How we got here

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I am Tony, a stay a home dad for my family, consisting of my 2 kids (ages 3 and 6) and a hard working wife.  As someone who doesn’t work, and has received gratification from a job, I often struggle to feel like my time is spent on something sustaining.  This is how everything started.

For the past 5 years or so I tried to write a book, several times a year I would review, edit and add to this project.  In the summer of 2017, I reread what I had completed, and decided that I was a terrible writer.  As such I made the decision to abandon this project, and in an effort to start a new one, turned to my best friend and my favorite hobby.

I contact Paul, my best friend, via text early one summer morning: “We need to make a boardgame”, I received a quick reply from Paul, “I have already started”.  Luckily for me Paul has an occupation that leaves him time during the summer (you might be able to guess what that was, he has since been promoted, luckily still leaving summers available).  The next day, and almost every day for the next couple of  months, Paul and I convened via a VOIP chat (we live about 5 hours apart).  My goal for my participation at this time was to focus Paul and help him complete the long task of bringing this to a reality.

Quickly that changed into a co-design role in our first board game, currently in the early play-testing stages of development.  It has been a very interesting experience with my friendship with Paul becoming an even larger part of my life, which is something I am thankful for.  Our co-design partnership evolved very naturally, with our individual focus and efforts going towards what we both were strongly suited for.  To this end, after some repeated urging from Paul, I am writing this blog.  Not necessarily because I am better suited at this than Paul, the largest matter being I simply have more time to do so.

So this is the start to our design blog, and quite frankly, I should have started this that summer morning that Paul and my long text chain started.  There are many exciting (and sometimes stressful) early design moments that have passed that I would have loved to share with others.  Hopefully, all the future ones I can share from this site.

Digital Playtesting

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To make a great board game, there is a lot of testing involved.  Traditionally, this has been done at local game stores, among friends or at other events.  This is a lot of advantages when playtesting this way.  You get to read the players reactions and interest in the game, and meet people face to face.  There is also some disadvantages, you can only do so at certain times and scheduling is tough.  It takes time to set up and put away, it takes a while to create and keep up a prototype.

As time moves forward, and technology changes and evolved the things around us, this is something that seems to be held away from the advantages of those changes.  However, they don’t have to be.  There are options for playtesting through digital media (we use tabletopia.com) that provide some significant advantages.  There is no time spent setting up or putting away.  You can do this from your home (and your players can also be home).  Creating, maintaining and upgrading your prototype is quick and easy.  You can even have multiple games going on without creating a whole additional prototype.

The technology does take some getting used to, and it is a change from what players normally interact with a game.  You don’t get the tactile feel of the game, and the shortcuts of technology can mask some design issues.  I do think that ignoring this amazing tool for playtesting is short sighted.  With a little work you can complete a lot more playtests with flexible scheduling that might otherwise limit you.

You can find a detailed series of videos about uploading your game into tabletopia on our youtube channel.  The playlist is located here.  I hope to see more designers using this tool to be more effective and efficient when playtesting.

New Designs

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Its been a long time since I added to this blog, while we have been continuously playtesting, a lot of other tasks have been set aside with the birth of my daughter in November, including this one.

I have started on a few additional designs, and one has me excited enough to add a new entry, MyGalaxy will be a ‘Roll n Write’, more accurately a ‘Choose and Write’ (?) type of game, based around cards.  After started new designs, my typical method is some core pattern testing, then I set it aside and let it stew for a bit.  This one stewed about 2 weeks, and while driving home from picking up my cat (2 hr drive for a dang cat), my brained worked out my design to align more closely with other games in the genre.

I have another new design thats been stewing for 6 months and I finally started creating components for it this week as well, excited to do my core pattern testing soon.

With Dojo Sensei passing onto the next phase soon, I am excited to see how Paul and I tackle our next game, and if I might get some time back from the big game to put toward some of these other designs.

Busy weekend from HEAVEN

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I had a really busy weekend, but it was such an amazing experience!  My internal playtester, Jon, and I got to participate in Protospiel Chicago on Friday and Saturday.  It was great to interact with others working on games, and to get feedback on how others felt about our game.  The trip there and back was long, but I learned a lot of interacting with others in this space and how my mistakes in teaching can impact the feeling of the game.  This also tells me we need to review some icons and rules to make them more intuitive.

After returning on Saturday night, my design partner Paul met us back at my house, and we got a 4 player playtest in.  This included no new players, so a short game was completed in 1 hour and 20 mins (this is simply amazing, it was 1 round shorter than average, but 1 more round is still under 2 hours).

On Sunday, Paul and I got up early and drove to St Louis for Design Day (where the above photo was taken), put on by Stonemaier Games.  There we got to interface with not only testers, but other designers and individuals that work for publishers.  Again it was great to see what other people are working on and get feedback on our game.

A repeating trend I have seen is the speed of a round during playtesting.  The first round, where everyone is really learning whats going on, takes about an hour.  However, the 2nd round and each after take only 30 mins, this is heartening.  As our game is a little complex, its nice to see that once they see a complete year, everyone knows how the game works, and has idea on how to execute the strategy they decide, this is one of my personal favorite joys about design.

Design Holes

Dojo Sensei has undergone a lot of changes as of late.  Pretty large changes that after playtesting, yield even more wondrous changes.  This is the result of design holes, to me, this is a feeling.

When we first started Dojo Sensei, our discipline mats existed only for collecting Tier 3 cards.  After playtesting the first time, we felt that hole.  Paul applied bonuses to those mats and that hole was filled.  Over changes we have made we gradual filled those holes as they have appeared, and it seems that we are ever closer to a final design.

Our playtests have yielded the average rounds at 3 per game, and a very very consistent 3.  This typically takes 2 hours (add 30 min for 4 players), to play a game, which is right where we want it to be.

We are now applying bonuses to the purchasing of tiles, which feels like in line with the changes to the temples we recently made.

Next, need to make a ‘how to play’ video.

ApolloRa Games: Apollo Presents Dojo Sensei

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The Falling Mountain Dojo has just opened, you are its new Sensei, and with a couple of former students and a class full of kids you will build this place and its people into something grander than just a simple dojo.

 

Dojo Sensei is a worker placement game that places you in the shoes of a Sensei starting on the fictional island of Meiyoshima.  Here you will use your sensei and trainers to make choices about how to grow your dojo best.  You can recruit students, train champions, go to temples to learn to styles and techniques, customize your dojo by buying equipment and building rooms, then use those places to further grown and drive your dojo forward.  Will you focus your training in one of or a combination of Karate, Muay Thai, Taekwondo, Judo, Kung Fu, and/or Capoeira?  There are multiple paths to victory and many places to excel.  You can show your mastery of the arts in the forms competitions, you can show your grace in the weapons competitions, you can show your might in the breaking competitions, or you can exert your dominance in combat.  You also can fill the island with graduates from your school, impress others with the grandness of your dojo, and steal away the competition with full demonstrations of your school.

 

Here are the keys to your dojo my master, what should we do first?

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Playtesting

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So we have completed a few public playtests now, and we always seem to find something to change.  Today we have an excellent playtest, we some negative feedback!  Its nice when people like something, but it doesn’t grow unless people can point out what they don’t like.  The complexity is a concern, and its hard to keep the complexity we like while making it approachable.

In an effort to find playtesters we have offer to trade playtests (and some approached us with this), and Paul had a good idea to offer to help others upload their game into tabletopia in exchange for playtests as well.  This is a neat idea and I hope we get interest from it.  I would really like to get playtests done before going to Chicago for the protospiel in September.

Our design process always amazes me, we both start so far apart on ideas and thoughts, and somehow we got together in a place that feels great for both of us.  I hope this continues as we get into the nitty-gritty of balance.

Playtesting Rewarded

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Another playtest in the books tonight, although we are driving towards balance around a 3 player game, it seems we have the best chance at playtesting 2 players, and we did tonight.  Paul used the ‘recruit students and strangle Tony’s money’ strategy, which usually seems to work.  As such we are now evaluating the strength of the tile, and the exclusivity of the recruit space.

While this may look like a design fail, its a design win!  We have found something that can make the game better and are working to do so.  The feeling of the game evolving into its ‘true form’ is the goal for each of the playtests, and one we take a lot of value in.

And if Paul beats me at a game, you and I both know it must be imbalanced (hehe).