January 1996, by Bruce Biskup
I would like to inaugurate the beginning of my career as a columnist by describing what this page will be used for and to expand a little more on how BoneGames came about. This page was initially the idea of our service provider: Dave Bauer of 3I (editor’s note: we no longer use 3I). Since we didn’t have a regular schedule for the production of our games, he wanted us to offer something on a periodic basis to help draw people to the web site more often. His idea was for me to write stories based upon my tremendous knowledge of history and civilization. Joshua and I liked the idea but decided that it would be better for me to write primarily about games and our game design philosophy. So, on this page I intend to talk about games, game design, game theory, and other topics as they might progress. With that said, I shall begin by expanding more upon how BoneGames came to exist in the first place.
How It Began
BoneGames is not my idea although I have been part of it since its early beginnings. BoneGames is actually the brainchild of my partner: Joshua Howard. Joshua and I have been friends since the early eighties and have longed share a common interest in games. In high school we mostly played TSR’s Advanced Dungeon & Dragons. I was the Dungeon Master for our group and Joshua tended to be the leader of the party of my players. We played other types of games as well. These included wargames like Avalon Hill’s Panzer Blitz and Squad Leader. During this time Joshua also dabbled in writing computer games on our Tandy Color Computers. Through-out these years we were always modifying or designing new rules to our games to suit our fancy.
Joshua and I eventually went off to college to rival Universities and although we saw one another frequently we never had any time or interest in gaming. It was around about 1990 when the earliest thread of BoneGames appeared and like normal it came from Joshua. Joshua was working on a card game where the basic premise is that the board changes periodically. He called it Shifters and over a period of several months he put much time and effort into the concept to try and make it a game. I call this the beginning of BoneGames since it was our first try at designing a game. It failed. To this day we have never been able to go from the concept to a playable game. Periodically we revive the idea but we also dig up the familiar stumbling blocks and but it aside again.
But why did Joshua design Shifters in the first place. Basically, Joshua was trying to add a different element of randomness into a boardgame. One simplification used with most boardgames is that they tend to be static and give the players detailed information on their opponents. In most wargame both players know the exact lay of the board and the exact details of their opponents units. Typically, the only randomness in most boardgames is the dice. Shifters was an attempt to address this problem. By having a mechanism that logically reshuffles a board based upon cards was his attempt to add randomness into what is essentially a boardgame. The idea has failed so far because the players have too little information with which to act upon and obtain a victory. The game degenerates into plain luck with no skill. To us, such a game is no fun.
Our experience with Shifters left two premises that we have carried into BoneGames. We want our games to be different and offer concepts that are either uncommon or unique in the gaming genre today. We also want our games to be fun to play. Games that are not fun to play are games that are not played and we want people to play our games.
About a year later Joshua was back with another idea. I was in graduate school getting a Master’s in Aerospace Engineering and needed a diversion from journal articles about viscoelasticity. What Joshua was working on was a better game than GW’s Talisman. Talisman is a simple game where one moves a different character around a board and fights things. Eventually, you are strong enough to reach the center of the board and fight the big guys in the center and win the game. Unfortunately the characters are not well balanced and the game degenerates into a game of Sorry for adults. You just roll dice and move about a board. What Joshua had in mind was an interactive game where players performed “quests” and interacted with the other players. Not necessarily just trying to kill them. However, each quest would be randomly determined for each player and kept secret. The quests themselves would be multifaceted. A low level quest was nothing more than go here and get this or kill this creature. More advanced quests would involve discovering an opponent’s quest and beating him to the victory condition
It was to this end that Joshua called a gathering of his friends to his apartment one weekend in the summer of 1993. We were there to design the mechanics of this new game. I was present along with our associates Matt Hamrick and Russell Mirabelli. We spent all day trying to turn Joshua’s idea into a playable game. We created prototype pieces and tried to hash out rule mechanics from Joshua’s ideas. All to no avail. Instead, in about 90 minutes we created Barons of Fyn. BOF went on to become the first game published by BoneGames and was released in the spring of 1994.
Since the release of Barons of Fyn, BoneGames has continued to publish new games. To date we have 6 games published on Internet and have since begun to distribute the files in PDF format so that more people can enjoy our games. Our titles include group games and two player games, wargames, and abstract strategy games. We currently have two more games in work. One is a group strategy game. The other is an expansion to our naval game, Sovereign Seas. Joshua and I plan to continue producing and supporting our games as long as we have new ideas.
This ends my first Ramblings. I can be long winded but hopefully I have provided a better insight into what Joshua and I are doing with BoneGames. Next month I will elaborate more on our game Barons of Fyn and hopefully inaugurate the release of Barons of Fyn v. 2.0.