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Kathleen Mercury – Game Design with the Future in Mind

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Whats more exciting and inspiring than a woman game designer? A woman game designer thats also teaching a whole new generation how to make games. I sat down last month with Saint Louis’s Kathleen Mercury to talk about game design in the classroom and inspiring kids to create and play.

What inspired you to teach game design?

I got into gaming after going to a gifted education conference, actually.   It was about games you could have gifted kids play in the classroom, like stratego, and so afterwards I started looking into boardgames and found out about this whole other world that I had been oblivious to.

After playing a lot of games on my own I realized how great these would be for students to make in the classroom because it’s the Robert Sternberg trifecta of creative, analytical, and productive intelligence.

My big thing is that I want students to be creators not just consumers. I love that with game design, there is actually relatively little content they have to learn and the vast majority of the difficult work is struggling through the process.

All students, not just gifted kids, need to work with difficult problems that they create and that they have to design the solutions for. And then test, analyze the feedback at their given, and respond to the feedback by making changes that others have suggested. This is very difficult for adults, and in a lot of ways my students are better at doing this in seventh grade. They get feedback all the time from teachers so this way they learn how to work with giving a d getting feedback as part of an ongoing process.

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Do you feel like the tabletop community is positive towards female designers?

I’ve only had positive experiences as a female game designer, so I’m glad that I can say that because I know others have not always reported the same. I think whenever women are entering a male dominated job or hobby like gaming, we will stand out. We just will. And I think especially in gaming, it takes a while for people understand that I’m not just there because I’m the girlfriend of a gamer, I’m a gamer in my own right and a designer as well.

For myself, I was a gamer and got involved in the gaming community before I really started to present my games. And even in the beginning, I was pretty limited in what I did. I did not contact publishers to set up meetings for game conventions, which is probably the most common way of getting a game published, but I did sign up for the BGGcon speed dating event for one of my games.  (That game is actually in the process of being developed which is super exciting. Several years later after the event, but nevertheless it looks like it’s going to get made). Going to game conventions like BGGcon, Origins, and of course my local favorite Geekway to the West here in St. Louis, is what aspiring designers need to do. You’ll get to play a lot a prototypes, meet designers, and meet publishers. I’ve only ever had a blast going to game conventions and meeting people and I think that’s when the reasons why I can say I’ve never had any negative experiences. And I found that a lot of the gamers, designers, and publishers that I’ve met have been incredibly supportive when I’ve had games that I want to play test would have them take a look at.

What do you think gaming brings to the classroom?

I think gaming is one of the best activities for kids to do, both at school as well as at home. (I take a lot of pride in that I’ve introduced my students to so many games that they are now looking to games on their own, watch podcasts, and follow reviewers, so they bring in games that I haven’t even played yet.)

Gaming is a great social activity the way gaming online can never be. Negotiation both in terms of the rules of the game as well as learning how to navigate social situation is improved with gaming. Learning how to play nice, win nice and lose nice, how to clean up after yourself, and probably most importantly to engage in intellectual challenge for fun and recreation.

Especially for gifted kids, the population I work the most with, they need complex problems that they can solve, or try to figure out different strategies to solve, or these kids create their own problems to solve later. Plus they get to creative and take on different roles, whether it be a pirate or a snooty-faced European trade merchant. Kids love to have fun, as we all said, and I’ve probably laughed harder during various games with my students because of what happens in their responses to what happens and I think just bringing joy and fun into their lives is worth it.

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How is teaching teens game design different from teaching adults?

Kids are much willing to take risks and go with what they think is fun and funny. Adults tend to take a more measured approach and think more realistically about the type of game they’re designing and how it would fit into the existing marketplace.

Of course, when kids are analyzing games it tends to be determined in a limited way like how much they like it or not, and adults can more clearly articulate the strengths and weaknesses of a game or prototype.

Everything kids encounter in their life for the most part are things they’ve  never done before so they are used to just jumping in and giving it a try. Adults tend to be more cautious and more concerned about failure from the beginning.

But for either group, you have to work to shift their thinking from success and failure as mutually exclusive binary constructs but instead to see failure as a setback towards the ongoing forward-moving process to success.

What at do you find the easiest about teaching design? The hardest?

I think it’s all hard! Just kidding. I’m not mathematically inclined myself, so sometimes when it comes to working with designs to make them balanced or to intuitively understand how to make a game more balanced, that’s definitely a weakness of mine.

Rather than easiest, I’ll say the most fun part is that amazing feeling of having a really great idea. Either the really big idea that gets the whole design in motion, or a really clever inventive solution towards a difficult problem.

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Favorite game? Why?

I think my favorite game from a design standpoint is Survive! Escape from Atlantis, currently published by Stronghold Games. There are a lot of really great games out there and game designers that I admire tremendously, but for me, Survive is so much fun to play. I almost don’t even care if I win. The theme and mechanics are integrated so well and it has a great balance between what I can do to help myself and what I can do to impede others. It has great components, and the possibility for laugh out moments quite a bit.

Especially when playing with kids, who sometimes have a really hard time and even melt down if something bad happens to them in a game, this game has so many opportunities for bad things to happen, both to you and to other players, of it that it actually helps to make losing easier for kids.

What do you hope educators get from your website?

When I first decided to teach game design, I found very little out there to help me. Most of it was either designed to be used by video game designers or what I could find was not really that helpful. I had to adapt a lot of what I found, like from board game designers forum, to make activities that I could use with my students and even now I do very little actual lecture or paperwork, I’ve created a lot better activities to help kids learn how to design games.

Having kids understand what the most common mechanics are and how they can use them in a game is the most important thing towards them designing games because otherwise they will stick to what they know which is for the most part roll and move and event decks.

I started using the game UnPub as a way for them to develop a whole wide variety of game concepts and if they didn’t know one of the mechanics on their card, than they would have to look it up. It lent itself to lot more discussion about mechanics and themes and how they could be applied. The kids’ games and understanding of mechanics have become better since I started using that to teach mechanics, as opposed to the PowerPoint that I used to do.

Teaching really is game design. Anytime you’ve come up with a lesson and then when the lesson, seen where the problems are, trying to create solutions for them, and make it better and more interesting for the next time is exactly what game design is.

I think for me the most exciting thing is hearing from gamers and teachers all over the world who discovered my website and say things like oh my god this is exactly what I’m looking for, thank you so much for doing this, totally makes my day. All of it’s free because I just want people to have access to use it to learn from it. A lot of homeschool groups are using it, it’s being used at all different levels from elementary through college, and I’m always happy to collaborate and consult with anyone at any time on just about anything related to gaming.

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How would you like to see more gaming implemented into the class room in the future?

More after school clubs at least so kids have access to really great games in that critical time after school, before their parents get home from work, when they might be more inclined to be on the computer playing games. I don’t have any problem video games at all, but if we can keep kids engaged with each other socially and at school, that’s a great thing. Plus it’s more kids come to my game club, when I have them in class they already have exposure to so many really great games that it makes working with them in game design a lot easier. They have a lot of ideas and I’ve already seen a lot of things they like and don’t like.

As far as the classroom itself I think there’s a lot of really exciting things happening with the gameification of the classroom, and not just a point system is overlaid over what you’re already doing, but more ways to figure out how to get kids to create their own answers given a set of information rather than being presented with incorrect/correct answers. Turning dry lessons into games, even if they aren’t great, will get a better response and more engagement from students then just straight up facts being taught.

Big announcements or upcoming news?

I have two games in development with different publishers! So the next couple of years should be especially exciting, when those hit the market. I’ll keep you updated when they get announced!

 

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Kathleen is also a character in the upcoming Heroes Wanted: Elements of Danger! Check it out on Kickstarter!

Video Games vs Board Games: Which is Better?

Guest Post by: John Martins of gametablesguide.com

Playing games is an unseparated part of our life. It’s an effective way to reduce stress and have fun with our loved ones. Either you love playing table tennis, chess or Call of Duty, the thing is that you must love games. It’s in our human nature.

There are many types of games. Board games and video games are popular ones.

Board games have been around since ancient times and have even been a huge part of human civilization. Just take a look at games like Chess or Backgammon, which have been played by kings and even decided entire wars during history.

However, in our modern age, video games have taken the forefront of gaming entertainment, growing into an industry to rival even that of movies and TV shows. Both entertainment mediums have their pros and cons and here are the main differences.

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Board Games: Old but Gold

We have always loved to play games. It is a way for the human mind to relax and even to play out fantasies. Games can even be considered to be healthy for a human being. And board games were the very first around.

Without going back into antiquity, the best example of a modern board game is Dungeons & Dragons. Having been created in the early 70`s, this game became so popular that it is even played today, almost 40 years later. And it also shows two huge differences between board games and video games: The social aspect as one, and using your imagination, as the other.

The Social Interaction Aspect is undeniable

Board games have always been social games. You gather around with a couple of friends, have good food, beverages and generally a very good time.

D&D requires at the least 4 players to play, and it also involves a human Dungeon Master, who co-ordinates the whole game. You are required to go to a place, meet with people and play with them face to face and interact socially.

Besides getting you out of the house, it is also a great way to improve your social skills. While some people may argue that video games have always had multiplayer components and that you can play them as well with other people, it is not the same thing. Playing through a monitor and computer is not the same thing as sitting around table with other people throwing dice and deciding on how to proceed in the game.

And the same thing is true for other types of board games, from Monopoly to Warhammer to the humble Chess. The main pro for board games is the social interaction you have with other people. Or in other words: Having fun together.

Board Games Enhances Your Imagination

Imagination is another great plus in regards to board games. When you play D&D, as an example, all you get is a wall of text, describing where you are, what your options are and what you could possibly do. You are required to put yourself into the mind of your created player character and interact with your companions to figure out what to do.

There are no graphics showing you anything about the landscape, location, not even your foes. You have to imagine it all, and so do the other players and even the Dungeon Master. The same is true for other board games.

In Warhammer, all you get are hand painted figurines that act as your units and army, and maybe a well-made combat map.

In Risk, you get a map of the world and a couple of figurines to shove around it, telling the other players what is yours and what you conquered.

Generally speaking, most of the game takes place in your head, and it is a great way to train your creativity. And that is true for almost all board games.

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Video Games: The Modern Age Way of Entertainment

The basic truth about video games, is, that they are a natural extension of board games through advanced technology that we possess in our modern age.

The very first video games that lay the foundation for all others were inspired by board games of a type of another. And it evolved so far, that some video games are hardly distinguishable from a Hollywood movie. And that is one of the major advantages of video games. The other one is ease of use.

The Visual Graphics Keep Getting Better

The cinematic aspect of modern video games is undeniable. Beautiful graphics showing awesome landscapes, vehicles, monsters are one thing, the movement of your characters, the things they can do, even down to the script for conversations and the general story, is another. And rounding it all up are incredibly well done musical soundtracks that only add to the experience.

Modern video games feel just like a movie, only that you can interact and play it out yourself, with you being the main protagonist. This is something that board games will never be able to top. But on the other hand, you lose imagination for the sake of having everything presented to you on the screen.

They Are Straightforward and Easy to Use

Ease of use is another huge aspect of video games. Since most video games are based on a ruleset or another, just like board games, your computer or mobile device will take over the task of rolling those dice, figuring out if you succeeded or not or if you won a battle or lost, without the need of a game master or a bunch of rule books that you have to check for a specific rule that you are not sure about.

That allows the player to fully immerse themselves into the game without worrying about such things and just enjoy the experience. And this opened up games that were really complicated in their board game format to a whole lot of people that came to love them, but did not have the patience or time, to learn all the rules.

Video Games Vs Board Games: Which Is Better?

There is no real competition between board games and video games. Most avid video gamers are also avid board game lovers, and board games are still going strong, with new systems and settings appearing almost every month.

Most gamers who are into role-playing video games are also D&D fans and are still playing it with their friends in the weekends.

Both entertainment mediums have their merits and in the end, it`s just a matter of preference.

And the best thing is, you don`t even have to choose. Just play both.

Real Women of Gaming’s Top Things We’re Thankful For

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Thanksgiving was days ago, yes, but the spirit of being thankful is still upon us. In this spirit, the Real Women of Gaming Staff has shared what they are thankful for this holiday season. Let us know in the comments below what you’re thankful for!

I am so thankful for the friends that I’ve made while embracing and celebrating all the things that I love and nerd out about. I’m finally living in a time where I can openly talk about my love for Dungeons & Dragons, gaming, fandoms (ALL THE FANDOMS). This has helped me to make some deep connections with friends that I was previously unable to make while hiding so much of myself. I am blessed that I have them all and all of the RWoG staff are true and dear friends to me. I love them all to bits. ~Crymson Pleasure~

I should start off by saying that I am grateful for many things, however one thing that has consistently made my world better is fandom. Some of my best friends have been made by “geeking out.” I joined this wonderful group because of a conversation that started with fandom. I truly am not sure if I would be alive if not for the friends that I have made because of fandoms. Fandom have been my shield, my safe space, a place to hone my talents, my mirror and my fun!

Always keep sparkling -Thia the Bard

I am thankful for my parents. Whatever my Dad could do for us, he did. He worked two jobs, moonlighting as a drummer in a wedding band while fixing vending machines during the day. My Mom, aside from the massive task of raising 3 boys and a girl, taught us how to play. Every board game we got we learned through her. All the classic parlor games, she taught us. When we got our first console…she kicked us off of it so she could play. She’s the reason I create, the reason I play games. I’m thankful for Mom and Dad. -MaxUrso

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been working overtime to keep my guild running smoothly, ensure its stability, and maintain its growth. It’s left me stressed-out, exhausted, and unhappy. My in-game friends know me well enough to notice, and care enough about my wellbeing to intervene. In this ‘intervention,’ they insisted I take a break from raiding and offered to take over some of my duties as a guild officer. It’s given me the chance to recharge and catch up on some RL duties I’d been neglecting. I couldn’t be more grateful. I am so, so thankful that these people, people whose faces I’ve never seen with my own eyes, are looking out for me. -Solyria

I’m thankful for many things, including my husband, my friends, my family, and my health. More specifically, I’m thankful for my new, full-time job and the geeky friends I’m making there. It’s awesome to be working in an environment where coworkers tell me that I “rolled a 20” or got a “critical hit” on a piece of work, where people play D&D over lunch, and where we’ve set up biweekly board game nights after work. It certainly makes the daily grind that much more bearable, and sometimes even enjoyable. -Rinshi

Things I am thankful for…A steady D&D play group of fun friends to play with that make me laugh and enjoy the game. Being able to go out on Friday night and play Magic: the Gathering for a few hours with other friends and get stomped and do some stomping. Waiting on the news on when I will get my new Kitty Mango  -Fluffy the Necromancer

This year’s been a tough one. I’m thankful for the friends and family that were with me, and are still with me. The health of my family, and my son getting his GED. My job still being great, and my writing starting to get some notice out in the world. -Trever

I’m thankful for conventions. A lot of the time I feel like my world is very small. It’s easy to me to retreat to the familiar and I end up feeling like it’s impossible for me to meet new people and make new friends. Conventions get me out among awesome people who share my love of awesome things and I have made some great new friends going to them. -UC Booties

I am thankful for a roof over my head. It has been a rough year I think for everyone but personally it had gotten to a point where things were getting to the unknown. I am very thankful for my amazing husband who supports me in this endeavor of being a part of this group and my streaming career. I couldn’t do it without him. -KinkedNitemare-

I am thankful for video games, which make me happy even if some of them are as old as I am. Video games have evolved with technology and there is something to fit every person now. They help teach children, they help people focus. They provide escape from tough times, even if only for a little bit. VR is now helping people approach situations that are scary to help them get over their fears as much as it is entertaining.

Hearing the do-do-do-do of the dungeon song in Mario makes me smile, every time. Seeing the old games from Atari and SNES brings me back to a childhood where video games were primitive but oh so thrilling. My family used to gather around to play… or watch my dad play Dig Dug for the millionth time. Even now, my family gathers to play. Separately, hubby has his World of Tanks. My 62 year old Mom, has her World of Warcraft, played religiously. My brother, the traitor with the PS4. The XBox One is all mine. But together, we have Mario Kart. We have board games like Monopoly made into video games (no banker cheating, yay!), among others.

So I am thankful for video games, without which my life would have gone on, but would have been a great deal more boring for it. -Chritter

There ya have it, folks! What are you thankful for?

Do Tabletop Games Reflect the Same Gender Bias as Video Games?

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A playable character from the game Boss Monster

My brother and I have always loved games.  When we were young children, we used to put all of our board games together, forming one mega-board game that stretched across our family room.  When we were older, we discovered Magic: The Gathering, and the Pokemon trading card game.  My brother spent many weeks worth of allowances at the local hobby card shop.  I rarely did.  Even as I kid, I hated to part with money. Every now and then, he would participate in store-run tournaments.  I didn’t.  I didn’t think I was good enough, and interacting with the adult men who often played in them made me uncomfortable.

 

Anita Sarkeesian and the Gamergaters have brought sexism in video games to the forefront of public consciousness.  But what about tabletop games?  Both families of games have been pillars of nerd culture for decades.  They both shape the culture and are shaped by it, and this cross-pollination can make their influences very difficult to separate.  However, while the misogyny that pervades the video game industry often infects the tabletop world, it is less entrenched, and, as I argue, less insidious.

To understand why, we need to first look at the differences between the two media.  Tabletop gaming has been around in some form since before there were tables.  Ancient civilizations played with dice, cards, and boards.  Modern board games like Monopoly date to the early twentieth century.  Conversely, the technology that allows video games to exist has only been around for a few decades.  Video games started out being marketed to a diverse audience, but without thousands of years of history saying otherwise, it was relatively easy for advertisers in the 1980s and 90s to create the narrative that video games were always meant for boys and young men.

Historians now blame the great video game crash of 1983 on the ubiquity of low-quality games in the late 70s and early 80s, which lead to the loss of consumer confidence.  However, regardless of the crash’s actual cause, video game marketers in the 80s scrambled to reinvent their product, to portray it as something they could sell.  Their analytics showed them that more boys than girls were playing games, so the advertisers ran with it: they doubled down on selling video games to that particular demographic, hoping that targeted messaging would lead to better sales.  The strategy worked.  The gaming industry slowly began to recover from the crash, but there was a dark side to the recovery.

When corporations began marketing video games exclusively for boys, it lead developers to design games specifically to appeal to straight, male, and generally white players.  More and more games portrayed male power-fantasies.  Female characters were scarce, and tended not to be playable.  After all, why should developers bother with female playable characters if only males play video games?  Of the few women who did appear in the games of the 80s and 90s, the majority were either damsels to be rescued, background decorations designed for sex appeal, or some combination of both.

The unfortunate result is an entire generation of men who grew up never knowing a world where they weren’t at the center of video gaming.  An entirely new medium for storytelling grew up around them, becoming more and more mainstream, and the only stories being told were about them.  Stories are everything.  They are the basis for our personal and cultural identities.  It’s not surprising that those aggressively gendered games at least perpetuated a deeply misogynistic gaming culture.  We’re still struggling with this culture today.  Game companies created games that catered to male players, who went on to become developers who created more sexist games and hired people like themselves.

While tabletop games exhibit the same sorts of sexist tropes that proliferate across all media, they simply don’t have the same history of ingrained sexism that video games do.  It’s hard to imagine Milton Bradley suddenly deciding that Monopoly is for boys only and covering the game board with scantily clad women.  Board games have existed relatively unchanged for millennia.  Gendered board games do exist, of course, resulting from the same kind of targeted marketing that affected video games.  The difference is that the medium itself is not gendered, despite what The Big Bang Theory has to say about Dungeons and Dragons.

I believe there is another reason that sexism in video games is more pernicious than it is in tabletop games.  Tabletop games can certainly be sexist; in fact, nearly every sexist trope can be found in one MtG card art alone (I’m looking at you ‘evil demon seductress’ and ‘why’s the girl always got to play the cleric?’).  The same tropes can be found everywhere we tell stories, from books to movies to television and beyond.  What is it about video games that makes their sexist tropes so problematic?

The answer is found in the very nature of the medium.  Modern video games, with their high-res graphic and real time decision making are quite possibly the most immersive form of storytelling humanity has invented.  The written word can come close.  Books let readers see through characters’ eyes and experience their thoughts, but they are not interactive.  They don’t allow their audience to step into the characters’ shoes in the same way that games do.

Furthermore, games do something that no other medium can: they incentivize particular behaviors.  Gaming can work a lot like a chemical addiction. Taking an addictive drug or getting an achievement in a game can both cause the brain’s reward pathways to activate.  The brain then reprograms itself to repeat that outcome, resulting in a behavioral shift.  So, when video games incentivize, for example, violence against women, there is a real risk of players’ brains physically changing in ways that could result in violent behavior in the real world.  While all games have mechanics that could incentivize certain behaviors, video games are particularly worrisome because of their immersive nature and the misogynistic history of video game culture.  While paper and pencil RPGs also have mechanics, and are also very immersive, the difference is that when the game is unlinked from graphics and technology, the stories are more open ended, games are more adaptable, and customization options are nearly infinite.  Ultimately, with TTRPGs, the players, not the gaming companies, control the content.  An individual campaign may be sexist, but the medium of tabletop roleplaying does not, itself, encourage sexism.

Both the video- and tabletop-gaming industries have a lot of work to do when it comes to combating sexism.  The in-person nature of tabletop gaming competitions can unintentionally exclude women who would prefer to cloak their identity behind a digital avatar.  Sexist comments can be found in the chat-channels of even the safest of online gaming spaces.  Writers and developers can help by consciously hiring diverse employees and writing three-dimensional characters of all genders and backgrounds.  The rest of us can help by looking critically at the games we play, and inviting our female friends and family members to play with us.  It will be a difficult journey, especially where video games are concerned, but the view from the top will have been worth it.

 

References:

http://www.themarysue.com/sexism-at-magic-tournament/

http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/bossmonster/images/c/c0/BMA006_Seducia.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20130211012442

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1154384/sexism-industry

http://www.polygon.com/features/2013/12/2/5143856/no-girls-allowed

Crash Course Games: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPqR2wOs8WI&list=PL8dPuuaLjXtPTrc_yg73RghJEOdobAplG

Feminist Frequency: https://feministfrequency.com/

Indie Developer Spotlight: Beneath Nexus

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Indie Developer Spotlight: Beneath Nexus

by Michael Wells

Disclosure: I am a backer of Beneath Nexus on Kickstarter. Also, while I have not worked on this specific project, I have been in discussion with Silverclutch Games to provide writing for a future project.

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It’s time for another developer spotlight! This time around we’re talking about Silverclutch games about their upcoming release Beneath Nexus. We had a chance to talk to Tom and Chris from Silverclutch at Too Many Games in Oaks, PA (check out our convention impressions here and here) and now we’re pleased to feature them and their project on our site.

The Project:

Beneath Nexus game logo

From their website:

Beneath Nexus is a dungeon crawling card game for 4 to 6 players. Discover powerful treasures and unlock forgotten secrets in your quest to reclaim the city of Nexus. The Heroes combine their unique skills and powers to overcome the trials of The Blight Lord who uses fiendish monsters and dark magicks to destroy all who delve Beneath Nexus.

Beneath Nexus is a tabletop card game that offers an exciting roleplaying experience in a quickplay format. It is inspired by Dungeons and Dragons and other tabletop RPGs and aims to recreate the feel of those games using predetermined heroes with decks of unique abilities. One player takes on the traditional GM role and plays the Blight Lord, a boss character for the other players to take on. To do so, the other players choose heroes that are drawn from traditional role-playing class archetypes and must strategize how best to use their complimentary abilities to overcome the monsters and spells that the Blight Lord arrays against them.

Beneath Nexus is currently up on Kickstarter and has nearly reached 75% of their goal at time of this writing. Take a look and consider backing this exciting project.

Developer Interview:

I sent a few questions to Silverclutch Games and Chris took some time away from their Kickstarter and Convention schedule to respond.

What made you want to get into game development?

Tom and I have both played games since early childhood. Tom developed his passion for gaming when he was introduced to Magic: the Gathering in the 3rd grade. I played the classics with my father, and he was relentless. Instead of a healthy hobby, my passion for gaming lies more so in my hunger for revenge against my dad for absolutely decimating my brother and me for years in Risk, Stratego, Checkers, and Uno. We began gaming together when Tom joined my Pathfinder RPG group when we were in college. Both of us have always been curious about how games work and have been ready to criticize any game that comes our way. We ended up making games because we knew what we wanted to play and wanted to share those ideas with our friends.
How did Silverclutch Games get started?
Silverclutch Games is a product of my desire to own my own business and Tom’s desire to create awesome games. Tom was developing an introductory dungeon crawler for a handful of months when I approached him with the idea to start our own game design business. That was June of 2015. We incorporated in August, 2015, with the plan to create accessible, easy to learn games that engage the hobbyist gamer.

 

What were your inspirations for Beneath Nexus?
Tom and I are huge fans of D&D, Dungeonworld, etc. We play roleplaying games regularly, but many of our friends can’t be bothered with the hefty rulebook and long playtimes. That bums us out! Beneath Nexus was created so that new players and casual gamers can get a taste of the fantasy adventure genre without having to do homework in the meantime.
What about Beneath Nexus is most interesting/exciting to you as a designer?
We tried a lot of different things, mechanically, with Beneath Nexus. We wanted it to be easy to learn, quick to play, and interesting for both hobbyists and newbies, so we had to experiment with a bunch of different ideas. What excited me most about the process was translating player feedback into mechanical changes. A lot of hobbyists tested the game, so their comments were very direct and specific. The casual gamers that had much more general feedback were the most fun for me because the playtesting notes became a puzzle of vague notions after a few play throughs. Tom seemed most excited by the balance of the asymmetry of the game. Making sure the Blight Lord wasn’t too weak or too strong was a huge task when we incorporated it. Tom dug into it immediately and really shined there.
Hero- Lunja
I had the chance to play two games of Beneath Nexus at Too Many Games and was very impressed by how polished and balanced the game is. A great deal of obvious care went into the design of the heroes, their abilities, and the ways that they interact with each other. Using the whole party’s abilities in just the right way to overcome a challenge feels a bit like the moment in Magic: The Gathering when the cards in your deck line up and play just right for that devastating combo. Meanwhile, the Blight Lord’s abilities and Monsters keep players on their toes and can easily punish careless or reckless play. The game looks like it is rewarding for players on either side of the table.
The game is already available in a print and play format if you want to give it a go. I can’t wait for the physical game to be released. For more information about the game and Silverclutch Games, check out the Beneath Nexus Kickstarter and their website.

My Experience at Too Many Games

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One month ago marked the beginning of Too Many Games and the first time I’ve attended it. Now, I am excited to tell you all about my first experience there. Of course, I was nervous. Not only was this my first time at this particular con but this is also my first time at any convention as press.

Too Many Games was held in the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, PA, and ran from Friday, June 24th to Sunday, June 26th. I’d never been to the Expo center and it’s almost a hidden secret, but all I had to do was follow the traffic and I found it fairly easily.

Immediately upon entering, I was greeted by the friendliest con staff that I’d ever met. Ushering me to where I needed to get my badge and then into the gaming room.

This was a magical room. Filled with TV’s, chairs and arcade games, nearly wall to wall. It was a thing of beauty. I saw Nintendo, Super Nintendo, GameCube, Sega and so many more systems hooked up. There were flickering screens with childhood titles inviting me to sit down and relive so many memories.

Of course, I stopped to play a few games, but what caught my interest were the music games towards the back, located just before the entrance to the tournament area of the gaming room. If music met whack-a-mole, this is what you’d have and I loved every second of it. There were several of these, most names I had never heard of and, of course, DDR was there in at least two different spaces.

This was a gamer mecca that I was proud to be a part of. From the sounds of the games to the hum of chatter to the rotating DJ’s in the corner, the noise was a choir of all the things I loved. At the same time, though, nothing was so loud you couldn’t have a conversation. I adored the adorable handheld lounge off to the side, furnished by Yogibo, where players were invited to sit and game in absolute comfort. I knew I’d never get up again if I sat down. I also loved that Save Point was there to fix any games as they malfunctioned or broke. I noticed that some didn’t last the whole weekend, but I knew they were being played constantly since I walked in on Friday.

Next to the game room was the concert hall, complete with stage, chairs, awesome lighting and a tech booth. Several bands played, along with a few DJ’s. They all sounded amazing, but I didn’t stop in for more than a moment at a time. There was so much to see and a lot of people to talk to.

I spent the majority of my time on the merchant floor, which was large and lead into the guest booths, developers area and gaming tables. I didn’t spend a lot of time at the gaming tables, but I did chat with the people running it, Sunmesa Events. I had never stopped in a gaming area at a con, so this was new to me. I love the concept. You pick a game, drop your ID with them and go play. It’s an awesome concept I wish I saw at more places. There were a few games I knew and so many I’d never heard of. I am still sad I didn’t get a chance to play the huge Settlers of Catan they had set up, but alas, I had a job to do. Sunmesa Events also handled all the non-video game tournaments, such as Magic: The Gathering, Love Letter and more.

The vendors were abundant and so very, very tempting. The treasures that I would have bought if I had the money… I’d have room for nothing else. I was interested to see so many of the vendors were selling old school videos games. Of course, this wasn’t shocking, but I am used to seeing one or two at a convention. This being my first gaming convention, though, I was floored. Not only was it beautiful, but it was also inspiring.

I also saw an array of board games. There were some vendors who had the typical or ‘traditional’ board games for sale, but I, of course, ooohed and ahhhed over the new school of board games and names I’d never seen before. The vendor array was simply incredible. I enjoyed each and every table. If I had the time to have talked to every vendor there, I would have, but alas, I did not.

So let’s talk about where I spent the majority of my time: the developers floor. I loved every minute of it. So let me tell you about all the new friends we made there!

Read the rest of this entry

Indie Developer Spotlight: Rise of the Robotariat

Written by: Julie from Eye4Games

Rise of the Robotariat launched at the end of June on Kickstarter. Its campaign ends July 22.

About the game
Rise of the Robotariat is a board game for 3-5 players that can be played as fully-cooperative or mostly-cooperative. You take on the role of one of eight unique robot revolutionaries and work together with other players to overthrow the humans who have oppressed you for too long.

In order to win, you must raise enough funds to launch a successful revolution — and do it within six rounds, otherwise the humans catch on and stamp it out.

During the game, you move between and activate city locations. At each location, you can do a different thing, for example, draw and play Upgrade and Sabotage cards, place propaganda posters, or influence the movement of Non-Player Characters.

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There are two kinds of Non-Player Characters (NPCs) moving around the board. These are either helpful Civilian Robots, who will donate to the revolution, or dangerous Human Oppressors, who will fine you and tear down your posters. At the end of each player’s turn, they roll dice to determine where the Civilian Robots and Human Oppressors will move next. Their path is mostly predictable but not guaranteed. The game’s intensity ramps up as the game goes on and more NPCs enter the board

A lot of the game’s strategy revolves around setting up turns where the Civilian Robots will give big benefits while mitigating the effectiveness of the Human Oppressors when the NPC dice are rolled.

You have one other thing to manage as well: the revolution’s reputation. You start the game with a certain amount of collective Reputation. You can chose to spend it to take bolder acts of sabotage and you will lose some if humans catch you conspiring too blatantly. But if Reputation ever drops to zero, robots lose all faith in the revolution and you lose the game.

If you decide you want an extra challenge or if someone is telling everyone else how to play, you can add in Secret Objective cards for a mostly-cooperative game. In this version each player is striving to achieve a unique goal. This usually involves making the revolution happen in the way that makes you look the most heroic.

The inspiration
Rise of the Robotariat started with a mechanic that no longer exists in the game. One of our game designers had an idea that sounded to a lot like upgrading robots and that lead to the flavor that players are members of the robot rebellion. After a disappointing playtesting, we scrapped the original gameplay idea, but the story it inspired shaped the development of new mechanics.

This is one of the exciting aspects of Rise of the Robotariat: all of the gameplay is grounded in the flavor and the story is infused throughout. For a small example, we have a character named Alice who looks human, but is certain she’s just a very cleverly disguised robot. Because of her appearance, she has more influence with humans and her character’s ability gives her the greatest control over the movement of Human Oppressor NPCs.

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We’ve made a point to have the flavor color the rulebook, and the art for many of the characters references Soviet-era propaganda posters or revolutionary paintings. The predominant use of red in the games’ color scheme also is to invoke that revolutionary vibe.

As a cool extra, our writer has been writing on-going tales about the characters’ backstories leading up to the start of the game. We’re collecting them into a book and you can read them in blog-post form online here.

When’s it out?
The way to get the game is to back the game on Kickstarter. At the end of June, we launched a campaign for Rise of the Robotariat that runs until July 22nd. If we’re successful, we’ll be able to afford a print run and the game will be out by January 2017.