish it?

Molly: Thanks for asking! We are so excited about Calico!

Shawn: Calico is a puzzly tile-laying game of quilts and cats! It’s an incredibly thinky puzzler, but the rules are super simple. Players sew patch tiles onto their quilt in order to make different spatial patterns while also trying to attract cats to their quilt. We played it with Kevin Russ, the designer and instantly fell in love with its elegance and wondered if there was a way that we could team up and bring the game to life. One thing that Flatout Games has always been fond of is teamwork and collaboration. We love the idea of people coming together to create great things and so we decided that what we could do is create an extension of Flatout Games – we called this extension the ‘CoLab’. 

The CoLab is a team of individuals (on a game-by-game basis) who are all collaborating on bringing a game to market. It involves getting a team of people together in order to play to folks’ strengths and put together remarkable products. We are focused on democratic design, development, and publication, as well as equitable distribution of reward for efforts. The CoLab for Calico consists of the three of us, designer/developer David Iezzi, graphic designer Dylan Mangini, and designer Kevin Russ. We all wear multiple hats, as well – for instance, Kevin is doing some of the graphic design work, David is helping with logistics, etc. It’s a real team effort and it’s been a lot of fun so far! Flatout Games has always been interested in art direction and the product design side of board games. Taking other peoples’ games and helping to develop them into better games and outstanding products is something we have a lot of interest in.

 Time will tell whether all of the parts of publishing are really for us, but right now we’re really excited about trying out all aspects of making games and seeing what makes the most sense for us. We already have some other thoughts about the potential of the CoLab, so you’ll probably be hearing more about it soon. If you’re interested in Calico, we’ll be launching a crowdfunding campaign soon, and you can sign up for our newsletter in order to stay in the know! 

Thank you three again for taking time out to do this interview. Make sure to check out Flatout Games on Twitter @FlatoutGames. They are definitely one of my favorite Twitter accounts to follow as they are always working on some game or another and post pictures of the prototypes, etc. 

 

Point Salad from AEG and designed by Flatout Games, should be coming to game stores by mid-September 2019. 

 


Tiny Barbarian DX preview

A Kick-Ass Blast of 16-Bit Sword-and-Sorcery Action!

Steel yourself for a relentless display of might and muscle…of brawn and bravery…of magic and mayhem! Can you cleave your enemies’ skulls, plunder all the booty and flex to impress the barbarienne of your dreams? Inspired by heroic fantasy fiction, Tiny Barbarian DX combines engaging 2D platform action and combo-based hack-and-slash combat with retro-style pixel art and a loincloth-stirring chiptune soundtrack.

Tiny Barbarian DX is now officially complete! The current version includes all four Episodes, new unlockable game modes and an all-new two-player cooperative mode to double your barbarian brawn!

  • Four lengthy episodes with dramatic boss battles and secret surprises!
  • Two-player cooperative mode to double your barbarian brawn!
  • Bonus game mode “vs. The Horde” plus top-secret unlockable game modes!
  • Hidden health-power-ups, valuable coins and mysterious diamonds to collect!
  • Multiple homages to classic 8- and 16-bit action games in each episode!
  • 2.13:1 super widescreen presentation!

Join us as we play through the first 30 minutes!:

Check it out on Steam
https://store.steampowered.com/app/253350/Tiny_Barbarian_DX/

Forgive me, Father…

Ever wondered why Father Ted always looked so drained? Well… wonder no longer, Forgive me Father puts you in the holy driver’s seat.

In this original take on the decision-making genre, you must balance the impulses of your devoted flock as they confess their crimes to their beloved father, you! Priest of the Church of Spades in a small yet humble parish.

But, as we know from Midsummer Murders, it is the humble parishes that suffer the most devious of deeds. Be it stealing, bragging, murder or betrayal, judgement is in your hands, literally, this is a premium mobile game!

You must work tirelessly to balance your judgment of the sins boast, avarice, lust, anger, nonchalance, consumption and envy. Punish to much and your flock will dwindle, be too forgiving and your parish will become complacent.

Full of moral questioning goodness and classic visuals, Forgive me, Father is well worth picking up on the AppStore or Google Play today!

JB

Baldo is the perfect blend of Studio Ghibli visuals and Zelda gameplay

Baldo is the perfect blend of Studio Ghibli visuals and Zelda gameplay

Following on the Ni No Kuni-frickin-cute trend.

Italian studio Naps Team have released a gameplay trailer for Baldo, a game thats got that instantly noticeable Miyazaki aesthetic. We’ve seen titles do really well with this art style just recently, with Ni No Kuni capturing the imagination of players for its vibrant fantasy world above and beyond the actual gameplay. Is Baldo going to be more of the same? From the trailer, its a little hard to tell.

We’ve got very little information so far on this title, but according to the description under the PS4 trailer the story goes a bit like this: You are the “chosen child” navigating the fantastical world of Rodia, a place of green forests and strange creatures. Apparently, “the no heart creature sealed in the underworld by the wise owls is about to rise again”, I don’t really know what that means, but it sounds pretty mystical.

Also below this PS4 trailer, the description indicated that Baldo will be an open-world narrative adventure, with a main narrative and plenty of side-quests to keep you busy. This is where things start to feel a little Zelda, as the gameplay also consist of these quests as well as hidden temples to explore for new items and weapons.

The trailer gives us a great glimpse into a number of vibrant and colourful locations, as well us showing us some of the creatures we might meet along the way. Our hero fits into a similar Ni No Kuni template, looking naive and cute, but ready and willing for adventure. There is definitely a strong Legends of Zelda feel from the snippets of gameplay, but cut scenes with characters often reminded me of the Studio Ghibli film Howl’s Moving Castle, packed with character and mischief. I’m excited to find out more about this intriguing title and if you are too, keep an eye on Naps Team website.

Associate Editor

Kate has been gaming since she could control a mouse. In addition to having a penchant for indie games, Kate had a World of Warcraft account when she was far too young, and has a weakness for any game with ‘RPG’ in the description.

Kate Fanthorpe

Associate Editor Kate has been gaming since she could control a mouse. In addition to having a penchant for indie games, Kate had a World of Warcraft account when she was far too young, and has a weakness for any game with ‘RPG’ in the description.

These Mods Are An Indie Game’s Best Friend

The future is collaborative, and that benefits everyone.

For as long as there have been video games, there have been mods. Back in the classical days of early PC gaming, modifying popular titles formed the grassroots foundations of what we now consider to be the independent scene. So it’s no wonder there’s a thriving modding scene surrounding some of our favourite indie games. 

That’s not to say any two mods are created equal. While some make games easier or add funny touches, there are others that directly benefit the base game and developer. They’re the mods that demonstrate the power of a mod that has previously been fairly unrecognised.

Modders who interact with a game in such a way that adds to the base experience, or draws out an element of the base experience are creating not only a community to carry a game’s name, but also a method of highlighting an already excellent feature for further celebration. Rather than just decorating a space, they’re adding furniture. 

Take Stardew Valley, for instance. The product of five years of passionate personal creativity, the world created by Eric Barone is so full of possibility and nuance, a growing community of players adding their own personal touches to the game was inevitable. The New Machines mod allows players to invest themselves more in the cooking aspect of the game. While previously simple dishes could be conjured up to increase Energy and Health levels throughout your day, Igorious’ addition adds flour, sugar, and vinegar machines to Pelican Town for players to cook directly from their produce.

While at face value the New Machines mod offers some nice new ways to interact with your farm, the way it encourages players to engage with an aspect of Stardew Valley that perhaps doesn’t receive much limelight makes it a perfect example of an indie developer’s best friend. A mod that adds new items and interactions to your game while making your existing work better for it. Rather than simply changing how the game works, it’s mods like these that create an ecosystem of development and community that can be integral to the success of a title. 

Or, take the amazing Telemachus mod for Kerbal Space Program. Telemachus is a simple data link that starts out pretty redundant but once you realise the possibilities that come from hooking it up to other sources and outputs, you’ve got yourself an awesome space hub. Screen up and pull up a chair at your brand new flight deck console, with options to send basic commands to all your in-game vessels and chart atmospheric density, altitude and g-force charts and plenty of other flight dynamics.

Taking advantage of the rich data stored in all of KSP’s interactions, Telemachus not only adds new support to visualising this data (and making you feel damn cool while doing so) but also shows off the level of detail that has been poured into this experience by its original developers. Without such extensions, KSP would still be impressive, but the dynamic breadth of its under-the-hood complexity would never have seen the light of day – it’s a feature that still draws many to the game today.

Stardew Valley and Kerbal Space Program are exceedingly successful games. That’s by no means just down to the modding communities surrounding them, but there’s a reason so many in the independent industry are turning their attention to the power of mods in a game’s cycle. Mods are seeing a resurgence in relevance for today’s industry. Indies were built on mods, but saw a decrease in trust as games started bricking, and mods were mainly developed to add fun but ultimately redundant tweaks to a core structure of a game.

Now, though, companies like Modularity are bringing mods to the forefront of a game’s life cycle. ModDB’s brand new publishing label focusing only on games that offer a strong modding foundation or have been created from existing mods was announced in January. It’s industry moves like this that demonstrate how mods are the often unsung heroes of the entire indie scene, a creative collaboration under the inspiration of an experience built from similar passions can create amazing things. 

Sure, they can change a character’s appearance or rebalance a game’s difficulty, but they can also nourish an experience with new interactions that bring out the best of a game’s foundations. It’s the mods that take successful (or often overlooked) aspects of the main game and add a finishing flourish that serves as a developer’s holy grail.

Features Editor

Tabs’ perfect afternoon consists of a cuppa, a biscuit tin, and a good RPG. When she’s not writing, commissioning and editing indie game features, she’s writing for her own blog, Musings Of A Mario Minion.