Saturday, April 12, 2014

Tangent II. Would a Pilot Episode Work for a Game?

Concept art by Sam Alcarez. Some tweaks and they would make a great Breaker. They're in some sort of nether realm between Breaker and Security Officer with that baton. Perhaps its stolen?

When I envisioned the eventual kick off to Broken Contract and the type of boxed game I wanted to strive for it to be, I was really targeting the Zombicide model. They ran a Kickstarter for this large 12"x12" square box packed full of high quality game tiles, miniatures, and cards. I've studied both of their Kickstarters (and the games themselves) in depth and they really had a lot of the art development done and miniature sculpts in hand. Much of the development was done and they just needed capital to cover manufacturing to launch Season 1. I, on the other hand, have the game mechanics pretty well set and have stumbled upon sketch artists engaged in "realizing the dream," willing to work in hope of some form eventual reward - but I don't have money to pay sculptors yet, and that's the principle hang up getting us from where Broken Contract is now, to the point where Zombicide was when they launched Season 1. Still, I had an idea...

"A "television pilot" (also known as a "pilot" or a "pilot episode") is a standalone episode of a television series that is used to sell the show to a television network. At the time of its creation, the pilot is meant to be the testing ground to gauge whether a series will be successful, and is therefore a test episode of an intended television series." - Wikipedia

If some games are now be presented to the world in Seasons, where in a cyclical fashion games evolve and expand breathing new life into people's investment, then is it possible to hook would-be game backers with a pilot episode of a game? Its a question I've been asking myself for a couple months now.

How would a pilot episode of a game work? Essentially, it would be very similar to a pilot episode of a TV show. It would introduce some interesting core characters as well as the setting, and work the players through an abbreviated story line with those characters to see if it can engage the gamers enough to want more. This would mean that it would give you the core mechanics to the game, some of the background, a handful of characters with models to represent them, and 3-4 scenarios to get a feel for the game. Ideally, unlike an hour long show, it would give you a few evening's entertainment. Hopefully, it would be enough to generate interest in the game and setting, and inspire people to fund future projects. I have already had plans for what I want to do with Season 1, Season 2, and Season 3 for months now, which gives us plenty to expand on for years to come.The question still stands: Would a pilot episode work for a game?

Image gratuitously stolen from the internet.

At AdeptiCon this past weekend I picked up Project Pandora: Grim Cargo from Mantic Games. I have to admit, I was mostly interested in it from the standpoint of packaging, presentation, and content than actual game play. I had known about the game since it was released but after its initial release there wasn't much banter about it. I was curious about it because it seemed like it might accurately emulate how I envisioned packaging a pilot episode of Broken Contract. The key points regarding Project Pandora: Grim Cargo include:

- Abbreviated background
- Contains only a handful of models
- Shortened 24 page rulebook with minimalist art centered mostly around concept sketches
- Simple 4-6 scenario mini-campaign to get you playing
- Small selection of card stock board pieces and counters
- A handful of dice

I took a look at reviews to see what people said about this sort of format. The two major complaints I saw:

1) Mantic Games hasn't supported the game with expansion material, FAQs, or any other form of support.
2) You have to put together the models so you can't just pull it out and play.

As I see it, Mantic (consciously or not) created the pilot episode to a game, much like I envision for Broken Contract, and then left it dead in the water since they had so many other projects in development. However, it does lead me to believe, that if I could successfully Kickstart a pilot episode, the backers would likely want to see the game expanded and supported which means that if I get the seed to germinate, the expectation from others will be for the plant to grow. Additionally, it also leads me to believe that at least in the inception of Broken Contract, that single piece models are the way to go.

What might the Broken Contract Pilot Episode look like?

- Abbreviated background
- 32 Page 8.5 x 11 rulebook
- 8-12 models (Breakers and Security Officers)
- Simple 4-6 scenario mini-campaign to get you playing
- Stat and initiative cards
- A handful of dice

Thus, it would be slightly fewer models than Grim Cargo, but a slight upgrade in other areas - hopefully - but largely a similar format. The important thing is that the rules and characters be fully compatible with the eventual Season 1 of the game.

Why do an abbreviated package at all? Just like a pilot episode of a TV show, to get funding to keep the project going. What I learned from Project Pandora: Grim Cargo, is that maybe it is a feasible option that people will take to. The nice thing about Kickstarter is that if the initial project fails, I can always regroup and try again and nobody loses any money. That's it for today's tangent. As always, comments are welcome.

-Nick

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