Parky Interlude 003

It’s been awhile since I’ve written a Parky Interlude. That isn’t because Parkinson’s hasn’t been interrupting life. In fact, the opposite is true. But my most recent interruptions haven’t been Parkinson’s symptoms. They’ve been two other problems that are often associated with Parkinson’s: Mood and Anxiety Disorders.

I’m going to share three recent examples of the ancillary effects that Parkinson’s has on my life and that of my family. The first regards Anxiety, the second the side effects of medications, and the third Depression.

I’ll start by saying that I’ve went from driving rarely to not driving at all. This has become an issue of its own because we live in the county surrounding Evansville and not within walking distance of anything.

This is dirty laundry, folks, and it has nothing to do with board games. So if the smell bothers you come back another time.

My partner and I finished watching an episode of Orange is the New Black. It’s a show that everyone who watches Netflix has no doubt already watched or dismissed, but we’re really enjoying it. The commentary on the American penal system is just amazing and the characterization is better than anything on network television.

All of that to say, it was a very normal night with nothing out of place. We were getting ready for bed when I suddenly started having very dark, abstract thoughts. Then every time I closed my eyes I felt a sudden rush of some kind of terrible presence. Then, I started to panic.

People with an Anxiety Disorder will know how this works. You go from being a normal human being to feeling like a rat with it’s tail trapped by the sudden triggering of a spring, just waiting for something to devour you. Your fight or flight response is ratcheted up, and you have no recourse to either. You can do nothing but wait it out.

Last week, shortly after this episode, we went to see my neurologist and psychiatrist at Vanderbilt. It’s a 2 1/2 hour drive but the quality of care and access to specialists in movement disorders and Parkinson’s treatment is worth the drive. I was given a prescription for a new pill. Just what I needed.

After taking this pill for less than a week I had an episode where I: drove around at high speed through various parts of the city, nearly hit a deer, went home, punted a trash can full of buffalo chicken bones across the kitchen, convinced myself that someone had stolen my car keys, found the car keys, drove to work, sat in the parking lot, and finally found my way back to my family who were at an Extra Life event.

Now, driving to work might not seem all that weird in the scheme of things, but having been out of work for just over 3 months now it begins to smell a little fishy. I was convinced that I had to do payroll. When I got to the church where the Extra Life event was being hosted I sat in the car listening to music staring out into space. My partner came out and I screamed in fright when she opened the car door. I sobbed when I told her I had to go back to work to do payroll or I’d lose my job.

So, a couple days ago the braintrust at Vanderbilt said to stop taking this new medication. Last night I was so depressed I locked myself in a room in the basement for the better part of the day. I didn’t want to do anything or see anybody. I haven’t felt so low in a long time.

Distraction is my main coping mechanism. But sometimes it’s hard to think about coping with these things at all. Sometimes things fall apart and the center will not hold. Sometimes Yeats is appropriate. Sometimes Achebe more so.

So, here’s to a better tomorrow when today has fallen apart.

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Game Design #42: Botanik

It was my first week as a senior in high school. I moved to Indiana my junior year and found a place somewhere in the middle of the pecking order. My English Composition teacher gave us an assignment: Describe, from one of your parents’ perspective, their idea of the good old days. So I did.

I described the good old days from my father’s perspective. How, in the good old days when he was young, he got the shit beaten out of him every day, twice a day: once for the things he was going to do and once for the things he’d probably done. I described how his very devout mother and his bible-banging step-father would punish their children for the sins of humanity. Or maybe just to get their rocks off.

timewarpI liked pushing teacher’s boundaries in high school. I insisted that they call me Mr. Boyd, since I was to refer to them by their surname, and they did. It was kind of a joke, really. I got along well with all of my teachers (except maybe for my senior English Composition teacher). I also got my whole junior History class to do the Time Warp. It’s just a jump to the left…

I got an F on that paper. Not because it wasn’t good. It was damn good, actually. It is really one of only a handful of assignments I can remember in school and it is the one I’m most proud of. I got an F on that paper because I used the word shit. That’s it.

But the point I’m trying to make isn’t about being flunked on the best piece of writing I did in high school. Or about shocking people. My point is about why that paper was the best.

It was the constraint she had given us.

If she had just told us to write a 500 word paper about anything, I would have written something passable and she would have given it a passing grade. Instead I wrote something that pissed her off. If your writing makes someone feel that intensely… that’s something.

Botanik Card BackIt wasn’t until Botanik that I realized how much constraints can do for you. It was my entry into the 18 Card Microgame Contest in 2014 put on by Odd Hackwelder. The challenge was to make a game that used only 18 cards, nothing else. You could use those cards in anyway you chose, but it all had to fit on the cards. That included the rules.

When I first saw this I thought it was nuts. Then I thought it was genius. Then I thought it was nuts and genius. Then I grabbed a deck of cards and started playing around.

That massive constraint set me off. I wanted to do something people hadn’t done before. My big idea was to have the game clean up after itself. It was just as crazy as the competition and I loved it.

I came up with a way of stacking cards in which players matched colored dots. Players wanted to cover up their opponents color while keeping their own color uncovered. I had no theme but I had mechanics.

Master GardenerMy partner came up with the theme. It was a perfect fit and I called it Master Gardener.

I started my WIP thread and then I started playing. It was fun, it was light, it took about 5 minutes to play and that’s pretty much it. I came up with some really ugly designs that I’m really not proud of, but for the sake of posterity I’m going to show them to you. Layout Sample

There they are. See? Are you happy now.

The way the cards stacked made the game a pretty neat puzzle. It was all about trying to find the best spot to play one of your cards. You always wanted to be matching on your opponents flowers so they had fewer showing.

Several people thought the idea was really cool. One of those people volunteered to do the graphic design. He came up with some beautiful abstract flowers. botanik-sample cardThey inspired me so much that Master Gardener wasn’t good enough anymore. I searched and pondered until I came up with Botanik. It’s German for botanic. Classy.

This was the first time anyone volunteered to help me with a game and I felt honored. I felt like I had done something right for a change. I want to thank Dennis Bennett from BGG (he goes by dennisthebadger) for being so supportive of this project and volunteering his time and work to make the game look beautiful.

The game didn’t win any awards. I’ve seen several projects in a similar vein since. It looks as if they’re doing what I wanted to do and doing it better. But if you’re looking for a game that cleans up after itself, you could do worse than Botanik.

Status: Complete

Gary Boyd is a game designer and blogger. He was also voted Most Likely To Do His Own Thing in high school. No joke.

To Avoid Reading Fail This: Extra Credits

extra_credits_2013_logo

So this weeks slightly dyslexic TARFT is Extra Credits. The dyslexia is because I’m not going to say a whole lot. The Extra Credits website is fantastic, but I would start with there game design video playlist.

When I first watched Fail Faster something clicked. It’s like that moment in the Matrix where Neo realizes he can stop bullets and Morpheus’ words come back. When you’re ready, you won’t need to.

Enjoy

Game Designs #9 & #10: Dosed and Pharma

This blog post is only briefly about these game designs at there is very little worth mentioning. It’s really about my issues and I’ve got more than the New York Times.  More specifically, it’s about my issues as a designer. The biggest one is that I never finish anyth…

After I designed my party game about pharmaceuticals, I thought: why stop there? Why not do a whole series of games about pharmaceuticals. So I came up with a microgame and Euro, neither of which made it very far in development.

pill-bottleMy idea for the microgame was called Dosed. It was a bunch of colored circular disks and I thought it could come in one of those orange pill bottles. I eventually came up with a game that works (this year) but it’s a bit short and not near enough fun at this point to warrant pursuing. The theme of passing around pills is a bit problematic anyways.

The other one I’m still really interested in. I want to make a Euro game which is a scathing commentary on the drug industry. I also want to fairly accurately represent the drug development process.

These projects were both overshadowed by the projects of the day. I was getting ready for my first GenCon. I had a half finished Kaiju game and a drug induced party game to think about; there wasn’t much time. And when I got back, I moved on fairly quickly to the next thing. Not finishing things has been a reoccurring theme in my life.

gytCGguWhen I was 12 years old I started my first novel. It was mostly just mimicry of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the few other science fiction novels I had read, but I was really excited about it. Until I wasn’t.

My dad bought me a junked out Corvette to work on when I was 15. If I fixed it up I could have a sweet ride when I was 16. I got as far as powder coating the frame. I could have finished it. But I didn’t.

Fast forward to my dreams of being a computer programmer, mostly dreams of being a professional hacker. I wrote a lot of scripts in Linux. I started at university to be a computer scientist. But as with the education I never wrote any programs worth mentioning. I have 3 novels in rough draft (all of which are really pretty dreadful).

When I was 20 I joined the Army. 6 months later I was released with an entry level separation after sustaining injuries that put me on crutches for several months. I’m not sure I’ve ever finished a thing in my life.

I mention these things not to disparage myself as a human being or as a  writer, a programmer, or game designer, but to make myself face the fact. I’m someone who has, in the past, not finished things.

I’m also someone who, in the future, will finish things. I will do so because I want to be a great game designer and in order to be a great game designer you have to finish your designs.

Kaiju is in a finished state and I’m pretty proud of that. But it’s not enough as a game designer to finish the game, is it? You have to get it into someone’s hands.

Finding a way to become more methodical in my iteration process will help me finish my projects. So my goal for the next 2 months is to come up with a structured design, playtesting, and iteration system to follow along with a methodical system of communicating with publishers about my designs and finding ways to get them into the hands of said publishers. These systems should be somewhat mutable but lend me a framework with which to design, develop, and sell my games. That means on December 16, I will be reporting about said framework.

There’s not much to say about designs #9 and #10 because there’s just so little there. Had I had some kind of system maybe Pharma (my Big Pharma Euro) would be in a factory somewhere in China waiting to be shipped. Maybe not.

Currently, I’m working on a game for the 18 card microgame contest at BGG. My entry is what I call a microConSim. It’s meant to take the COIN system and Battleline system, mate them with Love Letter and see what comes out of it. GMT, lock up your daughters.

The Great Micro GameThe Great Game Card3It’s called the Great micro Game and it’s about the conflict over Central Asia in the 19th century between the British and Russian Empires. It’s going rather well. If you want to check it out, here is the WIP thread. I’ve gotten a really positive response from the design community there and from the 1 Player Guild, both of which are great communities.

This game will be finished because there is a deadline and maybe that’s what I really need. So my deadline for finishing Cold War is July 1st, 2016. That way I have time to arrange some meetings with publishers before I leave for GenCon.

Status: Abandoned

Look It’s a Freaking Stonemaier Double Feature Day, Okay!

I’m a member of the 1 Player Guild, partly because I’m quite often a solo gamer, and partly because I really like their slogan: Together We Game Alone. For people who’ve not been able to crack the very hard nut that is BGG, it’s important to find people with common interests. One way of doing that is through individual game forums, another (and I think better) way is to find a Guild that interests you and become part of that smaller community.

In the 1 Player Guild there is a Geeklist where people keep track of what they are playing that month. The powers that be collect and use this data in often nefarious ways.

I posted that I was playtesting Scythe. It was actually through the 1 Player Guild that I met Morten and David who are designing the AI for Single Player variant. There was a bit of discussion on my geek list entry and one person asked if I might do a session report and another person thought it would be nice. So I decided, yeah okay.

What follows is a 1200 word geeked out Scythe session report in character. So if you’re not in it for the long haul… I understand and I’ll see you next time.

The Fall of the Great Northen Buffalo

I played as Anna & Wojtek and the Republic of Polania against Bjorn and Max of the Nordic Kingdom. The difficulty of the single player Automa was set to difficult or Automaszyna.

I am Anna and this is my bear companion Wojtek. It’s okay, he doesn’t bite unless I ask him to.

I’m here to retell the story of our battle with Bjorn and his great Northern Buffalo. We are from the Republic of Polania and our opponent Bjorn was from the Nordic Kingdoms. I say was because he is dead now. I left him unburied outside of the Factory Gates. He may still be there for all I know.

I have a way with people. Sometimes may be difficult to see in battle, but I knew if I could meet the people I would be able to win them over and turn the tides of this desperate struggle we’ve been locked into. I was given a small force and set off on an expeditionary mission with a few tasks that the Republic would like kept secret for the time being.

We had to be mobile rather quickly. Unfortunately, Polania does not have access to the metals needed in order to deploy our mechs, so I would initially have to trade for the resources to make our mechs operational.

We were able to deploy our first Mech in turn three which unlocked the Polanian ability to travel across lakes and from lake to lake. This ability would be key to capitalizing on our other abilities. After turn 3 I floundered for a couple of rounds. Our ability to produce goods was minimal. I knew victory would have to be found elsewhere. Still I would need to produce some goods. We grew crops and found new workers in the village.

My first encounter came on turn 5. I was able to share some good news from home with some traveler’s and eat a nice steak dinner. This lead to a rise in popularity and, along with the food, would help me Enlist some recruits.

I made a rousing speech in Turn 6 after bolstering the troops. This further increased my popularity. I hoped this early investment in becoming popular with the people would pay off in the long run.

After that I began the slow march towards the Factory as the people of Polania worked tirelessly to get another one of our mechs deployed. Again we had to trade for the metal but by turn 9 we had reached the Factory.

We had made it there before those dogs from the north had a chance to rob us of the greatest knowledge. Inside the Factory walls we gained insight into: how to make our actions more efficient and how to improve upon our technology.

The pressures of our mission were getting to me and even Wojtek seemed anxious. I am ashamed to admit that in a moment of great fear I drove a family from their home to construct a  mill in it’s place. I paid them what I could, took what I needed and put them to work in the mill that had replaced their home.

By turn 11 we had deployed our 2nd mech and the knowledge we gained in doing so led us to move even more efficiently. But the enemy was rapidly approaching. It seemed as if they had us hemmed in. I was keen to avoid direct conflict at this point since I knew the dogs had the upper hand.

As we traveled across the country side we came across a small farm, much like the one we had destroyed. In the hope making some small reparations we fixed a fence for the farmer and were rewarded with enough bacon to get us through a harsh winter. Out back of the farm we found an old ruined mech and paid the farmer for what we could salvage.

One night out of nowhere the enemy came rushing into a Polanian village, recently annexed, and attempted to send our villagers packing, but our fierce mech warriors would have none of it and they sent the Nordic mech away thoroughly rebuffed.

Then it was our turn to go on the offensive. While we were out meeting with the people, the enemy from the North had captured the Factory and I was told Bjorn sat astride his fierce Northern Buffalo and bellowed that Polanians were cowardly cubs. He said that winter was coming and it would be best if we went back to our caves to hibernate.

We were soon able to deploy another Mech but now we were forced to choose between recruiting more people to the cause or trying to gather resources and find time to deploy our final mech to the battlefield. I enlisted many new recruits and our detachment was given further funding for being so successful.
But still Bjorn bellowed. And now I could see in my soldiers eyes what they were thinking: perhaps we should go home. The hours was grim. Our people had fought hard but would the Nordic Kingdom had great strength.

It was in the 19th turn after doing my best to rouse the troops that we struck. First we rested control of a couple of regions that were friendly to our cause and we sent the sympathizers back to the Nordic King to tell him that the rightful owners of this land were here to claim it. We wouldn’t attack in the dark of night like cowards, we would fight honorably and with everything we had.

I wanted very much to be the one to put a bullet between the eyes of the Nordic and use his Buffalo to feed our troops but I was waylaid by one final encounter. A discovery that led us to realize the highest heights of power and brought us to the edge of victory. The Nords had taken a great deal of land, rightfully ours. We were stretched thin. Our people were weary.

One final assault could decide our fate and I knew it was our only hope. Our Mechs made a clear path to the Factory doors and I took it.

It was Bjorn who first saw me. He fired a shot from his seat on the great northern buffalo. I cried out for Wojtek to charge and grasped the scruff of his neck as he began lumbering towards them. Bjorn held his rifle bayonet as a lance as did I. Time moved slowly, I saw the Mechs in distance and marveled at how they dwarfed everything around them, and not merely physically.

Then with a rush Wojtek leapt forward as I bounded away and brought my rifle up to aim. In an instant it was done. I can’t recall hearing the shot, but there was a bullet through the Buffalo’s head so I know I’d aimed true. I looked over to see Bjorn being torn apart by Wojtek. It wasn’t exactly as I’d pictured it but it was good.

Still Bjorn and I didn’t decide this conflict. It was the people who decided it.

And now coming out of story mode. In Scythe, there are three tiers of scoring and they are based on your popularity. I was at the very top of the 2nd tier but I just couldn’t get to the top tier. The last card for the Automa (the AI for the single player game) came up and the very last thing that happened before the Automa triggered the game was for me to advance my popularity. My early investment in the popularity track had paid off at the last possible moment and I won the game 63 to 61.

That about wraps it up. That’s my most recent experience with Scythe. Hope to see you next time.

To Avoid Failing Read This: Jamey Stegmaier

I’m not dead yet…

This week has seen a lot of personal struggle, a lot of thinking about and working on design, and a whole lot of down time due to Parkinson’s. This week hasn’t seen a lot of time for writing. I apologize for that.

So, this weeks TAFRT (not the best acronym but I didn’t feel like typing the whole thing out. Of course, it just dawned on me that I’m taking more time explaining why I used an acronym in this parenthetical than it would have taken me to type out the entire title ten times over) is Jamey Stegmaier. Yes. Everything.

If you’re a designer who has made the decision to Kickstart your game and you have not read everything Jamey Stegmaier has written on the subject you are failing. So go now and read it. Read it all. Here it is… read it. Because I swear, if I receive one more Kickstarter that…[EDITOR’S NOTE: I decided to delete this next bit because Billy ended up going off on a 10 page rant about poorly run Kickstarters for lackluster games. Rest assured, the only thing you’re missing is a bunch of swearing, name calling, eye rolling emoticons, and references to Hitler.]

Stonemaier Games Kickstarters are the most well respected, well run Kickstarters in the board gaming community. They put out consistently polished games that are fun to play. But the most impressive thing to me is that when you play a Stonemaier game, you know it.

While Jamey is most well known for his ability to run a top notch Kickstarter, reading his blog or viewing his YouTube channel, you get the sense that he does everything with that same mix of thoughtfulness and enthusiasm.

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 2.06.33 PMI just noticed that his YouTube address is Cutebuns09 which made me spit coffee on my computer screen. #ThanksObamaJamey

I read his most recent article this morning, in which he writes about what the TV series Survivor has taught him about crowdfunding. His YouTube channel is primarily videos in which he discusses his favorite game mechanisms in particular games. The way he analyzes things is not only insightful and thought provoking, it’s worthy of emulation.

pic2323719I’m currently playtesting the solo variant of Stonemaier Games’ upcoming title, Scythethe game is fantastic by the way—and I’m truly amazed at how well run the playtesting is at Stonemaier. I’m really just astonished at the level of playtestin, not only in scale but in quality as well. I shouldn’t be, really. It’s being run with the same efficiency, sense of community, and enthusiasm as everything else at Stonemaier.

Crowdfunder_Strategy_Guide_StegmaierI’ll end this with a link to Jamey’s book about crowd funding: A Crowdfunder’s Strategy Guide. I haven’t read it yet. But based on the reputation of the author, I’d be willing to bet it’s worth a read.

To Avoid Failing Read This: Game Mechanics – Advanced Game Design

I’m giving everyone fair warning. If you don’t want to dedicate time to learning a pseudo-coding, diagrammatic language this book might not be for you. This “applied theoretical framework,” as authors Ernest Adams and Joris Dormans put it, has a lot to offer in modeling game systems. It’s especially good at modeling their economies. But there’s a learning curve.

Machinations-starcraft
If this terrifies you stop reading. If this turns you on, you’re probably in the right place.

I’m honestly not trying to scare anyone away here. Okay, maybe I am just a little, but I’m really interested in machinations and it’s taken me in an inordinate amount of time to understand how to use the machinations system.

One great thing about the system is that you really don’t even have to buy this book to use it. Author Joris Dormans has made the system publicly available on his website. He has even made his dissertation, upon which this book is based, available under Creative Commons. I enjoyed the dissertation so much I took the liberty of formatting it for print and submitting it to Lulu.com to get a copy for my bookshelf. It is titled Engineering Emergencegamemech

Even if you’re squarely in the camp of: “Oh no! You’re turning games into maths,” I still think this book has something to offer. Being able to graphically represent your economy quickly and easily as a designer has tremendous value. If you can understand how resources move through the systems that you create you can more easily alter those systems.

As a tabletop designer making minor adjustments can often be excruciating because it can feel like you need to do all of your playtesting over again. Getting a feel for where something should be economically in-game is something I hope to master one day.

I really like this book. I love how laser focused it is on the mechanical side of games. The authors even address the “player centric” approach to game design. Yes, be about the player, but hey there’s all this stuff that you need to do to make that player experience. And guess what? It requires engineering.

Think about that paradigm shift for a second. What if you were referred to, not as a game designer, but as a game engineer? These things we create, we aren’t just designing them, we’re engineering them. Even the language we use to discuss our games is often more closely associated to engineering jargon than design.

Maybe at some point it would be helpful to take off the hat of designer and try on the hat of engineer. Just a thought.

Enough meandering, if you want to geek out on how to model your in-game economies buy this book. It’s a text book, so expect text book pricing. Or, if you would be satisfied with Engineering Emergence you could do what I did and get a copy printed.

Either way, I hope some of you–at least one of the 3 of you–have fun discovering machinations.