Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Prepping Valley of the Ape for A Con

I’m preparing to bring my Valley of the Ape game to a regional wargaming convention in a few weeks, so I’m busy making last-minute adjustments, printing accessories, and planning my packing list.

I certainly have lots of “toys” necessary for the game – a huge swath of green dappled felt, dice, 54mm Armies in Plastic figures, and various terrain features from aquarium plants to custom stands of palm trees and quicksand, crocodile ponds, and a man-eating plant to place when those hazards appear – but printed game components need a bit more attention, particularly in the self-promotion department.

"Yay! More playtesting!"
Several playtest games with the Little Guy and a discussion with my wife revealed some game elements requiring revision. I needed to adjust extended ranges for some of the units; most can attack Mungo the giant ape when within 12 inches, though two had extended ranges of 24 inches...these I snipped down to a more reasonable yet still advantageous 18 inches. I quickly learned to revise Mungo’s random movement, eliminating the chance of movement toward the last group that attacked him at range (odd, too, when nobody shoots at him in a turn, a likely possibility); now he either moves toward the explorers closest to the central ruins (and hence treasure) or toward the explorers closest to the giant ape. Although I’m using a 30-sided die to track Mungo’s hit points, I also decided to employ a separate, large six-sided die for making rolls related to the giant ape (one when randomly determining toward which explorer group he moves and one to see how many explorers he takes out if he reaches them). My wife indicated kids might have reservations about hunting down and killing an ape, even a giant one that rips through one’s explorers; so I’m revising the rules text and related handouts to reflect that, once Mungo takes 30 points of damage, he’s weak enough to capture alive.

Mungo with his stat sheet and d30 hit counter.
Several game components also need revisions thanks to those playtesting sessions with the Little Guy. Each explorer group entering the valley gets a half-page card outlining the different turn phases and what each player can do during them. This includes specifics on rolling initiative, moving through the jungle, and shooting at Mungo the giant ape or other explorers; all incorporate special abilities for each explorer group, such as rolling an extra die in initiative and taking the best result, moving through jungle terrain, and extended shooting range. I also have a similar sheet for Mungo to help with record-keeping (he takes 30 hits) and help any extra player who comes along and just wants to run the giant ape.

During playtesting I realized the game needed some easy means of remembering the turn order among players. Each turn everyone rolls initiative to determine the order in which players take actions; everyone takes turns moving, then everyone takes turns shooting at available targets, all in the order determined by initiative. I decided the easiest solution was to design folded “tent” cards with numbers from one to four on them. Once players determine initiative, they get the corresponding numbered tent card to place in front of them (or near their explorer figures) so everyone knows who moves and shoots in what order each turn.

I also need signs to set around the table to tempt folks to join the game (using several sign holders from the long-past days when I actively promoted Griffon Publishing Studio publications at roleplaying game conventions). One set of signs will advertise the event itself with the game name, possibly a graphic, and the times clearly stated. The other signs serve as play aids, offering a turn and rules summary from the unpublished Valley of the Ape rulebook draft.

All these at-the-table game aids need fine print connecting them with the Valley of the Ape game and my own publishing efforts, including a copyright notice and web addresses for the Griffon Publishing Studio website and the Hobby Games Recce blog. I might print out additional explorer summary cards so participants can keep a small souvenir of their jungle-exploring experience.

The convention serves another purpose for me as a publisher, beyond simply giving the rules more play time in the testing stage: it drives me to develop player aids to include in the game book as well as complete the draft rules for layout with graphic elements for a final product. If I can get a copy of the rules laid out and printed, I might not only have a decent-looking reference for the gaming table but something I can give away to interested players if I manage to print multiple copies. I ultimately expect to offer the rulebook at Wargames Vault as a pay-what-you-want PDF product, though to play folks obviously need to collect or make a good deal of “toys” for a decent-looking board.

So I have some layout revisions to implement on the game aids, a lot of cardstock to print and trim, and a slew of terrain packing to do before I work on the actual rulebook...we’ll see how the games go in a few weeks when I load up my car and head out to the convention.

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