Making Blockade Awesome


Post by: Grant Rodiek

I’ve been working on Blockade very diligently for the past month or so. Really, the only breaks I’ve taken on its development were due to finalizing the assets for Battle for York. I am very excited about Blockade, its progress, and the future of the game. I have big plans for it.

In an effort to not dilute the waters too much, I’ve tried to write about Blockade more sparingly than past games. If you follow me on Twitter, you probably have an inkling of what’s happening. This post is going to go into great detail on the Component Iteration, Maneuver Iteration, Special Action iteration, and other fun stuff (like the rules and stories!)

Please give it a look, tell me what you think, and ask any questions! If you ever have a question about one of my games or anything, don’t hesitate to hit me up on Twitter or email me.

Component Iteration: Blocks, boards, and dice

In April I wrote about my current inspirations, namely, more toy-like, tactile experiences. Blockade began as a card game, but evolved into a game based around cool, awesome blocks. The blocks are fun to look at, fun to hold, and they are immediately exciting. People want to interact with them. In that sense, the toy-like drive has been a good one.

I’ve evolved the blocks to make the experience awesome. All information is on the blocks, easy to read, with no fiddly rules hanging around. Here are some of the changes and current thoughts:


Pegs and capital ships. Lots of damage.

  • All info is now on the top of the blocks (lasers, facing, damage requirements and current damage). No need to check sides of the table.
  • Because all info is simply on the top, this means I can use the sides for aesthetic only stickers. Super cool!
  • Also because all info is on the top, this means I can use the other side of the block for an alternate ship setup. 9 blocks can be 18!
  • When you take damage, instead of moving counters around (like X-Wing), you simply insert a peg (like Battleship).
  • The original blocks I ordered were too big. Destroyers were 5 cm long x 3 cm wide. Battlecruisers were 7.5 cm long x 3 cm wide. Now, they are going to be 4 cm long x 2 cm wide and 6 cm long x 2 cm wide. It makes the game easier to play.
  • Fighters used to be big, war-game style blocks. Now, they are 10 mm cubes. This means they take up less space, are easier to move around, and have a sense of scale next to the capital ships. It really makes a difference. You feel like you can throw them about wantonly, which is the intent.
  • The final game will use a sticker on top that conveys both color and an icon. It has to be colorblind friendly. Currently, it’s color only.

ALL the pieces for Blockade last week.

Let’s talk about the board. For the longest time, the board has been a simple 4×5 grid comprised of squares. You can see it in the image above. I had a few problems with this:

  • The grid was boring. 
  • The grid felt constraining. You couldn’t leave it and there was a wall. In space? Odd.
  • It didn’t add to the game. Why have a component then?

While thinking about these things, I had an idea: why not a circle? You could cruise forever on the outside edge of a circle. And, with a circle, you could exit one side and emerge through the other. There was the issue of the center, which was originally a set of pie-like triangles. This added some confusion, so I simplified this to a circle as well with one rule change. When building this, I realized I didn’t have a protractor to make a nice smooth curve. So, I used a ruler to use all straight lines. I think it works out better this way.


New game board and custom dice.

This is the new board with some blocks on it and dice for scale. Instead of squares, you now have four sided shapes (I looked up the name but already forgot it). In the center, you can hit all sides, but are also vulnerable from all sides. The goal is to create a 3D-like environment with a flat, 2D board. I’m VERY excited about this.

Finally, I’ve shifted from pipped d6 dice to custom dice. The dice now have 3 facings: Miss (previously pips 1-2), Hit (previously pips 3-5), and a Direct Hit (previously pip 6). Now, there is no memory. It’s simpler and more binary: you hit or you didn’t hit. Some cards reference Direct Hits, otherwise, they are just hits. Custom dice are also much more fun and exciting than regular dice. You can see the new dice in the corner of the picture immediately above.

Maneuver Iteration

My dice mechanic and formation mechanics have worked more or less from the beginning. I’ve found simple good ideas are much easier to make fun than complex good ideas! Other than continued tuning regarding guns and weak spots, the ship aspect of the game is swell.

However, maneuvers have taken a lot of iteration to get where they are now. I’m fairly happy with the current state of the game. Here’s a brief walk through the various iterations I’ve designed and tested:

  1. Players sequentially activate and move ships, similar to Memoir ’44 or Summoner Wars. A peer reviewing my rules said “boo, make it simultaneous!” So I did.
  2. Players would place commander cards face down from left to right. Then, place a finite number of maneuver cards (move, rotate, change formation) under these commander cards in the order they wanted them activated. This worked, but it really killed the pacing of the game.
  3. No more commanders. Players give every squadron a single maneuver. These were still limited and gated. This felt frustrating and restrictive. Also, ships didn’t move enough.
  4. I made it such that ships moved every turn if given no other command. This reduced the commands to rotate or change formation or stop. This also felt a bit odd and restrictive.
  5. I gave the player move back, got rid of stop, but made it such that there were no limits on giving orders. I.e. instead of having only 2 rotates or 2 moves, you could now give every squadron the same order if desired. Better.
  6. Ships still didn’t move enough, so I made their moves more potent. Move now allowed ships to move 1 or 2 spaces. Rotate could be played to rotate to ANY facing, not just 90 degrees. Much better. However, change formation wasn’t used often enough.
  7. Finally, I made it such that you can change 1 ship in your formation every turn after doing either move or rotate. Now, you have a great deal of flexibility and fiddling, but it’s fast and has very few components.

Now, losing combination actions from earlier, like move, then rotate, then move, hurts a little. But, I increased the number of maneuver oriented Fleet Action cards. This, plus the fact that ships now move 1-2 spaces has really filled that hole while also making the game much simpler.


Old fighters in use on old board.

The game now moves very quickly. Both players have 6 tokens: 3 move, 3 rotate. Players place these, face down, on every squadron. Then, players alternate revealing one and executing it at a time. Then, combat! It moves very quickly and works really well. Very little noise on the table or complicated mechanics.

Special Action Iteration

This aspect of the game has evolved so well so quickly. It’s definitely an area with which I have a great deal of experience: action cards. In the first iteration of the game, players had a handful of commanders. Every commander had a passive ability. Note: Passive abilities in games need to be used VERY carefully and sparingly.

The problem was, if you have 3-5 commanders, it’s almost impossible to track all of your abilities, those of your opponent, and everything else going on. I stripped the commanders of their abilities and instead, gave you Fleet Action cards. Like action cards in Conflict of Heroes, you get 1 per round to use to upset things and take special actions. I’ve designed them with a few things in mind:

  • No passive, conditional, or lingering effects. The cards immediately do ONE thing. 
  • Simple. I’ve already thrown out a lot of confusing cards. There’s no room for that.
  • Useful. Every card needs to be useful, powerful, and interesting. No sandbaggers.

The Fleet Action cards worked fantastically from the start. I’ve tweaked a few of them and made it so that you start with more of them. This speeds up the game and gives players more exciting options. Otherwise, this has been a great feature that is also very expandable.

Side note: As a a result of there being no commanders, partially from this fleet action change, and partially from the maneuver changes, I’ve eliminated a great deal of cards and markers from the component list. Price reductions, hurrah!

Other Fun Things

While shortening the ships this weekend, I noticed I now had a pile of small nub pieces recently removed from the capital ships. I hate wasting things and immediately wondered “what can I do with these?” My first thoughts were drones, salvage, and mines. But, the awesome Twitter community responded with a lot of ideas. Now? These blocks are everything. They are going to be the “extras” in scenarios. They are going to be the diplomatic shuttles, cargo containers, merchant ships, salvage, meteors, and everything I need to make the story and scenarios ridiculously great. These are going to help me diversify the “blow each other up” concept.

Red "extras" are drying.

Red “extras” are drying.

Speaking of stories, I wrote the first 3 missions for one of the game’s campaigns. I hope to have 2-3 campaigns when the game is finished, though I fully expect to write more, hire others to write more, and work with the community to write more. This last one is a long-shot, but who knows. When people get enthusiastic, they do great things.

If you want to read the IN PROGRESS stories, check them out here. This should give you a feel for the game’s universe and premise. I have so much work to do here it’s not even close to funny. But, it’s still my goal to create a great, simple, unique tactics game, in space, paired with a great story campaign.

I have a lot of fun ideas for the universe.

In addition to the little “extras” mentioned above, I plan on having star bases (think the pucks in Ascending Empires) for more epic missions. I’m also toying with the notion of oddly shaped ships. Why not triangles, or u-shapes? Perhaps I can save those for an alien mechanic?

Finally, I realized that a good way to not only share a PNP, but get people excited to make it, is using LEGOS. Why not? People who have a pile of the basic blocks could create functional ships for Blockade in minutes. Here’s a quick schematic I created using LEGOS’ free online design software. More to come!



My testers, as always, have been awesome. However, I want to thank Jeremy Van Maanen for his excitement and interest in the project. He’s listened to every idea I’ve sent him (and it’s a lot) and provided feedback, helped me iterate, and sometimes said “sounds fun!” It seems like someone like this pops up for every game I make and I’m super thankful every time.

I just ordered a second set of blocks to send to Jeremy and friends in Madison, WI.

FreeStarter: And the Winners Are…


Firstly, me, AJ, Chevee, and Matt want to thank all of you for this week. It’s been a lot of fun. We created FreeStarter as half thank you gift and half marketing effort. What’s awesome is that it completely worked. We have met so many new people who are board gamers, nerds, you know, people like us, and that enriches the community and makes things more fun for everyone.

So thank you!

Secondly, before I announce the two names, a FRIENDLY WORD FROM YOUR SPONSORS! That’s us. Almost all 8 of the games are available for purchase. If you were really interested in one or two of them (or all!), feel free to support independent, struggling, aspiring designers who are working really hard every day to make it. We seriously love this stuff and hope we can make a few of you smile in the process.

Games from Matt Worden


  • Dicey Curves
  • Jump Gate: A note on this! Space Mission is the Europe-only release that is largely based on Jump Gate. This Jump Gate is the 2nd Edition. 3rd Edition is being released in the very near future.

Games from Chevee Dodd


  • Tuesday Night Tanks
  • Scallywags

Games from AJ Porfirio


  • If I’m Going Down
  • Tessen is not currently available for sale. It will be on Kickstarter in the very near future! You should see the new art. It’s awesome!

Games from Grant Rodiek


  • Farmageddon
  • Battle for York: I’m waiting on the first copy from the printer. Assuming everything prints properly and doesn’t need additional work, it will be put up for sale on Print & Play Productions. Stay tuned!

And the winners are…

Serious Game Competition: Danny Devine!

Casual Game Competition: Todd Edwards!

Give them a follow, congratulate them, and say hello! I know both of these guys and they are awesome. I’m so glad the random hands of fate decided they should win free stuff!

Thanks everyone!

Posted in Blog | Tagged freestarter, giveaway | 1 Reply

FreeStarter Interviews Grant Rodiek


Four friends recently launched a project called FreeStarter. Why? To give away free games and thank the awesome board game community for being awesome. We also wanted to help you get to know us better. This is the final of four interviews, one with each of us. Today? We’re talking to me, Grant Rodiek. Matt Worden, Chevee Dodd, and AJ Porfirio are also in the conversation.

To learn about the contest, click here! To enter, send an email to , tell us which contest you want, and follow us on Twitter!

Matt: I’ve known Mr. Rodiek for almost 2 whole years, which allows me to have an inside knowledge of just about nothing of him. So, this is my chance to get into those deep, dark places and poke around a bit.

Grant, any chance you could share a picture of Peaches with us?  I know you’re normally pretty shy about your Corgi, but I’ve heard through the grapevine that she’s somewhat cute. Your thoughts?

AJ: Ah, good plan Matt. Soften him up with a Peaches question.

Grant: Peaches is my adorable, bossy 3 year old Welsh Corgi. When I’m not at work, she’s my constant companion. A lot of my creative exercises are conducted while walking Peaches at the park. I love her dearly.

Matt: (Okay. Now that that’s out of the way, Grant won’t be wondering when he’d get an opening to show off his favorite daddy’s girl.)

Can you give us a little background?  You know, everything else in your life up to this point.  You have 280 characters: GO!

Grant: I’m 29, male, and I live in San Francisco with my girlfriend, Beth, and our corgi, Peaches. I’m a professional digital game developer and serious board game design hobbyist. I’ve published/self-published two games so far, write my blog (if you’re reading this, you’re here!) and would like to one day publish games.

Matt: I’ve heard people call you “the Farmaggedon guy” … why?

Grant: Farmageddon is my first published design. It was published last year by 5th Street Games and in less than a year has sold through its first print run and won a Parent’s Choice Award. We’ve been very fortunate. The second print run was just ordered and I very much hope it continues to be well received. I try to promote it constantly, so if you follow me on Twitter, you’re probably aware of it.

The first expansion for Farmageddon, Livestocked & Loaded, is coming out this year. Plus, other Farmageddon things…

AJ: I’m looking forward to adding animals into the mix when we play Farmageddon!

Matt: (Quick note-to-self about AJ wanting to “add animals into the mix”.)  So Grant, I’ve also heard people call you “Grand” … but I really don’t want to see your answer as to why.

Grant: Typo? From those less Grand?

Matt: Sorry, but I need to sidetrack: Why is it that you showed up late at the JW on the last night of last year’s GenCon and then proceeded to buy all of us shots?

Grant: Because last year at GenCon I worked from 8pm to midnight nightly testing Battle for York. I was late because I tested with the most analysis-paralysis group in history and they took 2.5 hours to play my 60 minute game. It was epic. I bought shots because I’m a giving soul and I want everyone to consume the delicious nectar of GenCon.

AJ: Oh man I wish I saved our text conversation from that playtest. That was hilarious.

Grant: AJ and I were texting to each other while watching these poor guys decide, re-decide, debate, re-debate, every decision in the game.

Matt: Mmmm … nectar …elven-served nectar is the best, I hear. Anyhoo … have you ever put a single-use card into any of your designs?  (I won’t believe you even if you prove that you have.)

Grant: Yes! The General in Battle for York has a singular purpose! But typically, no. Many designers have favorite mechanics and one of mine is multi-use cards. For example:

  • Crop Cards in Farmageddon can be planted, used as fertilizer, or discarded to activate Action cards.
  • All cards in York (except the General, Saboteur, and Tactician) can be played to place reinforcements or activate special powers.

Things are changing though. All the action cards in Blockade are single-use and very simple. Then again, my other new game returns to multi-use cards. I’m like a broken record.

Chevee: I’m all over this. Adding multiple uses to cards gives you another decision layer without increasing components. I also hate those games where you have a hand full of useless cards.

Matt: You’re providing a copy of Farmageddon and Battle for York as part of our freestarter giveaways. Anything else you want to add-in here about the former? And what can you tell us about the latter?


Grant: Farmageddon is a light take-that for 2-4 players that plays in about a half hour. A few things help it stand out from other take-thats. For one, the take-thattery/aggression is constant and evenly distributed. It happens every turn and is a part of the strategy. By this, I mean you don’t go a round or two then get screwed. You know it’s going to happen so you plan against it.

Also, you only get to play two Action cards, which limits the amount of things that can happen and also generate a lot of combo driven play. I think it’s really fun discovering new combos and choices for different scenarios.


Battle for York is an area control/war game that plays with 2-4 players in an hour or less. The game is entirely action and card driven — no dice. I tried to make something different than the typical war games in the market, which tend to be highly complex, lengthy simulations between only 2 players. Another cool aspect is that the game features 4 asymmetric factions as well as a generic tutorial faction to help players learn the game.

The game requires “thoughtful aggression.” You can’t sit and wait. You need to take territory, win battles, and carefully manage your hand of cards to have the right balance of units on the ground and special tactics. I self-published Farmageddon, then it took off. I’m hoping the same happens for York.

Matt: York is really my sort of game. Not sure I’ll ever win, but I will enjoy every play. You had me at “Y–”!  (Farmageddon is okay too, I guess. Even if the stupid pre-5th Street version out-sold Jump Gate on TheGameCrafter.)

Chevee: I like York a lot. I can see my group playing it regularly. I also never see myself winning against them.

Matt: So if Chevee and I were to play a 2-player game … would both of us lose? We may need to figure this out the proper way! What ever happened to my all-time favorite design of yours, Up Your Missouri?

Grant: Frontier Scoundrels, aka Up Your Missouri was a semi-cooperative (bad, avoid at all costs) game based on Lewis, Clark, and 2 other fictional explorers. After about 10 tests I scrapped it. It was just a highly random, meandering, no decision, pile of junk. I didn’t see how to salvage it so I dropped it and went elsewhere. I have about 6 of these per year.

Matt: I think I love it even a little bit more now …  *sigh*

AJ: Can I have the time that I spent rule reviewing that game back? I kid, I kid.

Chevee: Was this before my time or is my memory that terrible?

Matt: It was before York and his first try at Poor Abby. Lasted about 2 months I think. I liked it, so he crumpled it up and threw it away.

In my eyes, you can be extremely self-critical … not so much of yourself, but of your designs and things that you create.  You seem to have a very tight, quick loop of assessment and determination of whether something works or doesn’t.  Where does that come from?

Grant: If I had to pin it on something I’d say my training at work paired with my personality of impatience. I’m a producer/designer at work, traditionally on large teams. From time to time I’ve had to make a lot of quick decisions and assess things so we can keep moving and make progress. I’ve always looked to decisive people as well. I think one of my best strengths and weaknesses is haste. It gets me in trouble and helps me succeed at the same time. I’m critical because I want to make really good things. Anybody can just put stuff out there and I want to be good. It’s a really difficult road and I’m not sure how it’s going yet.

Matt: “Anybody can just put stuff out there …”  Hey, that’s what I do!!  “… and I want to be good.” … oh, I see the difference.

Chevee: It’s two entirely different methodologies that lead to the same point. Grant likes to think and think and think before spending real time and money making something and Matt and I prefer to just make things and figure it out as we go along. I have convinced Grant to try his hand at the “Chevee Method” of design recently… in fact, I think Blockade started that way?

Grant: Molly’s Last Hope was Chevee Method. Blockade is pure me.

Matt: You are also very open in your design work, sharing a ton of information about your thoughts, processes, steps you’ve taken, results you’ve expected vs. what you’ve actually gotten, etc.  Do you find this is helpful to you in your game design work?  Is it helpful to you in other ways?

Grant: It is helpful for me in that I’m always thinking about how to present my ideas and share them. I have to position them such that people care and can digest the information. Something many designers fail to do is ask “How will players learn this? How will players first experience this? What is the best way to teach this?”

Another way is that I think it helps me build awareness for my games. I’m a relative nobody. [ed: Matt – we can’t all be The Beast] I’ve never published a game “for real,” I have a single published design… I’m a minnow in a big pond. I don’t quite have the presence yet to just put something out there and have people care. So, by sharing it openly, I hope I build some of that trust and presence so that long term, people do care.

Chevee: I appreciate the openness and it’s one of the things that pulled me into this community. I like reading about other peoples trials and tribulations, even if they are a “nobody” because there is always something to be learned, even from newbies.

Matt: Who do you learn from and what are the most important knowledge bits or habits you’ve gained over the past two years?

Grant: I learn from the games I play. I’m highly influenced by what I consume as a player. I learn by watching others — I love to watch Kickstarter projects and other publishers. If I cannot learn by doing (yet), I can learn by what others are doing. I also learn a great deal at work and then try to apply it to my hobby exercises.

Some things I’ve learned include: The ability to test and iterate on my designs. I know how to get what I need from testers and keep improving my games. I’ve grown much stronger in writing rules. Finally, I’m able to get my designs to a “good place” much more quickly.

Matt: Besides the multi-use-cards mentioned earlier, what are your other go-to mechanics?  Can you specifically respond to the ideas of randomness and everyone’s  favorite: chit pulling?

Grant: I personally don’t enjoy a great deal of randomness in my games, though what random means is different for everyone. For example, games like Arkham Horror or Talisman seem utterly boring to me. But, I absolutely don’t mind dice rolls for resolving combat, like in Summoner Wars or Memoir ‘44. Personally, I like making decisions against probability. I always like having options.

Randomness and luck are excellent tools for variance, which is how I try to use them. Others use it more to create unexpected moment. That has its place, but that’s less how I tend to use it.

Mechanics I love — in general, cards. I love having a hand of options and deciding how to use them. Lately, I’m obsessed with weird components, like blocks, and figuring out how to incorporate them. I also love social mechanics. I need to create a game with them.

Chit pulling is a really neat mechanic that I haven’t factored in properly yet for a personal design. Maybe soon?

Chevee: Everyone should be required to design a chit pulling game. MOAR CHITS!

Matt: You really, really, really like to playtest your games.  So much so that you even created a network of playtester “ penpals” to help other designers get their designs blind tested by other experienced folks.  What benefits do you normally get out of a high level of playtesting?

Grant: How much I love my games matters a lot less than how much others love my games. And, unlike Chevee, I actually like my games (I kill the ones I don’t). Playtesting helps reveal favorite mechanics that need to be tweaked or removed. Playtesting helps you refine your experience and improve rules and accessibility. Playtesting proves how well your graphic design supports the games.

A design, without testing, is just a hypothesis. Playtesting for me is the scientific aspect that refines the art and creative stuff.

Chevee: Hey now! I like at least one of the games I’ve designed! You have a mysterious ability to keep enjoying your projects after you are done with them… I can’t do that.

Matt: What new games are you working on right now?

Grant: I’m working on a tactical (and tactile!) fleet battle game tentatively called Blockade. Players have Jenga-like blocks that have lasers and weak points on them. Players arrange the blocks in formations to hide their weak spots, but also potentially bring fewer weapons to bear. The game is highly tactile, distilled, and uses a fun dice mechanic. It also has a big story written against.

I also started a second new design for which I have really big hopes. I’m not talking about it yet.

Matt: You say that you would like to become a publisher at some point. How do you see that unfolding? What sort of game(s) do you see Hyperbole Games logos on?

Grant: There are so many chances to screw up when you publish a game. I’d hate to do this with someone else’s game for my first outing. So, I need to design a game that I think is a.) amazing and b.) I can produce fantastically. Once I have that, if my personal funding is relatively happy, I’ll finally create my Hyperbole Games LLC and release the game.

Without a doubt, Hyperbole games will play in 60 minutes or less. Ideally 45 minutes or less. They’ll target the masses far more than the hardcore niche. So, more Ticket to Ride than Terra Mystica. I’m seeking games with fun components, $40 or less MSRP, and ones that can support a gorgeous presentation. Gameplay wise, I’m looking for games that are clever. Clever is a word I really like.

Matt: Each of these interviews has had some advice given. I’m curious as to the advice you would give to how designers should prepare for playtests and how they should gather feedback during and after play from the testers.

Grant: Know the goals you have for your game. Know what you’re trying to create. For example, for Battle for York, my goals were:

  • 2-4 players
  • 60 minutes or less
  • No dice. Low luck, in general.
  • Conflict driven, war-style game
  • No player elimination.
  • Players are never “out” of the game. You can always win.

Everyone has ideas for how to make your game better. Everyone knows the game they want to play. If you don’t know what you want, you’ll meander all over the place with feedback. If you know what you want, you’ll be able to process the feedback and use it to improve your game.

Chevee: I’d like to highlight that last sentence: “improve your game.” There comes a point in life when you have to accept the fact that you can’t please everyone… and that heavily applies to game design. Make your game the way you want it. That doesn’t mean that you turn away all advice and criticism, but you need to keep the focus on making something you want to play. If the advice helps get you there, awesome.

Obligatory Promotional Section

FreeStarter Interviews Matt Worden


Four friends recently launched a project called FreeStarter. Why? To give away free games and thank the awesome board game community for being awesome. We also wanted to help you get to know us better. This is the third of four interviews, one with each of us. Today? We’re talking to Matt Worden. Me (Grant Rodiek), Chevee Dodd, and AJ Porfirio are also in the conversation.

To learn about the contest, click here! To enter, send an email to , tell us which contest you want, and follow us on Twitter!

Chevee: Tell us about yourself, Matt. Let the readers in on the life of The Beast.

Matt: I’m a pretty typical upper-midwestern, suburban dad.  I’m a business systems analyst for a day job, and design games (and do other creative outlets, like writing and music) during my freetime.  I’ll have been married to my high school sweetie for 20 years this August, and we have 2 kids and 2 cats.  I love to get out in nature — camping, canoeing, fishing, etc. — and will play or watch just about any sport or game that is going on.  I also do some volunteer work via my church, focusing on youth.

Grant: All hail The Beast!

Matt: You know that I find this nickname that you and Chevee gave me to be pretty funny. And that’s probably why it’ll stick long-term now.  Back in high school, my basketball coach gave me the nickname “Brick” due to my sweet, sweet hoops “skills” … still have a few old-time buddies that will call me that.  But really only 2 people that call me “The Beast”. ;-p

Chevee: “Probably stick long-term?” Did you think we were just going to drop it!? Silly man.

AJ: I am… speechless.

Chevee: It happens in the presence of The Beast. You’ll get used to it.

Chevee: Did you grow up gaming? Have you always gamed? When did you become a true “gamer”?

Matt: I grew up in a playful family.  Lots of traditional games, especially card games like cribbage, canasta, and sheepshead. Cribbage and sheepshead are still some of my favorite all-time games  and I’d like to get back to remembering how to play canasta again sometime.  Whenever we had family gatherings, there was always a table of card-players, or Clue or Monopoly, or Yahtzee out on a table somewhere.  My brothers and I were both really into sports too. Softball or football out in the yard was pretty commonplace growing up.  The extended family still gets into a serious basketball game in mom’s driveway at gatherings now-adays.

I have a brother that is a few years older than me, and we played a lot of different games growing up.  Early on, we played a very informal version of miniatures wargaming, as in setting up the GI Joe guys and throwing things at them. But, as we got into our teens, we played more serious games.  We put a lot of hours into APBA Baseball during those years.

I didn’t really realize what was out there for good modern board games until just the past 10 years or so.  I still have not played much of anything yet (compared to most folks into hobby gaming). But, I’m always willing to try things out.

Chevee: You like everything, so asking about your favorite games is dull… what games do you NOT enjoy and why?

Grant: You’re going to break Matt’s programming with questions like this.

Chevee: But, I’m honestly curious. I’ve never heard Matt say he didn’t like a game! And I don’t want some lame “it’s not for me” answer. I want some real, backhanded bashing here Matt.

AJ: There goes Chevee trying to start fires… man you are still taking that “add some explosions” suggestion I made last year at Gencon WAY too seriously.

Matt: I think you see my positivity around newborn creative projects as “liking everything” … really, I just love the creative process and enjoy seeing the new ideas that come out of it.  I’m seeing potential … and have no reason to bash that ever.

I don’t love all existing/finished things.  I don’t like games where I have to read a lot of stuff on a card to figure out what rules that particular card is adding/changing/breaking … therefore, I haven’t made it very far into any traditional CCG-style game.  Also, games that have so much going on in them that it muddies-up the view between a player’s choices/actions and the targeted end results …I play by intuitive feel (and maybe a little strategic planning, but not  much), so I need to be able to quickly sense how what I am able to do will impact my outcome or someone else’s outcome.

Oh! Let me have a range of options of actions. Please don’t constrict me too much, and allow me to choose how I balance between building up my stuff and tearing down (or, at least, interfering) with other players.  Which means, I like to have the ability to directly influence other players’ stuff.  Haven’t found a deck-builder I like yet either. Sorry, deck-builder folks.

Games I didn’t enjoy playing (actually naming names): 7 Wonders, San Juan, Catan: Card Game, Finca, silly poker variants with wildcards and special combinations.  I only watched people play Seasons. It’s beautiful and has some interesting things going on in it, but it presses at least 3 of my bad buttons.

AJ: Man, you hate everything!

Chevee: I know right!? What a jerk!

Matt: Did you want me to tell you about the things I love in games?  I’ll sum-up: take out the stuff I listed above and I love everything else. :-p

Grant: I agree on Seasons. Can’t stand it now — it pushes a lot of my bad buttons as well. I must say, Matt’s support was really helpful creating York. Having him push and encourage me early on really helped.

Chevee: I think we are all on board with Seasons. I am not a fan. It’s playable with two, but there are other games I’d rather play if it’s two-player night.

Grant: Summoner Wars, X-Wing, Fleet Captains, Dragonheart, Conflict of Heroes, Memoir ‘44, Mr. Jack

AJ: I won’t pile on further other than to say I agree regarding Seasons.

Chevee: Tell us about the two games you’re giving away for the FreeStarter Group Hug.


Matt: Space Mission is a beautifully rendered, simplified version of my game Jump Gate.  It was published by Schmidt Spiele in Europe and has everything in it you would expect from a good German company like that — good components, wonderful artwork, clean rules in 5 languages, etc.  It’s a lighter game that works well as a gateway game when playing with non-core gamers, and can serve as a filler for experienced gamers.  There’s hand management, action selection, and set collection inside of a space exploration theme.  And it has 3D miniature spaceships.


Dicey Curves is a family/party-style dice-rolling racing game.  You build the track from randomly-drawn cards as you race.  You roll dice and try to make Yahtzee-style combinations from them, which allow you to move your car down the track and through the curves.  There are also control chips that let you adjust the dice a bit, so it isn’t 100% random results.  Very fun and simple: Roll ‘em and Race ‘em!

AJ: As a proud owner, let me say that Space Mission is a beautiful production. The winner of the serious game package will really be getting a gem of a game in Space Mission.

Grant: Honestly I want to steal this version of the game, which I don’t have, and send something random off my shelf instead.

Matt: And, um, Dicey Curves is okay too, right?  Right?  Uh, Guys?

Chevee: You self-published Jump Gate (the predecessor to Space Mission) before Kickstarter was a thing. How did that work out for you and what spurred that decision? Would you have used Kickstarter if it were available?

Matt: There’s a lot going on with that question. First, I’ll answer strictly financially, since that’s easy to measure: we broke even.  We put way-too-much money on a credit card to get all of the materials needed, then overestimated my ability/willingness/time-allowed to do that hand assembly. But in the end, a little over a year later, we were able to pay off the credit card. And I still have a lot of materials sitting in my basement. Now that it’s a 2-year-old, lighter, indie-produced hobby market game, demand has dropped to nearly zero. I don’t expect that I will self-produce another game in this same manner.

Now, with the business side out of the way, I will say this: I gained *so much* from this experience beyond the money stuff.  The support I received from my family (especially my wife, who is awesome) and friends and the game community at-large has been amazing and a real blessing to me.  And, it opened a ton of doors that I didn’t even know existed before it all came about.  I owe a lot of thanks to the board game reviewing staff at GAMES Magazine, especially John McCallion, the editor in that area — that’s what got the whole thing rolling and kicked off the chain of events that lead to Space Mission happening.

I probably would have used Kickstarter at the time if it had been something I knew about, but that would have only changed the financial part of things.  I do not expect that I will try to use Kickstarter on my own for one of my games.  Though, I am open to partnering with someone who knows how to use it successfully and has a good way to doing fulfillment … those are the areas I like the least in this whole process.

Chevee: I know we both spend a fair amount of time on trying to make our work available. How has that community treated you and do you have any advice for people looking to use

Matt: The TGC community is really great and has treated me very well and I hope others would say that I have treated them well and been helpful to them there too.  That’s really the only way that sort of community can work and become the positive thing it is.  My advice would be to purposefully engage with the community via the forums and, especially, the always-on web chat that TGC hosts.  Ask questions, talk about what you’re working on, let your sense of humor show, etc.  Also, make sure to engage with the TGC staff. They are really easy to work with and are focused on making the site a success.  Others there could probably give better advice than I could about the technical aspects of using TGC to produce prototypes or shop-sold games. Don’t be shy — ask them questions about what you’re trying to do.

Chevee: Yeah, I just like hanging out in the chat. I enjoy talking about game design and I feel like it is a great forum to help others… and get help… about all aspects of the design process.

AJ: It really is a good resource for bouncing ideas around.

Grant: In general, it’s good advice to ask people for help in this business, whether you’re a designer, publisher, or even just want to start a blog. I’ve sent a lot of weird emails to people and most of them get a response. If you ever have a question, ask someone.

Chevee: What are you currently working on?

Matt: As you guys know, I always have too many irons in the fire.  For board game projects, I’ll make a quick list:

  • Jump Gate, 3rd Edition: This will be a small-box edition with some rules tweaks, available only via Should be out this summer.

  • Thunder Run to Gratis-3: This will be my entry in the miniatures game design contest running at TGC through June. It’s a trashy pummel-your-neighbor dicefest: “Thunder Road INNNNN SPPPAACCCEEE” set in the Jump Gate background story.

  • Magistrate: The monster of a game that I’ve been working on forever. An area control game with 3 different areas to control without the ability to focus on them all at the same time.

  • For Goods and Honor: An odd chit-pulling, bidding, negotiating, worker placement, resource production game that I introduced at Protospiel-Milwaukee in March

  • SharkBait: A simple round-the-table family dice game where you are trying to keep fish from being eaten by sharks

  • Cosmic Critters: A family card game about selling pets from outer space. It has a neat little multi-hidden-bidding mechanic at the core

  • Dicey Curves: Secret: Mix what I have so far with Dicey Curves with the old arcade game “Spy Hunter.” It’s currently a big mess

  • Dicey Curves Deluxe: Re-forming the existing Dicey Curves + the DANGER! expansion into a full-sized box with hex tiles and tweaked dice-control rules.

  • Colonies of the Jump Gate: A bigger sequel to Jump Gate. I had an early version of it at GenCon last year. It needs a lot of work and is currently percolating on the back burner

I won’t list the games that are only ideas at this point … I’d need to use another dozen bullets there.  And lately my interest has been re-piqued in the area of writing PC games and doing some longer-form fiction writing.  And, apparently, I’ve taken up wood-working as a new thing now too. ;-p

Grant: I look forward to your fiction! You know, you can help me write stories for Blockade…or even just send me plot points. Can you bring Colonies to GenCon? I also want to play the updated Magistrate. You did update it, right?

Chevee: Why do I not own For Goods and Honor yet!? I want that game!!!

AJ: Come on Matt, FINISH SOMETHING already! (subtle foreshadowing)

Matt: Yeah … not all that subtle.

Chevee: People tend to like advice. Do you have any for new designers or people considering self publication?

Matt: Yeah, I’ll give 2 pieces of advice: (1) Talk with Folks, and (2) Finish Something.

Talk with Folks: I’ve found that I’ve improved what I’m working on at a much faster pace and with higher quality improvements the more I’ve been open with people about what I’m working on.  I’ve re-learned this point over any over. Initially when first getting involved with the BGDF website, then with Protospiel, then with the community at TheGameCrafter, and now with all of the designers and gamers I’ve gotten to know via Twitter and Facebook and from visiting cons.  The more open I’ve been — both in discussing what I had going on AND in honestly listening to the feedback — the more I’ve learned and improved my habits and my design.  I also like to hear what other people have going on and get into those “talkin’ shop” sort of discussions on the topic.

So, get out on the web, go to cons, go to designer get-together events, etc., and talk with folks.

Finish Something: I think it’s important to finish something end-to-end as a way to simply prove to yourself that you can do it.  As creative/design folks, it can be easy to get caught in the spin-cycle of tweak-and-test-and-think-and-change … but there needs to be a point where an individual thing that you’ve created has to come to a resting point.  Then get on with another thing.  Learning that you have much more ‘’in the tank” is another lesson that comes from this.

This is the area where I think I’ve been different than the other 3 guys in this cabal … I get a lot of things spinning in parallel, and I work to get them finished off and “out there” in a faster cycle.  Not sure this is a great long-term or all-the-time type of strategy, but it’s something I need to do as a way to prove things out and — in an odd way — to sort through the ideas in my head.

So, I offer up “finish something” as a counterweight advice to the majority behavior of “you can never test too much” and “keep refining it until it’s perfect” … you obviously need to find a good balance between those things.

Chevee: I agree completely with “finish something.” It is very simple to start things… and get bored with it and start something else… or tell yourself it’s not what you want and keep hacking at it… but once you have that Finished Something under your belt, it becomes much easier to move forward with other ideas.

AJ: Great advice. I think there some designers out there that never get to a real end state with any of their designs and it is a real shame. At some point you have to stop tweaking and get it out in the wild!

Grant: Ideas are cheap. But making a fun game? That’s the key. You can hypothesize all day but it’s so key to really make something.

Chevee: Share something awesome about the gaming community with us.

Matt: To me, the community of gamers and designers in this hobby are what’s kept me working on board games.  The games are cool too, but I don’t get a lot of opportunity to actually just sit and play. But, thanks to websites and social media, I can interact with cool people who are into this same thing I am on a daily basis.  It was AJ, on the TGC chat about a year-and-a-half ago, that suggested  I should think about using Twitter, which lead me to get to know you guys.

Getting to the in-person events is really where it’s at though. Meeting you guys for the first time in-person at GenCon last year is a great example.  Same thing for when I met Cyrus Kirby and Jeff King for the first time in-person at Con of the North in St. Paul a couple years ago, and David Whitcher, Clark Rodeffer, and everyone involved at the Ann Arbor Protospiel a couple years before that.

These are all really good people that you can learn a ton from, and have a really enjoyable time while you do it.

AJ: Pshhhhh. Name dropper.

Matt: I do drop names … I also buy people beer.  It makes me feel special.

Chevee: Good beer too! Not the swill I was begging people to drink at ProtoSpiel.

Grant: Shameful of you to have spent so much on Pabst.

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FreeStarter Interviews Chevee Dodd


Four friends recently launched a project called FreeStarter. Why? To give away free games and thank the awesome board game community for being awesome. We also wanted to help you get to know us better. This is the second of four interviews, one with each of us. Today? We’re talking to Chevee Dodd. Me (Grant Rodiek), Matt Worden, and AJ Porfirio are also in the conversation.

To learn about the contest, click here! To enter, send an email to , tell us which contest you want, and follow us on Twitter!

AJ: Tell us about yourself. What is under that fedora?

Grant: Ego?

Chevee: Dayum. Out of the gate with the snarkiness? I didn’t even get to answer the first question yet!

I’m a tall, lanky father of two little girls, who’s been happily married for 10 years. I’ve been gaming since I was in diapers and don’t see an end to that hobby in sight. I’ve been designing games since the late nineties, but have only seriously sought publication on a few different occasions… one of which landed me a deal… and from that, Scallywags was published. Post-Scallywags, I’ve been designing stuff for me, doing most of the art and graphic design myself, and releasing things through and my own site. When I’m not gaming or designing, I like to spend time with my family, ride my motorcycle, build stuff out of wood, and play some video games.

Grant: Tell us about cornholing, Chevee.

Matt: And completely no mention of fishing … sigh


Chevee: Well, Matt might be more qualified… cornhole is about as huge as baseball in the Midwest… but, yes, I am in the process of constructing my very own set of quality cornhole boards. No mention of fishing because it’s been about a year since I last fished. I need to correct that problem… but I do love fishing!

AJ: I can totally see Chevee and Matt sitting out on the lake in a little jon boat, rod and reels in hand, not saying a word. Then one second goes by, Chevee gets a game idea, and Matt can’t get him to shut up the rest of the day! 20 game designs and 0 fish caught later, the date is over! What are some of your current favorite games?

Chevee: Well, certainly nothing I’ve designed… my regular group plays a lot of the same games and the top three are games I always enjoy playing: Settlers of Catan, Acquire, and Tichu. Some of the newer stuff we’ve tried that I really like are: X-Wing Miniatures, DC Deckbuilder, and Spartacus.

AJ: Spartacus! And X-Wing! Yes!

Grant: What is it you like about Catan? I’ve played it a handful of times and it just frustrates me.

Matt: Settlers is good fun … Grant isn’t.

Chevee: Catan is a speculation game with a good bit of social interaction and manipulation tacked on. It’s different every time you play and never fails to engage me. Maybe I’m just swooning over my first love?

Grant: No, that seems reasonable. I think you need the right group.

AJ: Tell us about the two games you’re giving away for the FreeStarter Group Hug.


Chevee: Tuesday Night Tanks… well… there’s one you’ve never heard of! I started on this design last Christmas as a silly entrant into’s Map Builder contest. Grant already had a game rolling for it and I joked that I was going to build a game the week before and whoop his pile of crap with my awesomeness. Well… I did build the game (though I spent a few months on it), but in the end, Grant’s game got further than mine (Editor’s Note: Emphasis is Grant’s). TNT was inspired by Car Wars (a childhood favorite), Robo Rally, and Wings of War. I wanted a simple, light, tank fighting game. I think it turned out pretty darn great.


Scallywags, well, that’s the game you might have actually heard of. I designed it during a family vacation to the beach, playtested it once, and released it as a Print and Play on A few years later, it got picked up by Gamewright and saw publication last year. It’s been an awesome year so far and the game turned  out amazing with their art department in charge.

AJ: For the record, Tuesday Night Tanks doesn’t have to be played on Tuesday right? Although I would only play it that day otherwise it just wouldn’t be thematic :P

Chevee: You are free to play Tanks whenever you like. The naming is a spin on Monday Night Football and Friday Night Fights. In my fantasy world, both those things still exist and Tanks needed a night to air. The actual tank league is called CTD for Combat Tankers Division which was originally formed by the Army.

AJ: What games do you think are awesome? What makes a game incredible for you?

Chevee: I love depth built of of simplicity. The pinnacle of that sentence is Coloretto. The game literally offers you one decision each turn and sometimes it’s one of the hardest decisions you’ll ever make. There is a bit of subtle social engineering in there which is important for me also. I like playing games where I need to guess or manipulate the actions of others… for me, that adds depth. I mentioned it earlier, but Acquire also fits in this category. It is, after all, my favorite game of all time. There are very few choices to be made each turn, but they are exceptionally deep and important choices.

Grant: Everyone should own Coloretto and have it in their backpack. It’s so good. Honestly, we should swap out Farmageddon for Coloretto in the giveaway.

Matt: Chevee knows that I had already designed that game ahead of time, but just never finished it. ;-p

AJ: Ever consider Kickstarter for publishing one of your designs?

Chevee: I’ve considered it long enough to know that it’s not for me. I don’t work well with stress. I’m not good at managing things. I’ve been told that a few of my games would do great (Princess Dice especially) but I’m just not comfortable with spending more energy on trying to sell myself than designing games. I’d rather spend that time and effort making more cool stuff and let someone else handle all the business stuff. I’ve offered to let others have the games and run campaigns for them, but no takers so far. :-D

AJ: Princess dice is really good. Yeah, I said it! I like princesses! Are you working on anything we should know about?

Chevee: I’m pretty sure anyone reading about this wants to know about everything that I do. Duh.

A few months ago, I released Leathernecks ‘43 on That game rocks and I’m seeking publication for it or a form of it… it’s the same game as Princess Dice. My latest project has been a betting game based around mechanical greyhound races in the not-too-distant future. I really like it, but I’ve been rather quiet about it on my blog. It’s just not a candidate for print and play because of the component requirements, but it’s certainly a candidate for publication. I’m going to be pitching it hard this summer.

Some older projects, specifically Project: Dead End and Hexploration have started to resurface and I expect there to be some new articles about them in the near future. I picked up a co-designer, Neil Roberts, on Dead End and together we have been able to take the game where I want it. I’m really excited about it again.

Matt: Leathernecks is not the same game as Princess Dice … one is Marines, machines guns and smoke grenades  — the other is Princesses, fairies, and unicorns … NOT the same game!

AJ: See Matt on the other hand is NOT in touch with his feminine side. Embrace your inner princess Matt! How did you get started in the board game community?

Chevee: In 1996 I had a chance encounter that afforded me the opportunity spending the summer demoing  the X-Files CCG with United States Playing Cards. That was the same year Settlers of Catan released in the US (still had German rules/components at Origins… I’m a hipster) and I discovered this whole world of awesome games I’d never heard of before. I was instantly addicted and quickly got over my CCG addiction to focus more on multiplayer strategy games.

AJ: I should have asked how you got into design. I love that story! Everyone should ask Chevee about it when you see him at Gencon. Do you have any recommendations for folks just getting started with design or publication?

Chevee: My most given piece of advice is to start small and get something playable. I don’t like spending hours and hours with a bunch of ideas and plans only to find out that the underlying game system is flawed or boring. Make the simplest form of your game playable and try it. Then build on that if it’s not complex enough.

For publishers? I dunno… I once heard James Ernest say: “Don’t start a game company unless you like companies more than you like games.”

AJ: Do you have any good stories or memories you’ve gained from hanging out with the board game community?

Chevee: So, a group of us were going to meet at the JW Marriott one night after the GenCon hall closed. We all gather, but one of us is missing…

Grant: Okay and that’s everything! Nothing more. Nothing to see! Huh…this reaction implicates me…

Matt: I think I was too busy buying AJ beer while he pummeled me at my own game to really notice anything else at that time. :-/

AJ: That was just ONE night?

Chevee: We played games!?

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FreeStarter Interviews AJ Porfirio


Four friends recently launched a project called FreeStarter. Why? To give away free games and thank the awesome board game community for being awesome. We also wanted to help you get to know us better. This is the first of four interviews, one with each of us. Today? We’re talking to AJ Porfirio of Van Ryder Games. Me (Grant Rodiek), Matt Worden, and Chevee Dodd are also in the conversation.

To learn about the contest, click here! To enter, send an email to , tell us which contest you want, and follow us on Twitter!

Grant: Tell us about yourself. Why should we care, at all, who you are?

AJ: I’m really just someone who loves games. Board games to be exact. I got into design, which got me into publishing, and now I publish my own and others’ games under the label of Van Ryder Games.

Matt: But … we want to learn about *you* … like: wife/girlfriend/boyfriend, kids, pets, favorite song/book/movie, just how into My Little Pony and Twilight are you, approximately (or exactly) how tall are you, do you prefer to cook in the French or Southern BBQ styles, etc.?  Or, you know, you can just talk about game stuff I suppose.

AJ: There goes Matt getting all personal. Well, I have a wife and 3 kids – All boys! They are great! I’m not a BBQ guy, I am a Cajun guy. Give me a crawfish boil any day of the week!

Grant: What are some of your current favorite games?

AJ: I’m going to be a little cheesy here and say “The next one!” I just love variety and I love playing new games. I am a firm believer that playing fresh titles only helps me as a designer as well. I think we as an industry are uber critical of ourselves and the quality of products we put out there. In the end we are talking about games, sometimes we need to step back and remind ourselves that the goal of any gaming experience is to have fun! Some games that have been the most fun for me of late are: Tales of the Arabian Nights and Descent 2nd edition. Betrayal at House on the Hill and Spartacus will probably always be on my favorites list.

Grant: Tell us about the two games you’re giving away for the FreeStarter Group Hug.

AJ: If I’m Going Down is for 1-2 players and really fills an under-served niche theme that no one seems to design games for: Zombies! Ok, Ok, so it is kind of the opposite. But IIGD (as we like to call it when typing – it is clunky to say though) is different from all those other Zombie games because it isn’t about survival. YOU ARE GOING TO DIE. It is all about how many zombies are you going to take down with you when you go. Solo players and/or Zombie lovers will get the most bang for their buck from IIGD. It is a thematic marvel of a game and if you don’t feel the theme you just might be a Zombie.

Tessen is a design by the creative duo behind Cardboard Edison, a blog that is all about sharing game design insight and resources from all over the internet. Tessen is a Japanese themed card game that is played by 2 players in real time. Players try to gather sets of animals and optimize the use of Samurai warriors to capture the animals of their opponent or prevent their own from being taken! I discovered Tessen at UnPub 3 in January and it was the highlight of the con for me not only to play, but to see the reaction of others and how much fun they were having.

Grant: My co-worker and I play Tessen to settle disputes at work. I’m pretty bad at the game and therefore, I’m rarely right. It makes me sad. You ran a Kickstarter for IIGD, right? How did that go?

AJ: It seems like such a long time ago… fall of 2011. Kickstarter has come a long way since then. For me the project went well, the game was funded, and the feedback has been pretty good. For my first publishing effort, I would consider it a success. There is definitely room to improve and I am excited about the prospects of bringing Tessen to Kickstarter in the near future and taking it to a whole new level!

Matt: A quick aside for those reading this. If you have not read AJ’s posts on BGG from when he was going through the IIGD KS experience, you should go back and do so. They were very open and honest and a great source of information on one particular small publisher’s experience. Because they are from back when using KS for board games was just starting to become popular, it’s interesting to see how quickly things have evolved over the past 2 years.

AJ: Oh great, now I have to remind people how horrible I have been at keeping up with that blog. You are right about things changing! Much of this I believe is still relevant, but some probably isn’t. Click here to see the blog.

Grant: Are you working on anything else we should know about?

AJ: Yeah, a little solo game called Hostage Negotiator. HN is a pure solo game that I am marketing as a gateway to solo. I am confident that serial solo players will enjoy Hostage Negotiator, but I feel very strongly that it will open the minds of some who scoff at solo board gaming to see that playing solitaire can be a challenging and entertaining experience.

Grant: You seem to really like dice and have said things like “embrace random” on Twitter. Why?

AJ: I think more than dice specifically, what I like is the “unknown”, or not knowing what is going to happen next. Dice are great at creating long odd occurrences from happening just often enough to throw a wrench into your (or somebody else’s plan). When I play European style games I generally feel like I know who is going to win halfway or two thirds of the way through the game. Sure, I am wrong sometimes, but usually my sense of the endgame is correct. That’s fine, but I just enjoy uncertainty which makes for more epic stories and memories in my opinion.

Chevee: Because dice are like cards that don’t need to be shuffled! Woot!

Matt: AND dice feel, sound, and smell great! If you haven’t smelled your dice lately, go ahead and do so now … We’ll wait.

Grant: …

Grant: How did you get started in the board game community?

AJ: You know I have always been into gaming, but I never knew such a fantastic community was out there. I grew up on D&D, Magic: The Gathering, Talisman, etc. so I have been gaming for awhile. But, since beginning to design games and realizing the world that was out there beyond just the local game shops, I have really jumped in head first and immersed myself.

Chevee: Oh snap! Talisman!? Shall I bring all my 2nd Edition stuff to GenCon for a night of nostalgic awesomeness!?

AJ: I sure won’t say no to that!

Grant: Please no?

AJ: It’s ok, we’ll just grab Cole.

Grant: Do you have any recommendations for folks just getting started with design or publication?

AJ: SLOW DOWN. When you have that first idea you think “Gosh I am brilliant! This is going to be easy. I will be a millionaire sensation!” The sooner designers realize this thing ain’t (yeah I’m from the south) so easy, the better off they will be. Don’t feel like you have to get a game out the door in a month. Learn HOW to design, be a sponge. Take in as much as you can from those that have been there and done that. And finally… Playtest your game until YOU hate it, but most everyone else that plays it loves it.

Matt: I can see where at least one of our interviews will stray down a different path now. ;-)

Grant: Chevee hates every game he makes from day 1. And Matt seems to love every game I make from day 1. Then Matt copies it.

Chevee: To be fair, my games are terrible. Not even sure why I’m included on this list.

Matt: It is true that I love just about everything right out of the gate — including Chevee’s terrible games.  Pretty sure I’ve never copied anyone’s stuff, especially Grant’s. Of course, there have been the cases where I’ve pre-designed it before you did, so … yeah.

Grant: Like Magistrate of York? Do you have any good stories or memories you’ve gained from hanging out with the board game community?

AJ: Man, just getting to meet everyone in person last year at Gencon was incredible. I especially bonded with my partners here that are part of this contest! I can’t wait to see everyone again and meet some more new faces. And it may sound cheesy, but I feel like I get a bit of that on Twitter everyday, which is incredible. If you are a designer and you are not on Twitter I highly recommend joining us there!

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Freestarter Giveaway Contest

We were all chatting the other day (Grant, AJ, Matt, and Chevee). We noted how we all met through the design community, have all made millions of dollars*, and all have almost 1000 Twitter followers (except Chevee, but he’s bad at math and 400 is close).

We wanted to celebrate this and share some of our games with the awesome Twitter, Facebook, and otherwise game community.

This week we’re hosting our FreeStarter Game Design Community Group Hug Giveway. Or, FGDCGHG for short. Each of us are giving away 2 games for two different drawings.

The Serious Gamer Drawing: The entrant who wins this will receive free copies of:


If I’m Going Down by AJ Porfirio


Space Mission by Matt Worden


Battle for York by Grant Rodiek


Tuesday Night Tanks by Chevee Dodd

The Casual Gamer Drawing: The entrant who wins this will receive free copies of:


Tessen Classic designed by Cardboard Edison and published by Van Ryder Games


Dicey Curves by Matt Worden


Farmageddon by Grant Rodiek


Scallywags by Chevee Dodd

Entering the contest is easy. Follow these 2 Steps!

1. Follow each of us on Twitter:

AJ Porfirio

Matt Worden

Grant Rodiek

Chevee Dodd

2. Email Grant at . Tell him which drawing you wish to enter: Serious or Casual. Unfortunately, due to costs, ONLY contestants in the United States can win. It simply costs too much to mail 4 games from 4 people to Europe or the rest of the world. We realize this is lame.

Otherwise? Cross your fingers and hope we draw your name.

We hope you love our games and have as much fun playing them as we had designing them. If you’re attending GenCon in August, hit us up! We’ll all be there, probably together, probably playing games. We’ll be posting conversations between the four of us all week if you want to learn more about us or our games. But reading? Totally not required to win free stuff.

Good luck and thanks for making this community awesome.

Grant, AJ, Chevee, and Matt

*not true

Jamey and Grant Discuss Everything (Pt 2)

If you missed Part 1, read it here. Euphoria is live on Kickstarter and already funded!

A discussion with Jamey Stegmaier and Grant Rodiek (bold)

Euphoria is your new game, live on Kickstarter now. What is Euphoria? What do we need to know?

Jamey: Euphoria is a dystopian-themed worker-placement game set in the not-so-distant future. Each player is trying to grab control of the dystopia using worker dice and recruits with special abilities. Play time is 15 minutes per player, and the cost to back 1 copy is $49 (shipping and customs included to the US, Canada, and the European Union).

Why this theme? What excites you about it? Why do you think it’s exciting for others?

Jamey: I LOVE dystopian fiction. Ready Player One, The Hunger Games, Oryx and Crake, Wool, Pure, and classics like Fahrenheit 451 and Brave New World. I love the sense of discovery as I read dystopian fiction: How does the new world work? Why did it end up this way? I find it easy to get immersed in dystopian worlds because they aren’t that different from our own. A lot of them take controversial issues from the modern day and exaggerate them. And I really like that the protagonist in dystopian fiction is up against all odds, and yet he/she truly does have the power to change the world. In Euphoria, you are that protagonist.

I’m honestly not quite sure if others find dystopias as exciting as I do. From a gaming perspective, it’s not on the level of sci-fi as 4x space-themed games, but it’s also geekier than a wine-making game. I’m curious to see how people respond to it.

What are a few of your favorite dystopian novels?

I loved the Hunger Game series and read them all in about 4 days. I read Fahrenheit and 1984 in high school but don’t remember them too well. My favorite is probably the Avery Cates series by Jeff Sommers, which I read last year. It focuses on an assassin, Avery Cates. The first book is The Electric Church and is highly recommended.

Jamey: I just requested a Kindle sample to check it out. Thanks for the recommendation.

What was your inspiration? What did you set out to create?

Jamey: I had a few different inspirations. One was the dystopian theme as I described above. Another was dice. I love rolling dice, but I like games with less than 20% luck, so I wanted to find a way to incorporate dice in a low-luck way. Alien Frontiers and Kingsburg provided some early inspirations in that area. Also, the flow of the game was really important for me. I wanted to make a game that didn’t have rounds or phases, one that fluidly moved from one player to the next. I wanted to make a game where you didn’t have to calculate a new first player every round. And as a bonus, when you eliminate rounds and phases, a game that could easily last over 2 hours averages around an hour instead. I want to play games multiple times on game nights, so that was part of my goal.

Your KS page proudly boasts 60+ blind playtesters. How did you gather these people? What was your process?

Jamey: I am very, very fortunate that many Viticulture backers were willing to playtest print-and-play versions of Euphoria. I put out a call to playtesters in an e-mail, and they responded in droves. After many months of development in St. Louis, I had my artist and designer make the game board (the board art is needed to make sense of the game), and I uploaded the PnP to dropbox. I asked all playtesters to play it at least twice (or not at all), because in my opinion it’s nearly impossible to get a true feel for a game while you’re learning to play instead of playing to win. After the original blind playtest, I revised the game based on the feedback and posted the revised version for a second round. Then a third round. That may sound fast, but when you have 60+ people blind playtesting your game and you’re playtesting the results in the meantime, it doesn’t take long to figure things out. What is your playtest process like?

I’m fortunate in that I work at a game company, so I’m surrounded by peers who love games, are very sharp when it comes to game design, and who aren’t afraid to give me honest feedback. I often schedule lunch sessions (I design games that are 60 min or less) for 2-4 people, set it up, then watch people play.

I also try to attend events like Gencon and Protospiel where I gain access to a lot of new people really quickly. Another favorite trick of mine is to play with people who aren’t gamers to figure out ways to improve usability and accessibility for the game. For example, if my girlfriend isn’t confused, then gamers really shouldn’t be confused.

Finally, I try to put the games in my PPP blind playtesting program. I’ve tried the PNP route, but if the game is beyond a certain size, most people won’t bother (I don’t blame them). My future games will be much simpler than York, so perhaps PNP will become more viable?

Jamey: I was pleasantly surprised that so many people were willing to print and play a full color game with so many components. And that’s great that you’re surrounded by people at your company who are willing to play your games. I like the tip to playtest games with non-gamers.

Tell me about your “dice faces represent knowledge” mechanic. How did that come about? How did it evolve?

Jamey: Great question. This brings me way back to why I decided that dice needed to be the workers. In a dystopia, the more knowledge people have about their society, the more likely they are to run away. That’s a common ingredient in almost every dystopia, so I knew I needed to capture it in Euphoria. Dice were an easy call there: The numbers on the dice would represent worker knowledge. So in the original version, all of your workers started with 1 knowledge, and if they ever got up to 6, you lost the worker because they knew too much. However, it wasn’t all that fun, especially since there was no dice rolling in the game–rather, the dice simply served as a way to track knowledge. I went through lots of iterations to figure out how dice rolling could be exciting without being too lucky, and still factor in knowledge. The end result is that your individual worker knowledge matters when placing workers. There isn’t a single spot on the board that limits you based on the number on your worker die. But your recruits make an impact there. For example, the Wastelander faction wants its workers to have high knowledge. They’re all about researching and memorializing the old world. So many of the Wastelander recruits give you a bonus if your worker has the highest knowledge of any worker on a certain area on the board.

The idea of your worker knowledge getting too high and workers escaping also made it into the final game, but in a different way than the original version. Individual worker knowledge doesn’t matter, but collective worker knowledge does. You start out with two workers, and every time you roll your workers, you look at them and add up their knowledge. If it is 18 or higher, one of your workers runs away. You can mitigate that using the knowledge track, which lets you reduce collective knowledge…but the same track can also increase your knowledge. So it serves as a check and balance for players who want to go after more workers.

You mentioned the Wastelander faction. Does your game have different factions? Can you explain these in greater depth? What does it mean to be a faction in Euphoria?

Jamey: Sure, the game has three different factions (and it might have four if we meet a certain stretch goal), each of which is physically separated from one another. The Euphorians live in a city called Euphoria where the buildings are slathered in gold…at least, the buildings where the elite live. Everyone else lives below them, working long days on the generator, where they produce electricity on giant hamster wheels to support the lavish lifestyles of the elite. The Euphorians hypocritically claim to value equality, so Euphorian recruits often give you bonuses if your workers interact with workers of equivalent knowledge.

The Wastelanders are those that were unprotected when the old world ended. They are survivors to the core, and they have the scars to prove it. They’ve rebuilt their society using the remnants of the past, sculpting a city from trash and clay. They covet the relics of the past, and thus Wastelander recruits–especially those with high knowledge–specialize in acquiring artifact cards.

The Subterrans are the final faction. They anticipated the apocalypse and dug deep underground to avoid it. There they found an underground winter untainted by the chemicals in the air and an abundance of stone to build a new subterranean empire. The Subterran overlords like to keep their people in the dark–literally and figuratively–and thus they give you bonuses when your workers have lower knowledge than other workers.

How do players choose their factions? Your game plays with 2-5 (6 with a Stretch Goal). How do you dole out factions?

Jamey: Players don’t exactly choose their factions–rather, they choose their recruits, and the allegiances of the recruits impacts you. So at the beginning of the game, each player is dealt four random recruit cards. They pick two and discard the others forever. They then reveal one of the recruits–that is their active recruit. You only get to use the bonuses of your active recruit. The other recruit remains hidden until you or other players unlock all recruits of that faction.

Neat! It’s organically woven into the experience. It sounds very dynamic, which I like. Tell me about the player interaction. How can I affect you?

Jamey: There are a few different ways you can affect me. The most common way is on the temporary use action spaces, which are all over the board. If you place a worker on one of those action spaces and I want to place a worker there, I can do so, but it bumps you off the board. That lets you delay the use of one of your turns to retrieve your workers from the board. I’ve found that the mechanic works really well because it’s fun to get bumped off the board, but you never feel blocked from a space that you really need to use.

The second way is the commodity-gathering areas. These are areas where collective worker knowledge affects what you receive when you place worker there. They all follow the same pattern: If the total knowledge of all dice on the Generator is between 1 and 4 after you place your worker there, you get 1 energy and 1 Euphorian allegiance point. If it’s between 5 and 8, you get 1 energy and you lose 1 knowledge on the knowledge track (as mentioned above, that’s a good thing). And if the total is 9+, you get 2 energy and you gain a knowledge on the knowledge track. The thematic idea there is that the more workers that pile on, the more energy they’re producing on the generator, but because there are so many there, they’re going to exchange information with each other. I’ve found that this mechanic scales really well for any number of players.

The third way is perhaps the most fun element of the game: Constructing markets. There are a bunch of different markets you can build in the game, but they’re placed face down during setup so no one knows what they are. Each construction site requires either 2 or 4 workers and specific resources to build the market, so you can attempt to build one alone, or you can collaborate with other players. When a market is complete, you flip it over to reveal what it does. Each market has a penalty on it that applies to each player who didn’t contribute to the construction. For example, the Registry of Personal Secrets affects Freedom of Privacy. If you didn’t help build it, for the rest of the game (unless you go out of your way to overcome the restriction), you have to play with all of your cards on the table for all to see. All of the markets are thematically tied to the dystopian theme, and some are harsher than others. So in building markets, you’re restricting what other players can do, causing them to think on their feet and pivot in their strategies.

The art, from what I can tell, is a very functional dystopia. Definitely Hunger Games or Fahrenheit-451. Your campaign talks about the apocalypse, which in my mind involves asteroids or nukes or alien invasion. Do you see your apocalypse more as the cataclysmic event that lead to the foundation of this dystopian society? How do you feel these two pair together? Walk me through your thoughts.

Jamey: Interesting question. I’m using the word “apocalypse” broadly–it’s more like a sweeping change that changes the world into a dystopia. Sometimes it’s caused by something cataclysmic like the examples you gave, but sometimes it’s just a change in world order. That’s one of the most interesting things about dystopias to me–the people in charge of the dystopia are doing what they think is necessary to prevent the world from collapsing again. Right and wrong aren’t black and white–they’re a mix of grey.

In the Euphoria campaign, we’re giving people the chance to help us decide the sweeping change that will create the world of Euphoria. I’m going to pit slightly outlandish apocalyptic scenarios against each other head-to-head via backer survey until only one remains. By the time you publish this, you should be able to see some of those scenarios–which one are you rooting for?

I voted for alien invasion and robot takeover. I’m not a fan of mutants and bipedal dolphins seems to diminish your fiction.

I know you’re an avid reader. What books did you read to prepare you for this game, if any?

Jamey: In addition to all the dystopian fiction I read, I consume a LOT of content about board games: reviews, blogs, podcasts, and videos are all part of my daily diet. I like reading many different takes on the same game, and I like hearing from designers like yourself to learn about your processes and insights. I know that I can’t play every game, so all of the amazing content out there serves to reinforce my existing knowledge of board game design and publishing. Do you have a go-to gaming blog, podcast, and/or YouTube channel?

There are two sites whose content I always consume: Shut Up & Sit Down and Drake’s Flames. I think the key reason I enjoy them so much is the humor and quality of their writing. SU&SD is founded by a few writers whose work I’ve been reading for quite some time. They are hilarious, but most importantly, instead of just walking me through the rules, they go over the experience of playing the game. Why it’s delightful, what makes it special.

I read Drake’s because he’s brief and inappropriate and funny.

I should listen to the Plaid Hat podcast because I’m obsessed with those guys. I’m a huge fan of their games and greatly inspired by their success.

What are your favorites? What am I missing?

Jamey: I 100% agree with those three recommendations. I would also add Board Game Reviews by Josh, iSlaytheDragon, The Opinionated Gamers blog, Metagames, The Little Metal Dog show, the Ludology podcast, the Long View podcast, Tom Vasel’s reviews reviews (I like his enthusiasm), Ryan Metzler’s reviews (he’s incredible good at explaining how to play a game in a short period of time), and Undead Viking’s video reviews (I like his side tangents). There are many more, but this list is already getting unwieldy.

I actually read Josh’s reviews sporadically. Did you know he was one of my first blind testers for Farmageddon? He gave me some frank, harsh feedback (privately) for the game that fundamentally guided me towards fixing it. I’m so thankful he did so.

Anything you wish to add?

Jamey: I think that’s it! Thank you so much for taking the time to create this interview. I’m happy to answer any questions your readers have–I look forward to the conversation.

If you have any follow up questions for Jamey, post them in the comments below! You can check out Euphoria’s Kickstarter page. $49 gets you the game shipped free to the US, Canada, or EU!

Jamey and Grant Discuss Everything (Pt 1)

When I see a project or designer that interests me, I go bug them for an interview. A few months ago I asked Jamey to participate in an interview and he agreed. A few weeks ago I sent him the questions, but Jamey changed things up a bit and also asked ME questions. A discussion ensued about Viticulture, Euphoria, our processes, reading habits, design, and more. It’s one of my favorite things that’s ever been on the site. 

As the discussion grew quite long, we decided to split it into 3 parts. Come back tomorrow and Friday to read the second and third parts. 

Jamey’s company just launched a Kickstarter for their new game that has funded in under an hour. Check it out here and ask any questions in the comments. You can also read my original interview with Jamey here.

A discussion between Jamey Stegmaier and Grant Rodiek (bold)

HG: Hi Jamey! Can you please refresh us…who are you? What do we need to know about you?

Jamey: Hi Grant! Thanks for having me. The three most important things you need to know about me are:

(1) I am the president, lead designer, logisitics coordinator, playtest organizer, and head of customer relations and marketing for Stonemaier Games, a company I co-founded last year with a friend, Alan Stone, to publish our game, Viticulture.

(2) I write a series of Kickstarter lessons for fellow project creators to use. You can find it over on

(3) I have two cats, Biddy and Walter, one of whom loves to sit in game boxes, and the other of whom is an excellent Tzolk’in player. I have to restrain myself from posting photos of them every day on my personal blog, How about you–what are three things about yourself that you haven’t already shared on your blog?

The tables have turned! Three things I haven’t shared…

1.) It’s my goal to one-day found and manage a board game publishing company. Until that day I lie in the shadows, observing and learning everything I can.

2.) I’m definitely the self-loathing creative type. I’m constantly questioning what I make in the hopes of making it fantastic. It can be very hard sometimes and something I need to work on.

3.) I own a corgi, Peaches, and I love her dearly. I have to restrain myself from posting more pictures than I already do via Twitter and FB. She is endlessly entertaining — a great companion.

Jamey: Thanks for sharing. #2 is particularly interesting to me. I view that as a good thing…unless it really gets you down when something isn’t perfect. That’s where Peaches comes in.

It never gets me down. It’s who I am. I have friends who accuse me of pushing things too far but I don’t think I’ve done that yet.

Let’s talk quickly about Viticulture. Your first game raised $65,000 on Kickstarter and it’ll be sent to backers shortly. What was the single most important thing you learned from Viticulture?

Jamey: Great question. It’s tough to boil down to one thing, as I’ve learned a lot by managing this process. Single most important thing: Okay, I’ve always heard that if you do what you love, it doesn’t feel like work. I have a day job, a very good day job with great employees. I’m very grateful for it. And every day I go home and spent another 4-6 hours working on Stonemaier Games. Added to the time I spend on weekends on the company, it’s easily a second full-time job. But it doesn’t feel like a job at all. Even though I haven’t made a dime off of Viticulture (every cent and then some went into making the game as awesome as possible), I love every second that I spend working on it and our other games and with interacting with all of the people who became connected to use through Kickstarter. Do you feel that way when you’re working on your games?

I often joke that game design is my second job that pays horribly. I used to play video games and do other things in the evenings and weekends. Now, my spare time is spent designing, doing graphic design, writing, and generally trying to take this whole board game thing as seriously as possible.

I love the process. I love writing and reading rules, figuring out the board layout. One of the main reasons I want to become a publisher is I love the development just as much as the initial design, often more so. Like you said, it’s not quite work if you love it.

Jamey: I’m glad this topic came up, because I think some people may see the financial success of our projects and think that we might be able to afford to make game design/publishing a full-time gig. What I’m starting to realize is that the only way that could happen is if a game really takes off post-Kickstarter. The sunk cost of making a great game is rather large–all that art and design, and often moulds and schematics on the printer side. The first copy of a game can cost upwards of $15,000 due to professional art and design. Once you make a second copy, the cost for each of them drops to $7,500. And so on. So if a game enters a second print run, the art and design cost per unit is negligible by that point, and all you’re paying for is the manufacturing cost and shipping. I’m preaching to the choir, Grant–you know all this–but I bring it up so that other game creators on Kickstarter don’t quit their day jobs. :)

I still haven’t broken even on Farmageddon! For better or worse, my royalty hasn’t quite covered the money I spent on 80% of the art, pitching to publishers, and marketing the game. Long term my goal is to start small with a self-financed game, learn the ropes, then go through traditional funding methods to try to take a stab at things “for real.”

Your money-back guarantee garnered a great deal of attention. When so many publishers take the stance of “buyer beware,” you took a different approach. Why did you do this?

Jamey: “Buyer beware” is a cop-out to me. When I buy a gallon of milk from the grocery store, is it my job to research the milk company and the hormone levels of the cows and run the milk through lab tests to make sure it’s good for me? Not at all. Kickstarter is no different. In my opinion, it’s the job of the project creator to clearly explain what the project is and how it’s going every step of the way. It’s their job to price their rewards fairly and deliver amazing value for the people who made their dream come true. It is addition to all of those things that I decided to offer backers a money-back guarantee on Viticulture (and we’ll do the same for our next game, Euphoria). That puts the impetus on me to make a great product. And sure, some people simply are not going to like the game. Some of them might return it. And that’s okay. They gave me the initial capital to create the game in the first place, something I could not have done on my own. Their responsibility ends there. The rest is on me.

That said, I completely respect project creators who aren’t comfortable with that approach–just because they don’t have that level of confidence in their product doesn’t mean that they won’t deliver in the end. What do you think?

I agree with you. It’s what I would want as a customer. One of my biggest fears in self-publishing is that what I’m creating isn’t good enough. It’s not up to the level of the competition, which I consider to be both the established publishers (Z-Man, Fantasy Flight) and new ones you see on Kickstarter. When I sat back and thought “would I give a money-back guarantee on this?” for my own games, my answer wasn’t always “yes.” I think it’s the best way to treat your customers and a great motivator to create amazing games.

Jamey: I like that you asked yourself that. I think that’s a great question for self-publishers to ask themselves, even if they don’t actually do a money-back guarantee. “Would I give a money-back guarantee on this game?” If the answer isn’t yes, figure out why.

What can we expect from Viticulture this year? Anything special? Anything of note?

Jamey: I’m currently wondering the same thing! A lot of it depends on how the game is received by the backers and the general public. If it does well and people want to expand the world of Viticulture, the idea we’ve discussed is to concurrently design 4 expansions that can be played in any combination with the original game and include them in a single box. Have you ever thought about doing a Farmageddon expansion? Why or why not?

Farmageddon raised $25,000 on Kickstarter, which was the level for our main stretch goal — a full expansion. The expansion is called Livestocked and Loaded and introduces animals, weather, and new Action cards. It’s 99% finished and is awaiting art production, followed by the long, slow manufacturing process. It’ll be shipped free to all backers, then sold in stores.

I’ll keep designing Farmageddon games as long as Phil (the publisher who manages 5th Street Games) wants them.

Jamey: That’s awesome! How has feedback from Farmageddon fans impacted the expansion, if at all?

It’s difficult with a game like Farmageddon. Much of the negative feedback comes from people who don’t like take-thats, don’t like luck, don’t like games this light and silly. I tried to take a step back and think about things that were missing after years of playing it. Put another way — what are obvious holes I can fill?

My answer was that the game could use some more long-term aspects. This is where animals come in. Whereas crops are very fragile and temporary, the animals can’t be destroyed. Winning an animal is a game-spanning activity that requires a little more strategy.

I also thought the game could use a few more unexpected elements, but not the destructive kind. When you’ve played a simple game like Farmageddon dozens of times, it can (arguably) use a little more pizzazz. This is where weather comes in. Every game, you’ll get 5 randomly selected weather cards (out of 10) that will emerge at different times in the game to present new opportunities and shifts in the game.

Jamey: Both of those concepts (the long-term viability of the animals and the pizzazz of the weather) sound awesome. I tried adding weather into the original version of Viticulture, but I couldn’t get it to work. I look forward to seeing how you made it work.

I must admit it has little to do with the actual relationship of weather to farming. I essentially took an event card system, tied it thematically to weather (and used that as inspiration where possible), and went with it. My goal was to create opportunities, not sew destruction.

Why four expansions? What do you think each of these would entail? A new mechanic per or…? I would love to one-day release a big, epic Farmageddon with lots of expansions and a big tin box.

Jamey: These are all in the brainstorming stage, so don’t hold me to this. But the general idea is that at the beginning of each game of Viticulture, each player will draw a mama card and a papa card (or whatever the Italian words are). They’re your parents. They’ll each give you a special starting resource, an ability to use throughout the game, and the mandate that you follow their passion. Your papa may have an Italian restaurant he needs to pass down to you, or your mama might want you to take over her dairy farm and gelateria. Thus each player will extend their player mat based on those mandates. Each of the expansions will be playable without the mamas and papas, but the mamas and papas would tie them all together.

That’s just one idea. I also have an idea for the game to expand into vineyards around the world, possibly using 7-Wonders like player mats that give players different options based on their region. And I have a Roman gods expansion idea that adds a supernatural element to the game. So we’ll see–it all depends on if people want more Viticulture.

For all our sakes I really hope they do! I’m a huge proponent of the expansion business model. I think it’s a great, lower-risk way to drive additional revenue and a good way to keep your best fans happy. Days of Wonder does this very well. They are a big inspiration for me.

That’s it for today! Come back tomorrow to find out about Euphoria, which is on Kickstarter now. Feel free to ask Jamey any questions below.


Publishing Case Study: York

Post by: Grant Rodiek

Creative nerds everywhere want to be entrepreneurs. Thanks to Kickstarter, the Internet, and money growing on trees, it’s now relatively possible for these nerds to become entrepreneurs.

I am not a publisher, but I want to be. Badly. Yes, I self-published Farmageddon and yes I’m self-publishing Battle for York. The distinction I wish to make is that I did these as a creative exercise. I did these for myself. I believe a publisher creates games for the purpose of revenues and profits. A publisher does it to be a business. I did it for funsies. Now, that doesn’t mean a publisher doesn’t have fun and doesn’t love games, but to be successful, my games need to make money and I’m not quite there yet.

This article is intended as a case study to stir discussion and aid those interested in game publishing. I receive quite a few emails with questions about publishing and I do my best to answer them with what (little) I know. I’ve been taking notes for years and watching. This article will discuss the development I did to publish Battle for York, what I would have done differently if this were a real, profit-focused print run, and the marketing ideas I have for the game. In summary, you’re going to read about what I did, what I would have done, and some of my goofs.

Development: The Actual

Overall I’m quite pleased with the development of Battle for York. Some of my friends have told me that they tested their game a few times, a publisher signed it, then they were hands off for the next year’s worth of development. Well, I did that development. York was thoroughly tested over the course of a year with friends and co-workers, non-gamers, gamer gamers, random folks at GenCon 2012, folks at Protospiel Milwaukee, and a few folks in the Prototype Penpal Program.

Testing overall went through 3 main phases: mechanical, balance, and usability. The first phase focused primarily on making the game work. Getting it to an Alpha state. The second phase focused on making sure the game was fun and fair. Also, to ensure it’s fun to play 1, 5, 10, and 20 times (it is!). This phase is about getting it to a Beta state. The final phase was about making sure the game was as easy as possible to learn and play. It was about ensuring the reference boards and cards presented the information as well as possible. I haven’t done this for a game before and I found it insanely useful.

All told, the game has over 70 tests with dozens of people. It was tested extensively with 4 peers for the sake of deep, long-term balance testing. The rules have also been read, tweaked, and massaged for the entirety of this year. I write my rules at the beginning of the project for precisely this reason. I am reasonably confident my rules are good.

Development: The Potential

If this game had more of a development budget I would have done a few things differently. As it stands now, I had one local long-term test group and one blind long-term test group. I would have sent out copies to at least 2 more groups for long-term blind testing. This would have been invaluable for balance and accessibility. Plus, more word of mouth marketing.

I also would have tried to work out a testing moment with a prominent reviewer. Now, this might not have occurred — reviewers are busy and reluctant to do these things. I would have been willing to pay them for their services, services being 2-5 tests. I would do this in the hopes of getting a private, mock review. I would want to make sure it would go over well in the review circuit. Now, I cannot guarantee every reviewer would agree with the mock review, but testing with 1 or 2 is a good sample size. Hint: We do this all the time in the digital game space. It’s very useful.

Another change is that I would have begun stalking local FLGS to attempt to get some local word of mouth built. There are a few good stores near me: Gamescape in SF, End Game in Oakland, and Black Diamond Games in Concord. However, doing this takes time, gas money, and the stores need to be cool with me testing/shilling my game on their premises. This isn’t just a show up and rock it affair, so it would need some effort.

Finally, I would have hired a dedicated editor to examine my rules. I would not change the number of peers who examined them. Their service has been amazing and again, the rules are good. But, paying someone who is on the line to make it awesome is a good thing to do. This maxim is so true: you get what you pay for.

If you’re curious about the design side of Battle for York, ask questions, or check out this lengthy post I wrote on its origins and development.

Art: The Actual

I’m very pleased with the final art for Battle for York. The cards were illustrated by one of my favorite artists, John Ariosa. The work he created was amazing, working with him was fantastic, and overall I’m just thrilled. Here are some of his pieces:



I wrote about working with artists earlier, but I’ll rehash some of the info. I spent a year thinking about the art for York and built not one, but two Pinterest boards for it: Theme 1 and Theme 2. I had a clear vision and that really helped things.

I also greatly scoped down the required assets to fit within my tiny budget and John’s time frame. Ultimately, I hired him to create 5 images, each done in 4 colors. I asked for characters with simple backgrounds, which also kept things within scope.

I also hired Robert Altbauer from the Cartographer’s Guild to illustrate a map for me. I discussed the project with 3 artists, but ultimately settled on Robert because of his style and experience, his demeanor, and his very reasonable quote. I had him create 2 maps: 3 player and a 2-4 player. These were based on drawings I created for the prototype — the layout was refined and complete. He made it pretty and created icons for it, including the Cities, Seaports, Forts, and Headquarters. You can see one of his maps with the board elements here:

I handled the graphic design duties for the project, which included icon sourcing and layout. For icons, I used and modified them as needed, usually just by simplifying the icon or modifying it to fit the aesthetics of the rest of the game. These icons are consistently created and provided free within the creative commons license, so I used them.

Because I was obtaining the icons and because my graphic skills are limited, the overall look and feel of the game is simple, clean, and modern. Here’s a card to demonstrate this point:


You can see one of every card on Facebook here. This style was shared throughout the game’s assets, including the game board, the rules booklet, the stickers, and the player boards.

All designers do some form of graphic design for their prototypes. This project has been very instructive to me both in how to do layouts and execute tricks in Photoshop. Experienced graphics folks will giggle at what I produced, but I did my best and I learned a great deal. I created dozens of iterations for the player boards, refined the rules dozens of times, and even experimented with the relatively simple board.

Never undervalue the importance of properly communicating elements to your players.

Art: The Goofs

I did two stupid things. One is something most publishers do, for better or worse, the other is just a goof of mine. Firstly, my game isn’t the most colorblind friendly. In testing I used colors that did not share a colorblindness spectrum, but for the final game I opted for color. The four player colors are yellow, blue (oops) and green, red (double oops). Were this a fully published game, I would probably do something more along the lines of green, yellow, black, and white. Maybe. I’m not sure and right now it’s not something I’ll change.

Fortunately, the cards and game boards are very color blind friendly in regards to the information presented. But, the game pieces are less so if you’re colorblind.

The second goof also has to do with color. I’ve always used red to indicate “offensive tactics” and blue to indicate “defensive tactics.” These items also have symbols, but the colors really drive it home. My prototype did not feature red. The final game does. Now, there are red and blue player colors AND I use these colors for offensive and defensive tactics. Doh! It’s not the end of the world, but it is lame and it’s something I’d address in a real version.

Art: The Potential

The game’s assets are ultimately not very consistent. I knew this going in, so this is less a learning for me and mostly something to do differently if this were a real publication effort. The key differences is that I would have added additional process and layers to it as well as hired a graphic designer.

I also would have hired the illustrator to craft more art. Instead of 5 cards with 4 colors each, I would have made the cards color agnostic and created a unique set of 5 cards for every faction. This would have quadrupled my costs, but also made the game more varied and exciting visually.

When creating the art, I hired the illustrator (John) and map artist (Robert) simultaneously. The cards have a very painterly style and the map looks like, well, a map. In a full printing, I would have hired the illustrator first. After he (or she) created a handful of assets, I would have then sought a map artist who could work within that style and remain consistent. Another option would be to have a graphic designer create a wireframe then simply have the artist do an aesthetic pass to make it look gorgeous and consistent.

I would have also hired a graphic designer to create icons, improve my layouts, and do an aesthetic pass on all UI. When I say improve my layouts, I say that because I would still create everything. I would mail the graphic designer a copy of the game with all my assets, have him (or her) learn to play it, then with his expertise, improve upon it. From there, he would make it beautiful. As the designer, I expect myself to know what my player’s need best. I expect the designer to know slightly more than me. Ish.

The mapmaker wouldn’t begin the map until he received an improved wireframe from the graphic designer. I sent the mapmaker a layout, but it wasn’t the final one. Granted, not much changed, but still, these things matter.

I would also retain the artist to do an aesthetic pass on the icons created/sourced by the graphic designer. If you look at what York actually has, it’s painterly and somewhat fuzzy illustrations (intentional) with clean, sharp icons. These would be merged and made consistent.

Stylistically, I would also direct my team to create something that fit the fiction better. Currently, the game is set in the 19th century with some decidedly 21st century styled lines. Clean clean clean. I’d like to see a parchment vibe, something that makes me think of the time period. Island Siege by Ape Games and graphic design by Daniel Solis did this well. Here is their player mat:

In my mind, these are fairly obvious decisions based largely on time and money. Could York look better? Sure! But, the cost to do so isn’t worth the money I will make for it. To summarize my notes here:

  1. Hire a graphic designer
  2. Leapfrog between artists in order to maintain consistency
  3. Create a more appropriate aesthetic to match the theme

Marketing: The Actual

I didn’t do a very good job marketing Battle for York. Much of this have to do with me thinking  to myself, “it doesn’t matter much.” I like to develop my games openly and as a result folks may feel overwhelmed by the amount of information I share. At work, PR always guides us to have 2 or 3 points and stick to them. Market those 2-3 things precisely and repeatedly. With York, I posted about development (balance, UI, testing, mechanics, etc.) and shared everything as it became available. I should have shared things more sparingly.

If you notice with Blockade, I’m mostly teasing it via Twitter. I’ll write fewer posts and they’ll matter more. Of course, if you EVER want to know anything about my projects, email me. I’m an open book.

Another example is that when John was sending me assets one at a time, I simply shared them on Twitter. I believe there is a more effective and potent way to wield these beautiful surprises. In a proper campaign, I would have merged my Faction Previews with the art reveals. I also would have crafted a more elaborate fiction and story for each. There would have also been a video format. Just imagine how fun this would be!

The intent, would be to build hype and excitement for the theme and mechanics of York bolstered by gorgeous visuals and a well-crafted fiction.

I asked people, somewhat, for thumbs on BGG, but I don’t like spamming folks for what is ultimately an exercise in pageantry, and as a result I don’t have many thumbs. You have to ask for things!

Once I receive my copy of York, I’ll do a video unboxing to show the components and create a video tutorial to explain the game. I’ll also be sending a copy to a few reviewers. Finally, I’ll have it with me at GenCon to share and demo.

Marketing and Kickstarter: The Potential

I actually detailed some of the things I’d do differently above. So much for that format! The truth is, York is too big of a game for me to self-finance and I would have to run a Kickstarter campaign for it. Let’s discuss the Kickstarter I would have run. Before we get into Kickstarter…please don’t freak out. These are just my opinions. There is no right way. There is no single way. This is simply what I think would be my way based on my own experience with Farmageddon and a lot of observation.

Obviously, before the game launched, a handful of reviewers would have a nice prototype of the game in order to review and share. It blows my mind that some people still launch a game on Kickstarter without critical reviews to vouch for the game. This is a no no.

Before I launched on Kickstarter, all art assets would be final, all graphic design finished, and all rules final. I personally don’t like the “NOT FINAL” caveat. I’d self-finance this and say “boom, here’s the game. THIS is what you’ll receive.” It’s a personal choice and ultimately, everyone should do what they feel is best. This also helps you stick to your manufacturing schedule. Many KS projects still have to finish the game after KS.

I would share a PNP and also share a small number of copies with common BGG users to comment and discuss. This was very powerful for Farmageddon’s campaign and I feel sharing a PNP shows confidence. I would also take a note from Stonemaier Games and provide a money back guarantee. Now, before I did this, as mentioned at the very top, the game would be tested even more to fully relax me when giving this guarantee.

Stretch Goals are probably the thing I like least about the current Kickstarter ecosystem and it would definitely be a problem for me with York. I don’t like many of the extras for a few reasons:

  • The extras packed in can really increase the MSRP, which can hurt long-term sales.
  • I want to present and create the game as it’s meant to be. No more, no less.
  • They make publishing, an already difficult thing, a bit more wild and unpredictable.

Nevertheless, here are the stretch goals I had in mind for a Battle for York campaign:

  • Additional factions: York features four asymmetric factions. Manufacturing more is really just a matter of a player board and 25 cards, plus the art. I would design and test 2 more before the campaign so that adding them wouldn’t be a big deal.
  • Stories: I hired a writer to create two short stories for the current game. In hindsight, these would be awesome stretch goals. Craft stories for every faction that go beyond the “short story” limit.
  • Promo Cards: I created some of these for the current version (Tactician, Saboteur) and really like how they change up and in some ways, break the game. I think good promos are fun and I’d probably do a few of them for a KS campaign.
  • Custom Tokens: The game would largely use punchboard tokens to keep the game at a lower MSRP. However, for scoring and turn order tokens, I could have neat custom meeples created. Note: The current game uses all wooden components, so in that sense, it’s arguably nicer than the “real” version. This is probably the least likely goal I’d pursue.
  • Bag: To cut down on MSRP I’d remove the bag from the base set. But, as a stretch goal for backers, I could include the bag. Note: There’s a bag with the current version.
  • New Maps: The current maps are balanced and designed for straightforward gameplay and symmetry. I’d love to create weirder maps that shift the gameplay, add new mechanics, and really vary things. Adding new maps is simply a matter of adding more boards. Oh, wait…those are super expensive! Still, something I could “add” much like Days of Wonder did with the Memoir ’44 Winter/Desert board.

All of these would be estimated and quoted before the launch of the campaign. If my goals were hit, I’d simply reveal the next stretch goals. They would fit within my budget and I would not lose money. As a side note, I really like how Mercury Games Kickstarted The Guns of Gettysburg. They had a very upfront, honest policy regarding Stretch Goals.

My funding goal would probably be around the $10k-20k mark. I know that’s a big gap. The minimum number of copies is typically 1000 and 1500 (depending on the manufacturer), but I’d prefer to print at least 2000 as that’s where you begin to see price breaks. Margins improve here, but your investment greatly increases.

Ultimately, the number I decided would be based on the amount of money I’d be willing to put towards it.This was one of the reasons I didn’t KS York — It’s more of a niche game and I’m not sure it’s the one to put $10,000+ of my savings towards. I hope to design and publish that game (or sign someone else who does), but I’m not sure York is it.

I prefer Kickstarter projects with a few, simple backer levels. Typically:

  • Get the game for the US
  • Get the game for Canada/Europe
  • Get the game for somewhere else

Foreign backers would probably need to buy multiple copies to make it cost effective, but I haven’t gone deep enough into that to say for sure. My Kickstarter page would be simple with the following information:

  • KS video would largely be a 2 minute pitch. “This is why you should back.”
  • Page would detail components at a high level, link to reviews, share some of the art (cards, game board).
  • Page would give a quick glimpse into the world’s fiction.
  • Page would have a gameplay video. “This is how you play.”

The campaign would last for 30 or fewer days. I would be highly responsive and transparent for any questions ask (see the Farmageddon campaign for proof!). I sent several RFQs and settled on a manufacturer who would create a high quality game, was nice and reliable (from personal referrals), and could help me make the game at a $40 MSRP. I just didn’t pull the trigger.

Fulfillment and Post-KS Sales: The Potential

Fulfillment is a tricky subject. There are so many options and ways to do it. I know a few that I would NOT use. As for what I would use, I’m currently leaning towards doing it myself (if sales were low) or using Amazon fulfillment. Amazon could also help with shipping to European backers, again, if sales warranted such a thing.

In the short run I would rely heavily on Amazon’s storefront. Doing so gives me a place to store the games, a nice, safe, outstanding web store, and lets existing Amazon customers use their logins, their credit card info, and Prime status to get free shipping. Basically, I wouldn’t invest in my own Hyperbole Games storefront until sales warranted such a thing.

I would immediately begin the slow, challenging process of getting into the traditional distribution channels. There are a lot of great distributors and it would take time to build a great relationship with them. I would need to attend trade shows like GAMA and GenCon with some presence in order to do so. It is so key to be in FLGS to reach a mass audience. Once in an FLGS, my hope is that superior art and a very reasonable price would warrant a look from potential customers. Those two elements are so very key.

I would send the game to additional reviewers, especially ones with a large presence like The Dice Tower and some of the popular war game reviewers, like Marco Arnaudo. I would absolutely save some of these for after the KS campaign.

I would also begin creating expansions. I’m a huge proponent of the expansion driven business model. I love it as a consumer, a designer, and a publisher. As a consumer, it gives me more of a thing I love, but also, it’s my choice to do so. As a designer, I get to create content atop a foundation. Content is so much easier than mechanics! You also get to dream up and create less typical elements. With the base game, you want to cover your bases and hit as many people as possible. With an expansion? Go nuts. Finally, as a publisher you are able to drive additional revenue off the same IP. You can leverage existing art assets and branding. It’s also less risky to create a smaller expansion than yet another full game. Many of the most successful publishers utilize the stuffing out of this business model, including:

  • Days of Wonder: Ticket to Ride, Memoir ’44, Smallworld
  • Steve Jackson Games: Munchkin
  • Plaid Hat Games: Summoner Wars and hopefully Mice and Mystics
  • Mayfair: The Settles of Catan
  • Fantasy Flight Games: Almost everything they make. Lately, NetrunnerX-Wing, and older titles like Arkham Horror. 

Over time, the hope would be to build a small, core audience who continues to support the game’s expansions. In turn, I would support them with scenarios, PNP components, and the obvious rules support. Byron Collins of Collins Epic Wargames does a great job of supporting his community. So does Plaid Hat Games. I would like to emulate this.  This core of consumers would hopefully grow via word of mouth and eventually I’d be a millionaire. Or, I’d simply reprint and improve the game.



This post is absurdly long! I apologize. This post covered:

  • Development: Actual versus Potential
  • Art Development: Actual versus Potential
  • Marketing: Actual
  • Marketing and Kickstarter: Potential
  • Post KS Sales: Very hypothetical potential

This post was fun for me to write and share, but most importantly, I want it to be useful and interesting for you. Were you looking for specific information not covered? Did I gloss over something? Please feel free to comment below. Or, email me your question at grant[at]hyperbolegames[dot]com.

Thanks for reading. I sent Battle for York to the printer last night and I am so very excited to hold it in my hands.