The Chilling Secrets behind the Face Off Story! (The End… Or The Beginning)

My friends and I made a game that was fun and challenging and thought provoking. There is no single best strategy to exploit. There is a decent catch up mechanism. Players are rewarded for smart choices but not forced to quit for mistakes. Perhaps most importantly, it’s fun. There is humor and violence laced throughout the game. I’ve yet to see someone play and not at least chuckle over something we’ve put in.

So now the question shifted from how to me make a great game to how do we publish a great game. This is where my area of expertise (and confidence) ends. So the first thing we did is play test with strangers. We thought it would be a good idea to give them a set of cards and a set of rules and leave ‘em too it.

Yeah that didn’t work at all.

The cards didn’t have final art –more importantly they didn’t have the final set-up/break down icons. So our poor play testers spent two hours combing through our typed-but-not-designed rule book without actually starting to play. One group actually drew a diagram to help them out.

Eventually we stepped in and showed people how to play. Then things got better. Live and learn.

The biggest thing we learned from our first public play test was we needed art. We hired some great artists. Some local, some abroad, and some really far abroad. We hired graphic designers. And then we started to argue.

For the first time our triumvirate had some fairly serious disagreements –particularly about card layout and how much iconography to include on each card. This speaks to personal play styles. Things like how to like to hold cards in your hand. Do you fan them? Do you flip through them? Do you stack them? The answers affect what information you want where.

Then there is style. I like oil paintings. My partner likes water colors. My other partner likes anime….

The discussions were long. And sometimes bitter.

Every group is going to be different. Every argument is going to be unique. The bottom line is this: when you assemble your team to help you build your game, you need a mediator. Someone who is going to set aside emotion and bridge gaps. We have one is our group and we make him work hard. All the time.

And that brings us to the present. We’re in the midst of marketing Face Off, preparing for Gen Con, and developing other games for the future.

I can’t say for certain if any of this is going to work. But it seems to be going pretty well so far.

Stay tuned to this blog and our social media stuffs and we’ll keep you posted.

Yet even more Chilling Secrets behind the Face Off Story (Part Five)

I do not own the rights to Buffy. Or Star Wars. Or Archer. Or the Big Bang Theory. Or a myriad of other characters that had made their way into Face Off 6.0. But Face Off was so much fun I wanted to share it with people outside my circle of friends.

So for Face Off 7.0 we stripped away all themes. And started making decisions based on the core of the game. For months we only played tested decks that were populated with personalities named P1, P2, P3. And our personalities were equipped with things named E1, E2, E3. In the market we bought cards named M1, M2, M3…. You get the idea.

We identified seven different paths to victory –Big Guys, Card Draw, VP Collection, Deck Destruction, HQ Players, Attacks, and Swarm –and we built decks around these strategies. Rather than every deck doing a little bit of every thing, each deck now has a major and minor theme and decks are designed for maximum synergy. We play test a lot to ensure the asymmetrical decks are balanced to each other and to the future decks that are coming soon.

Only when we were fairly close to balanced did we add back in theme. Since we didn’t have the money to go with my favorite pop culture stuffs, we went with my favorite things in the public domain –Monsters, Cowboys, Ninjas, Classical Villains now known as the Asylum, and Pirates. Then to be creative and different we added Teddy Bears wielding Famous Firearms, Evil Klowns with gross names but sexy pictures, and Sherlocks –different incarnations of the Prime Detective like Granny Sherlock, and Doctor Sherlock, and High School Girl Sherlock. (Sherlocks are one of my favorite factions.)

The last great puzzle was there was still a problem with scoring. Players collect points by fighting over Victory Condition cards. These are sets of cards numbered 1-7. Originally there were five sets –pieces to the map to lost city of Atlantis, rich guy stuff, pieces to a time machine, things needed for a responsible government, and pieces to a submarine. For new players of Face Off this worked great, but experienced players learned not to waste good cards on low point values. Instead they only tried to win cards with a value of five or higher. This violates my one best strategy rule, so it couldn’t stay.

The question became how de we make lower point value cards worth a player’s best resources?

Of course we could have just made every card worth the same amount of points, but that didn’t feel right.

So we started with a rule that said if you collected all seven cards in a set you automatically won the game. Period. Points don’t matter. Players were now incentivised to play defense as well as offense. But it wasn’t enough.

So we added a second value to VC cards. Now VC cards have a point value and a ‘piece value’. Every VC card you win is worth one point. However, if you have the most pieces in a set, and only if you have the most pieces in a set, you get the face value of the card instead of one point. So why spend resources on that one point card? Because it is worth two pieces in the set.

Finally we ditched the generic cards, and gave each faction a set of things they were trying to collect. The map to Atlantis became the Pirate map to buried treasure. Rich guy stuff became the Ninja’s precious treasures. This made set up a little bit more involved but added enough texture to the game to make it worth while.

And there you have it. Face Off 7.6. Essentially the game we’re bringing you in a just a couple of weeks. Of course there have been some balance tweaks here and there. A few cards nerfed or buffed. But nothing major. The rules have been set for nearly a year now and things look great.

Of course now we need art and marketing and other stuff. To see how these things got added in tune in next week. Same bat time. Same bat channel. Same goofy jokes.

Still More Secrets to the Face Off Story! (Part Four the Sad Part)

Face Off 3.5 was an unmitigated disaster.

I was worried that the personalities were not strong enough relative to equipment. It just seemed, thematically, the strongest person should be twice as strong as the strongest equipment. I made this change without really thinking about it. It was, after all, just numbers. And I wasn’t making that big of change –Alpha personalities were moving from 7 base power to 10.

But this small change made the weaker personalities dead cards. We went through whole games without ever playing certain cards. I thought I could fix this by giving weaker personalities combos that made them bigger, but this failed as well. Now all strategy was gone from the game. You either had a good combo in your hand and played it or didn’t.

The game that had felt so close suddenly sucked and didn’t really know how to fix it.

It happens sometimes –steps in the wrong direction. And I’ve learned it is not something to be afraid during the design process. There are other games I’ve designed that you will never see because as soon as I made mistake in the design process, I gave up. I thought the whole system was flawed or boring or not smart enough, so I chucked the whole thing. That’s what happed to Mayhem. And Studio Exec. And the Kings Court.

Face Off was spared this fate because it was at the time themed to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And I always return to Buffy things.

You see the Game of Awesome grew out of my attempts to write a Buffy Smash Up set. Not for commercial use or anything. It was just because my pals and I like Smash Up, and I like Buffy so why not. The only problem with the Buffy Smash Up set was the Buffy cast was too large for Smash Up deck conventions. Someone very important was going to have to be left out of the personality deck, and that sucked so I started with the Game of Awesome. I quickly added my other favorite things. Star Wars. Star Trek. Archer. The Big Bang Theory. The fun of working with these characters saved Face Off.

After the failure of version 3.5 and 4.0, I got serious. I got mathematical and started making charts. I figured out how the bones of the game was working a how to make it better. After brief stint of replacing power with symbols and making players look up power on their own player charts (a really cumbersome and bad idea), I learned that all I had to do was compress the numbers back down to pretty close to where I had initially placed them. Instinct was now backed up by data. Face Off 6.0 was in fact awesome. So awesome I though maybe there was an audience for such a game. So I had to do the hardest thing a creator ever has to do. I had to kill all my favorite parts of the game and start over thematically.

To see how and why I killed my babies, tune in next week. Same bat time. Same bat channel. Same goofy jokes.

Even More Chilling Secrets behind the Face Off Story (Part Three)

The changes to the Game of Awesome version 2.0 were so dramatic the name of the game changed to Face Off. But I wanted to acknowledge where I had come from and the progress I had made, so I kept the numbering system. Thus The Game of Awesome 2.0 became Face Off 3.0.

The first major change was the destruction of generic cards. Now everyone started with named, cool cards.  Why start with lame when you can start with cards that are fun to have in your hand and even more fun to play with?

Second, I split the power tree and the clock deck. I liked the way the ‘tree’ limited your choices, and there are subtle strategy tricks in blocking what cards were available for players to take that are important to master. Thus the Power Tree we all know and love was born. I briefly experimented with five cards on the bottom row, but for space reasons more than anything else, I soon cut it to three cards on the bottom, two in the middle, and the deck on top.

The clock deck, then, was divided into green, yellow, and red backed cards. And there were forty five cards in the deck. The game called for players to play all 45 cards. The only problem was the game stopped being fun after about 25 cards. By that point it was clear who was going to win. And we were just playing out the string.

The market was back. It was a bidding market. Players bid on how many ‘cloggers’ they were willing to take into the their decks in order to gain cards.

And finally locations made it back too, we called them Headquarters or HQs. To get around the problem of having dead cards in your hand, I got rid of location specific actions. Now all cards worked equally well everywhere.

Face off 3.0 felt really close. There were just a couple of tweaks (as noted above) that needed to be made. I was positive Face Off 3.5 was going to be the final, publication ready version.

To see how Face Off 3.5 got a lot a WHOLE lot worse, tune in next week. Same bat time. Same bat channel. Same goofy jokes.

More Chilling Secrets behind the Face Off Story. (Part Two)

Face Off Logo

I can’t express to you how much I hate waiting for my turn.

I think the best part of a board game is sitting around the table after the game is over and, win, lose or draw, talk it over with my friends and brothers.

“This is what I experienced…. What were you thinking here…. I was so close to doing this, that, or the other….”

Read more “More Chilling Secrets behind the Face Off Story. (Part Two)”