Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Lords of Mars debrief

TLDR: the post in which I talk about making Lords of Mars, a hack of Tunnel Goons.

Green martian on his thoat. Extract from an art by James Allen St. John from Thuvia, Maid of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, McClurg, 1920

It has been a few days since I released Lords of Mars, my pastiche of John Carter of Mars novels filtered through the lens of Nate Treme's Tunnel Goons, with a sidecar of simple wargame instructions. You can get it at 


The following were my design goals.

  • Capture the flavor of Barsoom without becoming entangled in any of the particulars of the story (characters, cities, etc.)
  • Produce a short, landscape, quarter page zine – the same format as Nate's Caverns of Urk
  • Reintroduce the "old school" influence of wargames by including light rules for quick aerial and land battles on a large scale.
  • Make it cool...

Make it cool?

Yes. Seriously. When I make stuff I want the language and the look to be something that gets people excited. I sometimes wonder how often (or if I ever) succeed at that in the way I intend, but I try.

I'm a form follows function kind of guy, not the other way around. To me, that means I need to make the functions beautiful so that they can be formed into something beautiful. It's mostly about how you divide up material into consumable, useful bites and condense the language to get the most impact per word while remaining readable. If your game is all big blocks of text, your form will reflect that. If you have a strong outline and deliver punchy setting bullet points alongside well-articulated tables and focused instructions, the form will reflect that too! That's what I strive for.

I mostly succeeded with LoM, but I over-reached on the wargame section. Trying to cram the rules into just a few pages was probably a mistake. Those "bullet points" are kind of false. The divisions aren't as clear and clean as I would have liked and more of it could have been formulated as a table or steps. Don't get me wrong; I'm happy with what I got done in such a short amount of time, but...

What's Next?

The game has room to grow!

And that's a good thing. My next step is to play it with these goals for improvement in mind:

  • Ensure the wargame rules fully work and are fun and quick to play.
  • Interface the aerial battles, land battles, and the narrative game in such a way that one easily flows into and synchronizes with the other.
  • Develop a longer list of items and specials.
  • Perhaps add a bit more setting (like 2-sentence descriptions of cities and monsters).
  • Probably reformat into a digest sized zine of 24-32 pages. 
  • Add some form of political warfare metagame? 
  • Create some adventure seeds and/or a generator

This is going to take some time. I'm not even sure when how I'm going to get playtesting in. Perhaps online. But I would love to be 100% sure the game has legs for the long haul. 

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