DKH Mini-Update

As most of you will know already, the next Mantic Kickstarter starts soon and is the latest in the Dwarf King’s Hold series – or is it? After considerable debate and many, many suggestions, we’ve decided to change the series name for this and future products. Despite Ronnie’s abiding love of all things Dwarf, it’s just possible that a future product might not be set in a Dwarf Hold. So, we’ve decided to call the series Dungeon Sagas instead.

Like previous games each box/book/whatever will have an individual title as well. In the case of the first of the Dungeon Sagas, it will be The Dwarf King’s Quest, so it ties in nicely with what went before. Plus, the main Bad Guy¹ is Mortibris again, who regular readers will remember from the very first DKH game. Yes, he’s back.

I took the current version along to Mantic HQ on friday and we had a five player co-op game. All told, it worked very well (even if I do say so myself). Clearly there are still some rules to iron out, details to add, and balance to refine, but the broad strokes are there. It was nice to see the various players debating tactics and actually co-operating, even to the point of the Elf saving the Dwarf’s bacon at one point². Honour was restored though, because although the Heroes lost the game in the end it was the Elf getting badly hurt that caused it, so the Dwarf could lay the blame squarely on him. At least, that’s how the Dwarf’s going to tell the tale while the Elf heals up…

If you’re interested in knowing more, Mantic have just started their teaser campaign.

Enjoy!

 

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1: Of course, Mortibris wouldn’t see it like that.

2: Ronnie (who naturally played the Dwarf) may remember this slightly differently.

Posted in Dwarf King's Hold | 5 Comments

Still Alive

Hi folks. I’m still here.

It’s been a long time since I last posted, and some of you are rightly wondering what’s going on. Well, it’s nothing to do with any problems with the games. Let’s get that straight to start with. In fact, I was wondering quite what to post here as I like to try and keep Q focussed on gaming. However, as my personal life has impinged so much, I feel like it’s only fair to give you the thruppenny tour.

Executive summary: normal(ish) service should be resumed over the next week.

Detail: as a few of you will know, my wife is very ill and I am, among other things, her carer. Over the last few years she has been diagnosed with two separate conditions, either of which would class her as disabled. Unfortunately, the synergy between them makes both even worse.

I often say I’m busy because I’m balancing a full time job with looking after her, and most of the time this works out OK. It’s been the case while I designed GoB, DKH, PP, DB, MA, DZ, and so on, so it doesn’t normally stop me getting things done.

Unfortunately, about a month ago, she took a turn for the much worse. Now while she is not expected to get better overall, she wasn’t expected to get worse like this, and so it was an unpleasant surprise all round. It has taken this long to get things back under any sort of control. I’ve put off mentioning this as this will be the third time I think we’ve got a handle on it, though this time I think it’s actually going to stick.

Assuming I’m right (and I think I am), this means that I’ll be back to what passes for normal over the next week or so. However, while I’ve been quiet things have been ticking along in the background. We’ve got some more logistical support sorted and I’ve been working on some experimental rules for DB and tentatively for DZ too. I saw a printed box and most of the final components for Mars Attacks yesterday, and it’s looking very shiny indeed. There’re one or two bits still to come, but it can’t be far off now. The models for DKH4 are also looking great. I saw them all ranked up as a set and they look fab en masse. I’ve also been buying new toys as a form of retail therapy, and have a lot of articles and reviews written in my head. So expect an outpouring of words and pictures over the next few weeks/months.

I’m sorry to leave you guys hanging for so long. I’ve been so busy dealing with what was in front of me and trying to keep up with work that I’ve not really had the mental space to work out what to say here. Even now I’m not sure you want to know all this. It’s stressful and unpleasant for me, but you came here to chill and read about games. So I’ll shut up now and just get on with it ;)

All the best

Jake

Posted in Random Thoughts | 35 Comments

For Your DreadBall Convenience

DB ref cardsJust so you know, this chap has come up with some sets of reference cards for DB. I haven’t got any myself yet, so I can’t comment more than to say that they’re available.

If you’ve got some I’d like to know what you think of them. Useful? Essential? Frivolous?

Posted in DreadBall - The Futuristic Sports Game | 14 Comments

What Makes A Good (Pure) Co-Op Game?

You tell me.

Bu “you”, I mean the happy folk who particularly enjoy this style of play. As I said earlier, it’s not something I really get on with.

What would be both helpful and interesting is to know what mechanics you think work well. Much of the game is about social interaction and group dynamics, and that’s not something I can put in a box. What I can do is provide any rules which help this along. I have some ideas, but what’s more interesting is what you aficionados think works well.

Note that I’m talking about what I defined as Pure Co-op play, not Semi Co-op. As a reminder that’s:

Pure Co-op: all players on one side are working towards exactly the same goal and play as a group. Usually they either win or lose collectively, ie all win or all lose.

The distinction is important. Games where players win individually, even if they are all fighting for the same cause, are not what I’m after here.

So, rules for Pure Co-op style play. Which games and which specific rules work best for you?

Posted in Dwarf King's Hold | 34 Comments

Why Co-Op And I Don’t Get On

Co-operative play is rather fashionable in game designs at the moment. It comes in a few distinct flavours, and although they can be quite different they all tend to get lumped together into “co-op”. Personally, I like some types and can’t get on with others. I understand how they work, I just find them more frustrating than fun in practice. Of course, I’m not the only one going to be playing the games I design, so I’m happy to include modes I don’t expect to use myself (once I’ve done playtesting) in DKH or other designs. Pure Co-op (see below) is one of those.

First, some definitions.

 

Definitions

I think there are two main stylistic approaches to co-operative gaming.

Pure Co-op: all players on one side are working towards exactly the same goal and play as a group. Usually they either win or lose collectively, ie all win or all lose.

Semi Co-op: all players are nominally on the same side and are playing for the same overall aim. However, they have significant individual goals as well, and though they may all lose together (if the main aim is not met), they can be ranked individually if their side wins. In other words, they need to co-operate enough to ensure their side’s victory, but also mess with their erstwhile comrades to ensure they beat them too.

Mechanically there is not a lot of difference between the two. In play, however, they are very different.

Either type can be played against a live player or against the game. Either type can include a traitor among the co-op players, secretly working against them. Neither of these variations changes the fundamental way these types work and the fundamental differences between them.

Of course, you may disagree with these definitions, which is fine. However, for the rest of this article I shall assume that they are correct.

 

My View

Personally, I don’t enjoy Pure Co-op games. Perhaps this is because I’m overly competitive, perhaps I’m just a curmudgeon who doesn’t play nice with others. However, every time I have played one of these games the following happens. Depending on which player you are, either:

  • Someone else knows the game better then you do. They tell you what you need to do and so all you are doing is moving the pieces where you’re told to. Help in learning rules is fine and expected in any game. That may happen here too, but it is not the same thing. I don’t find this interesting or fun.
  • You know the game better than everyone else. Either you tell them what they need to do (see first bullet point) or you sit and watch them mess things up. Losing because my allies did daft things isn’t fun either.

I find both of these situations extremely frustrating, intellectually stultifying and generally no fun at all. Nor do I relish the choice between meddling with someone else’s enjoyment or losing my own.

Interestingly, this is much the same dynamic I found in group work at university. We were occasionally told to work as a group. We had a set task and were supposed to work together to achieve it. Each person in the group got marked equally, regardless of whether they had actually done anything to help or not. This is great if you are a lazy toad because someone else will almost always take up the slack and you will get the best mark someone else can get for you. As I wasn’t the lazy toad, doing more than my share of the work so that some idiot could get a better grade than he deserved did not sit well. It’s a stupid and entirely unrealistic piece of laziness on the part of the college. All it gains is less marking for the lecturers. Now if people cannot work properly together when something much more important than a game is at stake, how is this a good plan for playing a game?

 

A Social Activity

Now you may say that face-to-face social interaction is all part of board gaming, and I’d agree entirely. It’s why I’m less of a fan of computer games than board, card or tabletop games: I like dealing with people in person. Even so, I think this takes things too far. Pure Co-op games are, in my view, not always even games at all. Let me explain.

Games are defined a number of ways. The dictionary gives a few broad definitions of the noun game, including “an amusement or pastime”. However, whilst that covers Pure Co-op games it also covers many other things most gamers wouldn’t normally consider to be games. For example, playing practical jokes on people could be described as “an amusement or pastime”, though I wouldn’t really call it a game. The old Samurai habit of watching cherry blossom falling, or leaves floating by on the autumn stream are definitely amusements or pastimes, but hardly games. So I’d suggest that this definition can be safely ignored as too vague to be functional.

The more useful definition of the noun game is “a competitive activity involving skill, chance or endurance on the part of two or more persons who play according to a set of rules…”.¹ The relevant bit for me is the word competitive. Whether or not this is a reasonable definition of game, looking it up crystallised for me what I’d been thinking: that it is simply the lack of competition that causes the problems mentioned above. Competition is so fundamental to gaming that not having it creates problems in knowing how to deal with the result. There is no gamer’s etiquette for how you play without frustrating each other when you’re all on the same side, if indeed that is possible.

As soon as you put back some of the competition (making it Semi-Co-op instead of Pure Co-op) then it all works much better. At least it does for me.

 

A Family Affair

Of course, there is always the cry of the family man. “I want to be able to play the game with my wife and kids”, he says. “They aren’t gamers and won’t play competitive games”. That’s fine, and as I said at the start of this article, I’m happy to accommodate that style too. However, as I also said, I don’t think Pure Co-op games are really games at all – what they are is more akin to performance art or social get-togethers and that’s exactly what you need here. The board, cards miniatures or whatever simply act as a focal point around which the social interaction takes place. If you like, it flips the idea that you have a game with some social interaction and makes it social interaction with a game. Except in my view the act of doing this destroys the game in the process.

What you really need is not so much a game as a social focal point. That could be anything. If you weren’t a gamer then it would probably be something else, and would work just as well as an excuse to share some fun time with your family and friends.

In my many years in the gaming industry and as a gamer long before that, I’ve played with a wide variety of people. I’ve run game demos with everyone from hardcore gamers to bored grandparents, from straight A students to school-skipping street kids (seriously), and with games that were designed for non-gamers as well as those intended for dyed-in-the-wool geeks. For me, the actual game you have in front of you doesn’t matter – what’s important is that people have fun, and you adapt the props you have in front of you accordingly. With “real” gamers, they’ll want to play by the rules. With non-gamers the approach needs to be different.

The typical situation when non-gamers play a game is when one of the group is actually a “real” gamer. Either they are trying to encourage the rest of their family to see what they enjoy about it, bring on the next generation of young gamers, are being humoured by a spouse, or simply want to spend some quality time with the family – the reason isn’t especially important. What is important is understanding that this² is not a normal game in the way that your geek buddies would play it.

I’ll assume for the moment (because you’re reading this) that you are the gamer in question, surrounded by a group of non-gamers who want to play something. You are, in effect, running a demo rather than playing a game. Because you are the gamer you will be expected to know what’s going on. Similarly, it’s your fault if it’s dull. Best avoid that.

To be successful, you need to read what people want, when they’re bored (do less of that), which bits they enjoy (more of that), and generally chivvy the process along so that everyone has a good time. The rules should be ignored as appropriate, ridden roughshod over if required, and amended as necessary. Remember, this isn’t really a game, it’s an entertainment, a show, a spectacle. You’re not a gamer now, you;re the Master of Ceremonies.

 

So What About DKH4?

The next DKH will include both Pure Co-op and Semi-Co-op modes of play. Pure Co-op is actually relatively easy to design once you have everything else in place, and as some people want it then I’m happy to give it to them. I think having the variety of play modes is a strength not a weakness.

Now, feel free to tell me that I’m wrong ;)

 

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1: Intriguingly that disallows solo play too, but that’s a discussion for another time.

2: Whatever this is. Like I said, the rules themselves are secondary, although picking something you can explain quickly will help.

Posted in Dwarf King's Hold, Game Design Theory | 44 Comments

Yet More Money

I don’t mention every Kickstarter that catches my eye. Honest. But here’s another one I’ve pledged for and which might interest you too: Fallen Frontiers.

Fallen FrontiersIt’s a biggish scale SF skirmish game in a box, with some lovely looking models. So far we have a few interesting snippets about the rules, and the beta version is promised for this week.

Free figThey’re not quite at their £90k funding target yet, which is partly why I’m mentioning this now. They are offering a free extra model (above) to everyone who pledges at £65+ level before they hit their funding. That’s a nice way to reward early adopters and at the current rate you’ve got a couple of days to jump in before they make it.

Just sayin’

:)

Posted in Kickstarter | 34 Comments

Talking About DKH 4

While I was at the UK Expo I did a couple of interviews. The first one has now gone up:

There is a lot of background noise as it was a very busy event. I think you can hear it all OK though :)

Posted in Dwarf King's Hold | 7 Comments