They would have made great pieces…

Zenith:Unknown development diary 4: The long (literally) path to working prototype and the sudden appearance of some unexpected obstacles.

Shortly after last dev diary was published some 25 months ago, I decided to switch priorities a bit and try to pull off couple other ideas with seemingly greater commercial potential than a board game that will only appeal to couple dozen sci-fi fans in the world at some point in the future. I was hoping they will lift off and start taking care of themselves almost without supervision and that would leave me with plenty of spare time on my hands to get back to Zenith:Unknown.

Year and a half later things were not looking in the desired shade of pink though and I decided to eventually pull the plug on both projects I’ve been working on.

With these time sinks gone, I started slowly looking back at Z:U. Last autumn I decided I will do the first 3D printed miniatures, so, you know, the game can be played properly and feel like a real game, not like a bunch of coins tossed over scattered pieces of paper.

Yeah, well... Want a free advice? Don’t just assume things you find on these free 3D repositories will work for you. Even remotely. As it turned out, the countless hours I have put into remodelling and fixing few promising shapes I acquired on internet, might have been spent in vain. There were some critical glitches in the models that prevented them from being prepared for 3D printing. Glitches so severe, they began crashing my Sketchup when I tried to fix them. And few dozen crashes got me discouraged and puzzled about the way this should be handled. And frankly I still have no clue how to proceed — should I keep trying to fix them or should I just start from scratch with my own concepts. Whatever the outcome however, miniatures are not coming to life soon.

Four months ago, I went back to my game documents and found out I was a little overenthusiastic about the state of gameplay last time too. It was simply not going to work out. Again.

Oh and while at it, I got to redesign all cards too.

So I scrapped almost all of it. Again. And rewrote almost all of it. Again.

Thinking about the gameplay, I forced myself into watching hours of board game sessions and frankly in 9 out of 10 cases I was “What the actual fuck, how do people even play this shit? And who comes up with something like this in the first place? And for what possible reason?” I mean manuals with tens and even hundreds of pages, hundreds of tokens, boards the size of two dining tables… Seriously, what the hell. Aren’t games supposed to be fun, rather than make you feel like going for a masters degree?

I was in shock. But that was somewhat to be expected. Let me remind you that board gaming and its associated geek culture have never been part of my life. Minimalism and user experience on the other hand have always been. And so I made the decision to try and simplify Z:U gameplay as much as possible so one can set the game up and understand basic terms in the first few minutes of the very first session. And that once more required a new approach. One that would make everything logical and obvious to people who see the game for the first time. One that would not require extensive user manual and would not confuse players like myself, who simply hate unnecessarily overcomplicated stuff in any form. One that would cater to every science fiction fan, regardless of their background and age group.

Actually, about that last point, the game will probably be rated 18+, as there is “foul language” used by the metric shitton, accompanied by “insults” that target all kinds of aspects of our profoundly fucked up society. And I would like to emphasize that this won’t change. So if you are one of those pretentious twats that get pushed back or, oh boy, “offended” by “profanity” and you feel the urge to school me about the harm this could possibly do to certain fragile individuals…

Kindly go fuck yourself. Thank you.

Right, back on track.

So I eventually swapped the whole concept of having a special multi-page booklet that explains which sectors need to be in which mode so player can perform an action, with self-explanatory board design that clearly outlines sector hierarchy and dependencies. And I hope it should be really easy for the players to understand the prerequisites for an action now.

It took me three and a half years to come to something this obvious. v0.4

While at first I was in awe of my own genius, I found shortly after the board needed some more work.

v0.5 follows the new concept of intuitive logic and function. I hope :/

I’m not sure if I have explained that before. The game involves two board types — a ship board and a game board. Latter will probably receive fancier name at some point in the future — like universe board, galaxy board, solar system board or whatever, but for now let’s just refer to it as the game board.

  • The ship board, as pictured above, represents player’s ship. There are 4 ship boards in the game, individually distributed to players. Moving your crew around the ship board affects your ship’s abilities;
  • The game board on the other hand is a square 12x12 grid, consisting of 144 pieces that represent sectors in space around player ships. Each sector may have an object inside it — a planet, sun, asteroid belt, wreck etc. It may impact the ship in one way or another or trigger an event or minigame.

In one of my first posts I remember mentioning tools I typically use. One of them — Producteev that I’ve been using and loving for years however almost lead to some unrecoverable losses. TL;DR without a warning (except a tiny announcement on their own forums) and shortly after selling their asses for some hefty $462 million, Jive announced they just decided to discontinue Producteev. They fucking just pulled the plug with all user info in it and with no bloody means of export, except a CSV, which would have perfectly suited the shape of my rectum. And it was only in result of some public uproar and class suit threats they brought it back for one more month so some users may eventually extract their data. Lucky for me, I was able to replicate everything by the hi-tech approach of copy/pasting it all to Asana just few days before the service finally went down.

After some deep meditation with a bottle in my lap, I decided to start codenaming prototypes. It didn’t take long to come up with the ingenious thought to base the naming convention on my favourite drink, conveniently sitting in my lap at that particular time— rum.

So this prototype shall be named Mount Gay, after the first rum I have ever bought as conscious rum *ahem* connoisseur.

Honestly, one of the best rums ever.

Changes in Mount Gay prototype:

  • Core and mainframe no longer divide sectors in two seemingly equal circuits — frankly that was a dumb concept to begin with;
  • The two circuits are now called main and auxiliary. They still somewhat depend on core and mainframe but not in the previous manner;
  • Ship board has been completely redesigned; all sectors, relations, hierarchy, actions and dependencies have been redone from scratch;
  • Bridge now plays an elevated role, supposedly making it the third most important sector in the ship;
  • Core and mainframe functions now intertwine in much more complex, yet logical way that allows for much more flexible sector operation;
  • The initial idea of Reinforced sector state found its way back, this time as a chance-based temporary enhancement;
  • Partial sector state is now called Limited;
  • Power deck now contains 10 cards;
  • A new set of Engagement cards has been added. It defines the outcome of offensive/defensive actions and minigames. Currently the set contains 12 cards;
  • New Event cards have been added and the deck now consists of 34 cards;
  • Card design has been completely changed;
  • Game board has received two new sector types — hazardous and opportune;
  • Life Support sector is now simply called Crew and has slightly different role;
  • Quarantine bay has been removed — was struggling to find any meaningful use for it at this point anyway.

Yeah, I am sorry, but there is no working prototype this time either. And believe me, I feel really unpleasant about that. I really, really wanted to finally roll the dice on something that looks like a game and show it out. Instead, I guess next diary will be some 12 or more months from now. And I am not entirely confident there will be working prototype shown in it either. But it is what it is.

a proper sci-fi board game