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: #9

54CardLogo

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. 

Post by: Grant Rodiek

Thematic development for your game is one of the most confused elements of design. That elevated it to the top of my queue for things to talk about for the 54 Card Guild. To get to the point as rapidly as possible, there is a great deal of confusion between what is thematic, and what is flavorful.

Flavor is provided most often by the visual elements of the game, and include things like:

  • Miniatures (as opposed to cardboard tokens). So many war games are deeply thematic with simple, cardboard chits with numbers.
  • Illustrations — Essential to a game, but not thematic!
  • Flavor Text — Smart barbs about the story of the world on the card. This world building doesn’t make Magic: The Gathering thematic.
  • Shaped Tokens — Custom meeples or resource tokens, versus cardboard or generic tokens. Caverna is not more thematic because it has cow tokens versus brown cubes.
  • Stories — If the rules have a lengthy narrative introduction, it sets the stage, but this isn’t theme.

Now, I’m not going to lie to you. I’m probably in the minority with this analysis. I often see folks use the phrase “this game is so thematic” because it has resource tokens of a particular shape, or fantastic art. If you go to BoardGameGeek.com, you’ll find that the “most thematic games” tend to be “games with miniatures.”

Furthermore, I think it’s important to note that flavor absolutely enhances one’s enjoyment of a game. I love a game with miniatures. I just do. I love brilliant illustrations. I love fun, tactile components. Those are the things that make a product truly great. But, we’re discussing theme.

Therefore, if these things listed above are not theme, but are instead flavor, what is theme? I made a simple graphic to illustrate the two main pieces of the pie. You can replaced these sentiments with synonyms and such, but, effectively, these cover the gist.

ThemeDiagram

There it is. That’s it.

The left side is far more important to the overall equation, I believe, but having some smattering of both is what turns your game into one that is thematic. Let’s look at these items piece by piece.

Player actions indicative of the theme. You do things in character.

If you wish your game to be thematic, you must first answer: What is the player’s perspective? Who are they?

Secondly, what is their motivation?

Thirdly, what are the tools by which they’ll accomplish their ends?

If you can answer these questions, you can begin to leverage mechanisms and player actions that will support their character. This is the heart of a truly thematic game. The reason most Feld games are not thematic is that randomly choosing from a pool of dice and building collections has very little to do with building an estate. That doesn’t make Castles of Burgundy a bad game at all, but it does mean it’s not very thematic. The manner in which you purchase goods in The Speicherstadt is incredibly fun, but has little bearing on the purchase of goods at the docks. And frankly, if Feld just mimicked yet another auction, well, the game might not be very original.

In Magic: The Gathering, the theme is that you are powerful wizards. Every time you play a card, you, the wizard, are summoning creatures, and spells, and amassing an army to defeat your opponent.

In Modern Art, you are a gallery director trying to make the most money on art. You buy, sell, over charge, and swindle your opponents to manipulate the market.

In Last Will, you are a millionaire trying to become a zero-naire, so you spend your money and buy things every single turn.

In Android: Netrunner you’re building a program as a hacker to penetrate the defenses of a mega-corp. Across from you is a dedicated system administrator, slowly updating the hardware to stay one step ahead of you.

In Star Wars: Armada, you are a fleet Admiral moving your fleet around to position them for victory. You’re building a battle plan, and giving orders, and hoping they are executed well by their captains.

In Fief, you are the lords and ladies of the great houses of France. You are building alliances, marrying, and scheming to end up on the throne. When you cannot achieve your ends with words, you do so with arms, which require a war chest.

For some of these examples above, I specifically chose games that aren’t often thought to be thematic, but demonstrate the qualities I believe to be thematic. In all of these games, your actions resemble those of a character who, in a story, would be doing the same thing.

In Project Gaia, my 54 Card Guild project (Rules Here, PNP Here and Here), I don’t think the game is super thematic, but it does support it in a few ways.

  • Players are unique, immortal beings, represented by their deck. This is similar to wizards being different in Magic: The Gathering.
  • Players build, augment, and destroy the planet to shape it as desired. This is how they win the game.
  • Players create creatures and landmasses, which roam and dominate the planet surface.

Looking to games like Black & White on the PC, it seemed only natural that as a god you can change the landmass to your liking, create new beings in the blink of an eye, destroy chunks of the planet, and create natural disasters. All of the cards are built around this idea, and they come from your hand.

Experience has a narrative arc. 

A thematic experience tells a good story, ideally one of your creation. I think some games do a good job of telling you a story to experience, such as Mice and Mystics, whereas in others, you create your own story, like in X-Wing Miniatures. I tend to prefer the latter method, as I think it’s infinitely more replayable, and I think stories of one’s own design are more memorable.

My two favorite storytelling PC games are EVE Online and Battlefield, not because of their rich narrative or cutscenes, but because the games provide a foundation in which I could be creative, thrive, and become the hero. I have stories that feel unique to me, that I still remember, and that are worth telling.

Merchants and Marauders and Clash of Cultures are two of my favorite storytelling games. They both provide a vast sandbox and a wide array of choices to dictate the path you’ll take. You can be a merchant, a scoundrel, someone doing the dirty work of others, or a little of everything. You can create a peaceful civilization, one built on trade, or one that dominates its neighbors. You get to put your footprint on things and tell the story from beginning to end.

Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective also does this well. You choose who to visit and speak to. You and your friends craft theories, debate red herrings, and put forth answers to solve the case. You share in the triumphs and, most likely, the defeats.

Project Gaia is weak on this front, as the elements of the world are, by design, relatively generic tiles. If the players were allowed to design an ice planet, or a swamp, that might change things. The game’s goals are also very mechanical — you’re trying to score against various pre-defined goals that are abstracted from the planet. If players were able to define their own conditions, or have ones as a part of their deck, more stories might evolve. Or, perhaps if players attacked their opponents and had a war in the end?

Ultimately, this is not the strongest game for a narrative arc, and really, it’s tightly focused around its mechanisms and has a relatively short play time (about 45 minutes). There isn’t much room for narrative, and if you’re sticking to the 54 card limitation, I wager you’re in the same boat.

The Assignment

The assignment this week is optional for those who wish to create a more thematic game. First, answer these questions:

  1. What is my player’s perspective?
  2. What is their motivation?
  3. What are the tools and resources by which they’ll accomplish these?
  4. What mechanisms would support the 3 answers above?

Secondly, create 3 short stories, no more than 300 words apiece, that describe a single session of your game. Each should be a different story to demonstrate the variety and breadth of the game. Once you have the stories, return to the 4 questions above, as well as your content and mechanisms, and see what ideas emerge to help foster those stories.

Questions?

Rampaging Barbarians

Post by: Grant RodiekConsul_First

Rules here. Print and Play is here.

Today marks the 10th test of Barbarus, a game I’ve been testing for exactly a month. This is exciting, as I feel I can finally dig in. With this 10th test, I feel the structure I have is simple, the decisions compelling, and the core mechanism is front and center.

This means I need to challenge all of those assertions and begin kicking the snot out of the design. Far too many folks give in too early, and I think it’s a real disservice to your good ideas to not let them steep for a very long time.

The core premise of Barbarus is simple: every player is using a finite pool of coins to gain the powerful First Consul role, declare wars, and bribe barbarians to win those wars. It is a game of hand management and blind bidding, which makes it a well-tread premise, and a good explanation for why the game has reached a decent place after 10 tests.

The game has seen a few fairly significant iterations. On multiple occasions I’ve had to take a step back and slap my turn structure to be unified and simple, because on multiple occasions I’ve tested a game where each phase had a different turn order and discard rule, and it was confusing as all get out.

I also had a solution for limiting the number of conflicts, but then had to layer on multiple supplemental systems to keep everyone involved. This led to a really strange and arbitrary game where many people were playing, but everyone felt siloed. Had to fix that.

I sought to make the game work with 3-6 players, which is a really long range of people. I had to cap it at 5, which simplifies a great many things and I don’t think hurts the game’s appeal too much.

In many areas the game has struggled with a wide range of points and money. For example, the money used to go from 1, to 1000, then in increments up to 25,000. This made the 25,000 absurdly powerful and the 1,000 effectively meaningless. I had to condense the range, and increase the distribution of tokens along the way. This also helped with coin counting, which was nice.

There was a similar issue with points, which used to range from 5,000 to 35,000 points. Guess what? Only the 35,000 mattered, stupid. I reduced it to 3 to 10, then 3 to 7, and now 3 to 6. I also added some flavor by giving the lower point values powerful bonuses. Take a 3 now and get a potent award for multiple rounds.

I fell into a common trap of a positive feedback loop, also known as the rich get richer. To punish losing players (which is often silly, as losing is sufficient punishment), I was also removing their Barbarians from the game. This kept the number of Barbarians at a reasonable population (are we hunting rabbits?). However, there are other ways to solve that problem. A friend suggested a token with a special power: the ability to eliminate a Barbarian. We fiddled with it some to prevent certain weird behaviors, and emerged with the Assassin. This went over really well, so I threw in two others: the Diplomat, which allows you to stall your turn, and the Apothecary, which allows you to beef up a Barbarian for the round. Basically, this lets you sneak in and obtain a 3 Barbarian cheaply, then turn him into a 6.

Finally, I really struggled making the First Consul valuable. The hope has been to make the First Consul, in some ways, the director of the game. But, they pay for that at the outset of the round, which means they have to spend precious coins for that privilege. Previously, the First Consul meant you went last…sometimes. Remember the inconsistent round behavior I mentioned above? Now, he always goes last, which is ideal in a bidding game. He had a few abilities I hoped were valuable, but they were effectively worthless. I had another issue, which is that there needed to be some certainty, sometimes, around the barbarians.

To solve both of these, I came up with a really simple solution: the First Consul draws and receives a single Barbarian which cannot be stolen for the round. That seems to have fixed it, and now, the bidding for First Consul is very contentious! However, it doesn’t seem to be a broken advantage.

Barbarus is on solid footing, so aside from today’s tuning changes, I want to start considering how I’m going to take it to the next level. I have some ideas!

For one, the game has been shortened from 6 to 5 rounds. I’m curious how it would feel if it were merely 3 rounds in duration? This would bring the game from about 45 to 25 minutes, which might make it a really tasty lunch experience.

I’m curious about introducing once per game bonuses at the player level. Perhaps every player is dealt a single card? This doesn’t serve a purpose beyond it being something fun I generally enjoy in games. But, I’m trying to resist the need for text anywhere in the game, so we’ll see.

I’d also really like to introduce a negotiation element, which is another reason to shorten the game. If the game is shortened, it won’t be a problem when 5 minutes of negotiation is tossed into every round. There are already hooks for this. Players discussing where to conquer, where to commit forces, where to assassinate. But, can I mechanize this further? Provide coins that you can actively use to assist others? Can there be shared victories? These are tires to kick. Social game play is always strong game play, and blind bidding is a natural platform for deception and betrayal.

I’m eager to see where the game goes. I think I have a foundation, which means now I can challenge it and find the best game possible.

The Farm Fresh Plan

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I’ve posted many of the details contained in this article on different channels, but I want to condense everything to a single post for folks to read. I want to provide an update on Farmageddon: Farm Fresh Edition, including my publishing plans and schedule, the art team, pre-order campaign, and the current design.

Publishing

Ideally, I’ll have Farm Fresh in my hands late summer as I plan to send it to the manufacturer at the start of March, as soon as Chinese New Year ends. For those not aware, Chinese New Year takes place typically in February or March and all of China, and therefore the factories, shut down at that time. Progress on all things manufacturing halts. Therefore, if we get started around March 1st, that means we can hopefully receive the game around August or September. This puts us in a good position for the holiday rush.

The hope is to have the rough manufacturing proofs for my May conventions, but, we’ll see.

Farmageddon: Farm Fresh Edition will have an MSRP of $15. It’ll come in a high quality two-piece box, will have 106 linen finish cards, and a nice folded rule sheet. If you have a copy of Hocus, you have a really good idea of what I’m talking about. Hint: The components are almost identical.

I’m also printing 2 promo cards, which will largely act as a pre-order or direct sale (online, conventions) incentive. I imagine they’ll also be on the BGG Store, and I will happily mail them to fans for $1 (or something like that). I’m fairly anti-exclusives, so these are merely meant as a sweetener, much like the Needle Rapier for Mice and Mystics. The 2 promo cards will be two copies of a new FrankenCrop – the Selfish Starthistle. It’s a LOT of fun, so trust me, this is a promo you actually want to use!

One more thing I’m excited about in this edition — there will be a reference card. This is a really simple way to aid new players and remind them of their actions. By cutting Fields, I gained 3 cards back, one of which is a Reference card, the other two are Promo cards. Efficiency!

Why is it Farm Fresh instead of 2nd Edition? 

I want to have an updated entry in the BGG database. This is almost a new game and I want it to receive its proper due and attention. A LOT of work has been put into this new version, as well as investment in time and money. However, the 1st Edition is technically the one I released on The Game Crafter in 2011. This makes the version released by 5th Street the 2nd Edition. I don’t want to put 3rd Edition on the box, so taking a cue from Microsoft (said nobody ever), I’m choosing a more playful name instead.

Farmageddon: Farm Fresh Edition is a mouthful, but it’s more charming and plays into the personality of the experience.

Schedule and Art Team

We’re in the final leg of design balance right now. I feel firm about the core mechanisms — not much has changed, but we kicked the crap out of the tires to really double check everything. Most of the cards haven’t changed in a while, but we’re tweaking one or two and that has repercussions. We want to ensure all cards are compatible and have clean text that jives nicely. This morning, we revised one card, which forced me to add 3 new words to another card to make them fully compatible.

Art development will begin in February. I’m thrilled to announce Brett Bean will be returning to illustrate the new Starthistle. Brett illustrated the cover, basic Crops, and Farmer cards from the base game. Brett is truly a visionary, world class artist, and having him involved is just thrilling. Erin Fusco‘s beautiful FrankenCrops will also feature prominently in this version. If this version is successful, you will all be in for a huge treat when you see her work on Livestocked and Loaded. Overall, the illustrations you know and love from Farmageddon will not change.

Graphic design will be handled by the fantastic Adam P. McIver of Cre8tive Dept. Adam handled the graphic design for Hocus, which is why our box is so striking, our icons are perfect, and the card back is phenomenal. The brunt of the visual overhaul will be done by Adam. I have about 5 years of feedback I wish to incorporate! His work will include:

  • All new icons for Fertilizer, money, and the card icons.
  • New layouts for all the cards to better highlight the art, and provide subtle cues for Farmer cards versus Crop cards.
  • A professional rules layout. The 1st Edition rules were basically text on a white background. We can do better.
  • Overhauled and revised box layout. You saw what Adam did for Hocus…
  • New card backs for the Crops and Farmer cards.

Essentially, this will be the most beautiful and striking edition of Farmageddon ever. This is THE version to have.

Pre-Order Campaign

In order to get Farmageddon to market more quickly and experiment, I will not be using crowdfunding to cover its costs. Hyperbole Games LLC will pay for the printing entirely out of pocket. We’re currently planning a 2500 copy print run.

Once the game is on the boat, and therefore 1 to 2 months from customer hands, I’m going to setup a pre-order campaign for the game. I may use Big Cartel, which is our current online store, or I may experiment with Celery. I need to examine the payment options and interface of the latter to evaluate.

I may not use either! Why? Beginning at the end of January, HyperboleGames.com will be getting a makeover. I’m working with a web designer to overhaul the entire site, and by April or May, it’ll be a more fantastic, useful experience. I’m so thrilled!

So, we’ll see.

Taking a note from Plaid Hat Games and Stronghold Games, I’ll be offering a steep discount, probably 30%, promo cards, and early delivery for the game. The pre-order will only be available for North American customers, as the game is licensed for Europe by my partners there.

Long term, I do not want to use crowdfunding. I don’t think my long term company views are ideal for the platform. Namely, I don’t want to use Stretch Goals, I don’t want to pay 10%, and I don’t want to delay production by 30 days. I’m curious to see how this pre-order campaign will go, because if it goes well, and Hocus and it sell well in the market, I’ll be willing to take more risks with future games. But, even though I’m not using Kickstarter, I will be doing the legwork to support the campaign. This includes:

  • Ads on BGG
  • Previews from external sources
  • A how to play rules explanation video

Pre-ordering Farmageddon will be an amazing way to support my little company and get a great, beloved game in your hands.

Current Development

Progress on Farm Fresh has been made at a ridiculous pace for a few reasons, including:

  • I’ve been working on the changes since about 2012
  • Many of the changes have been tested by the European publishing partner
  • With my local QA team and myself, the game is getting 3-7 tests per week
  • We aren’t really changing the core, allowing us to focus on balance and tuning.

Unlike Hocus, which was a miserable balance exercise, Farmageddon is rather simple. In Hocus, every player has 3 guaranteed powers they can use repeatedly. In Farmageddon, players are dealt a pool of cards they choose to use. This means, instead of head to head balance, I more need to monitor trends to ensure the game adheres to my goals.

For example, by increasing or decreasing the amount of Protection in the Farmer deck, or adding one more Thresher, I can make the game significantly more, or less, aggressive. In Hocus, we had to balance a cage match between 8 super honed predators. In Farmageddon, I merely need to ensure the ecosystem feels fair, that good combos aren’t too common or easily executed, and the game has good flow.

Plus, you know, I’ve been working on the game in one form or another since 2011. Soon, I’ll be engaging various text experts to ensure the wording is perfect. Cannot wait for their scorn!

Print and Play

There has never been a better time to grab the Print and Play. This version features all 106 cards, including the new reference card, and the two Promo cards as well. The graphic design is entirely placeholder, but the version is stable and lots of fun.

Read the rules here

Download the file here

Any questions or comments?

After the War is Over

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I’m fascinated by the business and publishing side of things lately, and feel it’s an area where I can provide new commentary. Perhaps not new to the greater world of business, but new for this blog. I try to only write about topics that feel fresh, which is why I’m writing less about design at this moment. Not an expert there either, but I have been writing about that for 3 years.

There’s an obsession with Kickstarter. How to prepare for it, how to communicate, really, every detail of it. I think this is well and good, but it’s also well and covered. I’m not particularly interested in innovating within the KS sphere, and I feel there is a crystal clear notion of “what good looks like” at this point. I’m not saying I’m a master of it, but there’s years of open, free data to be obtained by perusing the site.

Plus, I don’t have a Kickstarter on the horizon. I do have to run a business. So, what happens after the war? The war being the big, explosive blitzkrieg that is Kickstarter and fulfillment. What’s the daily life of a publisher like then? I’ve only been “on that job” a few weeks now. I figure if you’re in the same boat I am — new publisher — there might be useful information here I can share. We can start a conversation. Really, it’s good to know what to expect when you’re expecting.

Naturally, all of this can be ignored if you don’t plan to sell your games beyond Kickstarter, or don’t plan to regularly develop new games. But, if you do plan that, well, hopefully this is of some use.

I’ve fallen into a daily routine. After I wake up, I do a quick loop through things I need to check, which include:

  • Check BGG to see if we’ve received more ratings for Hocus.
  • Check BGG to see if there are any rules questions.
  • Check email to see if I have any direct orders.
  • Check BGG, Geekmail, Kickstarter, and Email for any customer service issues.

Let’s dive into these a little more deeply.

Regarding ratings, I don’t really read comments. They’ll generally lead me to focus too much on negative critique, which isn’t healthy. Therefore, I look to see if we’re receiving more ratings and fans (we are) and to see if the general trend is upward (it is).  I also like to check logged plays and the number of users owning. For the plays, do we have multiple plays, or one and done? All good information for checking the health of the product.

Rules questions are inevitable. You should subscribe to your game via BGG so that you are notified whenever a question is posted in a forum, or your game is linked on the site by a blog, video, or otherwise. Obviously, real life gets in the way (day job, relationships, power outage), but you should respond to these queries within hours ideally, same day, at worst. This is the simplest form of customer service. It shows you are a dedicated publisher that supports the product. Ideally, most of your answers will be a reiteration of the existing rules.

Direct orders are a blessing, as the revenue earned from them is much greater than that of distribution. Distribution and retail is the backbone of the business, but getting a handful of orders each week is a nice way to generate cash flow and earn higher margins. Another thing I like about direct orders is that it gives me an opportunity to personalize things. For every order, like with Kickstarter, I send a quick email thanking the customer, providing a tracking number, and linking them to our how to play tutorial video. It’s a small thing, but it’s nice. We try to ship products the same day they are ordered, which means adjusting my typical commute. Sadly, no mailing solutions are open before 9.

Customer service issues are my highest priority and need to be resolved immediately. In my opinion, you should respond to these within hours at the latest. Even if you do not yet have a solution, acknowledgement of the problem is a must. My general belief with customer service, largely based on the Golden Rule, is to give folks the benefit of the doubt and help them out.

Common customer service issues include:

  • “Where is my order? It hasn’t arrived yet.” Typically, this merely requires checking the tracking number and comforting the consumer.
  • “Where is my order? It says it arrived, but I don’t have it.” Sigh. Sometimes, the USPS messes up, or people steal packages. The solution here is to mail a replacement, no questions asked.
  • “My order arrived, but it was smashed.” Sigh. Again, sometimes the logistics network messes up. The solution here is to mail a replacement.
  • “You didn’t mail my complete order.” For us, we botched the wooden boxes on our KS. For some international backers, this cost us $10 (or so) we weren’t expecting. The solution is to mail what was promised. Focusing on the short term at the expense of the long term will bite you.
  • “I’m missing a component.” There is a 1-2% margin of error for components. Thankfully, the factory mails extras specifically for this. These are easy to fix, as cards fit in a normal envelope. Just remember to buy some nice hard plastic sleeves to protect them.

I try to resolve customer service issues promptly, with clarity, a resolution, and a little humor. Essentially, I often note:

  1. This is lame. I’m sorry.
  2. We’ll resolve this immediately.
  3. This is how it’ll be resolved.
  4. On the upside, you sorta won a lottery? Only 1-2%!

Really, people just want to be heard, be treated fairly, and get the product they paid for. While some folks begin with hostility, if you respond with kindness and resolve, they’ll make a complete 180.

Remember to keep tabs on your Kickstarter, if you used that channel. Some folks will keep using comments and the messages. Assuming you don’t turn off notifications, this is a very easy channel to monitor.

Let’s review, then, a typical week. For me, currently, it includes:

  • 3-5 Geekmail, email, or KS messages.
  • 1-3 BGG forum posts.
  • Approximately 5 orders.
  • Posting a reasonable volume of social media content about the product.

When you examine the monthly level, a few more tasks are added. Generally speaking, over the course of the month I have a few more duties:

  • Write the monthly Newsletter.
  • Interact with the distributor. This might include answering questions, providing media, providing schedule information, or shipping new product.
  • Contact potential reviewers.
  • Share incoming reviews via social media.
  • Convention planning and sign ups.
  • Keeping tabs with testers for upcoming products. Updating the PNPs. Updating rules.
  • Accounting! This thrilling task includes storing receipts, monitoring expenses, and monitoring revenue.
  • Taxes! This thrilling task includes yearly fees and returns.

Some of these require a few emails here and there. Others, require a bit more.

Finally, there is a long term planning layer which primarily pertains to supporting existing products and developing new ones.

For example, we have approximately 1750 copies of Hocus left. Through Kickstarter, pre-orders, and direct orders, we’ve sold about half our print run. As this is our first product, we have no clue how long it’ll take the rest of the copies to sell…if at all *gulp*. To make matters slightly more complicated, the turnaround time to obtain new product is a few months. We don’t need to repeat the proofing process, but they do need to be printed, packed, and shipped from China. We have two conventions in May and we’d really like to not show up without product! Of course, in May, I may be remembering this comment and rolling my eyes as we have only sold 300 and are nowhere close to a reprint.

There’s also quite a bit of lead time in hiring artists and graphic designers. I recently spoke to 3 graphic designers for various projects and they were booked for the next 3 months, 3 months, and 6 months. Illustrators of quality also have a similar lead time. We had to book Tiffany Turrill about 3-4 months in advance for Hocus. This means we need to put out feelers now for things we’ll likely do later.

The above task also complements nicely the process of obtaining quotes and identifying components for future products. There is a multiple week turnaround, typically, with manufacturing quotes. Furthermore, as the component list may require several revisions, you don’t want to start this process a week before you wish to begin art development.

Conclusion. Was this of any use to you? Did this align with your typical week (publishers) or your expectations? Any questions? My hope is that this is useful to you, so please provide feedback as it occurs to you. Have a good week!

Et tu, Barbarus?

Post by: Grant Rodiek

It’s Christmas Eve, my house is freezing, it’s raining outside, so I’m going to blog! I’ve been testing a new game that is very exciting to me, as it’s simple and somewhat of a departure from some of my other text-heavy card games. It’s called Barbarus, and in a nutshell, it’s about bribing barbarians and backstabbing. BBB!

I’ve been listening to The History of Rome podcast lately. It’s fantastic and well worth your time if you’re at all interested in Roman history. In the episodes about the Second Punic War, the host mentioned the Battle of the Upper Baetis. What you need to know about this is that the Carthaginian general, Hannibal’s brother, observed that the mercenaries would fight for the highest bidder. He bribed the Roman mercenaries out from under them and at the start of the battle, they left. The Romans lost the battle. Badly.

That seemed like a fantastic premise for a game.

  1. Barbarians of uncertain loyalty
  2. Hidden bribes
  3. Shaky alliances

I like to try to dabble in different mechanisms and genres and often when I start a design, it’s because I haven’t done something in that space. I was thinking about how I haven’t made an auction game, then thought immediately to the brilliant High Society and Modern Art, two of my favorite games which happen to be from Reiner Knizia. I started from there.

In Barbarus, 3-6 players act as Consuls in command of rival City-States. I’m using the Roman setting, but this is all playing fast and loose with history. Every player has an identical set of 14 tokens, each with two variables:

  • Gold
  • Legions

The Gold distribution is: 0 (2x), 1000 (3x), 3000 (2x), 5000 (2x), 10000, 12000, 15000, 20000, 25000. The Legion distribution follows from lowest to highest from 0-3.

Eagle_10

These tokens are used for their gold value to bid for First Consul and Bribe Barbarians. They are used for the Legion value in war. As you use the tokens, they go to a discard pile. Once your bag runs out, you toss your discarded tokens back in, and begin drawing from it again. So, for those familiar with High Society, the tokens are not single-use.

Let’s go through the basic flow of the game. It is played in rounds, with a few phases in order.

Reference

In the first phase, every player draws until they have 6 tokens.

Consul_First

In the second phase, players use their tokens, or pass, to bid for First Consul. The bids continue going around until there is a single player remaining. Every bid has to exceed a prior bid. You cannot make change or exchange tokens previously bid. Players who pass get their tokens back, but the player who claims First Consul discards the tokens spent.

Barbarians_5

In the third phase, the Barbarians enter the picture. Some begin the game in the middle of the table, ready to be bribed, but the First Consul always draws the top Barbarian and adds it to their Army. You’ll notice the Barbarian above has a Legion value of 5. Whereas a player’s tokens only go from 0-3, the Barbarians range from 3-6. You need them to win!

You have some number of Barbarians out, now. If it’s the beginning of the game, you have one in front of the First Consul and a few in the middle of the table. If it’s late in the game, several players will have Barbarians in front of them. Now, beginning to the left of First Consul, each player may Bribe any number of Barbarians using any tokens in their hand. Bribes are stacked and played face down. Remember there are two blanks, which are wonderful for bluffs. Each player may bribe once or pass. First Consul gets the last go.

Now, it’s time for war! The First Consul must choose another Consul to attack, as well as a Province over which to fight. There are essentially two kinds of Provinces: ones that provide many points, and ones that provide fewer points, but a small bonus.

3 Points, but the player draws an extra token each round

3 Points, but the player draws an extra token each round

10 points, but no bonus

10 points, but no bonus

This distinction came about through testing — there needed to be a reason to not just take the highest value (though there were some other subtleties, that’s the summary). So, First Consul says “I’m going to attack Bob for the 5 Province.” There are 3 Provinces to choose from, so once one is selected, it is taken, and another is drawn from the deck.

First Consul and Bob can both try to recruit an ally. This player will give them one token of their choice, which can be used in the fight. Now, the ally can promise great things, then hand them a turd. But, the ally’s incentive is a Triumph, which is worth points at the end.

Triumph

So, we have our war, with a province, and any allies are settled. Now, it’s time to fight. First, we need to see where the Barbarian loyalties lie. The Bids on any Barbarians that belong to either Consul in the fight are revealed. The Barbarians move to the highest bidder. Any Barbarians without bids from the warring Consuls? They stay in place. They’ll be resolved when it’s their time to fight.

With the Barbarians figured out, the First Consul can choose any of their Barbarians and 1 or 2 of their tokens for their Legion value. 1 of those 2 tokens may be an ally’s token. These tokens are played face down, so the attacked Consul doesn’t know exactly what’s coming their way. They may use any of their Barbarians and 1 or 2 tokens as well. Again, one of those two may be their ally’s token.

With everything decided, the tokens are revealed. The side with the highest Legion value (Barbarian + Consul + Ally) wins. The winner, even if they are the defender, claims the Province for their score pile. The Ally of the winner claims a Triumph card for their score pile. And for the loser? They must place one of their tokens used in the war on the Casualty card. At the end of the game, this subtracts 3 points from their score and they cannot use that token any more.

Casualty

It’s key to note — you cannot put your ally’s tokens on the Casualty card. Any Barbarians used by the loser are removed from the game. They have no time for this mess.

That, in a nut shell, is the game. To summarize:

  1. Players replenish their hand of tokens
  2. Players bid for First Consul. First Consul gets a Barbarian, gets last Bribe, and chooses who to fight.
  3. Players Bribe Barbarians.
  4. First Consul declares war and chooses a province to fight over.
  5. The Bribes are revealed and the war is fought.

How the game has developed? The initial test was a bit of a mess. Though well-meaning, there were about 8 different places and reasons to draw tokens and it was super confusing. I simplified this by giving players up to 6 at the start of the round and this greatly fixed things.

Originally, your final score was provinces claimed and the tokens you still had, but this led to a few problems. One, if you lost one of your high value tokens, you were effectively out of the game. Two, it led to a tedious “tally up your score” at the end of the game. Nobody likes that in Ascension, so why do it here? I realized that losing a valuable token is punishment enough, then added a flat tax to losing units.

The Barbarians were originally not much better than your Legions, which meant that spending tokens on Barbarians that might betray you wasn’t a worthwhile risk. So, I greatly increased the Barbarian value. Now, you need to take that risk, which is good as that is the game.

Three player was testing very strongly at this point, so I brought in some folks for a 5 player game. Here, I found a few issues, namely king making and folks feeling like they couldn’t win in that last round. For starters, there used to be 5 fixed provinces, worth a LOT more, and you could steal them from a player. Due to the disparity in their value, it really boiled down to who had the biggest Province last. I did a few things to fix this.

  1. I reduced the value of provinces and tightened the range
  2. I made the Triumphs more valuable
  3. I made it so Provinces couldn’t be stolen
  4. I added a bonus to the lower value provinces to add that choice

But, in a 5-6 player game, I’m worried that there isn’t enough time for other players to get involved. Therefore, I added the Second Consul. This isn’t tested yet, but the idea is that you simply have two Consuls that drive things. You can only bid for First or Second Consul, but once you’re in that contest, you either pay more, or pass, as if there was only one Consul. The First Consul is the only one who gets a Barbarian, which makes their position slightly more valuable. First Consul is the first to declare war and gets first pick of the Province. But, Second Consul also declares war. This means that more Provinces are at stake, there are more ally positions available, and more Triumphs to be won.

Consul_Second

One other thing I found out, which you might have noticed in some mistakes. Originally, the game featured cards for player’s to spend for Bribes and bids. But, they took up so much table space. A friend suggested I use tokens. Of course! There is so little information on them that tokens are perfect. They’ll be satisfying and tactile, you can stack them, and slam them down like coins.

I’m pretty excited by Barbarus at this point. I’m always trying to design games that my group will enjoy, as that leads to easier testing, and a game with bribing and backstabbing is, well, up their alley.

If you’re curious about Barbarus, you can read the rules (and comment on them) here. I’m not ready to share the PNP, in that it would be me saying “this game is worth your time!” but if you’re really curious, I do have a PNP. Email me at grant@hyperbolegames.com.

Merry Christmas folks.

2015 Annual Report

Post by: Grant Rodiek (with help from Joshua Buergel)

I’ve always really enjoyed reading the Annual Reports from Steve Jackson Games. In a blatant copycat effort, I’m sharing a similar style report right here, right now for Hyperbole Games LLC to cover the efforts of 2015 and the plans for 2016.

Currently, Hyperbole Games LLC is solely owned by me, Grant Rodiek, though that might change at some point, which I’ll go into greater detail below.

This report will cover:

  • General Statement of Purpose
  • 2015 Operations, primarily focused on the development, Kickstarter, and fulfillment of Hocus
  • 2016 Business Opportunities
  • 2016 Products
  • Partners of Note
  • Partnership discussions

If you have any questions about these contents, or have questions about other topics, don’t hesitate to ask. You can always reach out to me at grant@hyperbolegames.com.

General Statement of Purpose

Hyperbole Games LLC exists as a way for me to play at business owner in a hobby I love. I’ve spent a decade working on video games for a great company. However, Hyperbole exists so that I can create my own games, on my own terms, using my own methods.

I see Hyperbole Games evolving in a few phases. Phase 1, which is where we’re currently at, is about learning about manufacturing, learning about board game marketing, learning about convention support, learning about basic business practices (accounting, management, etc.), building a brand, and generally working towards a fiscally reasonable state.

On that last point, I don’t expect to be rolling in dough, but I would like to get better at managing budgets, develop a pattern of direct pre-order sales, and work towards making this hobby self-sustained.

Phase 2, which I see as 3 to 5 years out, is about Hyperbole Games growing up. Phase 2 is defined by having a catalog with 4 or more games, participating in more significant conventions (as in, it makes financial sense to do so), considering submissions from other designers, having at least one evergreen title, working with international partners for our titles for localized versions, and not using crowdfunding for titles.

In fact, I’d like to expedite this last item, crowdfunding, to Phase 1 if possible. There will be an experiment on this front for Farmageddon 2nd Edition in 2016. But, for now, Kickstarter is too good at building awareness and generating direct sales before entering distribution. I’ll talk more about Kickstarter specifically below.

I see Phase 2 coming to a close 5 years after it begins, which means in 10 years, the company might enter Phase 3. What’s Phase 3? I don’t quite know yet, but it basically means Hyperbole Games LLC is a real thing, with a handful of well-respected titles, and maybe it’s a thing that may evolve into more than a hobby. But, that’s very far away.

So, in conclusion, Hyperbole Games LLC is a corporate entity built by a passion for my own creative outlet and a proving ground for my ability to run a business without a massive corporate infrastructure to protect me. Gulp.

2015 Operations

This year was split into two fairly distinct phases. The first half of the year was defined by final development on Hocus, primarily balance and tuning, as the core mechanisms were finalized in November 2014. We conducted a fairly extensive, for our current reach, blind testing program, and invested about $500 to mail copies to folks in the US, Canada, and a few in Europe. This paid off with a game that we feel is well refined and tested. When you’re designing a game with asymmetric cards, you need to invest the time to hammer out every stupid inconsistency and ill conceived power combination.

We also spent the early half of the year overseeing Hocus’s illustration development with the wonderful Tiffany Turill and graphic design with the fantastic Adam McIver. They were absolutely the right partners who completely nailed their tasks.

When not working on art, we were furiously preparing for our Kickstarter campaign. This effort included copy editing, creating and revising videos, debating pricing, triple-checking costs, and investigating various fulfillment solutions. We spent almost 6 months preparing for our Kickstarter, and the benefits were clear to us during the campaign. We see a lot of peers fretting their launches, sweating during the campaign, and feeling overwhelmed. Perhaps we’re fools, or our campaign isn’t big enough to warrant the fretting, but Josh and I felt quite relaxed during the entire campaign.

“Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics.” We found that quote to be rather true for us.

It would be inaccurate to omit mention of “Tuckbox Gate,” before the campaign. We’ve always been big proponents of open, transparent development, and this is a case where we were really saved by doing so. We announced we weren’t doing Stretch Goals a few weeks before our campaign, but also that we would have a tuck box. Folks, uh, got angry. We reviewed the numbers and made the decision to re-work the graphic design and go with a two piece box. We admitted fault and folks seemed to appreciate it. Had we stumbled through this mid-campaign, it would have been much uglier. I always like supporting businesses who are open to feedback and responsive to customers. I’m glad we can say we did the same thing.

But, during the campaign, nothing weird popped up, we didn’t have a PR goof, and really, our audience was rather quiet. Folks showed up to back and seemed content with our lack of Stretch Goals and product offering. Phew!

  • You can see our Kickstarter page for Hocus here.
  • You can read our extensive Kickstarter post-mortem here.

About two weeks after the end of our campaign for Hocus, and what felt like a thousand re-reads of the Hocus rules and cards, we submitted our digital files to Panda GM. We quickly moved through the process of digital proofs, the first physical copy, and then the mass manufacturing copy. Thankfully, no hiccups were found! We love Hocus, which is first and foremost why it’s the first game, but, it’s also a dead simple product. Box, 101 cards, rules. Done. I highly recommend new publishers make their foray into games with a similarly simple product.

Last Thursday, December 10, 3663 copies of Hocus, packed into 75 boxes, and weighing about 2100 pounds, arrived at my doorstep. I had 6 friends arrive to help me unload and before long we filled our guest bedroom in the garage, aka the warehouse. I spent this past weekend and every free night so far packing copies of the game and custom wooden tokens into mailers. Meanwhile, Josh, up in Seattle, is using his expertise as a software engineer to code a solution for us to quickly print labels. With over 1600 backers, this is no small feat!

Josh prints the labels, ships them to me, then I apply them to eagerly awaiting packaging. I then take them to various places to drop them off. We’re fulfilling Hocus about 2 months early. At the time of this writing, we’re not yet finished, but we should be finished before the end of 2016. Sadly, due to holiday hours, and length of travel for some copies, we probably won’t have every copy in every backer’s hands before Christmas, but we’re doing our best.

I’m very pleased with our fulfillment solution. Yes, it requires labor from us, time we could arguably spend doing other things, but honestly, there is no other way of us to reduce our costs by so much. It is also a great way to learn how the nuts and bolts work. If we use a different solution in the future, we’ll do so from a better foundation of knowledge to make an informed solution of what it costs and the labor involved.

Now, this solution isn’t for everyone. For one, I benefit from the space in my garage to do this and a handful of personal relationships that make depositing a few hundred boxes off at a time “no big deal.” Hocus is a very tiny and simple game — we couldn’t fulfill Tail Feathers by hand! Finally, although we’re thrilled by our pre-order of about 1700 copies, that’s small potatoes for other folks. If Hocus hit 2500, or 3000, we might have needed to reconsider our fulfillment solution.

For now, I appreciate the savings, which can be put into a reprint (fingers crossed), new titles, and other expenses.

Hocus, so far, has far exceeded our expectations. We had over 1000 downloads of the print and play via BGG, over 1600 backers, and sold over 1700 copies to date. Today I shipped over 1000 copies to our distributor and they should be appearing in retail in early 2016. This next phase is the part about which we know the least — marketing. We need to continue building momentum and plan to promote the game with reviews and ads in early 2016. We’ll also be participating in conventions, which I’ll detail below. But, we still need to make Hocus a success and hit the button on a re-print…how to do that exactly is something we’ll need to figure out.

We may do a post-mortem for the second half of our Hocus Kickstarter journey, but some high level notes include:

Avoid add-ons. These were the main point of confusion for our campaign, though they didn’t cause too much confusion, but definitely the main point of headache. I had to email, re-email, and message folks who insisted they wanted a thing, yet never paid for it. It took a lot of time, led to a lot of weird sorting, and ultimately, didn’t add that much revenue to the project.

Bake add ons into pledge levels. Were we to do Hocus now, I’d have the following pledge levels:

  1. Buy one copy
  2. Buy one copy + box
  3. Buy 2 copies
  4. Buy 3 copies

Done. Or, some variation of that. Folks who have special requests, and they always exist, will contact me for variations and we’ll work things out.

The other side effect of our add-ons not baked into backer levels is that we had to run our surveys early to get a final tally for the volume of add ons. Put simply, backers can be shockingly terrible at entering their address and updating it as needed. The UX on Kickstarter is actually incredibly simple and well done for this, but many folks either don’t do it, get lost, or don’t care. Now, would it be better if we had a condensed time to gather addresses? I’m not sure. Every time I reminded folks over the course of months, dozens of people would change their address. Who knows!

Basically, we’ll modify our backer levels in the future to make it easier for ourselves and our backers.

2016 Business Opportunities

In 2016 we will have our hands full. Our primary responsibility is supporting Hocus customers on BGG and wherever they have questions or input, as well as keeping Hocus in stock with our distributor and for direct sales.

Secondly, we need to improve our web presence. The Hyperbole Games website is reaching a point where it’s no longer meeting the needs of the business and needs to be promoted in a few key ways.

  • It needs to be easier for folks to join the newsletter.
  • Key articles need to be surfaced better and made more attractive.
  • Key products need to be surfaced better and made more attractive.
  • It needs to be easier for customers to contact us for support.
  • Tools, like how to play videos and FAQs, need to be surfaced better.
  • It needs to be easier and more attractive for customers to buy games.

Over 3 years ago when I had HyperboleGames.com built, I didn’t have products to sell, a newsletter to join, and it was mostly a blog. The needs of the site have evolved past its current capabilities and I need to fix this. If you are a web designer, or know someone who is, email me at grant@hyperbolegames.com. I have work for you!

We’ll be trying out conventions for the first time. Yes, we attended TwitchCon in September of 2015, but we didn’t have product to offer. Now, it’s a different ball game. Currently, we are confirmed for KublaCon (Bay Area), Geekway to the West (Missouri), and are investigating a few others, such as the Alternate Press Expo (San Jose), various craft fairs, and perhaps Strategicon (Los Angeles). We’re trying to focus on conventions that don’t cost us too much, but allow us to build that 1 on 1 presence with customers. It’s so important!

Ultimately, I have a full time job and a wife who isn’t into board games, so I need to balance things. Josh has a full time job and THREE KIDS (dear god), as well as a wife who would like to see him occasionally. Conventions can eat up a lot of time, so we have to spend our bullets well.

I’m very intent to develop an international partnership for Hocus, but this is something I don’t know about. I’ll need to reach out to folks and learn the hard way. Hopefully, success domestically greases the wheels for us, but this is new territory.

Revenue for Hyperbole Games LLC will be coming in from a few sources next year, including Hocus, Farmageddon published by Trefl Krakow for European territories, and Cry Havoc published by Portal Games for worldwide release. My designer contracts for these two games are with Hyperbole LLC — they are NOT co-publications. Cash coming into the company will be nice, because as the company is still new, there are so many things to spend it on.

2016 Products

The first new product of 2016 will be an old product with a new spring in its step: Farmageddon 2nd Edition. This product will be for North America only, as Trefl Krakow has the European rights. The game will be manufactured out of pocket and will not go through crowdfunding for a few reasons.

Firstly, this feels like a good, safe bet to experiment with direct pre-orders. This means no 10% cut given to Kickstarter, nor do we have to invest significant amounts of time preparing for a Kickstarter campaign. Secondly, I don’t want to anger European backers to whom I cannot sell the game. It’s a legitimate reason, sure, but these things can be tough to explain. Thirdly, I don’t want to run afoul of folks who backed the game from 5th Street Games and still have bad blood. It’s not my fault, at all, but that can be a very tough and emotionally charged discussion to have that I’d rather sidestep.

Farmageddon 2nd Edition is deep into testing now. The game will feature the beloved illustrations of Brett Bean and Erin Fusco, but with a completely overhauled graphic design for the box, cards, and rules. Farmageddon will be more beautiful and functional than ever.

The game will feature re-written rules improved for clarity and with new diagrams to ease learning. The game will also have a how to play video for folks who don’t like reading rules. There are a few minor rules tweaks to improve the game, but the majority of the improvements will be seen in the Farmer cards and FrankenCrops. Overall, the cards have been tweaked for cleaner, more effective writing and keywords. But, all the cards that led to questions, were prone to edge cases, or were just trite, take-that cliches have been replaced, re-imagined,and improved. The result is a game that is more fun, easier to learn, deeper, and better at making you smile.

We’re investigating promo cards and custom wooden tokens for pre-order folks. We expect the pre-order to go live in late spring once the game is on the boat.

If you’re curious why Farmageddon, well, it’s because folks are asking for it. Fans, distributors…there seems to be demand for the game. Adding a second game to the catalog, and one that I love dearly, is too good of an opportunity to miss. We’ll see how it goes. If Farmageddon is successful, there is an expansion almost ready to go, which means we can support this product line relatively easily (compared to starting from scratch elsewhere).

Folks may be curious about Hocus expansions. Currently, no such expansions are in the works. We figure it’ll make sense to release a Hocus expansion if/when we have about 10,000 copies sold and in the market. If we’re lucky, 20% of folks will buy an expansion, which means a minimum printing of about 2,000 requires a larger audience. That could take a few years, which is fine by us. We’ve been grinding on Hocus for almost 2 years now and a little break will be good for our creativity. We have a lot of ideas for Hocus expansions, including delving into drafting or a focused 2 player experience, but it’s a ways away.

We have two completely new titles at the top of the heap for our 2016/2017 schedule. The first, and most important, is Project Cow Tools. This is a collaborative design between me and Josh. We began poking at this idea a few months ago while waiting for Hocus to arrive from China. The game is early — we haven’t even prototyped it yet! But, there are some neat ideas we’re trying to get on paper. The elevator pitch for the game is that it’s a “social war game,” in that it plays with many players, relatively quickly, and revolves around teamwork and poor communication. The code name “Cow Tools” is inspired by a famous Far Side strip that we think exemplifies the experience perfectly. This game will be bigger in that it’ll have probably 150 cards and some tokens. We’re trying to be very cautious of the price point of every game we make, as new publishers should be careful about asking uncertain customers for heaps of money. At least, that’s what I think. Naturally, we’ll watch how the game evolves. You shouldn’t design a product based on a price point either as you might strangle its potential. It’s a tiny needle to thread.

The next game is one designed by me. It’s a passion project that I’d love to succeed. Project Gaia is a 2 player, 54 card game with deck construction (or drafting) and some tile manipulation. By deck construction, I don’t mean deck building, like Dominion or Star Realms, but building a deck before the game like Magic or Netrunner. But, this isn’t a CCG — it just has that experience that I love packed in. Project Gaia is also interesting because it’s small and has a low footprint. Depending on its cost, this might be another game that Hyperbole can fund without using crowdfunding, though again, the marketing impact cannot be overlooked. 

There are other potential games, including a few by Josh. One in particular, I Expect you to Die, is also a 54 card game with a very compelling drafting element. This game and Gaia might pair well together. We’ll need to see how testing reports emerge and what interests us.

Partners of Note

This business is built around a lot of very important partnerships, and I’d like to take a moment to provide a shout out for folks who have helped Hyperbole.

Tiffany Turrill is a phenomenal talent and a joy to work with. I’m so happy we hired her for the Hocus illustrations. I want to hire her again as soon as possible.

Adam McIver did a phenomenal job with our graphic design. He’s a rare character in that he has the heart of an illustrator but the craft of a graphic designer. It’s a strong combination.

We used Drive Thru Cards extensively to send out prototype and review copies. Their service was consistent, their cards are great, and they always worked hard to help us out as customers. We will continue using them for card prototyping.

Peter Wocken helped us in a pinch for some BGG ads that came out fantastically. This was my first time working with Peter and I really enjoyed it. I plan to bug him again.

Panda GM manufactured Hocus and, barring anything nutty, will be hired again to manufacture Farmageddon 2nd Edition. Working with Brent, Ben, and Darrell was fantastic. I was emailing Brent a year before we pulled the trigger on Hocus and he always took me seriously and was incredibly helpful. I’m so happy we chose them to manufacture Hocus.

We had some great support from members of the press and I want to thank them. Jonathan Cox of JonGetsGames made an absolutely wonderful video explaining Hocus before our Kickstarter campaign. I’ve been a longtime reader of ISlaytheDragon and peer of the folks involved for a few years now, so I was delighted when Jonathan Schindler took the time to preview our game. To continue this round of Jonathans, Jonathan Liu of Geek Dad, an excellent blog, also took time out of his schedule to preview Hocus. Without this, we might not have ever launched so well.

Tiffany Caires, previously Tiffany Ralph, went out of her way showing Hocus to people at conventions. This was a truly awesome piece of evangelism that really helped. Finally, Donald Dennis and Stephanie Straw had us on On Board Games to discuss the game. They have a packed schedule and I appreciate them making time for us. Oh, and Who, What, Why interviewed us much earlier in the year. That was a lot of fun.

We have a lot of projects planned for 2016, so I look forward to meeting new partners, getting the band back together with old ones, and continuing to build relationships with great folks in this industry. If I failed to mention you above, uh, remind me and forgive me. I’ve been packing boxes every night for a few days now.

Partnership Discussions

You may have noticed I failed to mention one pretty important partner above – Joshua Buergel. Josh is the co-designer of Hocus and really, co-publisher. I’m stuffing copies in the warehouse, he’s hunched over his keyboard figuring out code solutions for labels. I’m editing KS copy, he’s figuring out tariff arrangements for international solutions.

So, we were equal partners on Hocus, though I tossed in a veto once or twice, which still feels like a little bit of a failure on my part. Yes, decisions have to be made, but I’d prefer a compromise. But, where does that partnership go beyond Hocus? Project Cow Tools is an obvious arrangement. But, Farmageddon 2nd Edition? Project Gaia? Just day to day crap?

If you listen to the Start Up Podcast, and you should, one of the first episodes is about Alex Blumberg, the founder, trying to figure out what of his company he should share with his soon to be co-founder.  He goes back and forth, they have awkward conversations, he offers his potential co-founder a garbage, lowball offer, and ultimately, comes around to more or less share the company.

This is basically where we are right now. Put simply, Josh wants in. He’s gone through the interview process. He aced it. But, and I’m not saying this is rational, I’m having some trouble relinquishing everything. I’ve been blogging about games for about 5 years now and participating on Twitter building my brand and follower count. Next year, two of my other designs will be generating revenue for the company. Games I’ve spent years on. I founded it, been paying the taxes, and handling all the weird administrative problems.

Plus, I like my veto. Being the owner of a business means you are the dictator. It’s nice.

I’m married, which means I need to compromise and share. I’m employed by a large corporation, which means I need to complete my tasks and take instruction. But, at Hyperbole, if I want to charge forth and make a particular game…I want to be able to do that. Final say on an artist? I want that too. I’m willing to pay for it and take the heat. I started the company to create the things I want to create.

I need to make a decision though. This is an important decision, one that’s tough to dial back. I need to figure out exactly what it is I want and need so that I can better share the stakes and responsibility with Josh. Regardless, Josh is involved now and will be in 2016.

In Conclusion

At 4000 words I think we’ve gone too far. I hope this was an interesting insight for you and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to email me at grant@hyperbolegames.com.

2015 Games of the Year

Post by: Grant Rodiek

This blog has never been a review site, though I’ve written a few reviews about games and commented on some in a way that can only be read as a wholehearted endorsement. Never the less, the biggest part of my involvement in this hobby is playing games. It’s how I learn the most about being a designer! I love looking back on my favorite experiences of the year and sharing them.

2015Plays

Page 1 of my plays for the entire year.

So, here are my games of the year for 2015. I have a few ground rules that may make this exercise different for me.

  • I don’t constrain this exercise to games released in 2015.
  • I DO constrain it to games that were new to ME in 2015. Mostly.
  • I break things into categories. Otherwise I have to pick just one and that’s super hard, man.
  • I’m going to limit games to one category, even though they might quality for others.
  • I think that’s it.

Let’s get to it!

StrategyBanner

Games I considered for this category tend to be Euro style games that favor critical thinking and strategy before other elements. These also tend to be heavier games that take more than 30 minutes, so they aren’t really lunch games.

The games I considered for this category include:

  • The Gallerist (1 Play)
  • The Castles of Mad King Ludwig (2 Plays…though I swear I have a few more)
  • Caverna: The Cave Farmers (4 Plays)
  • Clash of Cultures plus plus the Civilizations expansion (4 plays)

You’ll notice that these games didn’t get that many plays, though I think that’s reasonable as they are all games that, except for Ludwig, take 2-3 hours. I must disqualify The Gallerist from taking this award. I think it’s excellent, but I’ve only played it once and I don’t think it’s possible for me to fully evaluate it after only one play. It may show up in next year’s list if I play it more and continue to love it.

I find Castles of Mad King Ludwig to be exceptionally fun and charming as all get out, but it doesn’t quite thrill me like the other two.

Clash of Cultures really stands out for it’s delightful production values, randomly unfolding map, and events that add spice to the equation. I love the broad tech tree and how beautifully the Civilizations expansion guides you without shoehorning you in or adding undue complexity.

Caverna really surprised me. About 3 years ago I played Agricola and I just didn’t like it. I hated receiving a massive hand of unique cards. It was overwhelming. I didn’t care for the bizarre scoring system and frustrating feeding back pressure. I feel like Caverna fixes this for me. There are many rooms I can buy, but none at the beginning, so I can ease into the 3 or 4 I buy as I go and my strategy unfolds. Scoring is quite simple. Basically, everything gives you a point and only a few things remove them. Feeding is a good back pressure now that I feel can be solved in a variety of ways. Finally, in all 4 plays, every one of us has done something very different.

I give the nod to Caverna for its quickly paced gameplay and wildly divergent paths. I want to continue playing it and Clash of Cultures during 2016. I love them both.

Strategy Game of the Year: Caverna: The Cave Farmers

LightFare

Games I considered for this category are fillers, party games, and generally, simple games that you can put in front of anyone in almost any situations.

The games I considered for this category include:

  • Codenames (49 Plays)
  • Qwixx (26 Plays)
  • Pairs (23 Plays)
  • Tides of Time (10 Plays)
  • Welcome to the Dungeon (6 Plays)

Qwixx is a game I absolutely love. We found ourselves breaking it out in all sorts of crazy situations at work or game nights. In fact, we’ve burned through the entire set of score cards and I’m tempted to buy a second copy for $8 at Target so I don’t have to print a bunch. Wonderful game.

Pairs is amusing, and we played it a ton, but I just think it lacks the depth or staying power of the others on this list. I think it’s worth the $10 I paid, and the deck is beautiful, but there’s only so much going on here.

Welcome to the Dungeon is hilarious and I love how the rounds progress. It’s a great push your luck and social experiment and I love watching new strategies evolve.

Tides of Time is probably the best “micro game” I’ve played. The game gives you 18 cards for a tight game of 2 player drafting. I was working on a 2 player game last year and though I’ve set it aside, I’m a little delighted to see I came up with the same solution to 2 player drafting as this designer did: remove some cards from the pool. Tides is tense, quick, rewards paying attention and taking some gambles. I really like it.

But, this category belongs to Codenames. I love Codenames. I’ve played it with my game group, my mother, my uncles and brother, my co-workers, and none of us have ever had a bad game. There is so much strategy, laughter, cleverness, and moments that are packed into this. I guarantee if we sit down to play I’m going to tell you about the time I gave a 5 word clue for Monuments and my team guessed every one. And everyone has a story about how they were 6 clues behind, then win because the other team guesses the black card for an instant loss. I love Codenames. It’s just brilliant.

Light Fare of the Year: Codenames

Thematic

Games I considered for this category are very thematic and evoke great stories and moments. These are games full of flavor, interesting decisions built around a story, and games that capture my imagination.

The games I considered for this category include:

  • Merchants and Marauders plus Sails of Glory Expansion (5 plays)
  • Space Hulk 3rd Edition (2 Plays)
  • Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective (4 plays, though sometimes this meant HOURS of pacing in my backyard)

This is a very tough category for me. I was very strict on the games I put here, which was tough, but essential. These are three games I love.

Space Hulk is just a masterpiece. The game is gorgeous, though assembly is an absolute pain. I’ve played my friend’s copy twice. My copy is punched and about 20% assembled. I hate building miniatures. This game is ridiculously simple for how much flavor it packs in. Your marines have tons of different weapons, yet remembering them is easy. The tracking blip mechanism evokes the best moments of Aliens and is such a great surprise. The game is desperate, tense, and just a joy. I don’t know exactly why the Space Marine player must act in real time, but I love that he does. Brilliant. Worth every penny.

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is a genius story that you get to play. It’s the best choose your own adventure you’ve ever played. I’ve played this in my backyard with my dog pacing around with me. I’ve played it on an airplane with a Dutch dude who was also engrossed in deciphering the red herrings. I’ve played with friends while we swirl wine and pace about. I’ve played at work on white boards. This game is brutal, and fun, and brilliant. It won the Spiel des Jahres so long ago, yet remains relevant and fresh to this day.

Then, you have Merchants and Marauders. This is a game I avoided for a long time. It looked too complicated, took too long. Sometime last year I made the decision to start playing longer games and just prioritize them. We did this with Merchants and Marauders and truly dug in. I can see where people think it’s too random…if they’ve only played once. But, as you play, you learn to mitigate the concerns of weather, French naval ships, pirates, and the whims of your opponents. The game is full of so many things, yet every individual component is so simple. You can be a merchant, a pirate, a privateer, anything. The expansion is even better and enriches and tightens every aspect further.

I’m very torn. I struggle to choose between Sherlock and Merchants, but in the end, Merchants has given me the best stories. Merchants has broken my heart, as I detailed in this blog post here. Few games have affected me in this way, so Merchants and Marauders is my winner.

Thematic Game of the Year: Merchants and Marauders plus Sails of Glory expansion.

disappointments

I debated covering this category, but there are a handful of games that really missed the mark for me. This list isn’t games I think were bad, but games for which I had very high hopes and really missed the mark.

The top of this list belongs to XCom (2 plays). This is probably one of my favorite video games of all time. I really wanted a good board game and felt the license was a perfect fit. Unfortunately. I felt very little agency while playing. The app feels like an Event deck spitting out chaos in real time. As an experience, I can see the appeal, but as a strategy game, it completely fell flat for me. I just didn’t see the point in playing it.

Epic (3 plays) also fell flat. I love Star Realms and eagerly buy everything that’s sold for it. I jump in to play about 50 games in the app every few months and never really tire of the experience. Epic, as pitched, sounded fantastic. Take Magic the Gathering, speed it up, simplify it, and boom. Epic, as played, is just…absurd. The game is actually fairly complex and has many of the mechanisms that come with Magic, though they have a new name, which causes some dissonance. The pre-made decks are just silly. I have no clue how Blue can lose as it steals entire armies, cancels any card play, and is just ridiculous. I won some games on turn 2 because I drew a ridiculous creature and just won.

Onward to Venus (1 play) also annoyed me. This is a really neat simple game about marshaling forces in this Victorian, Steam punk, science fiction setting. You’re trying to take over planets and avoid the chaos caused by crises and events. Unfortunately, the crises are tuned to never happen. Imagine if in Robinson Crusoe, bad things are always hinted at, but never occur. It removes the tension and the fun. Well, in Onward to Venus, the game has this really cool system that has been tuned to never occur. Beautiful art and a neat setting cannot fix what is basically an efficiency game with no bite.

Other games missed the mark for me, but these three more than any others broke my little, sad, nerd heart. Did any games break your heart?

Games I own but haven’t played but I think they might be fantastic

Yes, I’m stalling, but some of these are key to mention. This is a separate list I’ve kept because some of these games could have been in contention for another category. Some games were on this list just a few weeks ago and they didn’t make it to any list. For example, I think TIME Stories is good, but not good enough. I finally played The Gallerist, and it is in contention, but one play isn’t enough for it to win. However, there are still a few games I own, but haven’t played, but they are worth mentioning.

  • Captains of Industry: I LOVE City Hall. So much. I have little doubt Captains of Industry will be a wonderful game.
  • Flick ’em Up: My brother bought me this beautiful production for my birthday, but I just haven’t had a chance to read the rules and bring it to the table. A shame.
  • Ambush! Joshua Buergel bought me this legendary out of print classic for my birthday and I’ve had a very busy fall. This one needs serious attention and time.
  • Stronghold 2nd Edition: This is a game I’ve wanted to play for years, but its reputation scared me away. 2nd Edition is beautiful and based on the rules looks incredibly engrossing. I cannot wait to try it.
  • Broom Service: We learned Wie Verhext! this year and it’s brilliant. A new game, built around the same mechanism, has to be wonderful. I want to buy this one quite badly.

What are your games that you want to play but haven’t?

GameBanner

This is my favorite category. It’s relatively easy to decide if you simply look at my list of plays. My games of the year are filled with games that I love. Games that grab my mind and never let go. Games about which I’m thinking constantly. Games I considered for this include:

  • Android: Netrunner (59 Plays). Not new, but this year was filled with new content.
  • Carcassonne (44 physical plays and hundreds via iOS)
  • Pandemic: Legacy (18 Plays)

Pandemic: Legacy should be on most people’s game of the year short list. The game is fun, surprising, unique, and so lovingly developed. Pandemic is such a great platform for the game, and the steady stream of new challenges, new wrinkles, new rewards, and new triumphs is just a delight. We had 3 marathon game days where we played 5, 6, and 3 games, as well as a few games over lunch. We had a blast every time and just loved it. But, Pandemic: Legacy is not something I’ll play again. It’ll remain wonderfully in my memory, but it won’t continue to affect me. Therefore, I’m not sure I can call it my game of the year. But, this is a 10 out of 10. I’m so glad we played it.

Android: Netrunner arguably shouldn’t be on this list, but then again, it’s my most played game of the year and I bought every piece of content released for it. I love this game and the experiences it provides me. I love contemplating decks and sorting new data packs. I love tweaking decks that need some love. I love barely winning, or barely losing, and discussing every move and counter play during the game. I’m obsessed with Netrunner and think about it constantly. I even attended my first tournament at the start of the year, which I wrote about here. I love this game, and were it not for Carcassonne, it would be my game of the year.

But, that honor belongs to Carcassonne. This is a “classic” game that is one that should be in every collection. It’s 15 years old now and won the Spiel des Jahres in 2001, but like all brilliant games, I feel it’s timeless. I played the game for the first time this year, which may seem strange, but, hey, it takes time to get to everything. Carcassonne inspires me so much. It’s simple, but there is so much room for skillful play. I love how mean it can be and the joy of drawing that one tile you desperately need. Even better, it has some utterly fantastic expansions that enrich the game further. I’ve played Carcassonne constantly since I learned it and I just don’t tire of it. I think of it constantly, and of designs that I can create from its idea. It’s such a good game and one that I look forward to playing with my family for years to come.

2015 Game of the Year: Carcassonne

Thanks for reading. What were your favorite games?

Farmageddon 2nd Edition Dev Update

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Post by: Grant Rodiek

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have picked up on this by now, but Farmageddon 2nd Edition is in development for publication by Hyperbole Games in 2016. The European rights for the game were licensed to Trefl Krakow in 2015. It was incredibly thrilling to work with them on the development, largely due to their enthusiasm for the title, but also, to be working with these old friends again.

I cannot really explain it, but I just adore Farmageddon. I love the characters, the art, and I’m proud of the game. But, it was designed in 2011 and since then I’ve become a far superior designer. My craft is far more refined. I decided a short while ago that I wanted to publish a Farmageddon 2nd Edition for Hyperbole Games. I want to release the best version of the game.

This post is to discuss some of the proposed changes and where the game is currently at in development. However, at the outset, I’d love to define what you can expect from Farmageddon 2nd Edition at a high level.

  • Sturdy 2 piece box, 108 high quality linen cards, glossy folded rule sheet. The game’s components will be almost identical to those of Hocus.
  • Improved gameplay, included a few rule tweaks and vastly improved cards, primarily in text quality and creating more interesting decisions.
  • Overhauled graphic design. The illustrations will be the same, but there will be new card backs, new box layout, new rules layout, icons to make cards more legible, and a revised, improved card layout. It’ll look better than ever.
  • $15 MSRP
  • Some wooden bonus components for those customers and retailers who order directly from Hyperbole Games
  • No Kickstarter. This game will be entirely self-financed. We’ll host a short pre-order once the game is on the boat, then it’ll go into distribution. This is a risk for the company and I’m pretty excited to take a whack at it.

Now, let’s get into some of the specific changes. Firstly, let’s discuss modifications to the core rules.

  • Three Farmer Actions up from two Farmer Actions. This gives players more flexibility and combinations. However, players still only draw two Farmer cards (previously Action cards). Therefore, managing these is more important than ever.
  • Mixing FrankenCrops into the Crop deck. Previously there were 60 plain Crops, then 10 FrankenCrops — one of each. Now, there are 40 plain Crops and 20 FrankenCrops. Still 10 unique cards, but there are 2 of each.
  • Making FrankenCrops cost an Action. This was tested and removed. It just didn’t work with how the FrankenCrops were designed and it removed some of the fun of getting a FrankenCrop. This idea is dead.
  • I experimented with putting reminder icons on the Farmer cards. Little icons that would indicate key ideas like “this card is for theft,” or “this card gives you more cards,” or “this card protects cards.” The issue is that it doesn’t really help. It mostly just adds more junk to the card. Noble idea, but it doesn’t quite work. This idea is dead.
  • No unique rules for 2 player games. I used to have a few custom rules for the 2 player game. These rules were implemented back when the game was on The Game Crafter, back when the cards were VERY different. The result was that 2 player games were incredibly tense…or absolute blow outs. The rules directly led to this by curtailing the number of Farmer cards drawn. Now, the game is the same and it allows for a simpler rule set and a superior experience.
  • Variable starting Crop cards. The player who goes first has a slight advantage in that they will have a higher probability of more Crop cards over the course of the game. To offset this, the first and 2nd player begin with fewer Crop cards.
  • Better key words. This is something that drives me batty about the original game. I was very inconsistent with my terminology. Now, I’m consistently using Destroy, Discard, and Harvest to guide players.
  • Switching the “must fertilize once” rule to “do one crop action rule.” The idea was to simplify this. However, if players don’t fertilize, it removes a key risk element from the game. The game immediately improved a full letter grade when I reverted this change. This idea is dead.
  • Crop, FrankenCrop, and Farmer cards have a simple icon on them to tell you “hey, this is a card of this type.” It makes referencing cards in rules far simpler. This was a minor confusion for some players in the old version I sought to address.

Now, let’s talk about how some of the specific Farmer cards are changing. This is the meat of the work before me.

Other than improving the wording, these Farmer cards haven’t changed.

  • Bumper Crop
  • Crop Insurance
  • Crop Rotation
  • Dust Bowl
  • Pesticide
  • Rented Land
  • Thresher

The Farmer cards below haven’t changed in end result, but the specifics of their execution has.

  • Foreclosure: This used to have a weird amount of math – pay crop cards equal to half the crop’s fertilizer value rounded down. It was just over balanced and complex. Now, you always pay 2 Crop cards. This means you pay the most with Wary Squash or Grumpy Melon, and you overpay a little on Sassy Wheat and Sluggo Corn. It’s simpler and just much better.
  • Foul Manure: This used to be really complex. You could only get rid of it with Dust Bowl, and no actions could target it, and you couldn’t harvest or fertilize, but anyone could discard 2 cards to get rid of it…wow. Now, it makes you card immune to Farmer cards. That’s the key goal. But, the fertilizer cost of your crop goes up by 2. So, you can protect your crop…but it costs more. Or, you can slow down an opponent. Exact same end result, but MUCH simpler.
  • Genetic Superworm: This used to be just like Foreclosure in that you had to halve the fertilizer amount. Yuck. Now, it simply reduces the fertilizer amount by 2. Sassy Wheat and Sluggo are free then, Melon and Squash cost 1 and 2 to harvest. Same result, much simpler.

Now, the Farmer cards below here still have the same intent, but their functionality has changed a little bit.

  • Darn Gophers: This used to be “steal 1 Fertilizer from any planted Crop.” Now, it’s “steal 1 card from any planted Crop.” Want to steal a Fertilizer? Take it. Want to get that Bumper Crop or Pesticide off of there? Take that instead. It makes it a much more interesting card.
  • Farm Futures: This used to be “draw 2 crop cards or steal a random card from an opponent.” Stealing a card, like skip a turn, is a take-that cliche. Needs to go. It also is weird as the cards have distinct back, so “steal random” isn’t that random and it leads to questions. Now, you can draw 2 or put the card in your harvest pile. If you do this, it foregoes immediate benefit, but you’ll get $1 for every Crop in your pile. I know this will need balance testing, but the idea is that the card incents you to harvest more lower value crops instead of simply high value ones. Curious to see how this changes things!

I’ve modified the distribution of some cards. I made it so that Darn Gophers and Farm Futures have 4 cards in the deck instead of 5. This is to curtail their new power. I increased the number of Pesticides and Rented Land from 3 to 4. Rented Land is a great card that eases the frustration of not being able to plant. Having more Pesticides hinders the potency of Farm Futures and combos nicely with Darn Gophers’ new power.

Finally, let’s talk about FrankenCrops. Many of these cards were zany and wonky. By and large they worked really well, but they caused a lot of strange edge cases and could be confusing. I really wanted to scrub these and really improve them.

Some of these cards didn’t need to change at all, including:

  • Bodacious Broccoli
  • Zippy Carrot
  • Riled Rice
  • Jazzy Coffee Bean
  • Flame Fruit
  • Communal Pumpkin

However, a few of the others ones really needed a face lift.

  • Zombo-Weed: This card used to clear all the fertilizer off fields in the game. It rarely triggered in a meaningful way. Now, it can kill any Crop. However, you give the Zombo-Weed to the victim. I think it’s more zombie like now as well!
  • Stinky Truffle: This card used to let you sort through the Crop discard pile and, yuck. I hate cards that do that. Now, you simply get the top card. If you’re really paying attention, you can time this to get a really sweet card on top. Simpler with a similar result.
  • Helpful Tater: Previously, this gave you $4 if you used it as Fertilizer. So…obviously everyone did that. It was an obvious play, and obvious plays are boring. Now, if you use it to Fertilize someone else’s crop, it gives you cards. That’s a nice simple choice.
  • Mirror Bean: I hate this old card. I hate it so much. Previously, it was immune to all Farmer cards, like Foul Manure. But, unlike Foul Manure, it didn’t have a counter. It also led to strange issues with how it interfaced with FrankenCrops. And finally, because it wasn’t worth much, players would just place it to occupy a field to screw others. I hate this card. Such a terrible, bad card. This one has gone through a few iterations. Currently, it’s similar to Stinky Truffle. It’s worth more, and now, when you harvest it, you get the top Farmer card of the discard pile. If you time this well, you can get a really good card.

So, that’s the gist of the changes so far. I’m eagerly testing and tweaking cards, layout, and more. I’ll be sending RFQs to a few graphic designers to see who is interested in working on Farmageddon 2nd Edition. I cannot wait to see it on shelves with the Hyperbole Games logo!

If you’re interested in testing Farmageddon 2nd Edition or even just reading the rules, email me at grant at hyperbolegames dot com!

The 54 Card Guild: #8

54CardLogo

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. 

Post by: Grant Rodiek

A post I’ve wanted to write for a very long time with this series is one about the Core Loop, and how understanding it can greatly strengthen the cohesiveness of your game and further your understanding of its components. I’ve tried to use Project Gaia as a case study for every post so that I’m not just blathering hypothetically, but with an actual use case. As such, I needed to take a few weeks to develop Project Gaia so that I had something new and valuable to offer.

Before we go too far, perhaps you want to familiarize yourself with Project Gaia?

  • Read the rules here. Comments allowed in the document!
  • Download the PNP here.

I’m sure academics can define this in a thousand ways, but generally speaking, I see the core loop as the path of decisions a player must traverse, and how the various pieces of your game feed into it. Essentially, we’re stripping away the outer paint to examine the foundation, or engine, of your design. Every piece has its place — like the Comanches with the buffalo, nothing shall be wasted.

Let me explain some of the components of Project Gaia.

  • The first player to Score three times, using Objectives or Triumphs, wins
  • Players are manipulating the Planet to fulfill Objectives to Score
  • Players can use Powers to change the Planet
  • Players can place Monuments to add Tiles they control to complete Objectives.
  • Monuments also give players new Actions, which don’t cost cards.
  • Creatures can destroy Monuments and other Creatures
  • Creatures can block the use of Tiles for the opponent.
  • Creatures can take Landmarks, which grant bonus abilities.
  • Creatures reduce the cost of every other card type. Having Creatures and Monuments therefore makes you more efficient, provides new powers, and provides momentum.
  • Triumphs are like Powers, but they also have a secret Score condition. If you time them right and keep them hidden, they help you score quickly before your opponent can stop you.

I put this in a visual. Click the image for a bigger version. I’m not a graphic designer. I’m sorry. I tried to group the arrows and explanation boxes by color.

Core Loop

My hideous core loop/breakdown of Project Gaia.

Let’s look at this in terms of the player’s journey through the experience.

End Point: The player knows they need to Score. They’ll need to manipulate and control the planet to do this.

  • Monuments
  • Powers
  • Creatures

The player needs to hinder their opponent by blocking them and  destroying their offensive capability.

  • Creatures
  • Powers

The player needs to not lose too many actions by discarding cards. Spending an entire turn to redraw your deck is powerful, but you can lose momentum to an opponent. Furthermore, you need cards in hand to score.

  • Creatures reduce discard cost
  • Monuments provide actions that don’t require discard
  • Creatures can hold Landmarks, which grant bonus abilities

Therefore, a player might build a deck based on a balanced approach, or one that leans heavily in one directly to greatly offset an opponent’s ability to corner an angle. In a typical game, a player might pursue the following logic:

  1. Is my opponent about to score? If so, do I have a Power or can I play a Creature to slow that?
  2. Which Objective am I going for? Which Monuments should I play, and where, to make progress towards one?
  3. Can I slow my opponent’s plans and retake momentum simply by destroying Creatures or Monuments? What are my best tools to do that?
  4. Can I score? I need to gather cards, or use a Triumph decisively.

Once again I have made a diagram for this. Once again, I apologize to you, fair reader.

CoreLoop2

How a player might process decisions in Project Gaia.

Now, I didn’t always have a clear vision for how all these pieces work. In previous versions, folks questioned the value of Creatures. Sure, they can destroy other Creatures…though I’m not sure why that matters. And yes, they can destroy Monuments, but that seems less important than having Monuments.

I began to strengthen Creatures.

  1. Creatures can deny use of Tiles to an opponent with their presence
  2. I added Landmarks. Creatures can use them. Free Actions are awesome.
  3. I gave Monuments a Tile type. Not only do they provide new Actions, but they help players Score. That makes them more valuable targets.
  4. Finally, Creatures reduce the cost of all other cards. Keeping them alive fuels your efficiency.

There are other reasons to implement these solutions. By reducing the discard cost, Creatures expedite the pace of the game. Players spend less time drawing and more time playing. By providing alternate Actions, Monuments pull the same service.

Having public Objectives is nice. It means you can build a deck against some number of them — remember, you only need to Score 3! However, this also means that everything is public, and a game needs a little magic and mystery. Triumphs provide a secret or two to each player. Their application is finite — once Scored, they are removed from the game. But, if properly saved and used to discard, your opponent won’t know about them. If you see in the decision tree, your opponent can counter your moves towards public objectives. It’s far more difficult to counter a hidden Triumph.

All of this stems from an understanding of my goals for the game. If you remember from 54 Card Guild Guide #6, building a vision is crucial. If you have a vision, you can develop it. If you have a vision, you can ensure that your loop supports it.

A large part of my vision is to allow for deck pre-construction. Doing this in a meaningful sense means the game needs to have enough breadth and variable options to be compelling. Much of that will come through in the balance and creative testing phase, but, if the game lacks breadth initially, no amount of creative testing will solve it. I knew my core loop needed multiple decision points:

  1. What tricks will my deck have that give me an edge? [Strategic Layer]
  2. Can I stop my opponent right now? [Tactical Layer]
  3. How is my economy? [Strategic Layer]
  4. Can I retake momentum? [Tactical Layer/Strategic Layer]
  5. Can I score? [Tactical Layer]

To support these, I identified 4 Card Types. Their use grew organically, which I think is the best. You should have a petri dish — you aren’t building the Empire State Building. But, once things begin to grow and form, you need to ask why each component exists, what it supports, and what it needs to completely fulfill its purpose.

By designing a core loop after your petri dish is formed, you have a tool by which to evaluate your progress.

You have two assignments!

Assignment 1: In any method you choose, be it a written list, or awful diagram, break out all the components of your game. Draw lines between them to demonstrate connections. Caption these lines to clarify the purpose of the connection.

Assignment 2: In any method you choose, be it an awful diagram, chart out a decision tree for your players. Each turn, round, or game, what must they evaluate to reach victory? What are the components in your game that support these choices?

From here, you can strengthen your design. You’ll know where your design is weak, and what needs to improve.

Tell me what you think in the comments below, via email, or on the Slack forum! Happy Thanksgiving!

What I’m Bringing to BGG Con

Post by: Grant Rodiek

BGG Con is only a few weeks away and I’m very excited to attend. I’m not a huge con attendee — it’s not quite my scene. I found the chaos of Gen Con frustrating and dissatisfying, but BGG is just a blast. Gone are the crowds and the insane rush. All the publishers you want to see are in attendance with plentiful copies of their Gen Con and Essen releases. You can go up and talk to these publishers, which is great if you’re a designer like me and want to ogle heroes or, when courage rises to the top, pitch a game to them.

I love BGG.

I’m bringing a pile of prototypes to BGG and I wanted to write a little about each of them. While I don’t expect to get much testing in at the convention, I want to share my wares for those so inclined.

Hocus_Box

Hocus: Hocus is incredibly ahead of schedule. In fact, we’re just barely missing the ability to hand out copies at BGG by maybe a week or two at most, which is disappointing! Josh and I will each have a manufacturing copy of the game as well as a final set of the wooden tokens and first player token. Essentially, you can see the final game, hold it, shuffle its beautiful linen cards, and learn to play from either of us.

Hocus_Contents2

Cry Havoc: This is a VERY big deal for me. Cry Havoc is my design that was signed by my beloved Portal Games at the start of 2014. After years of development, it is finally nearing its release in 2016. A beta version of the game will be at BGG at the Portal Booth. Come by to see it and learn to play from me. I’m SO excited.

If you’re curious, Ignacy recently demoed the game in a vlog.

In short, it’s a card driven game of combat for 2-4 players that only takes about an hour to play. Somewhat like a classic RTS, players marshal their forces, build structures, and fight brutally and quickly to gain territory and points. I’m very proud of it and love the work Portal has done to make it so much better.

Sol Rising: This is a long time design of mine that I’d very much love to find a home for. I took and pitched the game to BGG last year, which is a process I detail extensively in this post here.

DieFaces

Sol Rising is a story based tactical combat game of space fleets for 2-4 players. It’s all built around a persistent narrative campaign, full of unique missions, changing objectives, and semi-permanent results (within that campaign). I’ve put so much work into it and I’d love to find a home.

Fleet

Project Gaia: This is the prototype I’ve been developing for the 54 Card Guild. It’s still very early, but I’m optimistic in its promise and hope it turns into something. If you’re curious about the game at all, I’ve written about it extensively in my coverage of the 54 Card Guild.

Gaia

It’s a game about building a pre-constructed deck of 9 cards. In that sense, it’s meant to be like a CCG, without all the hassle. Furthermore, it’s a game of spatial and tile based combat using the deck you’ve chosen. All of this is done with only 54 cards. I hope it’s a very novel and dense idea packed into such a small footprint.

Captain’s Log: I’ve shared almost nothing about this game. I have wanted to make a simple storytelling game for a very long time. I don’t know why, it just interests me immensely. Games that inspire me in this space are Tales of the Arabian Nights, Baron Munchausen, Funemployed, Once Upon a Time, and a few others.

I was inspired one morning listening to This American Life. That podcast is one of the most inspirational pieces of radio I’ve ever heard. But, I heard something about a journal or something, then thought of Captain’s Log, the famous beginning and end of every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I thought — wouldn’t it be a good storytelling premise to tell the stories of the ship?

Now, I’ve conducted a few local tests and worked to clean up the rules extensively. I had some…strange things originally that were simple, but difficult to grok. The game is cooperative, though every round one player acts as the bad guy creating the story and problem that must be solved. They are given guidance and a framework here. Then, the others using their role and cards need to figure out a way to solve it. That’s the gist. It’s not about winning or losing, but telling a good story and having some laughs within the framework. I’d love to give it a test or two at BGG.

I’m working on a few other things, but in between porting a bunch of old stories from the old Sol mechanisms to the new ones and polishing the cards for Gaia, I doubt they’ll be ready to show.

What do you think? Anything of interest?