Hocus Poker: The Pitch


Post by: Joshua Buergel and Grant Rodiek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who would you say this game is for, Josh?

Josh: Is it a cliche to say everybody?

Grant: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Josh: My job there is never done, though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Josh: Other things to watch out for:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grant: Now I know how John Arbuckle felt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Josh: Yes, email him. He loves abuse.

Interview with Nat Levan


Interview by: Nat Levan and Grant Rodiek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HG: What is the coolest part of New Bedford?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HG: What else do you have in the works?

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

HG: Anything else you want to add?

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

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

New Bedford is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter

2014 Year in Review: Part 2


Post by: The Design and Publishing Community!

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

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

Gil Hova

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

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

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

Credit Debbie Ridpath Ohi, ©2014

Credit Debbie Ridpath Ohi, ©2014

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

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

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

Joshua Buergel

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

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

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

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

Matt Worden

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

As for actual game-related accomplishments this year …


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


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


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


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

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

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

Chris Roberge


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

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

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

Dave Chalker

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

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

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

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

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

Now, onto newer games:

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

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

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

Teale Fristoe

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

Chris and Suzanne Zinsli (Cardboard Edison)


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

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


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

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

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

Corey Young

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


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


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

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

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

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

Grant Rodiek (Hyperbole Games)

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

Daniel Solis (Smart Play Games)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John du Bois

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

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

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

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

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

J. Alex Kevern


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


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

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

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

Jason Tagmire


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

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


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

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

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

2014 Year in Review: Part 1


Post by: The Design and Publishing Community!

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

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

Paul Imboden (Split Second Games)

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

AJ Porfirio (Van Ryder Games)

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


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

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

Ed Marriott (Moon Yeti Games)


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


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

Todd Edwards

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

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

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

Jeff Large (Happy Mitten Games)


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

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

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

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

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

Watch out 2015. We’re gunning for you.

Christopher Chung

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Randy Hoyt (Foxtrot Games)


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


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

Richard Durham

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Me and BGG 2014


Post by: Grant Rodiek

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

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

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

What I Played

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

What I Bought


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

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

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

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

What I Tested

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Who I Met

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Conclusion

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

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

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

“It’s the Cardinal Cardinal.”


“It’s Tom Vasel.”


I’m Original, No I’m Not


Post by: Grant Rodiek

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

So, let’s do that.

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the realities you need to face.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CCG Diagnosis


Post by: Grant Rodiek

Daniel Solis has been Tweeting about researching and designing a CCG lately. CCG stands for Collectible Card Game, which is similar to Trading Card Game, and somewhat similar to Living Card Game. No game better embodies this moniker than Magic: The Gathering, the gorilla of the table top industry. However, simpler titles like Pokemon and newer contenders like Android: Netrunner, bring in plenty of revenue and customer satisfaction for their publishers.

Me and Joshua Buergel have been emailing each other back and forth about CCGs in a private discussion. It’s something we do often as a topic meets our fancy and this one, for once, seemed appropriate to write about for the blog.

What are the core elements of a CCG? What does one need to consider when designing one? I don’t claim to be an expert on these, though I’ve played quite a bit of Magic, Netrunner, and games with similar to characteristics over time. Nor am I designing one myself. And no, I don’t presume to write this to inform Mr. Solis. No, it just seemed like a fun topic and I haven’t written in a week or so.

A few things at the top: I’m going to assume a basic familiarity with some CCGs. I’ll be primarily using Magic and Netrunner as my examples, as those are the ones with which I am most familiar. I’m not getting into the business model, which for simplicity’s sake you can assume is: players will buy more cards in some fashion. The goal of this article is to identify things that may be a smidge less obvious and pertain to the design of a CCG.

Tight Economy: Many CCGs have very tight, carefully tuned economies to limit player actions and gate strength of a single player over time. A well-tuned CCG provides a ramp as players go from insignificant to a crushing behemoth.

If I recall correctly, Mike Fitzgerald said the cost-curve was one of, if not the most significant decision in designing a CCG. If it wasn’t him who said it, it was Mike Elliott. Both should know a thing or two about the topic!

In Magic, players can only place 1 Land per turn. Assuming a player’s deck is playing nicely, he’ll grow by 1 Land every turn until mana is almost irrelevant as a decision point. Hearthstone works like this: 1 more mana every turn.

In Netrunner, players begin with a small amount of money, which is used to fuel almost everything in the game. However, players are also limited by clicks, or actions. The corp player receives 3, with a free card draw, and the runner player receives 4.

There are exceptions to these rules. In Magic, there are more powerful lands and artifacts that provide bonus mana. There are elves and other creatures that will do such things. In Netrunner, players can play Assets that generate additional income every turn, or can score Agendas that will reward additional clicks.

The tight economy is not always strictly about money and resources. Summoning sickness gates the explosive growth of a wizard’s army in Magic in order to give an opponent time to counter the play. Plus, this introduces the opportunity for exceptions, such as Haste (i.e. ignore summoning sickness). In Netrunner, Ice must first be installed THEN rez’d. Again, it gives the game time to unfold without slowly it in an undue manner.

A good CCG is a tense back and forth between players. It’s not much fun if one player launches out the gate with the hammer of god. A tight economy restrains this and provides a nice ramp of complexity and threat.

Focused Deckbuilding

Either with implied rules or explicit rules, good deckbuilders require focus for success. This constrains the options available to a player and reduces the burden on design teams from having to tune so many combinations. CCGs need to have these limitations and rules in order to constrain their options.

In Magic, players CAN build with every color of Land and use all 5 spell colors. However, that is unlikely to lead to success. Now, I’m sure someone can (and will) point towards a 5 color deck that has worked, but by and large, players stick to 1 or 2 colors. Why? For one, with the exception of Spells that modify this, your Land draw is unpredictable beyond what probability dictates it should be. If you have 3 different colored creatures in your hand and need 3 different lands, you may find yourself in trouble. The rule is implied that you need to focus your deck to increase the probability of paying for the Spells in your hand.

In Netrunner, players must choose an identity upon which to build their deck. The identity will specify a minimum number of cards as well as a maximum amount of influence that can be brought in from other factions. This number is often approximately 15 Influence. Low value cards tend to cost 1-2 influence, with really potent cards costing 4 or 5 influence. If you only have 15, that’s a careful balance of 5-10 cards from outside your core faction.

Be sure to constrain the deckbuilding properties with either implicit or explicit rules.


A good CCG supports multiple play styles and personalities. David Chott, designer and publisher of Lagoon, once said that he knew which friend designed which deck in college based on its contents. The deck’s play style would have his friend’s finger prints all of it. I think it is SO crucial that like a good RPG, or MMO, or Moba, a CCG supports different play styles through factions.

In Magic, blue, red, green, black, and white mean something. Blue is about control of the board. Red is about direct damage (fireball). Black is about trade-offs — take damage for power (necromancer). Green represents life, druids, and the power of the forest. White represents health, buffs, and paladin-like powers.

Netrunner is no different. You have Shapers, Anarchists, and Criminals in the runner side. You then have four distinct corporations on the other side, who hate the runners and each other.

When a player picks up a new CCG, they’re looking for a familiar foundation. This doesn’t mean your CCG needs to have a black necromancer faction with a few renamed cards. But, you should fundamentally understand why each faction is satisfying and try to emulate those qualities in your design.

These qualities could be overt aggression, subtle and clever card play, setting up big combos, or nickel and diming someone with an efficient setup. I tend to prefer focused decks with 1 or 2 side tricks. Others love to find broken exploits they can somehow turn into a winning strategy.

Support this! Start from a high level position, then drill down and create content examples for each. Without good, clean factions and play styles, you might not satisfy your audience.

Exception Driven

CCGs are complex and intensely inelegant. CCGs often have simple core mechanics, but a million exceptions, conveyed through every card. Although it has gone hog wild in the past, the Magic R&D team tends to introduce 1-2 new mechanics every new cycle and retire old ones. That means every cycle is built around 1-2 completely new mechanics, which are then introduced and twisted with decades of content and ideas.

Netrunner is full of exceptions, with the key being that it is full of knobs to twist. When you begin Netrunner, you must first learn a long list of terms, which are unfortunately asymmetric per faction. Yes, it’s thematic, but it’s confusing that a runner’s hand is called a grip, and a corp’s hand is called HQ. Here are some of the term concepts:

  • Click (i.e. action)
  • Credit (i.e. money)
  • Bad Publicity (Runner gets resources on a run)
  • Trace (an action in which each player contributes money, often to give a tag)
  • Tag (triggers many card powers, allows the corp to trash runner Resource cards)
  • Multiple card types, including Identities, Operations/Events, Resources/Assets, Upgrades, Hardware, Program, Ice, Agenda
  • There are also standard actions, like draw card, gain 1 credit, purge Tags, initiate a Run

Every Netrunner card tweaks how these terms mix and work.

If you aren’t comfortable with exceptions, you shouldn’t make a CCG! At the start, you must identify your core mechanics: how will a player take a standard turn? What does a turn entail?

Once you can answer that question, you need to list and design your standard terms. You need to work from a glossary that is crucial towards keeping yourself constrained and limiting undue card text and terms. Note: try to stick to standard card terminology. Look to Dominion here, not Netrunner.

If you can define a core term and have a list of core terms, you can begin making cards. If it typically costs 1 Click in Netrunner to gain 1 Credit, then a card that costs 1 Click and gains 3 Credits is valuable. Exception! If it typically costs 1 Click to start a run, then a card that starts a run AND lets you bypass the first ice on the server is valuable. Exception!

These are the obvious exceptions and therefore the simple ones. Often times, you can’t create outstanding and devious ones until you’re deep into the game. You need to know it. My best Farmageddon, Dawn Sector, and Sol Rising cards (all of which are exceptions!) were derived from testing, not a brainstorm.

Think of your exceptions like a sitcom: often, the first season is full of a few good jokes, but otherwise weak, forced comedy. However, the truly good shows often have incredible subsequent seasons as the writing team and actors really figure out their characters. Give your CCG time to grow into its exceptions so that it can be more exceptional.

Look to Similar Games

When designing a CCG, you should look to other games that are clearly inspired by CCGs. Why? They did something unique upon the foundation. Some examples that come to mind include Dominion, a game that took the pre-game deckbuilding and exception-based card combos to create a new genre.

How about Summoner Wars, which took head to head, asymmetric, exception driven card play and added a spatial element?

There’s also Lagoon, which is all about combos and unique cards used on a shared spatial platform.

You should also most definitely play Innovation, which is one of the most phenomenal, absurd, and emergent card games ever. The game is defined by game-breaking combos, counter-moves, and exceptions.

Look to the Greats

There are so many CCGs it’s difficult to keep track. When building a CCG, you should conduct research in the best. Magic: The Gathering is required reading for this course. It is a phenomenally influential and profitable design. You can experiment with the digital version for cheap.

Netrunner is also required. It’s Fantasy Flight Games’ best selling Living Card Game and also designed by master mind Richard Garfield. It introduces deep asymmetry, which is fun, and is incredibly thematic. It also has a steep learning curve, which you can learn from. You can get the base set for $25 on Amazon. It comes with 7 pre-built decks to learn.

Pokemon is a simple CCG that has been around a long time. This is a game that is beloved by children and younger players all around the world. You can pick up 2 starter decks at Target for not much at all.

Hearthstone is an emerging monster in the digital space. They have done incredibly well and have gained the attention of many people. Hearthstone takes many of the best elements of Magic, streamlines it (or improves it, depending on your view point), and takes advantage of its digital platform. They are able to do mechanics, like persistent damage, that would be tedious in a table-top CCG.

Other than these, go to your FLGS and find one that has a theme that excites you. If it’s still in print, it’s likely successful, and therefore worth a look.


What did I get incorrectly? What did I gloss over? Share your thoughts in the comments below to counter my potentially poor blog play. Thanks for reading!

Version 5 and the Brink


Post by: Joshua Buergel and Grant Rodiek

Grant: When you reach a design iteration you dub “5.0” it may be time for what my mom refers to as the “come to Jesus meeting.” We’ve been scrambling for months to find a new framework for Hocus Poker. At the top of the Summer we threw away something that worked and had been received well because we didn’t think it was good enough. But, we’ve spent a lot of time since then trying to do it better.

Last week we tested Hocus Poker 5.0 and to be completely honest, had it not gone well, I think I might have walked away.

Josh: I’d have tried to talk you off the ledge, but it would have been time to question some fundamental assumptions. For instance, I’m not sure we could have continued on the path of having no separate betting tokens. It’s something we were keenly interested in getting right, for a number of reasons we’ve talked about before, but our iterations in this area have been unsatisfying.

Grant: To quickly reiterate, we wanted to craft a game that was cards only to save on production costs, portability, and keep the MSRP low. We were sticking to our guns of no player elimination in a game that is built on it. You know, poker.

Josh: But that was down the road. We had time to go for another major revision and see if we didn’t have another shot in us. But where to start? Grant had a playtest that didn’t go well, so that was our starting point. The 4.0 build wasn’t terrible, exactly, but it was unexciting. There were some promising bits to it, as usual, but it just didn’t leave the players excited.

This version had dual use cards (with points on the cards), some special cards in the regular deck, and attempted to feature a short decision cycle with small hands being built up gradually and a series of small showdowns.

Grant: One positive note was that my testers said it was much better than previous versions, but that was a low bar. Still, progress.

Josh: It was becoming clear that the showdowns were a problem, to me. They should have been exciting, fun, and surprises should have happened regularly. What was happening, instead, was really rote. The idea of having them happen as things went along just wasn’t quite working the way we wanted. A good idea, maybe, but not for this game.

Grant: More fundamentally, we had a lack of good decisions. You could see this in the Showdowns, building Hands, and betting. Sound probability indicated a very boring strategy: pick the best pair possible. This would often become a 3 of a kind or Full House once the Community was revealed.

We wanted players to have fun decisions throughout. That seems obvious for any game, but it’s really not. Or more accurately, how to execute against that is not. In Texas Hold ‘Em, you don’t get to change your cards. It’s all about bet management, which is done to bluff, bully, or accurately represent your hand.

In Hocus we  let players change their cards and reduced the importance of bet management. However, with such simple cards, it was basically just a matter of cycling to create the most sure thing you could. It was dissatisfying.


Josh: Full Houses have been a recurring problem for us. Honestly, we should be smart enough by now to recognize that if they’re popping up too much, we’ve somehow goofed.

Grant: Players felt like they were stuck on a ride. Get in, build a pair, see what happens.

Josh: I don’t think we’re aiming for a really agonizing game here, but there needs to be a skill component to things, obviously. It should be a lightweight strategy game, not an “experience”.

Grant: Yeah. Honestly, we were making the “It’s a Small World” of fillers, which I don’t think is a good thing.

Josh: To be clear, that’s a Disney reference, people.

Grant: Let it go.

Josh: BOOO.

At any rate, something had to give. We needed a way for people to have some planning in the game. It just needed to happen. Grant and I both had an idea kicking around in our heads, which was simple: why not give people a bunch of cards at the beginning of the round? They could then work on allocating things themselves.

Grant: Things being their hands, the community, or the pot. Collaboratively and competitively.

Josh: On top of that, we could retain the simultaneous hands by putting two communities in play. Now, we got to keep the idea of building multiple hands, which we liked from the previous version, while keeping some form of planning. Once those planks were in place, the 5.0 version came together quickly.


Grant: That’s a super key point I don’t want to gloss over. Previously, we let you build 2 hands under the guise of strategy. One for now, one for later. That didn’t pan out, but it WAS fun building multiple hands. Naturally, we needed a second place to use that second hand.

If 2-4 players are building a Community at the same time, there’s a little bit of volatility. By building 2 Hands, you increase your chances of capitalizing on one. Two, if you’re lucky or good.

Josh: I was briefly advocating for three simultaneous hands, honestly. Maybe for an expansion?

Grant: I think it might be viable as a wink wink 2 player version.

Josh: Honestly, the biggest problem in this version has been what to name things. “Hand” is overloaded, and people didn’t like “Holding” for what they wanted to call their “Hand.” So, we’ve had to juggle stuff around on names.

So, we worked this out, and Grant had a playtest. And, I would describe it as “triumphant.” He wrote to me, and his email was full of jubilant swearing, which is the best kind of swearing.

Grant: I was throwing hip hop hands in the air. For the record, I did not care.

Josh: Not quite ready to believe it, I ran a test myself last night with three of my friends, grizzled veterans of the Hocus Poker development process. These fine, determined gentlemen have played every major version of this thing, going back to the version with little tiles.

And, one of them said that “it’s the most fun he’s had with any version of Hocus Poker,” and another described it as “very polished.”

There’s clearly balancing work to do on spells, but after the first round, I was just playing the game. I was taking notes, sure, and noticing wording and things to tighten up. But I was just playing the game. It’s been the first time since some of the late 2.0 versions when I’ve had actual fun playing it. That sounds bleak, but we learned stuff from every one of those unfun games which I think we’ve applied. It actually seems good now!

So, where to go from here? What lessons can we learn? Persistence always pays off?

Grant: We have a lot of work left in spell balance, tuning, and proper wording. But, that’s a relatively easy part compared to where we’ve been.

As for high level, a big thing for me is that we kept slamming on the brakes. We threatened to stop the car and we actually stopped the damn car. It was really difficult to do again and again, but it really paid off. You have to hold yourself to a quality bar. There are just too many other good games to make something mediocre.

I also think we learned a great deal about identifying what we want to do with the game and how to get there. We never flailed. It felt like flailing. But, we went about it in a rather constructive and thoughtful way. We stopped repeating bad spells. We avoided known bad ideas that never seemed to work. Yes, we’ve tried Banished 30 times, but we all have to have a windmill or two at which to tilt.

Dude, so many sweet references.

Josh: At least we amuse ourselves.

I think we can identify something useful that came out of each major revision that has still stood up. 3.0 gave us the idea for individual spellbooks.

Grant: This was a huge breakthrough. Instead of all sorts of mixed actions, the spellbooks said: execute one of the four cards in front of you. Plus, your four cards are unique. Great for accessibility.

Josh: 4.0 gave us the gems on the creature cards. Those are integral parts of the game, which are solid ideas that are making things better.

Grant: I love multi-use cards. They are just so much fun. It also works really well for our poker setup. Do you use a card for its suit, strength, or Gem? 3 uses is very simple and easy to process. It provides a nice layer of choice. Looking beyond that, you think about building a pair, a straight, and how to best set yourself up for a bigger hand via the community.

Josh: Those revisions were not in vain, they just, you know, weren’t any fun. A careful post mortem of each playtest helped show which are the parts that were working, and we’ve been able to carry those forward. The ideas in 5.0 are ones that we’ve painstakingly chipped away from all the other ideas that have been floating around.

Maybe that’s a new benchmark for me? Try and salvage one really solid idea from every playtest, no matter how badly things went.

Grant: It’s a good goal and a very achievable one. I can finally talk about this — I learned a great deal working with Portal on York/Dawn Sector. They had no qualms saying “not good enough,” and I wanted to be good enough to emulate that in my own craft. But, man. It can be crushing sometimes.

I think, and this is bold, we should share the rules. You can read them here. They are about 1400 words from start to finish, which we’re really proud of.

Josh: It’s hard saying your own efforts aren’t good enough. This part was kicked off by deciding that a game that people had played and enjoyed didn’t make the mark. That’s rough enough, but continually kicking a bunch of revisions down because they weren’t fun was dreary, but it’s been worth it.

BGG Prep


Post by: Grant Rodiek

Board Game Geek Con is this week and I’m rounding up any loose ends to be prepared for it. Cons are a really big part of our niche hobby for many, but for me they’ve always been a mixed bag. I tend to have a good time, but, what can I say, I’m weird.

This year’s con planning was strange. At one point I was going to attend Gen Con, then Essen Spiele, then BGG, and it’s been a while now since I’ve had direct exposure to publishers to pitch and network. Really, that’s my primary interest in Cons.

I’m hopefully going to be busy at BGG Con and I wanted to write about some of the things going on. Take a look. Hit me up on Twitter if you want to meet up. I’ll be rooming in the convention hotel. I’ll be there from Wednesday afternoon until Sunday afternoon. I’m volunteering at the Portal Games booth, so you can probably find me there most mornings and such.

Why will I be at the Portal Games booth? Well, you should watch Ignacy’s latest video blog for details.

The Pitches


Sol Rising: I have quite a few games that need homes that’ll be in attendance at BGG Con. Most important, to me, is finding a home for Sol Rising. Sol Rising is my 2-4 player space opera tactics game. I’m proud of its narrative setting, 12 unique scenarios, and the persistence between scenarios. I’m also pleased that I’ve created an intuitive, thematic, light to medium tactics game with a lot of fun randomness in combat and Events.


I started working on Sol in the early spring of 2013 on my way to the Protospiel Milwaukee event. I’ve put in a great deal of work designing, writing, testing, and developing it. But, it’s a bit of a niche game. I knew that going in and didn’t really care. If I don’t find a home for it at BGG, I’ll need to find a more humble destination for it. The game is too big for me to self-publish with a big print run. Just too risky for me at this time. However, I think I can, and would, make a limited print run using assorted POD services to create copies for any takers.


Hocus Poker: Ah yes, our little problem child. Hocus Poker is a design with seemingly a million ups and downs, but it’s finally coming together. We (me and Joshua Buergel) have been tweaking, testing, and re-designing this sucker all year. We finally think we have the framework we need.

The current iteration of the game is quite interesting. 2-4 players are dealt 10 cards, shown in the image above. Cards have a suit (their illustration), a strength (1-13), and a gem value. Play takes place in sequential turns, on which, the active player will play 1 card from their hand to one of the two communities (up to 4 cards), as a gem to one of the 2 communities to build a Pot, or as a Pocket card to USE on one of those 2 communities. When the communities fill up, players assign each of their 2 hands to one of the Communities. Best Poker hand takes all the Gems played to it.


The twist, beyond that, is that every player has 3 unique Spells that let them do the 3 basic actions above in weird and unique ways. We’re excited in that we think we have a unique, original game that borrows some elements from poker, but doesn’t feel like a lazy modification to the game.

John Ariosa created some awesome art for our prototype and we ordered some slick DriveThruCards for fancy prototype copies. We’d love to find a publishing partner at BGG. If we don’t, we might self-publish it, or bring it with us to Gen Con 2015 to pitch some more.


Landfall: This is the mysterious (or not so mysterious if you haven’t cared) title I refer to as LF on Twitter. It’s another collaborative project between me and Josh that we’re keeping close to the chest. The key word there is project.

I’ll be testing this game at BGG and sharing some of the details on it with folks. This one is for self-publication. We’re hoping to have it ready by late 2015. We’ll see!

The Plays

I typically saunter into a convention rather lazily with no preparation. I play what I happen to get to and keep it at that. This year, I tried to be more proactive about what I’m playing. I found a forum on BGG for war gamers and signed up for 3 games that should be VERY fun, including:

  • Fief: I Kickstarted this earlier in the year and am very excited about it. The rules make it look fantastic, like a rich, complex, medieval Rex.
  • Command and Colors: Napoleonics: This is a great Richard Borg design from a favorite time period. What makes this even better? It’s an 8 player game.
  • Space Empires 4x: I like this game, but have only played it once. It’s a pretty great candidate for a convention game. I’m also excited that I’m going to be bringing the copy and teaching it to folks. We’ll see how that goes.

I’m also very eager to play a great deal of Netrunner. A few months ago my friend and I stopped simply buying the game and actively began playing it. It can be difficult, in a large game group, to carve out 2 player game time. But, we made it a priority and we just love the game. I’m bringing 4 decks and all of my cards to BGG. I don’t think I’m any good, and I’m sure I’ll be made a fool with every encounter, but I’m nonetheless eager to play.

Imperial Settlers is a game that I very much want to play. I was one of the people Ignacy asked to double check the rules, yet it sold out at Gen Con and I haven’t bought it yet. I am already in for 3 copies of the expansion for a Twitter follower, so I might as well play it, right?

I very much want to play Specter Ops from Plaid Hat Games. They just announced a preview will be at the convention. I really love the work these guys do, so this is an insta-demo.

Finally, Geoff Engelstein of Ludology noted he’s bringing his prototype Fog of War. I read the rules for this a month or so ago and it looks like a really, really clever war game. I want to play it oh so badly.

The Purchases

I’m an eager consumer and I don’t expect to come home empty handed. For one, my copies of Fleet Commander: 1 Ignition and Mysterium from Essen will be handed over. As listed above, I’m eager to try (and let’s face it, buy) Imperial Settlers. The Bots expansion for Theseus might be there.

I’d also love to see if Rattlebones or Temporum are at BGG. Both of these titles seem neat and I’d love to check them out.

Finally, I love when cons have weird, out of print game to try and purchase. I plan to find some gems.


If you’re at BGG, be sure to hit me up. I’d love to try your prototypes and show you mine as well. If you want to meet for a beer, we can do that too! Hope you guys have a fun convention.

Entries Wanted: 2014 in Review

Just before deadline


We’re in the final months of 2014, which means it’s a good time for reflection. In the past I’ve hosted community articles about the upcoming year, as well as ones about the recently completed year. This post is seeking submissions for the latter.

What did you accomplish in 2014? What did you learn? Where did you stumble, and how will you address it? What did you learn from failure? I’d love to compile a collection of these tidbits from our design community to share, enjoy, and reflect.

Here are some details about joining this post!

  • Deadline: November 30, 2014. That gives you a few weeks plus BGG Con to think on this and wrap things up. Of course, sooner is always appreciated.
  • How: Email me your submission to grant at hyperbolegames dot com. Bonus Points for putting “Community Feature” in the subject line.
  • What: Try to keep submissions to a reasonable length. I may have 5, 10, or 25 people participate. If we have 25, well, I’ll make it a week long feature. Ultimately, if you have a lot to say because a lot happened, and it’s interesting, then write it. But, be concise and aware that it’s a community post.
  • Additional Materials: A photo or two are encouraged! If you have a picture of a slick proto or a published game, share it.
  • Links: If you want me to link to your Twitter or Website or BGG entry, please include that. You’ll save me a lot of time chasing it down.

As a final note, keep tone in mind. I’d love for this to be more of an honest story to share. Please don’t send me a press release or sales pitch. Naturally, I’ll work with you as editor if anything seems off, but speak from the heart and share your story. Don’t worry, you’ll get some nice promotion just for being in the article.

If you have any questions, suggestions, or concerns, use the email above or comments below to get a hold of me. Tell your friends about this – the more the merrier.

I look forward to your noble tales of triumph and failure. I know I have mine!