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Bravest Warriors TableTop Game: Design Diary 4

We still don’t have a release day for the general public, unfortunately (printing issues we’re working on). But until that time comes, we’ve put up a new page at catalystgamelabs.com for Bravest Warriors

If you were not able to attend Gen Con or PAX and/or didn’t pick up the Bravest Warriors card game, we’re letting the rules for the game out into the wild; the first PDF at the bottom of that page.

If you were able to snag a convention copy of the game, hope you’re enjoin it! In addition, feel free to check out the other free PDF at the bottom of that page, which includes a FAQ, Tactics and an extended example of game play!

Enjoy!

Randall

Designing the Jarl: The Vikings Tile-Laying Game, Part 1

As previously mentioned, we’ve the crazy cool opportunity to publish games for the History Channel’s Vikings TV series.

While we have a big board game in development and are looking at a few other options as well, the first game out of the gate will be Jarl: The Vikings Tile-Laying Game. Again, as I talked about previously, this is a game powered by The Duke mechanism, but with a whole new skin of content and tile designs.

When I dove into the design, then, originally I simply had the thought of “make them cool and different”. We’ve got dozens and dozens of designs now and so I simply print all of the page out and review them as I’m designing new tiles to ensure I’m not accidentally making something too similar to what’s come before.

Loren had originally designed some tiles, but geared towards a Grendel-esk expansion. So I was able to build off of some of the designs, but pushed most of them aside (to be used in the future, if possible, under that cool expansion concept).

Since I wanted this to feel different from the get-go, I included some Dread icons (not found in the base The Duke game), as well added in a lot of Defense icons as ‘shields’ seemed totally appropriate for the Vikings (again, not an icon used in the base game). 

After we got playing the sets for a while, though, it still didn’t feel unique enough. Loren then came up with the idea that since the Dread and Defense icons don’t appear in the base The Duke game, perhaps we should completely remove the Slide icons from the Jarl set.

I thought it was a great idea and immediately moved to do exactly that. For example, here was the original Gothi design, followed by the ‘fix’ that stripped out the Jump Slide icons.

Now this is effectively the “Wizard” of the Jarl set, and so I didn’t want it to be too much like the Wizard. However, as those who’ve played the game a while probably already know, no matter how many times we played, it just ended up too powerful, so I tweaked it again. [Ultimately removing the Slide icons proved to have very far reaching consequences, which I’ll delve into in a future post.]

Another good series of playtests let us know it was right where it should be, so it was turned over (along with all the final tiles of course) to layout.

As usual layout needed to create an icon for the right side of all the tiles. At the same time, though, the font used for every expansion is different, so layout also needed to get the right font as well, which lead us to this final graphic for the tile.

Will dive into the further differences that make the Jarl new and exciting down the line.

Randal

TableTop Games & Graphic User Interace

When most people think of GUI computers immediately come to mind. But the concept of GUI applies to plethora of interactivity between a user and the item they’re using.

And the same absolutely applies to tabletop games. Especially boardgames. The way in which the information is graphically presented to players in the rules, as well as the cards, tokens, game board and so on (the GUI), can have an immersive impact. In fact, it can even subconsciously elevate the quality of the game system itself. IMO, of course. But I’ve got a lot of anecdotal evidence for that theorem.

So when you’re designing a game it’s very important for a game designer and/or developer to not just hand over a finished game to layout and then walk away. Instead, the developer should have a very good idea in his head of how things will be laid out. At least in general; layout will almost always bring fantastic tweaks that make everything look better.

While I know some game designers are absolutely wizards with layout, I’m still new at using such tools…but I’ve enough skill to mock stuff up and get a sense of what is working and what is not working.

Just posted a new blog update from the designer of Hostile Takeover—our in-development board game for Shadowrun—Bryan Steele. There he talks about the Megacorps Cards and that’s one of the first assets I looked at from a development stand point along with Bryan and Jason Hardy.

Due to the cost, I initially threw together a 5 x 3 card to see what it would look like (again, please note these are not finals at all…Matt will make them look 1000% cooler…these are just about getting a sense of placement, look, feel, playability and so on):

Immediately I didn’t like it. This is a card the player will be staring at almost as much as the board game. It’s the heart of what the player is as they experience Hostile Takeover. And one of the wonderful aspects of Shadowrun that we’ve taken to great new levels are the brilliant cyperpunk cityscapes we love to see (thank you Blade Runner). So robbing the player of the chance to have the real-estate to really see a cool scene depicting ‘their’ corporation seemed a crime.

Then I put together a 7 x 5 card:

And just to mess around with placement (and to see if we could get more city in there) I tweaked another version of this card:

Ah…so much better. But then as a developer and as a company you’re left with two competing angles:

1. 7 x 5 cards are not only more expensive to print (surprisingly more expensive and annoying to collate and pack in the box), but it takes up more real-estate on a gaming table; is the average gaming table going to handle the big game board and 2 to 5 of these 7 x 5 cards?

2. The added real-estate on the card absolutely brings it to life, providing that all-important verisimilitude so important in boardgames (especially one like Shadowrun where the universe is so amazing).

What direction do we ultimately go? Don’t know yet. A little too early to tell…but I’m certainly leaning towards the 7 x 5. We’ll see if it survives the final budget and production calls.

Randall

How To Roleplay, Part 4

So after all the previous work (script, sketch, ink, coloring) the last element to be brought to the page is lettering.

Now there were a few little tweaks that were needed once I read through the whole comic. For example, in the Scott panel “Harbinger Wars: Bloodshot” and “X-O Manowar” were not bolded; those were an easy fix.

However, in the Tony panel I wanted to add the additional sentence: “His abilities are cool and his Cues give me great ideas for how to play him.”

Peter, from Valiant, rightly pointed out that these pages were already tight and that one especially. Just not any room for that addition. While the dev/writer in me wanted that extra bit of instructional flavor, I completely understood the graphic constrains and let it go (grrr…that song pops into my head every time I say/type those words…ahahah).

With that in mind, here’s the final first page of the comic (print-ready, hence the “printer marks” in each corner). 

We’re  discussing on our side how best to proceed so hopefully this whole comic will release very soon!

Randall

Shadowrun…I want it all!

Unfortunately there’s a part of me that’s inherently greedy. When I fall in love with something, I want it all. And even when it doesn’t exist in other ways, I want it to exist, so then I can have it all.

For example, when I listen to a new song and it clicks with me, I don’t just listen to that song over and over, I immediately listen to the whole album. And then spin back through all of their albums (fingers crossed there is a lot of albums to experience). Doesn’t mean I love everything the artist does, but if that original song really clicked, then I know I’ll enjoy most everything.

The same usual applies to an author. If I love the way an author writes, I easily follow them from series to series.

And the same applies to a universe. If I fall in love with a universe (regardless of how that universe was originally presented), then I want it all. I want video games, and RPGs, and board games and novels and miniatures. If the setting just clicks with me, then my penchant for playing a huge variety of games lends itself to wanting to enjoy that setting in many different ways.

And that brings us back to Shadowrun and Catalyst’s currently mantra of “we want you playing Shadowrun no matter what type of game you’re playing.” Just an extension of our love and enthusiasm for this universe.

That’s why we just released the deck-building cooperative game in Shadowrun: Crossfire. Why we have a board game in development in Hostile Takeover. Why we’re working on Sprawl Gangers, a skirmish-level miniatures game (which will also give us miniatures for those that just want to them while playing the TableTop RPG).

Drek…we even want you reading fiction in between playing the TableTop RPG—or any of the other experiences—why we’ve just published the first new Shadowrun novel in 8 years and have more novels coming right behind it.

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And you can’t run through that fantastic list without including video games. I’ve played Shadowrun: Returns, though I hate to admit due to deadlines and convention season I only dabbled in Shadowrun: Dragonfalls. But now there’s an even cooler version of that expansion in the stand-alone Director’s Cut.

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Once again, the graphics are just crazy awesome, brimming with Shadowrun to get the geek-on for what ever metahuman you might be.

I dove into it last night (sneaking in a mission between the Diplomacy game I was losing; and the night started out so well), and didn’t make it 20 minutes before failing the mission. But failing in wonderful, glorious fashion. Once I get some more writing done today, I know I’ll be back playing it later tonight.

But don’t take my word for it…the critical acclaim has piled up for this experience:

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Still unconvinced, or want to know the differences between the original and the Director’s Cut? Well, check out the Design Diary from the devs & our great friends over at Harebrained Schemes. There you can always watch a video of Felicia Day explaining why she loves Shadowrun: Dragonfall (and note this was before all the cool new material in the Director’s Cut).

So what are you waiting for? Go check out the game and experience the Sixth World in all its brilliant, fantastic digital glory! 

And just as important, spread the word, chummers. Get the news out there and let’s see how many people we can have playing some form of Shadowrun at once!

Randall

Never Throw Away Your Ideas or Your Fiction…

I can remember joking at FASA that “we throw away a ton of great ideas before it’s even lunch.” However, I’ve come to believe that instead of throwing ideas or fiction concepts away, simply stuff them in a box. Whether that’s metaphorically or literally (computer, paper or otherwise), I’ve had enough experiences over the years to believe that even the things you think are totally stupid, or just don’t seem to really be working at all, might find a home in a new place.

Now it may be totally refined, re-tweaked and presented in a way you never previously imagined. But that’s the point. We grow, we learn, we hopefully get better. And as we develop new ideas and new projects, we often can abruptly realize that X or Y thing we did a while ago might be perfect for that.

Two examples. One, I’ve got a game that I fully developed in the last months of FASA. In fact, I was printing it out to hand the whole thing over to edit on the day when we were called in and told FASA was closing (yeah, it was very painful on so many levels). Thirteen and a half years later I still have it on my hard drive. I’ve used a little bit of it here and there, but I still have it, still waiting for the right opportunity to see if it’ll see the light of day fully.

Second, like most authors, I’ve got a folder full of short stories. And while some of those originals are published, others are not,  for various reasons, while others are unfinished. Either not working right in my head at the time, or not seeing where they might best be placed in what I’m doing at that time.

Been working on the outline for a new RPG book over the last week. And suddenly I realized that one of those “unfinished” short stories (just checked, the file was started back in 2005) might work here. Got me pretty excited. In fact, I just re-read what I’d written (yeah, I can clean it up and make it flow so much better now). And who knows, ultimately it might not work out for this project. But regardless, I’m newly energized over it and can see a better path for taking it forward and finishing it. So that even if it doesn’t work out here, I’ll have moved that idea, that short story, further along.

Since, as previously mentioned, this Tumblr is about letting you guys look over our shoulders, here’s an excerpt from that fiction (pre-edit, of course):

“No hope for exiles.”

The Force Prefect sneered with relish, nasally tone through the intercom a perfect match for his blotchy skin, too-large nose and vulture-like fingers. Standing arms crossed, obsidian chitin plates sheathing him foot to neck while a falling crest of krothis vines from his helm bespoke his station as a member of the Pantheos Guard; dark, uncleaned spatters marred the armor’s brilliance. His beady eyes pecked for weakness, finding a few within the stasis cell who turned away, eyes fleeing from hollow strength.

“No hope for those who marshal against the Blood,” Darius whispered, mere centimeters away from the repulser field and its invisible wall of aligned molecules. Your armor, nor your skill to obtain it, can hide your filthy geneweak.

The Force Prefect turned towards the voice as though a peregrine to the call of the falconer, only to flinch from the soulless impact of Darius’ overly-large, void-black eyes. Not nearly as Exalted as some of the Blood; after so many decades most Unbloods looked upon Darius’ physical manifestation of Destiny unblinking, often unnoticing. But Darius was not simply Blood. Darius rang with Destiny! With or without Exaltations, a presence that even in captivity, even after the slaughter of so many Blood, kept him and his coterie from extinction. An aura that in defeat, behind an unbreachable repulser field, without a seed of emotive control, allowed soft words and a direct look to cause an elite Force Prefect to glance aside, mumbling something as fingers scratched convulsively at dried blood spatter on his cheek before moving away.

To re-iterate, don’t throw ideas or fiction away. Just set them aside and let him grow and morph as needed. And then keep an open mind as you work on new games and books…one of those old kernels might just be a perfect fit in the new…

Randall

Shadowrun Novel #2 Cover Illustration

For those not yet aware of it, we’ve begun releasing Shadowrun novels again!!! You can grab a print copy from your local game store or even Barnes & Noble, and of course the epub is also available.

But this isn’t just a one-shot wonder. Next book is running hot on the heels of the first…let’s take a look at the illustration for that cover.

For the second cover in the new Shadowrun line of novels, Hell On Water, shows us a Shadowrun equivalent of Indiana Jones trying to swing over a pool of giant magical crocs. Of course, instead of Indiana we have a legendary shadowrunner (Cayman), and our crocks are magically nasty.  The scene takes place in Lagos, Nigeria on a long elevated causeway above a large, nasty lagoon filled with murky, oily water.  Unfortunately for our hero the road is in terrible shape, and there are parts of the bridge where entire stretches are missing. Cayman is in the act of sliding down this ramp toward the water with a rifle with one hand and a grappling gun in the other, which is a good combo because in the water below thrashes a congregation of angry ammits (essentially large awakened crocodiles about 13 feet long) in a frenzy for a Cayman-sized snack.

Brent Evans

Dice Core System…cause, why not…

As most of you know that follow this Tumblr or Twitter or the other ways to peak over our shoulders, I’ve always got a ton of things going…perhaps too many things (a discussion for another time…).

Yet, because I can’t leave well enough alone, and because if you wake up in the middle of the night thinking about something, then you really should work on it to try and get it out of your system.

For those that haven’t played Leviathans, it uses a color-coded dice system; basically polyedrals dressed up all as D12s (making production easier) and then color-coded so it’s easy to build a hand of dice and roll them. In other words, the combined bell curves of the various dice mimic most of your standard modifiers (attacker & target movement, range, and so on) for a miniatures game.

I got it in my head that I could strip that dice mechanic down to its core (hence the un-imaginative system title) and turn it into a plug & play skirmish-level miniatures game. Meaning that from scifi to fantasy to comics, it could support any flavor of “skin.”

After banging around the spreadsheets for a while, I then built a sample army.

You’ll note everything is totally generic. Because this is about building the mechanics of the system, irrespective of the skin that will appear on it (which is exceedingly strange for me as I’ve always been a proponent that both are intrinsically linked and should be developed simultaneously).

I then tapped one of my spreadsheet gurus, Joseph, to help me build a way to test my initial gut stats to see if the probabilities worked out as needed.

Joseph has been instrumental in generating some important spreadsheets over the years to help me crunch my numbers, but this one just might take the cake. This is just the first 50 lines of 1,262 lines of data that allow me to plug and play numbers on the front end to get percentages to see if it all works.

So far it’s looking promising. But of course, in the next month or two I need to find the time to actually put it on a table and play test. Because no amount of number crunching matters a wit if the game it’s fun when you’re moving miniatures and tossing dice.

Randall