Killing Monsters has a full prototype now
Although it's been a while since I've written anything here, I've nevertheless been busy with gaming. Work has continued on Hocus Poker, where Grant and I have shifted our energies to what we're calling 3.0, a game that is played with only cards. That's consumed some of my time, as well as the summer eating up a lot of free time. But of more consequence is that I've buckled down to try and move to the next stage of things with Killing Monsters and Taking Their Stuff.
The game has been sitting at stage 4, first stage prototype (going off my stages of game development post), where I've tinkered with things enough to recognize that there's a game there, but it's not really a game I could show to other people. What became apparent in my tinkering is where the focus of the design should be, which is helpful. My small scale tests showed that most of the interesting decisions in the game came from managing the risk/reward of spending dice for abilities. It's a game about constantly dealing with probabilities, about judging the right time to fire off your limited supply of powers, and deciding when you can afford to take a big risk.
Having that focus helped me a lot with moving to the next stage, having a game I could put before my local gaming group to see what they think. What excites me about the game is that there's actually an unusual property to it: while the game has a lot of randomness due to the huge number of dice involved, the game play presents more like a series of puzzles with the player having a wide variety of tools to bend probabilities in their favor. It looks like a dice-fest, and it still has a bit of that in its soul, but it's also a thinky game with a series of situations to crack.
What the game needs, though, is content. There needs to be enough variety in the game that the scenarios the game pops up are continually novel and interesting. My basic setup, of a single character and a few monsters, was fine as far as it went, but it wouldn't support multiple players and certainly wouldn't support long term play. But was there enough design space here? Could I make a collection of characters, skills, and monsters here that felt different and fun to play given the constraints of manipulating a bunch of D6s?
To find out, I set off to try and knock out a bunch of content. I thought about stopping once I had a subset of my planned content, but I decided that I needed to be able to create a full set of content if this was going to be a viable game. I didn't know if there was going to be room for that much variety. Was the premise too constrained? Frankly, the process was painful. I stared at my spreadsheet, and just stalled out. I had designer's block. I needed to fight through if this was going to happen.
I tried several things, none of them really successful. Going back and forth between different types of content, setting myself a mandatory two-card-a-night limit, looking at other games - I was just stuck. Finally, I decided to skip mechanics at first, and just name everything. Every card, every ability on the cards, it all got named. That was creative, it was fun, and gave me a direction for filling everything out. After that, things moved reasonably quickly. I eventually ended up creating 12 characters, 12 skill sets, 60 monsters, and two treasure tables. Creating that content, with only a few repeat abilities (which I was able to eliminate during an edit pass), convinced me that there's plenty of design space here.
That work is done, at least for now. I printed things up, cut out some cards, stuck on some sleeves, and at last had a second stage prototype. It was time to get some table time with other folks.
If you're curious about the game, I've made the current rules public. This is still very much an early stage of the game, but I'd love to hear about any thoughts. I've also put the cards up as well, which means that if you're crazy, have a ton of D6s sitting around the house, and have time to burn on a super early prototype, you can play the game at home. I don't really recommend that yet, mind you, but you could try it.