Hedge Maze #1: Origins and development

Last Monday we released Hedge Maze, a print and play game with a simple set of rules. It can either be played with printable components or with a chess board a set of Dominoes and a couple of tokens. This post will contain some of the history of the game and how it came to be what it now is.

 

The idea

A game doesn’t need to be complicated to be fun and doesn’t really need custom pieces, extravagant art or complicated mechanics either as long as the core of the game is fun and challenging. This is something that has been capitalized by other print and play games and probably made famous by Cheap Ass Games (of Kill Doctor Lucky fame). A game could very likely just be a rearrangement of an existing set of game pieces with new rules.

This is the main idea that drove development of Hedge Maze, using something common like the chess board and a set of game pieces creating a fun abstract strategy / puzzle game.

The main mechanic is sort of similar to Chinese checkers, get your pieces to the other side of the board before the opponent. While the ever moving maze is something that is fairly original to this game, the change the environment to suit yourself while blocking the opponent is a classic mechanic. Despite leaning on classics this is a new take on the mechanics, packaged in a way that can be played on the go or in

The first prototype was actually played on a computer screen. An Inkscape document where all the pieces could be moved around on a board was used to test the basic rules. After proving that it was an actual challenge and also a bit of fun within the tiny ruleset we invested in a set of Dominoes to start playing the game as intended.

One of the first board setups. Similar but not identical to the one shown in the current rules.
One of the first prototype boards we used when testing on a computer. The setup is similar but not identical to the one shown in the current rules.

Development

Despite having a quite simple core, at one point it was even simpler. Initially pieces couldn’t be rotated and the flip rule wasn’t added more than a couple of months ago.

The development of Hedge Maze has been quite slow and in periods. It was always a side project to Bushido Duels so it was in sprints we played and improved the rules and the starting maze layout. We’ve considered it almost done for over a year, it just needed a “little tweak”… So we’ve tweaked it, considering extra rules, adding new, removing again.

When writing the rules we tried making the format as compact as possible and to be easily printable. Fitting the entire rules on a single folded A4 (two pages for side) was set as the goal. This resulted in the current  Front page + 3 pages of rules. It became a bit cramped but it is hopefully understandable still. (If not, we’re open to suggestions)

Isn't that a nice and small booklet?
Isn’t that a nice and small booklet?

The Optional rules

On the back of the rules booklet we have the text:

This Game is © Frozen Maze Games AB 2019
but…
this is a simple game and there is room for extra rules, so feel free to add your  own ideas to the game and remix it as you see fit.

During Stockholm Tabletop Game Expo, the game designer (and very nice guy) Manuel sat down and played the game and we got talking about additional rules and the possibility to add and extend the game. We talked a bit about the rules we’d considered to make the game more interesting but not added to the core.  He suggested to encourage remixes and optional rules, an idea we felt fit excellently and incorporated quickly.

On the last page of the rules booklet there’s now a list of optional rules, some suggested by players testing the game at conventions and some rules we set aside during development. We hope players will now contribute rules back to us, extending the game further.

Bushido Duels #2: The idea

In this instalment of the dev blog Per shares the origin of Bushido Duels. Let’s go back to 2016 on a well trafficked highway somewhere in northern Sweden…*

It was during a drive up north in the summer of 2016 that Bushido Duels (called Samurai Duels back then) came to be. As I was driving I started to think about over the top anime duels and began pondering on how such duels could be simulated in an easy and fast to play way.

As we were just getting started in game design and a Kickstarter campaign was our goal at the time, I thought that if a first game could be done using nothing but cards it would make production “easier” (more on that another time).

Embracing stereotypes and Anime tropes.

I wanted the game to be centred around the different character’s attacks and creating interesting situations where  characters with different attacks and play-styles would face off.

Some think that the anime or cartoon character tropes have been done to death but I wanted to embrace the tropes and have the different fighters to be distinct from each other and easily recognisable. One should only need to take one look at them or hear their nicknames to understand what they were all about. And I feel that our Skype calls (much later during the visual design process) and discussions with the artist Emily Ryan helped us achieved that.

The game mechanic

I wanted the player to make strategic choices but also wanted luck (good or bad) to play a noticeable part in the game. In my mind the rock/paper/scissors system would provide a good framework for what I wanted to achieve as it provided a basis for interactions between the attacks.  It also fit my plan of having any one attack to be successful against half of the opponent’s attacks and unsuccessful against the other half. I wanted an attack to be really really successful against two of your opponents cards while the other two although successful will have less of an impact as the opponent will be able to block some of the incoming damage. This led to the development of the speed and strength values. These would allow for another level of interaction between the cards than just win or lose. (see how to play Bushido duels for example on how).

And most importantly each character would have special attack cards unique to that fighter.

The Mon Symbols

Each card would be identified by an unique symbol. Visually I wanted the symbols to adhere to the anime and Japanese theme of the game, I also wanted them to have some similarities to make it a bit harder to remember which cards the opponent had already played.

How many attack cards?

I wanted to move away from the basics of rock paper scissors and have more attacks. But how many? 3-6 seemed too few since I wanted each character to have at least three special attacks and I didn’t feel that half of the attacks should be comprised of special attacks. It should feel special to successfully perform one of these attacks.

After a bit of thinking I ended up with 9 attack cards. The reason for this was that the special attack cards would comprise one third of the total number of attacks. I felt this would allow for the special attack cards to surface often enough during a game so that the uniqueness of the fighters would be presented while at the same time allowing the game to not only be about special attacks. After all in the anime movies and Mangas it takes a while for the heroes and villains to unleash their most devastating attacks. 9 played cards also felt like the upper limit of what’s possible to remember.

Then what?

With that the foundation of the game was there. Next came making a prototype and game testing etc. More on that another time.

* Editors Note: North of the wall

Bushido Duels #1: The evolution of the Mon Wheel

We thought this first entry should be pretty light and basically show some of the numerous updates and improvements of the Mon Wheel during the development of Bushido Duels.

“What’s a Mon Wheel?” you ask.

Well, it’s one of the central mechanics of Bushido Duels, a rock-paper-scissors-based system determining how attack cards interact. (See the game’s page for more details.)

Below you can see some of the variants that were used during various stages of the game development process.

The very first test version
The very first test version.
At one point we doubted the wheel and made a table version...We went back to the wheel
At one point we doubted the wheel and made a table version…We went back to the wheel
A different take on the wheel highlighting that the following 4 techniques for any given symbol would be defensive.
A different take on the wheel, highlighting that the following four techniques for any given symbol would be defensive.
The fifth iteration
The fifth iteration. Looks sort of cool but is hard to read.

Quite some changes along the way, right? As you can see they all had different flaws. You’d notice things like freakish colours, varying line types, asymmetric shapes, inconsistency in design. All those flaws can however be summed up with the fact that the cards lacked visual simplicity.

Bad visual design can KILL a good game mechanic! These previous iterations were all too complicated to read in a gaming session. They took too much effort to survey as a player and slowed down the gameplay, they were probably severe enough ruin (what we think is) a good game.

We had the rules, we had the game mechanic (the interactions between the attack cards), and we had the desired shape, The race towards visual simplicity was on.

The final Mon wheel after some feedback and work by Emily Ryan.
The final Mon Wheel after excellent feedback and work by Emily Ryan.

Trying out different approaches and receiving feedback from people outside the company provided insight to what worked and what didn’t. Using that information and our initial idea of the  Mon Wheel we worked with our illustrator, the excellent Emily Ryan. Through Skype calls and e-mail conversations we were able to reach a better more readable wheel.

It was now a Mon Wheel that had all information without the previous flaws and sources of confusion and also looked really nice. It simplified the design, made it completely symmetric and arranged the symbols in a way so the next four symbols are all defensive and the arrows sort of make sense.

The development diary

This is the development diary. It will irregularly be updated with thoughts and details related to current and past projects. In the coming months the contents will mainly be focused on the work done for Bushido Duels.