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The Analog Ouch: Physical Stuff

Just got THIS from an AWESOME friend who was cleaning things out of his garage:

TOTALLY OLD-SCHOOL GAMES!

Apart from the wicked art and LUXURIOUS, amazingly awesome game-bits and board, there's a ton of interesting ideas and some HISTORY, too! Take the following quote from Ken St. Andre, the developer of Tunnels & Trolls, from 1975:

"Tunnels & Trolls will require that you actively use your imagination, not slavishly follow a set of rules around a world not of your own making. Although there are many 'rules' in the book that follows, please remember this: they are largely intended as guidelines to spare you the effort of re-creating everything yourself from scratch. If you find something you would like to change to make the game more to your liking, then go ahead and change it. There are no 'right' or 'wrong' ways to play, only suggestions."

1975. Damn. Dude had it DOWN.

But still, these games lacked the mechanical sophistication to deliver on their promise & premise - the magic was less an outgrowth of the system, and more of the creativity and enthusiasm of the players (which should never be underestimated!). Tunnels & Trolls was pretty stripped down compare to, say, D&D, but it still had some of the same wonkiness: dungeon design required a TON of investment by the GM, "win" or "lose" was still rather arbitrary and based on chance (you rolled well or badly, then lived or died based on the results), and death was rather common and final (a classic "American Game" feaux paux, which leads to annoyance and boredom on the part of the "out" player).

However, as a really nice review pointed out, T&T has weathered the test of time better than D&D, and in many ways is a more story-focused game as it has a much more flexible mechanic. What an awesome game - for all my system nerd-iness, I WISH I had even an OUNCE of their MASSIVE success and long-lasting appeal! It made me want to run the old game - then maybe run out and purchase the new one!

So yeah - analog games are old-school cool, but still plagued by some unbeatable issues, and one is plaguing Genre:

The problem of BITS.

Bits - physical stuff like cards, dice, and so on - have to be MADE by somebody; we haven't yet reached the Star Trek level of 3D printing where you'd be able to download the template for a thing and your home device would print it up for you. This, of course, means you have to pay a manufacturer and even a distributer (assuming you don't have the time, effort, and SPACE needed to store and send out all the copies of whatever game you're selling) to make and send all that STUFF. Each bit costs something to make and something to send.

So those pretty boxes in that picture I uploaded are both the charming old-school appeal of the analog boardgame, and also the bogeyman for developers. At least, those with ideas as BIG - literally, in terms of bits - as Genre.

Some ideas I've had for making the thing cheaper to make/send:

MATS:

The big, 8.5x11 inch Character DMs and Script DMs are designed to be Print n' Play, so we can release new Scripts and Character story arcs for free as the game evolves. That's fine n' dandy, but it doesn't solve the issue of the first print of the game - how many single-page, double-sided DMs do we need to include? How much will that cost? Those things are kind of sizable ...

One thought is to make them less "mats" and more "strips" - something like a 4.5x11 half-sheet. The idea would be to give more room to the "arc" part and less to the Icons - just have the Icons at the bottom of the sheet as a place-holder to show where Prop, Relationship, Extra, and Trait cards would go. There'd be no Applause tracker, or need for "clips" - a player would need to use tokens for that, like coins, paperclips, glass beads, or what-have-you.

Of course, being able to print half-sheet strip mats would depend on manufacturing costs. Hmmm ... thoughts, anybody?

CARDS:

I've already trimmed down from the well over 600+ card initial build to 304 (152 each for two decks - Performance and Plot). That's fewer cards, but still kinda' hefty. The initial cull was just good beta-testing: we played enough to notice that some tropes, despite being recognizable movie parts and fun to read, just didn't get played. Whatever the reason, they never seemed to suit the game, so we scrapped 'em.

The next idea I'm considering is to double-side the cards - instead of two decks of Performances and Plot Hooks, ONE deck. This would have some ramifications, though:

Not ALL tropes could be in play at the same time. The pairs would have to be thought out: what tropes might pair well? Badly?

We'd need a mechanic to flip cards with - maybe each turn you could flip INSTEAD of playing a card, if you chose. Also, it might mean flipping a card could remove a Plot Hook, taking a card that was current to the Script out of play, and revealing a card that had been previously dealt with in the course of the narrative. Perhaps you'd only be able to flip a Performance to reveal a Plot Hook, but not the other way around?

Hand size would need to change - after all, ONE card would now take TWICE as long to read, initially (there is a quick learning curve; after playing once, you tend to get a sense of the cards and develop familiarity with the tropes, making play a lot faster and more intuitive). Perhaps THREE cards or FOUR per hand? Draw could now just be two.

The only way to know if any of this would work - or what strategies might - will be to try it out. To the Beta Cave!

CLIPS:

This one's not as central as the other issues, but definitely of interest. Currently, we're using those plastic, triangular paper clips that handily look like arrows as a way to track Applause and indicate what cards have been played to move the Script DM forward to a new Act.

Are those feasible for a given manufacturer to include? Asking a player to provide them is just annoying - nothing's more frustrating than buying a game and then finding out you can't play it right after opening the box! Should I go with tokens or a scorepad, instead?

The scorepad is of interest because the Super-Heroic deck has some ideas for Character Creation that would benefit from a note-card approach. More on that to come!

What are YOUR thoughts? If you've published, how'd you manage your bits? What kind of game bits seem necessary, useful, innovative, or useLESS to you, and why?

What is the BEST way, in YOUR book, to balance the "Analog Edge" of having physical bits and bobs that build connections between people and incentivize creativity, while minimizing the "Analog Ouch" of having to send said bits via snail mail?

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