Vlaada Chvátil updates us on Galaxy Trucker, Through the Ages, and Codenames

02 May 2016 2

At last year's Gen Con, Czech Games Edition released a small, unassuming party game called Codenames. Even though its designer was the legendary Vlaada Chvátil, there's no way CGE could have predicted its popularity. In the 6+ months since it hit the shelves, Codenames has moved into the top 20 board games on BGG and is the site's number one party game.

The game is incredibly simple: two teams, a grid of words, give clues so your team can figure out which words are yours. Late last year CGE released a free companion app for the game which randomized the grid locations for each team's words and had a few other useful features as well. Turns out that wasn't the only app planned for Codenames. We were lucky enough to chat with Vlaada over the weekend and he filled us in a bit on what CGE is currently working on, including an upcoming app for Codenames.

Pocket Tactics: Back when Galaxy Trucker was released, the digital team at CGE was pretty small and working on one app at a time. Now, it seems like you have several going at once. Have you increased the size of the digital team at all?

Vlaada Chvátil: We decided to expand the team last year due to what we thought was a much smaller project: Codenames. CGE has had such great success with the game that deciding to bring it to digital was an obvious choice. Getting it done meant expanding the team.

PT: So, how has the development of Codenames been going? 

Vlaada: Implementing the core gameplay was easy (we used a rough digital version to playtest the game within our team and with our friends, spouses, or even children) but to get the app polished enough for release, there is still much more to do. To play with your friends, we need the app to be very user friendly and customizable. To play with random people online, you need a good ranking and matchmaking system and ways how to ensure the game is fair: prevent cheating, recover from mid-game quits, etc. As always, you need a good tutorial, and all the menus, and possibly also something to do when it is not your turn. Still a lot of work, as usual!

PT: You've steered clear of F2P with Galaxy Trucker, but Codenames is a lighter and more broadly appealing game. Any thoughts of going free-to-play with one?

Vlaada: Well, those were some tough decisions during the design. You're right, since Codenames has much broader appeal than the other CGE games, there was an idea to make it a free to play game. We spent several months trying to find a way that would work both in the today's mobile market and for board gamers. The easiest way to test these ideas was to ask ourselves, "would we like a board game app done this way?" If our answer was no, then it probably wasn't a good idea. We believe most gamers have similar tastes as we do, and so we dropped the free-to-play idea in the end. While the mobile game market is relatively aggressive and competitive these days, we feel pretty lucky to be in our own "digital board game" niche. There are devoted gamers who do not mind paying a few bucks for their fun, so we're going to concentrate on making a great app instead of implementing monetization tricks.

codenames ss001

Vlaada sent over the first screenshot of Codenames in action. The clue is Saber 4, which means there are four words related to the clue "saber". Can you figure out which ones Vlaada's hinting at?

PT: That sounds great! What should we talk about next, Through the Ages or Galaxy Trucker?

Vlaada: Let's talk about our first game, Galaxy Trucker and where that's headed. As you know, we've been supporting GT with new features and improvements since its launch with the biggest addition being the multiplayer missions that appear every three days. That said, the main task of the GT team is the new expansion called Alien Technologies

gt at1

Batteries and cargo in one! What could go wrong?

gt at2

Having guns like this earlier would have saved so many lives.

gt at3

I don't know what that thing is...Space Grouch, maybe?

gt at4

Truckers of the Lost Ark

Alien Technologies does not copy any particular expansion of the board game, instead we have chosen a mix of some interesting components and features from all the tabletop expansions and added some new ones developed especially for the digital version. You will be able to use the expansion elements in your multiplayer, custom and pass and play games, but there will be also challenging singleplayer missions where you'll interact with the characters you know from the campaign (as well as meet a few new ones).

gt mission

This past weekend, the multiplayer mission involved shipping board games. Red player is right, they are cute.

PT: Okay, let's talk about the big one. What's up with the digital implementation of Through the Ages?

Vlaada: Ah, yes, there is the Through the Ages app. The game is fully implemented now with all the rules and cards from the new edition. We're still a long way from having a playable game to having a really polished app, however. We are improving user interface, artificial intelligence, and the look of the game as well as adding all the details an app needs. For example, making a tutorial for such a complex game is not an easy task. Well, not just a tutorial - we want the players to be able to learn the game as they are playing.

tta ss001

Words cannot express how badly I want this...

Imagine you have Iron technology card in your hand. If you tap it, it gives you its description and a button saying "develop it for 1 civil action and 5 science". This button may be disabled, and then you need to know why (beside obvious reasons that you do not have that civil action or those 5 science, there may be some obscure ones like when your partner in Scientific Cooperation Pact has no science, etc.) There may be also more buttons that say, for example, "play together with an action card." This way, we're hoping new players can easily figure out all the options and what they can or cannot do.

That said, experienced players want to play comfortably and quickly. After several games (or several hundreds of games), you do not need to know what you need Iron for or how to play it. You simply see the Iron card in your hand, it is glowing so you know you can play it, and you may do so just by swiping it towards your civilization area. If you have a Breakthrough card in your hand, the app notices that and asks "hey, do you want to develop the Iron with this action card or without it?" We expect players to play several asynchronous games simultaneously, so it is nice if the app is helping as much as possible. For example before ending your turn, the game checks and warns you if there is something you might have planned and forgot (like using the Ocean Liner wonder, or changing your Tactic after you have rebuilt your army).

tta ss002

I've played dozens and dozens of games of TtA, but this looks so pretty I'll still probably play through the tutorial.

Also, you can easily undo any action, as long as no new information was revealed and no other player's action was involved. Sometimes even parts of your political action. Imagine you play Plunder aggression. Your opponent has to defend, and he fails to. You decide to take 2 food and 1 rock from him. During your turn, you realize you need 2 rocks, so you may undo to that point, and steal different stuff. You cannot undo the aggression itself, though, as the opponent already reacted to it. Except when you are so strong it is obvious the opponent had no chance to defend even if having a hand full of defense cards, so the game does not ask him. In that case, you can even undo that aggression. The comfortable undo allows you to try stuff instead of calculating everything beforehand.

PT: Any thoughts on when we might see Through the Ages on our tablets?

Vlaada: We don't have a release date ironed out, but Through the Ages is our main priority right now, so we fully expect it to hit iOS and Android in 2016.

PT: Thank you for your time!

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