Aug 9, 2017

The Last Hour of The Nevera Wars Kickstarter Campaign

We are at the last hour of the campaign and it looks certain that Nevera Wars will not reach its funding goal this summer. Thank you all so much for contributing and helping support this project.
Despite the stress of running a campaign I had really great time, I got to know a bunch of new people and feel a huge amount of pride in what was able to be accomplished. Almost $7,000 is still definitely something to feel great about. 
I will continue to work on the project myself so that I can relaunch with a lower target or in a way that makes it even more appetizing to people. 
A huge thank you to Matheus Graef for working so hard on the illustrations, Marek Jarocki for his support in producing rewards and promoting, and Scott Nicely for the graphic design work. I recommend them highly if you have any art work you need done or if you just want someone super cool to follow on the internet. 
I teach 4th grade public school in California, so with the end of the summer looming I cannot say when I might launch another Kickstarter campaign, but if it is the wisest way to bring the game to life then I'll be letting you know when I do what the plan is!
In the mean time if you'd like to check out the comic book that we successfully Kickstarted and published last year please check out our page here and like us on Facebook for future updates. 
Thanks again, 
Daniel Bishop

Jul 19, 2017

Play-Testing Tips Part 3 of 3: With Your Audience


In this post I will be offering some advice and tips for play-testing with your audience (consumers of your final product). There are some notable differences when play-testing with your audience compared to play-testing with other designers as I wrote about previously, which is why I believe it is important to address them separately.

Once again, always show appreciation and gratitude to people who play-test your game; whether it takes ten minutes or two hours, always thank that person or persons who spent their time playing your incomplete project, as their time is valuable and they chose to spend it supporting you.


Keep The Pitch Short

Designers will generally be open to, or maybe even excited to play an unfinished game, however your audience will likely be less enthusiastic to play something incomplete. It just sounds less appetizing to spend time playing something that might be broken or not fun. So make sure you rehearse a little elevator pitch that will have a good chance of hooking someone into trying your game. Don't just focus on the mechanics, try to communicate the theme, the objective, and the best part of the game (with a smile).



Also, offering a treat will greatly improve your chances


Watch For Non-Verbal Signals

Without being weird about it, spend some of your attention noticing the non-verbal expressions of your play-testers. When are they tense, when are they disinterested, when are they confused, when are they bored, when are they enthused. Players will very unlikely say "I feel lost" or "I feel powerful", and so it is wise to spend some of your focus trying to evaluate for yourself what is being evoked in the players and when. Several times I have seen players of Nevera Wars feel down and out, resigned to losing, but then discover a new option, a new avenue to success and be re-energized, all without saying anything.

The goal is not necessarily to ensure your game is exciting all the way through (don't have a little internal freak-out if a play-tester checks their phone a few times during the game). Especially if the game is long it is often better to have the occasional simple round, quick turn, or lull in action, to make the dramatic and tense moments bigger. Even the best action movies are not full-throttle all the way through, they need time for calm between the big intense scenes. The goal is to notice when specific responses are taking place so you can designer better for them.

Nevera Wars is now on Kickstarter, click to see the game, the art, and the rewards.

Great For Finding Issues But Not Necessarily Solutions

Board game players often have strong opinions, which is great for you as a designer looking for feedback. Players will often be forthcoming about what is un-intuitive, unsatisfying, redundant, and so on.

However, when a player offers you a particular solution to an issue, remember that you are the designer, and that you have a complete vision for your game which includes elements and facets that the player may not be aware of. Players are much better at identifying issues than fixes, and so their potential fixes should not be the focus of what you take away from the session. You may end up with over ten potential fixes to an issue, and giving them all equal weight will cause a paralysis in your project.

Also, when play testing with your audience, players may offer feedback and suggestions during the game or after the game. If players offer suggestions during the game do not ask them to hold their thoughts until the end, because they may forget their ideas or might want to get up and leave immediately after the game is concluded.  


If They Make Suggestions Always Ask Why

Following on from the previous point, and similarly with the previous post, politely ask why the player is offering their suggestion. If a play-tester says that your game "should include a bidding mechanic", it is important you know if they are saying it because:

1. They want more player interaction
2. They want more ways to use their resources
3. They just really like bidding mechanics and think every game should have them

Without this information you could possibly begin designing or altering your game based on feedback that is not relevant to your game or aligned with your vision. This extra probing also lets the player know you are really listening and value their feedback.


Ask For Their Rules Interpretation

If a player is unsure of the meaning of a rule, or text on the card, or how to resolve an action, it is occasionally fruitful to not assist them, and to ask them to do what they believe is best or appropriate.

For example during a game of Nevera Wars, a play-tester asked if a defensive ability could possibly be activated targeting an opponent. Although I had designed the ability to be defensive, in this specific circumstance it would have been a fine tactical option to target an opponent, but the wording on the card was ambiguous about whether this was possible. I let the player do what they thought was appropriate and they went ahead and activated the ability targeting the opponent, which resulted in some interesting mechanical flaws, and so I worded the card much more specifically to not target opponents.


Try not to do this too much, as it can easily become frustrating for the player to have their questions rebuffed and to make rules decisions themselves. If this is happening a  lot definitely spend some time rewriting the rules, the card text, and try to make the game more intuitive. But once or twice a game is acceptable and can lead to interesting discoveries or possibilities which had previously been taken for granted. 

Jul 5, 2017

Nevera Wars Card Game Kickstarter July 10th Announcement




On Monday July 10th we will be launching our Kickstarter campaign to produce Nevera Wars, a deck construction card game set in the world of Nevera, where players become necromancers, summoning powerful undead minions to battle.

Backers can receive a copy of the core game for just $19 including shipping to the U.S (+$10 for international shipping). As well as many other excellent rewards at other levels.

You can see the preview page here and click to be altered to when the campaign begins. Backing early improves the chances of success for the whole campaign so we hope to see you early next week for what will be a an exciting start to our next adventure.


Jun 28, 2017

Play-Testing Tips Part 2 of 3: With Designers


In this post I'm going to write about how play-testing with other game designers is different to play-testing with consumers or your target audience. Making the most of these opportunities can advance your project greatly and take it in directions you hadn't imagined. Last time I wrote about play-testing alone or solo and you should check that out if you haven't already. 

Most importantly, always show appreciation and gratitude to people who play-test your game; whether it takes ten minutes or two hours, always thank that person or persons who spent their time playing your incomplete project, as their time is valuable and they chose to spend it supporting you.


Play-Testing a Piece of the Game

It is perfectly acceptable (and sometimes even wise) to play-test one part of the game, instead of the full game experience. Especially at the very early stages of design, rapidly playing one part of the game repeatedly can quickly highlight issues and find fixes that feel positive and ensure each part of the game is as good as it can be. It is easy to think that for example, the bidding phase is where all the interaction and excitement happens, and so the other phases don't need to be interesting or meaningful, but play-testing just those other phases in isolation can really bring out the best in them instead of neglecting them as just necessary filler.


For example, with Nevera Wars it was incredibly useful to simply ask another designer to play the first two turns with me over and over. We did this in order to evaluate what options we had in our opening hands, if the options felt overwhelming, if the pacing or rhythm was appropriate, and other elements to ensure the game began as a positive experience, even though the majority of heavy action wouldn't come until later in the game.
If you are only testing the mid game experience, or end game experience, be imaginative and open with how you set those situations up. Try them with one player far out in the lead, and with all players pretty even, and with one player already out, to try and understand the implications of your design in different states of play. Even try with set ups that might not be possible with your current design in case that reveals some new perspective or solution.

Breaking the Game

This is probably the most painful part of play-testing, but is also the most valuable. If you can find play-testers who will intentionally break the game or break the game experience (for example winning by exploiting rules, finding infinite combos, or forcing stalemates) this will force you to confront serious design issues. By playing your game in ways you had not intended, it will quickly get you outside of your own headspace early in the design process.
With Nevera Wars, this was a very difficult experience not only watching another designer purposely try to break the game, but coming to terms with the fact that I had to change so much of the design I had become attached to. In older versions of the game, the only win condition was to destroy nine of your opponent's minions cards, and a designer quickly pointed out that they could force a stalemate by simply refusing to play any minion cards, which is what they did.
I was really adverse to adding any new rules, mechanics or phases, feeling like it would take away from the simplicity and economy of design I was striving for. But after several weeks of brain-storming and play-testing different ideas (remember there is no rush to find solutions) I eventually was able to settle on a small new rule that resolved the issue, and actually enhanced the theme of the game without adding more weight to it.


You Can Defend Your Decisions

Another important difference regarding play-testing with other designers is that you can defend your design decisions. It is important that you communicate your vision for your game so that other designers can help you get closer to it, by making thematically useful suggestions or genre specific suggestions.


If you communicate clearly that you are designing a co-op game aimed at families, the other designers will probably not make suggestions to add Take That maneuvers or interruption mechanics. If you communicate clearly that you are making a portable game that children can play on airplanes and in the back of cars, the other designers will probably not make suggestions to add a ton of counters and cubes.

This is different from being defensive, which generally means to avoid listening or avoid experiencing feedback,  conversationally maneuvering around hearing what someone has to day. More on this in the next section.

Show You Are Listening

Game designers love coming up with solutions to problems, fixes for broken mechanics, and ideas for new avenues of design. But they will stop giving suggestions and advice if they feel they aren't being listened to or that their input is not valued. The simplest way to make sure someone feels listened to is to not interrupt them, and say back to them what they said (or paraphrase).

Also make sure you understand what issue the other designer is trying to resolve when they make a suggestion. If the designer says something like "you could have some kind of bidding mechanic at the end of this phase", make sure you ask what they feel is incomplete or missing to have suggested that. If the designer says something like "you could have everyone take their actions simultaneously instead of one at time", make sure you ask if the issue is the game pacing or the lack of interaction. This will help you settle on a solution that really addresses the issue and help you understand where their ideas are coming from.

You should also have a notebook and be writing down every suggestion and idea you are given. Even ones you wholeheartedly disagree with, hate, or go completely against your theme. The idea itself might not be something you are interested in, but days or weeks down the line something about it might spark the idea for a solution, mechanic, component (or entirely new game). Also if someone sees you write down what they are saying, they really feel like you are listening and valuing what they have to say. Next time I will be focusing on play-testing with your target audience so check back in!



Jun 21, 2017

Play-Testing Tips Part 1 of 3: Solo



This is the first of three posts with play-testing advice based on my experiences designing and developing Nevera Wars. This first post addresses a topic I have not seen mentioned much on podcasts or other blogs, which is solo play-testing, or play-testing with yourself. 

Putting some significant time into play testing alone can really advance the design of a game before taking it to others to play-test, saving a lot of time in the long run. There are a lot of resources out there to take some of the heavy lifting off too before you even need to make a single component. Here are some small tips I gained along the way.


Begin at the End

After deciding on the objective of the game and what the core mechanic of the game is (what is the players' goal and how do they get it) the first action I take it to average out how many turns it might take to achieve that.



For example, if the goal is to inflict 20 damage to the opponent, and the player inflicts an average of three damage each turn (because even if my power increases each turn, likely so will my opponent's defenses), then it will take seven turns to complete the game. Even taking nothing else into account this gives an early indication of the numbers that can be manipulated to get closer to the idea finished experience. If I want the game to go longer I can increase the damage limit or decrease the average damage I expect to be inflicted.

This might sound overly simple but can be very useful when deciding what numbers to start with. Even if I expect my power to increase by one each turn (on turn one I inflict three damage, turn two I inflict four damage, and so on) the game will be over in five turns. So this gives a very clear indication about what experience I want my players to have, even if I am just speculating with averages.  


Turn Length

Another factor that can be grappled with early in development is how long a player's turn might take. A great tool was the simple combinations calculator, this tool basically shows how many different possible subsets can be made from a larger set. This is great for quickly showing how many choices a player has at any given time.

If a player can choose to do 4 actions out of a possible 10, there are 210 possible combinations they can choose, but if a player can choose to do 4 actions out of a possible 7, then there are only 35 different combinations.

This is great for getting an early indication of if your game will give the player too many choices which can really take away from the fun as they struggle to determine the best course of action. This in combination with the speculative number of turns it will take to complete a game can give a good starting point for design.


Dead Hands

One of the most useful tools I have used tools for number crunching in my development have been The Vault, which is a tool for building Magic: the Gathering decks. This tool has a huge number of secondary functions which can be useful for sculpting many games.



You can see from this image that I made a deck using Magic: the Gathering cards which are stand-ins for the cards in my game, and then I wanted to see what the likelihood is of drawing a specific card in an opening hand, which can quickly be shown using the graphs within the tool itself.

This helped me refine the deck size, opening hand size, and other elements within my game that might have otherwise taken months of play-testing to refine. Using this I crafted my components and rules so that players have an almost 0% chance of starting with a hand they cannot play with even before I began play-testing with other people.


Next time I will be writing about play-testing with other designers. Stay positive!


Jun 13, 2017

Designing Components for Nevera Wars


One of the most significant elements of my game Nevera Wars was how to track damage. Unlike some games, damage done to creatures is permanent, and can go as high as 50, so there needs to be a good functional way of keeping track of the count, especially as there can be up to six creatures in play at one time. Some games resolve this by having counters or tokens, but this always seemed cumbersome and inelegant in my opinion- a vital element of game components is that they feel right.


My goals for this component were that it be easy to use, not cumbersome, cheap to produce, and aesthetically pleasing. This is a description of some of the design stages I went through.


Dice

Functionally, dice are an idea placeholder for many game components and mechanics while development is still underway. Very early in development I was using two D10 for each creature, one to represent the tens place and one to represent the ones place. For a long time my plan was to include twelve of these D10 as part of the game components for the final boxed game.


However after many play-testing nights with other game designers, the feedback was clear that the dice were too susceptible to being knocked (or rolling if the table were to be bumped). It was also uncomfortable to watch my fellow designers turn them over and over in their fingers looking for the right number. It was time to leave the dice behind, despite them serving me well during prototyping.


Dials

My next stage was to try using a dual dial, you can find the  template for free here on The Game Crafter. I was immediately excited at the mechanical and solid look of the component and quickly made six of them just with my home printer and some paper fasteners (or split pins as we call them in England).


What also attracted me was the opportunity of having illustration on the dials and how I could make them fit into the theme of the game visually. The art is already a strong element of Nevera Wars so a new surface to illustrate was a big positive.

Long term though, there would be problems with manufacturing. I did not know if the manufacturer would assemble them (at probably a high cost) or if the consumer would assemble them (which would not be ideal either). The feedback from play testers when using them was also not positive, and so I began searching for a new option.


Two Cards

One feature I wanted to include on the component was the ability for both players to easily see the damage count. There is a lot of information on the board already in Nevera Wars and so making the information easy to visually digest was very important to me as a designer. Eventually, while on the bus on the way home from the gym, a few neurons fired in a certain direction and I was inspired to design a card with a very specific layout.


This card would have all the numbers twice (one set upside-down for the opposing player to read) and another card with two holes that would sit on top and could be moved around easily to show different numbers. In this way, the damage for each creature could be tracked with a component that would fit into a deck box, plus the cover card with two holes could also be an opportunity for illustration. Also I felt very clever for coming up with the design, which is not a big factor in the success of a component, but should also not be dismissed; motivation and morale is an important part of any project and should be cherished.



Final Design

The final design for the damage cards is shown here, they printed very dark for this prototype but they function just as I envisioned. There was some difficulty in finding a manufacturer who would easily produce them with the holes already cut for the final game, but fortunately I was able to secure a company.


It is important to remember that components are often a matter of taste and preference; there is no way to design a game component that will please everyone. The most important lesson is to listen to feedback openly, be prepared to try different approaches, and to not be afraid of trying ideas that you are not in love with or have a good chance of having to abandon. With that in mind, I will be soon writing a short series on my lessons learned in how to make the most out of play testing.



May 25, 2017

Nevera Wars Final Design Changes


In this post I will be describing the final changes I made to the card game Nevera Wars.

Removing Player Life Count
Possibly the biggest change has been to remove player life totals entirely. In previous versions of the game players had a total of 20 life points which could be targeted once they had no minions in play, and the victory condition was when one player was reduced to zero life points. However consistent feedback was that this element felt disconnected from the rest of play and when one player had no minions in play then they had practically lost the game already.

In light of this feedback and experience, life totals have been removed from players entirely and the new victory condition is that when one player has destroyed eight of their opponents' minions then they are victorious. This feels much more thematically consistent with the rest of the game, reduces the number of mechanics in the game, and also speeds up the game time. The number eight however might rise or fall depending on future play testing.



Lowering Minion Life Totals
Also regarding life totals, in order to reduce the game time length, I had to either increase the amount of damage minions could inflict, or reduce the life totals of the minions. After some deliberation I decided to reduce the life totals of some of the minions, so that tier one minions have a life total of 20, tier two minions have a life total of 35, and tier three minions have a life total of 50, (previously it was 20, 40, 60).

This effectively reduced the game time length to a much more enjoyable margin without having a large impact on the balance of the game. This change also had a great interaction with the new victory condition (see above), because more powerful minions are worth more victory points to the opponent once destroyed and now have lower life totals than in previous versions, making them more risky to put into play.  


Changing Energy Cost Design
One new piece of feedback based on the near final minion card design is that having several energy symbols next to an ability can be confusing to the eye, especially once there are more than four of the symbol. It is not easy for the human eye to quickly determine a number of objects larger than four, especially on a card that already has great deal of information on it.

For this reason the card layout was changed so that if an ability costs a number of energy to trigger, it simply shows a number and one of the energy symbols. This also freed up some more space on the card to give different elements more breathing room and gave an overall less crowded appearance.


Chance Ramping Steps
Some play testers had an aversion to the way risk had been implemented into some of the abilities. In previous versions the scaling of offensive ability costs and risks looked like this:

Cheap Cost Ability: Has 50% chance to target one of your minions instead.
Medium Cost Ability: Has 50% chance of doing nothing (not triggering).
Expensive Cost Ability: Has 100% chance of succeeding (triggering).

However this caused many players to avoid using the risky but cheap abilities at all, and so after a great deal of redesigning and contemplating, I changed the risk scaling to look like this, which greatly improved the players' motivation to use different abilities during play:

Cheap Cost Ability: Has 50% chance of doing nothing (not triggering).
Medium Cost Ability: Has 50% of inflicting a small amount of damage instead of triggering.
Expensive Cost Ability: Has 100% chance of succeeding (triggering).


Turn Variance
Although the above change improved the appeal of using different kinds of abilities and thereby increasing turn variance, there was still room for more variance to make the game more interesting and tactical. Some players still chose to using only direct damage abilities for most of or all of the game, which some admitted is their general strategy for any game they play, but I was still unfulfilled by the lack of  tactics and options being used by players. In order to amend this, I assessed each non-damaging ability to increase its usefulness in the game or replace it entirely if it was never deemed useful.



For example, there was an ability called Misfortune which forced an opponent's minion to re-roll a successful D6 roll, which was never used by players as it was never seen to be as useful as everything else the card had to offer. Essentially too under-powered. This ability was replaced to read "Target's abilities all trigger only on a D6 roll of 4, 5, or 6." Essentially this inexpensive ability now means that all of the target's abilities have a 50% chance of failing to trigger. The ability Misfortune now has far more potential game states to be useful and gives and also increases tension when it is used.

You can read much more about my attempts to balance abilities here.





May 15, 2017

Minion Mondays 021 Raider


The world of Nevera is overrun with necromancers and undead, all other forms of magic have been lost to time and only small pockets of humanity remain. Each Monday we will be showcasing a new undead minion from the diverse fauna of Nevera, which you can battle and control to increase your own power as a necromancer. 

Name: Raider


Type: Skeleton






Abilities: Slash, Rush, Bolster, Discord 

DescriptionA formidable opponent in combat, both in life and death, Raiders throw themselves and their keen weapons into melee with abandon. These skeletons appear eager to return to marauding by land or by sea and the loss of their flesh has not slowed them at all. Even under necromancer control, be wary of wildly whirling blades as their frenzy ensues.     


Art by Matheus Graef

May 12, 2017

Indie Author Interview on The White Room




You can click here or below to see me being interviewed as an indie author, discussing comic books, publishing, and being inclusive, on E. Rachel Hardcastle's podcast The White Room. A great experience and a thoroughly enjoyable conversation.




You can check out more at E. Rachel Hardcastle's website here where she interviews other indie authors. You can also see some of my old writing advice by clicking on some of these words.



Apr 14, 2017

Balancing Nevera Wars

Balancing

This post is regarding some of the balancing decisions I have made as a result of play-testing Nevera Wars. Specifically balancing the minions' abilities. Each minion has four abilities, and the goal is for none of the abilities to be overpowered or under-powered, which is a high bar, but worth pursuing as diligently as possible.



Early in the design process I determined as the basic economy of Nevera Wars would be that one resource would be worth inflicting three damage. I could then price each ability accordingly, so that inflicting six damage would be worth two energy, inflicting nine damage would be worth three energy, and so on. The real challenge would be determining how many energy would drawing an extra card be worth, or how many energy would having an opponent's minion skip a turn be worth. 

This was the focus of the bulk of my play-testing; properly costing the non-damage causing abilities.
Each ability comes in four tiers, scaling up in energy cost and power, and so you will see me refer to abilities by batches of four names. I will include card images to help contextualize the information.


Over-powered

Embrace, Stifle, Constrict, Choke
These abilities allowed you to prevent the opponent's minions from using an ability of your choice, this was a little too powerful in being able to shut down the opponent's options. However instead of simply increasing the energy cost to use these abilities, I changed the lower power versions to only prevent the opponent's minions from using a damage causing ability of your choice, which helped the ability scale better in the early game.



Burst, Blast, Cyclone, Plasma
Originally these abilities would cause one, two, three, or four damage multiplied by the number of energy cards a player had on the board. This very quickly showed itself to be way too powerful by the middle of the game, and so instead I changed them to two, three, four or five damage multiplied by the number of cards the player has in hand. This mitigated the power to an appropriate level and also gives the player another path of strategy; of holding more cards in hand to increase the power of these abilities in exchange for fewer options on the board, or trying to draw more cards to increase this ability's potential.


Under-powered

Sorrow, Dirge, Despair, Anguish
These abilities allowed a player to look at the cards the opponent held in hand. This was simply not as useful as the other abilities available to the player, and almost never worth the energy cost compared to simply inflicting damage to the opponent. In response I lowered the cost of the abilities, but also added the extra effect of looking at the next cards the opponent would draw for a bigger tactical advantage.



Addle, Misfortune, Discord, Peril
These abilities affected the dice rolls of the opponent, meaning that the player could cause the dice rolls of the opponent to automatically have a negative outcome. This was very under-powered because there simply are not enough abilities that require a die roll to make this an effective option. It was already a cheap ability, so instead I changed it to cause an opponent's minion to have to make a die roll even then they wouldn't. This gives the ability a much more playful edge and can really mess with the opponent's strategy.


Unintended Consequences

Spark, Shock, Thunder, Bolt
Originally these abilities would inflict a little damage, but also have the added effect of forcing the opponent to return an energy card from the board to their hand. The intention was to set back the opponent's progress in accumulating energy. However because all of the energy cards are also the minion cards, in the late game this can be really beneficial to the opponent who might get back a card that would give them new options or get them out of a bind.

After a few minor adjustments failed to change the nature of the effect, I eventually changed the effect of the ability to simply tap (or make unusable) one of the opponent's energy cards for that turn. This improved the balance of the ability and the flow of the game greatly.



Flash, Aura, Shell, Beam

These abilities removed effects on minions, however it was not clear which minions were able to be targeted, and whether negative and positive effects could be removed. This led players to have a lot of confusion and questions about how these abilities could be used. In the end, in the interest of clarity I changed the wording of the ability to only remove negative effects, but also to safeguard it from future negative effects to keep its usefulness high. 


Next we'll be looking at the larger design decisions of the game and how they impacted the final version of the game. 

Apr 7, 2017

Nevera Wars Card Design Decisions


I am very proud to show the final design for the cards for Nevera Wars, my necromancer themed deck construction game. Layout by Scott Nicely and Illustrations by Matheus Graef. I'm going to spend some time talking about some of the design decisions on the cards and the reasons behind them. If you want to hear me speak about art you can also check out this presentation I gave in March 2017 at the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment with advice on working with freelance artists.



Illustration
The vast majority of the illustrations for Nevera Wars are of bipedal creatures who are taller than they are wide, and so it made sense to me to have tall illustrations that go almost the whole height of the card, instead of the more traditional short and fat illustrations. I always wanted the illustrations to be a big area of engagement for the game, and so I wanted to give a great deal of space for them to breathe. I wanted the illustrations to do a lot of world-building for Nevera and I believe I have struck a good balance with how much of the card they take to do that.



Abilities
The abilities of each minion are aligned on the left of the card so that when the cards in the player's hand are fanned out, all of the abilities will be visible to the player. Each minion has four abilities to give the player a range of options for their turn, but also to ensure that all cards are competitive.
The order of the abilities is generally a physical attack, a magical attack, a buff, and a debuff. This means the players will generally be focused on the top two abilities and will check out the bottom two when they need a strategic option.

Each ability has a title, which is not necessary for every game, however for Nevera wars all the minions take their abilities from a common pool of abilities. This means that players can gain familiarity with abilities over time by associating them with their names and gives an extra thematic boost to the minions and what they are capable of.



Icons
There are very few icons used to support the ability text, a total of four to be exact. Plus two other icons on the card to denote specific information. With four abilities on each card it was important for the learning curve of players that very few icons exist within the game to take the pressure off of the player's memory.

The simplicity of the icons was also very important, that they be easy to see and be black and white. Partly so they do not overpower the illustration, but also so that players with sight challenges can easily determine them. The icons utilized resources from the wonderful websitegame-icons.net and were chosen to be as intuitive as possible. Icons are an element where it is completely okay to be unoriginal in service to their purpose.



Borders
The messy outer border was chosen to add to the necromantic theme, and also to make small printing edge errors less noticeable. The color of the border also indicates the type of minion. There is no green border as that would appear too conflicting with the necromantic theme.

The semi-opaque backing to the abilities allows the text to be read easily but also to showcase more of the illustration, sometimes with some fun world-building or setting features.  When getting caught up in the excitement of illustrations it is sometimes easy to forget that the information is the most important element of the card, and that needs to be the highest priority on the card.



Want tips and advice when working with freelance artists? Check out my presentation here. 

Apr 3, 2017

Presentation on Working With Artists


In March of 2017 I gave a presentation on Working With Artists at the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment in Oakland, for the Bay Area Tabletop Developers group.

I have worked with over 15 freelance artists on various projects including logos, graphic design, comic books, video games and board games. I am very appreciative for the opportunity to share my experiences and advice.



It was a great experience, a lot of fun, and it received some wonderful feedback. You can see the whole talk here, split into four topics...


Project: Best practices for how and when to incorporate an artist into a project.

Language: Some useful terminology and how language can impact a project.

Direction: Your role and responsibility as an art director.

Relationship: General reminders and tips for a good working relationship.



Special thanks to Eliot Miller for recording, editing and uploading the video.



Artwork by Marek Jarocki 

Mar 13, 2017

Minion Mondays 020 Pirate


The world of Nevera is overrun with necromancers and undead, all other forms of magic have been lost to time and only small pockets of humanity remain. Each Monday we will be showcasing a new undead minion from the diverse fauna of Nevera, which you can battle and control to increase your own power as a necromancer. 

Name: Pirate


Type: Skeleton






Abilities: Thrust, Slice, Focus, Misfortune

DescriptionThe bone remnants of a long dead pirate, seafaring men and women who resorted to theft and violence as a way of life. Marauding on the open sea had an extraordinarily low life expectancy for Pirates, exemplified by their favoring two offensive weapons over any defense. However, minions who were subservient in life are easily commanded in death.    


Art by Matheus Graef

Mar 7, 2017

Nevera Tales Comic Book Podcast Interview by Captain Comic Book


I have had the pleasure of being interviewed for the Captain Comic Book website. It was a great discussion and I loved being able to talk about how Nevera Tales was created and put together.

We were able to talk about how the story was written, how the art was established, the Kickstarter experience, building an audience, and much more.

You can listen to the interview by clicking on these words.

And you can buy the physical and digital copy of Nevera Tales together for only $5 here.


Mar 6, 2017

Minion Mondays 019 Wraith


The world of Nevera is overrun with necromancers and undead, all other forms of magic have been lost to time and only small pockets of humanity remain. Each Monday we will be showcasing a new undead minion from the diverse fauna of Nevera, which you can battle and control to increase your own power as a necromancer. 

Name: Wraith


Type: Ghost






Abilities: Glacier, Gravity, Shroud, Unravel

DescriptionWraiths are exceptionally magically powerful ghosts and can cause a great deal of chaos. They are able to conceal themselves at will, evoke almost entire blizzards, and can even alter the gravity in the nearby area. In addition, Wraiths are able to attack the mind directly, creating such confusion that articulate reports of them are almost impossible to acquire.     


Art by Matheus Graef

Mar 3, 2017

Play-Testing Nevera Wars 2: Learning Curve



Learning Curve

In the last official debrief I focused on rhythm and tempo, this yielded some great insights which you can read about here. Before getting into the second official debrief I will detail some of the changes for our card game Nevera Wars we made in response to these lessons. 

1. Randomizing Bouncing: Last time when a card was bounced from the player's board to their hand for any reason, the game would slow down greatly or even stop, as the player decided which one to take back. In response to this I made all bouncing random (card selected blindly by the opponent).

2. New Win Condition: Last time the win condition drew the game length out too long and seemed to be disconnected from the other mechanics of the game. In response I decided that the game would end once one player hand lost 8 minion cards. This would also mean there are fewer components for the finished game which is always a positive.  

Although there were more possible change I could have made, I would wait to do, as it seemed wise to only change a few elements at once to gauge their impact on the game.


Learning Curve

In this debrief I will focus on learning curve. After playing with some friends who have never played a game of this genre, I had the chance to assess some of the learning curve issues in real detail. Also please enjoy this time-lapse video of one of our play game sessions.



Learning curve is essentially the rate at which someone can learn how to play the game, and also how long it takes them to play the game effectively. Different games aim at different learning curves; some games want to appeal to casual players and want them to be very easy to pick up and learn, some game want to appeal to players who love difficult complicated games that takes hours or days to complete.

My goal is for my game to be quick to learn mechanically, but have the potential for a lot of depth and strategy that players can spend a longer time learning and becoming an expert with. This curve is easier to implement in video games as there can be a tutorial, signposts and carefully calibrated difficulty curves. The program itself can also do a lot of the math in the background so the player can focus on the play. But with physical games there is much more responsibility on the player to engage with and absorb the mechanics and rules.


Negative

Uneven Hampering
My friend felt as though I had more hampering abilities than he did, or that I was able to do more hampering in general than he. I was using some abilities which made it difficult for him to keep up, and I was using abilities which protected my minions from harm, which not only made the game feel uneven but also slowed the rhythm of the game down, which is definitely against my goals.
Reducing the effectiveness of some abilities, such as the ability to shut down opponent abilities, the ability to prevent the opponent drawing cards, and the ability to bounce cards back to the opponent's hand from the board might be either too cheap or too easy to exploit. However this might be an element of learning curve as I am more attuned to the abilities of the cards and my friend is less familiar with the possible strategies, meaning this requires more observation.

Difficult Comeback
My friend also felt it was difficult to come back from being in a defensive position. Once he was on the back foot it was difficult for him to find a strategy to build his power back up again and be competitive. It is important that is it possible for a player who is behind to have a chance at catching up again, and so I need to look closer at the options a player has once they are behind. Although again, this might be due to lack of familiarity with the possible strategies.


Positive

Random Bouncing
The change to make all bouncing cards back to the players' hands random was a great step. Partly because it didn't break the pace of the game. The player did not have to scrutinize each card and decide which to return to their hand, which would be especially difficult for new players to assess their options.

Win Condition
The altering of the win condition, to simply trigger once a certain number of minions had been destroyed, was a huge improvement. This meant that there were fewer elements to keep track of in the game for newer players. Also, having elements of the game that are disconnected from the theme are harder to remember, making learning more cognitively intensive. So I am very satisfied with this change.

Quick Teach
I was able to quickly teach my friend how to play even though he had not played a game of this genre before, although he does work for a video game company and is very proficient with games in general. This is an important element to notice, but the real test will be to see if two players can learn the game quickly with only a rulebook and no input from me.

Conclusion

Although it will take more play-testing to confirm, it seems as though both changes I made the mechanics had a positive impact on the game, and helped overcome some challenges that were being experienced. In terms of learning curve I am happy how quickly new players can pick up the game with my assistance, but it will be very informative to see how two players with no familiarity with the game pick it up without me to help support them. Fortunately I do keep a close record of what questions they ask me so I can make sure I include the response in the rule-book for future players.