Day in the Future
"I lived on the same street from them
until last year - they are awesome folks! They always have a
smile and give out the best stuff for Halloween."
-- Wingsofazrael, commenting on a
thread on Reddit.com about Alison's awesome customer service
with a travelogue
from his recent trip to Japan and a comprehensive
table of space shuttle info.
||Pyramid Shambo & Lunar
Holidays! Yes, it's that time of year again, and in keeping
with our Holiday
Gift tradition, we have released a new game for the occasion,
Shambo. You already know this if you read the recent Notes
From the Lab e-Newsletter, and perhaps you've even tried
it already. But if it's news to you, please check it out -- it's
surprisingly fun! It can be a hard sell sometimes, since on the
face of it, a Rock-Paper-Scissors (RPS) tournament doesn't sound
that exciting, but the escalation rules I came up with make it
much more fun than people expect!
But just in case that game wasn't enough for you, I have another
new game to give you. I call it Lunar
Invaders, and it's also a game for pyramids. It's a very
different type of game, but it does have an optional RPS rule,
which was central to earlier versions of the game. Indeed, these
similarities are part of how both games came to be, which is
why it seemed appropriate to release them more or less simultaneously.
The rest of this article will explain that last sentence.
(It may prove uninteresting for those who aren't students of
game design, but we'll see.)
To begin with, Lunar Invaders is based on Cosmic
Coasters, a game I designed back in Y2K. (12 years ago!)
I've always been proud of it -- it's got some great concepts
-- but I've also had to admit that it's flawed. It's a very slow
seller, and the gameplay frequently bogs down in a seemingly
endless showdown of RPS battles. So I've long been wanting to
re-visit the design, to see if I could fix it. And I did!
Coasters uses ordinary coins as game pieces, a concept that
sounds neat but ends up being problematic in a couple of ways.
Lunar Invaders uses the same basic gameboard design, but instead
is played with Looney
Pyramids. The 3 sizes provide game piece texture that's missing
with a fleet of identical units, and that difference alone makes
the battle format far less prone to the deadlocks that occur
when forces are equally matched.
The other major difference between Cosmic Coasters and Lunar
Invaders is that the new game abandons the special powers that
gave each player a minor ability. Like the heavy importance of
RPS in the original game, the special powers added an element
of chaos that was needed with uniformly-strong fighting units;
however, as a pyramid game, I wanted more emphasis on strategy
and less on zany abilities.
how does any of this relate to Pyramid Shambo? I hear you asking.
Well, I came up with Pyramid Shambo at around the same time as
I was having some of the key ideas for Lunar Invaders, to the
extent that I feel like I split elements of one game, Cosmic
Coasters, into two others, one featuring just the core strategy
game, the other featuring just the RPS chaos.
This feeling became even stronger after various Starship
Captains convinced me to downplay RPS even further than I'd
originally planned, using a die roll instead. (I did keep RPS
in the rules as a variation, because I personally prefer playing
it that way, but I realize that some folks just don't like RPS,
and I'd rather not scare them off.)
But there's more to the story of how I invented Pyramid Shambo,
and I need to give some credit to my friends and game design
peers, Mike Selinker and James Ernest. After contributing my
own chapter to Mike's excellent book, The
Kobold Guide to Board Game Design, I've been reading the
others chapters, and there's some great stuff in there! Of note
to this story is James Ernest's chapter on designing gambling
games, called "Let's Make It Interesting." His insights
definitely helped shaped Pyramid Shambo.
If you're really interested in the subject of game design
(and you must be if you're still reading at this point) then
you ought to get the book and read it yourself. But here's the
gist of his essay, and why it helped inspire me.
According to James, the four elements required for a good
gambling game are Familiarity, Clarity, Ease of Play, and Volatility.
I think it's easy to see how well a RPS tournament fits the first
3 of those: everyone is familiar with RPS, the action is super
clear, and the game is extremely easy to play. But where I think
Pyramid Shambo really succeeds is in that fourth point, volatility.
On that subject, James writes, "Something amazing ought
to happen once in a while, or your game will be no fun."
I've seen a lot of games that use RPS as an element, and obviously,
I've even done so myself. But I've never seen it used such that
the penalties increase when the players make the same choice.
Because you know how that goes -- ties usually end by the
second or third throw, but every now and then you get one of
those sequences where two people make the same choice over and
over again. And with escalating penalties, that occasional event
becomes very exciting indeed. Kristin and I had a round recently
in which we tied NINE TIMES IN A ROW before she finally defeated
me, which of course was enough at that point to knock me right
out of the game. That was exciting and fun for me, even though
And that's the story of how I recently invented these two
new games. I hope you enjoy them!
Thanks for reading about my game design process... was this
interesting? As your reward for reading this far, here is an
extra Holiday Gift - a free copy of the original game, Cosmic
Coasters! Just put Cosmic
Coasters in your shopping cart and enter the code "MOONZRGR8"
when you check out and the $5 cost will be credited on your order.
Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Sensational Solstice Season, and an
Excellent New Year!
|PS: Special thanks to Jeff
Williams, and everyone else who reviewed the rulesheets for
either or both of these new games in advance and provided feedback
via the Starship Captain's Forum. As usual, your editorial comments
were incredibly valuable!