One of the most satisfying parts of designing Specimen was coming up with the different attributes of the monster. Many players have told us that they thought building their monster was one of the most fun parts of playing. Constructing your monster is something that should be done carefully and with some forethought. There are twenty-five attributes to chose from. So what combination will produce a winning Specimen?

Attributes cost 0, 1, 2, or 3 Attribute points. You have to take three attributes, but you can only spend three points. (yes, I know that if Attribute 25 Mutation is chosen, then that’s the only attribute you take – but in every other situation, you take three!) Usually, the more expensive the attribute, the more exotic or powerful it is. But don’t kid yourself; a 1, 1, 1 or 0, 0, 0 Specimen can go through a crew like swiss cheese just as well or better than a 3, 0, 0 Specimen. In fact, all of the Attributes will give your beastie an advantage in one way or another. The secret is recognizing those advantages and using them to their maximum potential.

 

Attribute_1

0 AND 1 POINT ATTRIBUTES (1 thru 9)

Since you normally have to take three Attributes, you will be usually pulling two cards from this group every game. Don’t dismiss them just because they only cost zero or one point. These Attributes can definitely swing the game in your favor. Another advantage to this group is that you can use these Attributes right at the start of the game (chosen Attributes aren’t available until the Specimen life cycle stage is equal to or greater than the Attribute point cost). The first couple of Attributes like #1 Armored Exoskeleton and #4 Razor Sharp Talons give either a +drm to the Specimen combat roll, or a -drm to the Crew combat roll. Attribute #3 Chameleon Ability and #5 Polarized Carbon Cell Structure make the Specimen harder to detect. The next three, #6 Pheromone Emitter, #7 Hypnotic Gaze and #8 Sonic Screech all give the Specimen a special attack or defense, while #9 Goo Emitter allows the Specimen to leave goo in room sections, which can severely hamper Crew movement. All of these can help your beastie, and potentially leave a nasty surprise for the crew.

 

Attribute_10

2 POINT ATTRIBUTES (10 thru 20)

You will only be choosing one Attribute from this group, but they’re all pretty good! Just look at Attribute #10 Spiked Tail. This Attribute gives you an additional combat die – a very powerful Attribute. Many of our playtesters used this one to great advantage. The other eight all give some sort of special ability to the Specimen. You can build a Lair on the ship, (and get a +3drm in Combat there!) or be able to emit an EMP which will disable all of the ship’s electronics. You can be Harder to Kill and take an extra wound before being killed. There are Attributes in this group that will negate one specific crew weapon, or allow your Specimen to move through the airducts or emit toxic blood when wounded. Again, some very powerful abilities that can help you win the game.

 

Attribute_22

3 POINT ATTRIBUTES (21 thru 25)

This last group is what we refer to as the ‘exotic’ Attributes. Attribute #21 Faster Evolution lets you evolve one turn faster than normal. Attribute #22 Life Force Drainer gives you an extra roll in combat to drain the life force from a crew member (resulting in either wounding them or killing them!). #23 Embryo Implanter gives you the ability to create a whole new Specimen. We’ve had games that ended up with two beasties running amok on the ship! #24 Regeneration gives you the ability to heal wounds while #25 Mutation lets you draw a random attribute card in combat and see if it helps you. All of these are pretty powerful! With the exception of #21, which is available at the start of the game, these Attributes will not be available until your beastie reaches life cycle stage three.

Now you just have to build your monster. Here’s where you have to make some decisions on how you’re going to play the game. If you take Armored Exoskeleton (0), Razor Sharp Talons (0), and Spiked Tail (2), you’ve built a lethal killing machine. Your goal should be to shred the crew. Once you’ve reached Level Two and gotten the extra combat die from Spiked Tail, you shouldn’t be afraid to wade into 2 or 3 crew members at a time.

If you choose Thermal Vision (0), Chameleon Ability (0), and Walking EMP (2), your Specimen has been designed to operate in the dark. You would use your EMP to take out the lights and then stalk your prey as they bump around in the dark.

Playing a Specimen with a three point Attribute (Except #21 Faster Evolution) will require some patience on your part. You’ll have to avoid any major combat in the early turns and concentrate on damaging the ship and possibly striking against solitary crew members. Once you reach Stage Three, then you can unleash your exotic Attribute on the unsuspecting crew.

All the Attributes are fun. Some are harder to win with than others, but that’s the cool part. You get to play ‘mad scientist’ and try to build the perfect beast. Happy building!

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This past Saturday I had the pleasure (read ‘sheer terror’) to have my first board game design, “Specimen”, put through a blind playtest. What exactly is a blind playtest, you ask? A blind playtest is where the players play the game using just the rule book. There is no instruction from an experienced player. This type of playtest is actually a critical step on the path to releasing the game. Since I’m not planning on sending myself along with every copy of the game to teach people how to play, making sure that the rules are complete and make sense with minimal confusion is a really good idea. I should point out that I have never written an instruction manual before this, so while everything in it makes sense to me, to others, probably not so much.

Thanks to Eric Van Tassel (“Specimen’s” plucky Science Officer Franklin), we had two very experienced gamers arrive at Stately Cullom Manor at 11:30 AM. After brief introductions and a tour of my fanboy abode, I sat Alex Hunt and Jonathon Hagedorn down at the table with the board, several piles of counters, cards, dice and two copies of the rules and let them have at it. The three of us agreed that I wouldn’t tell them anything and they wouldn’t ask me any questions unless they were completely flummoxed.

Here is where the ‘pleasure’ began in earnest (mostly in my living room, but definitely earnest too). Alex and Jonathon began by reading the rule book cover to cover. Both were armed with post-it notes and pens and very quickly (Like page freaking one!) they began to make notes. It’s quite an experience to watch something you’ve spent basically the last three years of your life working on being picked apart and being powerless to intervene. It’s all for the greater good (the greater good), I kept telling myself. The game will only get better with this. So I sucked it up and went with it. I decided to try and distract myself from the vivisection going on at the table by watching the blu-ray of “The Thing” (the new version, not the Carpenter one.)

By the time the film came to its happy, upbeat conclusion, Jonathon and Alex were well into actually playing the game. Now I got the pleasure of hearing little snippets of their conversation as they confer on game play and rules. “I believe that attempting to damage the ship costs 2 action points, right?” and things like that. Of course, it seems to me that the only bits of the conversation that I can make out clearly are ones that indicate that my rule-writing skills hover somewhere between ‘awful’ and ‘second grader.’ I’m fairly certain that not once did I catch the phrase “This is brilliant. Whoever wrote it is clearly a genius and should be standing in some sort of sun-god robes on a pyramid with a thousand naked women screaming and throwing little pickles at him” (Why am I the only one who has that dream?).

As this torture rolled on, I became convinced that at any moment the guys were going to announce that the rules are a mess, the game is a failure and my sense of home decor is questionable at best.

Fortunately the whole affair ends quite well. They both enjoyed the game. The rules as I wrote them are serviceable.  Jonathon and Alex both put forth a lot of good suggestions for improvement and a few GREAT ones. Several sections can be combined. Several should be expanded. And several new ones should be added.

So, I think that we’ve passed that step. Or at least, didn’t trip and break our freaking necks on it. I’m now in the process of implementing their suggestions, and hope to have a new draft of the rules soon.

After that, I guess I’ll take a serious look at my home decor…

‘Course, what do I know?

You can check out all the past blogs and reviews at the Bloodwork blog on toxicbag.com.

For the past few months we’ve been working feverishly to enhance the look of our new game, Specimen. Armed with gigabytes of new images from our photo shoot, we’re updating the graphics and design of every aspect of the game. Recently I’ve taken on the challenge of redoing the Attribute cards. Out of all the materials of our prototype, the Attribute cards were in the most dire need of a re-boot. Plain and un-imaginative, these cards were whipped out to be purely functional.

The original prototype version of an Attribute card

Since our specimen is part of Doctor Viktor’s research, it made sense to me that the attributes would be his findings. So I designed a display screen that has all the pertinent game info but also included some other cool window dressing as well.

First draft  of the new look attribute card

I think that this new look is a step in the right direction.

What do you think?

The Specimen project moving on. You guys have been asking a lot of questions about the game and how it works. So, I decided to give you guys more of a feel for what this game is about, Enjoy! – Steve

Toxic Bag: Tell us about the new look for Specimen.

Steve:  I have always conceived of the game as a film. I was actually imagining scenes from an imaginary sci-fi film as I was coming up with the game events.  So I decided early on that instead of having artwork done for the events and characters,  I wanted  live actors posed with costumes and props.  Once playtesting had progressed to a point that I was happy with the game design, Joe and I hired a costume director, a photographer, and six actors, and started building props. The end result was a nine-hour photo shoot that produced some amazing pictures.  Joe and I are now in the process of manipulating the photos and we hope to start releasing them in the next few weeks.  I’m very excited about how they’re coming out! Now if I can only find a place to store that flamethrower  prop…

The Crew of the TCS Brown searches for the Specimen

Toxic Bag: How long does it generally take to play Specimen?

Steve:  It was really important to me to make a game that can be played in one sitting. So far in play testing we’ve found that the game can be played as quickly as two hours, but three and a half hours seems to be the norm.

Toxic Bag: Is this a two-player game only? Can more than two people play?

Steve: I’ve been asked that question a lot during our open play tests. The current version of the game is for two players. I’ve explored optional rules that would make the game for 8 players (one person would control each crew member and the monster.) The biggest obstacles are distributing the cards and the fragile nature of the crew.  I haven’t worked out a system that would give every crewmember a card or two to play each turn that I like. Also, crewmembers die very easily, and I’m not sure how excited I would be if my character died 15 minutes into a 3 and half hour game…

Toxic Bag: Could you compare this game to some of the other Card-driven games on the market?

Steve: I would say that Specimen uses a hybrid version of the CDG game systems that are out there. The biggest difference is game scale. Most of the other CDG games that I have seen are historical/strategic games that cover an entire campaign or war involving millions of men and equipment. Specimen focuses on the events taking place on one spaceship. There are seven astronauts and one monster. That’s it.

Since there are no reinforcements, each side has to be very careful not to waste the crew’s lives or Specimen’s wounds. I think that this limitation makes the game more intense in the mid to late stages. The players have to decide whether to play OPS and move or have an event happen. And that decision gets tougher when either the Crew is split up and alone or the Specimen only has one or two wounds left.

Toxic Bag: Please explain the Specimen attributes for us as well as how a player ‘builds’ their monster.

Steve: The current version of the game has 24 attributes to choose from. The Attributes can be broken down into three categories: offensive, defensive and special. Offensive attributes can be anything from a spikey tail (which gives a bonus die in combat) to razor-sharp talons (a +1drm for combat rolls). Defensive attributes help the monster negate the Crew attacks. Things like an armored exoskeleton (a -1drm for Crew combat rolls) to toxic blood (if wounded, there is a chance that the creature’s blood will get on the Crew and potentially kill them! The Special attributes are just that; special.  Faster evolution (the monster gets bigger, quicker) and embryo implanter (the monster can reproduce!) are just a couple of examples.

Each attribute also has a point cost associated to it of zero to three points. The Specimen player has three points to spend on attributes and must take three attributes. So, whichever trio of cards they take, the total point cost can’t be more than three.

The rule of thumb is the higher the cost, the better the attribute. However, you can build a very nasty creature with three 0 or 1 point attributes.

Toxic Bag: I see that some of the crewmembers are officers. How does rank affect the game?

Steve:  I wanted to make the crew makeup realistic. So it was obvious that there’d be a Captain of the ship. After that, I decided to have a first and second officer. One of my goals was to make this game have a horror flavor to it, and so rank only really enters play later in the game when the monster attacks. As the crew dwindles, the chances increase that the survivors will panic when the monster attacks. Having an officer present helps the rest of the Crew with their panic checks. ‘Course, that means you have to keep the officers alive too. (Laughs)

Toxic Bag: This is a CDG, so how important is hand management?

Steve: Like any CDG, there are certain cards that really should be played as the event. Specimen is no different. Crew events like the flamethrowers and the trackers are really important events and skipping them can be adverse to the Crew’s health. As for the monster, not playing the Air vent movement event really puts the monster in a bad spot. But for the most part, I tried to design the card events as things that you want to have happen, but you could probably win without. That’s where hand management comes in. Holding a card or two, waiting hand after hand to draw that one specific card to work out a sequence is not a winning strategy. You have to play the hand you’re dealt, not the hand you wanted.

Toxic Bag: How do you see the strategy challenge for a player in Specimen?

Steve: Both sides face big challenges in the game. The Crew holds the advantage in the early turns, but they have several choices facing them. Do they hunt down the monster while it’s tiny and weak or do they fix the ship so they don’t explode? Maybe they split up (always a great idea in horror!) and try to do both?  The monster has to be careful in the beginning, this is when it is at its weakest. During the middle turns, things even out as the Monster evolves and gets stronger, and the Crew fatalities start to increase. The situation flips during the later turns when the monster has the advantage. But the Crew isn’t totally helpless, as they will be better armed (guns and flamethrowers) and can always abandon the ship.