I missed out on the bulk of July’s Incubator session as I flew off to Japan on that night, but I was very excited to be back in the swing of things for August. We had a great turnout for this session, with around 5 tables running concurrently at the busiest. I think we could still be doing more to publicise the group as we keep encountering more designers who weren’t aware of these sessions, though if the group grows too big we may soon encounter space/organization issues as we’re running alongside Friday Night Magic events. Good problems, though. Unfortunately I did a pretty poor job of documenting the games played that night so you’ll have to make do with the few photos I did manage to snap.
After a brief introduction and breaking up into different games, I wound up at Justin Stephen’s table with a brand new version of his game Fantastic Beasts. The premise of the game is that each player is a researcher of magical creatures, and we compete to study, catalogue and publish papers on the beasts that we encounter. The theme reminds me a bit of Alchemists,which also had the publishing papers component of fantastical academia, and is one that I think works really nicely in board games.
The game uses a customizable action point system and multiple approaches to getting use out of the Fantastic Beast cards. Action points are represented by cards with varying values and you have to decide how many action points you want to spend each turn and discard cards accordingly. You then spend those points to move around the board and choose various ways to interact with the beasts you encounter which will use up different amounts of action points. If you run out of cards, the Forage action is always available which lets you draw more action point cards depending on how far you’ve travelled.
The main interaction in the game is with the Fantastic Beast cards and you can choose to interact with them in 3 main ways: Enchant them to gain an in-game power as long as they stay enchanted, analyse their alchemical properties to draw alchemy cards which function as additional action points or can be collected to be turned in for gold (which will help you in your travels and also can be points later on) at the University, or write a paper on them which will allow you to then publish them for points back at the University.
In theory, the various elements of the game interested me and it seemed like it would work together quite well. However, as Justin warned us ahead of time, the balance of the numbers for the costs and rewards had only just been set up and were clunky for that first game. That’s alright though! That’s what testing is for: to hone in on the clunky parts and balance them out. We had a pretty good in-depth discussion about the game after we had finished up. We realised that the rewards for enchanting weren’t strong enough to justify the increased cost, some of the risks and penalties were a little too high for the relative cost and that the action point numbers were a little too granular which leads to a longer time to math out the requirements for each alternative. The action point system, while providing interesting decisions and interactions with the action rewards, was dragged down by the high costs and risks (Basic AP cards range from 1-3, while some actions needed around 10 AP to execute successfully with no guarantee of recouping AP costs, leading to a slower cycle of collecting AP before executing). I think the theme and core interaction with the beast cards is still pretty fun, but it does need a lot more tweaking to the numbers and risk/reward balance to get the feel right.
After Fantastic Beasts, I taught the group to play Ragnaroll. This was aaaalmost a blind playtest, since the designer, Jason Kotzur, was not present. However I had learned to play directly from Jason, so we didn’t really get a feel of how it would be like to learn it just from the rulebook. I did experience using the rulebook as a reference though, and in that aspect it functioned pretty admirably. I only had a black and white copy, so I assume the callouts will be much clearer in the final full-colour rulebook.
I’ve also written about Ragnaroll in my monthly digest of games played (which actually is still being updated with the latest games, so it will likely only go up after this post, soooo TIME TRAVEL), but the summary is every player leads a small tribe of vikings scrambling and raiding each other for stores to survive at the end of the world. It’s vicious and brutal right from the start, which isn’t very common, and it strongly reinforces the “welp we’re the last few survivors and there’s nothing left so let’s fight” theme. Also, the art and graphic design is superb and again reinforces the theme.
The post-mortem for this game was not as long as Fantastic Beasts as some of the players were leaving soon after. They did bring up that the ending felt a little anticlimactic, as someone was usually starved out rather than winning a final battle. There actually is a scenario that triggers a final battle if the events run out and there are still survivors. Maybe trimming even one card off the event deck might make a difference here, as the situation really changes from turn to turn.
The Road to Ruin
While I was playtesting Fantastic Beasts and teaching Ragnaroll, I saw fellow admin Justin (other Justin) testing his own design: The Road to Ruin. I’ve not managed to play it myself, but it looks like a card-based post-apocalyptic (I assume) survival game. Looked like they had a pretty good playtest, and Justin mentioned encountering a stall situation which needed to be addressed, though I forget whether that occurred in this game or whether this version had been updated to deal with it. Sorry Justin, I get confused easily!
The two Matts (Matthew Aslin & Matthew Edwards) from Platypus Industries also brought along their Spy Goonz prototype, which looked really nice. I caught a little bit of the explanation, but I don’t think I can do a full explanation here. The highlights I saw were that you controlled teams of goonz/minions to carry out various evil schemes around the board by rolling dice, which could then be affected by the presence of the evil mastermind or intrepid hero trying to thwart your plans. Reminds me a lot of Evil Genius.
Unfortunately, I was too focused on playtesting Fantastic Beasts and did not get to take photos of or get more info on most of the other games that were there that night. However, I did hear some comments from the designers that their sessions went well so I guess that’s good. Represented on the night were:
Returning game from Jim Batt about spreading the influence of Secret Cults (I assume).
The Boy Who Cried Monster
The guys from Blue Room Games (Alex Wynnter, Paul Nicholas & Josh Sommerfeld) designed this asymmetrical contest of wits between a child in bed and the bogeyman during a 48 hour game jam. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it played, so I’m not sure how it’s changed since then.
New entry from Dale Maccanti. I’m sorry I know next to nothing about this game, aside from the name. I do know Dale writes a comic featuring The Misadventures of Peter Pumpkinhead, so I assume that’s related.
Another new prototype, this time from Al Caynes (as of this post you still have a chance to win a copy of Al’s published game El Luchador Fantastico Grande! Look here for the details). From what I gathered from watching him set up, it’s a dice game featuring adventuring and lost treasure. However, latest I’ve heard of it is that it’s been re-themed to be based in SPAAAAAAACE. Will check back in the future.
(Apologies if I’ve missed out any games that were there on the night. I’ve checked with the list of games people said they were bringing and I think I’ve got all of them, but if I have missed any please let me know!)
And that’s it for the August session of Incubator. As you can see, we’re slowly growing with more game prototypes being brought and playtested each month. If you are interested in board game design and would like to bring (or send! We can do blind testing as well) a prototype along or just playtest some unpublished games and you’re in Melbourne, come along and join us. Our next monthly session is on 18 September 2015 at Games Laboratory and we will also be having another Saturday daytime session again in October if that suits you better. See you there!