What makes FAZA Unique?

A question I’ve asked myself many times, has anyone else already made a game that’s similar to FAZA? And I think this stems from my desire to add new ideas and fun experiences to the corpus of games that have come before.

To answer the question, there are multiple ideas and game mechanics I can point to when brought together make FAZA a unique and fun experience.

A Communal Turn

The player’s all share a communal turn, which means actions can be used in any order that is advantageous to the group’s strategy. As a result of the communal turn, the game facilitates strategic group discussions, creating the feeling that everyone is a tactician preparing for skirmishes and war.

Playtesting an early iteration of FAZA

The communal turn was designed into the game as a solution to reduce the amount of time that it would normally take to complete a round. The action point system is designed into the player cards, and creates a self limiting system. Any player can do any action at any time since there’s a limited number of player cards. Designing for self-limiting actions sets the groundwork for simultaneous play.

Diversity

The variety and diversity of characters represented in the game makes for the empowerment of different ethnicities, ages, sexes, and species.

FAZA character roles

The Algorithm

The algorithm that defines how the FAZA motherships move across the board creates a challenging game where the enemy dynamically adapts to the actions players take against them. As the FAZA retaliate, players will feel overwhelmed as if all hope is lost, but by working together they can overcome the challenges ahead.

The three Faza motherships

The Art

I’ve been very fortunate to work with Scott Chantler. His amazing work has breathed life into the game. He has a style that uniquely captured the retro science fiction theme.

Replayability

Finally, there’s a high degree of replayability, which stems from the number of characters players can choose from, the board that is setup differently every game, and the way the motherships adapt to player actions.

Where did the idea for FAZA come from?

The short answer: the idea for FAZA developed over several years as it slowly came into focus, starting with my frustrations with competitive games and was refined through prototyping and playtesting.

Faza playtest

The long answer: working on FAZA developed from two major frustrations. The first frustration is that many existing cooperative games feel too much like a puzzle, eventually making subsequent playthroughs not as interesting once the optimal strategy is discovered.

First Iteration of FAZA
First Iteration of FAZA

The second frustration that motivated me to start working on a cooperative game was my one major issue with competitive games, like Settlers of Catan, Monopoly, Risk, and the like. When I play these games I end up in last place, or near to last place, and I’m left with nothing to do during the game. The rest of the players continue getting ahead as I then sit by myself, sip a drink and ruminate over the rule book to see if there was something I could of done differently. Was it my luck? My inability to strategize? Maybe a bit of both.

I was introduced to the cooperative game genre, back in 2011 with a board game called Defenders of the Realm. At first I was drawn in by this game’s attention to detail, visually stunning renderings and beautifully crafted backstory setting the stage for the players. Then, I was blown away by being able to get feedback on my strategy as a newbie from other players and also coordinate my moves with teammates. I personally enjoy dialogue, discussion, and debate when there are competing ideas and strategies, and cooperative games provided one such outlet to engage in it.

Ever since I learned about cooperative games as a genre, I was itching to design my own cooperative game. In December of 2015 I began designing and testing it out with friends.

Playtesting Faza

I started with game mechanics I enjoyed from other board games and video games and used them as a jumping off point for FAZA. After that, it was a lot of playtesting and iteration to cut down on rules to find the core of the game.

The metaphor and story for FAZA stems from my love of science fiction, and began to emerge immediately after I picked a few game mechanics I wanted to test. The story and game mechanics then began to evolve together and inform one another. And finally, the name FAZA came from Farsi and means outer space.

 


 

If you’ve been following the development of FAZA and I haven’t heard from you, please reach out or leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

 

Finding and Hiring an Artist for Your Game

I’ve put together this post because a reader commented on Designing for Fun, an older post outlining the game design process for FAZA. The reader had a few questions about finding and paying an illustrator. They asked:

  • How did you find an artist for your game?
  • How do you approach paying for the artist’s services if you have not yet published your game?
  • Was the art self funded or was an arrangement made to pay the artist at a later time or was there some sort of profit sharing agreement?

Finding the Artist

My brother-in-law Andrew, an amazing graphic designer, found Scott, an award winning cartoonist. Andrew and I discussed the overall style I had in mind and he provided a list of a few illustrators he thought matched the aesthetic. I then went through their portfolios, contacted them, and then negotiated a contract. Without Andrew’s help, I would have been pretty lost since I wasn’t steeped in this world to begin with. He also guided me with contract negotiation, since I had never hired an artist before.

Paying the Artist

The art was then paid for fully out of my pocket with money I’ve saved up from my day job. I feel uncomfortable offering profit shares or delayed payment for a few reasons:

  1. Since this is the first board game I’ve brought to this level of polish and development, I’m still figuring out how to market FAZA and the eventual payments that would trickle in from a profit share would have taken years before reaching the levels that would make sense for the illustrator. Essentially, the illustrator would have taken financial risk to do a profit share or delayed payment. I also tend to maintain humble expectations for the potential units that might initially be sold because I know it takes a long time to get any business going. As a point of reference, I’ve also been working on small business for about 5 years, and it has taken a significant amount of work and persistence to make it sustainable.
  2. If I do a profit share, I would be interested in a longer term relationship or partnership. So, our goals and timelines would have to align, which is a tough state to reach if the working relationship is new or non-existent. This also means I would use profit sharing as a way to motivate someone to work with me for a few years, if not longer, like a decade.
  3. Since I knew that marketing the game would be on the timescale of years, I had assumed that if I ever wanted to work with the artist again, he would be less likely to do more art if the profit share yielded unfruitful results and low sales.

Incorporating Art into Your Game in Phases

A useful approach I took to incorporating art, which I forgot to mention in the Designing for Fun post, is that the illustrations were completed in three rounds.

  1. The goal of the first round of art was to make FAZA presentable at game conventions so people would stop by and play. So I focused the art on the fewest amount of pieces that would make the game presentable and immersive, in this case it included the characters and the cover. This was a way for me to validate two things: if the general aesthetic I had in mind would meld with the game mechanics, and if the mechanics combined with the art resonated with people. This approach also reduced the financial risk for me.
  2. After I had tested the game with close to a hundred people and FAZA won The Game Crafter’s Big Box Challenge, I felt comfortable investing more into the game. So I went back to the same artist to do a second round of illustrations. This second go through added art to the remainder of the game, which includes terrain tiles and unique motherships.
  3. Finally, after taking the game to conventions and seeing how positively the general public reacted to the game, I began feeling more confident that FAZA’s combination of game mechanics, theme, and art was something unique and fun. At this point, I realized I needed to work with a Graphic Designer to further develop the retro sci-fi theme, to give the game a professional look, and to eventually get it ready for a kickstarter launch. Once I started working with Anthony, the Graphic Designer, we realized there were a few more pieces of art that would add small details to the various cards to make the game immersive and engaging.

Are you a Game Designer?

Are you a game designer? Have you gone through this process? I’m curious to know how other game designers approach this, since this is the first time I’ve had to worry about adding art to a game I’ve designed. I’d like to hear about your experience.

Questions or Comments?

If you have any questions or comments or want me to write another post going into further detail about any of the points I outlined above, leave a comment below.

FAZA at PAX Unplugged

I’m so glad PAX picked Philly as its city to host PAX Unplugged; the geographic convenience made this my first convention to attend as a game designer.

Exhibiting FAZA over three days, meeting tons of new people and demo’ing was exhilarating and exhausting. The intensity of the entire event has been condensed into a minute and a half in the following video.

After checking out the video (or even before you watch it), please join the waitlist so I can let you know when FAZA’s Kickstarter goes live!

Designing for Fun

Designing, developing, and refining FAZA was a process that involved making many mistakes, slowly noticing them, and then making thousands of small design decisions – eventually accumulating into a cohesive experience that I can finally say is fun. This is the one constant in designing any product, service, or experience: making mistakes. We as designers make a lot of them.  It’s only through testing prototypes that we discover mistakes and have the opportunity to fix them.

 

The First FAZA

FAZA originally began as a quasi-tower defense game that mashed together a few different game mechanics I enjoyed. The players controlled heroes that would be responsible for saving and defending their camp from the onslaught of FAZA drones, dropped off from motherships.

Faza Prototype

FAZA also incorporated a way to add more tiles to the board as the game unfolded. The prototype was somewhat playable, but I discovered problems with pace due to  board management. Game play was slowed because players had to move too many FAZA pieces while also navigating the board with their avatars.

Faza Prototype

 

Cutting Rules through Playtesting

Since FAZA is a cooperative game, the players are responsible for managing the foe they’re playing against. The challenge was to reduce the amount of pieces that players had to move around the board, while ensuring the game was challenging. From another perspective, I was also looking to free up more time for players to have dialogue with each other so they could focus on making interesting decisions as a group. The more time they spent managing the board the less time they could engage the core of the game.

At this point, my time was spent playtesting to identify rules I could cut, which was followed by more playtesting to make sure the game was still playable. Cut, playtest, tweak, playtest – it was grueling and required a lot of dedication to get past this hump. The persistence slowly began to manifest, it helped me discover the core of the game. This took me roughly a year to get through.

Faza playtest Faza playtest Playtesting Faza Faza playtest

By cutting away the game mechanics that were too time consuming and less enjoyable the foundation for the game was now set. It was time to invest in the graphical work and illustrations.

 

Illustrations

Faza prototype with illustrations

Another major step in the design process involved working with an illustrator and solidifying the aesthetic, lore, and backstory to the game. This went a long way to make the game look and feel complete, drawing people in to sit down and play. But it wasn’t enough; the game mechanics were still rough around the edges, the choices presented to players were bland, and the user interface still needed a lot of work.

 

Player Choices

Faza Faza user interface

The next big step in the design process was accounting for the different choices players were making to battle and defeat the FAZA. I wanted to ensure each decision presented players with trade-offs. If a player chooses A, then they have to give up B. To promote dialogue, I also worked towards a design that forced players to make tough choices while strategizing as a group. These are the kinds of choices tacticians have to make, and this added tension to every player’s experience.

The cards in front of them functioned as their user interface, presenting them with all their options and choices, scaffolding their decision making process. Thinking through and mapping out the available choices for players was the next big hurdle in the game design process. It informed the design of the Player Cards, which are now core to playing FAZA.

 

Refining the User Interface

Refining FAZA's user interface

Just as important as the other aspects of the design process is visually communicating to players the options they have in front of them. All interfaces have a learning process and carefully observing people struggle to learn the game, noting what they find confusing, and adding visual cues and text reminders went a long way to scaffold their learning process.

FAZA User Interface

 

Finding FAZA’s Audience

FAZA is not for everyone. The level of strategic thinking, tactical coordination, and cooperative dialogue demanded of players can be a turn off for some people. There have been many times where I’m two minutes into explaining how to play the game and I can see a player’s eyes glaze over. Before people sit down to playtest FAZA, I repeat multiple times we can stop playing the game and they can leave at any time. I think giving players the option to get up and leave ensures I don’t waste their time and they don’t waste mine. Since it’s a 90 minute time investment, I want FAZA to be a fun and enjoyable experience. Discovering FAZA’s audience then involved having conversations with everyone that played the game, learning about what other kinds of games they’re into, other hobbies and activities they engage in, and what drew them to FAZA.

 

Facilitating Playtesting Sessions

Another vital step in the game design process is facilitating user testing sessions to extract actionable insights. For me, it involved observing people while remaining detached as they struggle to learn to play the game. I would then ask a few prepared questions post-playtest.

While I’ve been designing games only for the past two years, I’ve been doing user experience research and design for about 7 years. One particular strategy I employed from my professional work to get the most out of playtesting is using the think-aloud protocol. As the name implies, think-aloud protocol asks players to verbalize what they’re looking at, what they’re thinking through, and the decisions they want to make. Occasionally, I would interject to probe with a few ‘why’ questions to better understand their thought process and experience. While this particular strategy can quickly reveal many issues, it will greatly increase the play time and you probably won’t get through an entire game. It also requires you to not play your game and instead sit quietly on the sidelines, take notes, and do your best to deflect any questions back to players in order to see if they can find the answer they’re looking for.

I would argue playtesting is the most important aspect of the design process and also the most time intensive. To speed up that process, I started reaching out to local board game stores and  accidentally came in contact with a local board game design group called the Game Makers Guild of Philadelphia. They’re game designers who get together twice a month to playtest each others board games and give each other feedback.

If it were not for the continued playtesting and feedback from friends, family, and the Game Makers Guild of Philadelphia, I don’t think I would have been able to bring FAZA to where it is today.

Questions or Comments?

If you have any questions or comments or want me to write another post going into further detail about any of the points I outlined above, leave a comment below.