Thursday, April 15, 2021

Rolling Seas - Design Diary - Part 4

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I see a lot of other designers write up design diaries for their games and I've always found it interesting to learn about the process that a game went through from initial concept to publication.  So I decided to share the history of Rolling Seas so you can learn more about the game, how I made some of the design choices I made, and what my plans for the game in the future are.  It's a bit long, so I've broken it down into a few posts that I'll share over the course of a few days.

Rolling Seas Design Diary
  • Intro & Part 1
    • Coming Up With the Idea - Early November 2019
    • The Sailing Tests - November 12-14, 2019
  • Part 2
    • Finding a Sailing Solution - November 14, 2019
    • Bonuses - November 15-22, 2019
  • Part 3
    • A Prettier Game - November 23-29, 2019
    • The First Public Playtesting - December 3, 2019
  • Part 4 - YOU ARE HERE
    • Maps & Crew - January-February 2020
    • The End of Playtesting, Sort Of... - March-May, 2020
  • Part 5
    • Nuts! Publishing & Rolling Seas Updates - April-July 2020
    • New Ideas - July-December 2020
  • Part 6
    • Second Edition & Getting Signed - January-April 2021
    • Crowd Sale - April 2021
Maps & Crew - January-February, 2020

Once I had the game working well I started thinking about things I could add to the game.  The first thing I added was some pre-generated maps.  I realized that setting up the islands was cumbersome, especially for first-time players.  So I sat down and created a handful of maps with different arrangements of islands.  This allowed me to make some rather creative layouts that weren't possible with the island cards.  This is the point that I decided the base game should have pre-generated maps and the islands should be an expansion.  However, I didn't want to start changing the game before the contest ended, so I kept the island cards as part of the game.  But I started playing and teaching the game (especially to non-gamers) with pre-generated maps.
One of the first pre-generated maps.  It's had special exploration bonus 
spaces added to it and is now a part of the Map Pack 1 expansion.

The second expansion idea I had was the Crew Members.  I came up with the idea to allow hiring crew with special abilities in mid-January and tested them out a few times in January and February.  They went through a few minor adjustments, but are still basically how I envisioned them.

With the Crew Members expansion, you gain a fourth action to do at Port, after all your normal actions.  When you're done telling your story, buying a new ship, and stocking up on supplies, you'll head over to the local tavern to hire some crew members.  I spent a couple of days coming up with various abilities and thematic names for the characters and figuring out a cost to hire them.  I playtested solo a few times and made a few tweaks, namely adding in the tavern brawl mechanic to refresh the crew available.  Then I brought it to our playtesting night on February 4, 2020.  I was really interested in getting some feedback from my local group because on February 8 I was heading up to Madison, WI for the first Protospiel Mini hosted by The Game Crafter.
The Crew Members worked great right from the start.

My local game group really liked what the crew members added to the game, mostly.  The tavern brawls were a little too frequent, so I changed is so the tavern is only refreshed at the end of the turn, not after each hire.  That helped with brawls breaking out too much.  And a few of the crew members didn't seem balanced - a few were too powerful and a few seemed too situational.  I adjusted some of the balance on a few, but the big thing was making each crew member worth 1 reputation point at the end of the game.  That way none of them were completely worthless.

I quickly made those changes and brought the game to Protospiel Mini the next weekend.

At Protospiel Mini I played two games of Rolling Seas with some very experienced gamers and designers and everyone was thrilled with it.  Keith Matejka of Thunderworks Games said he thought it was my best design he's played yet!  The first game I played with just the base game, though I did use the island setup.  The second game we played with the Crew Members and Tim Virnig (brand ambassador for Thunderworks Games) said the ending was the tensest he's ever experienced in a roll & write game!  
Keith from Thunderworks Games really enjoyed the game! 
That's high praise from someone who has designed/published
some of my favorite games!

Playing with the Crew Members expansion with Tim from 
Thunderworks Games and Arkadiusz and his wife  from 
Agrypalego Games.

The End of Playtesting, Sort Of... March-May 2020

After the Protospiel Mini, I only had a few chances to play the game again with my game group.  I played a few times at home with my family (my wife loved the travel log and filled it up, along with two and a half other full pages of paper).  The first Tuesday of March was another playtesting night, but another friend had a game he wanted to test and I wanted to try out a new design I was working on.  And then the whole world changed.  
My wife was well on her way to writing a novel about her adventures!

Coronavirus arrived in the US and everything came to a standstill.  I was happy with the way Rolling Seas was playing and I was focusing on my new design while I waited for any news on the Staff Roll & Write contest from The Game Crafter, which was also on hold.  So nothing really happened with the game for about two months.

Then came Con of Champions.  This was an online convention thrown together to raise funds for Tabletop.Events, a wonderful board game events management system that was owned by The Game Crafter.  But with the cancellation of events everywhere and no end in sight, it was announced that the site would be shut down.  The community rallied and Con of Champions was organized for Memorial Day weekend.  I signed up to demo Rolling Seas twice over the weekend.
The special map I created for Con of Champions.

In preparation for the weekend, I put together a special Con of Champions pre-generated map so we didn't have to worry about setting up islands.  The first game was played with a mix of Protospiel veterans and a family that wasn't really used to playing prototype games.  The game played slowly but everyone had fun.  Afterward, I chatted with Carl Klutzke and Gary Chavez for quite a while about how to make the game play smoother.  By this time I was definitely sure that the next version of the game would have pre-generated maps; the game was much easier to teach and get into without the complex map setup.  But the game was still a challenge to teach.  The idea for creating a tutorial mode was suggested, so I spent the evening putting together a tutorial game that eliminated almost all setup and walked you through the first six rounds, teaching you each part of the game as you play. 

I used the tutorial to teach the game the next day and it worked wonderfully!  We were actually playing in less than 10 minutes (previously, teaching the game took about 20-25 minutes)!  The tutorial I used was almost identical to the final tutorial you can download after you purchase the game.  It worked so well that I've used it to teach the game every time since then; which, granted has only been twice due to the pandemic, but everyone has picked up the game without any trouble at all.
It's amazing how simple it was to create a tutorial
that got people playing right away!

Thanks for reading!  Join me for Part 5 where I talk about how communication with Nuts! Publishing spurred on the next creative leap for the game!  And be sure to check out the Crowd Sale before it ends!

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