Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Steampunk Rally - Stretch-Goal Inventor Poll

A day into our Steampunk Rally Kickstarter and we're already halfway to our funding goal! Fantastic!

It looks likely that we'll hit stretch goals (*knock on brass*) so it's time for us to choose our stretch goal inventors, and by us I mean you!

Go to boardgamegeek and add your suggestion (one per person), and vote on your favorites by 'thumbing' who you want to see join the Rally.

We'd like to bring in a little more gender parity, so we'd like 3 of the stretch goal inventors to be women! (But you can also suggest a man, we've got room for one more! Or for that matter, if you know of a cool Victorian transgender or transsexual inventor, we want to hear about them too!!)

And as a sidenote, if we manage to hit that 75k funding level, every Kickstarter copy of the game will come with metal cog tokens. I have seen the production samples, and they are amazingly cool, so spread the word and let's hit those goals!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Steampunk Rally Kickstarter is Off to the Races!

The Steampunk Rally Kickstarter has been up for a couple hours, and we're already over 6k (and growing every time I refresh the page) so things are off to a strong start!

Check out the seriously awesome video below (seriously, it's awesome):

You can also check out an interview I did for The Inquisitive Meeple.

Or this excellent gameplay runthrough:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

That's wright, brothers!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Steampunk Rally Kickstarter on the 27th

Heads up! We are pushing back the Steampunk Rally Kickstarter till Monday (the 27th) to make sure everything (including our super-awesome pitch video) is in order.

On the evening of the 27th, there will be some sort of launch party/tournament/shindig at The Sentry Box.

Additionally, we are pleased to announce that as stretch goals on the Kickstarter, we will possibly be extending the number of supported players to 7 or 8(!) by adding new inventors, the identity of whom will be decided by a poll on boardgamegeek. Stay tuned!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Steampunk Rally Kickstarter Preview

The first review/preview of Steampunk Rally is up!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Steampunk Rally Designer Diary - parts 1-5

The first 5 parts of my designer diary are up! You can read them here or on boardgamegeek.

For me, steampunk is about optimism. Popular media has long been down on science and creation. Most fictional visions of the future are dystopian. Even my longtime favourite film, Jurassic Park, is all about the perils of science, the message being that progress is to be feared. But there was a time when this message was not so ubiquitous. Before the horrors of WWI (and then again for a while during the Atomic age) we were pretty gung-ho on science and the future. Or maybe that’s modern revisionism and we were never gung-ho. After all, Mary Shelly wrote Frankenstein in 1818. But whatever, I’m going with it.

I don’t have to tell you that there’s a dark side to this optimism. Colonialism, nationalism and environmental devastation all spring from this romantic idea that man (might as well throw sexism in there) can master the ways of the universe and bend them to his will for the good of all. There is definitely a naivet√© to this worldview. But gosh darn is it a refreshing change from the status quo of evil mad scientists, useless nebbish scientists, negligent corporate scientists, etc. Steampunk gives us the hero scientist! The savior who accomplishes great deeds not through marksmanship, luck, or some heroic destiny hokum, but by his (or her!) brains, tenacity and creativity! As a perpetually scrawny nerd, this is the sort of hero I can get behind.

Or maybe it’s just that adding lots of gears to stuff makes it look really cool.

Steampunk has popped up in a ton of boardgames (City of Iron, Mission: Red Planet, Leviathans) and videogames (Bioshock, Age of Legends, Steamworld Dig), and I love a lot of these games, but I’ve never found a game that really scratched my steampunk itch. Most “steampunk” games incorporate it as an aesthetic, nifty looking but interchangeable. The last game I remember that sort of felt steampunk in its mechanics was the edutainment game Super Solvers: Gizmos & Gadgets! and my memory is fuzzy on that one since I was about seven.

Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines made a pretty big impact on my child brain as well, seeing as I watched it about a billion times (perhaps only surpassed by the original 1961 The Absent-Minded Professor). It had a goodly dose of that scientific optimism I referred to earlier (the character Lord Rawnsley is much opposed to his daughter’s passion for airplanes, and he is depicted as a stuffy luddite), and the idea of racing over Europe in rickety, often barely-functioning machines always had immense appeal to me. Somewhere at the convergence of LEGOs and reality television (Junkyard Wars, The Amazing Race, Top Gear) the idea took hold and wouldn’t let go.

One element of steampunk that’s crucial is that it’s set at a time when technology was relatively understandable. Even if you know something about circuit boards and microchips, modern technology is extremely opaque. But steam-driven mechanisms are (conceptually) simple. You boil some water, it pushes on some pistons and turns some gears, cool stuff ensues. I wanted a game where I could do that. And most of my game ideas come about when something I want to play doesn’t seem to exist.

Inspired partly by reading about the legendary feud between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, and from becoming more acquainted with “steampunk” as a genre, I first sat down and started prototyping Steampunk Rally, then titled "Tesla’s Wager," seven years ago, in my sophomore year at the University of Waterloo. I was pleasantly surrounded with nerds and engineers, so finding playtesters wasn’t difficult. Many racing games use some sort of Roll and Move mechanic, but mine was the reverse: Move and Roll. Based on the parts you had in your invention, you chose to move up to some allowed maximum, and then rolled one die per space moved. The terrain icons rolled were multiplied by the number of terrain spaces passed over, and you took this many “stress” tokens and distributed them amongst your parts. Take too much stress, and parts would fall off.

There were things I liked about this version. The multiplication added a huge risk-reward dynamic. And many parts allowed you to place stress tokens on them to trigger special powers, which added some tough choices since you were basically sacrificing durability to try and gain an upper hand. (My favorite racing videogame F-Zero GX did this by making “boost” and “shields” the same bar.) Overall though, the game was just too chaotic for its level of complexity. I hadn’t internalized the value of iconography that modern euros have embraced, and consequently most cards had reams of text to digest despite minimal variation. So you’d carefully decide on a set of parts to use after poring over your hand, make sure the total weight fell within the correct bounds (yeah, you had to calculate weight in older versions. I’m glad I realized this was unnecessary, and that I could make big clunky vehicles feel and act big and clunky through less literal means) and then you’d roll a bunch of dice and watch it fall apart because you rolled horribly. Also virtually everyone who played wanted the physical placement of their machine’s parts to be relevant somehow, and I couldn’t figure out how to accomplish this, so the game was shelved. 

Every designer I know “shelves” things. We never officially give up on games, we just put them on a shelf somewhere, with the fervent hope that one day we will discover how to take them the rest of the way. Most of the games I’ve shelved over the years sit in boxes in my basement and files on my computer, untouched and only occasionally thought about. Steampunk Rally was different. Over the years I returned to it again and again with the fervid intention of discovering how to bring the theme to life. I prototyped versions with part tiles of varying sizes, with cards representing terrain and optional routes, with deck-building mechanics, with cubes and icons of all sorts. I knew I had an awesome theme, I just didn’t seem to have the skills to properly execute on it. I needed to become a better designer.

One thing I learned along the way was that I wanted a system where different types of energy flowed throughout a player’s machine. I’ve played a lot of “engine-building” Euros, and there’s a reason this term is used. It’s because it feels like you’re building an engine which processes one type of resource (money, actions, cloth), converts them into various other resources, and ultimately churns out Victory Points (or “VPs”). But VPs are so dull. What is a VP? I’ve never seen one in reality, nor do I particularly care to strive for them in my escapist entertainment. I was a maverick, and I felt a need… A need for speed! 

So the game was to be an engine-building Euro. But instead of VPs, these engines would generate speed, or more accurately distance. Instead of a VP track I would have a racetrack with hazards, opportunities, and forks (I always felt the VP track in Carcassonne was so pretty, and yet such a waste of table and design space). That was what the engines would output, but what would players feed into them?

In some of the earlier versions I had cubes representing heat, steam and electricity (the purest building-blocks of steampunk, along with brass) which could be placed on and generated by (and even move between) part cards/tiles. A recurring problem I recognized was that a lot of this ended up amounting to busywork. Eurogames generally introduce whatever player interaction there is by making basic game resources, the fuel for your engine, central in some way, such that everyone’s pulling from a limited pot. But aside from adding interaction (as it may be), it introduces the crucial element of uncertainty and risk which keeps things from devolving into deterministic mathematics (except for the ones that have a fetish for mathematics and keep that part too, *cough*Powergrid*cough*). This sort of dynamic of competing over central resources felt incorrect for a racing theme, but then as soon as players go off in a corner with their resources uncontested, it has a tendency to become busywork. (I have electricity and my wheels require steam so obviously I’m going to put them through the chain of cards that turn them into steam just like every other turn.) If I wasn’t going to have the players fighting over a central resource pool, then the use of the resources themselves had to be unpredictable in some way.

And this is how I hit upon the idea of dice-placement and after seven years finally had a game people wanted to play. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Game. Of. The. Year.