Friday 22 November 2019

Kickstarter: Doublehead Kids

Joerg Trojan and his children designed a children version of a popular card game in Germany, Doppelkopf. The project is on Kickstarter now - Doublehead Kids. I think it's great bonding to design a game with one's children.

I recently started designing a game of my own. I am thinking of recruiting * cough * (conscripting) younger daughter Chen Rui to do art work for me. She's good at drawing. Elder daughter Shee Yun is good at writing, but my current game idea doesn't involve much writing. I hope I can see this game design project through to completion. I have been listening to the Think Like A Game Designer podcasts by Justin Gary (designer of Ascension), and there are many interesting insights.

Friday 15 November 2019

Chinese Chess

13 Nov 2019. Elder daughter Shee Yun told me that she has been playing (international) chess at school. The exams are over, the holidays are coming, the syllabus has been covered and there are no more classes. So the students have much freedom to do what they want. I asked her whether she knows how to play Chinese Chess, she said no. I have this Chinese Chess set at home which is my father's retirement gift. It is a beautiful set made of pewter. I took out this set to teach Shee Yun to play.

One problem with the board is the river is too wide. It should be only one square wide, not two. This is a little confusing. The manufacturer sacrificed usability for the sake of aesthetics.

The pieces are heavy, which is nice. However you can't use them like how you use regular Chinese Chess pieces. Typically the pieces are made of wood. When you capture an opponent piece, you first stack your attacking piece on the victim. You press your index finger on your piece, then draw the opponent piece out using your thumb and middle finger. When the opponent piece is pulled out, your own piece will snap onto the game board. The pewter pieces have a soft felt bottom and not a smooth one. So you can't do the customary thing with them.

The game board is made of wood, and it is quite heavy. The board can be folded in half to become a rectangular box. The whole thing is so heavy that you can probably kill someone with it.

I'm no good at Chinese Chess. I rarely play. I know the rules and some simple tactics, but I don't really know what the general strategies are or how to assess the board at a strategic level.

I attacked aggressively, forcing Shee Yun into a defensive mode. She applied the concepts she learned in Chess to Chinese Chess, and they mostly work.

I let her take back moves when she made mistakes, but I didn't go easy on her. Sometimes I helped her analyse the board situation, reminding her of threats and risks. One thing she found difficult to remember was how the knight / horse could be blocked by a piece immediately next to it. How the cannon works when attacking was also something new to her. In Chinese Chess, the cannon moves like the rook in Chess, but when attacking it must jump over one other piece.

Checkmate. My chariot (which is the rook-equivalent, top right) was poised to capture her king. I played aggressively since the early game, but Shee Yun grabbed the initiative and counter-attacked, checking my king a few times. I had to play carefully to avoid getting trapped. I did not actually plan ahead for this particular winning move. I only noticed it while analysing the board for my next move. When I saw it, I took it and ended the game.

Wednesday 6 November 2019

boardgaming in photos: Ticket To Ride, Exit, Star Realms

18 Sep 2019. I taught my colleagues Ticket to Ride, and they all liked it. Ticket to Ride is a very consistent hit with new players. Edwin (red) misunderstood one rule, and that set him back severely. In Ticket to Ride, to claim a grey route, you may use any colour, just that for one route you must use just one colour. Edwin did follow this. What he misunderstood was that for other subsequent grey routes, he also had to use the same colour he chose for the first ever grey route he claimed during the game. This made things horribly difficult for him, and he had to take jokers (locomotives) frequently. The rest of us only realised this when he had already taken and played many jokers. By then it was too late to undo. He had already fallen far behind. Maybe it was my fault for not explaining the rule clearly enough.

Edwin, Xiaozhu, Benz. My copy is the first edition, and the cards are small. Benz complained that they were too small. I told him they changed the cards to the standard size only from the second edition onwards.

27 Sep 2019. The cards in the first edition were small for a reason. In this game you will often need to hold many cards in your hand. Smaller cards make this easier. I guess many players preferred bigger cards, so soon enough the publisher relented.

Later we taught Carol and Ruby to play, and they too liked the game. Carol was the nasty one, proactively making moves to block others. In this photo you can see her (red) intentionally blocking Ruby's (yellow) network. Ruby had to take a roundabout path to link up her network. She had to pretend to be unfazed, when she was probably screaming inside.

The full 5-player game is exciting, because you can get blocked easily, even when nobody is doing it on purpose. The board is more crowded.

4 Oct 2019. I taught my friends the Asia map, specifically the team game side of it. We did the full 6-player game, with three teams of two. I partnered Xiaozhu, Benz partnered Ruby, and Edwin partnered Carol. One challenge in the team game is you are not allowed to discuss your hand cards with your partner. So you don't know exactly which cities he is trying to get to. There is a special action which allows you to place tickets from your hand onto a team card rack, so that your partner can see these tickets. This costs one turn.

Another challenge in the team game is you and your partner do not share the same pool of trains. You each have your own pool, and if you run out of trains, you don't get to use your partner's trains. You will be stuck being unable to play any more trains onto the board. You can still draw cards, and help your partner that way. Whenever you draw cards, you must place one on the team card rack (so your opponent can use it), and put the other into your hand.

Cards on the team card rack are shared and accessible to both team members.

17 Oct 2019. There are four factions in Star Realms. Within the same turn if you are able to play two or more cards of the same faction, you often get to trigger additional faction abilities. In this screenshot, I had a hand of seven. Normal hand size is five, and it was due to an event card that I had two more cards. However, three were non-faction cards, and the remaining four were from all four different factions. What kind of lousy luck is this?! I couldn't trigger any faction ability. I guess I can only blame myself for poor card purchase choices.

27 Oct 2019. Exit: The Sunken Treasure is one of the easier Exit games, at difficulty level 2 (out of 5). Maybe it is because my family and I have played quite a few of these, so we have a general feel of how the riddles work. The more we play, the easier they become.

This time the story is about exploring a shipwreck, then getting trapped inside, and thus trying to escape. The timer element is explained as oxygen running out.

This time we used the app. The app doesn't actually do much. We used it mainly as a timer. The app read out the scenario, which was nice. It built the atmosphere. As we played, there were background sound effects as the clock ticked. When we completed the game and stopped the clock, the app helped calculate our score. The app comes with a tutorial, but we didn't need that since we had played quite a few Exit games.

We completed the game in less than an hour, and we did not use any clue, so we scored the full 10 points.

If you are an Exit veteran you can probably skip this one. If you are new, or you plan to buy a gift for a non-gamer or casual gamer, this is a good choice.