About Grant Rodiek

I'm a professional designer of digital games. I design board and card games as a hobby. I'm obsessed with my corgi and I love spending too much money on good food with my girlfriend.

The 54 Card Guild: #6


Post by: Grant Rodiek

If this is the first time you’re seeing The 54 Card Guild, I recommend you begin with Guide #1. It will explain everything. All of the posts are tagged with 54 Card Guild. There is an active Slack group, which exists to brainstorm, pitch, and discuss games. There are over 25 people in it. It’s a fun, casual supplement to this course. If you’re interested in joining us, email me at grant [at] hyperbolegames [dot] com. 

Welcome to Guide #6 of the 54 Card Guild! Do you remember back on Guide #5 when I said this post would quickly follow? Yeah, well, I grew busy yet again and it didn’t happen. I’m the worst. But, Guide #6 is here now and we can dig in to one of my favorite topics, which is development and iteration.


I’ve been listening to Mark Rosewater’s Drive to Work podcast and it has been quite inspirational for me. Who is Mark Rosewater? Only a 20 year designer veteran of Magic: The Gathering and the current Head of Design. You know, a design nobody.

In one of the podcasts I recently listened to, Rosewater said the following: “Development is optimization of the vision.” That is an incredibly succinct and quite frankly perfect definition. If you take nothing else from this guide, remember those 6 words.

Well, what is our vision? We’ve been beating around this issue with the Outline, discussed in Guide #2 and the elevator pitch in Guide #5. It is difficult to define the Vision in a Webster’s like sense, so I’ll do so in a historical one: the Vision is your Alamo. If you’re not from Texas like me, I’ll explain further. The Vision is the point from which you won’t retreat. It is the line you will not cross. It is your “not one step back.” The vision is that which is sacred for your design, or the most important special sauce element.

Why do you need a Vision? It focuses you. It will help you make a call between Option A and Option B, because one of those will better preserve the Vision and the other might not. Frederick the Great said “He who defends everything defends nothing.” Choose your battles carefully and win those you need to win.

Examples will help clarify this exercise.

In York, which is now Cry Havoc, to be published by Portal Games in 2016, my Vision was a 2-4 player war game that played in an hour, didn’t include dice, is asymmetric, and is very aggressive and battle focused. How did that Vision steer decision making?

  • When determining a turn order mechanism, I opted for the simplest version. This removed complexity from a non-essential part of the game (not battles), and added unpredictability to the game. You needed to conquer with the knowledge that your opponents might take a turn before you.
  • Incentives are greatly skewed towards aggression, and the clock is ticking. You cannot win by sitting in Australia the entire game.
  • Abilities are tuned to favor the attacker versus the defender.
  • It is relatively easy to recover from attrition, so players shouldn’t be overly cautious when it comes time to fight.
  • Players are rewarded with bonuses for taking territory. The first player on the scene reaps the rewards.

For Hocus, our Vision was Poker plus Spells. We sought a game with its foundation rooted in poker, but surrounded with asymmetric and unique spells that rewarded skillful play.

  • We had to remove mechanisms that overly rewarded players for being lucky.
  • The clock is ticking and actions are limited. Players need to play decisively and cannot simply sit back and wait to cash in.
  • Spells that were too similar to previous spells, or were obvious choices were balanced to require more decisions and thoughtful play.

If you’ve been following all of the Guides, you know that Project Gaia is my 54 card design that I’ve been designing and using as my example. Therefore, it’s only fitting I define the vision for Gaia here.

Gaia is intended to be a self-contained game about pre-constructed decks. It is crucial to the vision that the game provide a huge amount of variety in deckbuilding, not just in what’s possible, but that the decks are compelling, competitive, and intuitive. It must also feel distinct from existing CCGs, else players will simply play those instead!

You’ll notice I tend to design my Vision around an experience. Where possible and appropriate I inject theme (York, yes, Hocus, no) and flavor, and I strive to have interesting mechanisms. But, I’m focused on how my players feel and how my game will be experienced differently than other games. I’m less an inventor, more a director. That approach works for me, but you might find a different origin orientation the superior choice for you!

Assignment #1: Define your Vision for your game. Try to do so succinctly. Can your Vision fit in a single Tweet? Your Vision needs to have as few parameters as possible so that it acts as a tool to narrow your efforts and aid you in development.


If you’re following the design diet I’ve been slowly laying out, you should be testing with other players at this point. You have a Vision and testing feedback, but now you need to leverage those two items in a way that leads to a better game.

Speaking at a very high level, development tends to have different priorities at different phases. This will vary for different designers and even games, but I’m going to propose some priorities for you now. In the future, I’ll try to craft more specific Guides against these ideas.

Here are some good phases to develop against.

  1. Find the Fun
  2. Balance the Complexity
  3. Write them Rules
  4. Accessibility Testing
  5. Balance the Game

Find the Fun: This is the first phase of development and often one of the most difficult. In this phase, you’re trying to see your vision expressed in game without a mountain of caveats and frustrations in a play session. You want to see an inkling of that idea that’s been in your head for so long. This phase might take a very long time. It took us about 10-11 months to find the fun for Hocus. It took about 3 tests for Farmageddon. Your mileage may vary!

During this phase, feel free to experiment and take wild swings. Introduce vastly different methods of beginning or ending the game, different score conditions, and introduce and remove new cards with abandon. Don’t create any sacred cows. The only thing sacred is the vision, which isn’t tangible or expressed in any single mechanism. You should try branching ideas and see if Option A or Option B solves a problem better.

While you’re experimenting wildly, you should still do so within the framework of the scientific method.

  • Create a goal (hypothesis) for a specific test. What do you want to occur?
  • Identify problems during the test. Take notes, ask questions, and find out why or why not that goal was satisfied.
  • Try to isolate your problems and until you grow more comfortable, work against them one at a time. Some mechanisms are more difficult to isolate as they are core to the experience. But, where possible, try to isolate your issues.
  • Re-examine your goals. Are they the right ones? Will they meet the vision?
  • Ponder solutions to these problems. Then, implement them.
  • Repeat.

What I’m trying to get at is for you to test with purpose. Experiment with purpose. Branch with purpose. Don’t throw spaghetti at the wall and expect Agricola to emerge. Know what you want, why you want it, and focus intently on reproducing that result.

Once the game is fun, you’re ready to move on. How do you know it’s fun? People are laughing, smiling, asking to play again. People don’t cringe when you ask them to test. This doesn’t mean the game is finished or perfect, but it’s fun. It demonstrates your vision.

Balance the Complexity: This is a difficult phase and one that is learned, not taught. This is something you’ll improve at as you make more games. It’s something that’ll become apparent after years, not individual tests, and is a true reward to the persistent.

The elements and mechanisms in your game do not hold the same weight or importance. As mentioned above, the battle mechanism in York was incredibly important. Turn order and scoring, less so. When I developed the battle mechanism, I never shied from complexity, exceptions, and new hooks. The battle was the most important part of the game and it was crucial to be awesome. But, I can only fill the “cup” so much! The cost to adding complexity to one item was that I needed to remove it elsewhere.

You’ll frequently hear experienced designers recommend you have a single innovation in a game. More than this, and players will be too lost and unable to play. Make one new thing, then surround it with familiar things.

Always look to your vision. What is the single most important element in your game? What is the one thing you want your players to take away from their play? What is the thing that sets your game apart? Once you have your answers, you can make the right and appropriate calls.

A good way to gauge the appropriate level of complexity is to compare your design to similar games. Always be playing new games! Examine games that have similar mechanisms, play length, and price points. Why? One could argue that the same people who bought and enjoy those games might buy and enjoy yours! If you have a 16 page rule book when another 30 minute competitor has a 2 page rule book, you might be too complex. Not always, but maybe! If you’re making an epic 2 hour game that is as light as Ticket to Ride, it might not be very successful. That’s a long time to spin around so little complexity.

As you can tell, this is difficult to express. It really comes down to a gut feeling, an understanding of the competitive landscape, and watching how new people learn your game. If you find them still stumbling 20 minutes into a 30 minute game, you need to re-examine your complexity. Maybe. The obvious exceptions to this are Netrunner and Magic: The Gathering.

A key takeaway: do not be afraid of complexity. Do not be afraid of exceptions. There seems to be this movement that the best designs are the simplest, that there should be no exceptions, that elegance is to be prized above all things. I disagree. Exceptions are a tool and like all things, can and should be used in moderation. I often find that a game is good because of those 1 or 2 exceptions the designer introduced for a really good reason. It’s okay for your game to be complex and to have a learning curve. If it’s good, people will return. It’s really about finding the right level of complexity. If you plant a mountain on someone’s table, be darn sure there’s a payoff.

This is why we return to the Vision. What is the game you’re making? For whom? Why? If you know that, you can use it to guide your mechanical complexity.

Write them Rules: At this point, you really need to think about your game in a more final product sense. How will people learn your game? By reading the rules. That means you need to be able to explain your game in a written format.

Mark Rosewater (that guy!) noted that as an interview challenge, they have people write the rules to Rock, Paper, Scissors. You might roll your eyes, so I challenge you to take a minute to write the rules for Rock, Paper, Scissors. Once you’re finished, read them and see what you missed. See how you explained the complexities of orienting one’s hands, dealing with tiebreakers, or deciding how and when to display your hand.

  1. One-Two-Three-Shoot (show on shoot)
  2. One-Two-Three (show on three)

By the way, option 1 is correct. Oh, and does somebody count aloud? Who? How is that decided?

I have changed mechanisms in the past because I was unable to explain them succinctly and clearly. I tend to write rules earlier, but not everyone does that. If you wait too long to write them, however, you’ll miss a very crucial examination of your game — how it is taught to others.

Write your rules and examine your design through the lens of instruction. Can it be taught to others? When others read your rules, do they play appropriately?

Accessibility Testing: At this stage you have a mature design. Your game is fun, it has the right level of complexity, and you have some rules. Here is when I start testing with non-gamers or novices to see just how difficult things are. This is where I see what impediments exist to learning the game and having fun.

Sometimes this changes my mechanisms, sometimes it simply varies the starts, and other times it just affects the graphic design. Accessibility testing is a great way to snick off the rough barbs of your design. Unless an item is incredibly crucial, you might find you’ve been holding onto something unnecessary.

This is a great time to test:

  • The layout of your cards. Is the information presented with the correct hierarchy?
  • Colorblind friendliness. Can the colorblind play your game? Can you introduce symbols and vary your color palette to make it more accessible?
  • Diagrams in your rules. A picture is worth a thousand words, especially when learning a game.
  • Reference cards and player aids. How can you best remind your players of crucial, but oft overlooked cards?
  • Scoring and end conditions. It is painfully obvious how to win and when the game will end?
  • What to do at the beginning? Some games are so broad and lack mid-point goals. Give your players something obvious to work towards to drive them in the first few games.

On this last point, a few games do a good job of this. In Clash of Cultures, the expansion provides civilizations with bonus technologies. These essentially broadcast “You are good at these four things!” and give you a very early direction in which to head. Some may disagree with this, but family feeding in Caverna is an excellent early goal. It tells you that you need food and need to spend some time obtaining it. You can do this by buying it with Gems, Adventuring, Farming, or Ranching. It’s up to you, and all of those things will help you win. But, the feeding tax gives you a nice mid-point goal to focus you in an otherwise vast game.

Find some people you don’t know who may not be as familiar with games. Throw them off the deep end into your design and see how they fare. If you pay attention, you may identify simple methods to improve your accessibility and encourage players to return for a second test.

Balance the Game: This will definitely need its own post. This post itself is growing quite long, so we’ll focus on the essentials.

If your game has asymmetry, the different powers and factions need to be balanced such that they have an equal chance of winning if played well. If your game has multiple paths to victory, those paths need to have a chance to win in relation to their difficulty.

Various options, like actions, need to be compelling at different times, and ideally, many actions will have non-obvious moments of opportunity. If the best decision is obvious at every turn, players will quickly grow bored. The game is playing itself!

If random events occur in your game, they need to play out such that players tend to be affected equally, or they present opportunities for different players. Or, their effect on the game needs to be such that a single player cannot claim victory from them. If one player is hit by every event and that cause them to win, that won’t be terribly compelling.

Generally speaking, the player who plays the best should tend to win your game. I think luck should factor into games. It should tip the scales from time to time, such that someone can get lucky. In that sense, it acts as a wonderful probabilistic rubber band, like in Mario Kart. But, if player skill doesn’t really factor into your game, you may turn off many players who want to invest themselves in your experience. Balance your game accordingly.

Assignment #2: We’re all trying to Find the Fun. Write down 3 problems you’ve encountered so far. Identify why they are problems and/or why they hinder the vision, and propose solutions to solve them.

Here are some examples for Gaia.

Problem 1: Players aren’t sure why they should have creatures. What is the value?

Solution 1: Creatures can destroy an opponent’s Lands (which give Actions) and other Creatures. I’ve also modified the score conditions to reward players for having Creatures. Thirdly, Creatures lower the cost of other cards, acting as living mana. It should be very valuable to have creatures now.

Problem 2: Too many options to consider at once, especially at the start of the game.

Solution 2: I removed the 9 unique gods. It was tough to balance them and they created one more thing to look at. I also made it such that players randomly remove 4 cards at the start of the game, which means their initial hand is only 6 cards, not 9. I made it such that the 7 Score conditions are the same in every game, so players can build decks against those and not have to guess. I added a reference card for players to see their possible actions. Finally, I have taken several passes to simplify card text and remove conditional statements. The hope is that cards are potent and obvious.

Problem 3: The game’s pace is plodding. It seems to take too long to do things.

Solution 3: I’ve made it so that you draw 1 card at the start of every turn so that you can always have new cards. I’ve also given an option to draw all of your cards if you use your entire turn, which lets you quickly get back in the game. Previously, players took one Action on their turn. Now, players take two Actions. As mentioned above, Creatures reduce the cost of other cards, which means fewer cards are discarded. When activating creatures, you activate all creatures (as opposed to one at a time), which should greatly expedite Combat and creature strategies. Players start with fewer cards in hand and should tend to have around 5 cards in hand, which provides fewer options to consider. Finally, I’ve reduced the cost of all cards, so that the curve is now 0-3, not 1-4. This means players tend to have more cards and can play more often.

I hope this Guide was useful. Until next time!

Selling Yourself: Con Presence


Post by: Grant Rodiek

The inaugural Twitch Con occurred this past weekend (September 25 and 26) in San Francisco. Quite appropriately, this was the first convention I attended with a Hyperbole Games booth. In the past, I’ve merely attended conventions, but here, I was manning my booth and demoing games for two straight days.

Conventions are incredibly important to your success as a publisher. Today, I wanted to share my thoughts on why, as well as discuss some of the future plans for Hyperbole Games at conventions.

Conventions are the single best way to build rapport with your audience and convert people who are merely interested in your game to people who are loyal fans of your company. There are ways to do this outside of a convention, naturally.

  • Being friendly via social networks and conversational, not just promotional, goes a long way.
  • Managing a successful and ethical Kickstarter campaign also goes a long way. In general, being ethical, fair, and kind helps regardless of your sales method.
  • Having consistent, timely, and high quality customer service will also pay dividends long term.*

*A frustrated customer can be a gift if you do the right thing. It’s an opportunity for you to set things right and completely flip their perspective. At Electronic Arts we’ve done research and found that customers who have a positive experience with customer service are significantly more likely to not only return as customers, but as more passionate and avid customers. 

Conventions present a few unique opportunities that cannot quite be grasped via the phone, email, or an online social platform. For one, there’s human touch. That sounds odd out of context, but saying “Hi, what’s your name?” and extending a hand is powerful.

Furthermore, you can teach your game online via a video, but at a convention, you can teach it and foster the ideal environment in which to experience the game. What do I mean by this?


When I play my games with people at a convention, I do my best to break down walls as quickly as possible. I immediately start playfully talking shit (pardon my crudeness), I poke fun at people, I crack jokes, and I highlight the cool things happening in the game.

Many publishers say you should let the demoers win, and there’s value to this. But, I’ve often found value in executing high level strategies or subtle combos, then explaining it so that people could see how cool the game CAN be beyond that learner’s game.

For example, when demoing Farmageddon, I often like to use Crop Insurance on lousy crops, then whack them with a Thresher to show that I can earn extra money through “insurance fraud.” This gets a laugh and demonstrates a clever aspect of the game. In Hocus, where possible, I love to setup a community to mislead people, then trump them with a superior hand. This weekend I setup an obvious Straight — everyone took the bait. I then flipped over my cards to reveal a Flush. They all laughed and went “Oh!” It was an eye opening moment for them as they all began thinking about future sneaky possibilities for themselves.


Obviously being able to do this takes practice, enthusiasm, and passion. You need to be able to read your audience and decipher whether they’ll be comfortable with you poking fun, or more comfortable with a more flat, even demonstration of the game. Both options are fine! Read the room. Then, create the best possible experience.

Conventions also give you an opportunity to demonstrate that you’re a person, not a company. Prove you’re flesh and bones, not a legal construct. The goal is that when people pick a Hyperbole Game off the shelf, or click “order” via Amazon, they do so thinking “I liked that guy. He was nice.” You can enthusiastically show your proof that you just received from China and create a moment and story out of your product. You can talk about the effort that went into the game and detail stories about the wrong turns taken. Copy used on websites is often impersonal, salesy, and to the point. It’s really about saying what the game is and why it’s the best use of a customer’s money. At a convention, around your booth, you can open the doorway to reveal some of the more amusing cruft that’s often edited out of the web copy.


Use the opportunity of a convention to sell yourself. Turn your personality and enthusiasm for your products and craft into a competitive advantage. Anyone can make a game, fill it with high quality components, and set a fair price. But, nobody can be you! That’s corny as all get out, but never undervalue who you are and what you can bring to the table. Charm the pants off your customers and they’ll give you an edge when it comes to spending money with you versus a similar product for which they don’t know the creator.

Convention Essentials for Publishers

If you’re a new publisher, you might be wondering what exactly you need for a convention. Good question! For Hyperbole, I invested in the following items.

  • Vertical vinyl sign for Hocus. This is our own game at the moment and it has gorgeous artwork. This is what will draw eyes to our booth.
  • Horizontal vinyl sign for Hyperbole. This is our back of booth/in front of table namesake. If you’re going to buy one sign, buy this one.
  • Hyperbole t-shirts. These give us an air of professionalism and associate us with the company.
  • Business cards. I made fun small cards that share my name and email. People all said “ooo neat cards!”
  • Stickers. This was a little bit of an unnecessary reach, but they didn’t cost too much and they’re really fun. I have a great logo — I love it. Many people responded to it. Giving people something tangible to take away, especially when you don’t have a game for sale just yet, is crucial.


Some mixture of the above will give you a professional booth that will keep you from looking like a handful of hacks. But wait, there’s more!

  • Create a newsletter sign up sheet. Simply go into excel, write “Join our Newsletter” at the top, and have a Name and Email address column. Done.
  • Bring a table cloth. Were you raised in a barn?
  • Have a method to collect payment! Paypal, Square, and more. They all have simple apps and will send you a card reader.
  • Tape, scissors, and rope. You never know what you’ll need to McGuyver to hang up. Bring some tools.
  • A Buddy. You will need to pee. Have someone on standby to let you sprint to the bathroom.

Hyperbole Conventions for 2016

Our convention presence for 2016 is really about  managing our budget and time effectively. Hocus will be the only game for sale in 2016, barring anything unexpected, which means our potential revenue at conventions is limited. I feel it’s a mistake to attend Gen Con with fewer than 3 games, unless Hocus REALLY takes off in the mean time. It’s just such an expensive convention to attend. I can put those resources to better use I feel. Your mileage may vary!

Currently, I’m hoping to attend Kubla Con here in the San Francisco Bay Area, Strategicon in the Los Angeles area, Geekway to the West in St. Louis, and depending on pricing and availability, BGG Con in Dallas. Josh may be able to attend some in the Seattle area, though that’s still somewhat up in the air.

If you know of a great convention we should be attending, send it to us in comments.

Thanks for reading! Have a good week!

The 54 Card Guild: #5


If this is the first time you’re seeing The 54 Card Guild, I recommend you begin with Guide #1. It will explain much. All of the posts are tagged with 54 Card Guild. There is an active Slack group, which exists to brainstorm, pitch, and discuss games. There are over 25 people in it. It’s a fun, casual supplement to this course. If you’re interested in joining us, email me at grant [at] hyperbolegames [dot] com. 

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I apologize for the delay with this entry. It appears I have a day job and in the midst of that, a trip to Texas was incurred. Today, I want to discuss testing. This post will be followed up with Guide #6, which concerns iteration and development. Due to the close proximity of these two topics AND the horrendously unreliable pace with which I’ve been writing them, they’ve been written at the same time. Yes! Guide #6 will be released shortly.

If you’ve been following the assignments, you have:

  1. Brainstormed and narrowed down an idea
  2. Filled out an Outline to answer high level questions
  3. Completed a first pass of content for your game
  4. Completed a rough rules outline to guide your instruction (and hopefully answer more questions)
  5. Conducted a solo test
  6. Iterated against that solo test

If you’re ahead of me here, then bear with me. Side question: how did “bear with me” become a saying? I would think other things would occur when “bearing” aside from patiently standing idle. Like, mauling people taking selfies, or catching salmon with one hand like a Heisman trophy winner, or climbing into a hammock, or stealing pickanick baskets. My knowledge of bears is off…

Let’s find some suckers willing testers who can get our game off the ground and into development.

Designers often note that you need to test with people who will give you an honest opinion and not sweet talk you, else you’ll think more highly of your design than it deserves. However, such a notion is pre-mature at this stage. You don’t need 4 members of the BGG elite telling you precisely why your game fails. At this stage, your game is probably a hot pile of garbage. You’re not looking for nuanced critique, but warm bodies to help you triangulate the fun and identify gaping holes in your hypothesis.

Therefore, Step 1 is to find a number of people that matches your ideal player number who are kind, open minded, and patient. These should probably be friends or family. Should you include yourself in the first test? At this stage , I could go either way.

  1. If you AREN’T playing, you can focus your efforts on explanation and furiously take notes.
  2. If you ARE playing, you can guide players through the rough spots of your rules and mechanisms by taking turns and demonstrating how to play.

I tend to be fairly observant and good at taking notes while moving, so I tend to play in all of my initial tests.

Final note before we get started: buy pizza for everyone and provide cold beverages. Bribery is a wonderful way to warm folks up to pain you’re about to inflict. Always remember — they could be doing something else. Something fun. When I’m at work with lunch, I bring cookies for everyone. It helps!

Now, we’re at a table, ideally with melting cheese in close proximity, and some number of people chosen more for their kindness than analytical skills. For your first handful of tests, typically 1-5, you’re demonstrating more a work of high concept than gameplay. It’s a rough draft and you should present it as such. Before I deal the cards or explain the rules, I give everyone the elevator pitch.

I’ll use Gaia as an example to demonstrate my point.

Gaia Elevator Pitch

“I love Netrunner for many reasons, one of which is my love of crafting decks ahead of time and showing up with something unique. I love building a plan out of a pool of cards and pitting against an opponent’s deck. So, pre-constructed decks. Naturally, I cannot have infinite cards like Netrunner, which alters my design.

I also love Carcassonne. I think tile laying is a simple, tactile, and brilliant experience. Therefore, I asked myself, how can I combine these two experiences?

In Gaia, two players are powerful beings, more or less gods, who are fighting to take control of newly formed planets. You will build, shape, and influence the planets. Each player will construct or draft a 9 card “deck” out of a small pool of only 45 unique cards. This gives you a taste of deck construction without the mental or financial investment of a traditional CCG.”

Rules Outline

Reference your Rules Outline (from Guide #3), which you should be keeping up to date, to explain your rules. Naturally, if you’ve explained rules before, you don’t need the Rules Outline! But, if you tend to be wayward and distracted, or, as it’s a new game, you’re not clear, use the Rules Outline to introduce the game. Remember! You’re using your friends’ time that could be otherwise spent playing something fun. Respect their time and give them a nice, focused piece of instruction.

Bustin’ a U-Turn

In a recent interview on the Shut Up and Sit Down Podcast, Eric Lang noted that during a play test if something isn’t working, he’ll immediately adjust and change the design to seek the fun. I believe this is pretty standard, but if I’m wrong and it’s not, hopefully you’ll listen to Eric Lang!

The idea is that you shouldn’t struggle to the bitter end. You aren’t testing balance. You aren’t validating a fair end game. You’re trying to determine whether your core mechanisms, your core ideas, and your fundamental conflicts and decision spaces are compelling.

Note: This illuminates the need for a Guide devoted to the core loop. I apologize. I’ll write one.

How do you know when to change?

  • Look at the faces of your testers. They will truthfully reveal their emotions when they aren’t having fun, or when they are having fun!
  • When someone pauses for a minute to consider something, ask if they’re confused, or stumped, or frustrated.
  • When another player is thinking about their turn, ask the previous player what they think. Use that moment to get a quick pulse.

When you think you’ve found a hiccup or a problem, say “stop!” Explain what you’re changing, why, and how it is changing. Make sure everyone gets it — never forget that your players are taking in a lot of new, fuzzy, maybe poorly presented new rules — and move forward again.

When something goes wrong, pull the e-Brake and bust a U-Turn. Just change it. Use your time wisely to test as many theories as possible and find the answer as quickly as possible.


Throughout the test, note your observations. Do not seek to immediately identify solutions, or fully understand why you’re making the observation, but note things which you observe to reflect upon later.

  • What do players ask questions about?
  • When do people pause?
  • When did people laugh? Smile? Frown?
  • Something seem too easy? Too tough?
  • Is the game advancing too slowly or too quickly?

In a sense, you’re conducting a session of people watching around your game. For these early tests, you’re trying to figure out whether your game makes a good first impression. It’s like bringing a friend to meet your core group, or meeting the girl you’ve been talking to via Ok Cupid. People are making quick judgements of your game — try to capture these judgements, when they are made, and why they are made. Just watch and learn.

The End

Overall, relax and take a deep breath. Take it easy. Check your emotions at the door. Your game is most assuredly going to be bad. Take advantage of your friends’s kindness and good spirits and bolster it with your enthusiasm for the game and appreciation for them being there.

You might not play a full game — it’s okay if you don’t. I’ve tested Project Gaia 3 times without actually finishing a game. Why? It’s not ready. It’s not there yet. I learn a few things every game and then stop the test. I’m hoping I play a complete game for #4, or maybe #5. It’s key not to waste people’s time. It’s also key to not try to solve every problem your game has in a single test.

When you get home, examine your notes and compile them all in a small diary. Read them a few times, then, when you’re ready, begin iteration. We’ll cover that next time.


Write an Elevator Pitch for your game. Review and update your Rules Outline. Finally, call an ideal number of friends over, order your favorite pizza, and conduct your test. Open a Word document or Google Doc and begin a development diary listing your notes, changes, observations, and desires for the game.

The 54 Card Guild: #4


Post by: Grant Rodiek

Firstly, I’m sorry this post is a week late, and it barely made it at that. I’ve been swamped at work and have found myself making no progress on my designs and the blog has fallen lowest in the queue. The good news is, Hocus is making excellent progress in manufacturing and I noted in Guide #1 that some posts might not be weekly. Way to cover your butt, Grant.

In a weird way, Guide #4 is a great stopping point. I urge you to go back and take a look at Guides 1-3 and examine your work so far. We’ve brainstormed and catalogued a series of ideas, created multiple outlines and initial content for each, and even conducted a few solo tests. Maybe if you’re ahead of things (good!), you’ve shown the game to others and played it once or twice.

What if you made a turd? What if, at this point, it’s clear the game is a failure? Or, worse, you don’t know? That’s the topic of Guide #4: Failure. How to recognize it and what to do about it.

As a culture (American), we are generally terrible at recognizing failure. We generally believe that hard work and a can-do attitude will lead to success, but the truth is that success in a creative space is elusive. I like to think I take a pragmatic look at things, but hilariously when I started board game design I thought I’d have one game signed by a publisher every year. Well, it’s around year five and I’ve just barely signed 3 contracts, only 1 of which has appeared on the market. That doesn’t mean I’m a hack, but it is a good reminder of reality.

Designer Dave Chalker (Get Bit!, Heat, Criminals, many RPG contributions) has mentioned a Rule of 10. The general idea is that:

  • 1 in 10 ideas lead to prototypes
  • 1 in 10 prototypes lead to a game worth developing
  • 1 in 10 developed games leads to a contract

Don’t get too hung up on the numbers, but do consider that funnel. Most of what you make will be a failure, and even when you make good things, they might not be good enough.

I have terrible prototypes, like Poor Abby Farnsworth, and Frontier Scoundrels, and Driving in the Rain, and Tell, and FLABS. I have mediocre prototypes like Flipped, or Blockade. I have good games like Sol Rising that are good, but not good enough. I learn from these experiences, they enrich my skill set and teach me new things, but they are failures.

Be willing to experiment and fail. Be willing to put your time into your good ideas and work on them tirelessly because they are precious. I’m taking my fourth major revision against Sol Rising because I love it and know what it can be. That game alone is almost a “Rule of 10.”

How do you know if a game is a failure? There are a few questions to ask to evaluate it.

  • Are you running into unsolvable problems? This could be a dominant first player problem, a runaway leader issue, a terrible AP issue, or sheer imbalance. I read a comedy writer say “write downhill” the other day, meaning don’t fight an uphill battle for a joke. Good jokes will flow, naturally. If you cannot solve something, maybe it cannot or shouldn’t be solved.
  • Has forward progress halted? Have you tried three changes or solutions or modifications and the game is still busted, or blatantly not fun? If you’re making progress, keep at it. But, if you’re in a rut, maybe it’s time to move on.
  • Do you have any early fans? If I put forth a design that’s really bad, my friends will tell me quickly. It’s not hard to see they aren’t interested. Even if something’s broken, but it has a neat kernel, my friends will at least give it a nod. Listen to your early audience. Do they believe in the future?
  • Does your game offer something unique? If you’re just retreading old ground, considering starting something else. Why work so hard at developing an idea that’s already been done well by someone else?
  • Do you like it? Do you? Really? Do you see yourself loving the idea? If not, move on. You’ll be partners for a long time. Love needs to be on the horizon.
  • Does the game have a potential audience? Does it have a hook? If you can successfully identify who would love your game, then it’s worth pursuing. We believed that “poker with spells” had a home. This drove us for the year it took to find our game. If your game isn’t going to fill a slot or completely please an audience, you may be spending time on a dud.
  • Do you want to still work on it? Do you have a burning desire to get back into that rules doc or spreadsheet and keep spinning?

You’ve asked these questions now and believe you might have a stinker on your hands. What next? Firstly, take a deep breath. It’s totally fine. You don’t suck. Feld has bad ideas. So does Vlaada. Well, maybe not Vlaada…

Secondly, set the idea aside. You might be missing something and need a fresh perspective. Go read a book on the topic, or seek inspiration from another avenue. Give it a few weeks, or a month. Just think about it. If you still like it, but cannot crack that nut, then just think on it. I do this often. Gaia took about 4 months before it became a physical card game.

Thirdly, return to your outlines. Why are you making the game? What is interesting about it? Why should it exist? You may find you strayed from the path and can return to those core ideas with a new execution. In fact, if you still love that core idea, that’s what you should do. I used goals constantly to evaluate York and what it did and didn’t need. I always came back to the core ideas of it being an aggressive, battle heavy game for 2-4 players that played in an hour. I didn’t want camping or defensive strategies to be viable. That helped me over and over again.

Finally, remember that you should only be working on stuff that thrills you. That you love. There’s almost no money in this hobby, so don’t run headlong into a wall for something that makes you miserable. When you’re failing, simply make the decision to re-align towards success.

Design downhill. Design such that you’re always smiling. Find a great idea, and work it until it succeeds, or becomes a bad idea.

Fail fast, fail often, fail happily, and use it to strengthen your craft.

Assignment: Evaluate your current idea. Is it a failure? Is it the game you should be making? Is there another game you’d rather make? This isn’t an invitation to get distracted, or stop making progress. It’s an invitation to fail and be fine with that.

Many Diaries

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I’m a big fan of Slate’s The Gist, a daily ~30 minute podcast that features Mike Pesca, formerly of NPR. I highly recommend it if you enjoy witty wordplay, commentary of culture and politics, interesting interviews, and most importantly, Mike Pesca. Liking him is essential. He’s a huge personality.

A recurring guest on the show is Matthew Dicks, an award winning storyteller. Dicks frequently comes on to coach storytellers and generally discuss how to tell a good story. It’s fascinating how simple his points are, but also, how pertinent these notes are for game design.

Last week, Dicks came onto the show to discuss one of his latest tips. You can listen to it here, but I’ll summarize it for you. He recommends that every day at the end of the day, you open a diary or spreadsheet or some device and in just a sentence or two, log the most meaningful thing that happened during the day. A singular moment.

This could be a small conversation with your wife, almost dying on the freeway (my last Friday), signing a contract, or having a hilarious moment at lunch with your friends. What was the most significant moment of your day, briefly noted?

The idea is that it will help you remember things, not just for future reflection, but the act of accessing your memory will remind you of other events. It’ll slow down time, cause you to reflect on what you are or are not doing with your life, highlight trends and patterns, and will hopefully inspire you.

I’m 8 days from the conclusion of my 32nd year on this planet. As I go from 32 to 33, I plan to start this diary on a daily basis. I’m curious where it leads. New game ideas? Stronger inner reflection? A good sense of place on this earth?

Never mind that. You came here to learn about design.

Also inspired by Matthew Dicks, I intend to begin keeping a diary for all my games in testing. Traditionally, after a test I simply make the changes and move forward. The “why” of particularly small decisions is lost to the world. I remember key changes, typically, and why they came about, but nothing specific. Towards the latter half of Hocus, I kept a diary sometimes to log what changed. I’m doing that now with Gaia, but from the start. The hope is to build a history of the game and see how it emerges in a step by step way.

The diary is simple. It tracks:

  • The date
  • The number of tests
  • Who tested
  • My notes

Here are my notes from the first test: 

Make all tiles single type.
Remove actual Desert tile, just make it blank spaces.
Remove Event card Type.
Remove Flying key word.
Add 2 reference cards.
Only build planet to 15 (then add more over time via the supply).
Fix a few glaring balance issues from cards used in test.
For Immortals, did “deal 2, keep 1.”
Change to “deal 3, keep 1.”
Dealt 5 cards at a time from which to draw.
Didn’t finish the game.

Here are my notes from the second test:

Play tiles however you want, no complex rules. Start with 3 random tiles in diagonal line.
Add more ways to remove tiles.
Randomly discard 3 cards from hand at start of game to deck to randomize start.
Cover Means: cover physical card or land
Add Means: play in desert
Desert counts as tile
Add tile accents to make world building more interesting and drive early strategy. Perhaps card affinity?
Spend 2 Actions: Draw your whole hand (speed up game)
Always get top card at start of turn, end of turn shuffle deck.(speed up game)
Murkle – Improve wording
Tidal Wave – remove shift clarification
Tempest – Move 3
Bhuta: “Shift 1 from Bhuta”
Tectonic Shift: “Move any 1 tile and anything on it to any space on planet
Many cards too expensive
Need to fix scoring — it’s too tough
Too much public information to track
Simplify immortal bonus.
Perhaps an affinity or scoring arrangement for Gods? Grouped them by Ocean/Forest/Plains.
Creatures can only spawn on affinity tile.
Didn’t finish the game.
Remove most conditional statements. Make cards more flexible and powerful.
Simplify Text

The idea is that I catalog my thoughts and take notes on when things changed. Hopefully, I can observe the progression of my game. Hopefully, as I write these down they’ll spark other ideas and force me to really examine what I’m up to.

These are my two new diary projects. Hopefully they bear fruit. One for me, one for my games. Do you catalog your tests or your thoughts? How? How do you keep track of the world around you?

The 54 Card Guild: #3


Posted by: Grant Rodiek

This is the third entry in the 54 Card Guild, a loosely guided course for designers new and old interested in crafting a game consisting of at most 54 cards and nothing else. If you’d like to read the first post, check here. If you’re interested in joining our discussion on Slack, email me at grant [at] hyperbolegames [dot] com. 

At this point, we all have an idea that we think has a kernel of fun. We’ve brainstormed a variety of themes and mechanisms to emerge with a solid pairing. We’ve filled out the Outline to answer some basic questions for the experience and we conducted a Content Slam to actually design the game. Hopefully, from there you built the cards!

Note: Members of our Slack group gain access to Paperize, a free program that lets you export a Spreadsheet with a single button click to create your cards. I’m not lying when I say it saved me 12 hours of layout and card creation work.

We need to test our game, quickly. It’s time to begin development! However, before we put the game in front of others, let’s ensure it’s actually a viable game. We are going to run a solo test to kick the tires, identify and eliminate huge, obvious flaws, and polish up the test to ensure your first testers don’t waste their time.

Before you play your game with others, you should validate your game functions and identify your first problems. Leveraging the scientific method, you want to build a hypothesis towards the elements that will hinder the fun of your game. When you test, you should do so with a goal, and knowing the problems you have ahead of time will improve the effectiveness of this.

There are a few tools that will help you solve this effectively: a Rules Outline and a Pre-Test Check. Let’s discuss the Rules Outline first.

Note: In the future we’ll go into depth on rules writing and game testing. For now, let’s focus on these interim steps.

The Rules Outline

At times I’ve advocated for writing the rules before I even build my prototype. But, I think this is a path that’s atypical and overwhelming for new people. I don’t want to create a brick wall that gates your steady ramp into design, so let’s instead pare the rules down to a simple outline.

Similar to the previous Outline, we’re going to create some questions to arrange our thoughts. I’ve created a Rules Outline template here, which you can read, download, and use as you see fit. Below, I’m going to discuss it and fill it out for Gaia to provide an example.

This rules outline acts as a reference for you. It’ll arrange your thoughts so that you can cohesively explain your game to others. It’ll also act as a reference for you to look at to see what you thought in isolation. In your first 10 tests, your core rule assumptions will be frequently challenged and it’s nice to have something written in ink so you can firmly say “Oh, I thought this, but it seems like it may be wrong.”

Q1. How many people can play the game? 2 Players

Q2a.  How do players set up the game?

  1. Each player chooses 1 Immortal. Set the other 7 aside.
  2. Each player chooses 9 cards from the deck of 45. You can use a basic drafting mechanism.
  3. Shuffle the 27 cards that were not chosen and deal each player 3. Players use the back side and one at a time begin placing these tiles to build the planet. Build until it’s 15 tiles.
  4. Each player gets a reference card.
  5. Shuffle the 7 Immortals not chosen and deal 3 face up. These are the initial Scoring conditions.
  6. Oldest player goes first.

Q2b. Draw a loose diagram showing a game setup to play.


Q3. What is the structure of play? And what happens within the structure?

The game is played in alternating turns. On a turn, a player takes any two Actions. The same actions can be chosen multiple times and they can be chosen in any order. There is a bank of two actions.

Q4. What is the win condition? A player scores 4 Points.

Q5. When does the game end? A player wins.

Q6. Are there any special rules or exceptions that need to be considered?

Tiles must be placed such that they pair with their land type, if possible. Otherwise, they can go anywhere. On the very first turn, the player takes only one action.

Q7. What are some of the key terms in your game?

Discard, Return, Draw, Attack, Devastate, Adjacent, Add, Shift, Cover

[For the sake of space, I didn’t write the definitions out, but YOU should!]

Q8. Are there any special rules based on the number of players?

No. It is exclusively a 2 player game. Though, there is potential for a 3-4 player experience with multiple decks. Not important at this time.

Q9. Can you provide an example or explain how different pieces of content work?

There are multiple card types. Land cards are added to the board and provide new actions for their owner. Creatures cover tiles and can be moved around to attack the creatures and Land of opponents. Score cards provide one-time actions, but can also be used to Score points. Powers are one time abilities that are then discarded. Immortals provide a powerful benefit for your Creatures.

Q10. Is there anything else a player might need to know to play the game? Any high level direction?

Try to choose cards with synergies. Pay attention to what score options are available and try to stop your opponent from achievement them before you.

You can see now that I can guide someone through the game and I understand many of the parameters needed to play. Teaching your game while muttering through a jumble of rules and concepts is very difficult for others. Prepare an outline, a syllabus, a guide, to focus your teaching and square your thoughts.

Preparing a rule outline will also force you to being thinking about how you’ll teach your game. Even if you aren’t writing actual rules just yet, always remember that you will not arrive in the box with your game. Others must learn it without you. If you cannot teach a mechanism, you shouldn’t use a mechanism.

Pre-Test Check

We have our outline. Now, we need to create a Pre-Test Check. We’re going to do this twice: once before you conduct your solo session, and once after you make your changes before you test with others.

For the Pre-Test Check, ask yourself:

What do you think is most likely to not function? For Gaia, I was fairly confident that the tiles would not have sufficient connections, or too many situations would be created where the tiles couldn’t be played. I also worried about the synergy of the cards. CCGs are about creating combos and complementary engines and I feared I wouldn’t have any. Finally, I worried the scoring might not be possible in some situations, leading to a stalemate.

This question is often difficult to answer as it requires a firm knowledge of other games and often having created other games before. But, looking at my rules, I began to consider the motivations and actions of a hypothetical Gaia player. I looked at setup.

Every card back has a tile type with one of four land masses. These tiles are arranged randomly at this time. What happens if all the Oceans are drafted? What happens if there are empty spaces on the map?

I came up with some solutions by asking this question of myself. I then shuffled the cards and began laying them out as tiles. I quickly encountered a situation with a horseshoe shape. Ah ha! I needed a tile type with all 4 terrains on it.

When I worried about Scoring, I again looked at my tiles and the layout. I quickly arranged some hypothetical situations. The result was that I couldn’t 100% state that all Scoring possibilities would be valid. Therefore, I created other cards to address this. It was a little bit of a bandaid, but one that temporarily solved the issue to allow for testing.

As for card synergy, I began drafting 9 card decks to see how things panned out. I noticed I didn’t have enough forest cards, or creatures, or Powers, so I added more and improved my card distribution.

That’s really it. It’s a big and difficult question that requires honesty, but if you can answer that first question – what is broken – you can test.

The Solo Session

In the solo session, you are going to play versus yourself. You versus You. Setup the game, following your Rules Outline. Deal cards to every player, who is a fictional person. Ignoring strategy, really, as you will know everything, pick up the cards dealt to Player 1 and take your turn. Follow the turn steps, play the cards. Then, move physically to Player 2’s chair and take his turn. Play the cards. Try to react to Player 1.

Very quickly you might encounter something stupid. Something you either predicted in the Pre-Test Check, or something unexpected. Whoops! Fix it, then start over. Keep moving around the table until you feel it’s possible for everyone to play 2-3 turns before the game breaks down. You might not actually finish a game for your first several actual tests!

Bonus: If your game is working to this point, you can create a player AI and when moving around the table, act against that AI. You can create one that is aggressive, one that is passive, one that always hordes money, or one that has a personal beef against another player. You’re not testing strategy, or balance, but merely trying to create a more nuanced simulation of how a table of actual humans will play.

Assignment #3

Fill out the Rules Outline. Answer all the questions, or the ones you think are useful to you, and read over it a few times.

Fill out the Pre-Test Check, then run a solo session. Take notes on what happened and fix your game until you can play several turns without finding an obvious problem. Create an AI and begin incorporating those.

Bonus Assignment

Get a smart phone or web camera and in 60 seconds or fewer, record yourself pitching your game. Email me the link at grant [at] hyperbolegames [dot] com and I’ll share it on the blog. Or, we can share it in the Slack channel. I’m going to post mine soon — I’m busy and in the interest of time I haven’t done this yet.

The 54 Card Guild: #2


Post by: Grant Rodiek

This is the second entry in the 54 Card Guild, a loosely guided course for designers new and old interested in crafting a game consisting of at most 54 cards and nothing else. If you’d like to read the first post, check here. If you’re interested in joining our discussion on Slack, email me at grant [at] hyperbolegames [dot] com. 

Good games begin with a good idea. A flash of inspiration that combines two delicious flavors, or that incredibly rare gem that takes something relatively unseen. The Holy Grail of Design, as my friend once said. But, getting lost in the land of ideas is a trap, especially for new designers.

The reality is, you cannot play an idea. An idea isn’t fun. You can fool yourself into believing every scribble on your notebook is brilliant, but I can point you to a literal pile of great ideas that I couldn’t turn into a playable prototype. And a slightly smaller pile of prototypes that I could never turn into something fun. You need to begin answering real questions and putting thought to paper.

If you’re following loosely with the assignments, you should have an idea or two that you think can become something fun. What next? How do we make that fun? Today’s guide is really two guides in one. I should space them out, but I’m terribly impatient.

Therefore, today we’re covering two exercises that you can wield sequentially, out of order, individually, or not at all: Outlining and the Content Slam.


[insert foundation metaphor]

A good outline is the framework about which you’re going to strap the rest of your design. Before you go whole hog (or even fractional hog) with your idea, you need to answer some basic questions.

I created an Outline for you here. You can print it, copy and paste it, read it, or comment on it directly. Experienced designers may scoff at this list, as many of the questions are things you automatically consider with time and craft. But, I think it serves us all well to take a step back and consider why every element is in our game.

All too often, we toss items into our designs because they seem cool. “Ooo,” you coo to yourself. “That would be sweet.” Sure, and really, you don’t want to make something that steadies your design temperature at tepid. But, really seek to understand what you’re trying to do and why every element is in your game.

You need a method to create conflict. You need an element of scarcity. You need to know who players are.

That linked Outline provides a rough series of questions, with examples and some light explanations, for the types of questions you need to ask.

I’d love to improve this Outline! Comment within that doc or leave comments below or email me at grant [at] hyperbolegames [dot] com. Remember, I’m not the expert. I’m just excited and trying to facilitate all of us making something special.

I’m going to fill out my outline for my 54 Card Game.

Project Name: Project Gaia

Hook: Pre-Constructed decks, like those found in Netrunner, paired with tile building, like Carcassonne.

Q1. Who am I? Who or what do I represent? Each player (2) represents an incredibly powerful Immortal being. As planets form, these Immortals rush to the planets to wrest control of them and increase their power. Players are fighting over a new planet as Immortals.

Q2. What am I doing thematically on my turn? You are slowly taking control of the planet by managing the Powers, Creatures, and Terraforming abilities under your control. You’re shaping the planet to your will and defying your opponent.

Q3. What am I actually doing on my turn? I believe one of three things:

  1. Play a card from your hand, which starts with your 9 pre-constructed cards
  2. Draw the top card of your deck. Your deck is formed by cards played via #1 above.
  3. Activate a creature that is on the planet.

Q4. What are the crucial decisions? What is the source of the scarcity? There are limited and contextual ways to score, which you’re working towards. You must choose what card to play, especially in light of the fact you won’t get it back immediately. You must spend cards when you play them, so choosing what cards to discard. You’re also choosing when to draw, based on what cards you need to get back. You’re essentially always spending or cycling your deck.

Q5. Who or what is my opponent? The other player, whose goal matches mine.

Q6. How can I affect my opponents? You can change the shape of the planet in ways that will benefit you more than your opponent. You may add creatures to fight your opponent’s and reshape the planet. You can score limited points. You can force your opponent to discard cards.

Q7. What are some common mechanisms you intend to employ? Pre-constructed decks (of 10 cards), hand management, tile laying.

Q8. What is your unique hook that you intend to employ? The cards that are not selected for the decks are turned over. Their back sides have tiles, which are then used to build the planet.

Q9. How does someone win? The first player to earn 4 Points wins.

Q10. When does the game end? The game ends when a player earns 4 Points. There may also be a mechanism to destroy Points if the game isn’t progressing (so first to 3).

If you have any questions or thoughts about Outlining, be sure to share them in Comments, or email me to discuss it via Slack!

Content Slam

The Outline in many ways is your initial design document. It’s the blueprint. Your initial brainstorm was full of ideas, examples, hypothetical situations, epic moments, and the story. Your Outline is now the step by step breakdown of your most important decisions and components. Now, you need to begin answering questions using the lens provided by your outline.

We need to make stuff and we’re going to do it with a shotgun-like approach.

My friend Chevee Dodd refers to this as “Chevee’ing,” and it’s very much like him to create a verb named after himself. The gist is that you just begin crafting content without formal rules or everything answered. The idea is that you let your ideas go directly from their conception to paper or a spreadsheet. Let the game tell you where it wants to go. As you begin to notice patterns or problems, you evolve the content and begin placing guide posts in the ground.

When I started my content slam for Gaia, I knew my theme and that I wanted to fight over a planet. I assumed that cards would be played, they’d trigger a one time effect, then go to your discard pile, which you’d draw from. I also knew cards would affect a planet of tiles, which you’d place over time. This changed later. You actually build the planet at the start of the game.

I created a spreadsheet in Google Drive with the following columns:

  • Name
  • Text (i.e. Ability Text)

I then began listing various names, like earthquake, tsunami, plague (thinking of things an Old Testament or Greek god might do to a planet) and what that would mean for the tiles.

I realized cards needed a cost or limitation, both so I could institute a power curve and force another layer of decisions. Players would need to decide a.) what to play and b.) how to pay. I decided that some cards would have a discard cost.

Example: In order to play this volcano, you must discard 2 other cards from your hand.

I added a new column:

  • Name
  • Text
  • Discard

I noticed I was using some words consistently.

  • Build: This meant adding a tile from the tile deck to increase the size of the planet.
  • Add: This meant placing a card from your hand as a tile on the planet.
  • Cover: This meant covering a tile with a card from your hand.
  • Score: This was how you scored a point.

I was using these terms fairly loosely and even multiple times. I noticed my cards were getting lengthy and full of conditional statements. Gross. I played Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn the next day and noticed that Plaid Hat did a very simple thing at the top of every card: they told you where to play it.

  • Spellboard
  • Discard
  • Battlefield
  • Unit Alteration

This was really simple. “Play the card here.” I decided to revise my cards against a set of categories and added a new column to my spreadsheet. Two, actually.

  • Name
  • Text
  • Discard
  • Type: Creature, Land, Power, Event, Score
  • How Played: Return, Add, Cover

There were other ideas that came about. If an opponent forces you to discard a certain card, could they be punished? Could there be a Trap? That seemed fun. Events differed from Powers in that you cannot just play them willy nilly. They need to be triggered by conditions on the field, which means I needed to add Event symbols to some cards. The idea is that events are VERY powerful…but unpredictable. Powers are less wild, but more controlled.

I then added a Count column to track the number of content. I needed 45 cards plus 9 Immortals. I decided to flesh out some of my brainstorms to roughly define the distribution of card types.

Finally, I began commenting on the various fields with definitions and rules. This is what an Event means. This is what a Power means. This is what it means to Add a card.


I’m now at a point where I have a detailed framework for every card in the game. I have simple parameters to fill out and work within. That text you see in the text column above? I’m going to throw away every card I designed up until this point. But, I needed those cards to flesh out my system and parameters. I needed those canaries to determine the strength of my mine.

Let’s take a moment to bask in that metaphor.

Whether you do your content slam digitally, like I do, or with index cards and a pencil with a stout eraser, you need to make stuff. This is your first  step out of the realm of the hypothetical. You need to begin putting your hypothesis to test!

You’re essentially triangulating the actual idea that will become your game. Throw ideas against your index cards to figure out what you’re making.

Assignment #2

Firstly, fill out the Outline for yourself. Answer those questions! Secondly, conduct a content slam. Design 1 of every card you think you’ll need, then design two more. Evolve your system. Come forward with all of the parameters you need for your cards and an example of 1 GREAT card.

Remember, we have an active Slack group where we post our assignments, pitch our games, and work to evolve the content in these guides. If you wish to join, even as a silent observer, email me at grant [at] hyperbolegames [dot] com.

Question: The content slam is heavily focused on creating, well, content. What if you’re making a very systematic game? Perhaps we’ll cover that in the future! If you have other ideas or topics you want covered, comment or contact me.

The Unnecessarily Huge Hocus Post Mortem


Post by: Joshua Buergel and Grant Rodiek

Grant: The Kickstarter campaign for Hocus, the first published game by Hyperbole Games, designed by Grant Rodiek and Joshua Buergel, is now over. The campaign was an immense success! In 30 days, we raised $31,403 from 1,639 backers. Our original funding goal was $6,000, so this final result far exceeded our expectations.

Although we do not have a precise number yet, we believe we’ve sold approximately 1800 copies, which is over half of our print run of 3,500. At the outset of the campaign, we intended to print 2,000 copies, which we then increased to 2,500, and ultimately settled at 3,500. This is wonderful, as it means we have a much greater opportunity to earn additional revenue through the retail channel with more copies.

Josh: And, the large number of backers greatly increases our ability to be successful with distributors, try and find international partners, and just generally get Hocus to as many possible places as we can.

Grant: Below is our post-mortem of Hocus: its design, development, and events concluding at the end of our Kickstarter campaign. We obviously cannot detail fulfillment, manufacturing, shipping, or pre-orders in a thoughtful way, as we haven’t experienced them yet. I’m sure we’ll write about them as well. Things went unexpectedly well for Hocus, so in lieu of a “What Went Wrong/What Went Right” format, we’re going to discuss a broad range of topics pertaining to the Hocus Kickstarter.

If there’s anything about which you’re curious that we don’t cover below, email me, or comment!

Long Public Development

Josh: Develop your games where people can see them! It gives you so much credibility from day one that your game is real and that you take it seriously. Early support translates into a successful project.

This one was fairly easy for us, for a couple of reasons. First, the fact that Grant and I started working on this design together as a result of him publicly looking for feedback was an instant validation of the approach. I wouldn’t have joined the project if Grant wasn’t working in public. Second, we don’t live in the same city, so we were already doing all of our communication electronically. That made it easier to open up some of that communication to the public as well. Third, we’re both voluble guys who like talking about our work, so it’s easy for us to get excited and just keep blabbing. But please, work in public. It just makes everything about your process easier.

I can’t emphasize enough how much our credibility helped our launch. We both have robust personal networks that got us plenty of backers, but we were also able to get a large number of fellow designers and other enthusiasts backing early because, in part, they knew we’d done our homework on the game. If you want any kind of virtuous cycle for your project, you need to really maximize your initial push, and public development is huge.

Grant: I’ve had several people ask me how we spread the word for Hocus. I took a deep breath and began explaining that it isn’t just Hocus, but the long process of becoming a part of our community and putting in my time. I’ve been an active member on the Twitter community for 5+ years. Josh has been active on Con Sim World for 10+ years. We’ve both been reading rules for publishers for a while, both AAA and tiny noobs like ourselves. We’ve tested for others, gone to conventions, had beers.

I’ve had folks say “I want to launch next month. How do I get people to check out my game?” And the reality is that you just cannot do that. Yes, sure, you might have a good enough product, enough ads, good enough art. But, you really want to launch out the gate strong. We had over 300 people support us in the first 30 hours and a lot of that is due to our social networks, developing in public, and building our relationships with countless testers, peers, and writers.

No Stretch Goals

Grant: Before we went live on Kickstarter we announced that we wouldn’t have Stretch Goals in this article. We followed that up with another article discussing the fallout from that announcement. Then, later, we announced we’d be upgrading our tuckbox to a two piece box in response to the fallout.


Josh: It was a bit of a gut-check, really. We faced what was our first uproar from the public, and we had to decide if we were going to eat the costs even for a small print run, or try and paper over people’s discontent with tuck boxes. In the end, we made the decision to try and give people the best product we could, and it was clear from the comments we were getting that most people thought that that best product had to include a two-piece box. We decided to stick to our principles of trying to make the base game as great as possible, and it seemed to pay off.

Grant: This approach to stretch goals led to a lot of terse conversations on social media and in email. You can still see the comments on our blog — Stretch Goals are a very contentious topic from both sides! Before our campaign, I was fairly convinced that we’d hit $10,000, but we’d dwindle quickly with no reason to tell your friends. I really hoped we’d hit $15,000 due to our price and art and social media outreach, but that was a low hope. It was basically the price we were willing to pay in order to act in a manner we thought best for Hyperbole Games.

Well. We funded in 27 hours and in our update following this we laid out our No Stretch Goal plans for our backers. We mentioned it already on our page, but not in a super overt, hammer blow way. We never wanted, and still don’t want, this decision to be a crusade. If you want to do Stretch Goals? Sweet. It hasn’t stopped me from backing a project and I don’t expect it to. You can read this update here.

Josh: I was holding my breath. It was totally unclear to me how important the sharing efforts of our backers were to the campaign, and furthermore, if the lack of stretch goals would hamper that sharing. It was all terra incognita for us. Would our momentum slow down? Would people tune out? What was going to happen?

Grant: The response was largely silent. People didn’t really care. A few folks said “neat, sounds good.” Every now and then someone would pop up with a comment along the lines of: “We know you aren’t doing stretch goals, and that’s cool, but…” with an idea. Some were perfectly fine (art on the inside of the box?), some weren’t really feasible (unique art for every card in the deck?). But, people were cool with it and it largely didn’t come up.

Josh: Interestingly, our pattern of backing was very unusual. I’ve looked at a lot of Kickstarter campaigns, thanks to the handy graphs at Kicktraq. Virtually every normal campaign (that is, a campaign that is raising funds to print a game that fits into the mainstream of the hobby) has a common pattern: for the first handful of days, each day is worse than the previous. Things might jitter a bit for days 3-6, but really, you’re looking at falling backers for the first week. Well, Hocus followed it for a bit – day 1 was highest (as you’d expect), with a drop off to day 2 and to day 3. That’s all normal. But then something odd happened. Day 4 was bigger. And then day 5 was bigger than that. And then day 6 was even bigger. I’d never seen the pattern before, and I checked. If anything, our lack of stretch goals might have even helped our secondary sharing. It’s hard to tell causality, of course, but our funding pattern after hitting our goal was exceptionally strong.

Grant: What’s our takeaway? Mostly, it’s fine to not do Stretch Goals if you’re clear about it, don’t make a big deal about it, and develop a full product from the start. Potential backers really chafed when we said “our game is really nice on day 1,” yet we had a tuck box. People called bullshit, to be frank. When we had 8 Spell books, a two piece box, linen cards, and a nice rule sheet from day 1, well, we had a full product.

Josh: After we responded with the two-piece box, the community seemed to really get that this was the full deal. We were holding nothing back, but we didn’t have anything to increase, either. It was honest, and people seemed to not only accept that but appreciate it.

Grant: It really comes down to value. We also introduced bonuses throughout the campaign. We didn’t anticipate these, but we scrambled and met the challenge in a way that didn’t greatly affect costs and in no way affected our schedule. These bonuses included:

  • A high resolution PNP available to backers at the $5 and greater pledge level, available immediately. Interesting note: several backers warned me not to give it away during the campaign because people would just take it and leave. The evidence I have available doesn’t indicate this really happened.
  • A wooden first player token that fits in the box.
  • 2 Joker cards.
  • Variant rules, including a drafting format.
  • High resolution blank cards for players to create their own spells.

To be honest, people seemed relatively quiet about these as well. We had approximately 400 comments in our 30 day campaign and most of those were from 5 people, two of whom were me and Josh sharing announcements and responding to folks.

Josh: Again, it’s hard to read the tea leaves here and see if those bonuses were encouraging other people to share or not. It’s tough to untangle. But, I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed with the response to our bonuses. People seemed to think they were fine, they’re happy about them, but I just didn’t feel like we got an excited response. I’m still happy we did them, though.

Grant: Could we have raised more with Stretch Goals? I don’t know! Did we actually generate goodwill that will in turn pay dividends on future games? That’s impossible to know, at least for some time.

We believe in the future that, if we choose to use Kickstarter again, we have now established that Hyperbole Games doesn’t use Stretch Goals. I believe when backers receive their games, they’ll be very pleased with what their money bought them. I believe this precedent, and the hopeful success of the final version of Hocus, means we can now continue to act in this manner. For future pre-orders or Kickstarters, I imagine we’ll put more planning into bonuses to add, but any we do add will be fun trinkets, nothing core.

The Kickstarter revolution isn’t coming, but we are very comfortable with our decisions and really the lack of noticeable effect it had on our performance.

Josh: That unusual funding pattern makes me think that our lack of stretch goals didn’t really hurt us at all. It’s impossible to really prove, but comparing our campaign to comparable games (similar price points, component counts, etc) shows that we had a very strong performance during the periods in the campaign that you would have anticipated stretch goals helping out. I’m very content with the notion that this was the right strategy for us.

Page Layout

Josh: We sweated the details on the page before launch. And by we, I mostly mean Grant. He kept going over, and over, and over the copy. I contributed when I could, and we spent a long time working on it. And I’m really happy with where we ended up. There’s not much I would change. The placements of our quotes were great, the featuring of previews was great, it had clear information about what we wanted to have, and we didn’t have to answer too many backer questions about stuff covered on the page. I was especially pleased at how simple the offering is.

There are two things that I wish we had done differently. First, the text on the backer levels wasn’t perfect. And you can’t modify those after people use them! We should have spent more time thinking about them. Specifically, they absolutely should have listed add-on information right on the backer level, so that that information was right in front of the backer when they were putting in payment information.

Grant: For example:

Pledge $15 or More

1 Copy of Hocus. Backer pays shipping.

US backers can add additional copies for only $13 apiece and no increase in shipping.

Shipping Fees:

  • US: Free Shipping
  • Canada: $7
  • Rest of World: $12

Josh: Second, I wish we had done a few examples of costs in the main page, telling people how much different things would cost. I think it would have eased a bit of confusion and perhaps encouraged a few upgrades.

Grant: We did this on almost every update, but something in the Add Ons that said:

“If you are a US backer and want 3 copies of the game, back at the $15 level [with an image of that level] and pledge $41.” Basically, a guided walk through.

I had countless backers tell me “your page was so well laid out! All the information was there!” Yet, I had many other backers ask where they could find the PNP, or whether there were add ons they could support, and so forth. Ultimately, I think there are a few problems:

The Kickstarter layout is literally a single page with a scroll bar. It’s just a row of information. “Below the fold” basically allows for zero information, so backers must scroll if they want to learn anything.

The ecosystem of Kickstarter has formed such that a million pieces of information are required. I think this is largely good and it puts a burden on publishers who wish to be successful to do the legwork. But, most pages include written description, component listing, press information (previews/reviews/interviews), how to play videos, stretch goal information, how money will be spent information, the team, and more.

Extra clicks in games and web design and apps are generally a “no no.” The fewer clicks a customer must use to reach their destination, the better. A Kickstarter page is just a scroll, so you don’t need to go through any menus. However, I’m very curious if the option to create tabs or pages within your page would improve things. Something like this:

Untitled drawing

Each of these “tabs” would have a title and image, set by us, the creator. We could do no tabs, 3 tabs, 50 tabs, whatever. Ultimately, it would give backers a very clear way to see what was going on in small chunks. I bet superior web designers could really do wonders here.

Josh: You know, as long as we’re spitballing stuff that Kickstarter should do (they won’t), it would be super cool if backers saw a different page than non-backers. Backers could see a simplified page with prominent links to PnP stuff, rules, backer-only content, all that groovy stuff. I dunno. Maybe I’m dumb.

Grant: That’s actually a fantastic idea! I’d also love a better way to send different backers different content.

The Price

Grant: Josh and I were of one mind for almost everything throughout development of the design and planning for Hocus. Discussion on the price is probably the biggest debate we had, and at times it really had me in knots. I’m not really a people pleaser, but I really cherish my relationship with Josh and I didn’t want anything to come between it. This was one of those cases where, unlike everything else we debated, it ultimately came down to my opinion versus his.

For a long time our plan was for Hocus to have an MSRP of $15 and be put on KS for about $12. We wanted to move a lot of copies and be a very easy decision for people who don’t know Hyperbole Games or Hocus. We aren’t established so we need to be an easy sell.

We put together some business models and everything seemed to check out. We went about our work. As I spoke to peers and publishers about our plans, all of them looked aghast when I told them our price. After a while, this really concerned me. We discussed it and felt that $12 was still right. But, it was driving me crazy and I poked around our business model. It turns out we had a few omissions and were missing some things. We also spent more on art than I think we originally intended, at least in our $15 MSRP mindset, and the numbers no longer lined up. At least, not according to my assumptions and concerns. We also needed to be far more successful, again, according to my model, in order to break even.

I tend to be a conservative, plan for the worst, hope for the best kinda guy when it comes to business planning. Josh still believed that we would move significantly more copies at a lower price point and the benefits of additional copies would pay greater dividends long term.

Ultimately, neither of us were able to convince each other and I made the decision to increase our KS price to $15. I’m glad it didn’t bite us — we did fine. But, seeing how well we did at $15, would we have sold 1000 more copies at $12? I don’t know, and there’s no way to prove it. Decisions like this are terrifying when it’s your first go and you have nothing to base it on.

Josh: Essentially, this is another unknowable here. What does the demand curve look like for games? How can we explore it? What happens at different price levels? What about post-campaign stuff? There’s a lot of these things that are hard to plan for without knowing what level you’re going to end up at ahead of time, and there are a lot of ways to set pricing for different channels. I think that Grant and I had different internal projections, different pictures of what probabilities there were, and it led us to different conclusions about pricing strategy.

Ultimately, Grant seemed to feel more strongly about his position than I did about mine, and I didn’t think the price point we selected would be actively harmful, so I decided to give ground here. It’s impossible to really know who got it right, but I’m comfortable with the decision making process. And I think it was a good thing to have worked through, as a conflict we were able to sort out.

Grant: A few things will allow us to lower our prices in the future. Right now, Hocus is really our only revenue source, so it was tough to assign all costs to it. But, next year we will have a few revenue sources, including Hocus (KS and post-KS), hopefully my design signed with Portal, and a few other things I cannot yet discuss. This will give us some breathing room and we’ll hopefully better meet in the middle.

Thank You Notes

Grant: I’ve always made fun of the notes Kickstarter companies send to every backer. I’m cynical and grumpy and I always thought “pssh, just a copy and paste.” But, because it seemed like a good thing to do, I started writing notes to all of our backers, starting day one. I tried to type a personal note to people I knew, but if I didn’t know you, the gist of the message was:

Good <time of day> <first name of backer>!

Thank you so much for backing Hocus. We really appreciate it! Do you have any questions I can answer for you at this time?”

The overwhelming number of people didn’t say anything, but I did receive quite a few messages back, including:

  • No, everything looks great, thanks!
  • How do I add extra copies?
  • How do I get that wooden box?
  • Woah, do you email every backer? Wow!
  • Hi I cannot wait to play!

Ultimately, the thank you note was a handshake. It was a warm greeting. It told backers, “hey, we’re available and here for you. Ask away!” It got some people out of their shells and was the first way I was able to demonstrate that we care about our customers. If you keep up with these and do them daily? They aren’t that much of a hassle. Beyond your first and last days, and assuming you aren’t Reaper Minis, you should be able to keep up with 20-30 backers per day.

Do the thank you letters. They make a difference.

Josh: This might be the thing I’m most jealous about on the campaign. I wish I got to do these!

Grant: Every day a percentage of these customers would respond with the kindest things about how much they enjoyed the PNP or appreciated how we were doing things. It was really nice.

International Backers

Grant: If anything we did is a “what went wrong,” it was our assumptions regarding support from international customers. In short, we woefully underestimated the amount of support we’d have for international backers. I’ll comb through the numbers to provide something more accurate in the future once we release surveys, but if I had to guess, I’d say 20% of our backers are international, stemming primarily from Canada, the UK, and Australia. No surprise really that English speaking countries made up the majority! I was surprised at how many Norwegians backed us — that was really cool.

After only a few days we recognized that our assumptions were off and began investigating solutions. The problem, quite frankly, is that many of the solutions are great for publishers with far greater scale in operations and more stable long term plans. Hocus is our only game. Landfall will not be a traditional title (spoilers) and Project Cow Tools won’t be ready until the end of 2016 IF we meet our very aggressive goals. Plus, me and Josh have personal, non-Hyperbole projects in the works.

In short, it’s difficult to invest in a proper international infrastructure with only Hocus, and really, only our Kicktarter backers to justify it.

Josh kept asking: even if we knew Hocus would do better with international backers, would it have changed our decisions? And the reality is…not really? We obtained quotes from many companies and did quite a bit of investigation, and many of them were just a lot more trouble than our scale could justify at this time.

Josh: Hindsight is only helpful to the extent that you can identify major decisions you would have done differently. And, I think, in the end, we would have gone with what we did. We got pretty far into investigating a different fulfillment method, one we thought would save both us and our backers money, until we got in touch with one of those international backers and were disabused of the notion, forcefully. I’m still investigating fulfillment options, but in the end, I think we’re going to end up back in the same place.

Grant: One thing occurred to me in the middle of our campaign: companies like Czech Games Edition and Portal Games have been around for 10+ years. They have many award winning, top selling games. They’ve done very well. However, up until very recently, both of them worked with publishers in other countries for international versions. Everything we’re doing with Hyperbole is focused on slow, reasonable, long term growth. Right now, we think we are good game designers and developers. We think we are good at art production. We hope to soon prove ourselves as competent sellers and businessmen. I don’t think we can really add international sellers to that just quite yet.

Our plan is to seek international partners to create domestic versions for other territories, with proper translation, packaging, you name it, to suit the territory. This is a long term plan, and one in which we have ZERO experience. But, we have some irons in the fire and we’ll see.

Were we EU friendly, we would have absolutely had more international support. We also would have had happier backers as they wouldn’t be paying $27 for a copy of Hocus (for which we’re eating about $6 per copy as is). But, and time may very well prove us wrong, though it might have been the right decision for Hocus, it would have been the wrong one for Hyperbole.

Josh: I’m not sure if we did it perfectly. But, I’m comfortable saying we didn’t do it wrong. This was the low risk option, and that’s a good thing for a first time project. I wish we could have offered our international backers a better deal, but this is not a terrible one, and it’s just a simple, honest way to go about things. They can go onto USPS and check the postage rates themselves, and can see we’re not ripping them off. It fits with our lack of stretch goals: we’re doing our best, we’re trying to do right by our backers, and we’ll just lay thing out forthrightly and honestly.

Logistics Preparation

Grant: We tried to “dot every I” and “cross every T” before beginning our campaign. Mostly, we didn’t want to lose our shirts from a really stupid oversight. We were able to do this because we gave ourselves about 8 months to balance our final mechanisms, prepare our press outreach, produce art, and work on our campaign. The obvious result is that we weren’t caught off guard by anything. The subtle result is that we had really good answers for questions that emerged.

That sounds smug and arrogant, but it’s true. We were ready.

Josh: We’re both planners. And that’s good – we don’t need to balance that out with an impulsive person! I’ll occasionally go off the reservation on peripheral stuff, but on the core things, we have very matched approaches: list everything out and knock it all down. Early.

Grant: When folks had suggestions that weren’t feasible, we could succinctly and instantly state why. When people wanted to know why our fulfillment date was in February 2016, we had a clear answer. When we decided to investigate more international fulfillment options, we were able to dive in head first as we weren’t busy catching up on other things.

Often times, you’ll hear Kickstarter campaign runners note how busy they are and how exhausted they are. Truth is, I was exhausted during the campaign, but more from my day job and preparing for my wedding. I can honestly say the Hocus campaign didn’t keep me up any later at night. Now, time I’d normally spend on design was instead spent on Kickstarter, but that was 1-2 hours every night, maximum. Some days it was no time at all.

Josh: I had even less to do! Yes, I’ve been investigating fulfillment options, reading comments, fiddling with ads, and prepping files for production behind the scenes, but that’s not really any different from stuff I might be doing otherwise. I was sleeping soundly with how well Hocus did.

Grant: You owe it to yourself, your normal life, your project, and your sanity to be prepared and do your homework ahead of time. Create a very thorough checklist. Leave no stone unturned. Give yourself months to complete the checklist thoroughly and properly. It really pays off.

I’ve had many people email me for Kickstarter advice since we proved to be successful. They often ask the most basic day 1 questions, followed by “we’re hoping to launch our Kickstarter next month.” Don’t rush into things! Do your homework ahead of time. This is one of the few places where learning on the job is a terrible idea.

Final Art and Graphics

Josh: Maybe more than any one single factor, our professional presentation on the game drove our success. We spent a lot of time thinking about art direction, spent plenty of time finding a great illustrator in Tiffany, and made sure we reserved time with Adam, our preferred graphic designer. All in service of making sure our game was striking and looked great out of the gate. We were able to fund those costs out of pocket before the campaign, and it made a huge difference in our credibility. We’re new publishers. Everything we can do to reassure backers that we’re competent and going to make a great game was going to be worth it. Obviously, not everybody can afford to pay for their artwork up front. But having at least some final graphic assets right out of the gate makes just an enormous difference.

Grant: It helped that we only had a few illustrations for the game. Don’t create a game with 65 unique illustrations for your first title!

We had some funny trials finding an artist before Tiffany. We found one whose work was strikingly distinct and just…edgy. Unfortunately, we had some communication snafus and we hit a wall in our progress. Eventually we had to cut the cord and renew our search.

I enquired for great artists with Brett Bean. Brett is one of my favorite illustrators alive and his work was so instrumental in Farmageddon’s success. He recommended two, one of whom was Tiffany, and we reached out to her. Fortunately, at the time we met her, Tiffany was contracting for Electronic Arts in the same building where I work. We were able to meet at Starbucks for a coffee to meet each other and discuss things.

I’ve written about art before, but there are some really key things and I think we did well at them.

  • Know what you want! We had a Pinterest Board full of imagery. We could speak clearly about every card. We had a very clear vision.
  • Know your components. Ours were locked. Size, number, everything.
  • Set parameters! We wanted Tiffany to work within our space, but as she saw fit. We wanted her to craft something unique, not just do a police sketch of what we had in mind. We gave her a world, a theater, an idea, and we gave her time to create.
  • Hire great people! Adam is an EXPERT at box design and print layout. Just look at our box! Look at it! He’s also an artist as well, which is how we made our card backs just explode with detail and life. He enhanced all of Tiffany’s illustrations.
  • Pay your people. Fairly. And on time.
  • Be responsive. When your artist comes to you, respond ASAP so they are not wasting time. Good artists are busy!

I think, overall, our art process went incredibly well. I think our output stands toe to toe with almost any game on the market. And I have no doubt that it benefitted us, being finished, for the campaign.

Now, one key thing to note is that Hocus actually has a very low number of illustrations. If we had a game with 54 unique illustrations? I’m not sure we would have done ALL of them ahead of time. That would have been a significant investment. But, maybe we would have? I’m not sure. This is one of those cases where having all art finished made sense for us, but it might not for games with more art than we have.

The Pre-Campaign Hotness

Grant: We weren’t sure when to try to hit the Hotness with a thumb drive. We decided to do it about 2 weeks before our campaign when our box cover was ready and we had examples of every card with final art. We uploaded our cover and for 2 days, over the course of about 5-6 Tweets, I asked people for their thumbs. Then, the quality of our art and momentum took over.

The result is about 100+ thumbs for our cover image, and a presence on the Hotness for a week. That was really awesome! Shortly after us, the Hotness was dominated by 1 or 2 game contests running and everyone else  was quickly trounced. Our timing was fortuitous, but obviously that’s not something anyone can plan for.

Being on the Hotness was really great for us. I wrote about it in depth here, but the gist is that we saw a huge uptick in PNP downloads, more social media followers on Facebook and Twitter, several newsletter signups, and a lot of chatter around Hocus. We had a very strong launch for our campaign: 347 backers in our first 48 hours! I think a lot of that has to do with our presence on the Hotness.

Conclusion? Try to hit the Hotness a little before your Kickstarter launch. Not too soon, and not during. The real benefit is to bolster your launch momentum, which is so insanely crucial. If you have a weak initial 48 hours, by the time you hit the doldrums on day 3, you won’t have anyone to spread the word organically.

Josh: I think of a campaign taking place in several stages. First, it’s up to your personal social network. Your friends, coworkers, family – the people who will just jump in right away. That sets up a crucial second wave, which is all those folks sharing your campaign on their social networks. The friends-of-friends. Those two waves make up the bulk of your day 1 and day 2 backers, and the size of those waves is huge. The biggest reason? It keeps you high in the Kickstarter search results, which drives a surprising amount of traffic. That leads to the big third wave, which is ripples of shares, organic discovery on KS, and other people wandering in.

So, a pre-campaign Hotness drive, or more broadly, awareness drive, is crucial in increasing the size of that first wave. The more you can make people aware of things and prime them to back on day one, the more you’ll see a positive feedback loop of activity and the more you’ll roll at the beginning.

Ads and Previews

Josh: Grant took point on previews, and I sort of took point on advertising. For my day job, I’m an exec at a company that gets a significant amount of revenue from ads, so I’m familiar with how these things work, I know the lingo, and I felt comfortable with the whole exercise. For the previews, our strategy was to identify a small number of folks that we thought would dig the game, reach out to them early, and try to get a few really high-quality previews we could feature on the page. We don’t really think having a giant pile of previews helps anybody, and it would just generate a bunch of work for us in lining them up. Having some on our KS page from third parties is important for credibility, so we tried to stay focused and concentrate on quality.

I think that part of our strategy worked great. The previews we got were fantastic, they really told potential backers what the game was about, and we were pleased to feature them on our page and really give some space to things. I’m pleased with how it worked out. We wanted to give people enough information that the price point and art would carry the day.

For the advertising side, we honestly didn’t put a ton of thought into where we’d put ads before the campaign rolled out. We knew BGG was the right place to put most of our ad spend, and so that’s what we did. I reached out to Chad Krizan to get the sell sheet in February, and we decided that we wanted to go for the front page takeover. That required a total ad spend of $700, which was close to what I’d mentally budgeted for promotion, so that was kind of that. For timing, we wanted that takeover to hit towards the end of the campaign, to reinforce the 48-hour reminder and try for a really big finish to the campaign. You get a lot of virtuous cycle effects from these sorts of things, so timing two of our biggest promotional things to go off at the same time seemed like a good idea. Because I reached out to Chad in February, we basically had our choice of days we could pick for a takeover, and the dates of our KS were set: avoiding Origins and Gen Con, nestling right into the middle, with a BGG takeover towards the end of the campaign. As with so many things, planning ahead and lining things up way ahead of time pays off.

As with the previews, I’m pleased with how things worked out. The ad spend on BGG was productive, with clicks to our Kickstarter page costing us about $.27 each. We had a conversion rate of about 8.5% across all visits to our page (which is fantastic!), so that $700 ad spend generated somewhere in the neighborhood of $4100 in extra revenue. Knowing that, we should have upped our ad spend! Now, of course, some of those people might have found us through another avenue without the ads, or they used the ads as a reminder, so the real profit there is likely lower. It’s still impressive.

Interestingly, the takeover banner was about the same cost per click as the other ads we bought on BGG – a higher clickthrough rate, but they’re also more expensive per impression. However, the takeover allowed us to concentrate ad impressions on that day, to try and maximize the closing finish. And it worked, as we nearly beat our day 1 numbers on the second to last day of the campaign.

I also experimented with Twitter ads during the campaign, just on a small scale, with a $100 ad spend. Those ads were timed to bolster a weekend, to try and not let our position on Kickstarter searches decay too much. Those ads, targeted at an audience with “board games” interests, cost about $1.50 per click, and probably converted only three folks (as best I can tell), so that wasn’t a great avenue for us. Was it the timing of the ads? The content? The platform? Hard to say, really, but it’s an area I’d like to explore more.

For regrets, the biggest single thing I regret not doing for this campaign was having a deeper ad strategy. I should have had more analytics hooked up, and I should have experimented with more types of ads on other platforms and I should have had better tracking of them. I don’t think our ad strategy was unsuccessful – we put the vast bulk of our ad dollars in a very sensible place – but I’m not sure we learned that much to fuel future efforts in this kind of area. But I do highly recommend BGG ads, and Chad is fantastic to work with.

Below, you can see what our referrer dashboard looks like. You can see the sources of a lot of our traffic, and how much of it is from parts of the Kickstarter platform (the things in green). There probably aren’t that many campaigns where Twitter is outdoing Facebook, but that’s where our social presence mostly is.


Grant: Uh, what Josh said. For previews, I chose a few sites and content creators whose work I really enjoyed and with whom I had a relationship. I reached out to them very early with the simple email of:

Hi, We’re doing a KS for Hocus in June. I’d love to send you a copy in June and a final copy when it’s ready. We’d love you to write a preview. Are you interested?

Due to the fact we reached out so early to most and had a solid game and a good relationship, almost all of them accepted. I heard many backers tell us that they heard us via On Board Games, or watched Jon Cox’s amazing video preview on our page, and so forth. As Josh said, this content aided our credibility and just fleshed out our presentation. I’m so happy with the partners we chose.

Hustle – Mid-Campaign push to “go tell everyone go go go go go!”

Josh: We didn’t spend a lot of time during the campaign hustling for coverage, or prodding our backers into sharing. We both mentioned the campaign pretty often on Twitter, but that’s because we talk about most stuff on Twitter. I think we might have left some money on the table here, but cajoling your backers into becoming your salespeople comes at a relationship cost. We were more than happy to just have people as customers. If they want to help, great! But putting their money on the line to help us produce the game is fantastic.

Again, it’s hard to say how much this stance hurt us. But if we’re trying to build a real business here, we’ll be able to reach people post-campaign at retail, and we didn’t need to turn into hucksters to make this thing happen. And that made us both happy.

Now, we did stay in touch with our customers with updates. But we tried to make those interesting, with plenty of design notes and history of the game in them, along with some miscellaneous surprises for folks. We didn’t plan out a schedule of those ahead of time, and perhaps we could have planned things a bit better, but we only really got one complaint about them, so I think we did fine.

Grant: That complaint was about frequency as well, so take that as you will. We wrote 14 updates in 30 days. That’s not too bad.

There are a lot of typical, obvious things we could have done to hustle more, including:

  • Thumb this photo
  • FB sharing goals
  • Twitter sharing goals
  • Generally just telling people to tell others

It’s not that doing these things is bad, but it sometimes feels exhausting as a consumer. I feel like promotion is our job, right? We tried to really have our PR elements lined up ahead of time, including several previews on Jon Gets Games, Geek Dad, and I Slay the Dragon. We have interviews with podcasts like Who, What, Why? and On Board Games Crowdfunding Edition. We also mailed copies to dozens of testers and some prominent folks. Some turned into coverage for us, some didn’t.

But, we wanted to reach out to our fans on a one-on-one basis and provide them with interesting development commentary using our updates. It doesn’t seem like our lack of hustling hurt us too much. Either Kickstarter sent sufficient people our way, or our extra copy deal led to friends talking to buddy up on a pledge, or folks just told others or shared the PNP.

I don’t think we’re natural salespeople. I’m a terrible networker. I sorta naively hope the work speaks for itself, which I realize is foolish, but we lucked out in this case. It’s something we should re-examine next time.

Wording and the Nitpickers

Josh: One thing about having a pretty big early set of backers is that we were able to get a fair number of eyeballs on our PnPs and our rules. That’s fantastic! We had many backers reach out to us to tell us they’d played the PnP and were backing the project as a consequence. There’s no possible message people could tell us that makes us happier by the way. One thing that all these backers did was look through what we’d put up. We didn’t get much in the way of balance suggestions, just a couple comments. But we got an absolute ton of wording suggestions and nitpicks.

It’s easy to get a bit annoyed by that type of feedback. You immediately get a bit defensive, thinking that your wording is fine. However, settling down, we could clearly see that there were ways to improve our wording, and we tried to take every bit of textual input we got. We couldn’t quite take all of it, but having those PnPs ready to go at the start of the campaign has materially improved the wording in our rules and cards.

Grant: Key piece of advice: If you use a verb, never use another verb. We found that we used “Play,” “Place,” and “Add” interchangeably. And, it’s fine. It doesn’t hurt player understanding and it didn’t really bring forth rules lawyers. But, making it all a single term means that it reduces friction by 1% more. We had a ton of nitpicks like this and it can be trying, but it’s important to do. I’m so thankful we had hundreds of eyes on our final final game and I hope we can get this on our next game even sooner. It was invaluable.

Something we REALLY hope results from our KS and relationship is more testers. That would be worth its weight in gold. Gold I tells ya.

Interesting Tactics of Note

Grant: A tactic we observed to be very successful for other campaigns is where you have a super low level entry price point, say $15. You then have a Deluxe Price Point, that is the entry level, plus a minor expansion, plus Stretch Goals, for, say, $25.

What seems to happen is that people get their foot in the door via ads, social media, or what have you with $15 in mind. They make the decision to buy at that point, but then see the $25 price point. In many cases, folks would back at the $25 level, as they already decided at the $15 point, but wanted the major offering.

Very fascinating! I’m not sure it’s something we’d do, but it seemed to work very well for the few we saw do this during our campaign.

Things People Liked

Grant: The idea for this section came from Steve Caires. It feels a little braggy, but it will also be useful, hopefully, in that you can see the things people appreciated. How should you look at this? These are the things people liked enough to comment on.

  • How to Play Video: Many backers told me they watched this and backed the game as a result. I only spent about 5 hours making it, so the level of effort was fully compensated by the support and appreciation.
  • Thank You Letters: Everyone who responded seemed to note that they appreciated these.
  • The Game: Many many people played our PNP and really liked it. That’s…good! And expected. We haven’t spent 18 months for nothing.
  • Page Layout: When asked if they had questions, people would often respond “Nope! Page was crystal clear.”
  • Responsiveness: We tried to respond to every comment, message, and email before going to sleep every night. Folks commented frequently on how responsive we were.

The Spam

Grant: One thing I was somewhat expecting before we launched was to receive messages from people. Holy billy. Basically the second you fund, or look like you’ll fund, you will receive daily messages from:

  • “Companies” offering their promotional services. These all had a mega scam vibe.
  • Manufacturing companies seeking your business. They will email you repeatedly until you actually respond and tell them no. This is maddening, by the way. Don’t shout at people like they are a wall!
  • People seeking Kickstarter advice. This is fine, actually. I’ve asked so many people things in the past. I need to pay it forward.
  • People who want you to offer their mailing list a special deal so they recommend your project to their mailing list.
  • Other Kickstarter campaign runners seeking a co-promotion deal.

Let’s discuss this last one further. The intent, I think, is good and honest. Someone wants you to mention their campaign in an update. In exchange, they will mention your campaign. All parties benefit, more backers move around.

Right? I immediately developed a policy of rejecting all of them, because it was easier to do this uniformly instead of picking some versus others. This was actually a very easy decision in every case except for one. The reality is that I knew nothing about any of these games. I hadn’t played them or read their rules. I also didn’t know the publishers or project owners. Finally, it just felt odd. I see people complaining about Kickstarter projects promoting their new games months or even years later. I’ve received messages from people long after the initial project and as a consumer it’s like, okay, I get it. But, I’m not on your newsletter — leave me alone!

In our updates, we felt it best to talk about Hocus. That’s why people were there, right?

Josh: We’re putting a lot of effort to build trust with our backers, our customers. Our entirely strategy is predicated on building a long-term relationship with folks, and having them recognize that Hyperbole Games stands for quality. Cross-promoting projects we don’t know can chip away at that trust, even if it’s small. We weren’t about to cross against our strategy for this, even if it might have boosted our campaign.

Grant: Now, we did promote Paradox in our 10th Update. They didn’t ask us to promote their game, though they promoted Hocus when announcing that Adam McIver was working with them. I’ve played Paradox a few times and really like it. I was a day 1 backer for their game. I know Brian, Paul, and Randy. I felt comfortable speaking on their behalf and that of the game’s. I wanted to share it regardless, but also, I wanted to reciprocate their kind deed.

I know some people have done this very successfully and it seems to work, honestly. Apotheca, which has 2,600 backers and raised $112,000 featured co-promotion with about 5 different games. Their backers didn’t seem to mind, and Andrew clearly picked his partners carefully.

I don’t see myself changing this policy. It seems simplest to simply decline, politely, invitations to do this. In some cases I have no doubt Hocus would have benefited, but I really wanted to ensure that my recommendations were backed by knowledge and I just wasn’t able to do that, except with Paradox.

Josh: It’s a stance that’s easy for me to take as well. Our campaign is about Hocus, Hyperbole, and our customers. Anything that might disrupt that is something we’re going to put aside. Simple.

Grant: We’ll need to adhere to this even when we have another game. We shouldn’t bug previous backers with our next game. I’ve seen folks complain about it on Twitter and we’ll need to not abuse our Hocus backers’ trust.


Grant: At the start of the campaign I knew we’d have cancellations. I thought it would be 5-10 over the course of the campaign. In reality, we had 94 people cancel their pledge to Hocus, an average of 3 per day. With the exception of 2 people, nobody told me why they cancelled and I never followed up with any of them or asked why. It didn’t seem appropriate.

My mature brain thought: they have read more into the game and are no longer interested. Or, they want to spend their budget elsewhere. Or, they just changed their mind.


I emailed some peers, checked in, and they all basically confirmed my mature brain’s sentiments. The two people who told me about their cancellation? Both had overspent for the month. It’s just one of those things that’s tough to bear, really. It feels like getting dumped, but more than anything, you want to know why.

Josh: I’m able to deal with this with more equanimity. I don’t see the cancellations, I just get to hear Grant’s gnashing of teeth. Me, I’ve only ever cancelled one KS that I can think of, but I can get why people might do it. I suspect most of them are just about budget. Seems reasonable to me.

Grant: I think that as Kickstarter grows in popularity and it becomes more common, you’ll see more people who just pop around projects. All of us are around for 30 days and they basically have tokens “in the arcade” that they can spend on anything.

This is one of those “problems” for which I don’t think there is a solution. We wouldn’t change our conduct, and there never seemed to be a correlation between any of our actions and a cancellation. We almost always received a cancellation following an update, probably because someone already considering doing so was reminded. But, otherwise, they just…happened.

My advice? Just prepare for it. Have a friend to whine to privately. I had Josh. Find your Josh?

Josh: Because it doesn’t bother me, I was able to just be philosophical about it. I recommend inventing ever more ludicrous reasons why people are cancelling.

The Video

Grant: We are not video makers. It just isn’t our skill set. When considering our budget spend on things like ads and preview copies and such, we felt like BGG ads were more important than paying someone for a really slick video. You only have so many bullets to spend and we hoped that a video preview, like the incredible one from Jonathan Cox, or our own how to play videos, would give people a little more meat.

Our video was very humble. It was a smidge over a minute in 4 cuts – intro screen, me talking, me talking some more after I forgot a line, and an exit screen. We simply laid out our pitch and price and let the rest of the page do the talking. We heard no complaints on our video, and I think our stats are pretty good!

We had 17,970 video plays, though you need to remember Kickstarter had AutoPlay for much of our campaign. The important stat is that we had 43.95% video completion. I’ll take it!

If you can make a video like Apotheca’s and it fits in your budget? By all means, do it. It’ll probably help you go viral and it really adds another layer of professionalism. But, if you’re like us, keep it simple, keep it low cost, and just let it do its job.

Do we use Kickstarter again?

Josh: Maybe? One of the biggest surprises to me is how many backers were driven directly by the Kickstarter platform. Obviously, we believed in its ability to get us more attention and folks on board with the project, but there were a lot more people finding us by browsing than I thought there would be. It’s been an impressive enough result that I think we’ll have to weigh using Kickstarter again pretty seriously. Obviously, we’d love to have a robust enough presence and strong enough mailing list to be able to support a pre-order system that works without giving up 10% of our revenue to Kickstarter.

Whether we use Kickstarter going forward will depend on a few things. It’ll depend on the performance of Hocus beyond the first shipment. It’ll depend on how much our presence in the market grows. It’ll depend on the size of our mailing list. And, most of all, it’ll depend on the specific game.

The next product of Hyperbole Games is probably Landfall, which is not going to go on Kickstarter, because it’s going to be a small printing where we need all the margin we can get. I think we’ll have no difficulty selling it out through non-Kickstarter methods. The game after that, though, might be several things. If it’s Project Cow Tools, which it might be, that’s a Kickstarter possibility. It’s a game we hope will have a fairly broad audience, and we’d like to take it to as many people as Hocus. That means we might really want to get the increased reach that Kickstarter provides, even though it costs us 10% of our revenue. The success with Hocus has been big enough that I think we would be foolish to ignore Kickstarter as at least a possible avenue going forward.

Grant: Josh really nailed my thoughts. We used Kickstarter for Hocus because we needed to prove demand in order to enter production. We were willing to pay them 10% to help us sell far more copies than we could have on our site and help us grow our reach beyond our social network.

In the past, Kickstarter didn’t drive much browsing traffic. Now, it absolutely does! Funny how things change. We really hope we have many people join our newsletter, as that is one of the most valuable tools for a publisher.

Landfall is going to be a small, boutique, weird printing and the 10% cut on KS would really affect our ability to make it. But, Cow Tools will be a bigger game than Hocus. It’ll be a bigger risk. If KS gets us 500-1000 more early customers than we can do just through our own site? It’s tough to ignore that.

We’ll really need to see where we are in a year from now. How will Hocus sell?

My biggest fear before Hocus launched was that our Stretch Goal plan would fail and we’d have to wrestle with very angry and frustrated customers on the platform. That didn’t happen and many of my Kickstarter fears have dissipated.

We’ll really have to see.

If you have any questions, comment below or email us!

The 54 Card Guild: #1


Post by: Grant Rodiek

I want to invite you to join an elite and secretive organization. It is exclusive, difficult to find, and reserved for only top individuals.

Actually, it’s none of these things. I want you to join me in making games so that we can all improve our craft of design. I want you to join the 54 Card Guild!

A peer recently said “Be mindful of the people from whom you take your advice as many of them know just as little as you.” Over the years I’ve evolved my blog from sometimes pompous “this is how to do a thing” instruction, to philosophical meandering, and finally to more case-study styled pieces based on my own work. I don’t think I’m the worst offender of unworthy instruction, but I do worry that sometimes I’m too quick to make my own thoughts and work front and center when in reality, I want others to learn by doing. It’s how I learn and I think it’s a great method to improve design.

I’ve always been flustered by Game Design Books and GDC talks. They seem to opine in a vacuum bereft of reality, constraints, market conditions, you name it. They seem to be one sided and I feel there are far too few absolutes for monologues in this space. I think there’s more room for dialog, open thought, and experimentation.

The Content

Every 1-2 Fridays I’ll post a written blog and sometimes provide a short video. The idea is to start from the beginning (brainstorming) and continue through a variety of topics, including some layout basics, testing tips, rules writing, and more.

I will likely veer and swerve and hopefully the content is concise, interesting, and useful to you. All articles will be tagged with 54 Card Guild so they’ll be easy to find and reference.

The Work

All of us, me included, will be making a game. I have already begun working on mine so that I can stay ahead of things and use my efforts to guide the content.

The only limitation is that your components are strictly limited to 54 cards or fewer. These can be any cards, not just a poker deck, though doing that is encouraged!

This means no dice. No pennies. No board. Just 0-54 cards. Great creativity is spawned from great limitations. Focus on the core essence of the experience you wish to deliver and do it with a mere 54 cards. You’ll be surprised at what you craft.

We’re doing a similar exercise at work and my friends are making simple deckbuilders, heart variants, and party games. One even said he wants to make a hyper distilled version of Fief that strips out the board and war game and focuses on the social dynastic building.

I’ll try to provide weekly assignments. This isn’t homework. I’m not grading it, and nobody will mind if you miss a date. The idea behind these assignments is to provide milestones to guide your work. I find deadlines and measured goals help me, so perhaps they’ll help you. Feel free to ignore them!

So many words…Let’s simplify.

I want you to make a game with me that contains 54 cards or fewer. I’m going to provide notes and thoughts to aid and guide, but want you to feel free to pursue your own path and borrow what works for you and ignore the rest.

Let’s begin Guide #1…

Note: In order to facilitate sharing, I’ve created a group for us on Slack.com! Slack is a great website and smart phone app for easily sharing ideas and chatting. Email me at grant [at] hyperbolegames [dot] com if you want to join!

Guide #1: The Brainstorm

A good brainstorm will often emerge if you provide yourself freedom from distractions and a way to quickly record a wide range of thoughts. I do the majority of my brainstorming in 3 places:

  • Driving in silence
  • Walking my dog + iPhone Notes
  • Showering

At work, much of what we do is team based. A good method we have found is to pass out sticky notes and sharpies and individually jot ideas that we then stick to a big white board. This lets us individually focus while also collaborating.

Do yourself a favor and bury your cell phone when brainstorming. Get away from your computer. While Google Docs is a great place to type, having the Internet at your finger tips is just inviting distraction.

This is the easy part. The difficult part is finding your inspiration. There are a variety of nodes from which to draw, and you may be surprised to find they match your preferences in games to play!

  • Classic games. Do you love Poker, Black Jack, Bingo, or Scrabble? Well, games like Rise of Augustus, Battle Line, Samurai Spirit, Hocus, and more draw from these foundations. Hell, Richard Garfield likes making Hearts variants.
  • Favorite games. Think of your favorite 10 games. What is your favorite element of each? Is it that moment when you betray your friend? Do you love rolling that pile of dice? Do you like building a deck before the game? Or creating broken combos? Think of that core and write it.
  • Brainstorm Algebra, or X+Y=Z. Think of combinations, strange and intuitive alike. Drafting + Worker Placement. Zombies + Civil War. City Building + Winter. These combinations can be Mechanism + Mechanism, Theme + Theme, Experience + Experience, or any combination thereof. See where these threads lead. In fact, take items from the first two bullets and plug them in as variables.
  • Real life experiences. What are things you like to do? Cook? Perform stand up comedy? Exercise? Great designers draw from life experiences.

If the experience or thematic angle isn’t working for you, perhaps think of ways that you can use and manipulate cards. Cards are intensely flexible! Below, I’m going to show you a handful of common and perhaps less common ways you can use cards in your game.

The Action Card


This is a very common case that maybe doesn’t need to be mentioned. If you’ve played Magic: The Gathering or Netrunner or Munchkin, you’ve seen cards used in this manner. The core concept is that you have a card with text or a symbol that indicates an action. On a player’s turn, they choose a card to play, and resolve its text.

Action cards are great for having great variety, but don’t get too carried away with complex text. Try to avoid conditional phrases, such as “If another player has 3 or more Coins, you may play this card.” Instead, just say “Take 1 Coin.”

Try to rely on a few key words and see how far you can stretch that before adding complexity.



This is a beautiful two step process. Step 1: Choose the card you wish to play, for its action (as mentioned above) or to build a new building or structure, or for something else. Step 2: Pass the remaining cards to the player next to you.

Drafting is great because you can present your players with a wide variety of choices, but limit them to only one. You want 3 of the 8 cards in your hand, but you can only grab one. Drafting also allows for the fun method of interaction known as counter-drafting. You might take a card that’s less useful to you in order to prevent an opponent from grabbing it. This method of indirect interaction is friendly, yet potent.

The Military Unit


Think of a miniatures game, but instead of plastic figurines, you use cards. Cards work well for this as you can put all pertinent information on the card. You can use cards as a ruler even to measure and allow for a free form miniature-like environment. You can even use cards for Terrain. One card is a town, the other is a hill to fight over.

Cards are physical objects that don’t need to be in your hand. Summoner Wars shows us you can turn them into units that are just as viable as Memoir ’44’s plastic tanks.

When you use cards as units, be careful about having too much information. Players naturally want to read and know everything. If you have 20 cards out, each with 2 sentences of text, don’t be surprised when players stop constantly to read them! It’s really about slowly building the player’s army, limiting the complexity on individual units, and limiting what you need to know about another player’s units.

Multi-Use Cards

Example_MultiUse_AMulti-use cards are a favorite mechanism of mine that I have used quite often. Put simply, what if every card has two or more uses? Instead of having to perfectly tune a deck distribution, you can instead say that every card has a unique element (the B shown above) and a shared element (the A shown above). You can then play the card for either use. That A can represent a category. In your 54 card deck, you might have 6 categories of 9 cards each. The As could be a Building, a Politician, Infrastructure, Roads, Power Plants, and Wonders in a city building game.


You can also take the 7 Wonders approach and give every card a unique attribute, then have global rules. For example, in 7 Wonders you can play a card for its attribute, or chuck it for 3 gold, or use it to build a structure. As long as your global rules are simple, this is a great way to go that doesn’t add complexity to the card’s layout.

Deduction and Peeking


I’ve been trying to design a deduction game. So far, my efforts haven’t born fruit, but it has been a fun thought process. While thinking of examples for this article, I thought about Hanabi. In it, players can see the cards of other players, but not their own, as the cards are held backwards in front of you. Players can reveal clues by saying “All of these cards are this color,” or “All of these cards have this number.”

What if you hold your cards privately in a competitive game and you must inform an opponent of a shared property of all the cards that share it? So, in the example above, “these two cards have a blue building.” Your opponent then chooses any card to reveal. After so many clues and revealed information, they must make a guess about the contents of your hand.

For what purpose, I don’t know! Maybe you’ll find a gem?

Pre-Constructed Decks


This is a feature my design will use. Pre-constructed decks take a pool of cards, up to 54 in our case, and challenge players to combine them in new and exciting ways to create a new whole. These games are all about creating powerful combos and exploiting loopholes in the card ideas. Much of the fun comes from the deck construction, though the “actual game” must also be fun!

To make these games work, you need to think about the handful of nodes and elements every card needs to have. You can then use other cards to play off of these. In a battle game, a Unit might have health, a cost to play, an attack strength, and a one-time bonus that occurs when the card is played. You can then have other cards that manipulate and modify those properties.

They key is to consider these properties from a high level, then begin experimenting with the details and evolving your foundation as needed.

Role Selection

Example_RoleSelectionPlayers have a hand of cards, much like drafting. Also like drafting, they play one every round, often simultaneously, that determines their power, action, or capability. You want every role to be distinct and present upsides and downsides.

Perhaps Robin Hood shown above is good at getting gold, but can be caught by the sheriff. The Fez is good for scoring points, but a bad role for remaining hidden. And so forth.

Due to the simultaneous nature, you often want a way to resolve ties. Whose card goes first? Above, I added a number, so that the person who played the 1 goes first.

Think about providing players with non-obvious times to play certain roles. Work to ensure that the Fez doesn’t have an obvious time to play. This will lead to tougher, and more interesting decisions.

Throwing Cards


You can make a game about throwing cards on a table! Yes, truly! Your cards can have symbols that, when covered by latter throws, provide points. Or, when covered, provide bonus abilities. Dexterity is a wonderful medium that provides great laughs and establishes a casual atmosphere. Cards are physical, have weight, and can hold an image and instructions. Why not throw them?

Tile Game


Cards can contain pictures that link up and when placed adjacent form a map, or panoramic picture, or a galaxy, or anything really. The cards might have a strict orientation, like in some games where the cards must be placed in order, or their placement can be up to the active player. With this latter method, players create the map and you have a more random, but dynamic experience.

What surface can you create with cards? And, can you then cover the existing cards? Perhaps you cover a mountain with a snowy mountain to indicate weather? Or remove all water to turn a river into a desert?

My design will feature tiles.

Combining Cards


This is another weird idea I had when trying to think about crafting an AI for a game. What if you need a deck that can work in a variety of situations with only 54 cards? Here’s an idea. What if every player has a character, represented by a card. Each side of the card has a level, indicated by the 4 colors shown above. As you explore the world, you draw a card from the deck. It has 4 pieces of text or symbols on it, each with a color code that matches the colors on your card. If your blue side is facing up? You resolve the blue text. Another player might resolve the red text if that’s where they are at. Suddenly, every card has 4 uses that are contextual.

Not all 54 cards have to be the same! You can mix and match different types, then have them speak to each other in different ways. Think of your cards as Lego pieces.

The Assignment

Find yourself a good, quiet, distraction free location and begin jotting ideas. Think of 5-10 fun ideas using any method possible. Narrow it down to 1 or 2 favorites. Then, using an idea from above, or one of your own, begin thinking about the mechanisms and experience you will leverage and provide. Write these down, loosely, and begin thinking in a more focused manner. Give your brain time to stew and think about these 1 or 2 ideas in the context of a more specific arrangement.

Feedback, as always, is welcomed! Use the comments or email me.

KS Lessons from the 7th Day

Post by: Grant Rodiek

We’re a week into the Hocus Kickstarter and it’s going very well. We’re at over 215% funding and 664 backers. Our fewest backers in a day has been 37, and our lowest amount raised has been $707. If this is at all indicative of the rest of our campaign, well, that bodes fantastically for us. I’m sure it’ll decrease, but what a killer first week!

Hocus: A magical card game -- Kicktraq Mini

Here are some more notes from our campaign.

Have a hook. This is true regardless of your pitch medium, be it to a potential publisher or to customers on Kickstarter. Ours is “Poker Plus Spells.” With Apotheca, Andrew Federspiel mentions “Spatial Strategy plus Hidden Information.” Many people have commented on this in their notes to me and it seems to really be sticking with them. What’s your catch phrase that’s easy to remember? Try to craft one and put it front and center for your campaign.

Plan your updates. We haven’t actually been terribly busy during the campaign, no more than normal development. But, updates are a reality, in addition to Thank You notes, and other such tasks, and you should plan for them. Especially if you’re a slow writer! Thankfully, we have 8 Spell books, which make for great updates. Plus, there is always news and clarifications to make.

Plan your updates out for the approximate span at the campaign, leaving room to be flexible as you communicate with backers. Preparation is truly at the heart of any product’s success and this is just one more area where you can be patient, do your homework, and appreciate the light dividends.

Make a routine of things. This continues the note above, but plan for pockets of time, in your daily life, to look over the campaign, communicate with folks, write thank you notes, and follow up on things. The more you plan before the campaign, the less of a burden this will be. But, if you’re shooting how to play videos, and writing thank you notes, and posting a PNP, and chasing down previews, you’ll be in trouble. Therefore, the first priority, that we’ve really appreciated, is to try to take care of as much stuff as possible before launch. The second priority is to craft a routine and stick to it so that your “chores” are properly cared for!

Obsess over your Kickstarter page. Review your page a few hundred times for typos, poor sentences, confusing sections, and anything that detracts. Ask friends, people who dislike you, and random folks to read it over. Treat your Kickstarter page like a rules document — make it clear, concise, and useful. Organize the data in order of importance, provide clean page breaks, and use basic formatting or graphic design, as your budget and skills allow, to highlight important details.

Really obsess over your page. Whenever we ask people if they have questions, an overwhelming number of people say “Nope, your page had everything.” That’s really the best response. It’s very satisfying and it has saved us a great deal of time. A few specifics, like ones regarding the wooden box, have been added to the FAQ. And really, these are the types of things an FAQ is meant for. Review your page and remove all bumps.

Just 2 days ago we found a bump on ours — our link to our rules was pointing to a not too old, but still out of date copy of our rules. Whoops! How embarrassing! Just think how that could have hurt us if someone downloaded the PNP and couldn’t figure out how to play!

Obsess over your Kickstarter page, then do it again. Typos and sloppiness will only make you look like you don’t care, or at least, you didn’t care enough.

Invest in Art. Our fundamental belief is that great art and a great price will take a Kickstarter very far. It’s a one-two punch. Great art gets the customers in the door. They like what they see in the “window” and pick up the box. They then see the price, shrug, and go “hell I’m in!”

Really invest in your art. It’s super easy to just find someone who can technically do it, but really seek out a partner that will make your game look beautiful and outstanding. It makes a great first impression, makes you look professional, and is the most beautiful way to demonstrate you care about your game.

Have your PNP Ready.  Since June 22nd, just 3 days before our Kickstarter launched, we’ve had about 470 combined downloads of our black and white and color PNP files off BGG. If you include the downloads from our pre-campaign Hotness push, this goes up to almost 700 downloads!

Now, surely many of those can be written off as repeat downloads, and surely the majority of them will sit on a desktop, never to be printed or cut. But, we’ve heard from many backers who have played the PNP with friends and family. We’ve seen several cases of backers pledging at $5 to get the high resolution PNP, they send us a nice note, then increase their pledge to get the physical copy. Have your PNP ready before you launch!

I don’t really have a way to collect data on this, but I’m convinced this is helping us in a big way. It shows preparedness, confidence, and helps people move beyond the flash and really become committed fans. Some of the nicest comments I’ve ever heard about a game I’ve designed have come from our PNP players. Just think how that might work in word of mouth with other potential backers.

Several folks have asked us to write our post mortem and we’d like to do so in a way that’s useful for you. If you have questions about our campaign you want answered, send them my way or comment below!