About Grant Rodiek

I'm a professional designer of digital games. I design board and card games as a hobby. My first game, Farmageddon, is being published by 5th Street Games. I'm obsessed with my corgi and I love spending too much money on good food with my girlfriend.

A Look into 2015 for Grant and Josh

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Post by: Grant Rodiek

Josh is crunching at work, so I’ll be writing solo today. That means fewer mean comments, but, I’m sure you’ll survive. Josh and I wanted to write briefly about the cool stuff you can expect from us in 2015. This is a mild press release of sorts, details and things to look forward to. In many ways, we did the hard work in 2014 to have more fun in 2015. By that, I mean we’ve done extensive design, development, and also just building the foundation of what I think is a great partnership.

Firstly, let’s discuss Hocus Poker. In 2014, Josh and I completed over 100 tests, local and blind, of Hocus Poker, through about 5 major iterations. We’ve invested in sending a handful of dedicated testers a nice DriveThruCards copy of the prototype that we think and hope is our final version. I say that regarding mechanics – we have no doubt the Spell content and Moonbears need more tuning.

We’re very excited to be at this point after what has been a long road. What this means, is that barring a publisher we both like approaching us, we intend to self-publish Hocus Poker in 2015. We aim to send it to manufacturing in early Spring.

We’re putting together our art team now. Specifically, we’re working to hire an illustrator whose work we think is striking, a little dark, and unique. We do not know of any games that have hired someone with her style. Josh and I were giddy when she noted she was interested. We’re also going to hire a graphic designer to craft our icons and really make everything pop. We both think aesthetics are incredibly important and we don’t want to miss this opportunity.

Because of our positions in life, Josh and I are excited to take some risks with Hocus Poker. Some folks self-publish to start a business, or even create a new profession. Josh and I both have good jobs and families and don’t plan for that, though, if you guys want to buy 50,000 copies, we’re down! This means we can take some visual risks as well as some mechanical risks. At BGG Con, one publisher looking for a far simpler game noted Hocus was “a bit thinky.” We completely understood that it turned him off for that, but things like that are far more feasible within a modest scope. We seek to make a smidge of money so that our wife/fiance don’t make fun of us more than they already do.

To reflect our art style, and these risks, we no longer think Hocus Poker is an appropriate name. It’s a little silly, and for some invokes images of Bette Middler. We’ll share more about this when we’re ready. Josh had a really good inspiration for this the other night and we spent 2 hours tooling around with it. We think it’ll be quite appropriate when it’s all set.

In about a week we’re going to submit Hocus Poker for the Ion Awards. We’re hoping this gives us a little bit of prestige to bolster our reputation. Those who read this blog know that Josh and I have been working on Hocus Poker all year. In case you didn’t know, this blog has a Hocus Poker Tag so you can quickly find all posts related to it. But, not everyone reads this blog (shocking) and doesn’t know us (also shocking). We’re hoping an award, if we’re lucky, helps there.

Finally, we see Hocus Poker as a nice, small, relatively low-risk opportunity to present our competence as a business. We want to demonstrate to people that we’ll be honest dealers, competent developers, transparent, fair, and that we’ll match our promises within our capabilities. We’re crazy excited about Hocus Poker, but we are also absurdly excited about Landfall. If Hocus Poker goes well and we build a mailing list to boot, we think Landfall will really have a greater chance to succeed.

Therefore, let’s discuss Landfall. Landfall is a very ambitious collaborative project from me and Josh that we’d like to launch in early Fall. Notice I said project — Landfall isn’t a game, but a series of games. Our design development will focus on them next year and we’ll be self-publishing this.

Finding a publishing partner isn’t an option for this, both because we want full control, but it’s also not really possible for a publisher to do what we’re doing. That sounds obnoxiously arrogant, but it’s actually not. We didn’t invent the flying car, but we’re trying something bizarre and not really feasible for traditional publishers.

Landfall is a narrative driven game series set in a unique science fiction universe. We actually conceived the idea not long after Hocus Poker. I’ve worked quite a bit on one of the games, with Josh taking the lead on a second. They have even gone through some early blind testing, which is good.

You’ll see some incredible influences on our designs here. Influences from our favorites. Race for the Galaxy, Combat Commander, 7 Wonders, and some CCGs. Key word is influence. Some of our most unique work will be found in Landfall.

We’ve been quiet, and will continue to remain quiet, because it’s essential to the fun of the experience. Why the secrecy? Well, there are a few reasons.

  1. The project has been built around the notion of surprise. We want to surprise our customers, not just through play, but the entire consumer experience. Surprise is a key element to your enjoyment.
  2. We don’t have all the details yet. We still need to prove many things. We aren’t 100% ready to discuss it, so we won’t.
  3. We think we have 2 very unique things about this project. It’s not so much that we’re worried someone we’ll steal it, but we don’t want people to deflate the air out of it for the next year while we work on it. And, if a splash is made at all, we want to make it.

If you have any questions, comment below, or email me at grant at hyperbolegames dot com. We hope you guys have a great year and come with us on our little entrepreneurial journey.

Cutting Cards with a Silhouette Portrait Cutter

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Guest Review by:  Corey Young

Synopsis: The cutter makes quick work of cutting printed cardstock into cards.

As a game designer, I make a lot of cards. I mean A LOT of cards. I iterate my designs very quickly. If something is broken, or we find a typo, or for any number of reasons, I make entirely new sets of cards. Until recently, I used 80lb cardstock, usually duplex printed at my local FedEx Office. I’d then cut these using an X-Acto and straight edge, then round the corners with a corner rounding punch.

Ah, the joys of carpel tunnel syndrome. I had to find a better alternative.

This past week, I saw an ad for the Silhouette Portrait craft cutting plotter. It lists right now on Amazon for $109, down from $199. I thought that for that price, it was worth a try.

The installation of the software and driver was very easy. The software is easy to use and intuitive. I made a layout that mirrored my typical 9 card arrangement in under 10 minutes.

The first thing that you’ll have to get used to is the cutting mat. It’s a long sheet of transparent plastic, coated with a sticky/tacky surface. This holds the media (cardstock) in place while it’s being cut. At first, this can be off-putting because the cardstock tends to REALLY stick to the cutting mat. I recommend that you use a few sheets of scrap cardstock to break the surface in. It will tear the paper a bit, and leave bits behind. Once you’ve done this a few times, the surface will be “seasoned” for grabbing, without damaging, the media.

I was very concerned that my duplex-printed cards would lose ink to the cutting mat sticky stuff or be torn up, but I was delighted to discover that it actually made the cards pop off more easily. It left no marks on the cards. I over-bleed my backs, ensuring that the entire back is covered with ink. Again, I have FedEx Office do my printing, so the printing is of very high quality and saturation.

You may want to do a lot of trial and error calibration to get your cutter’s registration exactly where you want it. Here are a few things I’ve found that might help you.

  • In the software, set the cut speed to 3. Setting it slower wastes time and decreases the accuracy. The default cut speed for 105lb+ paper is 1, but I’d ignore that.
  • Set the depth on your blade to 4 or 5. It works just fine, and I’m thinking that it will help the cutting mat last longer. I am a bit concerned that my cutting mat will wear out faster than the manufacturer might think, simply because I’m always cutting the exact same pattern. I ordered 2 extra mats and an extra blade.

The registration (calibration) routine listed in the instructions are basically useless for getting the precise cuts that I need. They basically tell you to line up the black arrow centered between the white rollers on the cutter. The center point is not marked. You just have to eyeball it. Not good enough.

Why is it so imprecise? I suspect that the primary use for the device, cutting craft shapes out of monochromatic materials, does not demand the same degree of precision. If you want to cut a flower pattern out of yellow cardstock, it doesn’t really matter if the pattern is off by half an inch. For my purposes, cutting printed cards with almost no bleed, I needed to take extra steps.

I’ll provide a lot of detail here in the hopes of saving you the experimentation time.

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  • The cutting mat has a nice outline showing where an 8½”x11” sheet fits. Carefully align your card stock to that.
  • When you’re feeding the mat into the cutter, look for the two parallel guides at the left. Align the left edge of the card stock to the inside (right) edge of the leftmost of the double guides. I know that’s confusing. I highlighted the line I’m talking about in the first image. The second image shows the card stock aligned correctly.

This will center the stock correctly every time. To make my life easier. I then took a Sharpie marker and marked the cylinder exactly where the black arrow on the cutting mat is pointing.

I’m now able to precisely cut 9 cards, with rounded corners, in about 45 seconds. This used to take me something like 5 minutes using my manual process. The time savings is certainly worth it to me.

I may start cutting my prototype tiles for Santorini with the Silhouette as well. These tile faces will be elongated hexes printed on adhesive-backed paper. I should be able to set the cut depth so that it cuts the surface material, but not the waxy backing material. This too will be an enormous time savings for me.

Conclusion: The Silhouette Portrait craft cutter is an inexpensive, worthy tool for game designers.

My Favorite Games of 2014

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Post by: Grant Rodiek

It’s always fun to think back upon the year and reflect on the best games. I’m still relatively new to the hobby (only about 5 or so years), which means I don’t typically hold myself to 2014 releases. Instead, I like to comprise a list of games new and new to me that really stood out in 2014.

My list is based on games I felt really stood out, that I played sufficiently to judge, and that I’d easily recommend to others. I make up weird categories in some cases, because I’m a rebel like that.

Most Played Game: Star Realms (702 Digital Plays, 32 Tabletop plays)

If you followed my Ascension career closely, in which I played almost 2000 games, you won’t be too surprised to find that I played a LOT of Star Realms. And it’s so easy to see why. This is pound for pound one of the best $15 games out there.

The game is essentially Ascension v1.5. The designers removed the clumsy point tallying at the end, or monsters versus normal cards, or questionably integrated Constructs (speaking of the base game, specifically). The direct conflict model of points is a real delight and the game doesn’t feel mean or vindictive. I was also really surprised to find the game plays well in team mode, which is why I own two copies.

The expansions should be hitting for Star Realms VERY soon. I can’t wait to play them in 2015.

Favorite Euro: Ra (3 plays)

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This is a fantastic game. Once again, Knizia finds an incredibly clever way to introduce a bidding mechanic. Every player has a few Sun tokens, with a number that ranges from 1-16. As tokens are drawn, they are placed in a group together. Tokens are worth points in a variety of ways — typical stuff. When you bid, you bid one of your numbers, highest number wins. You then lose the number and swap it with the one previously spent: sometimes lower (much lower), sometimes higher (the highest!).

The game is so clever and plays with up to 5 people in a lunch hour. I highly recommend this outstanding Knizia for those so inclined.

Second Favorite Euro: Evolution (4 plays)

Evolution is my kind of euro: simple, thematic, and highly interactive. In the game, players are using cards in a variety of ways to carefully evolve their species in hopes of gaining enough food. Species can be given new traits that grant interesting abilities, merely strengthened, or fed to grow in population.

What’s most compelling about the game is that it’s interactive – carnivores exist. They will eat you. Because of this, evolution actually takes place. Something I greatly dislike in many games is the complete lack of arc. Turn 1 is the same as turn 2 is the same as turn 3. In Evolution, you must constantly rethink your creatures and evolve them to remain on top. It’s a tense game that plays in well under an hour and is beautifully illustrated. Give it a look!

Note: I almost didn’t present this category because, as you can see, I didn’t really play many Euros this year. I find my tastes have shifted and I really don’t chase down euros much. I’m really looking for clever mechanics, player interaction, emergent play where possible, and lately, Euros aren’t scratching that itch. We’ll see where my tastes go in 2015.

Favorite Money Drains: Netrunner and X-Wing

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I think everyone needs to have a game series they just love. Something where every expansion is gobbled up and they giggle as they open another box or pack. I have two of these: Netrunner and X-Wing. Both of these games are a few years old now, and neither are new to me in 2014, but they played such a prominent role in my 2014 gaming that they are worth discussing.

Netrunner is a game that I’ve bought content for, but haven’t played largely until this year. My friends and I made it a priority to play this year and it was totally worth it. This is a beautiful game, with deep asymmetry (which I love), great theme, and so much flexibility.

X-Wing is a game I’ve played steadily since launch, but I think the new releases, particularly the Aces packs and Phantom are just phenomenal. They are really injecting great new content into this game that keeps me excited. Every time we play we try something new and that’s saying something.

What impresses me most about both of these is just how well they are designed. We are never confused about a Netrunner card or new pilot in X-Wing. The content is so polished and it just makes sense. No, we don’t do tournament play, so perhaps we’re missing some shoddy tuning here and there. But as far as I can tell, these are just wonderfully developed products. That’s something to appreciate as a consumer and aspire towards as a creator.

Favorite Co-Op: Legends of Andor (8 plays)

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I had a few I played this year, but the one that really excited me was Legends of Andor. I think the game is just incredibly cool. I like how it combines a tightly scripted narrative with dynamic sandbox elements. It, along with Robinson Crusoe and Mice and Mystics, have been big inspirations for Sol Rising.

I held off playing this game for a long time due to criticisms that the game had no replay factor. But, I’ve played several of the scenarios multiple times and have enjoyed them each play. Which characters you use and how events unfold can really change the story.

I’m also impressed at how clean and tight the game’s mechanics are. I’m not really an elegance guy. It’s not something I really crave. But, Andor is quite elegant and I find in this case, it really helps shine light on the cool story elements. This is a great game and I sincerely hope somebody imports the German expansions soon as I’m almost finished playing all the scenarios.

Favorite Weird Ass Game: Cube Quest (23 plays)

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Let me break this down quickly. Each player, behind a wall, sets out up to 25 cubes in any orientation. Create walls, towers, minefields…whatever. You then remove the wall. On your turn, you flick a cube, some with special properties, in an attempt to knock off your opponent’s king cube.

Hilarity ensues.

Second Weird Ass: Mysterium (3 plays)

I’m a huge fan of Dixit. It’s one of the prizes of my collection. Earlier this year, I picked up Concept at the recommendation of so many. They weren’t wrong! But, it wasn’t quite for me. The game was a bit…binary? I’m not sure. Well, enter Polish game companies. Mysterium combines the abstract fuzzy, weird art with the crime solving path of Clue. One player, a ghost, gives you completely bizarre cards that represent “dreams.” You must use the clues in these cards to identify the weapon, the location, and the culprit. This is a very challenging and very amusing game that plays with 7 people in under an hour. There aren’t many games that do that and it’s why Mysterium is so special.

Favorite Filler:  Colossal Arena (5 plays)

Damn you Knizia! You’re so good and prolific. Colossal Arena is a fairly old Fantasy Flight Game that you can snag for $20. How old? Well, it uses a Clippy (yes, that Clippy) like character to teach you the rules. It’s incredible.

In the game, you and up to 4 others play as folks better on a monster filled arena. 8 monsters enter, and after 5 rounds or the deck runs out, far fewer will exit. You bet on the monsters, but here’s the trick: your bets are worth more the sooner you place them. Sure, you might bet on the Colossus now, but now he’s a big fat target for others to take down.

On your turn, you play 1 card, numbered 1-10, to one of the surviving monsters. Once every monster has a card for the round, and one of them has the lowest card, the round’s over and the monster with the lowest card dies. There’s also some special abilities, but that’s about it. Oh, and some truly nasty fragile alliances. This is a really great game.

Second Filler: Red7 (9 plays)

I really enjoy Red7. It hasn’t been a huge hit with my friends, who range from “cool” to “eh”, but I think the game is quite clever. W. Eric Martin of BGG News described it as the introductory Chudyk. I think of it as an adult’s Uno.

The game gives you a hand of 7 cards, each of which can change the rules of the game or help you win the game under the current rules. It’s a nice little twist to figure out when to play what cards and how to deliver the game winning surprise towards the end of the round to know everyone else out.

Favorite Abstraction: Tash-Kalar (6 plays)

It’s a bit odd having a category for this, as I don’t really play abstracts, but I think this game is fantastic and I needed a category. What I love most about this game is that you feel really clever, but there isn’t too much work. It is somewhat like a brain burner, but doesn’t come with the headache afterwards. You know what Tash-Kalar is? It’s the Coke Zero that doesn’t taste bad. 0 calories but all the flavor. Basically, it’s a mythical light beer.

The first time you play Tash-Kalar you struggle with which shapes to create, how to defy your opponent, and how best to use creatures. But even in that first game, you soon see through the Matrix and you spot the patterns. It becomes dead simple, or so it seems, and then the real game begins.

Not recommended with more than two players.

Best Social Experiment: One Night Werewolf (25 plays)

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For a while there, I was really into the Resistance. We played it quite a bit, then I grew tired of it. I felt like every game was just shouting for 25 minutes, followed by some lucky guesses. It felt like a meandering party game.

Then I obtained Coup, and I was really into it. I played it well over 30 times. Then, I grew tired of it. It just wasn’t very dynamic. It didn’t have enough flexibility in its framework to do crazy things.

Then a friend brought One Night Werewolf. After 25 plays, just this year, I’m still in love. Then again, I can’t say no to a lustrous fur pelt.

One Night does a few things I really love. Most importantly, it provides enough pieces of a puzzle that can actually be solved while still providing an enormous stage for social delight. A friend might declare they are the trouble maker and reveal the two they swapped. Then a few minutes later note that was a lie. Then again, note that last one was a lie. But no, seriously. I’m, I mean, he, is telling the truth. The first time you play a Villager you think, ugh, I have nothing to do. But, then you get creative. I’ve had some of my most fun designing ways to be influential and helpful as a villager.

One night is Brilliant with a B (because that’s how you spell it, guys). I’m a little less excited by the expansion, as I find it just leads to chaos and too much info, but really, we can pare that back and just use a few new ones each game. One Night is social deduction best in class. Full stop.

Favorite Game of 2014: Combat Commander: Europe (5 plays)

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I really like tactical war games, particularly about the World War II theater. I have more or less everything that’s been sold for Memoir ’44, and I hope to one day play it all. But, I was eyeballing Combat Commander on BGG. Yes, it was less glossy, and yes, it was a much longer game, but the love for it seemed to be unanimous. I asked Josh about it and he gave it every thumb he had. He then found a few others and forced them to also provide thumbs.

I think Combat Commander is a masterpiece of design. It creates these awesome situations full of heroism, bad luck, clever ideas, and dynamic moments. A fire may force your men out of their cover form the woods. A Russian hero may rise to charge the machine gun nest. A sniper may pop your officer, causing your entire flank to crumble. It does all of this with a beautiful card system that is used to initiate actions, roll the dice, and trigger events.

What I love most is that the game isn’t fair, but it’s intensely fun. And war isn’t far. Nor is it predictable. Great commanders figure out what to do when the moment of decision comes. That’s what I find so compelling about this game.

The game is such a great sandbox and I think it’ll be hugely influential over me for quite some time. I’ve already purchased the large Mediterranean expansion and 2 of the battle packs (Paratroopers and Stalingrad). I can’t wait to play them all.

Second Favorite: Rex: Final Days of an Empire (4 plays)

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Dune is one of my favorite works of fiction of all time. Though Rex replaces Dune’s original theme with the uber generic Twilight Imperium universe, the mechanics are so deeply intertwined with the theme that like Muad’dib, I can see it even though it’s not exactly in front of me.

Rex streamlines and smooths the incredible Dune experience for the 21st century. If you enjoy dudes on a map, deeply asymmetric gameplay, negotiation, and fragile alliance,s you must play this game. The asymmetric powers are a delight, the combat system will force you to think and rethink every step, and the layers within layers theme of Dune is so present in the game. It’s such a gem.

Third Favorite: Race for the Galaxy (plus the cards for Gathering Storm so we can play with 5) (7 plays)

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The first time I played this, maybe as soon as round 2, I said aloud “holy crap this game is incredible.” And it is. Once you get past the icons, which present a steep cliff face of learning, you’ll encounter an infinitely replayable game of constantly interesting decisions.

You pick a strategy, and then you go for it. And if and when the cards you need don’t come, you must evolve and cast your lot with something else. Every card has so many uses and the game has so much compelling room for mastery. This is a brilliant masterwork of card design. There’s a reason it’s so beloved. What an exceptional design!

What did you think? What did I get wrong? What were my stand out choices? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

How to be a Great Recommender

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Post by: Grant Rodiek

Christmas is upon us. Unlike previous years, people seem to be coming out of every nook and crevice to ask me for a game recommendation to buy a friend or loved one a board game. It seems my “healthy” obsession has become widely known.

Word of mouth recommendations are the single greatest form of advertising ever created and I get really excited when someone comes to me for a recommendation. Especially with a board game. I realized driving home tonight that I more or less spoil my ability to be surprised by games. I’m able to buy more or less any game I want and I frequently act on that. Unlike the vast majority of normal consumers, many of us in the hobby forget that most people buy 1-3 games each year. That’s it. If I did that, it’d be really awesome to get a new game for Christmas! Instead, I buy everything and my family just ignores the hobby as a gift idea. After all, I probably already have it.

Therefore, it’s really key for me to give someone a great recommendation. I want them to be excited to dig into the rules as soon as they open the box. I thought about the way I typically go through my recommendation process and thought I’d share it for the two of you interested.

How does one become a great recommender? Come along and I’ll tell you.

Ask about the recipient’s experience with games. This is incredibly important. You don’t want to buy Robinson Crusoe for someone who hasn’t played many board games. Similarly, someone who has played many lengthy, meaty games and enjoys them may not be terribly keen on King of Tokyo.

A co-worker’s wife heard about Mice and Mystics, heard it was good for children, and asked him to look into Mice and Mystics. He asked me. I love this game and have played it extensively. But, I couldn’t recommend it for my friend and his 8 year old daughter. Why? They don’t play board games hardly at all. The core, minute to minute experience of Mice revolves around moving your character and attacking a bad guy. That’s dead simple. But, managing gear, dealing with scenario elements like crossing the water (which is in the first scenario!), the surge, the special behavior of Brodie…it can get complicated.

You have to remember that there’s a language that comes with board games. We may not think about it, but there are many things that come for granted. There’s a language, understood mechanics, and a way to just “get” things. Games like Catan and Ticket to Ride and Pandemic really succeed outside the core hobby market because they don’t get too caught up in “inside baseball,” as they say.

Find out their experience first. This is so key.

Ask how many players they tend to play with. Someone may want a game to play with their wife. They may want a 3-4 player game for their lunch group. They may want a game they bring out for social gatherings.

You have to remember that you aren’t buying a game for yourself, but them. I’ve asked this question now to four groups and I’ve received four different answers. After their experience and knowledge with games, you must ask about the player number.

Ask about any currently owned games. Let’s avoid this low hanging spikey fruit. Don’t recommend a game they currently have! But also, detect a pattern, if possible. Now, chances are someone who “plays board games” has Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride. That’s totally fine! You know where they stand and their current level of experience.

Ask if they like a certain theme. But, remember, they probably don’t think in terms of mechanics or theme. The loved one asking you most likely doesn’t either. Therefore, think in terms of a way that might help you. Are they into fantasy? Science fiction? Do you think they’ll really care about the story elements?

By now, there are several deckbuilders with many different themes. You can find many war games from every time, space, and fictional void. If they might go “ooo” when they see an orc on front, ask!

Ask about price. Ideally, the asking pal is comfortable with the $30-50 range. Unfortunately, our hobby isn’t great for discount shoppers (typically). If they’re within that range, it won’t be a limiting factor. But, if it’s a stocking stuffer they seek, you’ll really narrow your search.

Give three suggestions. I always like to provide a few suggestions, all that fit the parameters, to give the gift giver the final say on what to buy. Not everyone loves this, they just want to be told what to buy. That’s why you can rank them for them. But, I find that for many people, if you give them three, and say that every one of them is great fun, you’ll give them an opportunity to think about it and apply their own personal touch.

This all seems completely obvious, but I thought it was a fun topic to discuss. Hopefully it helped you, or at least helped pass the time.

Do you have any suggestions or recommendations? List them in the comments below!

Hocus Poker: The Pitch

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Post by: Joshua Buergel and Grant Rodiek

Grant: It turns out Hocus Poker 5.0 is pretty dang fun. We were pleased with the results from our own local tests, BGG Con tests, and family tests over Thanksgiving. After about 6 months, we feel it’s time to share the game with the public once again. We’re going to blind testing!

Before we get too far, you can read the rules for Hocus Poker here. You can get the PNP files here. The game is 82 cards and nothing else. As far as PNPs go, it’s not too bad!

Josh: And, really, you can skip printing 8 of those cards if you’re comfortable keeping track of score using literally anything else you have handy. That puts it at 74 cards, which is really not too bad at all. It’s a fun, quick game, and we’d love to hear about more people trying it out.

Grant: After flubbing a pitch at BGG Con, Josh and I exchanged a few emails back and forth to better improve our pitch. Here’s what we settled on. Imagine this spoken dramatically with great flair and bravado.

Hocus Poker is a classic style card game that asks how would wizards play a game of poker. This game takes some elements of poker, but uses them to create a wholly unique experience.

The game is played in rounds by 2-4 players. If any player has 25 points at the end of the round, the game is over and the player with the most wins.

Ultimately, players will build their best poker hand, as the best poker hand will claim the pot. There are a few twists that make this game unique. Firstly, all players will build the community and pots together on their turns. Secondly, there are two communities. Thirdly, cards can be played as poker cards or for their Gem value in the pot. Every card can be used in three ways: in a community, in a pot, or in your personal pocket.

That’s the basic game, which is quite fun. Let’s talk about advanced Spells.

Josh: Before we get to that, I’d just like to say here: it’s important to realize that while this game is obviously rooted in Poker, we’ve really tried pretty hard to make it a unique game. I think it’s easy to think of games as “just” a variant of some other classic game, and obviously we’ve used that as a starting point. But Hocus Poker is really its own thing at this point, a game that plays differently from just about anything else in my collection. Which is saying something.

Grant: I’m very proud of it. It took a long time but we believe that we have a game that is unique, easy to learn, and has a light skill element.

Who would you say this game is for, Josh?

Josh: Is it a cliche to say everybody?

Grant: Yes.

Josh: Aw. I would say this: very serious poker players are not really our target audience here. If you play a ton of poker and take it really seriously, you’ll probably find yourself just saying “we should just be playing Hold ‘Em” while you play Hocus Poker. That’s cool, I love Hold ‘Em, I play it every week at a regular game. We weren’t trying to improve that game, but you might still find yourself pining for it if you’re a serious student of the game. Other than that, it slots in well as a light card game for most folks. It helps to have a familiarity with Poker, just knowing the hands, but is certainly not necessary.

Grant: I think it’s a great lunch game, or game night opener. I have aspirations of it being the type of game someone tosses into their backpack to take to a picnic.

Josh: I’ve actually used it as a game night closer several times, as a wind down from a big centerpiece game.

Now, advanced spells. The basic structure is cool, it provides for interesting play, surprises, and an engaging game where nobody is eliminated. That’s all good stuff. But you can really turn it up a lot with the advanced spells. Once you do that, everybody suddenly has unique options on their turn. Nobody’s position plays the same, and you get a varied experience just by changing which set of spells you have. Asymmetry is tons of fun, and I think what we have here works well.

Grant: Every set of 3 Spells, which we refer to internally as a Spell Book, follow along a particular style of play and advantage. Flame, for example, is highly reactive. You’re able to dump a pocket of 1 or 2 cards into a Pot, then build a new Pocket. Why is this advantageous? Well, once you build a pocket, it cannot be modified. And you only get two. Secondly, often times you’re trying to balance between building the community to support your sought hand AND building a pocket to leverage it. With this spell, you can play a pocket early to stall and see what people play. Somebody may feed the community with a set of cards that let you build a straight or Full House. You dump your now bad pocket and react.

Josh: And that’s just one. Each book gives a different feel, while still providing for enough familiarity that people can still play the game just fine.

Grant: Right now we have 6 different books, for 18 Spells total. Although the game only plays to 4, we want there to be quite a bit of variety.

Josh: With 6 spell books, there are 15 different combinations in the four-player game. That’s pretty cool!

Grant: There’s quite a bit of variety and breadth here. In a way, it reminds me of how Red7 has a few ways to play. Easy, less easy, and woah there’s lots of stuff now. For us, the ramp is: Basic Spells, Add Moonbears, then finally, Add Advanced Spells.

Now that we’re re-entering blind testing, what would you say our goals are? Other than mocking me in emails. That, sir, is accomplished.

Josh: My job there is never done, though.

My primary goals here are pretty simple. One, are we right about the fun here? We both like this version, a lot, and our local testers do as well. Will that carry over to people who aren’t just trying to be polite to us? I think our local testers would tell us if the game was lousy (they have in the past), but taking it wider is the only way to be sure.

Grant: I’d be pretty upset if my local group told me “this is awful” for most of the year only to lie to me now.

Josh: Yeah, and I know where my friends live, so I’m pretty sure they aren’t going to make me angry.

The second goal has to do with the content. We have thirteen Moonbear spells (well, there are a couple repeats) and 18 advanced spells. I want to make sure that those are balanced, fun, fair, comprehensible, and just all around entertaining. Balance is really most important across the spell books, not the Moonbears, but shaking out the content is really a big goal here.

Grant: Yes. The data points I want from our testers are:

  • Scores paired with Spells used: Do we have a trend for a certain Spellbook winning most often?
  • Favorite Spells: It’s worth the effort to balance content that’s most fun and popular. If everyone hates Darkness, for example, it’s probably better to replace it, then start balancing again.

Josh: Other things to watch out for:

  • Spell use. Did everybody use all of their spells? Or did somebody just ride one spell hard and ignore the others.
  • Moonbears. Did they seem reasonable? Too powerful? Too specialized? Unfair?
  • Timing. How long is the game in minutes and rounds?

Grant: I’m a smidge less concerned about Moonbears in that, as you’ve noted before, they are a spice. Which ones come into play and when is really difficult to predict. And they are bonuses, so we’ve deliberately made them a bit more niche in their application and less potent. But, it’s something we have to get right.

Josh: What I’d like to keep an eye on is if any Moonbears are regarded as really lame. We can swap those out if people think they’re stupid or irritating.

Aside from those concerns, we of course are both looking out for rules clarity and subjective impressions, which are always important to watch out for. Honestly, this isn’t that long a list of things to watch out for.

Grant: The subjective stuff will help us gauge our next steps. The game is a little weird and, my flubs aside, we’re not exactly sure who to show it to. But, we’re also not opposed to doing it ourselves. If folks like the game and we can begin some good word of mouth with our early testers, that might push us one direction or another. Or, it might help generate buzz for someone to aid us.

Josh: Unless our testers all chase us around with pitchforks, it’s a game that will get published, somewhere. But, where? We don’t know, honestly, and we’re going to try and figure that out with this test. But there is one thing we’re pretty sure we’re going to do with it, which is enter it into the Ion Game Design Competition.

Grant: For starters, I’ve always wanted to go to Utah in the winter. It’s just a bucket list item for me. But, if we fare well in the competition, we think that’ll help us find a home, or aid us as first-time publishers. But, the timeline is coming up quickly. I think we’re sending out the PNP at the last possible moment to get input before we have to submit to the competition.

Josh: We’re cutting it fine, to be sure. But, even just the rules feedback we’ve had so far has helped. If anybody would like to have a look at an unusual but fun light card game, we welcome any thoughts you might have, especially if those thoughts includes abuse for Grant.

Grant: Now I know how John Arbuckle felt.

Josh: The only thing worse than making a Garfield reference is spelling it wrong.

And yes, I know how his name is supposed to be spelled, which also turns out to be worse.

Grant: Would you believe me if I said this was an elaborate trap to tease that information from you?

Josh: No. Would you believe me if I said it was because I have a seven-year-old who loves Garfield?

Grant: Yes, and I’d say you’ve made mistakes as a parent.

Oh, hey! Check out Hocus Poker! Rules here. PNP here. Tell us what you think! You can email me here.

Josh: Yes, email him. He loves abuse.

Interview with Nat Levan

NewBedford

Interview by: Nat Levan and Grant Rodiek

I’m fascinated by weird and unique themes and historical takes on games. I’m also interested in how we can use uncomfortable topics as a teaching opportunity. Even better, an entertaining one. I asked Nat Levan at BGG if he’d be interested in an interview. Avast! He was!

Nat Levan is the designer of New Bedford, which is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter.

My questions will be prefaced by Hyperbole Games (HG), with Nat’s responses as Nat Levan (NL).

Hyperbole Games: Hi Nat! Introduce yourself. Who are you and what should we know about you? What’s a good northeastern greeting for us west coast types to latch onto?

Nat Levan: I’m Nat Levan. I’ve been into board games for about 4 years. I started designing about 2 and a half years ago. I work as a structural engineer by day, so I fit one of those game designer stereotypes. I live in the Philadelphia Suburbs. Is that Northeastern to the rest of the country?

HG: East of the Mississippi, so…yes! You’re here, obviously, to discuss New Bedford. This is your midweight euro published by Dice Hate Me Games. Give us the high level rundown.

NL: New Bedford is my first complete game design. It’s set in the mid-19th century at the height, and center of the historic whaling industry. The base mechanic is worker placement, but the initial pool of actions in the town is small. Players develop the town by adding buildings with more powerful actions, so the town actually grows as time passes. The new actions become available to everyone, at a slight cost.

You can also launch ships to go whaling, sending them out into the ocean to slowly collect whales each round via a draft. But as the game progresses the whale population declines, and you’ll encounter more and more empty sea. Eventually the ships return, and you need to make enough money before then to pay the sailors a share of the profits. You need to balance building, earning money, and whaling to win.

HG: What is the coolest part of New Bedford?

NL: Well, first, the whaling is the part I’m most proud of. It’s actually been almost untouched since the very beginning. I love the subtlety of deciding when to whale. If you go too early, other players can launch later and have better choice in the draft. To late and you won’t have time to collect enough whales. Drawing whale tokens naturally reflects the effects of over-harvesting, and becomes a big element in later rounds.

For me, the coolest part is seeing how the buildings all work together to support the town. You’re building up the entire industrial base. Developing all these buildings that work together, and making sure they are not only tempting to build and appropriately expensive for their value, but also thematically appropriate has been a long but fun journey.

HG: What are some of your favorite euros or like games? What inspired New Bedford? What were your goals?

NL: I’m so glad you asked the question like that. I found Agricola and Puerto Rico pretty early in my gaming history. I still really admire them, but don’t get much opportunity to play. I took what I really liked about them as inspiration for New Bedford, with the goal of making something I would play all the time. Both games have lots of replayability, but can take a while to set up and play, so I made New Bedford easier to pull out of the box. It also plays a bit faster.

I liked the more direct interaction from Agricola, but I didn’t like how limiting it felt for someone to block the space you need, so in New Bedford, you always have access to the basic actions. I liked how combinations of unique buildings help guide your strategy in both games but didn’t like how exclusive building felt, so buildings become available to everyone while rewarding the builder.

HG: Let’s move past New Bedford for a second: do you have a favorite theme? Or mechanic? What’s your ideal game to play?

NL: I don’t have a specific theme, but I seem to find myself drawn to themes of industrialization and growth. Especially the 19th century and the Industrial Revolution. I love being able to grow something small into something productive, so it should be no surprise that engine-building is my favorite mechanic. I like worker placement because it gives you that freedom of choice while tying your personal actions directly to actions within the theme.

HG: What drew you to the story of New Bedford (the town)? I’m intrigued by the premise of a town that used to be enormous and booming and is now a quaint portion of what it used to be. I imagine people never thought it would dwindle in the past.

NL: Well, Moby Dick is one piece of it. It’s a fascinating, incredibly important but largely ignored piece of American and world history. New Bedford’s story fits in perfectly with the industrialization I was just talking about. As late as the 1830s, New Bedford was still this fairly small and unimportant town, but in less than 20 years, it became, without exaggeration, one of the most important cities in the world. Then, in the same period of time, the industry fell apart due to over-harvesting of whales, the discovery of oil and invention of Kerosene, and unfortunate luck. People sort of forget that it was ever so important. The story would feel at home in ancient legend or fantasy, but it’s well documented history.

HG: I think games should teach and being up topics of history. I love Combat Commander, and I’m so excited to see the discussions Freedom have brought forth. I especially love the game documentary Dune. What is New Bedford teaching us? It’s about whales, so why does that matter?

NL: Some of the response to New Bedford has been negative due to the inclusion of whaling, which we expected. But the act of whaling isn’t depicted in the game at all. It deals with the industry on a higher level, and the historical impact. It’s interesting to see how the town grew to support the whaling industry. But what I really wanted to show, from the very inception, was how the industry grew too big without considering the effects of whaling, many of the whale species on which the industry depended almost disappeared. What makes whaling so insidious is that it the participants didn’t want the whales to disappear, but they couldn’t figure out any other options. The history and environmental lessons are one and the same.

HG: What else do you have in the works?

NL: Right now, I’m working a handful of small designs, because it’s a lot easier to playtest them. I don’t have anything in the pipe officially, but I’ll have a pile of games to take to UNPUB 5 in February in Baltimore. The most complete are a trick taking game about tailoring suits, and a 15 minute wonder building game that fits in a small bag. I’ve also got a couple of micro-games based on New Bedford and Brew Crafters (also from Dice Hate Me Games) that I’d like to show off for fun.

HG: Anything else you want to add?

NL: The last thing I want to say is that I feel really lucky with New Bedford. The response has just been overwhelming. I’m excited about the extras we have planned for the game, so I really hope we get the opportunity to put them in.

And a big thank you to my wife for putting up with all my traveling and talking about the game for the past few months. She loves games, despite the fact that I’ve been a pain to deal with. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me about New Bedford!

New Bedford is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter

2014 Year in Review: Part 2

Hocus

Post by: The Design and Publishing Community!

I asked the community to tell me about how their year went. What did they learn? Where did they succeed? Where did they fail? Hopefully their stories below are interesting, insightful, and fun. Tell us what you think below. You can read Part 1 here.

Editor’s Note: I took some liberties to edit a few of these posts down. I tried my best to preserve content, but many of the submissions were about twice as long as I expected. 

Gil Hova

2014 was the most insane year I’ve ever had as a designer. In January, I initiated the 4P challenge. It’s a response to National Game Design Month, which I think is well-meaning but does not help designers as much as it could. I successfully play tested one game four times in a month, which started to get me into a rhythm where I expected to test my games much more frequently than before.

In April, I attended my first Gathering of Friends, after three years of trying to get in. I attended all 10 days and play tested The Game Formerly Known as Prime Time 12 times. It was absolutely amazing.

In August, my girlfriend’s father, a copywriter for Big Pharma, offhandedly mentioned that a fun party game could have players trying to advertise crazy drugs. The germ of an idea didn’t leave my head, and pretty soon, I was testing a new party game, Bad Medicine. It was around then that I made the crazy decision to self-publish Bad Medicine. It’s going to be an incredible amount of work. I can’t wait.

Credit Debbie Ridpath Ohi, ©2014

Credit Debbie Ridpath Ohi, ©2014

In September, my second published game, Battle Merchants, was released by Minion Games. It looks beautiful. I started frenetically demoing the game everywhere I could.

This month, I will finally start working on making a mobile version of my first published game, the word game Prolix. It’s a project I’ve always wanted to do, and I’ve finally cleared up enough time for it.

I’ve also started co-designing a non-sighted game with Richard Gibbs of 64 Oz Games. I’m averaging about one play test per week. And I might even have time left over to put together my game for next year’s 4P project…

Joshua Buergel

My 2014 was a year of restarting. I got into game design seriously around 2000, developing a couple games for GMT, developing and publishing a friend’s design, completing a batch of card game designs, and getting a handful of others into late prototype stages. However, in 2003, a stretch of unemployment brought me up short with that hobby, and in 2007, my first child arrived. While I never stopped playing and buying games regularly, and never stopped thinking about design, I didn’t really do anything for many years. At the end of 2013, a conversation with our estimable host here about a Dice Hate Me game design contest led me to start thinking more seriously. A germ of a design had appeared in my head, and it wouldn’t go away.

I still didn’t do that much with it right away, but it did keep percolating. There was more to come, though. In February, Grant reached out to me to take a look at a game he was calling “Wizard Poker”. I’d been helpful with comments on his contest entry, and he was curious what I thought. I made comments. I made more comments. I edited. It wasn’t long before I was developing then game, then co-designing. After a long fallow period of no design activity of significance, I suddenly found myself seriously working on a game, which became Hocus Poker. The flood gates were open again.

In addition to Hocus Poker, featured in many articles on this blog, I started and got quite far with Killing Monsters and Taking Their Stuff. I created a game originally intended as a companion game for Hocus Poker and also got it into a playable prototype, called Wiccage. I cleaned up and finally released an old design called Foresight, available now via Drive Thru Cards. I also have an ambitious project under way with Grant which we haven’t been talking about too much, and even restarted my blog. I got involved on Twitter. I ended up with a design partner that I work well with, which is quite fun.

Basically, I completely restarted the design side of the hobby in 2014, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I hope to publish multiple designs in 2015, and with luck, start a few more. Why, I just had one come to me the other day…

Matt Worden

Right off the bat, I need to say “Thank you!” again (and never able to say it enough) to everyone in the gaming community that sent well-wishes, prayers and gifts in my direction while I was dealing with my medical issues for the first three-quarters of the year. The support was overwhelming and I will never forget it. Now that I’m on the good side of all that went down, I am even more excited to be part of what goes on among these people.

As for actual game-related accomplishments this year …

Dicey

Dicey Curves, Deluxe Edition: In March, I was able to re-package Dicey Curves and its DANGER! Expansion into a single box as the Deluxe Edition. Part of the process included changing the artwork on the cards (much better now) and re-doing the expansion to use bits on the track instead of just cards.

 

Aether Magic: After signing my game “For Goods in Honor” with upstart publisher, Happy Mitten Games, during the back half of last year, the development process of the game — including a full theme and title shift to “Aether Magic” — has been an interesting creative challenge. The changes have led to a more robust game with a bigger commercial potential. Jeff, Kyle, and Lee are good folks and are really prepping this to be a success. At this point, the first sets of artwork are being finalized and the sneak-peeks I’ve gotten look really good.

 

Protospiel-Michigan: In July, I was able to make the single game-related trip of my year, as I road-tripped to Protospiel in Michigan. Along the way, I picked up Jeff King (from All Us Geeks), Jason Glover (from Grey Gnome Games) and David Sheppard (known to all as “Sheppy”). Without any hint at sarcasm, I can truly say that the conversations on the car ride were both entertaining and educational. The knowledge and creative energy I was able to glean were incredible.

Abbots

While at the spiel, I was able to get my Abbottsville prototype to the table, which led to a long-legged series of inside jokes about punching pumas. I was also able to see a ton of interesting games, talk with a ton of creative and interesting folks, and take part in the mutual help in advancing game designs that are the hallmark of these sorts of get-togethers.

I say this all the time, and will take a moment to say it here too. If you are a tabletop game designer, please make it a priority to attend a Protospiel/Unpub type event. You will gain from being there, and others will gain from you being there too.

As we get close to the end of the year, I am excited to be getting ready for a couple of big releases next year under my MWG logo, one set in the Land of Danger, and one having to do with Jump Gate. And no more unexpected medical issues. Right?

Chris Roberge

Chris1

By far what I’ll remember most about 2014 will be all the great people that I’ve been fortunate enough to meet. I’ve been a gamer to some degree or another for as long as I can remember, but until recently my gaming circle had been mostly limited to family members and players I would see at occasional Meet ups. This year, I started to participate in local Protospiel and Unpub events, attended the regional conventions of KublaCon and CelestiCon, and travelled to the Origins Game Fair. Before being exposed to all of this, I had certainly heard or read stories about the enthusiasm and friendliness of gamers, but experiencing it first-hand has been truly fantastic.

Grant was the first person I met with any kind of direct connection into gaming as a business, and within a few minutes after introductions he was already becoming a guide, an advocate, and a sounding board. I soon found out that he wasn’t unique, though, as all of the players and professionals I would meet were eager to talk about their passion for games and how they could share it with others. Some of these people were designers of finalists for the Spiel des Jahres, publishers of products that had sold more than a million copies, podcasters and bloggers I had followed for years, but without exception they had no hesitation in sharing their time, advice, feedback, and encouragement. At the beginning of the year, I considered myself lucky to find time to get a few games to the table every month or so.

Now at year’s end, I have three designs of my own currently being evaluated by different publishers. Even if none of those games move beyond that step, I feel like the really important accomplishment for me has been entering into an entirely new level of enjoyment and participation within the hobby and the industry. Thanks to all my new friends, I’ve experienced what it’s like to be more involved in this great community, and I can’t imagine ever going back.

Dave Chalker

At the end of 2013, around when I was sending in my last recap, I was on a streak of really focusing on tabletop games, after a lot of my other game-making commitments had tapered off. I think it really paid off to be able to focus on that, and at the same time, I decided to try and attend more public game design events to get my works more out there. I’m happy with my output and situation for the most part, but the road certainly hasn’t been a smooth one!

To start with real quick updates from last year’s set of games:

Heat, my newest game coming in 2014, was one of the two games I was showing off at Unpub 4 to pretty good reactions. I ended up signing a contract for publication while at the convention after one play. However, once the publisher got it home, they changed their mind, and after a series of email discussions, I took the rights back. While lamenting that online, my friend Chris of Asmadi Games asked to see it, and liked what he saw. He’s been great to work with, and really helped develop it into a great final product. Heat Kickstarted in June, and should be in people’s hands in the next month or so.

Spell Dice I renamed to Village Dice, since the fantasy theme was proving problematic, and also moving to a more traditional Euro theme made naming the resources and buildings easier. It was the other game I brought to Unpub 4, and reactions were very polarized on it. Most people loved the core of the game but had been expecting a lighter, less downtime game because of the colorful dice. I made some major tweaks to the buildings themselves, while keeping the core the same, changed the name to Market Square, and brought it to an Unpub Mini event. Reactions were much more positive there, and I ended up signing it to a publisher shortly thereafter.

Inside Joke was done before 2014, I was just debating what path to go with it. Party games are challenging to get picked up by another publisher nowadays. I focused on pitching it to more companies that I thought would be good fits. It’s in the hands of a publisher now who likes it, and we’ll see if that turns into a contract or if I’ll be back thinking about self-publication in some manner.

Now, onto newer games:

Sudden But Inevitable Betrayal is a game that popped into my head based on the title alone. It took a number of major changes before it became a compelling game. I was then invited to pitch to a specific game company, so I tuned the game in the direction of the kind of game they publish. It’s in their hands now, and waiting for a decision about it.

15 Minute Illuminati: I’ve been playing a ton of One Night Werewolf, and its game DNA kind of mixed with a conspiracy theme I’ve always enjoyed, while thinking about the parts of predecessor games I wanted to try and do something different with. This game has really come together quickly. The question becomes who do I pitch it to since it does come from these other games, will the theme have to change, can I make a game where you play as Chemtrails, etc. At least I feel like the game design is done.

I might have a really busy year of publications next year: possibly upwards of four new games in production, if absolutely everything fell into place suddenly. It’s an exciting time for me, but the life of being a freelance designer means you’re always pitching and scheming for the next thing.

Teale Fristoe

Greetings from Nothing Sacred Games! 2014 was a big year because it marked the beginning of a serious commitment to ramping up how often I release games.

Teal1

The biggest accomplishment was completing Shadow Throne. This drafting, hand management game of Machiavellian intrigue had a solid foundation at the beginning of the year, so most of the work on it in 2014 was development, fundraising, and final production. The Kickstarter, which ran in June, was successful, the game looks beautiful, and I’m very excited to share the final product with the world early next year!

 

My next game, Birds of a Feather, also improved by leaps and bounds this year. Honestly, much of the design work has just been slighting changing the number of cards and suits. I’ve also experimented with special rules, but they’ve almost all been scrapped. The core game is unique, accessible, and really fun, so it doesn’t need extra frills. I’m really proud of this one. Ping me if you’d like to try a print and play!

Next year, I’m hoping to release Birds of a Feather and Shifting Shadows, a stand-alone expansion to Shadow Throne. But I’ve worked on a couple additional designs this year to keep the pipeline full for the long term.

The first is a re-skin of a game I dropped when I started working on Shadow Throne. The original theme was fungus, which was controversial to say the least. The new theme is wizards trying to write the most influential book on magic. I think the new theme is a huge improvement, but the game has a long way to go. I wasted a lot of time coming up with thematic special rules before the basic structure of the game was ready, an amateur mistake. The next step for this game will be to greatly simplify the cards and try to pin down a solid foundation before I flesh it out with theme.

The second early game is one currently themed as tech startups trying to balance making money with being cool to attract talent. While the game still has a long way to go, I’m happy with how I’ve been handling the early stages of design, keeping an open mind and exploring many different core systems before committing a lot of time and energy to any one.

I’m happy with how 2014 went and hope to continue the trend next year!

Chris and Suzanne Zinsli (Cardboard Edison)

Cardboard1

For us, 2014 was a year of endings and new beginnings. The spring of 2014 saw the release of our first game, Tessen! It took a little over two years from initial concept, one year from signing with a publisher, and six months from the Kickstarter campaign funding. Seeing pictures of our game on store shelves and reading about people playing and enjoying it has been a highlight of our nascent design careers.

For most of the rest of the year, we put design on the back burner to focus on some family concerns. Then in July we welcomed the newest member of Cardboard Edison, our daughter Hana! Though we kept our own design work to a minimum, we still maintained our tips blog for other designers.

Cardboard2

We’ve gotten back into the swing of things in recent months. Our design for Cottage Industry has undergone some major changes — most notably that it’s no longer Cottage Industry! We split the design in two, and re-themed the core mechanisms as Dubai. The new theme and tight mechanics makes Dubai a modern city-building game that is getting great feedback.

We plan to spend the next few months polishing Dubai and getting a couple of smaller designs in shape for Unpub in February.

We also have big plans in the works for Cardboard Edison. We recently asked the community for their thoughts on the future of Cardboard Edison, and we now have a solid grasp on how we can best serve the gaming and design community. Details to come soon!

Corey Young

Anyone who follows me on Twitter is no doubt sick of me going on about Gravwell, so I’ll just touch on the highlights and surprises I encountered during the first year of its publication.

 

I didn’t anticipate the creative energy of tabletop players and fans. One player in Columbus, unable to get a copy of the game, made his own based on the images he found online, including a beautiful alternative board. He presented a copy of his handiwork to me when we met at Columbus Ohio’s Kingmaker’s game café.  A crazy clever Minecraft expert, @Adlington, built an automated Gravwell game. I definitely didn’t expect Gravwell to receive the awards and recognition that it did. Most notably, Dice Hate Me Games and Scott King each named it Game of the Year for 2013. Nothing had prepared me for the afternoon in late April when I saw in my Twitter feed that Gravwell was named a 2014 Mensa Select game. I really can’t imagine ever being that excited again.

corey1

Another big change was when Gravwell changed hands from Cryptozoic to Renegade Games. I’ll always be thankful to Cryptozoic for giving me my start in the industry, but I’m so happy with the direction Renegade is taking with the game. New art, a huge new print run and a fantastic new marketing push. We’re working on a much-requested 5-6 player expansion and some other expansions and variations.

My second game, Santorini, languished much of the year. I signed with a publisher during Protospiel 2013, but progress on it wasn’t what we were hoping. In September of 2014, I got the rights to game back. It’s now under consideration by another publisher.

Today, I’m busily working on One Way Out. This is my great white whale. It’s the biggest game I’ve done so far. I’ve been working on it for 4 years. It’s a 3-4 player “boardless” board game in which you play a timeless hero jumping from world to world every 15 minutes, racing through a pirate warf, then jumping to a crashing alien ship, then fighting your way out of a kaiju’s abdomen. One Way Out was with a major publisher several years ago, but it had crashed and burned in blind playtest. The endgame just wasn’t satisfying. It ended with a fizzle instead of a bang.

At Protospiel 2014, I was helping another designer with a similar problem. I came up with a solution that might work for his game, and in the process came up with what may be the solution to my own problem. Events like Protospiel and UnPub are invaluable. These kind of breakthroughs happen all the time when designers help each other.

Grant Rodiek (Hyperbole Games)

2014 once again reminded me that the road to success is long. I had a busy personal life. I became engaged to Beth, met my niece shortly after she was born, shipped The Sims 4 (I’m on the development team), and was a few miles away from the epicenter of the biggest earthquake since the big one in 1989.

DSTest2

I have three board gaming events of extreme significance to me. In January, after 4 months of consideration, Ignacy Trzewiczek of Portal Games signed Dawn Sector. Ignacy and his team make some of my favorite games. To receive feedback from Ignacy, Michal Oracz, or Michal Walczak (the lead developer on Dawn Sector and Legacy: Testament of Duke de Crecy) is awesome.

I’ve loved working with the Portal team. Ignacy has kept me involved with design. I can’t wait to move into a balance phase and see final graphic design and art. And Ignacy’s doing minis, his first step in plastics, for the game. Holy crap!

Shortly after this, I began working on Wizard Poker (now Hocus Poker). Because of it, I have a design partner in Joshua Buergel. Not just on this, but on a 2015 (tentative) project/experiment called Landfall and whatever else we cook up. Josh is incredibly cool and I hope to show up in Seattle for beer and an intense lesson on music in 2015.

Leshy

Last month (November), I was about ready to quit Hocus Poker. We’ve tested it well over 100 times, run blind tests on previous versions, and we just seemed to be spinning. Then we tried a few changes and the game is quite fun. Pfew. The highlight was my family legitimately loving it over Thanksgiving. They don’t normally like my games. We wouldn’t mind finding a publisher for Hocus Poker, but honestly, we wouldn’t mind doing it ourselves. It’s a weird game.

Thirdly, I finally formed an LLC. I don’t see publishing as a job or a source of income. But, I’ve been making video games professionally for 9 years. I have this entrepreneurial itch and I want to see if I can do things right. I want to do things on my term, even if it’s only with 90 card games. Landfall will definitely be something we self-publish. Maybe Hocus. We’ll see what I learn.

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I created no fewer than 5 prototypes that were horrible and burned. If you aren’t doing this, you aren’t experimenting enough. I do this every year and it’s good for me. I also made huge progress on Sol Rising, including completing the design of the entire persistent campaign. It was a great deal of work. Now, I’m in the hunt to work with a great publisher. We’ll see how that fares in 2015.

Daniel Solis (Smart Play Games)

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Two years ago, I resigned from my day job so I could focus on freelancing and developing my game design catalog. In 2013, despite my best efforts, I didn’t release as many games as I would have liked. I had at least a dozen of 95% finished games laying around, but I couldn’t stick to a schedule to get them all to 100%. Also, there was the whole matter of paying the bills.

In January, I began a challenge to my own productivity. I decided I would polish up and release a new game each month this year on DriveThruCards, a print-on-demand card game printer and online store. My goal was simply to increase my catalog, build name recognition, and collect actual sales performance for my games to support traditional publisher pitches in 2015. It may not earn bajillions of dollars like a crowdfunding campaign, but it would also be way lower commitment.

When I first started selling games on DriveThruCards, my products shot up to the top of the seller hot list. But the site was new, so I had no context for what would be considered an objective “hit.” I figured any new designers coming to the site wouldn’t have much context either. So I bit the bullet and released my monthly sales numbers to the public. I was honest and transparent about my margins on each product and how much I earned. Folks seemed to respond well to that transparency and I saw small sales boosts after each report. Here are my averages for the entire year:

  • Monthly Gross Avg: $861.41
  • Monthly Earnings Avg: $261.75
  • Monthly Sales Avg: 103

I set my own margins for each product, meaning I can earn quite a bit from each sale even at a modest retail price, even during promotional discounts. However, POD has very limited reach at the moment since it’s too expensive to do traditional marketing or retail distribution. (Reasonably priced high quality POD tuck boxes are more difficult to get than you’d think.) Still, the most surprising successes came from overseas.

That plan about pitching to traditional publishers in 2015? Yeah, that kind of got sidetracked this Summer when Chinese publisher Joy Pie licensed Koi Pond. Shortly thereafter, Brazilian publisher Funbox licensed Suspense and Light Rail. Since then, I re-evaluated my whole model. (If you can call this experiment a model.)

I’ll still pitch in 2015, but I want to expand the offerings on DriveThruCards so I have more competition on their top seller list. If more top-level designers are on the site, it raises the credibility for my own products. I’m even going so far as to explore becoming a licensor myself, so I can give those games as much of a push as I’ve given my own. We’ll see how that turns out!

John du Bois

2014 was a weird year for me design-wise. Between my daughter arriving in February and major job issues in July and August, I didn’t feel like I got much done design-wise. And yet, I seemed to get work done on four games:

Something Old: Bread and Circuses is a social negotiation game was rejected by a potential publisher in 2013 due to lacking player interaction, and spent most of 2014 gathering dust on the back burner. However, I’m now working on a possible re-theme as well as adding “sabotage” cards (a la Cutthroat Kitchen) to the game to increase player options and interaction. Look for this game at UnPub 5, probably after hours.

Something New: Avignon is the only truly new game I’ve worked on in 2014, and it’s also the game I’ve learned most about game design from. In its journey, I’ve learned about the interaction between mechanics and theme, avoiding using too much card text, avoiding using too little card text, component cost, the average person’s ability to use spatial relations without a guide, and much, much, more. At the end, I had a 5-10 minute 2-player abstract with a Dark Ages Catholicism theme that uses “tug-of-war” as its primary mechanism. You’ll be able to see this game at UnPub 5.

Something Borrowed: Scapegoat is a social negotiation/storytelling game that I initially designed using components from Clue for Grant’s Classic Game Remix contest. In early 2014, it ended up being a finalist (but not a winner). Afterward, I tweaked the rules set to work as a game in Jason Tagmire’s Storyteller Cards: Fantasy. I’m still working on a way to get this to work as a game in its own right, because the game’s core story – the players worked together on a crime of some kind and have to give someone up to the police/mob/Illuminati so everyone else can get away with it – is just too fun to let die.

Something Blue (one of the socks in the game is blue, I promise): Odd Socks, a 2-4 player deduction microgame, started out my 2014 on a positive note when it was chosen as a finalist in the Dice Hate Me 54-Card Challenge. While it didn’t win, it was my first major validation that I’m working on games people want to play. I also took it to the Publisher/Designer Speed Dating event at GenCon, and I had a couple nibbles from publishers, but no sales. This year, it’s gone through various tweaks and modifications to strengthen the mechanics, and I’ve managed to make it small enough that I feel comfortable calling it a microgame – 18 cards is a microgame, right? I’ve got the newest iteration of the game ready to go to UnPub 5.

J. Alex Kevern

 

This year started on a good note, as I found of Easy Breezy Travel Agency was going to be part of the Rabbit line from Dice Hate Me games. This was my second signed game and my first one to hit Kickstarter, so that was an interesting and rewarding experience. It will be shipping to backers within the next few weeks, so I am looking forward to those unique ‘in the wild’ moments.

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Within a few weeks after signing Easy Breezy, I also received word that TMG would be signing Gold West. It’s been an great experience working with Seth and Michael, and Adam has done an incredible job bringing the game to life through his art and design. We’re working on some ‘businessy’ things behind the scenes, but look for it in the first half of 2015.

Daxu will be coming soon from White Goblin Games — there have been some production delays, but in 2014 this was the first game of mine that I was able to see with finished art. That was a special and surreal moment for me, and I’m really grateful Klemens Franz (Agicola, Le Havre) agreed to work on it. I can’t share images yet, but I can’t wait for everyone to see how it turned out.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate this year. And there are more games on the way! I’m looking forward to UnPub in February and some more announcements coming soon.

Jason Tagmire

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Looking back at 2014, I feel like it was a defining year for me, but in a mostly subtle, behind-the-scenes way. I had 2 main releases, but it was much different than last year where both debuted at Gen Con. This year, 5 Pixel Lincoln mini-expansions shipped to backers in September just missing the all-important Gen Con window, and just last week Maximum Throwdown: Overload (a standalone expansion to my card throwing battle game, Maximum Throwdown) was part of the super-secret AEG Black Friday Box. Having a secret game release was really interesting. You can’t hype it beforehand, so I just had to sit and wait with my lips zipped. And finally, the original Maximum Throwdown also ended up at Barnes and Noble, which is a wonderful accomplishment.

As for new stuff, Seven 7s was signed to Eagle Gryphon in January/February and should be out in 2015, 60 Seconds To Save The World has been signed but not announced so I’ll leave that up to the publisher, and secret licensed project that I’m co-designing with Jeff Quick is coming along very well. Those games have eaten up a good chunk of my year, but won’t be a factor until 2015.

 

On the publishing side, I’ve Kickstarted, fulfilled and released Storyteller Cards: Fantasy and Alex Strang’s Movie Plotz, expanding my Button Shy catalog quite a bit. In both of those projects I experienced working with other designers. With Storyteller Cards: Fantasy we made a manual with 20 games from amazing designers, and I worked closely with Alex in converting Movie Plotz into a tiny, little wallet game. Just having other people in the mix, took me outside of my self-publishing bubble and into a new world of ideas and opinions.

What have I learned? Well, I gained some confidence and feel like I can pitch and sell my games a little better than before. I HATE being a salesperson, but it’s a necessary evil of working in this business. I just learned to be myself and be honest and it goes a long way. I also worked on my first big co-design, which is very different than going solo. It’s great to see another side of things and try them out DURING the design process, instead of much later during playtesting. I think if you can get the right fit, where you share common goals, principles, and schedules (being local makes it a little easier too), co-designing is definitely a shot.

And what’s next for me? 2013 was all about getting myself out there. 2014 was all about getting my games out there. 2015 is about getting serious. Seriously pushing things from the publishing side, and studying the other sides of the business that happen before, during and after the game is designed. Just designing a game isn’t enough today. It’s just as much about who designed it and what they are doing to support it.

2014 Year in Review: Part 1

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Post by: The Design and Publishing Community!

I asked the community to tell me about how their year went. What did they learn? Where did they succeed? Where did they fail? Hopefully their stories below are interesting, insightful, and fun. Tell us what you think below. You can read Part 2 here.

Editor’s Note: I took some liberties to edit a few of these posts down. I tried my best to preserve content, but many of the submissions were about twice as long as I expected. 

Paul Imboden (Split Second Games)

2014 was rough. I didn’t expect end-of-year accolades for Quicksilver.  Consequently, in some ways there’s been pressure to avoid a sophomore slump, and in others there’s been pressure simply to make ourselves known.  We planned for a Summer 2014 Kickstarter campaign for Paradox, which as you can see has come and gone with no campaign.

Split Second Games is essentially a two-man operation until it can afford to be a three-person operation.  Between a recurring injury and a day job that created more stress than cash this year, other things stole necessary focus in my life.  In addition, Randy started a fantastic day-job which will be launching shortly before Christmas.  Finally, gathering art from professional artists on the cheap means playing on their schedules.  So we played the waiting game for a lot of 2014.  On one hand, it allowed us to get more play testing and exposure; on the other, it hurts to miss a milestone.

Every project is constrained by fast or cheap or good. You get to pick two. We’re locked on cheap, and we won’t settle for less than good.  Therefore, fast suffers. It sucks, but the alternatives suck harder.

Parado

At the same time that we’ve been developing Paradox with Brian Suhre, three other game designs have been in development hell.  I had a “Eureka!” moment this month with Minimum Wage Gorilla courtesy of Ignacy and I’m planning to tweak away at a fourth major revision as soon as Paradox is locked.  I still have faith in Clandestine as a deckbuilder, just not in its current design, which will require another from-the-bottom-up rewrite.  Crokball will absolutely have to wait.

Having multiple projects in play is a double-edged sword.  It’s nice to have another target when you get blocked on Project A, but when you’re blocked on all of them it’s the worst; every insecurity you feel about one design exponentially increases for all of them.  It also fosters a pattern of never actually finishing a design, which is an awful pattern to develop.  The only thing that keeps you sane is the knowledge that you’ve done this once before, so you know it’s possible.

Hitting those developmental walls felt like hitting a workout or weight-loss plateau: fine for the first few weeks, but depressing by month 12. There’s that thing in life where folks consistently judge themselves on their internal process (which is messy and imperfect) while they judge others on their external output (which is high-gloss and perfect), and it absolutely applies to game design if you are me. You question yourself, your commitment, your reasons for doing this ridiculous thing.  Fortunately, more designers are being more transparent with their development process, and seeing the same sentiments in others, including the drive to stay true to their vision, is a second-wind generator.

Ignacy’s book was one of my few “must-buy”s from GenCon 2014, and it has already paid for itself in valuable insights. I highly recommend it.   RPG designer friends in 2014 also showed the same doubts, the same process, and the same path to resilience.  Faith is a hard thing to keep in a fickle industry that doesn’t pay much.  After a year of stasis and churning, I have faith in the future.

I wish there was something sexier to talk about than battling self-doubt, accepting the constraints in play, and appreciating the path I’m on and where I stand on it.  But that was my 2014.  Everything is difficult until it becomes easy.  I have faith in 2015.

AJ Porfirio (Van Ryder Games)

The big things that happened for Van Ryder this year are as follows.  First, we signed 2 games for publication. Salvation Road from Michael Kelley and Peter Gousis is a highly thematic co-op game set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Gunslingin’ Ramblers from Jason Slingerland is all about drinkin’, gamblin’ and shootin’ in the wild wild west.

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Our second published game, Tessen, was released in March. It has been well received by gamers as a great 2 player game and we are pleased to have it as part of the VRG Library.

Finally, we had our most successful Kickstarter yet with Hostage Negotiator, our engaging solitaire game with a unique twist on deck building. Look for Hostage Negotiator in Spring of 2015.

Ed Marriott (Moon Yeti Games)

 

2014 was an amazing year for me. The highlight was that Scoville, my first published game, ran a highly successful Kickstarter. Tasty Minstrel Games has been a joy to work with. Joshua Cappel, who did all of Scoville’s art and graphic design, did an amazing job. I got to see and play a final production copy at Gen Con. It looked fantastic and I can’t wait for all the Kickstarter backers to receive the game!

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The other main highlight is that my friends and I have chosen to start a publishing company of our own called Moon Yeti Games. We gave away about 100 copies of our micro-game, Mutiny, at Gen Con. The response to that has been very positive. And we’ve currently got a few games behind the scenes that we are tweaking and modifying as we are searching for our first big game.

Todd Edwards

The big news for 2014 is that I got a freelance board game writing gig with Nerdland Games for an upcoming Kickstarter project. I wrote some fiction to set the stage for their game, as well as character bios and flavor text for cards. I had a lot of fun doing the project, and I’m actively seeking more freelance game writing. If you have some work or know someone looking, you can contact me through twitter or my website.

I also took two big strides forward in my career as a game designer. First, I entered into a collaboration with a designer I respect deeply. It’s a secret project, but I will say that I enjoy working with an expert, and I’m learning a ton from the brainstorming and feedback. Seeing how other people design games is very educational. I highly recommend it.

Second, I remembered how useful it was to have a regular critique group back when I wrote novels. A local designer and I have started meeting regularly to critique each other’s works-in-progress. It is super useful to get early feedback on my projects. Also, helping someone else shape their designs to fit their vision trains you to spot problems that you are blind to in your own designs.

Jeff Large (Happy Mitten Games)

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2014 was a roller coaster. For anyone who follows the podcast or the happenings of Happy Mitten, you know we’ve been working on Aether Magic. We signed the game from designer Matt Worden late Q3 of 2013, planned on a quick re-theme and hoped for a Kickstarter campaign Q4 of 2014.

Holy moly was our timeline off! Here are 2 of our major takeaways:

Re-theming a game is much harder than you think. If a game is solid, the mechanics and theme will complement each other well. A change to one will most likely affect the other. This was the case with Aether Magic. The theme switch to competing magi left a desire for more out of the mechanics. After some critical feedback from Origins, we worked with Matt to make a few significant mechanic changes and we’ve spent the past several months at GenCon, Protospiel, GrandCon, and local play testing sessions smoothing out all the development hiccups. Finally, in quarter 4, we can confidently say we have a stellar, complete, and well-developed game.

Do your research, but don’t forget to act. We’ve found it’s a balance. Despite interviewing over 40 board game industry greats, collaborating with other designers and publishers, and putting in hours of our own research, we continue to encounter questions. That said, as a publisher we have to move to be profitable and some things you can’t learn without acting on them. For example, we originally submitted an art proposal to Brett Bean after doing a lot of research of what to include. For reasons like scheduling, it didn’t work out but one mistake we did make was including too much information. We had 3 variants of the art we wanted and looking back on it now it was probably overwhelming for Brett. We took what we learned and applied it to the art proposal we gave to Jacqui Davis, our now signed artist. She gave us very positive feedback for having such a clear and concise art asset list.

As of December, we’re syncing up for a Q1 Kickstarter launch. Kyle is organizing international selling/shipping and the budget, while Lee and I focus on building the Kickstarter page and marketing. The game is complete and we have all of the necessary art finished. It’s really exciting to see this move closer to a reality and we are definitely equipped to streamline this process for the future.

Watch out 2015. We’re gunning for you.

Christopher Chung

In January I was introduced into the Game Artisans of Canada (GAC) as a Journeyman. The GAC is a collective of experienced designers and those with potential all across Canada. Not only have I joined quite an established group to share my prototypes with, I had a mentor in Joshua Cappel. I’ve also wanted to become an Artisan quite quickly, and in June, I did with the help of Blossom. This was my flower-themed, tile-laying prototype I had shown around to multiple publishers with no success.

I finished my degree in the spring, and I was concurrently working on a game called Full Metal Contact. Essentially it was an arcade fighter wrapped up in a board game. Real-time dice rolling, card-driven combat, and robots with huge weapons. That sounded awesome to me, and it became my primary game of this year.

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I quickly prototyped it and with lots of input got it ready for Gen Con. I agreed to help out a publisher there in return for my Gen Con attendance. During my play testing period, I had posted the PnP files on Twitter, and I found an eager play tester in Randy Hoyt of Foxtrot Games. He gave me feedback from a designer’s point of view, and really enjoyed it with his son, but offered to look at other prototypes I had from a publisher’s point of view. I sent him Blossom, which he eventually offered to sign. With my network of friends in GAC, they helped me solidify the deal, and I finally had my first game signed.

Randy and I had a few ideas on how to change the game because he was not sold on it being a game about flowers – he had played it without a theme with playtesters. Once he suggested Lanterns, I was sold, and Lanterns: The Harvest Festival was born.

During Gen Con I entered the Publisher Speed Dating event hosted by James Mathe of Minion Games, and I must have shown Full Metal Contact to 15 or so different publishers. I had a couple of interested people, but it wasn’t until a few weeks or so after Gen Con that I had a publisher contact me based off my sell-sheet. I sent them a physical copy and am waiting to hear back from them.

I met Randy in person during Gen Con after the countless emails and video chats we’ve had leading up to it, and that made it all real for me. He was demoing Lanterns at the prototype hall, and the genuine reactions of play testers gave me goose bumps. People I’ve never met before really liked my game, and that was awesome to see.

After Gen Con, Randy had launched the Kickstarter campaign for the game, and I’ve never felt more accomplished as a designer, seeing all the excitement from backers. The campaign went amazingly, reaching the goal in less than a week, and reaching all stretch goals during the final days. Lanterns is going to be the best it can be, and I couldn’t have been happier when it was all over.

To summarize my epic year, the things I’ve learned were:

  • Be proactive with your social media and network. I would’ve never found my first publisher without Twitter. It’s sometimes not about what you know, but who you know too.
  • Be open to experiences. I wasn’t planning on going to Gen Con. Had I not, I never would’ve met Randy in person  and I would’ve never found the interested party in Full Metal Contact.
  • Be open to change. Your game will be better for it. I would’ve never thought of Lanterns as a theme for a game, but I’m glad it worked out so well.
  • Finally, be ready for the crash. After my success with Lanterns and hopefully my success with Full Metal Contact, there was a period where I could not think of any games I wanted to work on. I knew I wasn’t done as a designer, but it was tough to stomach my inactivity. I took a break from designing to refocus, and now I’m working on a few new prototypes that will hopefully take shape.

Randy Hoyt (Foxtrot Games)

 

I released my first game (Relic Expedition) to retail, as both the designer and the publisher. I also signed and raised funding for my second game as a publisher (Lanterns: The Harvest Festival). I learned a lot about making a game into a product for the marketplace, particularly in understanding your target market’s expectations for complexity, depth, playtime, theme, components, and cost. I learned how much joy it brings you when people you don’t know pay money for something you created and love it. I also learned that you can’t please everyone and that you have to have a thick skin if you want to make entertainment products for people you don’t know.

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From a game design perspective, I learned how important and difficult it can be to design the end of a game correctly. It’s not primarily about length, though length is a factor. A game’s ending needs to fit with the game as a whole, evoking the same feel and motivating players to keep doing what they’ve been doing. Any weird end-game conditions that incentivize players to stall the flow or engage in a jarring game of chicken can pull people out of the experience — unless of course those fit the theme and the rest of the game play.

Richard Durham

Back in January I started to design a quick game about detectives. Let’s call it, “Gumshoe.” It was the kind of game that went from zero to prototype in about 15 minutes. Hey, and it worked! But I wasn’t happy. I got all existential on the thing, and started asking questions. Gumshoe lived a short life. Probably about an hour. And you know what? That’s a-ok.

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A month or two later, I had another prototype for a bluffing game. It got to where I could test it and it was good! Players enjoyed it, I mean. They wanted to give it another shot.

But I wasn’t happy. Another bluffing game? What was this adding to the bluffing game genre? That’s important to me, but it doesn’t need to be. It was perfectly fine the way it was. It was tight; it was full of layers; it made players scratch their chins. But here I was, wondering why I wasn’t happy yet.

 

I found out why I was designing. If I had known that I wanted to explore new states of play beforehand, I could have saved myself a lot of angst over the game.

Eventually this game lost the overt lying and morphed into a game where players did a bit of deduction, but where you could do just as well reading player’s intentions and behaviors. In other words, you could mislead opponents, without actually lying.

Themes are important. To keep focused on the play, I had used the generic theme of “royal court.” Talk about over-done. Hey, wait, this was a game with deduction and misdirection…obvious fit for that detectives theme I had used months before! If you’re not keeping a bank or database or drawer with papers sticking out if it, you probably should be. It helps, since I recycled more than just the theme. Elements from that initial detective game worked their way into this new one, you know, as they do.

All it took then was months and months of playing, tweaking, playing, tweaking, etc. It got to be such a small game – only 8 cards – that any change dramatically altered the way the game played out. Finding that happy place took a lot of playing from willing folks, some who ended with a different opinion of the game than I wanted. Not everyone liked it.

I came to accept this reality: It was a polarizing game, and that’s okay. The mechanics were tough to grasp at first. The cards had subtleties that didn’t come out until repeated plays. Partners were encouraged to share their information, which confused and even angered some players who thought detective partners should collaborate in silence. I’ll never figure out that one.

In the end I got a game that not only am I happy about, but I’m happy to share. I like to see the light bulbs go off when a player realizes that they could play that game completely differently and not only enjoy it more, but win — or at least not lose as badly.

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This game became known as Dirty Little Secrets. It’s one I’m sharing now with the public for blind-testing, and eventually for the cheapest distribution methods I can use. If you’d like to give it a go, there’s a Print and Play version of it available in the cloud and soon on Board Game Geek. Please, if you like competitive games with partners, give Dirty Little Secrets a try. I’d love to hear what you think.

  • My email: richdurham at gmail dot com
  • @richdurham on Twitter
  • PnP files: located here On BOX

Me and BGG 2014

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Post by: Grant Rodiek

About two weeks ago now I attended BGG Con 2014. I was there from Wednesday afternoon until about Sunday at noon. This was my first time attending the convention and I enjoyed it greatly. I thought BGG Con was basically the director’s cut of Gen Con. What I mean by that is that tons of great publishers were there selling games. There was a huge library of games to play freely and tons of free space. The accommodations were right there and quite nice. Finally, and most importantly, all of the publishers that are normally so busy at Gen Con had plenty of time to talk to designers like me.

Essentially, it had everything I like about Gen Con, but more condensed and focused. It was a little less busy. Sure, you didn’t really have the cosplay or minstrels dancing about, and the events paled in comparison, but those are things I care absolutely nothing about.

I had a really good, fun time at BGG and I wanted to write about some of my experiences.

What I Played

I played 27 unique games at BGG Con, many of which were unpublished prototypes. I really try to pay it forward as I know I’m going to ask people to test my own designs. There were some standouts in the prototype space, including:

Parado

Paradox: This is a game designed by Brian Suhre and soon to be published by Split Second Games. Brian is an awesome guy, as are Paul and Randy of Split Second, so this game being my favorite of the convention (period, not just of prototypes) really made me happy.

Paradox is a medium weight game for 2-4 players that takes about an hour to play. The game combines drafting to build sets, as well as a Match 4 (1 up from Match 3, popularized by Bejewled) to gather the resources to complete the sets. As this is happening, the quake (shown on the board on the left side of the image above) moves around and destroys planets, which reduces the value of the sets. No worries! You can rebuild them.

ParadoxArt

I thought the game was just brilliant. It had so many cool elements that were beautifully woven together in a thinky, but not overwhelming package. Furthermore, the publisher hired many different artists to create a unique past, present, and future for every planet. It forms this brilliant hodge podge of quirky, incredible art. I’ll be interviewing Brian shortly for this site. I’m also getting a copy of the game so I can play it more and share my thoughts to aid the future Kickstarter. GREAT game.

FogofWar

Fog of War: This was an amazing 2 player operational game set in World War II by Geoff Engelstein. The game strongly features deception, bluffing, and hidden information and beautifully abstracts many of the things that often bog down a war game. I thought this one was awesome. I’ll buy it as soon as I’m able.

Prime Time: This is a medium weight euro from Gil Hova for 2-5 players that takes about 75-90 minutes to play. The game is all about building and managing a television network and it’s very charming as such. In it, players are carefully managing which Stars to hire, which slots to fill with what shows, and what Ad content to air. There are also some very well designed cards that add some spice to this mix and provide alternate strategies. I know Gil’s still tweaking some things, so I’m curious to see where this ends up.

Zero Day: This is another Brian Suhre design. The name will change, but I hope the game doesn’t. Zero Day is a 20 minute two player card game that has the smoothness of Star Realms with some of the theme and ideas of Netrunner. It’s not a CCG or a deckbuilder, but it has the flow of those games. In it, you’re managing  your hand of cards to take down the corporate servers and exploit loopholes in order to earn the most points when the game is over. This one was really slick and quite fun.

In addition to prototypes, I also played many published games that were quite good. The standouts for me included:

Napoleonics

  • C&C Napoleonics: I played in an epic game of 8 total players. I fought, and won, Battle of Waterloo. Incredible experience with a game engine I love. The hosts, a pair of brothers, were especially cool. Thanks Duke brothers!
  • Pret-A-Porter: This is an out of print game from one of my favorite designers, Ignacy Trzewiczek. It is a heavy, unforgiving economic euro about the fashion industry. I thought it was awesome, interactive, intuitive, and frankly, having Ignacy teach is always a treat. He used a plastic spoon like Patton would use his riding crop and would joke about our terrible moves and missteps.
  • City Hall: This game is a rich, complex role selection game from Michael Keller. Players are trying to win the election, which is done by maximizing the population you’ve brought in and your approval rating. The cool twist in the game is that YOU pick a role, but then players bid influence to actually take the role. As the player who chose the role, you can pay the influence, or claim the influence from the highest bidder. There’s a great choice of managing what actions you want to take and when to take the influence. It’s super sharp and I want to play again.

What I Bought

Bought

I love buying games at conventions. It’s so fun to bring home new games, remove old, tired games from the shelf to trade, and get more of a favorite. I was able to get a copy of Mysterium from Portal, which I’ve been following for several months now. I had no idea it would sell out, but this was something I knew I wanted.

I was super excited to discover a new expansion for Claustrophobia, which is a game nobody every mentions, but it’s incredibly fun. I don’t think it’s even in stores yet, so woo, I’m cool. Continuing the expansion train, I snagged a copy of Bots for Theseus. This is such a good game and if you like 2 player thematic abstracts, I recommend you try it. It’s very good. Finally, I picked up the Spyglass, stickers, and Livingstone scenario (with newspaper!) for Robinson Crusoe.

Ignacy was kind enough to pick up a copy of Fleet Commander from Essen for me. This is a two player game of fleet combat with really neat miniatures. As I’m designing Sol Rising, I wanted to take a look at the competition. Finally, I was very excited to pick up a used copy of Knizia’s High Society. Geoff Engelstein has mentioned it several times on the Ludology podcast and $15 seemed like a cheap price. This is such a good game! I played it ten times with my family over Thanksgiving immediately following BGG. My mom, dad and I played 5 games in one sitting one night. It was a big hit.

There are other games I bought, but these were the stand outs.

What I Tested

My #1 reason to attend conventions is to test prototypes. Full stop. I want the feedback and I want to see how my games are performing. As many of you know by now, Portal Games signed Dawn Sector (previously Battle for York) back in January for publication. If I had to guess a release date, I’d say Gen Con 2015, but I have no clue, honestly.

DSTest2

It was a big priority for us to demonstrate all of our changes to the game to the American market and identify areas to polish. We believe the mechanics are largely finished, but we know there’s still some rough edges that hinder accessibility and lengthen play time. Both Ignacy and I were a little surprised at how difficult it was to get people to test. The truth is, folks come to BGG to play finished games. Testing feels like work, and it is. Nonetheless, I was able to get in three really good tests and several impromptu discussions with folks.

The result, was five pages of legal pad notes and re-tuning/polishing all of the content in the game. Many cuts were made, but I’m so excited for the next steps of Dawn Sector. Overall, impressions were good, even in its rough state (and look at the board above…it was rough). Every problem had a very clear, obvious next solution and most importantly, people understood and appreciated what the game aims to do.

Dawn Sector is a game I’ve been working on since early 2012 and it’s a game I really love. I was able to play in two of the tests and I was so excited to play again. I’ll be so proud of all the work me, Michal (my Portal development partner), and Ignacy have done when this is all finished. And we haven’t even begun the art!

I also played Sol Rising twice with one of my favorite publishers. I was very excited that the game didn’t explode (there’s always this nagging fear it might) and that the publisher liked what was going on. I was given some excellent feedback and I’m diligently applying it to the game now in the hopes of submitting the game in the near future. The Sol Rising that’ll emerge will be more thematic, with a more integrated story, and will be simpler in all the right ways. Players will be able to get to the fun more quickly and really enjoy themselves.

Hocus

Finally, Hocus Poker was brought to the table a few times to play with friends and pitched to a few publishers. The pitches didn’t exactly go well. In one I flubbed it, and in the other it wasn’t really what the publisher was looking for. However, in the latter, the publisher made a suggestion that was so simple to implement and had an enormous impact on the game. This being, I tried a “basic” version without the asymmetric spells, just the three basic actions. Wouldn’t you know, the game is way easier to learn, is still incredibly fun, and can appeal to a broader audience as such. The publisher also noted the game was “a bit thinky,” which again wasn’t what he wanted, but was music to me and Josh’s ears.

I played Hocus Poker several times with my family and was delighted to find they loved it. My brother, always leery of learning new games, totally got it and was completely bought in. My mom thought it was great, and my brother’s wife, always quick to lay the truth down, said it was the best game I’ve ever brought home. When I tried to put it away after two games, they said “No! One more!”

I also showed the game to Gil Hova, whose tastes rarely match with mine. It was quite delightful to see him engage with the game and also ask to keep playing. Those little tiny reviews mean the world to me and other designers and they help us pinpoint where we are.

Josh and I are cautiously thrilled at the current state of Hocus Poker. After a year of constant development it feels really good to have something that’s fun and unique. You can read the rules right now and can expect a free PNP to be released in a few days. We’re also seeking blind testers to whom we’ll mail a copy. We send you the game, you test for us.

BGG was a really big deal for me. I felt like I won the World Series. There’s a small, but crazy chance that you might see published versions of Dawn Sector, Sol Rising, and Hocus Poker in 2015.

Who I Met

BGG is a very intimate con. Unlike Gen Con, where you need a GPS and message board to find your friends, at BGG you’ll just bump into cool folks. I met some new people at BGG, as well as some old favorites.

I played Fog of War and ate dinner with Geoff Engelstein, who is a designer I respect immensely. His podcast, Ludology, is really entertaining, and his games are quite good. I fought World War II strangely, to say the least, and it was deeply entertaining to watch him react to my maneuvers.

I played several games and sat in on a few outstanding rants with Michael Keller. He is a sharp-witted New Yorker with opinions on…pretty much everything. It’s immensely entertaining and if you just shut up you’ll learn a thing or two. Oh, and his games are good. And he has Starburst!

Jerry Hawthorne is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. He’s so laid back and so happy to be wherever he is. He’s full of good advice and just loves games. His work was a huge influence on Sol Rising and it was great to learn from him first hand.

Gil Hova, my roommate for the con, is one of the most optimistic and cheerful people. He forced me to be positive in his presence and I didn’t know what to do with myself. He works very hard at his craft and wades through feedback, ideas, and solutions to keep chipping away at his games until they’re good. One of the best parts about playing Prime Time was that we discussed the game for hours and you could see his mind spinning as he churned through his options.

Although I’ve met Ignacy before, it was still an incredible treat to play games with him. But, the unsung hero of Portal Games is his wife, Merry. She is equally as hilarious as Ignacy. The only thing funnier than Ignacy mocking your play is Merry doing so. I could hang out with these two for days and days. I’m so glad my game is with Portal.

I’m mostly focusing on new people, but there were so many cool folks. I sat in and chatted with Rob Daviau while he tested V-Wars. David Chott is a passionate and great guy. There’s this horde of super entertaining reviewers, including Tiffany Ralph, Paul Dean, Hunter of Weaponsgrade Tabletop, and their significant others. There was also the fun duo from Austin, Kyle Van Winkle and Michael Huven-Moore.

Basically, you could walk anywhere and find someone fun to hang out with.

In Conclusion

BGG was a really cool convention. I plan on attending from here on out. Essen, Gen Con, Origins? All maybes. But, BGG was a real hit for me. If all of the above doesn’t convince you, consider this.

On Friday night, I came back to find dozens of men and women in luchador masks howling and stomping about in the center lobby. There was a yearly dexterity tournament in which they were all participating. The battle lines were drawn and teams formed. This was serious.

I noticed one incredible tall gentleman wearing a red bathrobe, wearing what appeared to be a full head cardinal mask (like, the bird), wearing a miter (you know, the pope’s hat). I asked who that was.

“It’s the Cardinal Cardinal.”

“Huh?”

“It’s Tom Vasel.”

Awesome.

I’m Original, No I’m Not

eureka_1_

Post by: Grant Rodiek

Friend and fellow designer Kyle Van Winkle asked me if I’d ever written about a moment where I thought I had a killer idea or mechanic, only to find someone else has already done it. The answer, is that I’ve been in that situation, but I hadn’t written about it.

So, let’s do that.

When I started working on Dawn Sector (previously Battle for York) in March of 2012, I was chasing a few elements I thought would make the game more unique:

  • 2-4 player war game with no player elimination
  • Short play time of about an hour
  • Entirely card driven. No dice!

Now, even then, and certainly not now, I wasn’t foolish enough to believe those three things hadn’t been done before. But, I was examining the landscape of games to play and found myself frustrated by the lack of options along the first two bullets. And the card only idea seemed like a good challenge.

Around May or so of 2013, after over a year of development, I discovered the game Horus Heresy. It had many similarities to my game, at least regarding its combat mechanic. Then, I discovered the game Kemet, which also had many similarities. Very close similarities. This all broke me like an avalanche hitting a flan lying on the mountain slope. Why is the flan there? It isn’t important. My internal (and to some degree, external) response was: why the hell bother any more? I’m years too late.

Luckily, I bucked up, found an amazing publisher (Portal), and we created a unique beast that, yes, still has some similarities.

Here are the realities you need to face.

  • It’s 2014. There is very little in the way of mechanics that hasn’t been discovered or attempted. In my case, three different designers set out with a similar goal and arrived at a similar solution. You know what that means? A lot of the other solutions were garbage. My design partner, Joshua Buergel, has over 3000 games. He reminds me constantly of a game that has done it before. At least in some way.
  • Few games are a single mechanic. Yes, your game uses worker placement, but it pairs it with dice. Or it pairs it with drafting. Or it uses it to fuel a war game. Mechanics in a game aren’t additive, but multiplicative. The uniqueness that springs forth from these pairings can exponentially affect the overall design.
  • Too much innovation and uniqueness is overwhelming. Players can only absorb and glean a few new elements. Even if you are brilliant and can create new mechanics, you should do this sparingly.

That might feel rather bleak, but it’s not meant to be. If anything, this is a pep rally, especially for newer designers. I don’t want you to break like I almost did a few years ago.

I think your overall game needs to be unique. I think your overall design MUST bring something new to the table. I’m super proud of Dawn Sector’s balance that keeps players in the game until the end with no elimination and relatively fast pace of play. The battle mechanic is neat and adds a lot of variety to how things evolve. And me and Portal have done some really cool things with dynamic events and such that vary a game with many other deterministic elements. Plus, factions!

In Sol Rising, you can see the finger prints of other games all over it. You’ll read the narrative and think Mice and Mystics and The Expanse/Honor Harrington series. You’ll see the events system and think about Robinson Crusoe’s exploration tokens. You’ll look at ship abilities and think about Summoner Wars.

But, the mix of fleet oriented tactics, how the events affect play, the smooth pace, and unique objectives and scenario balance make this a very unique package. Plus, it only takes an hour to play. And there’s a team campaign.

Had I been bogged down by those individual elements being derivative I’d never get out of bed. A few weeks ago I posted a community post asking about eureka moments. One of my favorite designers, Ignacy Trzewiczek had this to say, which I think is apt:

“Let’s face it – I don’t believe in Eureka moments. I don’t believe that I will ever have this brilliant idea, that moment of enlightenment that will let me invent something that awesome like Worker Placement mechanism (William Attia in Caylus), Deckbuilding mechanism (Donald X. Vaccarino in Dominion) or Pay With Cards mechanism (Tom Lehman in San Juan). It won’t happen. I just sit on my ass and work hard trying to use already invented tools and mechanism to build something fun and entertaining. I have not had many Eureka moments in my life, and yet, I managed to design couple of fun games. So my advice for you is – don’t wait for Eureka moment. Just sit on your ass and work as hard as you can. That’s all you need.”

To counter this, my friend Corey Young, who designed the very clever and innovative Gravwell, shudders at the thought of releasing a derivative game. If you follow him on Twitter, you know this! He seeks to craft unique mechanisms, whereas I seek to craft unique products, knowing full well I’m borrowing heavily in the weeds. Neither methods are incorrect, nor is one simpler than the other.

Therefore, what do you do when you discover that your killer idea is someone else’s killer idea? You keep working on it. You re-examine it through a new lens. You pair it with a mechanic or component that nobody has done before. But most importantly, YOU continue to make the game YOU want. All of us are unique in our tastes and manner of thinking and development. If you give the game time via development and testing, you’ll begin to see a wide distance between what you crafted and what has come before.

Don’t break, don’t give up, and don’t fret the borrowing. Consumers want great games. They want to be entertained. Make something original, either in part, or in whole, that satisfies those qualities.