Even less is even more: Cage Match final game update

About a year ago, we cut the elements of Cage Match! in half, and the game became much better for it.  Over the past couple of weeks, racing towards our deadline to print in time for the holidays, we reduced it even further, and what was a good game is really and truly a great game now.  I’m super proud of it.

Most recently, the OK Art Studio did some outstanding work in essentially cutting the footprint of the game in half, from 14″ per player down to 7″ per player.  Now that you only need 7″ of table to play your side, you can play on a coffee table or at a bar.

Before: Just a couple of weeks ago, the Action Pad was twice the size at 14″. A bit clunky and takes up a lot of table for what is supposed to be a small game.

A year to a year-and-a-half ago, we were trying to make a different game than what we’ve made now.  At that point in time, my vision was of a MMA game that MMA fans would love.  My goal was for MMA fans to say, “If you want to play a game that really captures the MMA fight experience, play Cage Match!

Since then, we’ve changed our minds about the goal, and the game has had to change along with it.  What we learned through hundreds upon hundreds of play tests was that the fun heart of the game — something all designers need to seek, and then elevate — was in the reveal of moves.  This works better with fewer moves to understand.  We also learned that lighter and faster works better for this theme.  A 30-minute game that captures the nuances of MMA might appeal to the hardcore MMA fan who is also a hardcore gamer, but would appeal to almost no one else.  It’s not like everyone is familiar with MMA and thinks it would be fun to be a MMA fighter, at least not in the same way as, say, everyone knows about ninjas and martial artists for a game like Bushido.  The goal changed from being awesome to a very small group of people, to instead being very good for a much wider group of people.

Cage Match! is great because it’s fast and fairly simple.  How fast?  Once you know how to play, you can play a match in 5 minutes.  You can play through the full roster of men or women in 30 minutes or so.  Elevating the speed of the game, the fun of the reveal of moves, has required many sacrifices.  It required the entire Clinched position, and eliminating moves like Focus, Dodge and Flying Knee.

Now, most recently, the feedback from Board Crazy Games suggested that many different options that can all be stopped by the same Block + Counter can actually be a bad thing.  With the priority keeping the game simple and fast, this meant eliminating the Cross punch and Head Kick.  Eliminating these, especially the Cross, reduces the options available and gives a MMA fan a little less to sink his teeth into.  However, it makes the game friendlier to the casual fan, less frustrating to the aggressive player who likes to try things, and keeps the game light and fast.  It also made it a little easier to cut the size of the Action Pads in half.

A welcome side effect of both changes — eliminating 2 moves and cutting the size of the Action Pad in half — is that it makes the character differences matter more.  Some characters still have Crosses and Head Kicks as Special moves or as part of Combo attacks, differentiating those characters from the pack.  This is actually consistent with real MMA — although the Cross punch is pretty standard, not every top level MMA fighter can execute an effective head kick.  It’s also a bit more of a video game feeling, where you have base moves and advanced moves.

What I didn’t realize or expect was the visual effect of reducing the size of the Action Pads: the Character cards become bigger relative to the other components.  This visually highlights the character you are fighting with, and makes it look the character matters more, which they do.  It’s like the old, bigger Action Pads made the Action Pad look like the most important thing, and with so many moves available to all fighters, it was.  Now, the character looks more important and with the asymmetry between fighters mattering more, the character is more important.

Here are the rest of the final changes we made:

  • Along with reducing the size of the action pads, we reduced the height of the screens.  This makes them a little less clunky to handle and just upgrades the game’s overall UI.
  • Upgraded the UI to include separate fight cards, and reducing the amount of information on the screens.  All that is covered in this post.
  • Tweaked the color scheme to make the game look a little grittier.  Small things add up to big changes.
  • Cut all hit points and damage in half.  Originally, defense had to make a dice roll or block only half the damage of the attack, so all hit points and damage were divisible by 2, i.e. even numbers.  I kind of wanted to keep it that way so that we could introduce advanced rules, but none of that is necessary unless the base game rocks, and for that, simpler is better.  Another small change that adds up to a bigger one.
  • Updated the fighter cards.  We tweaked the graphics to make the Specials and Combos a little easier to follow, plus halved all the damage, plus I’m always tweaking the fighters for balance.
  • Streamlined the visuals around activating Combos.  It was too convoluted before, now you activate them the same way as everything else.
  • Revised the rules.  Got some feedback on these from the review circuit, from our friend Jon Merchant, and others.
  • Working with the printer, we’ve been upgrading the thickness of several of the components.  We want this game to contain durable, high quality components and are willing to eat some margin to bring you a nice version of the game.

All the words add up to this:  Cage Match! is a great game.  We’ve worked really hard to make it faster, lighter and less complicated to where any light gamer or casual MMA fan can quickly understand and play the game.  The art studio worked really hard to convey all this visually as well.  It’s an outstanding product, and we’re excited to bring it to you this fall!

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