Princess Dice – Oh My

Almost immediately following my first post about Princess Dice I received tremendous responses. I have @FatherGeek to thank for re-tweeting my links, but I received much more response from the BoardGameGeek community. Thank you everyone for your comments and enthusiasm!

Apparently, this is something that many people would love to have. A game made for girls, playable by gamers and family alike. One thing I have learned through past design efforts is how much momentum I gain from discussion and feedback. I had planned on writing updates for the Dead End project this week, but the excitement is high for Princess Dice and I cannot ignore this.

Princess Dice by Jamie Jones (madhattersneverland).

One of the most active advocates for the game has been BGG user maddhattersneverland. Jamie quickly showed interest in the game and offered to help test it. I’m not one to hold things close to the vest, so I was more than happy to have someone else testing the game. I sent him some printable materials and he got going testing the game. He has turned in quite a few playtest reports over the past few days and we have tweaked the rules here and there. One new rule was suggested by his oldest son and I immediately added it to the game. It adds a great decision to the game and encourages re-rolls without bogging things down. This message really hit home that I might be on to something:

My sons (14 & 12 years old) and I got a weird look from my wife last night…

She came in to see the three of us sitting around the coffee table staring intently at the dice. When she asked what we were doing, my 12 year old (with a huge stupid grin on his face) exclaimed “We’re playing Princess-Fairy-Rainbow-Unicorn! And right now I’m ahead because I have the most dresses!”

I’m honestly a bit jealous that I don’t have that nice of a set yet. My dice and labels are on order and my girls are excited. I showed them Jamie’s picture and they just couldn’t understand why he had the game already and we only had a cruddy black and white version. Grrrrrr.

Anyways, development continues. Thanks to the feedback I’ve been receiving I can say that this is the quickest evolving design I have ever created. We are at day 4 and already have a complete rules set drawn up, a working score sheet, and all the required art. I hope to be able to keep this pace up until I’m satisfied that it is done. As it stands right now, the game is very playable by children. It seems to be lacking a bit of fluff that could make it more interesting for gamers, but that’s not a bad thing. I am heavily considering adding a bit more chaos to the mix. That will have to be determined in playtesting.

Speaking of playtesting, I’ve put the rules up here. I’m not ready to publicly share the rest of the stuff, but if you are interested in making your own set and playing the game, please feel free to email me and I’ll get you set up. Keep the momentum rolling by re-sharing on Twitter, Facebook or whatever. There’s little buttons below just for that!

Princess Dice – A Beginning

Sometimes inspiration hits at the weirdest of times. I embrace those moments. They are magical even if the product of their vision turns out to be less than excellent. Other times, inspiration can seem almost forced because it stems from a preconceived idea. This is one of those stories…

I was reading @FatherGeek‘s review of Martian Dice just a few days after finding his review of Zombie Dice. Both of those games sounded interesting to me and I quickly added them to my BoardGameGeek wishlist. Now, I have never played these types of games. I, of course, played Yahtzee when I was younger, but since developing a fascination for designer games, I’ve not given dice games like these a thought. What really intrigued me about Father Geek’s reviews was how much his sons enjoyed these games. I’ve got two little ones myself and they enjoy tactile experiences as well. The difference is that my little ones are both girls. Would they enjoy dice games about zombies and alien abductions? I’m thinking Princess-Fairy-Rainbow-Unicorn Dice instead!?

A Twitter conversation with @FatherGeek.

I was only semi-serious with that last tweet, but having never played these games, I really didn’t know how to approach the style in a new manner. That is a minor technicality to my brain apparently because during the drive home I could not get the idea out of my head. In the 45 minute commute I had developed the underlying game and by the time I got home I even figured out how to fit the theme.

So here’s the story: In Magic Fairy Princess Landtm the princesses have entered into a competition to see who can gather the most stuff. On their adventures, they are trying to gather items, but the Evil Witch is stealing things all over the land. The players race to gather their things before the witch can steal them all and in the end, the princess with the most stuff wins!

Now I’m just a dad, so what do I know of pretty princesses and unicorns? That’s where my girls come in. We had the house to ourselves because mommy had a girls night out, so we set to making the game pretty. I asked them what sorts of things princesses wanted to have and after much deliberation they decided on crowns, dresses, fairies, and unicorns. I would have picked different things, but I’m just dad, I’m not in tune with the princess community. They spent about an hour helping me pick out some source artwork and colors so we could make pretty dice.

Princess dice art.As you can see, I’m not a great artist. The title of the site is not a lie! My girls were satisfied with the designs after a few tweaks and we quickly had a working prototype. Now, black and white images may work just fine for us moms and dads who play our euro-games, but for two little girls who want to play with pretty things, we could not stop there. We had to make pretty dice! This is where having access to a good printer and prototyping parts comes in handy. Sadly, I have neither of those things, but luckily I know Andrew Tullsen of Print and Play Productions. He specializes in this sort of thing, so I built up some pretty dice faces and got the order to him as quickly as I could. We’d need pink, purple, and blue dice, some stickers, and I ordered some cubes to keep score.

Dice in full color.Now, as you can see, we’ve got five symbols to sort out on three different color dice. We will have two each of the three dice for a total of six dice in play. One dice will have two unicorns, one will have two fairies, and the third will have two dresses. These are the things that princesses want the most according to my daughters. We will also need a score sheet which I haven’t designed yet. That sheet will need to have a score track from 1 to TBD and three tracks, one for each item, from 1 to 10 or 15 or so. These numbers aren’t hard set yet and will be worked on through further playtesting.

Here’s how we currently play: the active player rolls all six dice. Any witches that are rolled are immediately set aside. For each witch rolled, the player must set aside all of 1 type of dice (fairy, dress, unicorn). The player may then set aside any dice that they want to score and re-roll any number of the remaining dice. Any dice rolled which match a type that the witch is currently holding are immediately removed. Also, any new witches rolled must be removed along with another type of dice. If a player rolls three witches their turn ends and only crowns are scored. The player may keep re-rolling as long as they have dice available, but witches and the dice they stole, and any dice removed by the player for scoring may not be re-rolled. After the player is satisfied with the results, score is taken. Each crown rolled is worth 1 point and the players token is advanced on the scoring track. For each fairy, dress, and unicorn remaining the players token is moved forward one space on the respective track. In the end, the player with the most of each type gets a bonus.

Example time! I roll the 6 dice. I roll 1 witch, 2 fairies, 1 dress, and 2 crowns. I must set aside the witch and one type of dice. I choose the dress because I’m already leading in that category. I’m really looking for unicorns, so I re-roll all the remaining dice. On my second roll, I get 2 dresses, 1 unicorn and 1 crown. I must now set aside both dresses because the witch has stolen them! I have 2 dice remaining and decide to end my turn gaining 1 point and 1 unicorn. It is now the next players turn.

Scoring is not yet settled. There are essentially three scoring mechanisms and balancing them will be something that is done through further playtesting. Currently the game continues until someone gathers 15 of one type of item. At that point, the player with the most of each item scores an additional 10 points. Also, each player scores 5 points for each item that they gathered at least 5 of and an additional 5 points for gathering 10. There is also a possibility that I will make crowns worth 2 points each, but we’ll see. I encourage others to test out variations of the scoring system and we can collectively come up with something!

What’s left to do? Play the game of course! Just like any other design, much playtesting is required before I can be sure that I am satisfied with the scoring. I simply cannot wait until I get the recessed dice and stickers so we can play with proper dice and I’m sure the girls are excited as well. I also need to come up with some art for a pretty score sheet. I’ll get something simple put together soon for anyone that wants to try the game out. I will also send you the sticker sheet if you’d like to print the stickers and try it for yourself. For now, I’m back to designing big-boy games. 😉

Project: Dead End part 5 – The Design Evolves

If you’ve been following along, I teased in my last post that I was excited about the new direction of the game. My first playtest was successful, but it was obvious that I needed to spend some serious time tuning things and and livening it up a bit. I went back, tweaked a bit here and there and what came out as version 2 was garbage. The game broke. It was no fun, not engaging at all and could very easily go on forever unless the players made a conscious decision to not survive. What was worse, adding up all the players scores every turn was really annoying. I had successfully stripped all the fun out of the design. So, I let things sit for a while and didn’t think about it. Every now and again I had a little idea, but nothing great. On my way home from work one day, it really hit me: take the zombies off of the cards.

It was a great moment. I realized that if I didn’t want players adding up large point totals each turn, I needed to add a tactile element. I needed little zombies. I needed to be able to shuffle tokens around and they all needed to be worth the same amount. Now, instead of playing a strength 3 zombie card on a player, you would instead give that player 3 zombie tokens from a central pool. This simple little change makes all the difference. Suddenly it came back to life and was much stronger than version 2. I’ll skip right ahead and show you the cards:

# Icon? Zombies Name Text
6 No 1 Pistol GUN. 1 Shot.
4 No 2 Shotgun GUN. 3 Shots.
4 No 3 Axe Kill one Zombie.
3 No 3 Molotov Cocktail FLIP: 5. 1-4 SUCCESS: Kill 1 zombie for each success. 5 SUCCESS: Kill all zombies. You die.
4 No 2 Shh… FLIP: 1. SUCCESS: Move 2 zombies from your house to the middle. FAIL: Move 1 zombie from your house to the middle.
6 No 2 Barricade Add 2 to your house’s defense.
4 Yes 1 Noisy Neighbor After an opponent shoots a GUN, FLIP: 1. SUCCESS: you may move one zombie from your house tho their’s.
3 No None Here they come! Give each opponent 1 zombie from the middle.
2 No None What Was That? Each player moves 1 zombie from their house to the middle. You may move 1 additional zombie.
6 Yes 1 Strong Zombie When you play Strong Zombie FLIP: 1. SUCCESS: Destroy one barricade on the target player’s house.
2 Yes 1 Wandering Zombie At the end of your turn, move Wandering Zombie to a player on your left or right.
6 Yes 1 Zombie
4 Yes 2 Zombie

Alright, first thing is first, new mechanics. One thing that bothered me about the initial design was Barricades and Noisy Neighbor. Barricades were practically useless because it only took one Strong Zombie to knock them down. If you were over-crowded with zombies already, this could be a killing blow. I want barricades, and I want zombies to break them down… I think it is very thematic… but I didn’t want to nullify the usefulness of the Barricades, or else they may just get played as zombies all the time. Also, with Noisy Neighbor, Pistol was an almost useless card. You could kill a zombie, sure, but a small one and chances are, if someone is holding the Noisy Neighbor, you get a 5 or 7 strength zombie in return. Now that all zombies are of equal strength, it is not such a broken card, but I still felt like it was too consistent. My fix for all of this (and more) was to add a randomizer. I had always intended to have a zombie icon on the cards that can be played by dead players, so I decided that this would be the perfect randomizer. When playing a card that has a random element, you flip the top card of the deck. If there is a zombie icon on the card, you fail. This means Strong Zombie is not a guarantee and neither is getting to move off a zombie with Noisy Neighbor. So, when you see FLIP:# on a card, that means that you flip that many from the top of the deck and then consult the card for what happens on a success or failure.

I also added the idea that guns stay in play in front of you and are loaded with a certain number of shots. Now, when playing a Pistol or Shotgun, you keep it face up in front of you and add the appropriate number of counters equal to the number of shots the gun has. When you fire the gun, you remove one of these counters and flip the top card of the deck. On a success, you kill 1 zombie. I did not decide at this point how the multiple shots on Shotgun would work, so I decided that we’d figure that out in playtesting. When the gun has no shots remaining, it is discarded.

Event cards are a bit of a change from the previous version. There are now 2, Here They Come and What Was That. Both of these cards are played immediately when drawn and the player draws an additional card for their hand. These cards are never taken into hand so they cannot be played as a zombie card.

The last big change is the strength of the player’s houses and the zombie value on the cards. With the previous version set at a defense of 25, there was way too much counting and adding in the game. Now that all zombies are 1 strength, I decided that a good number for the defense was 10. I adjusted the zombie values accordingly. Also, now that we are dealing with a pool of zombies, it is no longer required that you assign all of the zombies to a single player when playing a zombie card of strength 2 or higher. These values are no longer strength, but are number instead. If you play a zombie card with 2 or 3 on it, you can assign that many zombies from the middle to any number of players. I found that this greatly eased tensions between players because more often than not we would split up the zombies to keep things even.

Designing Dead End at my desk.
After I laid out all the cards I wanted to make, I started thinking about how many of each card I wanted in the deck (again) as well as how I wanted to distribute the zombie icons. I had a bit of a slow day at work and as you can see I spent some time doing math figuring all this out. In the end, I decided to weight the deck in favor of successes when flipping. I came out with a roughly 60-40 split which would drop closer to 50-50 as players keep guns and Barricades in front of them and the deck reshuffles.

Working on the layout for version 3.
Now, this is where my previous efforts to make neat and orderly playtest cards fails. I have completely changed the way cards work. So the design is all wrong. I need to adjust the old card template to put the new information where I need it. Had I just stuck with hand-written cards like a normal person, I wouldn’t have had to spend more time at work figuring out how to do the layout. In the end, I didn’t even really change much. I re-hashed the old template to save some time. It’ll get fixed some day after the design stabilizes more, but there’s lots more playtesting to go.

Version 3 prototype.
I’m going to end this post here. I have playtested this version of the game and I can assure you, it is MUCH better than v2. There is still loads of room for improvement, but I need to be sure that the base system is stable before adding more on top of it. I will detail my playtest session with the next post and if I can be troubled to write out a concise set of rules, I may upload a printable version of v3.2 for you to try out! It’s my goal to make this game Print and Play throughout the design process so everyone can keep it going… interaction is my motivator, so please please please let me know what you think so far.

Project: Dead End part 4 – I Broke It

After the second playtest session I Tweeted that I broke the game. Well, I did. In an effort to make the game a bit longer, and somewhat deeper, I ended up also making it exuberantly dull. It was a very frustrating session that left me stumped. The previous session had ended with a game that was playable, yet too chaotic and short but that brought a bit of charm with it. I wanted to dress things up a bit and calm the game down, so I tightened up the deck, increased the house values, and toned down the zombies a bit. I thought that this would bring a bit more strategy into the game while simultaneously opening up more tactical decisions. What actually happened was something completely different.

The first session went much like I had expected. I very rarely test games solo before showing them to my friends, preferring instead to just go with it and see what happens. I have found over the years that my friends are very good at finding flaws and while I may be good at it, I’m not perfect. I honestly don’t believe anyone is when they are working on something of their own. It becomes too personal and can be very difficult to judge objectively. So, my method is to bring a fresh idea to the table and try it. Instead of just my opinion shaping the game from the early stages, I have four or five unique opinions that can bring out some really fun ideas. With all that said, the resounding feedback from that first session was that it was too short. There were some overpowered cards and the players just didn’t have enough defense to survive. The good news meant that the system was not broken, it just needed to be tweaked.

So instead, I broke the system.

This wasn’t intentional. Honest. I fully thought that what I had was a solid plan, but that it just needed tuned. I added a full 10 points to the defense of the player’s houses and chopped the zombie’s strengths down. I reduced the number of power cards and added plain zombie cards to the deck to make things more structured and less chaotic. That all sounds great on paper and makes logical sense. What all this actually did was make the game really annoying. Reduced defense and increased zombie strength meant that the deck needed to be nearly played out as zombies in order to kill someone. Reducing the action cards meant that players were using those more as removal and less as zombies which ultimately resulted in what may have been a complete stalemate. But, the most annoying feature was counting. Now players could have 10 or more zombies on their house which meant that on your turn you had to add all that Strength up just to see who was winning and losing. Counting up those totals is the opposite of fun.

My goal in starting this project was to have a zombie themed game that was actually fun to play. My definition of fun is something that is simple enough to teach in minutes, is highly interactive, is completed in a short time, and doesn’t require so much thinking that it impairs the social aspect of getting together with friends. There are a few zombie games out there that fit this criteria, but the ones that I have played are devoid of the zombie theme. Yes, they feature zombies and maybe even some guns and chainsaws, but they don’t have any actual survival horror mechanics. They are essentially just taking other games and pasting the zombie theme on top. I wanted something that was not only fun with zombies, but also captured the genre of survival horror with zombies breaking down doors, running towards noisy gunshots, and players dying and turning into zombies. What came out of the second playtest session was neither of these things. It felt like a cheap math-based game with zombies slapped on it, took way to long, and was annoyingly fiddly.

Where do I go from here? Well, I was going to write about this immediately following the session, but honestly, I had no enthusiasm. I didn’t want to see this blog die at the hands of another unsuccessful design. I had no positive note to end on, so I put off writing. I put of working on the game also. In my creative endeavors over the years, I have had some of my most productive moments after putting something in the back of my mind for a few hours or days. I have come to rely on my minds ability to just figure stuff out without me thinking about it. I had a long weekend, I played video games. I let things just work themselves out. And they did. I didn’t want to keep tweaking this system, I wanted to refine it, strip out the garbage, and end up with a leaner product that offered more actual decisions while feeling less mathy. While driving home one evening, I had the epiphany that may change this design into just that. It’s yet to be tested, and is not even remotely proven, but I am excited for this game again and that’s really what it takes to keep me involved in this process.

So, my next post will be all about the new iteration of the game. As soon as I have a prototype together , I’ll get some pictures and write it up. If you’ve been following along, or even if you’re new, it would be awesome if you’d sign up for my newsletter and/or follow me on Twitter. Discussion fuels my motivation.

Project: Dead End part 3 – Version 2

I left off last post a bit hastily. I had wanted to talk about the second iteration of the game but I didn’t get it done on time. Have I mentioned that I’m a horrible procrastinator? Yeah. Well, to make things worse, my play group canceled this week. That let me work on things a bit more in my head before sitting down to put it on paper. My wife had something to do with my daughters, so I suddenly found myself with a few free hours to put in some time.

This is where I start really looking at details. I laid the existing cards out and started to think about what changes, if any, each card needed to round out the balance issues. I knew that the deck needed some serious tweaking, so my main focus was to reduce the quantity of some cards. “Shh…” is a particularly powerful card that needed to be reduced. It allows a player to reduce the level of threat on his house while simultaneously increasing the threat on another players house. If it is a 5 point Zombie, that’s a 10 point swing! That is a much more powerful ability than say “Shotgun” which allows you to kill one Zombie on your own house, and may come with a penalty if an opponent is holding a “Noisey Neighbor.”

House and Zombie markers.

With all that in mind, the first thing I did was increase the base defense of the player’s houses to 25. The first time we played, the game was extremely short. I don’t want the game to stretch on and on, but we had effectively eliminated the last player before he even took his turn. I don’t mind wild swings like this, but my ultimate goal is making the game FUN. For me, a simple game that goes on and on is not fun but losing before you even get to take a turn just sucks! I’m not sure this number will stick either. It may be a variable based on the number of players after more playtesting, but I plan to cover the theory of that in my next post. In the spirit of full disclosure, the zombie artwork used on the player tile is not mine. I lifted that from a Google image search.

Now that I’ve looked at the major changes needed my method gets a little more scientific. I still have the cards laid in front of me to trim the count of individual cards, but on paper, I have to start thinking about the math involved. In this particular game, I have to make sure that there is enough Zombie strength to actually have an end game. Because zombies stay in play unless killed, the deck thins quickly. In a 4 player game, it would take at the very least a combined strength of 75 to kill three players and end with an ultimate winner. That number is a bit misleading though because as players die, they can shift the zombies assigned to them around meaning that I don’t need to have that full number represented by the deck. I also don’t want the deck to be over-saturated with powerful Zombie cards. One of the key play choices in the game is deciding to play cards offensively or defensively. If there are too many zombies in the deck, this decision becomes less important.

So, I didn’t take notes on this process, but this is what I ended up with:

# Name Text Zombie Strength
6 Pistol Kill one Zombie with Strength 3 or less. 1
4 Shotgun Kill one Zombie. 3
3 Shhh… Move one Zombie from your house to another player’s house. 4
4 Axe Kill one Zombie. 5
6 Barricade +4 Defense. 2
4 Noisy Neighbor After an opponent plays a GUN you may move one Zombie from your house tho their’s. 4
2 Here they come! Flip the top 4 cards of the deck. Distribute all cards as Zombies to your opponents. Each opponent may only receive one Zombie in this manner. None
4 Fast Zombie Fast Zombie cannot be killed with an axe. 3
3 Strong Zombie When you play Strong Zombie, you may destroy one barricade on that player’s house. 3
2 Wandering Zombie At the end of your turn, move Wandering Zombie to a player on your left or right. 2
2 Double Zombie When you play Double Zombie, flip the top card of the deck. If it is a Zombie card, attach it to this one. Treat them as a single Zombie with a combined strength value. 2
10 Zombie 2
4 Zombie 4

Working on card desgin in Inkscape.
After I got this all worked out, I wrote out the changes on the backs of new business cards. As it turns out, this was wasted effort. My play group didn’t meet to try this version, and when I have too much time on my hands I tend to take things a little too far. For a second test set, I shouldn’t be putting any time into card design because so many of my designs fail after a few playtests when it is revealed that the game has an inherent flaw. I’m determined with this project though, because of this blog, so hopefully it will not be a wasted effort. So, with time on my hands, I have a hard time resisting. I fire up my favorite editing/drawing sofware, Inkscape and make up some cards.

The first printed prototype, in sleeves.
The design is not particularly elegant. It is still a playtest set, but I’d like for my playtesters to be able to actually read the cards and not have to ask a hundred questions. I had a brainstorm on the layout of the double-purpose cards, but after printing them and sleeving everything, I’m not sold that it is a good design. If there was art in place, orientation may be more obvious, but we’ll see after tonight’s test. I plan on focusing my next post more on game theory, but I may do a test report in between.

Thanks for reading!