Chekhov’s Gun

If we adhere to Anton Chekhov’s oft-referenced principle that a gun shown in act one must be fired later within the story, then every tale taking place in or around Grisleigh End must, perforce, be a very busy place.  One should, of course, expect an ancestral English country manor to have a broad collection of interesting objects available in its numberless nooks and crannies, even lying about in plain sight.  The home of the Redmaynes is certainly no exception to this.Checkhov's Gun

Mind you, should we treat Checkov’s Gun literally, the Doctor would be in great demand.  Even considered in its figurative sense, that every element in a story must have a purpose and to achieve that purpose it must be associated with an action, that is, it must impact the plot.  A gun must fire, a knife must cut, a fingerprint must  reveal a perpetrator, a loop of rope must catch something, or perhaps hang someone.   The implication of future action or revelation sets up a tension in the mind of the observer or reader, who must give a portion of their attention to each of these items, waiting and watching for the foreshadowed event to take place, with  questions always pressing: “Why is the watch broken?” “When will the serpent bite someone, and who will it be?” “How will the poison kill them?”

In a great house full of history, avarice, and questionable moral traditions, the possibilities are endless, of course, something we cannot say for the lives of the people therein.

FOPCon here we come!

With April come spring showers and, apparently, a significant danger of old movie allusions.  The coming weekend will see Grisleigh End demoed at FOPCon VI: Revenge of the Sixth! (insert obligatory groan here) Although we’re all first-timers, we’ve heard very good things about this event, both for the game-playing available and the great charitable causes it supports.  In fact, take a look at their Facebook page for pictures of the raffle grand prizes – very impressive!

Opportunities to fight over the Redmayne’s fortunes should be available from mid-afternoon through the evening.  If you know you’ll be there and looking for us, be sure to join our own FB event so we’ll know to keep an eye out for you!

In the meantime, we’ve been distilling all the great player feedback we’ve received and are working on what will be the last major revision before hitting the larger gaming events of the summer, maybe even before going public.  Tweaks and touch-ups may continue until it hits the shelves, but this set of improvements should resolve the few real concerns our testers have raised.

As always, even if you can’t game with us at an event, please let us know when and where you’d like to have a demo session and we’ll do our best to schedule one with you.  And spread the word!  The more people who know about this project, the better we can make it.

The Will of the Baron

Or, rather, ‘A will of the Baron, since he was known to draft versions of his “Last Will and Testament” quite often.  One might almost consider it a hobby of his, really.  The following example of his whimsy does not particularly stand out among the surviving editions.  Like the others, it lacks his signature, seal, or any indications of it being a complete and official record and, therefore, has no standing in the eyes of the law.  As it bears all signs of being his writing, on his stationery, found in his desk, and appears to have been written closest to the point of his untimely demise, the executors of his estate have determined that it should stand as the de facto final will, at least insomuch as it names the individuals to be awarded the chance to inherit his worldly goods and wealth.

I, Andrew Redmayne, after due deliberation and having given these matters sincere reflection, do declare the following to be my last Will and Testament with respect to all such property as may be left by me upon my death. Any and all prior wills, codicils, covenants and contracts are hereby declared expired, expunged, revoked and remitted.

Having neither wife nor recognized issue, I leave the whole of my property and estate, real, personal and mixed, to my sole heir, who shall be determined by their own efforts from within the coterie of people I herein name:

  1. Gertrude Comfort-Smith, for her friendship to dear Marguerite and numerous services I shall not put to pen.
  2. Iskender Mustafa Yiğit Kesici, for his bravery and service to our mutual cause in his homeland of Turkey.
  3. Anthony Maurice Rositter, that he may find it resolves far fewer matters than he might wish, and carries obligations of which he has yet to dream.
  4. Martin Amis Hederich, because I do like a good chutney.
  5. Theodora Katerina Basilia Pavo-Kristatos, for no one will squander my fortunes more fabulously than she.
  6. Sarah Elizabeth Morgan, for the moments of sweet delight, and in hopes that it brings her satisfaction.

Each of the aforementioned I hereby grant the opportunity to compete for my estate. All who chose to participate are to assemble within the walls of my home at Grisleigh End, at which point they shall receive further instruction.

(The following is to be read once the potential heirs are gathered.)

Having assembled, let those present know that I have in my personal writings associated each with a particular epithet and symbol. Furthermore, let them know that I have rendered into shreds all documents the public exposure of which might cause them discomfort. Those shreds remain within the house in which they now stand, awaiting discovery. From this point until the tolling of the final bell, twelve hours hence, they are free to search this structure and gather up as many of these fragments as they prove able, paying particular note to those bearing their own title and seal. Only these shall be considered by my solicitors in determining the disposition of my holdings. The person who has accommodated themselves most thoroughly, as evidenced by providing the chief solicitor with the greatest collection of evidence, shall receive every red cent I leave behind. The others shall receive nothing. In the case of two claimants presenting equally strong collections, my solicitors have further instructions on how to resolve the matter.

The Secretary

Too few give sufficient consideration to the true power of the secretary. No mere processor of paperwork or note-minder, this keeper of secrets keeps fingers pressed upon the pulses of power within any organization. The strings to which the many dance descend but from one hand, often invisible within a web of other ‘actors.’ Numberless lie the lords and ladies in their tombs who did not recognize their own reliance upon this most invaluable vassal, who paid insufficient homage to upon the altar of information, and who fell from the high seat of honor for this failure. The Secretary

For that is the role of the secretary, to keep the keys to the castle from tallest tower to yawning oubliette, all in the form of information. The secretary need not carry a jingling ring himself, as it matters little who holds the key to any lock when the holder is themselves but a puppet to be played by another, and the master of secrets knows in which ears to whisper his words and cause others to act in accordance with his will. Perhaps the past performance of a transgression, never resolved or expunged, lurks beneath a noble’s fine raiment; perchance an old opponent would wreak revenge were he but to know the true name of a certain member of the manor; it might be that one of the praetorian guard has a predilection for distasteful delicacies only available through forbidden channels. Whatever form the clandestine matter, its value derives from the desire to keep it unknown, a value the secretary may take great pleasure in putting to his use in the pursuit of his own private passions.

The Butler

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the butler, the gentleman’s gentleman. Some might look upon him as a servant, but those individuals labor under a burden of ignorance too prodigious to explore in this small space. No single word or phrase can encompass the scope of his skills or extent of his abilities. More than mere valet de chambre or footman, he enables his employer to exceed the limitations deriving from noble birth and a life of privilege. The Butler

As castellan or seneschal he lifts the load of managing worldly wealth upon his own ever-straight shoulders that his lord might have the leisure to find surcease of care in discreet divertissement. An unfeigned factotum, infinitely capable whether a task calls for dogsbody or majordomo, he assures the proper and efficient functioning of both the masters’ house and the master’s life. Bringing unequalled grace to the roles of khitmatgar and khansama, cupbearer and ostler, he stands ever without self-concern, a squire with no aspiration beyond his station of a bachelor-at-arms. His lord’s advisor and confidante, a paragon of patience and persistence, he provides the infinite dignity every noble is called upon to display. The professional’s conscience, the dilettantes’ living encyclopedia, the inexpert athleticist’s medic, the accomplished adept at the art of improving the appearance of another, the unavoidably invaluable asset in any gentleman’s household, he is and can only be the butler

Game Puberty

One of the greatest things about demoing a game in development can also be a cause of frustration.  Every time we introduce new people to Grisleigh End, we get new perspectives on aspects of the game.  Some players focus on the mechanics and suggest small tweaks (‘More player-on-player attacks, please!’), minor revisions (‘If you would just move this activity to another point in the action sequence, it would speed things up.’), or major restructuring (‘Cut this quarter of the playing board off and release it as an expansion later.’).  Others identify visual or presentation matters as key to making it better (‘There should be doors between these rooms.’ or ‘The print is hard to read in these colors.’)  Gamers of all sorts have their opinions, of course, for they tend to know what they like and that’s what they want to have when they play.

Thank goodness that they do!  We ask and ask for their input, large or small, and are grateful that they not only take their precious playing time to test our games but spend time they could be playing filling out our surveys or talking design matters over with us.  And we specifically ask for what they would change because compliments, however nice and useful insomuch as they suggest what design elements we should retain, it’s criticism that informs us what isn’t working as well as it should.  We try to make this clear to everyone, that we seek their recommendations on how to make our games better, not just confirmation of how awesome they already are (although compliments are always welcome, of course.), in order to continually push us as designers to make better games.  By and large, we have had success in this, getting a steady stream of feedback from our playtesters.

So what do we do with all of this input?  Ah, there’s the rub.  As designers, we strive to make the best games we can.  Our definition of success is shaped by our study of the science and art underlying game design as well as our own preferences for the games we like to play.  We realize that our own experiences and preferences are just that, our own, and therefore limited.  When our testers suggest changes to improve our games, we consider all of them to make sure we’re making the best game not just for ourselves and our own play styles, but for everyone.

Setting aside for another blog entry the discussion of whether there is such a thing as the best game for everyone, the processing of lots of suggestions, often contradictory ones, is work, and it’s time-consuming.  The thrill of seeing people play and enjoy what we’ve made (our faire game) is balanced by the stress of trying to figure out how best to please the largest number of people the most.  Ah, the simpler days when we were just a bunch of gaming nerds laughing around a table covered with bits of paper, plastic, and our ideas.  We made new rules as we went along, inventing new mechanics and modifying scoring mid-turn at times.  We were crazy, back in the times before we decided to share this new thing with other people.  Now we spend most of our game time working to make it better, tightening the wording here and resizing an image there, all while watching the whole structure to ensure we’re not breaking anything.

Thus goes maturity, I suppose.  If all anyone had to do to produce a great and successful game was to play a lot, everyone would do it, right?  This analogy puts us right in the depths of puberty, cautiously and often awkwardly stepping out into a wider world, figuring out how and where we fit in, and how to make our way.  A stage of growth that many find challenging, but most of us survive and come out the other side stronger and more capable.  So too shall Grisleigh End.

Here’s to seeing our little game growing up!


Great Days at the Unpub!

Many thanks to game designer William Baldwin for organizing  Unpub April 5, 2014 1and Epic Loot Games and Comics for hosting this event on International Board Game Day!  We had a great time demoing Grisleigh End as well as playing the unpublished games of many other designers.  Lots of great discussion with players new to boardgames as well as game creators with multiple titles to their names.  We were honored to be part of this gathering, showcasing our newest game materials and really digging into what makes games work.

We also saw a new record score in GE, with one player reaching 96 points!  That was during the game pictured to the right, with Matt Cocuzzi, although that wasn’t his score.  (Sorry, Matt!)

Special bonus for me was having the time to sit down with our own Corey Young and play a session of his awesome GravWell  (now published by Cryptozoic).  This game is a blast!  FAST and way easy to learn.  We were playing within a couple of minutes of opening the box and done less than twenty minutes later.  (I almost won). It’s always a treat to learn a game from the actual creator and talk about the many decisions that led to the final product.  Every game, no matter how simple the rule set, goes through many iterations between inspiration and release into the hands of wild players, and we can learn a great deal from the journeys they make.

Next up, a private consultation with the League of  Games Lawyers this weekend, and then off to FOPCon!