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Public playtest

Ready as I’ll ever be. I’m really interested in getting some outside feedback. I’m going to submit the game in progress to three places:

reddit.com/r/tabletopgamedesign
reddit.com/r/boardgames
boardgamegeek.com/forum/26/boardgamegeek/board-game-design

The points I would especially like feedback on are:

• Is there anything that doesn’t make sense?
• Did you encounter a situation not covered in the rules?
• Are the number of hit points for each part of the car appropriate?
• Is the damage from each weapon appropriate?
• Are there any rule modifications you can suggest to make the game more fun, or run smoother?
• How long did your game take, and how many vehicles were involved?

Feedback can be through the link at the top of the page, or emailed directly to kerry.thomas@thoscorp.com

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Rough artwork

For me, this is the most painful part of the process. As a designer, I’m only happy with presenting final, polished artwork, so the rough scribbles I’m putting out as the playtest art are genuinely distressing. However for various reasons, rough artwork is preferable for a game in progress.

• I don’t want to spend many hours on a game that is fundamentally broken, or if the focus or direction of the game changes, and different components are needed.
• The game rules are not complete. If I provide polished looking artwork, playtesters may be less inclined to download and play the final, and hopefully best version of the game.
• Toner costs money. I don’t want to oblige people to use huge amounts of ink to produce and test a game that is not final, so artwork is deliberately limited in colour.

Painfully rough artwork from various playtests:

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Component art

After using a rough positional, I thought it would be a nice touch to include an ace of spades in the skid marks on the speed tracks. I played around drawing the solid parts, before realising it’s far more effective to start with a black rectangle and draw the white gaps as lines on top.

So as not to obscure the time markers, the skid marks fade out, using a gradient with a nice lot of grainy noise added.

Not sure if they’ll even be visible in the final artwork. It was fun to do, though.

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Playtest 3

We’re getting much closer to what I would hope to be a final rule set now. Lots of minor tweaks and clarifications. Of course a public release may still reveal vast unforeseen problems.

The most major change arising from this session is to reduce the penalty for performing handbrake turns. Originally, when pulling a handbrake turn, the tyres took damage at any speed, which meant they were only used in rare, emergency situations. By removing this penalty for slower speeds, it means cars are far more likely to drive-by, attack and spin to face each other again.

It speeds up the gameplay considerably, as everyone isn’t spending long periods of time having to drive in big curves to get back into attack position.

It also means the game now plays out more like a WWI aircraft dogfight, which is a very good thing.

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Logo

Playing around with the logo. Trying out the two colour old school Letratone style that’ll work well in the manual. The 3D effect is created by offsetting the type inwards, creating the inner shapes. Then I manually drew each of the shapes that make up the bevels around the sides. Applying gradients and filters in Illustrator and Photoshop provides the chrome look.

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Playtest 2

The biggest changes from this playtest are to the driver and gunner’s on-foot abilities.

Originally both characters could leave the car, and run around with weapons. But this led to the need for a second set of combat time cards for each car, as well as charts to identify each character. As the aim of the game at this point was to destroy both humans, it was easy for the game to devolve into an unsatisfying foot-based shooter.

The fix is to switch the aim of the game to be to destroy the driver only. He is after all the Car Ace. Added to that, the driver is now unable to leave the car. This means the vehicle is always the point of focus for combat.

Gunners can still leave, but they are merely a distraction from the aim of the game, which is always to be attacking the car.

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Manual art

I want the art for the game pieces to be semi-realistic, with a slight cartoon feel. However, for the manual I want to go old school, when technical drawings were made with a drawing board and a t-square, and Letratone was the shading method of choice.

I’ve photographed a couple of toy cars. Then traced, modified and customised them. Adding a halftone filter to the gradients on the windows creates that great classic look.

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Playtest 1

I’ve managed to get together a set of initial rules, and create a rough set of playing pieces.

Loads of great rules alterations from the first playtest. The main one is that movement should be turn based.

Initially I thought it would be great to have all players placing their next speed track simultaneously. However, problems start to arise when players wish to move based on each others’ movements.

For example: Two cars are heading directly for one another. One player wishes to cause a collision, the other wishes to avoid one. At first I thought a solution would be to have a set of direction cards (hard left, left, straight, right, hard right), to be played simultaneously in the event of disagreements, but it started getting far too messy.

The solution was a list of car names for placement order. Each turn a different car becomes ‘lead car’, and places their speed tracks first. This also means everyone is aware of what is happening step by step, rather than it being a bit of a free-for-all.

In addition, this greatly cuts down on the number of speed tracks needed. Before, if everyone is travelling at 40mph and they wish to retain the same speed, a four car game would need eight sets of tracks. This way, you only need one extra set - so four cars need five sets of speed tracks.

The lead car is slightly misnamed, as it’s actually at a disadvantage, as the last car to move can see where everyone else has moved. However, as each car takes turns as the lead, no-one will have too much of an advantage overall.

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Logo

I want the logo to look like the chrome badge from a classic car. In addition, I want it to incorporate elements that relate to the imagery of a driving ace. The winners wreath frames the A nicely, to achieve this.

I’ve also placed a playing card ‘spade’ inside the A, which should also allude to gambling, poker, rogues and ruffians.

This makes the cross bar of the A into a slightly odd-looking shape, so to help blend this in with the rest of the words, I looked for a typeface with curving points coming out from the horizontal. This style of font is particularly evocative of the American west, which nicely ties in to the whole rebellious motorcycle and car driving culture.

I finally found a free typeface that does the job nicely: Saddlebag



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Name

This is tough. There’s two lists online of prior car combat game titles, at Wikipedia and Giant Bomb. Rather than inspire ideas, they cut down greatly the options for a name. And even when I think of one that’s not on the list, a quick search often turns up a game that wasn’t listed. Alternatively, a name is in use already by one company or another.

Ideally I want a name that could also represent pure racing, with no combat at all. So, in rough order of conception…

Throttle
Battle-
Auto-
Car-
War-
-Warrior
-Sports
-Duel
Ignition
Murdercars
Acetrack
War Wagons
Arena
Gladiator
War Wheels
Wheel Wars
Carash!
Carena
Carmour
Motorcide
Caricide
AutoPlanet
Motobattles
Autonation
Warcars
Carbattles
Chrome & Lead
Autowar
Warmobiles
Carfight
Burning Asphalt
Blood & Oil
Broken Asphalt
Skull & Pistons
Fuel Wars
Gasoline
Carlands
Blazing Steel
Speed Tracks
Car Aces

I’ve eventually gone for Car Aces. It’s not being used by any companies. It can signify pure racing as well as combat driving. It’s evocative of the WWI flying aces. Also it’s a homophone of ‘car races’, which alludes to its evolution from the grid-based game ‘racetrack’.

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Core mechanics

A while ago I came across a Metafilter post about a pencil and paper game called racetrack. This game passed me by as a child, but it’s a great system that’s simple but realistic. I decided to use this system as a foundation point, but develop it to remove the need for an underlying grid.

First I’ve created strips of paper of different lengths, to represent different speeds. As a car travels approximately one car length for every 10mph it’s travelling, I’m able to make each strip the distance a car would travel in 1 second.

Then it’s a question of working out the cornering. On the grid system, a car can turn less the faster it is travelling. I drew a grid of dots, and placed the end of one strip on a grid dot on the bottom. Placing the different speed strips in turn, and twisting them so they meet the grid dots, I’m able to create a series of lines, showing how far a car is allowed to turn at different speeds.

This creates an underlying grid system that is no longer necessary to appear. In addition, the system is more flexible in that players don’t have to turn exactly on the line - cars can take a shallower corner, that will in effect put them in between points on the grid.

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Beginning

I’ve been thinking for a long time about creating a boardgame. When I came across Game Crafter, it gave me a great goal to try and meet; the professional production of a game. Not to make money - just so I can buy it and play it!

I want my game to meet various criteria.

Firstly I have to want to play it myself. Fairly obvious, but I think it always bears remembering. I’m not sure how many designers think “people will love this” rather than “I love this”.

Secondly, it has to work for both adults and young children. Often when looking to buy games for my two young boys, an instant problem are cards or playing areas with long sentences of instructions to read each turn.

I finally settled on a vehicle combat game, in the spirit of classics such as Car Wars and Battlecars. My version of the game uses Hot Wheels / Matchbox scale cars, of which most homes have a few lying around somewhere. This should also make it fun for people to customise their cars easily. Rather than having to paint miniatures from scratch, most of the work is done, and simple elements can just be painted or glued on  to create a great effect. However, because of the cars’ size, it means that the game will probably be best played on a floor, as most tabletops will be too small for a battle arena.

Finally, I want everything to be as streamlined, light and fast moving as possible, with no complicated To Hit and Damage calculations, and I want to avoid luck, and make it skill based as much as possible. So no dice.