Word Count: 2,957. Estimated Read Time: 11mins 50secs
In this blog post, I plan to share my observations of games such as Dinsey/Marvel Villainous, The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls, Ticket to Ride and more. I will also be talking about my experience creating one of my games Food Time Battle in Space. This blog post is in no way a marketing post, it is just I have experience designing an asymmetric game, and it is vital to this post that FTB in Space is part of the discussion.
Why did I want to write about asymmetric game design?
In short, asymmetric games are a real pain to design, but secondly, and more long-windedly, to balance. Often this is because what allows you as the designer to create asymmetry in your game is the varied amount of mechanisms and win conditions in your game. Some are easier to use, some are harder to obtain, which brings me to one of the first tough decisions when making an asymmetric game.
When playing board games with new players, there are many barriers to getting your favourite games onto the table, especially for players who are relatively new to the hobby. These barriers are essential to understand because if someone buys your game and can never get it to the table, they are much less likely to buy your next game.
Disclaimer, I will be mentioning my game Food Time Battle in Space a lot, as these lessons were learnt whilst developing it.
Barrier #1 - Theme.
Yes, unfortunately, the appeal of your game isn't JUST about the mechanisms. You might be proud of how smooth your game plays or how innovated a mechanic is, but it doesn't matter to many people if it isn't initially wrapped up in a beautiful, appealing package.
I had begun my board game development journey when I started my game design course at the University of Huddersfield in September of 2017. Though as I first started to attend classes and work towards my degree, I didn't know this. I thought I was learning the trade, getting foundational skills that could set me on the right track for a game development career, something which I had always wanted to do. I thought getting a degree was something I needed to do BEFORE I started game development, but I was wrong.
In my first year, Dr Daryl Marples, my tutor for my concept development course, set us on the task of making a board game. To be clear, the degree that I am taking is mainly a digital game development degree, meaning video games. This assignment was to teach us the fundamentals of game design, to show us that the structure and skeleton of games, whether they be on the television or tabletop, is vital to creating a meaningful experience for the player. This assignment is when my game development journey truly began.
Hello everyone! This blog post is a little different as it is more of an essay about game design, but more specifically, about how to control players through design. I also talk about how I did so during the design process (which involved heaps of playtesting and iteration) and how I slowly but surely gained control of the player experience through the design of the gameplay. I have also made a video to accompany this blog post, though I still recommend reading the post as it has more detail and different details.
A busy, but also quiet month.
As there hasn't been a massive amount of actually development and changes to the game and game design of Food Time Battle in Space, enjoy this video I made about how I created the core mechanism for Food Time Battle in Space from start to finish!
What have I been up to then?
Well, other than preparing the Kickstarter page for FTB in Space, of which I will probably do a blog post about as I find it quite interesting myself when I read about other people's methods and experiences making Kickstarter pages, I have been focusing on marketing and selling my last published board game, Blockers: The Stacking Game, as well as building up the Crab Studios social media pages and attempting to gain some additional grant money for the company to invest into marketing for Food Time Battle in Space.
On top of that, I have been secretly working on some additional content for Food Time Battle in Space, and depending on how well the Kickstarter campaign goes, I will be able to divulge said content on this blog relatively shortly. I think it'll be really fun to talk about and discuss how to make additional content for a game which does not inherently take away from the core experience without it being there. On top of that, I believe that there is a really tricky balancing act between making a different enough experience to warrant additional content and components, but at the same time making the experience similar enough for it not to be a completely different game all together.
What to expect from the new year?
As far as I am concerned, I will continue to regularly update this blog, as I find it to be really satisfying to look back on my previous work and see how far I have come, and I also find it a really helpful way to store detailed notes about my work that people might find interesting to read.
As far as Crab Studios is concerned, my plan is to expand the potential cash flow earnings to the point where in the next couple of years I can live off the earning of the business and focus solely on making awesome board games for people who enjoy what I make!
Essentially, stay tuned for updates about FTB in Space, along with secret projects I am working on in the shadows. Exciting times...
Playtesting, Feedback and Iteration
Funnily enough, based on feedback from this blog, I have decided to start creating video development blogs to go along with these written blogs.
2 Weeks Before Printing!!!
The video covers very briefly the two weeks of development before the game was sent off to printing. To make the game as perfect as possible, as well as fair and fun as possible, I playtested the ever loving hell out of this game with my friends, members of the Crab Studios community, and random people online.
Before these last two weeks, playtesting was all about finding the fun. I had the theme, I had the art, I had the mechanics, but was it fun? It took a long time to get to that point, months and months of "Is this actually fun?" Finally, we got there. Adding in some quality of life mechanics, changing the visual design of the cards, making the game longer so players could enjoy the engine-building mechanics for longer, all contributed to making the game more fun and more engaging.
Thankfully, after much feedback and iteration, I think I got there... hopefully.
The core difference between regular playtesting and blind playtesting is that blind playtesting involves players that have never played the game before, and in a covid world, this is really hard to find. Not only are playtesters difficult to find, because you can't just go to a board game cafe or a convention and get people to play your game, but once you do, you can't use them again, which makes things even more difficult.
Thankfully though, due to me starting a Discord server (join here), as well as posting on Reddit, I managed to run three different blind playtesting sessions. But why? Because I needed to test whether players could understand the game. This means I had to test the visual design of the game, as well as the rulebook.
So in a blind playtesting session, I would give the players a pdf of the rulebook, sit back, and just watch them figure it out as if they had just opened the box at home (like people will once they get the game for real). These sessions went really well, not only did they understand the game from the rulebook, but they really enjoyed the game as well, which is always good!
One major change from these sessions, as well as feedback from Reddit and from the Discord, was changing the rulebook from black to white, to white to black. This was due to finding out that black background with white text isn't very user friendly towards people with dyslexia. Another was adding in some visuals for which card decks were which at the start of the instruction manual.
There has been many more changes, and I'm sure there will be even more to come, but I'll leave this blog post here for now. Next month I should have the copies arriving from the manufacturer, so I will make sure to do a blog post talking about that then.
Niall from Crab Studios.
Yes that's right. Over the past month or so, @fodsley (who you can find on Instagram) has been hard at work illustrating the card art for the chefs, critics and ingredient cards! So I thought I would post a very lite blog post, just showing off a few of the new illustrations just in case you don't follow the Crab Studios Instagram account.
A portion (pun intended) of the ingredients!
What else has been happening?
Behind the scenes, we have been working very hard on balancing. The mechanics are now finalized, but we have been struggling for a long time for each restaurant to be balanced to the point where equally skilled players would all have a fair chance to win by playing well. We are so close to getting it right, and the next blog post will cover our journey from beginning to end, hopefully you are excited for it!
Thanks for reading, make sure to add this blog to your RSS feed so you get updated as soon as a new one goes up. We are also going to start posting on Instagram whenever we post, so if you want to keep updated then just follow Crab Studios on there. Thanks and goodbye!
So much has changed! Quick overview.
Right okay, it's been a hot minute since the last post. That is because I, along with my playtesters, have been so busy working on this game. We are really happy with the theme, and we love the core mechanic of the game, so it's just been about making it as good as possible. However, if you don't know, sometimes making games the best they can be, means changing some major mechanics, so this post is going to be going over that.
So like I said, there has been quite a few changes, so to save you from all the details, I am only going to go over the couple of major ones that has made big differences to how the game has played, including a few which didn't work out.
Carlo Fabricatore, my game design tutor at the University of Huddersfield has told myself many times that if you can control the design and the way the player's play, then do it. In the last blog post I showed off the customer cards layout that every player could attempt to complete. This was fun because it meant that everyone was competing for the same customers, which of course made it really competitive. However, I disliked two things about this. One, with the set up that we had with the customers, it was impossible to control how difficult the game was going to be. However unlikely, it was possible that there could be a draw of nothing lower than a level 8 card, which meant that the game would be dead in the water to begin with. The second issue was that there was almost no room for synergies with the abilities. Because there was four different core mechanics that I wanted to focus on with regards to synergistic gameplay: handsize, playing cards, discarding cards and drawing cards, and the fact that you only needed a few cards completed to win the game, meant that it was very unlikely that you would get more than two of the same type of ability that could make those cards greater than the sum of their parts.
So, how did I fix this? Well I decided to make the costly decision (financial wise, and not the first time in the project, which I will get onto in a moment) of giving every restaurant (every player) their own unique customers. This meant almost 4x the amount of cards in the game (still 120 so its not too big a deal). With every player having their own unique customers, and therefore their own unique abilities, it allows for me to control the synergies that they can perform if they play correctly, and let me tell you, it has lead to some really fun and wacky gameplay which has allowed players to complete a really difficult order (exactly what I wanted!)
This is the second costly addition I had to make to the game for the sake of gameplay. The reintroduction of star components. To understand this decision, I am going to quickly mention the flip flopping I had to go through to get to this point. Initially, if you completed an order, you would receive the amount of stars that it states on the card, and if you fail an order, you would lose half a star. This meant that there was an actual decision to be made for whether you were to attempt an order or not, and of course, if you choose to never attempt an order, you are never going to win, so that makes the decision even harder. However, I wanted to make this game as cheap and as light as possible because of the current costs of postage from the UK to the USA (over £20 a game for my current game Blockers: The Stacking Game). So I changed the penalty to be that the player would lose the entire customer card, including the ability. This allowed the players to keep track of the stars they had via the customers they had. However, because failure meant that it was harder to succeed, and because the more cards your completed, the harder the options got due to the level 1, 2 and 3 system (at a certain point, you run out of easy cards to complete), almost every game ended in players unable to win... which isn't fun. So, the stars had to be reintroduced. I am going to attempt to get them made using a punch board so they will just slip on top of the cards in the small box. It shouldn't increase the weight too much, but time will tell once we get the game finalised and a quote request sent off.
Finally, I decided to add the "Chef" card. Currently, each player has the same "Chef", but I plan to make it so one of the abilities relates to the customer card abilities they have. Anyway, the Chef card was introduced because I had trouble determining how many uses the abilities should have. I really wanted the abilities that you got from completing customer cards to feel super powerful, but of course that meant that you couldn't use them constantly, otherwise the game will start having issues to do with players that are in the lead just snowballing to victory. The alternative was to have a one and done system, but much like the penalty change from the example I gave earlier, in which if you failed an order, you would lose an ability, if you were unlucky and you used abilities and still lost, you would get to the point where you would have spent all your abilities, and it was nearly impossible to complete the harder cards, and would result in yet another outcome of no one can win. So, this is where the Chef comes in. The Chef currently gives you three options, you can either: refresh an item (2 items if you have 3 or more stars to combat the amount of cards you are likely to have at that point, draw 1 card, or "butterbean" which is a reference to The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls ability where you can cancel the affect of any card). So, this means that the player has three options to choose from, all of which have their own merits. Of course the refresh ability solves the problem I was having with the abilities. If you had some good combos, once you used them you would have to take your time to refresh them which could cost you, but at the same time you could choose not to do that with the ability "draw 1", which was designed to help players out at the beginning of the game to get the ball rolling. And finally, butterbean is an option a more cautious player could use. If another player has a really strong offensive ability, you may want to save your Chef to protect yourself if they decide to screw you over. I also like how the Chef card is the only ability that refreshes at the start of every turn, meaning that the player, no matter how unlikely or how unskilled, always has at least one meaningful decision to make.
What didn't work?
Other than what I have mentioned previously when discussing my road to where the game's mechanics are at now, there was one major mechanic which just didn't work out, mainly because it was too complicated and just didn't fit the theme whatsoever. So if you take a look back at the screenshots, you will see that the Level 2 and 3 cards have shields with numbers on them. This was because I had forgot to take them off the cards during the most recent playtest, but they were originally there because I wanted to try out an attack defence system for the customers. So for example, the more difficult card to complete, the higher the attack/defence number, which could be used to... yes both attack and defend. So there could be a situation where a player uses an offensive ability on you, maybe one that says you discard a card. That card could have a 4 shield. That means that if you would want to stop a player from performing that ability, you would have to use a card with a shield number of 4 or higher, which would also mean that you couldn't use that card for it's intended ability. This just got too complicated and no one really even wanted to use this mechanic when playing because it worked so much against the pace of the game.
The future of FTBS.
I thought I mentioned this in the previous post, but it turns out I didn't. Because of what I mentioned in this post previously (the fact that postage has almost doubled for UK to US), I really want to make the next game that Crab Studios publishes a really affordable product for as many players as possible. Therefore I have made the decision to swap the Kickstarter campaigns of Into the Mine and FTBS, so now FTBS will be coming to Kickstarter in February, and Into the Mine in June. This is also the other reason why I have been focusing more on playtesting FTBS than Into the Mine (also the fact that Into the Mine is very, very solid in terms of gameplay). There is still a ways to go for FTBS, but the soft deadline for finalised art and gameplay is October 1st. This will allow me to get prototypes made and out to reviewers with 2 months before the campaign is set to go live. So wish me look on that front!
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this lengthy blog post. I am thinking about starting to do video blog posts to accompany these posts starting with the next one, so hopefully that is something you can look forward too. So that's it, thanks for reading and I shall see you in the next one, thanks!
Is it actually a game yet?
Hello everyone, thanks for tuning into another blog post about this cool looking, but kinda iffy to play game, Food Time Battle in Space. Well... I say iffy, but very recently, that might have changed somewhat. Both my friends and my teachers at University all agreed that FTBS is a beautiful looking game, and anyone familiar with how Kickstarter works, you know that means dollar signs. I put it bluntly because I don't really agree with that phenomenon, but unfortunately it seems to be the case, artwork wins over gameplay.
However, I am a designer, and if my game is going to look good, then darn it if it isn't going to play well either.
Food Time Battle in Space is slated to release after Into the Mine, and of course, after Blockers: The Stacking Game, which has already had it's successful Kickstarter and is almost ready to be shipped out to backers as I write this post. Anyway, I mention those two games because, originally (about a week ago) FTBS was going to be a great departure from the type of audience that those two previous games catered towards. It was going to be a medium to heavy weight resource management game which was very slow and strategic, with a lot of moving parts to take care of. Considering my common playtesting group loves Into the Mine, you can guess how well that session went over...
A very harsh right turn...
I then went back to the drawing board, allowed my business brain to take a crack at this design as well as my designer brain, and I came to the conclusion that this needed to be a card game, both for the business, and for the audience that I am slowly gathering with my games and Kickstarters. My goal with every Kickstarter is not to make as much money as possible, but to get as many people to play the game as possible, so part of the design process included "How can I make this a £10-£15 game".
This is how the card game currently looks. Each player has ingredients that are appropriate for the type of restaurant that they own, and the aim of the game is to place down the number of ingredients that the customer wants in the right order in order to complete their order (I said order a lot then). You can also get bonus rewards like more stars or abilities if you can include a certain number of luxury ingredients in that order. The win condition is first to 5 stars, wins!
There was originally a slight issue with this version of the game. Essentially, the customer cards were way too difficult to not only beat, but to obtain the bonus rewards. The whole idea of the game, the core mechanic, was deck manipulation. I wanted the vast majority of the abilities you could gain to be ways to manipulate what you draw from your deck, to give you more control over your hand. This is why I love input randomness so much! Because it is random, but if you have the abilities to affect the randomness a bend it to your will, it can be a very powerful feeling when you can pull it off. However, in the initial version, the customer cards were just way to difficult, so no one could obtain these abilities! After two days of tweaking and patching, we got a playtesting session together which had multiple victories and fun times all round.
There is still a long, long way to go with this game playtesting wise. I want to work on a better system for customer distribution, because currently the game ends before you get to the more difficult, yet higher rewarding customers. There is also a lot of balancing that needs to be carried out for the game to feel fair, but for all players to feel powerful. Currently, every player feels incredibly powerful, but some abilities that the players obtain were considered way to easy to get in comparison with how powerful they were. A lot of the feedback in the notes that I received from the playtesting session were incredibly helpful with regards to this type of balancing. Overall though, this is a very solid start.
Thanks once again for reading, and hopefully in a months time, there will be more to talk about with regards to Food Time Battle in Space!
Introduction to FTBS
Food Time Battle in Space is a fast-paced, restaurant, resource management game. You are a enterprising restaurateur trying to take advantage of a sudden and rapid colonization of the moon, the people have settled, but there is no where good to eat! Battle your rivals in space to be the first to achieve a five star status!
FTBS is a project I have been working on since late January of 2020. As part of my visual design module on my game design course at the University of Huddersfield, we were given the task of creating our own brief to follow, and we would be marked on it as such. If you haven't checked out the portfolio page in this website, check it here.
The aim of the product was to create a fresh yet nostalgic feel for an older, North American target market, as well as all people that love vintage in the 1950s. I also took on the strategy similar to Fallout, of mixing a more futuristic setting with a vintage time. I achieved this by basing the entirety of the art style on greetings cards and vintage space posters.
I would highly recommend flicking through the sketchbook for FTBS here. You will be able to see my thought process every step of the way and I use a bunch of show don't tell so there isn't much to read.
What Grade did I get?
To bring it back to what I said earlier, this project was originally for a university assignment, though I plan to take it further and eventually to a Kickstarter like I did with my previous project from university, Blockers: The Stacking Game. So, as it was for a university assignment, it would probably be best to talk about how I did.
Well in short, I got a 1st, which in the UK is the highest grade you can achieve at university level. This project specifically achieved a 94/100, which I am incredibly proud of.
Anyway, next month I will have some progression images of cards and the art in general, as well as hopefully some development on the design of the mechanics as that is currently the weakest point (due to the module being marked specifically on the visuals). Please add this blog to your RSS feed and comment telling me what you think of the sketchbook, and any criticism is welcome.
Hello, my name is Niall Crabtree, and this is my comprehensive blog showcasing all of my game development
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