Creature College Weekly Update Week 5 – DellCon and Vesper Bunnysnatcher

Weekly Update 5

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Welcome to our Week 5 News Round Up!

Another busy week here at Happy Otter Games as we work to having an updated play test version of our game ready for DellCon next weekend. We’ve also made good progress on the box art and Will, our designer is primed to work on the design component of the box as soon as the artwork is finished. He has also been busy working on the design for the battle cards which are coming along nicely and should be finished by early next week. We’re very close now to having all our artwork and design completed.

The rules need to be updated with examples and just have a little bit more humour injected into them now that we have the base text complete. We’ve also been running a competition during the week to name one of our creatures, more on that later. This coming week we’re going to start to write a couple of articles for publications on the experiences of a first time indy game publisher so watch out for them in the coming weeks.

Vesper Bunnysnatcher!

Earlier this week we asked our wonderful community to come up with a name for one of our creatures to be included in the game. We’re pleased to announce that the winning entry was from Nikki Boom and Ian Loxam. Who came up with the name “Vesper Bunnysnatcher” for the character in question. As a special preview for our newsletter subscribers here is Vesper Bunnysnatcher in all his OtterColour glory complete with “Pissed Off Bunny” :).

Vesper

We hope you like your colour version of the creature Nikki and Ian and thank you again for your great entry.

DellCon

So this week see’s our first convention of the year. A small collection of gamers in Malvern sitting in the heart of the English countryside at the Dell House. I think Kevin and Elizabeth still have some space so if you’re interested then give them a call and come along. It will be a very pleasant weekend of gaming. We’ll also have a beta version of Creature College there for anyone who would like a game.

Ninja Dice Kage Masters

We really got into Ninja Dice this week. Our own copy turned up from our friends at Green Brier games across the pond and we decided to give it a whirl at Monday games night. It was a lot of fun with some real “Nooooo!” moments. Definitely a good way to Kill half an hour. The Ninja Dice Kage Masters Kickstarter is into it’s final week so get yourself a copy of Ninja Dice and back their Kickstarter for many happy ours of Ninja’ing (is that even a word??)

Well that about wraps it up for this week! See you again next week with more news and updates.

Creature College Week 4 Update – Game Design Lock Down Mode

Weekly Update 4

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Welcome to our Week 4 News Round Up!

One of the funny things about projects of any sort are that you sometimes get weird lulls in activity. A bit like being in the eye of the storm only with a lot more orange and magenta involved when it comes to Creature College! Week four has been a little bit like that; we’ve finished all the draft versions of our box art and our brilliant artist is now beavering (ottering surely?) away at creating box art so awesome that you may need specially filtered sunglasses just to look at it without being struck blind by it’s sheer awesomeness. Our designer is working on battle card designs and project X is on hold for a few weeks until we get some work done that has to precede it. The end result is that other than the occasional post on Facebook and working on completing the copy for our rules booklet it’s been a little quiet. However there are a couple of shout outs I’d like to do for some of our friends and say a word or two about our March “Win a board game” competition.

Nova Aetas on Kickstarter

Nova Aetas from Ludus Magnus Studio has about two weeks left to run on its Kickstarter campaign. The game is set in the Italian Renaissance, a period I’ve always loved with all its intrigue and infighting. The twist is that the world of Nova Aetas is an alternate Italy where chimeras, sirens and fauns also roam. Part RPG, part board game, part figure game Nova Aetas is undeniably beautiful. It’s worth buying for the figure moldings alone. We’re backing the project here at Happy Otter Games and hope you will too.

Ninja Dice Kage Masters

From a fellow group of board game ninjas across at Green Brier Games, Ninja Dice Kage Masters is an expansion for the popular Ninja Dice game. It has around two weeks left to run on its Kickstarter. I love the idea of Ninja dice that where the dice fall modifies the outcome of how your ninjas battle! Unique and masses of fun! Get a copy of Ninja Dice from Green Brier (it comes in a natty little Ninja bag perfect for impressing your friends at parties) and then back this project!  We’ve already donned our black masks and are practicing our blood curdling cries of “AAAIIIIEEEEEE” having backed the Kage Masters Kickstarter.

Monthly “Win a Board Game” Competition – March

If you’ve just joined our subscribers list through our “Win a Board Game” competition then a great big WELCOME to you. The great news is that not only are you now entered in our March competition but we’ll be giving a board game away every month until we launch and you’re entered into every draw! Our March competition ends on the 31st of March and we’ll be letting the lucky winner know straight away so they can choose their board game. You have to be 13+ to enter and the prize will be up to £40 ($60). Good luck!

Creature College Week 3 Update – Tackling the Rules

Weekly Update 3

Welcome to our Week 3 News Round Up

As always it’s been another really busy week! We were very pleasantly surprised at the beginning of the week to be contacted and invited to attend a mini-con called Dragondaze which takes place in Newport, Wales on the 19th of September 2015. We’d really like to give a shout out for Dragondaze as all the proceeds from this event go to help Bernado’s young carers, a really worthwhile cause. We were also very fortunate to be introduced by our media studio to the folks at Greenbrier Games, they have a wealth of experience in launching Kickstarter campaigns and had a lot of very good advice. We’re looking forward to having a closer relationship with Greenbrier as we move closer and through our own Kickstarter campaign.

Ninja Dice

Greenbrier also have a current Kickstarter campaign for an expansion to their Ninja Dice game. You can find the Kickstarter page here. They’re a great company and this is a very slick game so head over to Kickstarter and give these folks your support!

Design Work

It’s been a huge week for design work. Our incredible board game design ninja “Will” has been hard at work and has completed the designs for our mission cards, ability cards, research lab cards and game boards. We’ll be sharing some of this design work in our monthly news letter so go ahead and subscribe if you haven’t done so to get an inside view of the world of board game design.

February’s Board Game Competition

Our board game competition this month was won by Kris Kosche from Germany. As soon as she’s decided we’ll tell you what game she went for! If you missed it don’t worry, there’s another chance to win this month. All you need to do is subscribe to our newsletter and you’ll be automatically entered into the draw.

Rules Booklet and Cover Art

So we’re taking a big step towards a finished game this coming week as we’ve started the box artwork and we’re working on the rules booklet. Nearer to our launch date we’ll release our rules on our website as a downloadable pdf. Until then we’ll be releasing snippets of information or if you want to find out exactly how the game plays come along and find us at one of the conventions listed in our events calendar, we’d love to see you!

Project X

We’ve made some great leaps forward on Project X in the last few weeks but we’re on a little bit of a hold now as other work takes priority to prepare us for UK Games Expo in May. Keep an eye out here though as we will be releasing more information about Project X as the year moves on.

Creature College Week 2 Update – Anime Con and Designs

Weekly Update 2

Welcome to our week 2 news round up

It’s been another exciting week for us here at Happy Otter Games. The highlight of the week has been an invitation to take part in London Anime and Games Con on the 4th and 5th of July. That finishes up our round of games conventions that well be going to starting with Dellcon in March and finishing just before our Kickstarter goes live with Essen. For more details take a look at the events page on our website. Come and find us at any of these conventions and we’ll be happy to play a game with you!

Art & Design work

Our design work has come on leaps and bounds this week. We’ve now finished the design for our mission and ability cards and our designer has started work on the research lab cards. We’ve  officially finished over half the design work and we’re well on the way to hitting our end of April target for having a ready-to-print game. Our artist has been working on the Plasma Canon battle card towards the tail end of the week and this weekend is a milestone as we start work on the box design.

Play-testing

With the completion of much of the design and artwork we’re ready to going into our final phase of play testing where we share the game more fully with an extended group of play testers. At this late stage the game plays pretty flawlessly so we’re expecting this to be mostly small alterations to balance more than anything else. There are two play testing groups we know of that have volunteered to help with this final phase but if you’re in the UK and you’re interested, let us know!

Project X

We can’t tell you much about project X other than we saw some of the first footage from the studio we’re working in with in Montreal and it blew our socks off! We can’t wait to show you some teasers but that will have to wait until the summer!

The monthly competition

February’s win a board game competition is nearly over but it’s not too late to enter! Just subscribe to our news letter and you’ll be entered int a draw to win a board game of your choice up to a value of £40 ($60).

So You Want to Build a Board Game? – Episode 2 – Game Design

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So welcome to the second of my articles on building and self launching a board game. As I mentioned in my previous article I’m in the process of creating an publishing a board game called Creature College through my new games company called Happy Otter Games. I thought it would be interesting to share what I’ve learnt so far. In doing so I realise that I’m in a group of very talented and experienced game designers who I’m certain have infinitely more experience than me but I hope that these articles may encourage first time game designers who are looking to self publish and wanting to read about other people’s experiences.

I still remember a fateful gaming evening some time last July when I was sat around a table with a group of friends a little bit worse for ware mostly due to an excellent bottle of something that should have come with a health warning. The discussion some how came around to designing games and one friend said “Orhan, you’ve been playing games for years, why don’t you design one.” I suppose it’s the way life works that often a whole set of circumstances come together to drive you down a certain path. I’d always steered away from game design largely due to the costs of publishing but had recently been backing a lot of projects on Kickstarter and it occurred to me that here might be a new way to make my game design dreams a reality.

Anyway, to cut a long story short the next morning i found myself sat at my computer staring at a Power Point slide waiting for an idea to pop largely unbidden into my somewhat hungover head. I’d worked at a video games company for a while and had read a lot about video game design (I can recommend “A Theory of Fun for Game Design” by Koster and “Flow” by Csikszentmihalyi) so I knew enough to know that I needed a plan. I wanted to make a game with that was:

  • Fun to play – I’d seen games get horribly bogged down in clever mechanics, very smart games but you played them with gritted teeth. I wanted my game to be fun for a wide player segment.
  • Quick – I wanted you to be able to play the game in 45 minutes
  • Bidding Mechanic – I’d always liked games with bidding mechanics. I like the “Aw! You didn’t just bump me!” factor
  • Easy to learn – I wanted the game to be simple but have depth of play
  • Balanced – We’ve all played those games where you rapidly find that there’s one strategy that’s very hard to beat. I wanted my game to have several strategies that were all equally effective at positioning you for a victory
  • Theme – A very strong and fun theme with artwork that made people smile

So with a starry eyed gaze I started to put pen to paper. 24 hours later after much coffee and many disapproving stares from my wife, I had my first prototype! A creature themed game inspired by movies like Monsters Inc. and Despicable Me. The idea was fairly straight forward, you bid for creatures to collect sets which earned you points for the creatures and the sets. You could then battle with the creatures to win victory points. Sounded simple enough, all I needed now were some willing victims on which to inflict the brilliance of my creation! Fortunately, depending on who’s point of view you were taking, we had friends staying over the weekend who were up for a game (they needed somewhere to sleep and knew which side their bread was buttered on!). 🙂

So we leaped straight into Creature College…It was dreadful…the game play was slow and laborious, the combat was stilted, the special ability cards regularly imbalanced play and there were at least two ways that you could be cul-de-sacced into a position where you could never recover. My game was a stinker.

Despite a discouraging start I made a couple of adjustments and tried again with my board games group. Worse…one of my group nearly died of internal hemorrhaging and another threatened to lock me in a room for a month with a complete set of Justin Bieber’s singles. These early set backs forced me to step back and take a good long look at what I was doing and I discovered two things – My game was far too complicated and it was too arbitrary. Antoine de Saint Exupery, a 20th century poet and writer said “Perfection is attained not when there is nothing left to add but when there is nothing left to take away.”

Taking this maxim to heart I successively removed complexity from my game. Creature cost went, victory points on the creatures went, creature money generation went, special cards went. This process took about six months with play test after play test but slowly my play-testers helped my drag my limp and listless disaster of a board game into a sleek and fun roarer of a game. Play was brought down to my 45 minutes, battles were quick and had the gotcha element that I was looking for and the bidding produced some great “I hope you die in an unfortunate yachting accident!” moments. The introduction of the mission system where each player had a secret target of creatures to collect also gave the game an added feeling of purpose.

The other thing that I did is I successively cut down on the randomness of game events. The game still has enough randomness in it to make it fun and unpredictable but not so much that you feel you can’t plan effectively.

So what have I learnt so far?

Keep it simple – Always ask yourself whether core game mechanics can be made simpler…if they can, do it providing it doesn’t significantly take away from a players fun.

Listen to other people – My play testers had some of the best ideas in the game. Their help was invaluable in getting the game right.

Don’t reinvent the wheel – there are a lot of tried and tested game mechanics out there that work really well. Novelty is great but not at the expense of playablity and fun.

Keep fun at the center of what you do – if it isn’t fun…don’t do it!

Control – put the control of the game in your players hands, make them feel that a clever strategy will deliver them victory and that they’re not cast on the winds of fate!

I think the Creature College is a pretty good game now. I’m just about to start sharing it beyond my group of 20 or so alpha testers and I’ll let you know how I get on. You can follow the progress of our project at http://www.happyottergames.com/.

As always I look forward to your comments and feedback.

You rock Board Game Geek Community!

Orhan.

Indy Board Game Art

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As you probably know if you’re here, Happy Otter Games is embarking on publishing it’s first game, Creature College, this Autumn via Kickstarter. So I’m going to preface all of these articles with the predicate that I’m learning as I go along and we’ll have to see whether my efforts are more or less successful than others.

I’m also going to predicate these articles by saying “I love games”, it’s my passion, I’ve been playing board games, RPGs, card games, video games and pretty much any other sort of game I can get my hands on for over 35 years. Building a board game and publishing it, if you’re doing it right, is a phenomenal amount of work. On top of my normal job I probably spend at least 20 hours a week working on Creature College. Don’t even begin down this path unless you have a passion for games because you’re going to need that passion to sustain you when you’re looking at a piece of design work that you just can’t get right at 2:00 AM in the morning!

Our game has been in development for just over a year now and I thought it might help others who are about to start down this path if I wrote about some of my experiences along the way. You might think that starting this series with an article about art is a little eccentric, what about the design of the game? What about the mechanics? What about play testing? I agree with you, all these things are important, very important but….

Now I know that different people tick in different ways however the first thing many people probably judge a game on is whether or not it looks engaging. I’m fairly certain that the majority of us will have been in a games shop or on Amazon browsing games. Sometimes we’ll have been on Board Game Geek and found a top rated game were interested in but often as not I’ll just browse for something that looks interesting and the first thing that normally catches me is the artwork.

Just recently I was both interested and touched by an individual who was brave enough to post a synopsis of why they felt their game had missed it’s funding target on Kickstarter. They’d done many of the right things, play tested for hours, built a small community, sent the game for reviews, advertised…In many ways they deserved their Kickstarter to be a success. Their game had a farming theme and many of the cards were obviously rural in nature, animals, places, that sort of thing.

The artwork was shockingly dreadful. Essentially it consisted of photos with a Photoshop artistic filter smeared over the top. It’s a testament to the quality of the other work that this individual did that he managed to make any funding at all on Kickstarter and here’s the point, had the artwork looked and felt engaging…had he thought about the artwork and design he might well be delivering his games to people right now.

I’m going to major on artwork in this article *not* graphic design. Aren’t they the same thing I hear you cry! No…absolutely not…we’ll come to this in a later article but one thing I’ve learnt in my journey is that you can’t assume that your artist can also provide your graphic design, they are different skills.

There are several obstacles the budding game designer has to overcome when looking for the artwork:

  •  Art Style – what art style should your game have, cartoony, epic myth, grunge, Steam Punk. Whatever you choose should be in keeping with the theme of the game. For instance a Steam Punk style probably won’t work terribly well in a game about cute cuddly animals but will probably be fine in a game of battling Victorian airships. Choose an art style that matches your theme well.
  • Reference Material – Whether you happen to be a talented artist or you’re hoping to find or hire someone, reference material will help a lot. Find images, styles and fonts that match the artistic style that you want for the game. You won’t be able to use any of these materials directly unless they’re royalty free but they’ll provide a great resource for developing your own artwork.
  • Finding an Artist – You may be an artistic genius yourself (and be honest with yourself here) but likely as not you’ll need to find an artist. There are lots of good internet locations where artists hang out but a couple are the Board Game Geek forums and CG Society. Make sure that you take a good look at other work the artist has completed and that they can create artwork in the style you’re looking for. Also remember to do the legal work…agree a price then sign a contract that specifies that the copyright to the artwork transfers to you. You can find standard art contracts at various places on the Internet
  • Payment – unless you happen to have an extremely talented an altruistic friend who you’re working with, you’re going to have to pay for artwork. Remember here that good artwork takes time, hours of time, be realistic in what you’re expecting to pay. $100 per picture is way too much $10 is an incredibly good deal. $20-$30 per picture is probably about right. Ensure you have enough budget to cover the artwork for your whole project.
  • Time – Don’t expect to have all your artwork completed within a week. If the artwork is great artwork expect it to take months and plan accordingly. At the same time however, make sure you set a schedule with your artist and encourage them to meet that schedule. Ensure that you agree a payment schedule up front and stick to it making your payments regularly. Losing an artist due to a disagreement could set you back months and be very costly.

So now you have your artist and your starting on the artwork, what next? Think about the artwork for your game and have a cohesive view of how it all fits together. The way I achieved this (and I know I can be a bit of a sad puppy this way) is that I put all my artwork requirements and descriptions into two or three excel spreadsheets so that the art work I wanted had a set of descriptions and resources ready to send to my artist. Then brief your artist with a detailed description (no more than a paragraph of text) and reference images.

If groups of characters or other actors (ships, monsters, killer 50ft high robots, etc.) have a specific theme then give the artist very strong guidance on theme. Numerous games do this well but taking a leaf from a massively multi-player game the race themes in EVE Online are worth taking a look at as an example of how to do this well.

Agree up front with your artist how you want to work. I’ve found that the artist producing a couple of concepts for each piece of artwork really helps you visualise the end piece of art work. Also be very positive about your artist’s work, even when it doesn’t go quite the way you want. Always remember that brilliant art is hard and every piece from a good artist is probably praise worthy even if it doesn’t fulfill your vision for the piece of artwork. Gentle guidance is almost always better than a harsh word.

I hope this short guide has been useful for people, if it has I will probably do the next episode on Graphic Design. I’d love people to add their own experiences and please do critique.

Orhan.

Creature College Beta 1.0

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When your creating an independent board game the byword is play test, play test, play test and when you think you’ve play tested enough…play test some more! We came up with the idea for Creature College back in July 2014 and since then the game has been through countless iterations. Looking back on it the initial versions of the game were dreadful! The rules were complex, it took about two hours to play instead of the 45 minutes we were aiming for and you spent half your time counting up various scores. It was the board game equivalent of purgatory complete with little guys with pitchforks. Now six months later and with much blood, sweat and tears (mainly on behalf of my poor play testers) we have a game that works. It takes about 45 minutes to play, it’s fast paced and fun with just enough rivalry to generate the occasional urge to do violence to one of your opponents. To win creature labs you have to collect victory points. Victory points are achieved by collecting creatures, completing a mission, building out your research lab and winning battles. How you balance these sometimes competing aims will determine whether or not you win. The game uses auction mechanics to determine collecting creatures and has very simple combat mechanics. Simplicity in game play has been something that we’ve striven for but whilst the game is easy to learn and quick to play we think that there are enough elements to give it depth of strategy as well. We still have a long way to go to get the game ready for UK Games Expo in May. We have a pretty distributed project with our artist in the US, our designer in Argentina, the media studio in Montreal and a printer in China but we’re running to schedule and if you can make it to UK Games Expo we’d love to see you there and play a game with you. We’ll be posting regular updates here and on Facebook and hope you’ll join us for the ride! Orhan.