Monday, October 17, 2011

We're in alpha!

Jax and the rescued merchant on a built plane. In the foreground, some dismantled pirates.
There was an impromptu test session today after school. I had no definitive rules, no setting and no scenario, but I had an eager 9 year-old. Also, I really wanted to try some things out.

Sean chose the Gladiator minifig with a different, more cheerful head, and I asked him to fill the following template: [Name], the [behaviour] [job] from [world]. He wrote "Jax, the smily (sic) Army captain from Alostorus". He described Alostorus as "a dragon and ninja world".

I showed him the weapon rack, the potion shelves and some miscellanous items and he chose a spear, a round shield and a potion. ("What's the orange potion?" "I don't know... Strength?" "Okay, I'll take it.") He customised his Hero dice with yet another Strength power - I'll explain these in a further post - and character creation was over.

As the Army captain of a border town in Alostorus, Jax was asked by the mayor to look for a missing person. A potion merchant should have come through the jungle a week ago. I won't tell the whole story here for fear somebody steals it and writes a best-seller, but there were pirate slavers, a raging river, a car wreck and a destroyer drone. All in less than an hour.

I got several important lessons from this session.
  1. Kids wanna build. Sean kept coming up with solutions to overcome obstacles using the handful of bricks I gave him. He built a car to travel to the jungle, a lamp to light his way in the tunnels, a bridge, a ladder to go over the pirate's hideout fence, and finally a plane to bring the merchant back to the town.
  2. Be more prepared! If I want to use minifigs for enemies and other NPCs, I'll need to have them ready with their equipment at hand. I spent far too much time rummaging for stuff. Good thing I had a few creatures already built.
  3. More complications! The reaction to the "success+but" rule (the player succeeds but the GM gets to narrate a side effect) was an enthusiastic "Cool!" That's not something you'd get from a seasoned gamer.
  4. Combat works as planned. I've decided that rolls would be simultaneous attack-defenses and that made everything smooth. With more than one player, I might even do group simultaneous - Tunnels & Trolls style. One roll to rule them all: successes cancel each other and damage is shared among the losing side. With four HPs and potentially two weapons, characters are quite potent, though I suspect unlucky players could see their heroes dismantled soon enough. But that's what potions are for.
  5. Roleplaying. Nothing to do with the game in itself, but I was pleased to see that roleplaying came naturally to Sean. In the end, he just chatted with the merchant, asking him if he was comfortable in the plane and promising to visit his shop. Win!  
There you go, Brickworlds is an actual game now. I should maybe start writing down some of these rules as well. In any case, I'm looking forward to doing more tests. After all, we never learnt what the pirates were doing on Alostorus...

Donation update: two great kits were sent via the Amazon wishlist (thanks, C├ędric and Guillaume!), and two more were given by my friend and flatmate Chris. Photos are linked on the donors page.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Hero's Pocket: hands-on game design

You know the way you want to build things all the time when you have Lego in hand? Well, it's the same with game designing. Every time I think about a problem to solve, I feel irresistibly drawn towards the brick box and before I know, I'm building things. It's like it's my hands are doing the thinking. Very disturbing. I have zombie hands. Send help, please. 


I was brainstorming (handstorming?) what I call the Hero's Pocket, what you video game types would call Inventory. You know, the semi-realistic space where you store all the stuff you pick up on dead monsters. The ugly looking series of pictures below show how I started and where I ended up.

The original idea

This is the player's pack from Heroica. It has health points (the red cones), a row for gold, and a rack for weapons and items.

At first I thought I'd simply use that, but then one brick led to another and my brain had to follow my hands.
Version 1: the half-arsed attempt

I wanted something bigger, so I took a 6x6 plate and got to work. You can see a key, a gun, a seaweed bit that I figure could be some kind of entanglement spell, a potion, a telescope, a cutlass held by a hook brick, a door (another spell: think teleport or something) and a spare costume (an option I probably won't use, but it's here for completeness sake). On the left, I used tiles from Heroica to hold items.

Version 2: The not-so-good looking one

In this version, you can see the same equipment on a grid made of Heroica tiles. It can hold only nine items, and the central spot is occupied by a stack of health points.

It worked, but it didn't look great. I wanted the health bar back.
Version 3: cleared for alpha testing

My last tweak was to move the tiles to one side, leaving a row for health. The three tiles at the top are only halfway on the plate, but it's sturdy enough.

Now we have 9 items and up to 6 HP, which should be more than enough. Note that as a reward, I may allow small containers, such as treasure chests, to be placed on the pocket and filled with small items.

Alternative: the simple health bar

If you feel minimalistic (or should I say, mnmlstc), you can simply use a minifig stand. It has four spots, which is an elegant way of displaying health counters. Equipment can be stored in a box and just left next to your health. Or you could go the full-blown BrickQuest way.

Note that you don't need the red cones for health. Any bricks of the same size will do. I'd advise the traditional red colour, but your taste might vary.

So there you go: a look at Lego game designing and your first glimpse at the Brickworlds rules. Have you any insight or advice ?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Donations update

I've been thinking about easier ways for people to donate to the project. I realise it's painful to part from your toys (and even harder to take your child's), putting it in a box and driving all the way to the post office. So I took advantage of this internet fad thing and set up an Amazon wish list. It has a few things I'd like to have to test the game, in a range of prices from 2.35 to 37 sterling.

Granted, are charging a lot for shipping packages to Ireland. If you trust me with getting Lego instead of the latest XBoX shooter, Smyths have a handy voucher ordering service for 10, 20 or 50 euros worth of toys. Feeling generous?

Now, if you're in Ireland and don't mind giving 95 cents to Propaganda Corp, The Sun has free Lego promo kits every day of the week. That's probably the cheapest seat on the beta testers list, short of robbing a six year-old on the street.

Design keywords: building and imagination

I'm following a very busy work week with a sleep-deprived weekend, but do not worry, my head is still brick shaped. There might not be a lot happening on this webternetsitelogjournal, or in my notes, but ideas are a-brewing. I've been chatting about the game with some friends and getting more stuff from donors and - sadly for my wallet - the toy shop and eBay. Every acquisition, every conversation has sparked new ideas.

So here's a little insight on what's happening in this square brainpan. Most of my cogitations revolve around two words, building and imagination.

Building a Brickworlds adventure

I want you to be able to build everything in the game : your character and her gear, of course, but also the story itself. I'm toying with ideas on collaborative storytelling but I don't want to go overboard. The game has to be simple and I want old-school gamers to run games for their four year-olds.

Do not expect cutting-edge narrativist story game design. I wouldn't know how to do that anyway. As a player, you will be asked to contribute with story ideas, especially adversaries and solutions to challenges. As a game moderator, you will be provided with guidelines to create your story as quickly as possible (maybe even on the spot) with whatever toys you have at hand.

Imagination is Power

It is in the sidebar here, and it has been the philosophy of Lego since the beginning : it's all about imagination. Building bricks and similar games have a particular effect on our brains: as soon as we get our hands on them, we want to combine them and create things. This is precisely the feeling I want to convey with Brickworlds. You create people and their surroundings, then put them through an exciting story you share with your friends and family.

While toys are a great vector for imagination, I want to make sure that you don't get limited by the amount and diversity of Lego you have. Firstly because it's not about buying more toys, and secondly because I don't want you to limit yourself with the scope of your stories. If your children's room is filled with Star Wars stuff, you should still be able to explore damp dungeons, fight deadly dragons and rescue the damsel in distress.

On the other hand, I want the Lego you have to fuel your stories. So I will make sure your toy chest has a major role in creating adventures. For example, I have two of the Lizard Man minifig shown above on my shelf. I've decided that Hiro and Haru, the Godzilla Twins, will be major villains in my stories.

We will need an easy way to distinguish what in our stories need to have a physical representation, and what can simply be imagined. What do you think? Would you be comfortable with these choices, or are you looking for something else?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The galaxy of bricky games

In doing research for Brickworlds, I've discovered quite a few brick-friendly games. Some are akin to roleplaying games, some are not, but I intend to read them and pillage them for every good idea.

The official Lego games are a must. I will use their customisable dice, their inventory system and their handy little monsters for Brickworlds. Heroica is a simple baordgame that can be played with young kids. Each box is a different dungeon and you can put them together for some epic adventuring

If you can bear reading the ad-riddled page, the Lego Dungeon Crawl game uses an interesting colour coding system and a full session story with photos. I still have to read the rulebook.

BrickQuest is another dungeoncrawler, with amazing looking builds and rules akin to the old Games Workshop game HeroQuest. It's pretty simple but has races, classes, spell lists and a bestiary. The only thing is, you need a whole lotta bricks to play. I love their brick character sheet.

I also found a strange little experiment hosted on Flickr and called, *cough* Brickworld *cough*. Apparently it's like a play-by-forum game, only with photos. Look here for an example.

Last but not least in the tactical department, there is Small Wars, a game designed by Croc himself for Corgi, one of the competing brick brands. Easy and fun, it will certainly inspire mass combat rules, should Brickworlds need them.

Are there any other games out there I should check out? Please infuse me with your bricky wisdom in the comments.

Edit 09/10: Denis pointed me to Brikwars, which looks like a very comprehensive battle boardgame. They also have links for a lot of brick-based games.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Let's get this party on the road

Not a lot of time to post this weekend with the being away visiting friends and researching serious things. On the bright side, I met the first Brickworlds donor and got back with nine (9!) minifigs, including the world famous Beatnick Poet.

I also managed to jot down some notes while everybody else was busy watching the Irish rugby team slaughter the Italians. More questions than answers at this stage, but they'll help me with the unavoidable design choices ahead.

More soon. I have a pretty hectic week ahead of me, but I'm sure I'll be able to post some of the articles that are already drafted in my head. In the meantime, feel free to drop a comment and tell me about what you're looking for in a Lego roleplaying game.