first game (not counting programming exercises)

  (Edited: )


Discounting hangman and tic-tac-toe vs computer on an old TRS-80 (yup the level 1 basic 4k cheapo - you should have seen the convolutions to make hangman work on that), I suppose the first one was on that same machine and was an enter thrust and launch then things blink a bit 2 player missile firing wrap-around screen space game. But really this was playing with programming as a hobby.

Had gamed in high school, and a while after this got back into gaming. This was when the D&D original pamphlet looking rulebooks were still coming out.
Played a bit with miniatures and some boardgame wargames but mostly RPG.
Got inspired when the microgames started coming out - Ogre, Chitin, Melee, etc. - and here we get to what I think of as my first game.

Board was a hexmap in diamond shape 10 hexes on a side and 10 levels deep, trade/colonize point system for economics, build/move/combat/maintain/repair/scrap processes for ships, a planetary bombardment combat chart, ship vs ship combat charts, hyperspace jump chart, civilian ships (traders,colonizers) had warp and jump while military (scouts and warships) had warp and accumulators. Combat system incorporated what type of damage inflicted also and used a breakoff result as equivalent to attacker-back-one on a per shot basis. Played in turns each player completing all phases then next player moving. No hidden pieces or ship conditions - all public knowledge.

It also involved pencil and paper for paperwork tracking of ship conditions and what level the ship was on -- which was why the available planets were few and the economic system was cumbersome and bombardment reduced planets permanently all to keep the paperwork within reason. 15 ships was an awesome fleet and 10 was pretty big.

Pushing the limits of a microgame but less complicated than Chitin or playing Star Trek Fleet miniature rules. By the way, this was quite a trim-down from the original amorphous game idea.

The prototype was on a vinyl hexsheet with 3 inch hexes and blank counters with crude ship icon and a letter drawn on them in felt tip pen. Original combat tables used a 12-sided die. Rules handwritten on several sheets of paper.

It played well and was liked. The only thing extensive actual blind playtesting revealed was that it played well as a 2-player game and as a 4-player 2 teams game but not so well 3 players or 4 players not teamed -- mostly because of the sequential attacks that could come in from other players before your turn came around again.

So we market it as 2 OR 4 players not 2 TO 4 players and all is good.

But is it economical to produce? This is 1978 and we have a traditional partnership of creative,finance,production for this -- meaning that I have the game, one friend has $5000 for production costs and the other person - a mutual friend who just got laid off for the winter (seasonal work) - to do the legwork and arrangements etc.

That third person was a mistake (thankfully it was actually the money guy's idea).

The board needed a thin cardboard backing to lay flat and minimum 1 inch hex size. Maybe half the thickness of a Monopoly board. Just enough to do a 4-way fold into a triangle and unfold to lay flat. Or even in 4 triangle pieces that get pushed together. Triangle rather than rectangle reduces packaging size and gives it a distinctive feel.

Pieces needed very thick paper at least in die cut counters form. 1 sheet per game.

Packaging - sealed "baggie" if possible otherwise envelope or box.

My artwork needed to be improved (but we are talking cartoony sketches that would just be drawn as better cartoony sketches - I am no artist) in the rules and actual uniform shapes for the ship icons instead freehand. Same for board instead of my felt tip marker big dots and numbers. Needed a cover pic or drawing for the rulebook and/or package. We figured that in a college town an artistic student - we had several in mind that all showed up to game every Friday and Saturday - would do that for about $150.

I was able to convert my tables to use 2 6-sided dice instead of a 12-sided and the mini-dice were fine and also cheap - already sourced at $100 for a box of 2000.

The rulebook works out to a small stapled pamphlet with a cover of thin construction paper and 12 pages - but each page is 1/4th the size of a sheet of standard printer paper so for 2 rulebooks use 1 sheet light construction paper and 3 sheets regular paper printing both sides of all. Hyperspace chart outside back cover. Ship combat chart inside back cover and facing page. Planetary bombardment inside front cover.
First 2 pages of rulebook are intro to game.

You would think that $5000 would make a good run of 1000 copies back in 1978 with most of the cash left over.

Several months later, what we got:

Rulebooks pretty good if you ignore the lack of proof reading and it still has my original sketchy excuse for cartoon illustrations. And I am pretty sure the cover pic was a pastiche of several space pics then photcopied in black and white. But the rules are even stapled together already.

Why do I say that?

Cardboard backing for board was good - about the same as die cut counters - but the board was 1000 sheets of cardboard and 1000 peel and stick sheets with the board printed on them - my original hand drawn board.

1000 sheets of pieces in standard die cut thickness with my original crude logos but no letters printed on them and NOT die cut. And a big paper cutter - guess we also needed that for trimming the board. And 1000 little sandwich baggies to put the pieces in after we chopped them apart.

A bunch of tape to attach the board together to fold after assembled and trimmed and chopped in 4 pieces.

1000 boxes 4 times as deep as needed and a couple inches extra width.

1000 wet and stick labels for the cover art for the box - which had nothing to do with the game and he admitted his 14 year old nephew did the artwork.

And that 1000 pairs of miniature 6 sided dice. And the entire $5000 was somehow all gone.

The playtesters amazingly each bought a copy at cost ($5) and I still have a copy but there that story ends mostly.

I also played with a kids game - a chutes and ladders variant with obstacle and grasshopper cards in a mow the lawn scenerio - but never found a decent artist.

Currently, now retired after a long hiatus in fast food management and other weird long wandering hour jobs, I get to return to gaming. Cracking a c64 game was not gaming, neither were arcade type video games with my wife when schedules matched.

Also doing a major revision/expansion of that old game but this time in PHP/MySQL/Javascript for Firefox (or Explorer) browsers - which means it runs as localhost if you have a standard Xampp installation of Apache or it can run on a web server. Letting Apache through the Windows firewall lets my laptop act as a LAN server for my router also. A fully browser based game running off a server.

Which is now in the ready for blind playtest stage. So I guess my experience with my first game was not a total waste of time.