Thursday, January 30, 2014

eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate!

One genre of strategy gaming that arose out of the power and flexibility of computers in the 1990's was the XXXX (4X) strategy game. 4X games are known for their deep and complex game play. Emphasis is placed upon economic and technological development, as well as a range of non-military routes to supremacy. Games can take quite a long time to complete since the amount of micromanagement needed to sustain an empire scales as the empire grows. 4X games are sometimes criticized for becoming tedious for these reasons, and several games have attempted to address these concerns by limiting micromanagement with varying degrees of success.

Sid Meier's Civilization

The 1990's saw the rise of such well known games as Sid Meier's Civilization which allowed players to run an historical civilization from stone age to the near future. These games were also known as empire-building and sweep-of-history games. It wasn't long before outer space became the battlefield with such games as Master of Orion, Space Empires and Galactic Civilizations. These were turn-based games that took many hours to complete and as empires grew, the management of  the empire eventually became cumbersome and tedious. Eventually games came along that tried to solve this problem by streamlining the economic, diplomacy and ship designing aspects. Some examples of this are Master of Orion 3 and Ascendancy which many say went too far in removing the player from important decisions. Eventually real-time based games came out such as Imperium Galactica and Starships Unlimited  tried to solve the long-game syndrome and some of the micromanagement issues with mixed success.

Master of Orion

While many 4X games were "sand-box" games - that is, games that had no story narrative and allowed players to do whatever they wanted for as long as they wanted - some became story-guided games such as Imperium Galactica and Sins of a Solar Empire emerged that game players the feeling they were a part of a larger reality and guided the player along toward a story end.

Space Empires 4

While 4X gaming has never been as successful among mainstream computer and video gamers as shooters and real-time strategy games, it has had a strong a loyal cult-like following that as they became older and became more sophisticated and wiser in their choices of games. The lessons of the past such as the heavy hand of micro-management, massive ship counts, numerous planets and long playing times have led to the development of games that try to provide the player with the feeling of managing a star-sprawling empire without the mind-numbing spreadsheet screens and administrative dullness that can result. Some games like Starships Unlimited have chosen to focus strictly on ship combat.

Starships Unlimited

While there have been a few board versions that tried to provide the same entertainment value as these computer games, most are hideously expensive (near $100!), very long-playing and with very complex rules - trying to be everything to everyone.

Sins of a Solar Empire (above) & Galactic Civilizations 2 (below)

Power Play Game's Battle for Gallion's Reach is a serious attempt to bring this genre to the game table in a format that is simple to grasp and yet has all the elements of a good 4X game without the ponderous amount of information needed to run a galactic empire. It was realized in the design process that no board game can adequately provide the depth and variety of options a computer game can, so it had to be decided which aspect of empire-building 4X games the player would enjoy the most. While some do enjoy the exploration, diplomacy, research and the more peaceful routes to victory, many prefer the visceral and tactical pleasures of star ship combat. so this is where Battle for Gallion's Reach placed it's focus.

Gallion's Reach space cards

The economic, diplomacy, random event and research models had to be simple and streamlined enough to keep the game from bogging down and allow the player to concentrate on star ship combat without tossing them aside altogether.  Eventually, after much test play and good advice from the players, the research "tree" was slimmed down to a simple track of five critical technologies. The diplomatic game was reduced to having the right cards and the economic model was hard-wired right into the planets themselves with no need for planting colonies and growing them. every 4X empire needs resources for building those massive star fleets but resource management can easily turn a fun game in to a chore, so Battle for Gallions' Reach circumvents this by also hard-wiring the acquisition of resources directly in the planets themselves and tied them elegantly and simply to the colonies. Using classic card-gaming, "build-points" are actually when a player has a colony and a resource which make a "Couple" One couple makes one build point and so many build points allow the player to build things. This creates an economic model that is logical and yet simple and streamlined enough that even the least sophisticated or youngest player can grasp the concept.

Sample Space/Planet Cards

Like all good 4X games, the combat is the entire point of the game and so Battle for Gallion's Reach puts the lion's share of it's eggs into this basket. To avoid huge ship counts and the Risk-like building of super-massive fleets that are designed to blast any opponent to dust while causing havoc across the board, the design uses squadrons of ships rather than individual ships, and there is a limit to these squadrons that can be built, be supported by the empire and can fight in a tactical battle. This helps to keep the games shorter and more dynamic. Added to this is a unique star ship Tactical Battle system where players place their squadrons on mats which represent the wings of a battle formation and duke it out with their opponents.

Sample Star Ship Squadron Card

Finally, no space empire can be without massive armies invading planets, so Battle for Gallion's Reach incorporates a simple and yet effective model for these events.

It was the designer's intention to bring the joy and thrill of the 4X space opera game to the table top for ages 10 to adult to enjoy. We hope that this is the thing we achieved!

If you would like to buy a copy of Battle for Gallion's Reach  it will soon be available through The Game Crafter ( through our website at Stay posted to this blog when it is released which should be by no later than mid-February of this year!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Print-on-Demand: The New Model of Manufacturing

Power Play Games kicks off it's first few games using the new model for manufacturing called print-on-demand. This process eliminates the need to anticipate sales and print games (or any other printable product) until one is ordered from a customer on-line - directly from the printer. The elimination of warehousing, while it does have the unfortunate effect of causing single-unit prices to be a bit on the high end of cost per unit, allows new products to gain market traction. Once a product - and in this case a game - has gained enough buyers and media attention, then the product can switch to the traditional model of printing in bulk and distribution to retailers.

It's a fine way for new designers to get their product printed professionally and into the hands of interested people rather than wasting advertising dollars on those that likely could care less. With Battle for Gallion's Reach, we have been able to create a final product relatively cheaply and release it without the cost of printing large numbers and warehousing those units until - and if - the potential target market becomes aware of it's existence and has had time to generate interest that culminates in buyers. All we have to do now is to find avenues of marketing and advertising the game. As people become interested, they can buy a copy from the printer and have it delivered to them hot-off-the-press within days.

The company that has enabled this is called The Game Crafter. They provide all the tools necessary for the designer to create a great game. While there are still some limitations involved, the interest in this technology and business model is giving game designers a chance to get their idea out to market and circumvent the traditional publisher. It's also a great way to have a prototype printed which can be used to solicit a publisher.

We highly recommend a visit to The Game Crafter website soon! There are many games there that await your gaming pleasure, including our own!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Right Game for the History of Asiago, Italy

My wife is involved in establishing our small Illinois town as a sister city with Asiago, Italy. As my part in this, my company is considering developing a game about that region of northern Italy. Our initial choice was a basic war game about the World War One battle that occurred there between the Italians and the Austrians. However, as we did more research we discovered that there might be a better way to promote education about the region then through a war game about a single moment in time - especially a place with as much history as Asiago.

In the early 1980's a board game came out called Britannia. It was what is called a "sweep-of-history" game where players play the parts of a variety of people groups that invaded and settled a region - in the case of Britannia it was about the period of British history between the Roman invasion and the Norman Conquest. The game can be played with two players but needs at least three to be played well and can handle up to five participants. The game is not very complicated, but because it is trying to re-create 1000 years of history as closely as possible, it can be rather detailed in places and is not a "beer & pretzels" game by any stretch of the term.

The upside of such a game is that it can introduce people to the history of a region and connect them with their ancestry through entertainment and anyone, even those that don't normally play board games and definitely don't play war games, can enjoy and gain something from the experience. It is also a great history teaching device - as long as it's kept simple. It can simulate war but only very abstractly and they tend to focus heavily the non-combat aspects of civilization building.

The downside is that it really requires about four players, which can be hard to wrangle-up on any given evening, and it can take four to six hours to play through a game. Players also never find themselves becoming attached emotionally to their "side" precisely because there is no "side" to take. Each player plays the part of a variety of civilizations/tribes/people groups as they appear and then disappear in sequence from history. The objective is to acquire points through combat and holding onto territory. The various tribes under one's control can even attack one other simply to gather points. Unlike a traditional game, one does not become identified with one's "side".

We are therefore considering both the World War One game or the sweep-of-history game as the vehicle to present the history of northeastern Italy to those that have ancestry there or are merely curious.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Power Play Games launches it's first game!

Battle for Gallion's Reach  

Battle For Gallion's Reach is almost ready for publication! 

 With the final play test scheduled to take place in a few days, if all goes well, the new table-top/board game will finally be on sale through! The game is a four-player strategy game for ages 12 and up about a future galactic struggle between four factions. The game is designed to never play the same twice, is heavily into starship combat and strategic planning and allows players to battle on planets with armies.

There is also a simple and yet interesting technology "tree" which gives players opportunities to gain advanced abilities.

Random card draws give players chances at playing certain strategies, deal with random events and gain tactical advantages for ship combat.

A short two-player game can take about 2-3 hours while a larger four-player game can take 3-6 hours.

Expansion sets will include more space/planet cards and faction-unique starships and weaponry.


The second game currently under development is Storm of Steel - an operational to tactical level World War Two game that uses some of the Gallion's Reach card-based game system with some modifications.  It's a game designed for a 12 years and up and can be played by to two opposing players or by two teams of two players on a side.

Storm of Stee is meant to be a fast-playing game of  wartime strategy where players replay famous World Wars Two operations such as the 1940 Blitzkrieg, Operation Sea Lion, Sicily 1942, most of the major actions of the Russian Front such as Barbarossa (three scenarios), Case Blue, Kursk, Stalingrad,as well as North Africa, Overlord, the Invasion of Greece, the Crusade in France, the Battle of the Bulge and the Battle for Berlin.

The system allows play at a variety of command scales from operational Army-level control like the entire Overlord operation down to semi-tactical Battalion-level command such as the such as the Utah Beach battle.

This flexible card-based unit system works hand-in-hand with a modifiable hex game board and the collecting of objective cards that give players power points which in turn allow for more actions each game turn. So as players win or lose a battle, they also gain or lose the ability to take certain actions.

The combat dice-based mechanic is simple and elegant. Famous leaders commanding individual units also affect combat and movement.

The game board is reversible with one side being used with summer terrain and the flip side having winter terrain. Hex-shaped cards are placed on the board to create the scenario used.

Finally, due to the extreme flexibility in the system, players can create their own historical battles or completely fictitious and hypothetical ones!

An expansion will move to the Pacific theater (ocean board) and include a flip side for North African/Mid-East (desert board) scenarios.

Asiago 1916

The third game being developed is Asiago 1916. This game has a strong historical flavor and simulates the World War One battle of Asiago Italy while acting as a unique educational tool where the use of historical leaders and events unfolding outside the region heavily influences affects the outcome of the game. The mechanic is the same as that used for the Storm of Steel system with some slight modifications.