Interview with Cardboard Edison


I’ve been friends with AJ Porfirio, the guy behind Van Ryder Games, for a few years now. He’s one of my longest running friends in the board game space and also my perennial GenCon roommate. I was delighted when he picked up Tessen by Cardboard Edison for publication. Cardboard Edison is a husband and wife design duo who are fantastic champions of the board game design community. 

I knew I had to interview them for their latest Kickstarter, Tessen. 

HG: Introduce yourselves — who are you?

Suzanne: Cardboard Edison is made up of myself and my husband, Chris. We have a four-year-old daughter who is a budding game designer and very eager to help us with anything game-related. We live in Hopatcong, N.J., and love traveling to gaming conventions all across the country.

Chris: We also run a blog for board game designers like us at We gather design tips and resources from around the web and share them in one place to make them easy to find.

AJ: I’m A.J. the mean old publisher! Just kidding… about the mean part, the old part is debatable, but I, Van Ryder Games, am most certainly the publisher of Tessen! I couldn’t be happier about that!

HG: Tell us what Tessen is at a high level. What is the essential info?

Chris: Tessen is our first game design to find a publisher. It’s a two-player real-time card game set in feudal Japan. Players control rival clans and attempt to collect sets of mystical animals to prove their supremacy. It’s a super-fast game that’s portable and plays in about 15 minutes.

HG: What made you think of a real time game? What was your inspiration?

Chris: The game that became Tessen originally was going to be a sequel to a completely different game we were designing. The real-time aspect was a change from the first game, so we saw it as a way to broaden the thematic world of the games while offering a different experience for players. But, we realized the first game wasn’t coming together and the follow-up game had some promise, so we decided to focus on the new game instead.

HG: Are you big fans of Japanese culture/art and such? What were some of your thematic inspirations?

Suzanne: We admire Japanese culture, but the idea for Tessen’s theme didn’t come until we ditched the original theme, which was about Christmas elves. We did some research to find examples of things that could be used for both attacking and defending (a key dynamic in the game) and we discovered the Japanese war fan, or the Tessen. The animals in the game were originally going to be resources such as rice and grain, but we couldn’t find good artwork for the prototype. We found some great historic paintings of animals, so we decided to use animals as the “resources.”

AJ: I myself am fascinated by the Japanese culture, and it immediately drew me into the game when I first saw it. As I usually do, when I first played, I expounded the theme to be so much more than collecting sets of animals. I envisioned an epic struggle between two clans where everything was on the line. It worked really well.

HG: Did you look to other real time games? What were your inspirations?

Chris: I grew up playing real-time card games like Speed/Spit, and I wanted us to design a game that had the excitement of those games but also offered interesting strategic decisions to the players. In Tessen, you have to do more than recognize the available plays, you have to make snap decisions and figure out what’s the best move on the fly. People who have played Tessen have said it reminds them of games like Dutch Blitz, Jab and Brawl.

HG: I must note, me and a co-worker, for a while, settled disputes using Tessen as the arbiter. Have you found yourself doing anything like this? It’s so fast!

Suzanne: No, but that is an awesome idea! I’m going to start suggesting it everywhere I can!

AJ: This would be awesome to go along with another idea from Paul of The Cardboard Jungle podcast. He told me that they will leave Tessen setup on the table ready to go, and at any moment someone can shout “Tessen!” and the run to the table and immediately spring into a match! Now think, next time you are in an argument just shout “Tessen!” and run over to the game to solve your problem and determine who wins the argument! It is very much in line with the story in Tessen.

HG: Who is the best Tessen player in your travels? Who is the one to beat?

Chris: Well, I thought I was pretty good until I played you at Gen Con, Grant. I think all those matches with real-world stakes on the line served you well! As for other players, a couple of days into Gen Con, we met these guys who were, hands down, the fastest Tessen players we’ve ever seen. Right after the rules explanation, bam!–they were into the game and flying faster than even experienced players. Their match was the best I’ve ever seen. In the final round, they tied on how many animal cards they saved, and the tiebreaker was the difference between a single card being drawn, so less than one second. The game literally could not have been any closer!

AJ: Yeah those guys WERE fast! But in fairness, they were bending the rules a little bit…

I’ve found that video gamers are particularly good at Tessen. They have really good reflexes and sharp reaction times that really serve them well in the game.

HG: What are some of your favorite games right now?

Suzanne: Gravwell, For Sale, and Jaipur.

Chris: Darn, stole my answers! What she said.

AJ: I can’t believe I am going to answer with a Euro, but Bruges by Feld is really enjoyable. Story War is a nice spin on Apples to Apples we had a blast with at Gencon. Sky Whale!

HG: Sky Whale, indeed! Where did you get the idea for Cardboard Edison?

Chris: When we started designing games a couple of years ago, we began researching the industry. There’s a lot to learn about: prototyping, playtesting, pitching, design theory and so on. As we met and talked with other designers, we realized they were doing a lot of the same research as us, and we figured it might help other people if we shared the helpful stuff we found. So we created the Cardboard Edison blog to put all those useful links in one place.

HG: You have a party game in the works as well, right? Can you tell me about it?

Suzanne: Sure! We have a game called Skewphemisms. It’s a word party game based on alliterative phrases. It’s the first game idea we came up with, and it’s what got us into game design. We’re deep into the playtesting phase, and we’re looking for a publisher.

HG: What are some of your favorite party games?

Suzanne: I am a master of Scattergories unless Chris tells everyone to vote down my creative answers!

Chris: C’mon! “Happy fish” for “Things in the ocean” that start with H?!?

Suzanne: Are you telling me that there are no happy fish in the ocean?

Chris: Madness! Of course, Suzanne is always able to get a few other players to go along with the craziness, and I end up in last place.

Suzanne: :-D

AJ: Oh I think I have to side with Chris on this one… as for me Dixit has to be up there. And as crazy as it is, I have a lot of fun with Quelf, although that one can drag on a bit.

Anything else you want to add?

Suzanne: We would like to thank you, Grant, for taking the time to talk with us. It was great meeting you at Gen Con! We also would like to thank our publisher, A.J. We just love working with him! Please check out the Kickstarter for Tessen. It’s up now, and the campaign ends on Monday, Sept. 2.

AJ: Yes! There is just a week left and still several great stretch rewards to achieve. Check out the project today!

Tessen is only $12 shipped domestically in the US. As a long term tester, I assure you it’s well worth that. 

Blockade Crazy Idea


Post by: Grant Rodiek

I’ve just had a flurry of what I think are good ideas for Blockade. If you’ve played the game, please read this because I want your input. The first idea is simple, but it led to a bigger idea. The idea is to allow for synced, focused fire. Here’s the rule:

If your activated squadron attacks an enemy that is within range of a second squadron you control, you may roll dice for BOTH units up to the cap of dice.

The reason for this is to reward good maneuvering and thinking ahead. You only activate one unit at a time, so you’ll need to think a few turns ahead to corner a unit. It also rewards you for not getting stuck in between two enemy ships.

Secondly, it lets you fire more dice, which makes the game more explosive, decisive, and faster, but it caps out (3 critical dice, 4 greens, 5 yellows). It’ll be a clear advantage, but not ridiculous.

Finally, it puts even more pressure on the player to properly arrange his formation. If you open up, and I mean really open up, you better be ready to suffer hot, laser death from all sides.

If you’re with me at this point, you see my mind is abuzz with intergalactic, metallic warfare. Things should explode and quickly. Let’s continue.

I was browsing Shapeways after this, mostly because I love miniatures and starships and losing money. Irrational Designs is one of my favorite sculptors with such a great collection of models. I kept wondering how I could get ships like these into Blockade (mostly for a prototype, they are cost prohibitive for a published version), but kept running into a few issues:

  • The number of ships needed
  • The ships don’t convey any information
  • The shapes don’t work with my formation mechanic

I started pondering this. One of the issues with the current game is that the board gets crowded. Plus, moving around all three pieces in formation can sometimes be a tinge fiddly. I’m also balancing these thoughts with the fact that I’ve been pushed to add more customization to the ships/fleets, potentially more functionality, and I need to rework the components. Pegs and wooden blocks aren’t going to work necessarily.

I had a few thought cycles.

  • What if squadrons were instead one ship? Instead of moving ships around, you moved shields around to more or less change weapon output/defense. (I didn’t like this. Fictionally odd and confusing).
  • What if squadrons were represented by a single ship on the board, but individual ships were represented by cards? Oh…go on…

Here’s the idea.

  • Squadrons are represented by an individual token/model/block on the board. 
  • Players have 1-3 cards arranged in formation order in front of them for each squadron. This will be identical to how the ships work currently.
  • Instead of the block manipulation, you simply re-arrange your cards. No knocking over ships or making a mess.
  • To track damage, just put damage counters on top of the cards, like Summoner Wars. Simply flip the cards for destroyed ships over.
  • Instead of conveying all info through symbols, cards give you a little more flexibility to explain movement and weapons. You get more space to convey this info instead of tiny dots.
  • Cards also give you the ability to introduce more complex concepts to allow for advanced play and more intricate fleet arranging…this is something I’ve pondered, but never been able to do with just the blocks to convey everything.

So, to refresh, this is what this means: There is still the same spatial arrangement mechanic, but you represent your ship’s location and facing with a single piece and do the specific manipulation on the cards in front of you. Other players don’t really need to know what you can fire, but they DO need to know where your weakspots are. I’ll either need to make this clearly visible on the cards or perhaps there will be a token you place on the board to say “I’m weak here.”

Because I’m using cards, I can add more precise and clear information on the cards themselves (ex: Move: 3 or Damage: X, X, Y, Y) AND add advanced complexity for fleet building and advanced play.


Does this all make sense? Poke and ask questions if you’re unclear. I think this is “the next big step” I’ve needed for the game. It’s purely a presentation issue, but it opens up so many possibilities.

What Makes Ze Euro?

Post by: Grant Rodiek

During my commute this morning I began thinking about Flipped and realized I may not be fully designing against the principles that make a Euro, well, a Euro. One of my goals for Flipped is for it to be a light, accessible euro, which means it’s something I’ve never designed before.

What is it, then, that makes a euro? This is a well tread topic and something that can be discussed forever. But, it’s always useful to reconsider “solved” topics within the lens of what is pertinent to your needs. I need Flipped to be a fun euro, so I see relevance here. Keep in mind, these are just my opinions based on what makes a successful euro, viewed through the lens of what I want for Flipped. Feel free to disagree (and chime in with comments).

Here are the characteristics I think are most important.

Systematically driven mechanics before content driven mechanics. This means many things, but most importantly, it means I don’t have huge reference cards laden with text, or 50 different cards that cannot be explained with simple icons. Yes, I know many euros use icons in order to be language independent, but it is also indicative of the clean, systematic design principles of euro game creators.

Euros have a few core mechanics with very few, if any, exceptions, that govern the entire experience. You’re learning a system, a simple body of rules in which to play, not details and minutiae. For example, in Ticket To Ride, cards have a color. You use colors to build trains and connect routes. Building trains earns points. Connect long networks earns more points. You don’t have different types of trains, or action cards. You have a narrow set of choices within a system that present a surprising amount of depth.

Interaction driven by scarcity, not aggression. This will be difficult for me! Farmageddon is very aggressive with its take-that action cards. Blockade and Battle for York are quite aggressive as they are war games. I think interaction is important for any game, but for a euro, you need to be fighting over limited resources and opportunities, not engaging in full-on fisticuffs.

By scarcity, I mean there are only so many resources. Only so many cards. Just a few slots to fill. Timing is everything and it really comes down to what you think you need the most and when you think you can wait to take it. I enjoy aggressive games. I think a euro can be aggressive, but really it’s a twist in a very “public relations” style fashion. I bet if you hooked up heart-rate monitors for two identical games, but in one game said “I’m attacking you” and in the other said “I’m buying this before you,” you’d get two very different emotional spikes from your test subject.

A euro is about competition, interaction, theft, and plans gone awry, but is NOT aggressive or mean. It’s just business, really. The Speicherstadt is probably my favorite interactive euro. You can overbid someone or buy something they really wanted. You still get the “you bastard!” vibe but without all the hurt and pain of a take-that.

Friendly, positive, optimistic theme. I’m sure you can make a post-apocalyptic auction game about buying parts to manufacture mutant armies, but I think a good euro is more optimistic, bright-eyed, and positive about the world. I think it’s important to build something, not tear things down.

Good euros let you build a kingdom, build a business, or win an election. These are all positive, spirited outcomes, and I think that’s an important distinction.

One of the reasons euros like Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan sell so well is that they are positive and nourishing. This is important for all people of all ages and genders and maturity levels, not just the commonly targeted 18-24 male demographic. Building things is accessible. Tearing things down is more niche.

Player choices determine the winner far more than luck. With euros I think randomness is still fine, but it should serve the purpose of adding variance to choices, not varying outcomes. Euros, to me, are more about out-thinking an opponent, far more than out-drawing and out-rolling an opponent.

Euros reward identifying a weakness in an opponent’s strategy or taking advantage of an overlooked opportunity. Euros reward cleverness, sly rogues, and analytical chaps. They don’t tend to reward the bold, Patton-esque jerk who often quotes Clausewitz and Theodore Roosevelt.

Subtlety. Planning. Strategy.

Multiple paths to victory and/or ways to score points. This is the difficult one. There need to be a few ways to go about the big V, but, in my opinion, these ways need to be thematic and intuitive. Many euros are criticized for being a “point salad” that reward every single possible thing you can do.

How many strategies are required? How many make sense? How many layers are needed to reward advanced players? This is something I can only answer through testing and development. I don’t want players to feel they’ve mastered it after just a few plays, so ideally we’ll identify opportunities for new scoring paths as we test.

What are some things that you think are required for a euro?

The Task(s) at Hand(s)

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I have so much on my plate right now and it’s really an exciting time for my designs. I like being busy as it focuses me. GenCon 2013 was a really good refresher. I have two games being considered by really great publishers and I think a few years worth of networking is really starting to pay off. The key is, though, to make sure I’m designing games that take advantage of those relationships.

If you read this blog, you know I have a lot of ideas that I throw out and abandon, though really, these are ideas I just re-factor, re-purpose, or return to in the future. You must strike while the iron’s hot and tackle the things your mind is churning towards.

Here’s my current task list in priority order:

  1. Blockade Scenario Design: I took a content light version of Blockade to GenCon. I did this to really nail down the mechanics and make sure the foundation was secure before I pressed forward with scenario design. With the post-GenCon tweaks designed, I now need to focus on scenario design. My initial goal is to design 3 scenarios. These will be individually compelling AND will be sequentially tied together. It’s still a goal that these scenarios tell a campaign.
  2. Build Flipped. This is an idea I’ve been working on in my mind for a while. I’ve long wanted to design a light euro-style game and Flipped is that. It’s a game about urban renewal. On the way to Germany I designed two variants of it and picked one.  More on this as it’s built. Tested. Killed. Revived. And so forth.
  3. Rules and PPP Prototypes: I’m helping some folks with their rules and their prototypes sent via the PPP. This takes up quite a bit of time and isn’t as simple as you might think. Whenever you want to know why a publisher hasn’t responded yet with detailed feedback on your submission, know that it takes time. So much.
  4. Research Operation Fortitude. This is one of those amazing stories of World War II. Before the Normandy Invasion, the allies spent months misleading the Germans with fake landing sites, inflatable tanks, fake army groups, and more. I want to make a historical game to appeal to certain publishers, but don’t want to craft another war game. I’ve made 2 combat games lately and I don’t know how to stand out in the crowd with a historical combat game. Fortitude gives me the space to craft a historical game about espionage, logistics, deception, and grand planning, without being a war game per se. I’ve purchased two books and have begun reading them. I’m very excited about this game. I have some neat ideas, but want to let them stew and research it all first.
  5. Design something for my Classic Game Remix Design Competition. I’m the judge, so I probably shouldn’t make a game, but I want to. In fact, many of my ideas for Norcal are a part of my idea for this contest.
  6. Revise Drafty Dungeon. This one’s low on the list, as you can see. That means I’m not working on it, but I like it, so I might at some point. The problem is that it’s a neat idea, but not a unique one. It’ll take me a lot of time to craft something a publisher may not want. That makes the opportunity cost here a bit pricey.

What are you working on? Anything fun? Did your priorities change as a result of GenCon? #6 on my list would probably be #2 if GenCon hadn’t gone through. #3 and #4 might not exist at all, either.

Blockade’s Evolution Post GenCon

Post by: Grant Rodiek

Every time I write about Blockade is really just a verbose excuse to Google Image Search a new image of a sci fi space battle.

I took Blockade to GenCon 2013 and tested it about 5 total times, thrice with random testers, once with friends, and once with a publisher who isn’t interested in it (bad fit), but liked it and I love hearing their input. I also pulled out the pieces several times just to give people a quick taste. In short, I had a lot of eyes (and hands!) on the game, which allowed me to take in a great deal of feedback.

The purpose of this post is to cover these changes and why. If you don’t know anything about Blockade, this post may not be terribly interesting. I recommend you check out the updated rules, then come back here!

The high level takeaway is that people like it, get it, and enjoy it. The pieces are satisfying and fun, the dice rolls are great, people get to make bold moves, people sit and think about their next move, and the activation mechanic works. A great deal of my iterative focus, therefore, is on tuning, balance, and polish. My favorite! No, really!

The Cards: The wording on the cards needs work. This is true of any game with cards or really, any game with text. Humans interpret language in so many different ways and with so many games using words in different ways, it can be trouble some.

The most troublesome card was Full Broadside, which said you can attack from two different sides. My intent was that you’d use two sides to attack two enemies, but many saw it as two sides on one enemy (for a monstrous attack).

In other cases I simplified the cards. Countermeasures now just says “roll 3 yellow dice.” Not “roll the yellows for the side being attacked.”

The final big change for cards is that there are now Defensive Cards, i.e. cards you play when it’s not your turn and you’re being attacked. Previously these were just attack cards, but this led to some confusion. Now,  you have Maneuver cards, Attack cards, and Defense cards.

The Center: The center space has been confusing for some time. It’s gone through quite a few revisions. Some input I received from multiple sources was simply REMOVE it. Block it off. You cannot enter the center space. I’m going to replace it with scenario based items, like a space station you need to assault, or a planet that needs to be bombarded, or even a wormhole that lets you do weird things on the map.

More Powerful Crits: One of the core decisions you must make in the game is how to arrange your ships, and whether to do so for offensive or defensive purposes. You’re primarily balancing the number of lasers you have exposed with the number of weakspots exposed, as opponents roll bonus Critical dice when attacking weakspots. The problem is, Crit Dice had a 50% hit rate compared to the 66% hit rate of all other dice. This dip in probability made them far less useful than I’d like. Now, it’s 66% all around.

While we’re on the topic of dice, Direct Hits now cause 2 damage AND are referenced by some cards. Previously, it was just the latter.

Kamikaze: A problem revealed through the PPP testing and again at GenCon is that devastated fighter squadrons with only 1-2 fighters remaining lack usefulness. They only fire 1 yellow die per fighter alive, and capital ships require at least a green, so 2 fighters aren’t going to do much. Now, you can kamikaze when you have 3 or fewer fighters. You roll an orange critical hit die for every fighter remaining and assign damage as normal. The trade off is, you lose all of the fighters, whether they hit or not.

Tweaking Activation: I’m really proud of the activation mechanic. It’s subtle and simple and works. Problem is, I didn’t design for what happens when you lose ships and therefore have more Units than tokens. The new rule is fairly simple: You remove tokens such that on your turn you always have at least two units from which to choose. Obviously, when you have 2 units you alternate and one unit, you just use it over and over. This tested well and was easy to explain, so I’m happy and look forward to solving new problems.

Loosen Up: I had a few unnecessary rules, such as limits on the number and type of cards you could play. The thing is, people want to play cards, and they are fun, so why the heck not? Now, play whatever you have. The other issue is that people feel they get cards they can’t use and it gums up their hand. I think this is more a perception issue and a part of the game in most cases, i.e. figure out how to use what you have. But, one or two cards might have little to know use under some conditions. That’s fair. Now, you can discard any cards you don’t want to clean up your hand and draw new ones.

More Events, More Environment: People really liked the exploding debris, which is great because I love it. People want more events! People also want “terrain,” which in space means things like asteroids, suns, and so forth. I always planned to add some of these elements with scenarios and now it seems a requirement. Cool!

One of the first ones I’m adding are asteroid fields. Throughout the game they’ll shift in space. If they collide with you, damage. But, if you move into a field, it provides bonus protection when being attacked. You’ll see more as the scenarios come online.

Customizable Ships: The reality is, this game probably won’t ship with wooden blocks with holes drilled into them. It just dramatically increases the price. If I had to guess, the ships will be thematically shaped punchboard ships. Totally cool by me. A publisher with whom I’m discussing the game had an idea for customizable weapons. For example, instead of pulling ships at random and being stuck with them, what if in some situations you could outfit your ships with anti-fighter lasers deliberately, or a balanced approach?

I took this a step further to include various nodes that let you launch fighters (Carrier Bay), reduce enemy attack potency (ECM), or even have ranged weapons (Green Missiles versus Green Lasers).

The balance I hope to strike is that for most scenarios, I specify what you need. This is for the sake of balance and accessibility. But, in sandbox mode, you can tweak your squadrons and try things out.

Sandbox Mode: This is an idea I’ve revived somewhat. I thought it would be neat if there was a simple way you could play a meta-game in addition to singular brawl mode or the pre-set campaign mode.

The idea is, you add a small board with the solar system’s planets called out. There are cards for every planet that detail things, like strategic resources: ship production plant, fleet base, warp station, etc. On this meta board,  you say “I’m moving the fleet at Mars to Io.” You then build your fleets, shuffle in some events based on the site, and you fight it out.

When it’s time to pack up, you gather and separate your side’s planet cards, fleet cards, etc. This helps you remember the status and means you don’t need to write it down on paper or any of that mess.

This would add some cards and such, but I think it’d be neat, probably as an add-on, for the experience.

The next steps…

I’m happy with the current rule set with its updates and will begin testing it more thoroughly. However, I’m going to start doing it using scenarios. I’ve designed 2 or 3, but they haven’t been evaluated under this rule set. Therefore, I’ll need to tweak them and design more (of course). My hope is to take what is proving to be a nice, core system and expand it with one-off rules, exciting event cards, and difficult situations to keep players riveted throughout the experience.

I want great replayability. It’s time to get cracking on scenarios! I should note I’ll be making a nice PNP for this soon. Stay tuned to this site or my Twitter feed to learn more.


GenCon 2013 Best Of

Post by: Grant Rodiek

In just a few hours I’m returning to the airport to board an international flight to Germany. Whereas GenCon was a con I attended for “work” (my non-revenue job of making board games), Gamescom is a con I’m attending for work. Seeing as how I’m about to go “dark” over the Atlantic, I thought I’d share my GenCon experiences quickly while they are fresh.

Before I get to the photos and the more fuzzy experiences, I want to share a realization and lesson. Business is fundamentally about products and relationships. People work with people who create good things AND people they like. Nobody wants to work with a jerk. Last year was my first GenCon and I had some meetings and pitches (all ultimately unsuccessful) with some companies I very much wish to work for. Fast forward a year of continuing to work, blog, and interact with these people. I met with all of them again. I didn’t pitch anything to the folks I met last year, but I had coffee, chatted, and in one case played Blockade just to play. His feedback was invaluable and it was awesome showing him that I can create more than just a single game. I had two publishers ask to have a PNP, which felt great.

It struck me that I’m investing in this relationship and it’s paying off dividends. No, they won’t publish a game that’s not right for their brand or that isn’t good. But, what I realized is, they want to work with me, they just need me to show them the right thing. 

Here’s the lesson: Rome was not built in a day. Chances are,  your first, next, or third game won’t be THE one. But. Continue to work hard, meet the people you very much want to work with, and build that relationship. This business is not a sprint and if you’re persistent and good, it’ll eventually pay off. It’s also key that I need to make more games that have more potential publishers. Next year I’ll be trying to bring a Euro, a card game, and things that aren’t reliant on 1-2 potential publishers. Lucky for me, I have all 3 games in the works now.

My Favorite Experiences (in no order) must begin with playing Robinson Crusoe with good friend Cole Medeiros, the tech guru from Shut Up & Sit Down (his name escapes me), and Ignacy Trzewiczek, the designer. This game is an amazing cooperative experience. It is dynamic, full of euro-like tough choices, but full of compelling and thematic events. At one point I was hastily building a shelter, which collapsed and hurt my head. We then shuffled this card into the event deck, because our story is dynamically populated. That head wound came back to haunt me. The game was hilarious, disastrous, hard, and entertaining. I loved it. It was even more special with the designer “DM’ing” it for us.

Here is one of my favorite cards.

Another great experience was a joke told by Paul Imboden of Split Second Games. He’ll quickly note he heard it from legendary designer James Earnest. I won’t tell you the joke, but I will share this picture, drawn by Randy Field of Split Second Games, that illustrates it.

I flew to GenCon with good, real life friend Cole Medeiros. He designed Gubs, published by Gamewright. Cole’s been working on a game for 2+ years now that I’ve tested in several iterations. It hasn’t always been my favorite. Cole handed me his new rule set on the plane and I instantly knew it was the game he’s been seeking. I said “This is it. Tune it, fix it, but this is it.” Cole had his doubts, like we all do, and was worried. Wednesday night, pre-con, we played with 3 random guys who not surprisingly really enjoyed it. And so the rest of the con went. Here is the part that was awesome: By Saturday, Cole, riding high, was like “I’m going to show this to everyone.” And he did! Cole approached every huge, massive, awesome publisher with the moxy and swagger of a prize fighter. It was awesome to watch and I plan to catch up to him next year. His game is good and it will be published. Here’s the gist, if you’re curious:

You’re a rogue space captain trying to make it in the universe. There’s a dynamically populated board filled with opportunities and danger. You have a clever navigation mechanic that provides variance, but also great choice and some strategy. And you’re upgrading your ship.

I played an amazing game of Story War with Cole, AJ, and AJ’s buddy Chase, who was a great guy. This was just a hilarious, Apples to Apples style game that’s delightful with the right crowd. Here was my favorite card.

Giant games and game furniture were awesome. I don’t really enjoy Settlers of Catan, but huge Catan looks so good.

And this Geek Chic table with a huge war game on it. This is my “Prussian High Command” fantasy furniture.

I was much better about impulse buys this year, but I made one about which I’m very excited: Mercs Miniatures. The game is beautiful and has a small, REALLY dedicated staff of passionate, awesome people. That helped my decision. What also helped is that you can buy a set for $60 which comes with 6 pewter figures, all the dice, and cards you need. And this isn’t the “tutorial mode.” You field 5 of those 6 units in a normal game. Which means at $60, I’m good to go. The default rules are a teeny tiny single, double sided page. By teeny tiny I mean about 5 inches by 6 inches. Finally, instead of moving your guys using a ruler, you use the card, which has slots for where to move your guys. Very clever and reminds me of X-Wing. Cole and I each bought a set. We’re going to paint them, build them, and play together. It’ll be a thing. Look at their demo image below, but visit their site and check out the amazing art.

I played some fun prototypes, particularly Flick Wars, designed by Andrew Tullsen. If you’re curious, he runs Print and Play Games and built Battle for York for me. Great guy. Here’s Flick Wars: Take Ascending Empires, remove the empire building portion, add up to 6 players in teams, and add more tactics and abilities to the units. What you have is a game where people stand up and cheer and have a lot of fun.

I also played Emperor’s New Clothes with the designer, Jonathan Liu. I won’t comment much on the game, but I will say this man never broke character explaining and guiding us through the experience. Masterful execution on his part.

Here’s the best part of the show, and I saved it for last. I had a meeting setup on Sunday with a prominent, established, and incredibly well respected publisher for York. He watched my tutorial video and liked what he saw. The meeting wasn’t until Sunday, so I spent 4 days inside my head totally double and triple thinking everything. I sat with him finally, laid out the game, explained the rules and my design inspirations. It was less a sales pitch and more “this is my work.” Which felt good and was more my style. I’ll spare too many details, but I’ll say this: He really liked it, he took the game home with him, and he is optimistic. No deal (yet), but even if he passes, I feel I have a relationship now and if York isn’t the one, my next one might be. I cannot fully explain my emotions on this, but I’ll just say I am drunk with euphoria. The pitch could not have gone better.

Just to answer the inevitable questions, my purchases were:

  • The Little Prince (fantastic)
  • Space Cadets: Dice Duels (fantastic)
  • Mercs Minis (really hopeful and excited to dive in)
  • Memoir ’44 Winter Wars Expansion (plus I received promo scenarios for the purchase)
  • 2 Summoner Wars 2nd Summoners packs, plus I bought the starter set (with 2 other factions) from a friend. This means I can now play a 4 player game and have almost every faction.
  • 7 Wonders Civ boards. Great value for $10.
  • Yspahan from a friend
  • Matt Worden also gave me a beautiful copy of Space Mission

My plays were:

  • Blockade (4x)
  • Battle for York (4x)
  • Tessen (2x)
  • Star Captains (2x)
  • Space Cadets: Dice Duels (3x)
  • Farmageddon: Livestocked and Loaded
  • Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island
  • Coloretto (2x)
  • The Phantom Society
  • The Three Little Pigs
  • The Little Prince (5x)
  • Dead End
  • Emperor’s New Clothes
  • The Lord of the Rings Two Towers Deckbuilding Game
  • Flick Wars
  • Jungle Dice (2x)
  • Yspahan
  • Eons 

Before I leave, and they should know this, AJ Porfirio, Matt Worden, and Chevee Dodd are amazing, great guys. I don’t really want to attend GenCon if they aren’t there.

Questions? Thoughts?

Posted in Blog | Tagged experiences, gencon 2013, memories, success, victory | 2 Replies

Grant’s GenCon Schedule

Post by: Grant Rodiek

In case you want to meet up next week, I thought I’d quickly outline my public schedule. In general, email and Twitter are great ways to get a hold of me. Or, look for the tall, lanky guy wearing a fedora. I’ll be the short, chubby guy next to him.

My #1 goal for GenCon 2013 is to find a publishing partner for Battle for York. If I found a home for York, then immediately following this AJ sucker punched me using his formerly professional baseball player arm, I’d still see the week as a net positive.

I will have Battle for YorkBlockade, and Farmageddon: Livestocked and Loaded with me. I’ll also have a pile of cards with which I’ll be diddling with Drafty Dungeon or Norcal when I’m bored. So, what I mean to say is, these last two won’t make any progress.

Blockade packed and ready.

Wednesday: I arrive in the evening. First step will be to dump stuff at the hotel, then get my badge from the GM will call booth.Then, I have a meeting. Once that is done, I’ll probably be hanging out with pals.


10 am -12 pm Testing Blockade at the First Exposure Playtest Hall

12 pm – 2 pm Testing Battle for York at the FEPH

2pm ish I’ll be participating in Jeff Tidball’s panel on game design


8 am – 10 am Testing Blockade at the FEPH

10 am – 12 pm Testing Battle for York at the FEPH

4 pm – 5 pm Participating in the First Time Game Deisgner’s Workshop in the Embassy Suites with Chevee Dodd, some others, and the Building the Game Podcast folks.


10 am – 12 pm Testing Blockade at the FEPH

I have a few meetings in the afternoon.


Nothing planned, unless Wednesday night doesn’t quite line up.

If you’re interested in seeing Blockade or York played as a publisher, consumer, or just want to watch me test, please feel free to swing by my FEPH sessions. I’m confident in the products and will be happy to let you watch random people play them. Last year my friends would swing by to heckle me, so don’t worry about imposing.


See you next week!

The Blockade of GenCon

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I’ve been steadily testing Blockade for months now. It’s also taken a quick loop through the PPP with a visit to Madison, WI and was PNP’d by some kind folks in Arkansas. It’s been generally well received and people get it.

I’ve had some issues with it for a while. Little things that could be better but I wasn’t quite sure how to address them. Instead of constant, head against wall, smash through the breach iteration, I sat back and just kept testing on the same build. I thought on it.

Here were the issues as I saw them:

  • Not enough breadth. Really, the only dominant tactic was to close with the enemy, grind them to bits, and hope you have more bits than they do at the end.
  • Not enough flexibility. A continuation of bullet 1, but players didn’t have enough options.
  • The initial phase of the game felt tedious. Why plan initiative when it isn’t a problem?
  • Do I need rounds at all? Can’t I just make this a turn based experience? This one was hard. One of the things I don’t like about Memoir ’44 is the habit of players to pick a unit and grind them forward until they die. Then, they select their next death squad from the back, waiting patiently. It seemed odd to me to have a single squadron doing all the work while the rest of the fleet is sitting idly.
  • Prevalent opportunities to simplify the design.

I had quite a few ideas. My favorite was to add tech modules to the ships, which conveyed new abilities. Things like a shield generator, an ECM radar, special engines, long-range missiles, and carrier bays. These all sound neat and would work with my ships’ UI, but it would require people to memorize a lot of new icons and their functionality. I just didn’t want that.

I thought on it and had a eureka moment. I mostly removed a lot of content and introduced more flexibility. If you wan to read the updated rules (and leave comments), CLICK HERE. Or, read below for the summary.

  • The game is now turn-based. On your turn, you activate a single Unit by placing one of 3 tokens on the chosen Unit. After you do things with it (next bullet), it is your opponent’s turn. You must place all 3 tokens before re-activating a Unit with a token already. Once all 3 are placed, you can remove a token from an already ordered Unit and then order someone else. This has a subtle strategy of thinking ahead to which Units you’ll want to use, and which Units you can be okay not using for a short time. It also forces you to use most of your ships.
  • As a result of the above change, there are no more rounds. No more initiative phase, no more activation phase, no more clean up phase. This just simplifies the game significantly.
  • Previously, your activation phase was very rigid. In order, you had to: Move or Rotate 1-2 times, then change formation, then attack. Now, you can do these things in any order. This means I can fly in, attack, fly away, then change my formation to improve my defensive options. Flexibility without adding more rules.
  • Ships now have variable movement options. Destroyers and Fighters can use 1-3 maneuvers (move, rotate) every turn. Battlecruisers, the lumbering beasts, can only move 1-2. This allows the smaller Units to outmaneuver and execute some fun hit and run tactics.
  • I didn’t not remove debris, which was added when ships were destroyed and exploded at the end of the round to deal damage to nearby Units. Now, there are event cards shuffled into the deck. Some of these will cause the debris to explode. Simple, fun events. Others will be introduced based on the scenario being played. I think this gives me GREAT flexibility without too much complexity.
  • Many of the cards have been simplified. I’ve outright removed the cards that caused questions or had questionable value. For example, I used to have cards that gave you an extra move or an extra rotate. Now, I just have cards that say “Gain one more maneuver.” Do either.
  • I removed the black dice, but not black damage. This means that no ships will fire black dice anymore — it was too powerful. Battlecruisers still require black damage to be destroyed. The only way you can do so now is to combine 2 green hits OR successfully hit with a critical hit die. This puts more emphasis on the weak spots being exploited, which is good as that is something that supports the most unique element of the game.

If you look at the image above, you can see the old sticker (left) versus a new sticker (right). Previously, ships could take damage from black or green dice. Now, without black dice, I could simplify the damage info in the center. Also, the back of the ship has a number of arrows to remind you of their moves. The stickers aren’t AMAZING but they’ll be effective.

In summary: Turn-based gameplay, flexibility in how you execute your options, fewer dice to simplify combat, slight differences in ships, simpler cards. MORE strategy.

Thoughts? See some of you next week at GenCon.

Drafty Dungeon

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I’m teaching a Skillshare class on card game design that actually goes live tonight. It’s something you can take at your own pace (all videos pre-recorded) and is hopefully useful to newer game designers.

The project for the class is to create a simple card game design. For the class, I began designing a game that was originally going to be a throwaway, something just for the class, but while testing it for class material I actually found that I liked the game and it was worth pursuing. In order to gather some input and kickstart my renewed focus on the class, I thought I’d write about it. Welcome to Drafty Dungeon!

In case the name wasn’t a giveaway, Drafty Dungeon is a competitive dungeon exploration game for 2-5 players that is primarily fueled by a drafting mechanic. I’ve wanted to use drafting for a long time, yet I didn’t know what to do with it. It’s a great mechanic and so simple. I found myself bored in a slow meeting one day a few months ago. The thought of “choose your own adventure” entered my mind and I immediately switched it to “draft your own adventure.” As in, what if you’re in a dungeon and every turn you need to choose your next move? Imagine you’re in the fellowship in the Mines of Moria. There are goblins streaming in from the sides of the walls. You think “what will we do?” and bravely shout “this way!” Or perhaps “stand and fight!” Or perhaps you do something clever, like manipulate the environment.

Yooo shall noooot draft!

This was my thematic and mechanical inspiration. At a high level, what if you were playing Zelda or Diablo against other players and you’re all trying to profit the most from a dangerous dungeon? Let’s go deeper into this dungeon, shall we?

What the game was…

When our story began, Drafty Dungeon had two distinct phases: Town Shop phase and the Dungeon phase. In the Shop phase, players would draft cards with weapons, gear, and spells, then pass their hand. The idea is that you’re in the store running up and down the aisles trying to buy the best stuff. The game doesn’t have strict classes, leaning towards Zelda (use your favorite secondary weapon) or Skyrim (do whatever you want). So, I could have a lot of spells and a sword or be a sneaky and bulky warrior.

You spend gold on these items. Originally I had the notion of your level and gold, but realized it was unnecessary and adopted the stance of “if you can buy it you can use it.” Fewer rules, more fun. It also means someone can splash all their coins early on a huge sword but have NOTHING else, which is one of those rare and crazy things that happens in Diablo.

After drafting or passing on 3 hands of cards, players enter the dungeon.

In the dungeon, players choose actions like “Hide Under a Rock” or “Open a Treasure Chest.” Most of them are unique. Thematically I wanted it to feel like you’re being chased by monsters and you need to move FAST.

Originally I thought actions might cost “mana” or “energy” but then decided that was stupid. But, I did make it so you might need a Magic Weapon to take an action or things like that. Light requirements. More on this in our next section.

Because your actions can affect other players, I needed initiative, because everyone simultaneously selects. I lifted Libertalia’s number mechanic directly, which gave me thematic ideas like “sprinting down a hall” is fast whereas “opening a treasure chest” is slow. Players select a card, flip them, order them, and execute them.

Actions would let you add monsters, attack monsters, divert monsters to an opponent, or gather gold from looting. After 3 rounds, players receive bonuses for how many monsters felled, demerits for monsters chasing them, and things like this. Then, players return to the Shop phase to purchase again. In the second shop phase, higher quality items are shuffled into the deck. Then players re-enter the dungeon with new, more difficult actions.

This all had some problems.

The Next Chapter

The game had some issues, but showed promise. There were some really big high notes.

  • Players loved buying stuff. It was just fun to buy gear.
  • Players really understood the “I’m picking an action” idea. It was a natural fit.
  • Players liked outfitting their character. A continuation of #1, but never underestimate the fun of BUYING stuff then USING that stuff.

There were some missed opportunities. Players were a bit underwhelmed by earning straight-up gold for fighting monsters. They blatantly said “why can’t I get loot?” Good question! New idea: Low level monsters give you gold. Higher level monsters let you draw items randomly off the top, which you can equip back in town OR sell for gold. My game’s enjoyment factor increased by a full letter grade by just TALKING about this.

This, of course, means I need to enhance the game’s simple combat mechanic and add tiers of monsters. Not difficult and not really a bad change. I’ll do it simply and uniformly such that level 1/2/3 monsters have health based on their level and identical rewards, which will be random. So, you might draw an awesome weapon, or a shoddy satchel.

There was also a problem with the action cards. The requirements made it such that someone might have 3 actions he couldn’t take and 1 not so exciting one left. To address this, cards now have an overall type (like attack) with a specific option. Therefore, instead of “You must have a magic weapon to do this,” it’s now “If you have a magic weapon, you can do this cool thing, or if you just have a melee weapon, just attack with it.”

Here are some examples.

The far left card is an attack card (red triangles). This is just prototype art, I’ll make it colorblind friendly. If you have a melee weapon (sword icon), you can add +2 damage to your attack. Otherwise? Just attack with whatever weapon you have. That’s generally my idea for all cards. The blue cards are spell cards and the green cards are dungeon actions. This allows for flexibility, rewards specialization, but doesn’t hinder you if you don’t quite get the match you need.

You can also see I’m trying to push myself to design within a simple icon system. The levers with which I’m currently working are:

  • Fight monsters
  • Add/Lose monsters to yourself or an opponent
  • Move monsters to an opponent
  • Gain gold
  • Gain equipment

I’m not sure these levers are sufficient but this is my starting point.

Players also wanted the dungeon to come alive. They wanted it to do neat things. I didn’t want to design an AI or anything too intrusive. After all, there’s something beautiful to “draft one card and pass.” Therefore, we introduced dungeon cards. When you’re drawing back up to your hand size, if one of these is drawn, you resolve its action. These will be sprinkled through the dungeon deck, like fire cards in Speicherstadt.

You can see the basic iconography for a dungeon card on the right. No information yet, however.

On the left, you can see the Escape card. Like the dungeon, when this card is drawn, all players get a quick trip to the shop to sell items for gold, equip new weapons, and buy new gear from the shopkeeper. I found the breakdown of phases a little too slow. Also, to speed up the drafting, a subset of the shopkeeper’s wares will be arranged in the center space. As if we’re all standing at the counter staring at his “behind the counter” merchandise. We’ll alternate 2-3 turns of buying items, which are immediately replaced with the loot deck. Then, back to the dungeon!

Just for quick giggles, here’s a sample weapon.

From top left to bottom, you can see:

  1. The type (ranged)
  2. The cost (3 coins)
  3. The default damage (2 damage)
  4. The weapon’s special ability. Here, I’m letting myself use text. There will only be one weapon at a time, so text is fine (whereas with Actions you’ll have a hand of them and I don’t want you spending time reading). For this weapon, it’s loud and adds more monsters to you after every attack. That could be good…or not!

Check out my current visual mock page here.

The final change is that the game will be a sequential game. This means I will draft my card, play it, use its action. Then, the player to my left will do the same. We’ll still pass cards, but there will be an extra hand floating between the players so that nobody has to wait for a hand to be passed, if that makes sense.

The reason for this is that everyone was ignoring everyone AND arranging the cards and executing them was fiddly. I had players note they wanted to see what everyone was doing. If someone wants to be more involved with their opponents, I see it as my job to let them do so.

I’m going to incorporate more ways to win. I see three approximate archetypes:

  • The monster slayer strategy (warrior)
  • The sneaky looter strategy (rogue)
  • The manipulator/interactive strategy (wizard)

Now that cards don’t need to stack with each other at once, it simplifies things a bit on the content design front.

The Cover

It’s nigh impossible for me to begin work on a game that excites me and not think to art. After all, how else will I remain in the hole for this cursed hobby!

What I want, is basically one of my favorite cartoons ever.

I also want to hire one of my favorite artists, Brett Bean of Farmageddon fame, based on his Sherlock Holmes critters. Like Moriotter.

That is obviously far down the line, but man, how beautiful and fun would that be?

Your thoughts

What do you think? This is a relatively simple idea that turns out to be a light, fun, lunch time game with adventure and loot. Drafting is a natural fit for the dungeon crawler and removing spatial elements allows for wild, dramatic actions in the same way that cartoons can do wilder things than live action programs.

I’d love to know what you think.

NorCal is still in the works, as is my game for the Classic Remix contest. Busy busy!

Review: Mice and Mystics

Me playing solo.

Review by: Grant Rodiek

You can read my review policy here.

Quick Notes: Mice and Mystics is a game for 1-4 (arguably 5) players for which you should set aside 2 hours to play. You may not need that much time, but the play length is highly variable based on the scenario played and the way things proceed. This is a game to sit back and enjoy. It’s not one to rush! I’ve played the game solo, with 2, and 5 players a combined total of 7 times. I have completed Chapters 1-4 (out of 11) in the base game.

The game’s rules are well written, but they are quite broad and you should set aside some time to parse them. There’s a great tutorial video provided by Plaid Hat Games, so they really do their best (and succeed) at teaching the game.

I think the gameplay is identical regardless of player count, but I think this game is better with more people playing. It’s an experience for friends to enjoy. The more people who participate, the more silliness and ridiculousness. Once, I played with 5, where I acted as the keeper of the rules, storyteller, and the enemy AI, while my other 4 friends played the heroic mice. It was great. Truly, one of a kind. One of them even played as the rogue and did his own thing while we desperately fought the rats. He was a jerk, in character, and it was hilarious.

The Review: Mice and Mystics is a cooperative dungeon crawling game with a heavy focus on designed scenario gameplay (as opposed to random events) and a story driven campaign. The base game ships with 15 meaty chapters, 4 of which I’ve played. They aren’t simple and they aren’t brief — there’s a lot of game to be found here. The story always progresses with significance.

Two of my favorite characters.

At the start of a scenario you select (typically but not always) 4 characters from the standard fantasy archetypes: warrior, archer, rogue, magician, healer, and leader. Each begins with pre-defined gear. Characters have 4 stats that dictate movement speed, the number of attack dice to roll, defense dice to roll, and dice to roll for special lore events. They also tend to have unique passive abilities that are simple but really tend to be meaningful.

Following the scenario instructions is quite simple.

Scenarios specify a level layout of (typically) 3 or 4 double sided square tiles. This system is fantastic and a brilliant piece of design. For example, one tile is the tunnels under the kitchen on one side and the kitchen on the other. There’s a way to climb up from the tunnels, at which point you remove your guys, flip the board, and place them on the newly flipped side. With only a handful of double sided tiles there are so many creative combinations of levels. It’s really delightful and simple to understand.

From the arrow my mice and “climb up” to the other side of the board.

The beginning of a scenario comes with a story for a narrator to read to the group. I recommend you bring forth your best (see also: worst) British accent and bold, narratory Jazz hands.

The game revolves primarily around combat. Either due to specified enemy spawns or well-tuned random spawns (based on a drawn card), every room involves some number of enemies. Until you best them, you cannot proceed, but once you best them, if you linger you’ll be slowly penalized. Players take turns in order using a simple and effective initiative mechanic with the enemy taking turns as appropriate.

To segue briefly, I strongly dislike “AI players” in board games. This was a worry of mine and I’m glad to say it’s not a problem in the game. Let’s say you have 4 enemy rats, which share a turn. On their turn, you first roll a die and move them the appropriate spaces. You always move them towards the closest player character — in the case of a tie, choose (this doesn’t happen often, surprisingly). If they are in range to attack, they do so. You check their attack number, roll the indicated dice, and they deal damage. They don’t have special powers to manage or complex routines. They are trying to stop you, so like the guards in every movie ever created they charge forth and try to stop you. It’s simple, easy to understand, and it works.

Turns typically revolve around the following choices:

  • Where do I go to put myself in the best position? If you’re a ranged mouse, you may want to get out of the fray. Or there may be a certain enemy you want to defeat first, how do you get to them in the best way?
  • Who do I attack first? And do I use my default weapon or a special ability?

Every character begins with 1 class-based special ability of your choice (fun!) and these have a big impact on the game. You can also gain more throughout the game. Abilities are activated by spending cheese, which is the game’s version of mana. A side of the combat die is cheese, so when this side is rolled, you gain a token. There is a downside! When the enemies roll cheese in combat, you add these to the center board. When 6 are dded, a surge occurs! This pushes the game one step closer to an untimely end (which happens when bad events occur) AND adds new, more powerful enemies to the board. It’s the thematic equivalent of a guard shouting for backup and the backup arriving before you manage to escape. It’s great and really adds tension.

Attacking isn’t all you do, however. You can also search for items, which involves a lucky die roll (which some characters can mitigate), after which you draw a card from the item deck. I love the items. You may draw new armor or weapons, which increase your combat effectiveness. You may draw one-time-use items, which sometimes seem useless, except they aren’t. As an example, I drew a levitate card, which lets me climb on bookshelves and chairs (remember, you’re a mouse) without penalty. “Okay,” I thought. “I guess this is neat.” Then, I entered the final room with 5 elite rat archers on a bookshelf and only 2 melee mice left to fight them. I used levitate, sprinted atop the bookshelf, and eeked (squeaked?) out a win. It was great!

I also love that items are relatively easy to trade among the mice in your party. I often have Lilly, the archer, hang back, take opportune shots, and use her ability to search more effectively. When the gang’s all settled, she’s like “hey guys, I found some new stuff!”

Were this just combat and item optimization I think Mice and Mystics would fall flat. Luckily, after only 4 chapters I think it’s an absolute showpiece for good scenario design. The designer cleverly uses neat map setups, configurations of bad guys, forces you to use (or not use) certain mice, and even introduces silly and fun mini-games to vary the experience. At one point I happened upon a posse of “off duty” rats playing a dice game for cheese. I just so happened to have a disguise (items are awesome) to infiltrate their game. I ended up winning a pile of cheese and scared them off without fighting once. Had I screwed up, I would have had to fight it out. This was great.

Just playing dice with rats.

I should also note the scenarios sometimes have alternate paths and side-quests. I really appreciate this small detail.

Combat and resolution throughout the game is solved through dice. It’s a well implemented, consistent use of the dice. There is some luck, for sure, but I find the tuning is such that it never feels plodding. You will sometimes get screwed, just like you’ll sometimes have incredible rolls. But, the course of the experience is one of great tuning and enjoyable outcomes. This isn’t a “play 2 hours to get hosed by bad luck” type game. If you’re okay with some luck, you’ll have fun. If you’re not, lighten up! And why did you buy a co-op game with mice on the cover in the first place?

Mice and Mystics isn’t a cheap game, but if you look inside the box you’ll understand why. The game is full of beautifully detailed miniature sculpts.The boards and cards are jam packed with unique illustrations beautifully crafted by John Ariosa. There are tons of tokens, some for just a few uses, and nothing was spared. I think it’s a good value, especially considering I have about 15 hours of gaming in already and am only 25% through the campaign. I don’t want every game to have this price tag, but when a special one comes along, I’ll buy it and do so with a smile.

This is a co-op game, so I feel I need to bring up the point of “dominant players.” This isn’t a really deep strategy game (though there is strategy). It isn’t like Pandemic where you’re weighing probability and optimal choices. Here’s my suggestion: Don’t play this with people you don’t like. Get some beers, some pizza, and take over a huge table with all the cool stuff in the box. Set aside a few hours on the weekend and play a few chapters. If you complain about the dominant player problem here, it’s maybe because you need better friends? To quote Viper in Top Gun, call me. I’ll fly with you.

The Conclusion: I really enjoy Mice and Mystics, but I also think for the price, time commitment, and style of game, you need to enjoy this type of game. It’s not just a well-woven set of mechanics, but a story and experience that need to be read aloud and with gusto to be enjoyed to the fullest. If you want brain-burn, or competition, or super elegant euro-stylings, you should look elsewhere.

I don’t think Mice and Mystics is trashy, because all of its components serve a purpose and are distilled, clean, and well-designed. But, the game is full of content, often to support the variety in scenarios, and you may find yourself checking the rules even 4 games in to find out what the grape or fish hook do, for example.

As a side note, I’d love for Plaid Hat Games to release an expansion full of short stories, small, 60 minutes or less stories for those of us who want to game at lunch, because it would be a blast for my lunch crew. Regardless, I’ve already pre-ordered Heart of Glorm and will hasten my play through the base game so I can enjoy it!

Here’s how the story ends: Mice and Mystics is really delightful. If co-operative storytelling with awesome mice miniatures and combat is your thing, consider a purchase.

What do you think of this review?