Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Story Realms Weekly Update: The Story Behind Story Realms

by Angie
The Story Behind Story Realms:

Julian and Randy and I have been designing games together and separately for over a decade. Due to schedules and work styles and all sorts of things, it often ends up with Julian and I coming up with a design idea and running with it… right into a brick wall! We’ve come up with some great ideas over the years, but we’ve had a really hard time with getting many of our designs to a point where we  feel happy with them and are ready to get them out and show people. Something always seemed to be missing, nothing big we could ever put a finger on, but they just never seemed to be quite what we were looking for. Until now! Story Realms is the first game we’ve worked on with a clear direction and vision from the start, and that has led us to be able to create a game we are really proud of! Here’s the inside scoop on how we came up with the idea for the game, and more importantly… the WHY.
Eager kids ready to learn a new game

Last summer my then 5-year-old daughter Katie got a new superhero themed board game, and she thought it would be really fun to have a couple of her good friends over for a superhero themed board game party. The kiddos picked out their favorite costumes and showed up ready to learn a new game. Katie was decked out in her Flash costume, Julian’s daughter Sabine had a homemade Rainbow Girl costume, and their friend Theo arrived as Batman. Julian jumped in to explain the game to the kids and everything was going great until about 2 turns in when all the stealing started. 

Katie's look shows things weren't going well...
What? Stealing? In a board game where you play as superheros? Yep, the game required you to collect some items, and one of the main ways to get them was to steal them from other players… which makes 5-year-olds sad. In fact, it kinda makes everyone sad. Who wants to go around collecting cool stuff and have it randomly stolen by your friends? Who wants to spend an afternoon dressed up as your favorite hero and watch your friends cringe and get upset when you ruin their fun?

This is NOT the look of a kid having fun :(

It was pretty excruciating to watch. We tried to come up with some teamwork themed spin and loosen up the rules a bit, but ultimately the kiddos looked miserable and we suggested they throw it in and just play superheroes and have some snacks.  As the kids ran around saving the world together on their pretend superhero team we started talking about what went wrong, which led to a long conversation about games and being kids and the experiences we enjoyed in our own childhood. We talked about getting in character, taking on a heroic persona, imaginative play, the stories we loved as children, and playing games with our families and friends. We discussed wanting to share those experiences with our children, and see their faces light up as they sit around the table together making up great stories and having grand adventures. We started talking about how we wished there was a game that creates memorable stories when you play it, but was easy to learn and took less than an hour to play, one that kids and parents could enjoy together… then Julian’s wife Chrissy said “Why don’t you guys just make THAT game?” 

A bright idea!!

So we set out to do just that. The biggest difference between this and the other games we’d made in the past was that we had an experience in mind that we wanted to create, and it gave us a clear focus that we returned to time and time again. We revised and cut and revised some more, throwing out every idea and mechanic and system that didn’t deliver on our vision. We playtested, made changes and playtested it some more until we had a game that met our design goals AND most importantly was fun for our kids to play! It took almost a year, but sitting them down together to play Story Realms delivered on that experience we all wanted in a way no other game has, they got to enjoy an adventure together in which they were the heroes and their creative ideas and teamwork made the story come to life. They talk about the adventures they’ve played in Story Realms all the time, and it’s a shared experience we will all remember fondly. I look forward to playing more games with my children as they grow up, and to all the exciting new adventures we will share.

That's the look we like to see on Sabine's face!!
I feel so lucky to be able to share Story Realms with other people, and we’re working hard to continue developing the game and the game world so that when it’s released it will provide others with the fun and unique gaming experience we’ve been playing with our kids!

Sabine and Katie playing an early Story Realms prototype

 Thanks for checking back! We’ll keep updating you all about our progress and we’re happy to answer any questions you might have, so feel free to leave a comment or shoot us an email at growingupgamers@gmail.com (for general gaming related stuff) or escapadegames@gmail.com (for info about Story Realms).

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Finding Eden: Part 2 (A Risk Legacy Story)

Finding Eden Pt 2: A Risk Legacy Story, Years 2 and 3
 by the Growing Up Gamers crew

The hopes for peace begin to crumble.
 This is a continuation of Finding Eden, our ongoing saga of Earth #10148.  It is a story based on a series of Risk Legacy games the Growing Up Gamers crew has been playing.  For details and disclaimer check the first post. We didn't start opening secret packets and envelopes until year 4, so this post remains spoiler-free.

Year 2
The Second Wars, From the Journal of Nevarin Star, Seeker of Light:
 Despite the losses in the First War, I still found myself in good favor with the Imperials. I firmly believed that they could make this world stronger through indoctrination of a peaceful dogma, and did not want to turn my back on this opportunity to find our peaceful utopia. Our hope for world peace was fragile, but still within reach. The Council of Three was no longer a unified force, but rather a collection of individuals with apparently very different goals. If only we could have continued to work together....

After the catastrophic loss of my capital during Dragmorian's scorched earth maneuver in the First Wars, I felt it was most prudent to relocate my seat of power to Argentina, deep in the Southern Continent. I saw this as a place where the Imperials could focus on expansion and regrowth far way from the instigator Tenebrous, and beyond the reach of the Dragon's claw. Tenebrous is most certainly plotting something with his takeover of the European nations, and Dragmorian used the Enclave to further secure his hold in the large continent formerly known as Asia on Old Earth.

I helped the Imperial Balkana to return to glory and spread out across the lands, knowing that the more people they recruited along the way, the less bloodshed would required to secure a peaceful regime. The plan worked! With careful planning and almost surgical precision we were able to unify half the world as a bastion of light early into the year. There was some bloodshed, but the losses were necessary and we kept the fighting to a minimum  required to secure our territory.

Through careful resource management, I was able to establish a strong hold across the entire Earth without waging great wars. There was holdout from the Enclave of the Bear, they clung fiercely to Dragmorian's intent to conquer the land and subjugate the Imperials to his will... but when we fought our way into their capital city, The Dragon's Den, and held it strong, his warriors finally yielded. I founded the beautiful city of Crux at the southernmost tip of the world as a base of operations and gathered strong allegiance from the people, rallying them with the dream of a brighter future for this world. Our shining city gleamed like its namesake, and became a bright beacon of hope for our new world. 

For a moment, we held the world up high. Earth #10148 shone like a star...

Year 2, as told by the Lord of Shadows
After the battles of the first wars had died down, I knew it was only a matter of time before "campaign season" began again in earnest. Relocated to Europe after the losses of the previous year, the forces of the Saharan Republic seemed poorly adapted to the northern climes. Despite early advances, differences of opinion between the Saharan's leadership and myself limited the scope of our operations; I fear that our paths are growing apart. This time, Europe proved little refuge from the tyranny of Nevarin's Balkanians. Even my fellow councilor Dragmorian barely escaped her brazen march into his newly-christened capital city, The Dragon's Den. I must act fast to reach this region's other dominant faction, Die Mechaniker, before they, too fall beneath the Nevarin's boots.

Year 2, from the scrolls of The Dragon Sage’s History
After I, Dragmorian the Dragon Sage, stopped the terrible war started by my companions, restored peace to the world and built the new city of Dragon’s Den, I had hoped that the Council of Three could resume in a spirit of teamwork and help Earth #10148 become the Eden we all set out to make.  At first, all seemed well.  The Enclave of the Bear, once again willing to help the cause, started out from Dragon’s Den on the isle of Japan and spread to neighboring areas quickly.  I warned them to be none too greedy for space as it would send the wrong message.  With great humility, they took the smallest continent as a home for themselves, once again, and established, as I had asked, a small foothold in the Alaskan territory so that I could keep an eye on the other half of the world.  I warned them not to press further into that continent as I did not wish to spark another war.

As it turned out, my and the Enclaves gestures of peace were absolutely meaningless.  Even though her Balkanian forces had started the first battle in the first wars, I was willing to believe Nevarin when she said it had been provoked by Tenebrous’ forces moving too close to her own.  I was a fool to underestimate her thirst for power.  Her forces started at the southern-most tip of the world with an entire continent to herself.  However, after taking that continent, she pushed northward taking more and more territory.  Finally, even my tiny Alaskan foothold was too much for her greedy heart to bear.  Her Imperial forces smashed through my garrison, swooped in, and took my precious Dragon’s Den.  I have been forced to retreat and reconsider my notions of peace.  Nevarin’s grab for power must be stopped if there is to be any hope for this world.  Still, I have a lurking fear about the intentions of Tenebrous.  He has done little to harm me or Nevarin this year.  Yet, the minor border disputes he put up on this Earth’s largest continent made it impossible for me to secure the resources I needed to stop Nevarin.  I can’t help but wonder if he has some further design with malicious intent.
The only bright spot this year is that I was able to establish a small city called Dragon’s Reach to help secure my influence on this Earth’s smallest continent.  I must find a way to stretch my influence further and faster if I am to return peace and prosperity to this world.

Year 3

Tenebria, Land of Shadows!
In the third year on Earth 10148, it became clear to me, Lord Tenebrous, that the nomads of the Saharan Republic could not, or would not, be the force I desired them to be. Free-spirited and loathe to stay too long in a given place, they quickly fled the Balkanians and eventually changed their allegiance to Dragmorian. A flighty people, barely worthy to be referred to as traitors. They will still have their place, though, and I suspect they will find the Dragon Sage's style of leadership not compatible with their own.

Nevarin Star and her faithful Balkanians still favored the Americas, and established cities on those continents. It was undoubtedly their desire to bring more of Earth 10148 under their rulership, and ultimately bring to the humanity of this world the suffering of the last. My guidance is certainly required, and I must send emissaries to coax them away from Nevarin's  grasp.

With my support in Europe, I was able to quickly befriend Die Mechaniker, and they lent me their expertise. I was amazed at the speed they were able to muster their soldiers, and the technological advantage their arms and armor had over the others. Under my guidance, I was able to help them increase the productivity of their factories, and soon we held much of Asia. From there, it was simple to push toward my opponent's capitals. At last, the first of what was to be many victories transpired.

The people of what was once called Europe before welcomed me with open arms. So reverent of me, they named the entire continent Tenebria in my honor. Tenebria! Forever shall this be a testament to my glory. Under my shadow, the peoples of Tenebria will ever be a gentle hand guiding the world, and so shall others be welcomed to the fold. My alliance with Die Mechaniker, I cannot be so sure of. Though effective, I may need to court other alliances. So be it!

Year 3, from the scrolls of The Dragon Sage’s History
Sadly, year three of this world is a tale of woe and loss for myself and for the world.  There was hope in the beginning.  Nevarin’s military forces pulled out the Dragon’s Den and back to her headquarters and I was able to return to my home.  Unfortunately, the Enclave of the Bear, smashed and driven off of their lands, asked for time to regroup.  I was forced to court the appeal of the Saharan Republic.  I convinced them to immediately spread their forces into the North American continent to stop the Imperial threat.  I was fine with Nevarin keeping the South American continent as her own, but felt her grip on two continents was what enabled her to all but destroy the Enclave and seize control of the world.  I failed, however, to heed the warnings of the Saharans about their former lord’s shadowy intent.  Tenebrous’s armies waited until Nevarin and I were fully embroiled in battle and then swept out from his stronghold, crushing the Dragon's Den once more.  I must abandon my home for good this time.  It will be written in the pages of history that Dragon's Den was as symbol of hope and peace, but tactically it is far too weak.  A symbol of peace will no longer do.  With a heavy heart, I must make ready for war.

The Third Wars: From the Journal of Nevarin Star, Seeker of Light
Year 3 was a disaster, and a huge setback for the forces of light. Tenebrous, leading his armies now as "the shadow people" took and held the European countries as a base and worked his way across the world. Meanwhile Dragmorian and I were locked in a desperate battle for the North American continent that I had built up my influence in over the first two years. He led the Saharans into our lands, and claimed them for his own. I fought back as hard as I could, determined not to allow him to come in and take whatever pleases his whim. This was the Imperial homeland, and it would not be handed over to a harsh leader just because he felt like taking it. Our constant warring with the Saharans allowed Tenebrous to stealthily take over most of the middle continents and cut into our exposed backsides for a decisive victory. Once again, my capitol has fallen, and it is time to rebuild and reconsider my plans. I have learned much from this war...namely to watch my back because the shadows are everywhere. I did manage to establish the city of Rigel in the middle of the Americas. Much as its namesake shines brightly from Orion's Belt, Rigel will be my centerpiece moving forward. 

I fear my dream of unifying humanity and founding a peaceful planet is further than I thought. It is time to consult the stars, and look to their light for guidance and hope for the future. There must be an answer out there somewhere...

Friday, April 20, 2012

Our 100th Post Contest Results!

Hi Everyone.  We said we’d post contest result this Wednesday…so of course we are posting it Friday night!  It’s like Wednesday but two days lazier.

Anyway, on to the contest results.

Our grand prize winner with 19 correct answers is…  

Drum roll please...

Quint Wheeler!!!

Congratulations, Quint.  Quint has chosen to win a copy of Crappy Birthday.
The rest of our contestants were put into a drawing for our other two prizes and the lucky other winners are…
Dramatic Pause....
  Jim Jones and Zakkary Boisselle!   

Jim will be receiving the copy of Carnival and Zakkary will be receiving Eliminis.  Congratulations to all of our winners and thank you to all of our contestants for participating.  We had fun reading your responses; we hope you had fun playing.

In case you wanted to check up on the full list and see what you missed, we have provided the answers in this post.  We were reasonably generous on accepting answers.  For example, even though technically it’s Settlers of Catan: Cities and Knights in the background, we pretty much gave credit for any mention of Settlers.  We were prepared to use the “more correct” answers as a tie breaker should the need arise, but it didn’t end up being an issue.  Anyway, without further ado, here are the answers:

1.       Agricola
2.       Labyrinth the Card Game
3.       Angry Birds: Knock On Wood
4.       Balancing Bears (We gave credit for Teddy Bear Bingo too because the pieces do look identical.
5.       Candy Land
6.       Connect 4
7.       Dominion: Seaside (We credited any mention of Dominion)
8.       Forbidden Island
9.       Lunch Money
10.   Magic the Gathering
11.   Mancala (The Glass half marbles.  We gave credit for people who said Bazaar as well)
12.   Memoir 44
13.   Memory
14.   Operation
15.   Parcheesi (Sorry folks, but those aren’t Sorry pieces.)
16.   Pathfinder RPG
17.   Pit
18.   Pok√©mon: The Trading Card Game
19.   Settlers of Catan: Cities and Knights (though we gave credit if you just said Settlers)
20.   Talisman
We also credited Dungeons & Dragons for the polyhedral dice (as it is the most predominant game those are used for) and Pictionary for the children’s art.  We didn’t really think of them as games that were in there, but we also didn’t really mean to have any “red herrings” either.  

Now for a bit of unfortunate news.  We have been saying that we were going to be at Just A Game Con in, Corvallis, Oregon this weekend and that will no longer be the case.  Due to some family matters that have come up (don’t worry, no one died) we will not be able to attend.  We may be looking to hold Story Realms event and playtesting opportunity at local shop or game store here in Eugene in the near future though, so we will keep you informed.

Thanks again to everyone for playing and for helping us celebrate 100 posts.  We look forward to bringing you at least 100 more!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

10 Tips For Teaching Board Games

By Julian
Almost every gamer I know can recall a bad experience where someone tried to explain how to play a game and was just awful at it.  They droned on and on just reading the rulebook out loud. They delved into unnecessary specifics before they even told you what to do on your turn, and they made it seem 10 times more complicated than necessary.  It’s unfortunate, but getting over that initial hump of everyone learning to play a game can be a real drag and a serious barrier to actually enjoying a game.  To help you avoid this tragedy in the future, here are some tips for making the experience of explaining a game as painless as possible.   
Lets try to keep your players listening, shall we?
1. Be Prepared
I once learned the definition of a mass market game as any game that can be explained in 30 seconds or less.  Games like Boggle or Trivial Pursuit are the games you can pick up, read the rules, explain the game and play within minutes of opening the box.  These are NOT the games you are reading this blog post for tips on explaining.  Most games that have any real level of complexity require you to read the rules well ahead of trying to them.  Think about the rules for bit and make sure you understand how the game works.  Plan an approach to teaching the game.  Don’t try to open the box and read the rules out loud to the other players hoping that everyone just “gets it.”  You’ll drone on, people will get bored, and the aliens from Omicron Persei 8 will enslave us all before you finish turn 1 of the game. 

2. Make It Sound Easy
Attitude matters for getting players excited about the game.  Try at all times to sound like what you are trying to teach is pretty easy to understand.  Even really complex games can be put into a simple framework so new people can believe that the game is learnable.  Magic the Gathering, for example, is a very complex game.  I could write blog posts for days and never cover all the special circumstances and oddball rules that can come up.  However, I’m not lying when I tell you that it’s just a game where you play a wizard that casts spells and summon monsters in an attempt to defeat your opponent.  First person to knock their opponent down from 20 life to 0 wins.  See, simple right?  Starting with a simple framework and a positive attitude will help your players pay attention because they will be confident that they game is both something they will enjoy and are capable of learning.

3. Objective, Turn, Essentials, Specifics
Go from wide to narrow when explaining a game.  In general, it’s best to tell everyone the objective of the game and how to win.  Then cover a simple turn structure.  What do players do on a turn?  Then start filling them in on considerations and choices that are essential to the game.  Finish by telling them only a few specific details to serve as examples of other choices the player might need to make along the way.  A word of warning, though. Do NOT break the rule of making it sound easy.  If a game has a complex scoring structure for determining the winner, tell them about turn structure and save the “how to win” for later.  Most of the time, however, players want to know what they are supposed to do, then how they are supposed to do it, and a few details of they need to be concerned about along the way. 

4. Learn What To Leave Out
Some things are better with the right element left out.
Players don’t need to know everything right at the start of the game.  In fact, you may hear several players say something like “Let’s just give it a try and I’ll learn as we go.”  Most players don’t want to be bogged down by the details.  They want to jump into the action.  It takes some practice, but learning what to leave out of the explanation can help you out quite a bit.  Good candidates for the explanation chopping block include things like specifics of card effects, complex if-then situations, and rules that only apply to late game or special situations.  Don’t leave anything that’s essential for being successful in the game, however, or players may feel cheated.

5. Repeat and Recap
Even if you’ve prepared for the game, take a positive attitude to make the game sound easy, explain the rules from wide to narrow, and leave out the unnecessary details, players can lose track of the things you’ve been saying.  You need to take the time to stop and recap what you’ve gone over at least briefly and at regular intervals.  This makes sure that everyone is keeping the major points of the game in their head and invites questions about things players may not have heard the first time. 

6. Connect To Prior Game Knowledge
If your players have played other “trick taking” games then explaining the game of Hearts is a whole lot easier.  Experience playing in a Magic the Gathering draft tournament will help a player understand the draft mechanic in 7 Wonders.  It’s easier for players to learn games that are similar in some way to games they have played before.  Ask your players if they have played games you think are related to the one you are explaining and whenever possible, mention those games to reinforce rules you are trying to explain.

7. Tell A Silly Story If You Have To
The Sillier The Better
Sometimes game mechanics are hard to understand or remember because they are just arbitrary or abstract.  They may provide better game play, but they just aren’t interesting to think about.  Settlements in Catan have to be at least 2 spaces away from another settlement.  You can’t build a structure with the exact same name as one you already have in 7 Wonders.  Making up a story that gives a reason for these rules to exist can often help players remember them.  Settlers in Catan need space to gather their resources and refuse to settle too close to each other.  Rulers of ancient civilizations are fickle and demand always to see something new and shiny.  They can’t stand the thought of spending resources to build the same old building they’ve already got.  Use whatever story you can think of and the sillier the better.  It can make boring rules seem more fun or at the very least easier to recall during the course of the game.

8. Play An Example Turn
You can talk about all the rules until you're blue in the face and certain players will still be confused.  It can save a lot of time to just run through an example turn.  Use the board and all the pieces and even let players make their own decisions so that you can show them how a typical turn in the game will play out.  Just make sure everyone knows that the awesome stuff they accomplished doesn’t actually count toward the real game.

9. Talk Less Strategy and More Starting Goals
Players will often want to know something beyond the basic mechanics.  They will want to know how to be successful in the game.  It can be tempting to dive into tactical considerations and the many overarching strategies for the game.  However, it’s often more helpful to give new players a good goal to shoot for at the start.  When explaining Dominion, for example, I often tell the players to try and grab an action or two that looks like fun, but to focus on just getting better money cards.  This is because a player is rarely going to regret drawing a handful of really good money in that game and money lets them explore other strategies as the game continues.  This goal gets them into the game and lets them start exploring.  If I tried to explain every strategic consideration of a deck building game the players would often be lost before we even started.

10. Repeat, Recap, Repeat
Repetition increases familiarity.
So you’ve prepped for teaching the game.  You know what to call out to make it sound easy.  You’ve got a plan for talking about the broad strokes of the game before diving into specifics and you’ve decided which details to leave out.  You’ve figured out other games that you can relate to this game.  You’ve got a silly story ready to make that one obscure rule really memorable and you’ve played through a few example turns by yourself so that you can lead the new players through one if need be.  You’ve even figured out what seems like a decent starting goal to give the new players to shoot for.  Yep you’re probably ready.  Just remember that while you’re actually teaching it, you really ought to repeat information and recap the important points as you go along.  It really does help people learn and remember.

Hope these tips help you the next time you need to explain a game.  Leave a comment and let us know if you've got any hot tips of your own for teaching.  Even better, if you have any horror stories of game explanations gone terribly terribly wrong we'd love to hear those too.