Project: Dead End part 2 – First Test Rules and Cards

In my last post I discussed how the design for “Dead End” came about. This time I’d like to talk about specifics. When I was working on ideas, I had a few vague plans for rules, and some card ideas, but I hadn’t finalized anything. When I sat down to write out the cards, I had to at least consider limits so that I could stay within boundaries.

What I had at this point:

  • – Hand Size: 3 to 5
  • – Play 2 cards per turn.
  • – Draw up to maximum hand size at start of turn
  • – At the end of the active player’s turn, if the total strength of zombies at their house is greater than the current defense, that player dies and becomes undead.
  • – Undead players cannot be the target of zombie cards and cannot play cards such as guns, barricades, or axe.
  • – In addition to playing cards during their turn, undead players may move one zombie off of their house to a living player’s house.

With these basic ideas in place, it became time to actually start working on cards. I knew I wanted weapons because… well, this is a zombie game. It just wouldn’t be the same without weapons. I wanted the players to be able to boost the defense of their house with boards and nails or heavy furniture. I really wanted players to be able to move zombies off of their house. I struggled for a bit figuring out various ideas for this. The main idea was ripped straight from Walking Dead where the characters are all quiet and don’t move and the zombies walk on by. I also wanted to add a bit of uncertainty to using guns. They universally seem to attract zombies in the movies, so why not make that a setback of playing them?

Also, I didn’t want there to be useless cards. If a player dies or doesn’t have zombies on their house, what would they do with all those action cards? I decided that all cards would also serve as basic zombies. This led to some problems when writing out the cards because I didn’t spend any time working on the correct ratio of cards and zombie strength, but I figured that would be corrected through playtesting. So, the cards:


# Name Text Zombie Strength
8 Pistol Kill one zombie Strength 3 or less. 1
6 Shotgun Kill one zombie. 2
7 Shhh… Move one zombie to any opponent. 5
4 Axe Kill one zombie. 7
6 Barricade +2 Defense. 2
5 Noisy Neighbor Play after an opponent uses a gun. Move one zombie to that opponent. 3
4 Here they come! Reveal the top 4 cards of the draw pile. Play one zombie from the revealed cards on each opponent. None
5 Fast Zombie Cannot be killed with an axe. 3
3 Strong Zombie When played, destroy one barricade on the opposing house. 3
2 Wandering Zombie At the end of your turn, move the Wandering Zombie to the player on your left. 2

As you can see the power level of the deck was not really taken into consideration. I really wanted to just see how these cards work together, so I went really heavy on action cards. Also, I started the houses at a defense of 15 which is either too low or the zombies are too strong. The second version of the deck will have less action cards, more zombies, and the strength of zombies will be adjusted. I have a few ideas for some new types of specialty zombie, but there may also be some that are just plain old zombies.

The main thing that needs work is the total distribution. This is also one of the parts I enjoy the most. Whenever I design a new card game, I like to lay things out and look them over. I used to play a large number of CCGs and tuning my games cards feels a lot like building a deck in those games. I like looking at the total power of the deck versus the expected defenses of the houses. I enjoy figuring out the correct mix of offensive versus defensive cards to achieve a balance, but which slightly favors the game ending. Otherwise, it would be very easy to make defensive cards completely useless or make it so that the game never ends because players can easily survive each turn.

I know I promised to talk about the second playtest version in this post, but to be honest, I haven’t worked on it yet. I have ideas in my head that I’ve been stewing over for the week, so I’ll put it together before the playtest session…………. tomorrow!?

Gotta go. More to come!

A New Look!

The whole site got a bit of a redesign today. I was never really satisfied with the layout and I finally worked out how to get a reliable two column design that allows me to put all sorts of nifty little things here and there. I’m new to all of this HTML/CSS stuff, so if you find something doesn’t look right, or you can help me make it better, please feel free to let me know.

Also, thanks to my good friend DT Butchino of Sketchpad Studio, I now have a cool logo to show off! D is a great artist and designer that has helped me on many projects through the years. Check out his awesomeness at DeviantArt.

Project: Dead End part 1 – The Design

Project: Dead End is a development blog where I am chronicling the process of game design from initial concept through publication.

When I started this site, my intention was to share the design process with anyone that wanted to follow. I am marveled by the transparency of some game designers of both video and board games. Their ability to connect with people and allow the community as a whole to engage in design decisions fascinates me. This will be my first attempt at “open game design.”

My regular game group meets on Wednesday evenings. We used to playtest designs regularly, but I found my creativity sapped these past few years due to starting college, and changing careers. Well, I’ve graduated, and work is great so suddenly my desire to create has returned. This past Wednesday (Feb 1, 2012) I brought out the first new prototype that we’ve tried in a while. The codename for this new project is “Dead End.” It is a zombie themed card game that is intended to be quick, light, and fun.

Design notes.  Where it all begins.

This is how my projects begin. A few scratch notes on a yellow notepad sets the ball in motion. I have tried maintaining notebooks. I have tried taking notes electronically. I have tried to maintain a “file.” Nothing has worked for me creatively like a plain yellow notepad. When I start a design, I generally just have a few ideas. For this one, I wanted it to be about zombies and I wanted there to be a possibility that everyone loses. Developing on that idea, I have placed the players in their homes around a cul-de-sac when the approaching doom begins. The players have fortified their homes and must attempt to be the last survivor.

That’s about it for my first note taking session. I had a ton of ideas for various things, but at this point, I just let things stew around in my head for a while. I find that I solve problems better when I am not actively thinking about them, so I let everything just work itself out in thoughts. This process might not be efficient, and I very well might let great ideas go while cultivating bad ones, but it’s my process and it works for me. Over the next few weeks I developed various ideas. I wanted players to play zombies on their opponents while also being able to kill zombies that have been played on them. I also wanted players to “die” but I hate player elimination. So, why not let players that “die” become zombie players that attempt to kill off the survivors? I like that! So, I’ve introduced the idea that the players can all lose and the zombies can win, but don’t be fooled, this is no co-op.

After I think I have something in my head that I want to try, I start putting it in writing. I’m not talking about writing out a set of detailed rules, I’m just trying to facilitate the design process with committed ideas. This is when I work on things like card types, powers, hand size, play limits… all the “nuts and bolts” of the design. Initially I had imagined that there would be zombie cards and action cards. Players would play zombies on their opponents and actions would either help them or further hinder their opponents. I realized when writing things out though that if a player got turned into a zombie, all those action cards would be useless to them. I don’t like having useless things. Why not have the cards do both? The action cards could also be zombie cards. This gives the player a decision to either play the card to help themselves or to further hinder their opponent. I like this!

Ink on business cards.  My prototype begins.

This is where my prototypes start. I have had various jobs in the past that have provided me with an abundance of business cards. These things make great cards for game design! I can write on them, scribble on them, draw on them and I always have plenty of extras for adding new cards or changing the design. I didn’t sit down and write these out until an hour or so before game time. I wanted to test out the various event cards so I went a little overboard with the total number of each card. I also wanted to have cards that were just zombies. This adds a bit of hand management into the game because it opens up the action cards a little instead of constantly playing them as zombies. While writing all these cards, my friend John says, “why don’t you have zombies that do things?” I had cultivated this idea once, but it struck me as brilliant in that moment. Sure. Let’s try that! So now we have zombies that break down barricades and zombies that can’t be killed with an axe.

I have a deep feeling that this first prototype is wildly broken and I am absolutely correct. Our first playtest session didn’t reveal any inherent mechanics that are flawed, just the power level of the cards compared to the defensibility of the houses. This is when the “fun” starts. The game is not broken beyond repair, it just needs tuned. The number of action cards needs turned down. The strength of zombies needs adjusted. The base defense of the house needs tweaked. A few things need removed. A few things need added. Some rules need adjusting. That’s all. Not a bad start really.

I hope this wasn’t too vague and boring for those of you that made it all the way through. My next post will involve a detailed description of the first iteration as well as a full description of the second version. My plans are to make this game as “open source” as possible, allowing anyone that wants to try it at any stage of the process to make their own version and give it a go. Stay tuned!

Working on Content

With the announcement of Scallywags I am finally free to talk a little more about the upcoming release. I am working on content, so expect more over the coming weeks. For now, I have posted a little bit about the name change.

Read a bit about it on the game’s page: Scallywags

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