Sunday, 15 October 2017

Different Perspectives at TEDxBrum

Today I spent a lovely ten hours showing my games at the Birmingham Hippodrome.

The volunteers, attendees and other exhibitors were all great fun to be around. The whole event was built around the word "perspectives" and I got to play games with a wide variety of people who no doubt have very different perspectives on life. There was a connection between everyone though, it struck me that whatever the age, background or experience someone had, there was an absence if people judging other people. It was an atmosphere of warm, friendly, kindness and patience. The youngsters volunteering even put up with my terrible dad-jokes.

Roman numerals... not on my watch.

Everyone shared ideas and thoughts. Everyone shared time. I tried to share my oreo biscuits. I spent my day playing games with open-minded fun individuals with whom it was a pleasure to share a little bit of TEDx. I would heartily recommend this event to anyone and everyone who is prepared to listen, learn and understand something new. Part of me thinks it should be compulsory but that would probably go against the whole ethos.

I hold the record for the world's slowest marathon... 5 years running.

It was a privilege to be part of TEDx and if I ever get the chance again I'm going to jump at it. Many thanks to everyone who made it possible, which is a lot of people. So I'll direct my thanks to Alison Baskerville who made our part of the event run smoothly in as relaxed a way as could be imagined. Roll on next year and much more of the same please!

Monday, 17 July 2017

A nice biscuit and a cup of tea.

I once heard a wonderful tactic for delivering a best man's speech. Take a trumpet. Put it very deliberately on the table. Make your speech. Pick up the trumpet. Sit down. The mystery of when you will play it will create tension, humour and delight. So ... will I tell you about the giant biscuit?

The titular cup of coffee refers to a special event that will be held at Meeple Mayhem on 23rd July. I'll be demonstrating Daring Dustbunnies for most of the day so people can get a good taste for it. Talking of good tastes, they serve a delightful burger and an excellent cup of beverage at the cafĂ© there (see, like most of my games, it all makes sense in the end).

(Biscuit? .. not yet). If you've played Daring Dustbunnies before you'll notice it has evolved either a little or a lot depending on when you played it. It is very much similar to the UK Games Expo version but I have been tinkering with the scoring system to bring that up to scratch. I felt that it never quite matched the tension and pleasure of the game play. Hopefully now it complements it in a most satisfying way.

I have a deep rooted belief that if you have a game mechanic that works well, the rest of the game needs to fit with it harmoniously, otherwise you run the risk of letting that good mechanic down. I worked on a wargame for a while that had a lovely battle mechanic which depended on the player working hard to create their army and being so invested in it that they didn't enjoy risking it in battle. The gameplay of each element, the build up and the battle, worked well. What didn't work was how long it took to play it. So that game got put to one side, it was good, but not smooth and elegant.

(Biscuit now? ... nope). So the new scoring system in Daring Dustbunnies will consist of two tracks, one for bravery (how close you get to the Vacuum without being sucked off the carpet) and brains (how often you can cycle through your hand of cards). Players who know the game will have also seen a +1VP on a carpet tile, this will be a universal point that can be applied to either track. The aim of the game will be to score well on both tracks. In other words if you are clever and cowardly or daring but dim you will lose out. In this way I hope to create more tension as players can target opponents to prevent them from crossing that winning line.

BISCUIT! Ok so now you really do get to hear about the biscuit. Each year I drop a donation off at the National Institute for Conductive Education and in June I handed them a cheque made up of the money I made at the UK Games Expo (10p per person who played Daring Dustbunnies) and sales of Niche. This is always a feel good moment for me but it was made doubly so by meeting a new member of the fundraising team who actually already owned some of my games!

The warm and fuzzy feeling was then topped off beautifully when another member of the team enthusiastically offered to wear their brand new mascot outfit. So I had the immense pleasure of handing my cheque to a 6ft tall, 6ft wide, Nice biscuit. The bizarre twists to the day continued as the mascot bearer decided to wear it to transport it from one building to another. This proved to be more complicated than you might imagine as it involved 4 doorways and two lifts. I am not sure I have ever laughed so much because of a biscuit.

So I look forward to seeing anyone who wants to come along to the event at Meeple Mayhem on 23rd July and many, many thanks to everyone who donated to NICE or bought a copy of Niche.

Daring Dustbunnies @Meeple Mayhem -
Conductive Education -

Monday, 26 June 2017

Expo Alidocious!

This is my first post since the UK Games Expo and so there's lots to talk about.

If you've never been it's something that I can heartily recommend to any gamer. There is something for everyone and it is run so smoothly that you can be confident that whatever you choose will be well organised.

Not only is there a large retail hall (where you will find Hopwood Games of course) but also cosplayers, role playing games, tournaments, special shows, interesting talks and amazing live events to get involved with. Like I said - something for everyone!

On my stand I was ably assisted by Nate Brett, Amy, Hugh, Gavin, Carly, Sharon, Tom and William. Other people brought me coffee and snacks throughout the weekend and countless friends, old and new, dropped by to say hello. Which is lucky as I hardly got away to see anything. It's the big downside to having a stand, you never get to enjoy the show during the day. I was especially proud when my two boys got involved - Tom doing a great job of wearing the ridiculous bunny hat and honking the horn to get attention (apologies to anyone who was driven mad by the horn) - William running a couple of demo's and receiving high praise from the players.

We demoed Daring Dustbunnies almost non-stop, which was the plan of course, and I was bowled over by the reactions we got. A 96% approval rating means that I am very confident that the game is in a really good place. I get a real bee in my bonnet about making sure a game is as good as it can be before I start any kind of manufacturing. I invest a lot of time ironing out every tiny wrinkle that I can find, it's just not good enough to say a game works "most" of the time. I'm not talking about getting everyone to like it, that's pretty much impossible, I just want to make sure that the rules and gameplay work well in every situation, I've seen games that fall down if certain patterns emerge and I just don't accept the argument that a rare situation is allowable, it could happen on the first game and put someone off that game forever. So I usually playtest with at least 100 people after I am happy with the rules. Maybe that's from a sense of unhealthy paranoia because I can't be there to explain the game to everyone, but it does mean that I am confident the game can stand on it's own two feet without me.

In the evenings at the expo I get a chance to socialise with people I genuinely admire, which is a real treat. There are game designers and other luminaries of the industry just wandering around in the Metropole, it's like a who's who of games design. Then you actually get to meet them and sit down for a chat. It turns out these people are human beings like the rest of us and I feel privileged to call some of them my friends now. If you get a chance to go the expo, make sure you take the opportunity to soak up some of this atmosphere too, you never know who you'll be playing games with!

The day after the show I sat down with Sharon, Hugh and Barry and ... invented a new game. Filling my head with a whole new project (well three actually) was just what I didn't need when I should be getting on with finalising Daring Dustbunnies. But when you get the ideas, you have to get them sketched out, some weeks you get no ideas at all, so I didn't look that gift horse of inspiration in the mouth. Now I have a steam-punk rondel game, a dungeon dice adventure and a simple deduction card game to work on.

Daring Dustbunnies demands me though so I am also securing various quotes for manufacturers from Poland, Germany, Spain and the UK. I plan to use a fulfilment company when the kickstarter is successful so I am factoring in the costs for that too. The initial aim is to offer backers the best price possible rather than oodles of stretch goals. I know I prefer to have the full game for a good price that extra bits for more money, so that's my initial plan for DD. I'm also trying to get out and about to various locations around Birmingham to show the game off as much as possible. I'm spoilt for choice here with games nights almost every day of the week.

I'll stop this blog here as I think I'm breaking all sorts of good advice about length of posts etc..

Last thing to mention (as readers of my newsletter will already know) is that we raised over £50.00 for Conductive Education at the Expo and I'll be dropping a cheque off to them very soon. Thanks for all the support, especially to the lovely chap who dropped £4 into the box of voting tokens as an extra donation.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

100% ready ... to get ready

As the UK Games Expo approaches I am pulling together all the various aspects of the display and demo that will be running at the Hopwood Games stand (J25). Lloyd is working away on the artwork (which looks amazing by the way), Nate is putting the finishing touches to the graphic design (which looks amazing by the way) and I am stressing about how little time there is left (which looks amaz.. wait, that doesn't work).

Aaaaand breathe.

There will be posters, nice big posters, which I haven't had printed yet but I do know who will be doing them. There will be a shiny demonstration copy of Daring Dustbunnies which I don't have made yet but I know who will be doing that too. There will be cushions on my chairs, I have the cushions all ready for your bottom, the chairs will be delivered by the lovely expo organisers. I have hand crafted (drilled holes in) my stand, which I have yet to finish and test. I will be wearing a brand new, loud and offensive shirt and bunny ears, all of which I have to buy.

Aaaaand breathe.

So I am totally 100%.
To get ready.

Aaaaaand relaxxxx.

Every year I promise I will be so far in advance of this moment that I'll be sitting back in a hammock laughing at everyone else running around like headless chickens. Every year I am so confident I will learn lessons from the previous mad-cap last minute last gasp dash. I can only assume that some robotic time travelling, spiteful being from a futuristic dystopian dimension has found a way to literally steal time from me. On the other hand it could be that I am not good at do organise self me thing?

Aaaaand think of still calm waters.

The truth is that coming up to the expo is a big deal, a massive, hulking, cement-golem of a deal and it's just a bit scary. I've been to the expo as an exhibitor a few times now, I run a different event at the NEC as well, I've sat on my stand and explained games to people thousands of times, I (allegedly) know what I'm doing... and it's still nerve-wracking. So I'm going to ask you to do something for me. When you get to the show, see if you can spot a brand new first time exhibitor, someone who is probably scared like me but multiplied by about twelve. Take about thirty minutes out of your day to listen to their demo, it may well be that their stand is tiny, that their game is a prototype, that they don't even have cushions on their chairs (the fools!), but they will be very very happy to see you. They may even be showing a rough and ready version of your next favourite game.

Aaaaaaand thank you for reading

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Surviving The Fun

 The UK Games Expo 2017

In early June there will be an event at the NEC just down the road from me, in the heart of the UK. The event is the UK Games Expo and it is, coincidentally, at the heart of the board games hobby. Last year there were in excess of 20,000 visitors over the weekend and that can be a daunting prospect. Before every large event of this kind there is a flurry of posts about what will be the best way to get the most out of it.
My answer is pretty simple. There is no "best way". By all means lay your plans, make your lists and prepare yourself. When you arrive most of that will go out of the window. The reason for that is also pretty simple. The organisers know what they are doing.
A good organiser, and the team behind the expo are very much that, will give you all the plans and the contact details and the information you need so you will want for nothing in that respect. Then they will provide you with an experience you were not expecting. Are you really going because you want to know what to expect? Isn't that what the internet is for? The Expo is the antidote to the methodical googling and pedestrian nature of sitting (literally and figuratively) at the computer. The energy there will not let you dwell, you will be drawn in every direction at once, it will be almost impossible to settle.
So my advice is to prepare one thing, just one. Do that one thing. Then just let go and allow yourself to discover whatever comes next. You will never see it all but accept that and enjoy what you do find because it's almost certain that what you find will be wonderful.
If you are struggling to focus on what that one thing should be you are more than welcome to make it a visit to the Hopwood Games stand at J25. But I admit there may be a few other things that take your fancy as well, you can see more of those here -

Monday, 24 April 2017

Daring Dustbunnies

The latest design from the Hopwood Games stable.

So a few months ago I playtested a game about moths being drawn towards a candle. One thing lead to another and, after a brief consideration of logs disappearing into a toilet, the moths tuned into balls of fluff and the candle turned into a vacuum cleaner. The Fluffballs became controlled by magical borrower-type creatures that live under the sofa in a rag tag tribe.

These are the Dustbunnies. They love nothing more than magically animating those Fluffballs and sending them hurtling across the carpet. The best and most skillful bunny will be the one that can makes their Fluffball skirt the very edge of danger and get closest to the vacuum without being sucked up the tube!

The game is intended to be fun but there are lashings of tactics as well. If you enjoy making brilliant and airtight plans of action only to see them come crashing down, or snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, or even smugly watching as a player sends their own Fluffball up the tube whilst still trying to keep it's identity a secret, this game is for you.

The gameplay revolves around playing cards to move Fluffballs along a track of carpet, each part of which features a randomised set of actions (take a card, play an extra card etc..). Landing on an empty space means you take the action, which is not always welcome. The Fluffball whose fate you are linked to is a secret (unless you get found out) and one of your aims is to move it to a high scoring card near the Vacuum of Doom without giving away that it is yours. The other aim is to avoid being the Fluffball that gets sucked up the Vacuum.

Throw in unique character abilities and magical charms that can be powered up with static, each with it's own special power, and you have a game that is tense, tactical and different every time.

I will be demonstrating the game at the UK Games Expo in June on stand J25. Come along for a five minute demo and I'll be donating 10p for each demo I do.

(Art by Lloyd Ash Pyne)

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Find your inner games designer and panic!

I would love to say that a designer spends quiet contemplative moments during the process of making a game where they find a zen-like understanding of what will and won't work.

I would be delighted to let you know that most idea's hit you when you have meditated for a few hours and aligned all your chakras.

Sadly, it's not true. Most ideas hit you at the worst possible time. When you are a long way from a working pen, when you have twenty other things you are supposed to be doing or when the only paper to hand has another more hygiene related use.

Once you have that idea memorised long enough to write it down, and perfected. Then you have the task of seeing if it works, which it hardly ever does. So you tweak it, chop bits out, shorten some bits, expand others, go back to the start, add something from an old design, change the name, fix the problems and change it out of all recognition from the first idea. Oh and it's no longer a space war game, now it's a chicken racing game, wait.. no... it's definitely a space chicken battle game.....

Once you have done all that.. you are just about ready to start.

I am a long way down the road of making Daring Dustbunnies a reality and my 7th game (I think). I have the rules (almost) fixed, I know (mostly) how it will look and I am (90%) sure of the powers on the cards. All that remains is to, promote it, fund it and then make it, oh and ship it, and sell it... and... then get designing the next game... hmmm space battle chickens....

See you at the UK Games Expo at the NEC in June. I'll be on stand J25, come and see just how incredibly calm I am.. in spite of everything. You can also find out just what this characters' special power is in the game.

(Art by Lloyd Ash Pyne)

Different Perspectives at TEDxBrum Today I spent a lovely ten hours showing my games at the Birmingham Hippodrome. The volunteers, atten...