Friday, August 15, 2008

Where To Start?

How about the beginning?

I grew up playing games. From the original Atari to the C-64 and everything in between. We had an Amiga, PC, Intellivision, and on and on.

I also played board games with my father. We had a lot of the old Avalon Hill stuff from wargames such as D-Day to fantasy offerings like Wizard's Quest.

What really held our attention was the line of Statis Pro Sports games: Baseball, Basketball, and Football as well as stuff like PayDirt! and Bowl Bound. We spent hours and hours with these games when I was 9, 10, 11, 12 years old.

In addition to being a gamer since birth I have also been a serious fan of Thoroughbred horse racing. My dad got me hooked on the sport when I was a kid. I was 5 years old and witnessed Seattle Slew win the Triple Crown live in New York. Being from Ohio...that's not a quick car ride.

I was always a fan of the sport of racing more than I was a fan of the gambling aspect. I'd watch the Breeders' Cup just to see who won and I didn't need to have a nickel wagered on the outcome. I enjoyed the stories, the rivalries, the drama -- the speed. And my dad is literally an expert on the sport. He's a walking Encyclopedia and today is part owner of several horses via West Point Thoroughbreds. He's really a racing Rainman.

Getting back to games -- when I was a kid dad made sure that we tried every horse racing game around and the one that was the most popular was Win, Place, and Show from Avalon Hill.

Unlike the other sports games we loved, WP&S didn't scratch the racing itch. It wasn't realistic in the slightest and was basically a dice throwing game with only a modicum of strategy. Dad was really intrigued by the Statis Pro system of Fast Action cards. The cards in the Statis games drove the games; there was no dice. These were more simulations than "games."

So in 1983, dad decided to create his own game. He made a huge board (we're talking Railroad Tycoon big) painted jockey silks on the Win Place and Show horses and even ordered extra sets of horses so we could have a nice variety.

It took him about a year of steady work to get it where he liked it. It was a sim, it used cards like Statis Pro, and he worked all of the details out for the horses from scratch. We created seasons, had rules for horse aging, kept track of winnings, stable earning, etc. I still have those old binders with reams of data in them in my basement. The game was brilliant. It even got my best friend hooked on the sport. We ran no less than 5 full seasons of two year old, three year old and older horse races, including turf -- we're talking hundreds and hundreds of races.

I played "the game" (it never had a name, it was just our racing game) until I left for college in the fall of 1990. I didn't touch it again for over a decade. You grow up, get married, get a job (ironically my job is editor of a videogame website...) and you just get into other things.

About five years ago I started to get heavily back into board games. It was like I rediscovered a part of my youth. I could not believe what I had missed since the late 80s. Since then my gaming collection has exploded. (Thankfully, my wife plays games with me...whew)

When we built our new house in the country a few years ago, I stumbled across the old board that dad made back in 1983. I still had the cards. The horses. The data. I was stunned that I still had it -- and that dad let me leave the house with it way back then...

In my basement I have three large tables that I use when I get new games -- I set 'em up and learn them solo. I quickly laid the huge board on a table and shuffled through the cards and set up a race with some of the best horses from the old game. It was still a blast. Problem was, it still wasn't a "game."

Dad's design is a wonderful simulation, but you, as a gamer, aren't really doing anything other than picking the right spot for your horse on the calender. The cards drive the entire game. You're literally a spectator. As a sim, it was dead on, and you could turn it into a great sim or gambling game -- but that wasn't what I wanted to do.

It was then that I started thinking of ways to modernize the design, to make it more interactive and to turn this fantastic horse racing simulation into a fantastic horse racing game.

That's what this blog is all about. My journey from a 12 year old kid playing a homemade game with his father into a real life board game built from the ground up by a 36 year old kid.

I've actually been working on the redesign for several months, and we've ran some test races.

In the next entry I'll go over some of the nuts and bolts behind the game itself.

No comments: