Tag Archives: Board game

Play Test entry: Martian Sands

Friday nights is one of the regular game nights with friends Twiaz and Effulgent_Inara. They were nice enough to give Martian Sands a trial run. There were several good surprises and a lot of excellent feedback.

I was happiest with having the base mechanics validated. The move & explore with players making the map as they played was easy to pick up on and use. We also went through the entire deck of hexes. So I have room to increase that number and give the players a variety of terrains to experience.

Here are a few shots from that night:

Starting set up
The starting set up
A few turns in
A few turns into the game


Final board
All sectors deployed


There was a few weaknesses explored. The environment deck needs some work, especially since it is predicated on a version of the rules not used since I first thought it up. These cards, which are like the Mythos cards in Arkham Horror, are used to tweak the game world and give the players an additional challenge. The problem we ran into was that the cards all did the same thing, taking away from the players’ action pool. There is a lot of room for these cards to work in and it should be relatively easy to come up with a broader set of alterations to game play. I’m thinking this may take a couple of weeks to messing around with it to have a solid set to go back with.

Another weakness was not having the buildings and resources distributed well. We found problem during the endgame, when we looked at the win conditions. According to the rules, we needed two more buildings than I had indicated on the sectors. To resolve it, we decided to build wherever was available. For me, this means I need to go back over all of the sectors and look at to distribute it better. It is going to involve some math to make sure I have the right balance. Ideally, the players should be able to screw themselves if they’re not paying attention but it shouldn’t be so hard to strategize, only spending a few minutes every turn to plan. This should take about a week of evenings to get balanced properly.

But the best part was being able to play out the entire set of sectors. According to my notes this happened in round seven, most of the way through the game. I was afraid that 52 cards was too many for players to get through. I was shown that it could be too few. This can be fixed with a few additions, but those may come later. I want each game to be different, not just in where or how the sectors get played, but in that the players are treated to new sights the first three or four times they play. There seem to be two directions to test here. The first would be to set a limit on how many sectors can be put out each turn. The other would be to add more sectors to the play deck. I’m leaning towards the latter. Something else to check on the playtest trail.

A few other design notes:

The hex sectors are split up into different groups. They are currently labeled A,B, and C. The original idea was to use these as part of the environment card. Some event only affecting the B sectors and things like that. However, Tiwaz pointed out that this was also a way an explorer might prioritize or categorize the explored area, each designation indicating some sort of availability of resources or building sites. This makes a lot of sense, so here a few ideas that have been bouncing around my head since then.

A — Highly desirable sectors. Most of them have the room and geologically stable ground to build multiple buildings and are home to several resources to take advantage of.

B — The second most desirable sectors, they share many of the same qualities as A sectors; Geological stability, and so forth, but do not have the same abundance of resources or building sites. Most B sectors allow for only one building to be constructed or for one resource to be utilized within its bounds.

C  sectors are hard to navigate due to difficult terrain. These sectors are primarily composed of drifting sands of unknown depths that have caused the robots to become stuck in sand pits. When exploring C sectors players need to roll to see if they become stuck and have to spend an extra action getting themselves unstuck.

D — These are unclassified sectors and often have anomalies associated with them. Anything can be found in a D sector, their contents are scattered and random. These are replaced with a special set of different sector cards when playing this game competitively.

With this sort of setup it becomes easier to adjust the difficulty of the game by adding in or removing certain sectors. But adding in that little complication can come later, after I’ve got the game in a stable, playable state.

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Dev Blog: Martian Sands

Working on a new board game right now, that I’m calling Martian Sands. The premise is simple; the players take on the role of robots working to get a Mars colony up and working before the humans get there.

There are three primary goals for the players. The first is exploration. I want the players to be able to construct a surface as they play and use that to satisfy their second goal, gathering resources. The resources are important for their ultimate goal, constructing the buildings for the colonists.

Here are a couple of pics of some early work:


Sheets of uncut hexes


Three up hexes



I have a total of 52 hexes, not counting the starting hex. Players get to arrange the board as they play. It’s part of the discovery of the landscape. It works really well.


But the not so far part of this process was writing the text on them. A playtest with using cards to describe what was found on the hex was a bit cumbersome. Having to keep track of what was found where didn’t work out so great. So I had to spend a few hours coming up with a key and then printing that out onto cards. Not exactly the most fun I’ve had in game creation.

Hexes partly done

Currently I have a good idea of what the rules should be, and the hexes have been marked along with a set of environment cards. It’s now a matter of sitting down to see what works and what doesn’t through playing. See where the weak points are, where things make sense and where they don’t. It’s the grunt work.

It’s also very, very fun.

I hope to post some next week after a few play-throughs.

Gaming Needs a Critical Langauge

In the most general sense, Gaming needs to have a Critical Language. Not just for board games, but some theory to encompass all of it. RPGs, Video Games, and everything in between. Gaming has become complex, intricate, and more and more reliant on psychology that simple analysis is no longer sufficient. Genre categorization has become less useful thanks to the blending and mutations that have happened in the last few years. Classic and iconic forms have become so deeply embedded into games as to become unrecognizable to most eyes.

Gaming and Games deserve more. A deeper understanding of the whole. A way to communicate to both the player and designer where what part went right or wrong and how. In saying this, you confront the central problem of any such endeavor; Where does one begin?

Gaming is a complex social activity which stands directly next to story-telling and like it, is probably one of the most basic forms of human interaction. Through games friends and families bond. Through games societies and cultures are expressed and challenged. In board games we find depths of strategy and maps of imaginary worlds to explore. Through RPGs we find the ability to explore our own psychologies and the safety to see if there’s not something else we’d like to be. But mostly we do such things because they’re supposed to be fun. We want some entertainment and respite from our everyday lives.

In this, I think we hit upon the first question that has to be satisfied in any analysis of a game: Was it fun to play?

That’s only the beginning. There is so much more to explore.

Part of having a good critical framework is that it gives you different ways to look at the subject. This means having meaningful categories which help in clarifying and inform about said subject. With games and gaming there are a thousand ways to examine them.  There are games which which rely on cards, ones which rely on dice, some that do both, and many which use neither. Games can use no random elements, games can use only random elements. What is meaningful in all of those differences? Which ones are useful?

And that’s only for a small subset of gaming. Video games are a different sort of game. Those games don’t always necessitate the same sort of interactions and have an entirely different basis of control. Likewise, RPGs have their own conventions and genres which require a separate analysis. None of this gets us any closer to the goal, however.

This leaves me with the impression that whatever happens, creating a critical theory, language, and framework is going to take a good amount of time and no small amount of effort. It is not a small thing, this.

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Development Log

Just a few quick notes about what I’ve been working on lately.

First, the biggest push has been a board and card game. I’m not exactly sure how to categorise it since it uses both extensively in play. It is based on some 3 am answers from the days when there wasn’t anything else to do but to hang out at iHop ordering from the kid’s menu. In this case, the question was, “If you had a billion dollars and a cable network, what sort of shows would you make”. And the answers were kinda crazy.

But that’s not what the game is about. The game is about taking some of those crazy shows and putting them on a schedule, in competition with other players trying to do the same thing. The idea is to award points a few times during the game and whoever ends up with the most points, wins.

The fun factor is going to be in arranging those crazy shows. You could have “The Fish Hour” followed up by the reality show, “I dream of Angelo” in the same way that Steve Jackson’s Illuminati game has the many crazy groups all controlling each other. Well, that and being able to best your friends.

Currently, I have the basic mechanics worked out and have moved to start in on the numbers. The part of the game where you see how many of which card is needed at minimum to make the various other bits of the game work properly. That’s going to take a bit more as the mechanics can get a bit hairy. Right now, in order to make a show you have to have three things. The first is the show’s card. That has to be in your hand. The next is you need the personnel to work on it. This would be the writers, actors, and producers who do the work of putting the show together. And finally you need the money. Where I am right now is trying to get those numbers to be harmonious. Not easy and requires a bit of math followed up by trial and error before reverting back to further math.

The goal of doing all of that math is to have something that feels more engineered, a game that is flexible and resilient to the sort of abuses that players put games through. In this way, I am approaching it like a software project. I want to be able to get as much done with it and to “harden” it to the point where I don’t have to do much work, if any, to support it after I’m done.

More updates about the development of the game as they happen.

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