Thursday, October 4, 2018

Evil Hat Cuts Back

Evil Hat Productions announced this week that it is cutting back on both its production schedule and staff. Citing the publication of too many games that have not performed as expected, the company will postpone or take off the schedule a dozen or so upcoming projects. Also the company will let go of its Heads of Marketing and Business Development and Senior Art Director.

There are wayyyyy too many game releases coming out, both through regular channels of distribution, ie. us, and through direct to consumer platforms like Kickstarter for the current market to absorb. Monthly, we see something on the order of 200 plus solicitations for new games and supplements , not to mention all of the current releases. The market, as it is, cannot absorb so much product in such a short period of time. There is a vast market out there but the tabletop gaming industry needs to work to get into it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

How to make Art for Card Games

In case you are interested how game companies design their cards and include the art, here is an overview from Stonemeier Games:

Games like Shards of Infinity and Ascension are deck-building games which means they have lots of cards and therefore require lots of art. This art is all original, and only a few characters/monsters make it from one game to the next - you spend a lot of time makin' stuff up. 

When you’re developing art for a card game you have about 50+ pieces of art that need to be made, several artists to manage, and deadlines.

At Stone Blade, the process looks like this: Once we have the big picture mechanics and story locked down, it's time to start working on character briefs.

Character Briefs are little blurbs that artists use to create their art.

Once you have a bunch of these briefs written up, they're sent off to the artists. Generally, we look at the briefs and pick the artist who we believe will execute the piece best.

In other words, maybe you have one artist who is great at creating monsters, and another who's awesome at designing heroes in action, you'd send the monster to the monster person and the action to the action person. Sometimes we switch it up for fun because throwing a wrench into your process every once in a while can drum up new ideas, but most of the time this is how we do things.

And then you get the sketches back--

What you imagined when you wrote the brief and the art you get back doesn't always match up and that's part of the fun. If you get too attached to what your perspective of a piece of art should look like, you're going to be in for a lot of disappointment, because it's a sad reminder that you are not telepathic.

If you want to get a taste for what the brief to sketch process feels like, try this quick experiment:

Read the character brief below and imagine what this character looks like, then scroll down to check out the sketches at the end of the newsletter. How much alike or different the character is that the one you imagined? 
Rue Bo Vai wears black power armor that is pieced together all over her body. She is more human than most Wraethes. Her head and hands burn with pink/purple Wraethe energy. Under the flames, her skin looks smooth and pitch black. There are a few burning symbols etched into the skin. She's holding an Order monk in the air with one hand, staring him in the eyes. He looks terrified. She looks calm.
As you and the artist learn to communicate better, the work you get back should start to be an awesome mix of both your imaginations.

Once we have the sketches there are several rounds of notes and tweaks that bring the card to their finished form. Adaptability is key here: Can you see the potential in any piece of art you get back? What changes to the sketches would get you to that goal?

Even if the piece isn't exactly what you envisioned, its best to work with the artist to tweak the design if possible rather than starting over. This is done by talking to the artists and being strategic with your edits. It's wild to see how the change of a color or the slight adjustment of an arm can affect an image.

Then the card is done, but your work is not over. The next part of the process is looking at the card and saying: If I had to go through the art process for this card again, how would I have done it differently? 

The answer to this question is specific to the way you and each individual artist work together. Here are a few examples of changes you might make:
  • Maybe it means adding more details about the character's personality.
  • Maybe it means describing the pose before getting into the details of the costume. 
  • Maybe it means writing a little less or writing a little more. 
  • Maybe it means adding a bit of the character's role in the story into the description.
I've found all of these to be true at one time or another with the artists I've worked with. Asking this question helps me improve my ability to adapt to imaginative differences and work together with the artists to create consistently cool art.

Monday, September 17, 2018

More Tricks of the GM Trade

Here is another set of tricks of the grade for the GM from Stephen Chenault of Troll Lord games:

This is the 6th in our ongoing tips and tricks for GMs. Periodically we will send out these little nuggets written by Master GM Stephen Chenault.

Being a GM, DM, or CK is a tricky business. You must be able to think on the fly, keep people engaged and lead them down the path to adventure. Bogged down in the minutiae? Stuck in a dungeon? It's important to lead the players to the best game they can have. That's why our CEO and founder, Stephen Chenault -- a gamer for over 40 years and CK that can keep a game of 20 plus moving smoothly -- has put together another 5 gems guaranteed to give you your best game.
#1: When you begin a game, ground it in something very relatable. Set aside the plots, backgrounds, persons and monsters and for just a moment focus on the real. For instance, you can begin the game around a well, where one of the characters is drawing up an old iron-banded wooden bucket. The rope is in tethers, but somehow holds together. A bent ladle lies on the side of the well. Any situation where people can relate is good: tavern bar, sitting on a horse, wooded lane, etc. It starts the game on a solid foundation, making the whole wild experience that is going to come a little more believable.

#2: Never allow an NPC that is helping the characters to dominate the combat. It completely robs the players of their moment. Personally, I try to avoid having NPCs join the characters in their combats. Sometime it can’t be helped as the characters may hire a cleric, wizard or some other class, expecting them to fight. But even then, do not allow the NPC to save the day and dominate any encounter. They should be background noise at best.

 #3: NPCs are a huge part of the game. Make sure you use them constantly. In towns, on roads, etc. Make the vast majority of them neutral to the characters or helpful…whether a merchant selling something or a farmer on the road giving them directions. This does several things for the game. It creates a real-world experience, as most people you meet in your daily life are not out to get you. Players become used to dealing with normal people and they don’t become so gun shy of all strangers turning every encounter into “IT’S A TRAP”. This in turn allows you to surprise the players with with the occassional, but rare, evil NPCs who actually ARE out to get the characters.
#4: Meta-gaming has earned a bad reputation in the RPG world, but it is not deserved. Sometimes you have to step out of the game to figure out what the players want to do next. As much as you recap last week's game at the beginning of a game (see previous email for that tip), don’t shy away from stepping out of the game and asking the players what they plan to do next.

#5: If someone does something at the table that is really unique, even if it’s a little odd, go with it. Don’t wreck unique ideas because they may seem unreasonable or aren’t supported by the rules. I watched a player once, whose ranger had been tracking a horse and rider for a while, enter the town and lose the trail. So, he tried to find them by sniffing the air, hoping to get a whiff of the horse and rider. With no particular scent ability, he should not be able to do this, but I thought, “Wow, that is really cool, thinking out of the box.” The game master said “No” without a second’s hesitation. A perfect opportunity to engage the character was lost. Even if you don’t acquiesce in their request, go with it. A better response would have been, “You pick up the scent, just faintly, so you are doubly sure the rider came to town.” The player is happy they achieved something, and are participating in the game and the other players learn to think out of the box, and to stretch their abilities.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Game Design Tips

For you wannabe game designers, Peter at Jellybean Games posted a list of 54 game design tips.  Here are the first three:

1. Most of game design is giving people systems which they can use to have fun. The rest is removing systems which they will use to avoid having fun.
2. Any card that causes players to skip a turn, undoes their last move, or prevents them from being able to take cool actions may as well just read “Have less fun.” Avoid. You never need it.
3. It doesn’t matter if another, popular game does it – your game is going to be competing against current and future games. The standards are higher. Cut your mechanics which are causing negative experiences.

You can read the rest here

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Splendor Play Mat

Picked up a playmat for the Splendor game at the recent Alliance Open House and have added it to the copy in the game library for you to either use here or at home when you rent a copy of the game. If you want one for yourself, let us know and we can get one for you later in the week.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

More tricks of the GM's trade from Troll Lord Games

Being a GM, DM, or CK is a tricky business. You must be able to think on the fly, keep people engaged and lead them down the path to adventure. Bogged down in the minutiae? Stuck in a dungeon? It's important to lead the players to the best game they can have. That's why our CEO and founder, Stephen Chenault -- a gamer for over 40 years and CK that can keep a game of 20 plus moving smoothly -- has put together another 5 gems guaranteed to give you your best game.
#1: This is going to sound kind of weird. But when running the game you are going to make notes, so be sure to make them legible. Take the extra 2 seconds. I rarely do and my notes are a jumbled mess of stuff I can hardly read. I’m constantly having to compare notes with one of my players, Mac Golden (we’ve been gaming together since ’84, co-creator of Castles & Crusades), to figure out what I wrote 7 weeks ago, because I can’t read my hand writing (see image).

#2: Two of the best ways to toughen a monster are increased AC and damage reduction. Characters at mid to high level can deal an extraordinary amount of damage. A high AC mitigates that and makes the encounter challenging. Far more enjoyable is damage reduction. Knowing they are hitting a monster, but that it has survived the terrible storm, makes players begin to question the very actions they are taking. Don't hesitate to adjust AC or add damage reduction.
#3: If you are running a campaign, which I almost always do, you will probably have to recap the previous week’s game. Try to keep the recaps very short. I try to never recap more than 3 minutes. This isn’t always possible. Some players may have missed the last game. Some just can’t remember what went on or they have other things going on that distract them from the game (like Ferris Bueller said, “Life comes at you fast”). If it’s going to take very long, turn the recap over to the players, pick one player and ask them what their character did, the others will almost inevitably join in. This serves three purposes: 1) recaps nicely 2) and this is the most important….it involves the players in a Q/A so you don’t dominate the table for the first 30 minutes of the game and 3) allows you a few minutes to get some last-minute notes done. As a complete side note, if YOU can’t remember what went on, it will save you the embarrassment.
#4: Healing should not be a passive act. Describe it much as you would a battle description. “You have to grab the flesh and pinch it together, the blood wells up and around your hand, soaking your garments. You breathe the blessings of your god across the wound and the flesh mends, though it is mottled blue and black from the terrible bruising.” After you’ve done this a few times, players will get into the spirit of things and you can turn the action over to them. Then you can ask, “What do you do to heal them…?”

#5: When a game is going bad and you are losing the interest of the players, bring in an encounter. Make it sudden and fast. This should not be a punitive encounter, it is not vindictive or to punish the players for not paying attention. After all, the fault is yours, you lost them or bored them. Use the encounter to get everyone’s attention and get their adrenaline pumping. Nothing brings someone back to the table like “Roll for initiative.” Keep it fun, but dangerous.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Gencon Incident

A shoving incident involving the President of GAMA has escalated to the point that a police report has been filed. No word yet as to whether charges will be filed. Here is the official GAMA board statement on the incident and here is GAMA President and Iello Head Stephan Brissaud' statement.

And then there is this: The GAMA board has opted not to renew the contract of GAMA Executive Director John Ward