Looking Back on 2013


Post by: The Design Community

Early in 2013 I hosted a preview for 2013, a note of things (hopefully) to come. Now, as I wrote here, it’s time to reflect and reminisce on 2013. Scroll below and read updates from some of your favorite personalities in our community. If you want to join in, email me!

Happy Mitten Games // Jeff Large

Leandra, Kyle, and I have been friends, family, and gamers for a long time. The 3 of us have always had an entrepreneurial itch and have kicked around many possible ideas. Talks of starting a board game publishing company began in early 2012 and after almost a year of research and planning we officially launched the company in spring 2013.

It’s been crazy to see the progress we’ve made since then. We knew from the beginning that we wanted to give back before we asked for anything.  Thus, we consistently release a blog post or podcast episode sharing the knowledge we’ve gained and the insights from many other amazing people in the industry. In particular, our podcast has been very well received. We’ve interviewed a plethora of excellent people and in the past month, we joined the Dice Tower Network.

Along with giving back to the community, we knew building relationships would be essential to our progress and success. We have spent a lot of time meeting people on Twitter, via email, and at events like Gen Con, Origins, Protospiel, and GrandCon.

Finally, we’ve been working hard at finding games that embody our vision. We’ve had the privilege to evaluate many submissions and we’re happy to announce that we signed our first design (Details soon!). Along with this first game, we have a few other prototypes that are still being highly considered. Ideally, we would like to sign 2 or 3 games for our initial line up.

Although we feel really blessed with how things are going so far, we know there is still a long way to go. We’re excited for the work ahead and we look forward to continue earning your trust and respect.

Dave Chalker

At the time of the preview, I was working on two games, both for the possibility of self-publication depending on how it went.

The first, “Criminals,” was a co-design between my friend Kory Heath and myself, and continues to be a game I feel really strongly about. We made some tweaks since the 2007 version to address some concerns, and I paid for professional graphic design from Chris Yates, hoping to recoup the costs of the whole thing via DriveThruCards. I discussed in a blog post that didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped, and while writing that blog post lead to about 20 more sales, I’m still sufficiently in the hole and game sales are so inconsistent that I’m ready to say I need to do something else with it. As mentioned during the preview, I had hoped this would allow the game to be picked up for wider release. The game is now in the hands of publishers for review, and that process is slow yet ongoing.


Inside Joke

My party game “Inside Joke” was potentially going to be my self-published followup to “Criminals.” Since the money didn’t work out there, and since there’s a good chance “Inside Joke” would require lots more art and thus be even more expensive to produce, I’ve shelved that idea for now. I’ve pitched the game to my favorite party game publisher where it didn’t really hit. Since then, thanks to a game design retreat in June run by friends, I’ve radically simplified and made the game much more smooth and quick to play. Of course, you only get one chance to make a good first impression, so I might have missed my window with that publisher. I’ve also found it difficult to pitch party games, since I don’t have as many connections there versus more “gamer game” companies (and so many party games are designed in-house in the first place). I think the game is done: I just don’t know where to go next with it. “Inside Joke” and “Criminals” both I’m pretty sure would Kickstart well if I decided to go that direction. However, that’s a bigger deal.

Spell Dice

Spell Dice

During all this pitching, I’ve developed two new games: one whose terrible working title is “Spell Dice” featuring a unique drafting mechanism with dice, which is in for review at a publisher. And recently, I’ve designed a microgame I’m calling “Heat” that may be a better POD game, because of how few cards and components it uses.



Of course, I’m very fortunate that “Get Bit!” continues to be popular, and this year saw the release of the “Deluxe” edition with pirate stickers and a very nice metal tin (even if it can get damaged in shipping!) It continues to be a consistent seller, as ICv2 notes, and it might lead to even bigger things. The pressure is on for some kind of follow up, which I’ve tinkered with on and off, but I won’t release a substandard game and slap a shark on it, so that may be a while.

Ed Marriott // BoardsandBarley.com

Entering the year I had made it my goal to develop a solid game with the intention of pitching the game at GenCon. At the time I only had Scoville. So naturally I focused on that. During January and February I designed and tested it about 20 times. It tested well, but all my testers were friends. I sort of wanted to “validate” their feedback so I took Scoville to Protospiel-Milwaukee in March, where it was very well received. After Protospiel I was super pumped to have received the positive feedback and I felt confident that I could spend the summer balancing, prepping, and beautifying the prototype to get it ready to pitch at GenCon.

Enter Tasty Minstrel Games. I had previously met the guys at TMG and they asked about the game. I sent a prototype and things have been rolling along nicely. We signed a contract and the game will be on Kickstarter in November, to coincide with BGG.con. I couldn’t be more excited and I hope you’ll check it out!

In January I started my game design blog, Boards & Barley, where I discuss homebrewing and game design. I’ve enjoyed the response from the readers as they share their design experiences and stories. I’ve been amazed at the game design community and how awesome it is. You people are so cool! If you’ve read my blog, thank you very much!

Logo Revision Example 3
Quantum Orcas: This is a game that I designed on the fly for a “Design Me” article that I posted on my blog. It’s since taken on a personality all its own. Within 24 hours of designing the game it already had four playtests under its belt. Since then, I have been developing the artwork and playtesting the game. It is a 2 player game that takes about 10 minutes to play. It is light and quick while presenting enough strategy to keep people interested. My goal is to post this to The Game Crafter for POD service sometime in the next three months.

conclave-logo-v1-070213 Conclave: On the game front I designed a game called Conclave. In Conclave you are one of the preferiti, the Cardinals who are preferred to take the papacy. Your objective in the game is to manipulate the college of cardinals such that they elect you as the next pope. The game revolves around an area control mechanic where the control of different tables of cardinals is constantly changing. The downside to the design is that there is currently no build up in the game that allows you to do more things and take more awesome actions. I’ve had a plan for that since GenCon and I’m hoping to get to it in the near future. But before I do I am working on my current favorite design…

Brooklyn Bridge: My very first game design was a worker placement game about brewing beer. I never really did the design justice and it sits in my basement. Unfortunately now with Brew Crafters and the European Piwne Imperium out there I’m afraid my game, Brewmaster, will never go anywhere. So I decided to bring back the worker placement mechanic and design a game around the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s a fascinating feat of engineering and discovery that I think people will enjoy as a game. In the game you represent a crew of workers and it is your job to be the best crew. The best is determined by who has earned the most money at the end of construction. Money is earned by sending workers to work on different parts of the bridge. If you send them below the waterline to work in the caisson they’ll earn more but the run the risk of being out of commission if they get caisson’s disease. Sending them to work on the towers has low income, but it’s income you can count on. The big part of the game is the materials office where you are competing to get the best goods possible. I’m very excited to see where this design goes and I think it has potential.

I think 2014 is gonna be a great year! I’ve been able to make tons of great connections with fellow gamers and designers and it’s an honor to even be a part of this article. Thanks, Grant, for putting this together!

Corey Young: Corey told a story for his. Basically, you’ll see his “chapter highlights” in bold, with details following. Enjoy this great tale! 

I signed a deal with Cryptozoic in the fall of 2012 to have my first game, Gravwell, published.

I pitched Gravwell to Cryptozoic at Gen Con 2013. One week later, they told me that they wanted to publish it. Other than signing the contract, not much occurred during 2012. The first few months of 2013 were pretty quiet. Matt Hyra, the Cryptozoic game developer responsible for refining Gravwell, did extensive playtesting, corresponding with me throughout.

In April, I started getting some updates showing the board, the ships, the cards and eventually the box. I was happy with everything I saw. The only change I recommended was adding infographic back to the board.

I got to meet up with a lot of great game designers around the country. I met Ben Rosset (via our mutual friend, David Miller) in DC, Ed Marriott, Brett Myers and John Kovalic in Madison, and Christopher Chung at Snakes & Lattes in Toronto.

One of the few perks of my all-travel-all-the-time job is that I get to meet my Twitter friends in person. Chatting with other game designers one-on-one is so invigorating.

Leading up to Gen Con, it did not look like Gravwell would be available for sale in time for the show.

The good folks at Cryptozoic told me early on that getting the game together in time for GenCon would be a stretch. They were confident that they could get a few copies ahead of schedule for demonstrations, but most likely not enough to actually sell them at the show.

I showed the first version of Santorini at an UnPub event.

On March 30th, Epic Loot Games hosted an UnPub event as part of their Tabletop Day celebration. I worked with John Moller and the UnPub folks to organize the event. I was there mostly as the organizer, ensuring that all the designers had enough players. The event was a great success. I got to play several promising games.

As the event was winding down, I brought out Santorini. I wasn’t sure that I would because I didn’t feel it was ready. I was mostly right. The early version still got good reactions for its visual appeal, but the game play, and my foam-core tiles, just didn’t work. I went back to the drawing board on the rules.

I also reached out to Chris Urinko for some new laser cut tiles and playing boards. I’m very glad that I did. The new components were ideal.

In July, I sold another game. This time at Protospiel.

I brought the new, simpler version of Santorini to Protospiel 2013 in Ann Arbor. There, I ran into two friends (and fellow game designers) Kevin Nunn and Mike Sullivan. They kindly sat down to try it out. Their suggestions from that first play pushed Santorini to the next level. We played again, and it really clicked. More people started watching. And queuing up to play. I was getting excited.

Then Uwe Eickert from Academy Games came by, put his hand on my shoulder, and said “I want to play that game.” A few minutes later, he was playing against another designer. As the game was winding up, Uwe said simply, “I want to make this game.”

Two weeks before GenCon, I got word that Cryptozoic would have copies of Gravwell for sale.

I hadn’t “happy danced” so hard since I got the initial “Let’s do this” email from Cryptozoic. Not only was my game going to be available at GenCon, but I would be there in the Cryptozoic booth, next to my friend John Kovalic (with his hilarious ROFL! Game), demonstrating and signing copies.

I got my advance copy of the game about the same time. I will always cherish the moment, sitting around our dining room table with my wife and kids, cutting the shrink wrap.

Best. GenCon. Ever.

As much fun as Gen Con is for a board gaming fan boy like me, it’s absolutely glorious when you attend as a published designer.

Of course, nobody knows you’re published, so it’s not at all about how anyone treats you. It simply changes how you look at everything. For starters, most of the pressure is off.  I was so happy to have no prototypes in my backpack. I could just wander the floor, chatting with my growing circle of game designer friends.

When I first wandered up to the Cryptozoic booth, I saw that one of their demonstrators was showing Gravwell to some players. I looked on quietly next to my GenCon wingman, Liam Harn. I was doing my best to play it cool, but the goose bumps were coming in waves. I must have looked like a fool with a broad, toothy grin on my face.

Cryptozoic had only asked me to demonstrate for a few hours on Friday afternoon. I just couldn’t keep away. Starting Thursday morning, I orbited the booth like a dog trying to get its master’s attention. Their demonstrators did an outstanding job. I’d jump in from time to time. I was happy to show the game to several podcasters and reviewers.

And I signed some games. Damn. That’s a great feeling. I tweeted during the con that if you found me, I would mod your rules to make them say that you go first. Eight people took me up on that.

I helped out during James Mathe’s Publisher Speed Dating event at Gen Con.

On Thursday evening, I helped James Mathe conduct the first ever Publisher Speed Dating event. It was four hours of designers pitching games to publishers. My job was to bark the time and keep things moving. I was so glad that Liam was with me because by the final hour, I was out of soundage.

I broke Twitter with all my Gravwell-related tweets.

In the weeks following GenCon, I polluted Twitter with links to all the kind things people were saying about Gravwell. I won’t repeat them here. I can’t promise that I won’t start that up again once the game is released to distribution. Cryptozoic is still reporting Q4 of 2014 for that.

Jay Treat

When I showed Intrigue off at Origins, a major publisher never quite got the game, and so I recreated it as The Art of War to simplify it a bit, and to make the schemes reinforce the subtle strategies of the game rather than add variance/complexity/interest. While I don’t enjoy that version as much, I do expect it’s a better game in the sense that it will appeal to more people. I also figured out how to expand the game from 3-4 to 3-5, which is a nice get.

Unfortunately, the feedback I gleaned from GenCon was that the game has no marketable hook. It plays differently from everything else out there, but how do you convince players who know nothing about the game that from the packaging? As such, this game is going into my pocket until a publisher who trusts me is looking for a card game.

Assault on Khyber Station is currently under consideration by a small publisher, but I recently tried reinventing it to see what I could improve. I learned why certain choices have to be the way they are, but I also found a few new options that make for a more thematic game. There’s more competition for aliens-on-a-space-station games than you might expect right now, but I think Khyber Station is good enough and different enough to stand out on its own. I’m building a big Lego version of Khyber Station. It should be functional in two weeks.


Apart from figuring out that The Last Planet could be a game of coral reefs competing for the bottom of the ocean over thousands of years instead of a tactical StarCraft tile game, I’ve made no progress. I only have so much time to devote to game design and I’ve prioritized projects that are further along and are easier to iterate on. I will get there, though. The concept is too good not to.The games I’ve been meaning to get to for over a year now, Black Hills & Hollywood Disaster, still haven’t been prototyped. On the plus side, I’ve been collaborating with Cardboard Edison on Rickety Bridge & Dino Alley. Whether either of those games go anywhere or not, the shared-design experience has been rewarding. I also have two games, Possibilities & Freudian Knot in Jason Tagmire’s recently successful Storyteller Cards manual.

Oh, and I almost forgot my untitled DBRPG. I haven’t tested it yet, but I’m signed up for two sessions at Metatopia next weekend, so hopefully I’ll see if it has potential or not then. Overall, I didn’t have as much success with publishers as I imagined I finally would, and I didn’t complete all the games I would’ve liked to, but 2013 was still a year of progress, learning and making connections, so I’ll take it.

Christopher Chung

The Bad: I talked about Bucket List as my newest design for 2013, and I was very excited to work on it since it used a theme that could invoke player emotions by wanting to accomplish the various tasks on the cards throughout the game. Although I did like the theme and the mechanic of drawing cubes from a bag, the game did not work well during playtests and I will most likely incorporate the mechanic in a future game.

The Good: I worked on several titles that I will be pushing hard in early 2014.

Polar Profits is a 2-5 player game where each player is a business tycoon trying to make money in the unlikeliest of places: The North and South Poles. Invest in companies run by animals and speculate on commodities like popsicles and ice cream. I will be looking for a publisher during the spring after more playtesting.

A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing is a 2 player game where each player is a sheep farmer trying to herd sheep while avoiding a hungry wolf. This game will be a chance for me to try out self-publishing for friends and family.



Blossom is a 2-4 player game, where each player is a gardener attempting to plant flower beds in order to pick flowers for bouquets in an effort to win a flower competition. (picture included) This game is the most polished and enjoyed by my playtesters, so I am currently approaching publishers with this game.

Chris & Suzanne Zinsli – Cardboard Edison (@CardboardEdison)

2013 has been a big year for Cardboard Edison. In January, we took our real-time card game Tessen to Unpub 3, where it was played by dozens of other designers and players–and a publisher. That publisher was A.J. Porfirio from Van Ryder Games, and he liked Tessen so much that a few days later he made us an offer to print the game!


We spent the spring and summer developing Tessen with A.J. Working with him is a real pleasure, and we’re a bit worried that he’s given us unrealistic expectations for future publishers! At the end of the summer, Tessen completed a successful Kickstarter campaign. If all goes according to plan, the game should be in stores in just a few months.


Since the Tessen Kickstarter ended, we’ve focused heavily on a new design called Cottage Industry. The game is about fairytale contractors who build up a magical kingdom while working within the kingdom’s strict regulations. It uses a few interesting mechanisms, like a storybook that changes the course of the game, and a version of worker placement that we’re calling “worker displacement.”

We’re bringing Cottage Industry to Metatopia in a few days, so we’ve spent nearly all of our spare time over the past month playtesting and tweaking. It’s a much bigger design than anything we’ve attempted so far, and we’re extremely pleased with how it’s developing.

We’ve put Skewphemisms on the back burner for the time being, until we’re able to make some contacts at mass-market publishers. This year we’ve also met so many great people, and we’ve been honored to play a lot of our fellow designers’ games. We’re excited to see what 2014 brings for Cardboard Edison and the entire gaming industry.

Nigel Pyne // Maverick Muse

At the beginning of the year I had one game I was intent on bringing to market – Of Shot & Blade. Of Shot & Blade is an adventure board game where two teams go head-to-head in a game full of action, magic and adventure. That’s the intention anyway.

But I’m jumping ahead of myself. As way of introduction, I’m Nigel Pyne, co-designer of War for Edath that was released in 2008, and I had been working on Of Shot & Blade for over a year with my brother – Lloyd ‘Ash’ Pyne – wearing the hat of Game Editor. Ash and I also created a different fantasy setting for the game – one that you can get to know as you play. And with him being our resident artist, and my wife, Debs, being an excellent Creative Director, we make up the Maverick Muse design studio (plus Mr Jones, the Schnauzer and Lieutenant Ripley, the Welsh Terrier).

Anyway, we began the year with the intention of conducting some final beta testing and then launching Of Shot & Blade on Kickstarter. And all was going to plan when, mid-year, the solution to a game design challenge I had set myself came into actuality. The challenge was to see if I could create a card game that could be played out of the hand with no surface required – think Top Trumps – but would have enough game and challenge to appeal to youngling and olderling gamers alike. I developed my design into a full-fledged game – Oddball Aeronauts.


In Oddball Aeronauts you go head-to-head in a game of high-jinks, airship dogfights in an oddball fantasy world. The oddball fantasy setting comes from the slightly off-beat mind of Ash who has also brought the world to life with his art. This game – being composed solely of cards – is a more appropriate game as our first Kickstarter launch and so we shifted focus to getting Oddball Aeronauts – and us – ready for Kickstarter.

Oddball Aeronauts is in the final beta testing stages (a page exists for it on BGG – the rules are there) and a free P&P is available for the curious, adventurous, downright nosey or just anyone really. Email if you’re interested – .

Meanwhile, in the mysterious mind of me, several other game designs have begun to form. Whereas at the beginning of the year I had but one design I was pursuing, as of now I have eleven (excluding Of Shot & Blade and Oddball Aeronauts) and it would appear that as a game design studio we are bringing our vision into fruition. We love creating original worlds and we love games with adventure so we’re bringing the two together.


I have developed another two ‘out-of-the-hand’ card games. Once Oddball Aeronauts has taken off (fingers crossed) we will see a line of such games coming into being. A common design element I seem to be fond of for our ‘bigger’ games is team-based gaming – two teams of one to three players going head-to-head. Curious! But it seems to be an under-explored area of board games so maybe I can carve out a niche here? Or does anyone have any idea why this type of game isn’t developed much?

In summary, 2013 has been a year of planning, progression, panoply – no, not related to Monopoly – and play testing. As for 2014? Well, I hope to contribute to Grant’s 2014 preview if he’ll have me back.

David Chott

Lagoon continues to be the only game I’m actively developing, as I prepare it for a Kickstarter launch in early 2014. It will be published by my own Three Hares Games. Here’s a current description of the game:

“Players explore the fantasy world of Lagoon with their druids by drawing and placing hex tiles that represent enchanted lands. Each site is inhabited by one of three ancient spirits that confer a unique magic power to druids in the site. Players shape the ever-changing selection of magic in the world by choosing which new sites to add, and which sites to remove by magically unraveling them. But every move alters the balance of power between the spirits, in their struggle for control of Lagoon’s destiny. In the end, one spirit will achieve primacy in the world, and the victor will be the player most responsible for bending destiny in favor of that spirit!”

I’ve run about 70 play tests of Lagoon to date, and the game system has not changed since intensive testing at GenCon in August. The core is solid. But there’s been a huge amount of experimentation with the magic abilities each site offers druids. Most of my efforts have focused on simplifying the action set. My goal is to make the game as easy to learn and play as possible, while preserving the most interesting choices the game presents players. But I’ve learned that determining a game’s target audience is equally important in this process so you don’t wander too far away from it.

I’ve learned a lesson about prototype iteration as well. Lagoon uses 24 double-sided hexagon tiles, so making prototypes is laborious. This led me to iterate less frequently than I needed to, until I realized paper-only prototypes worked almost as well as pasting the sites on rigid tiles every time. It really taught me the importance of removing barriers to rapid prototype iteration, since that’s critical to getting new changes on the table and testing them.

Two developments have been the most exciting for me. The first is that a good number of players really like Lagoon! It ranked number 3 on one reviewer’s top 10 games of GenCon, and a remote play tester I gained at GenCon recently told me it’s one of his favorite games. Second, I recently quit my job and switched to part-time consulting work so I can focus most of my time and energy on developing Lagoon and building Three Hares Games.

Michael Iachini

Chaos and Alchemy

Where things stood at the beginning of the year: Chaos & Alchemy had been signed for publication by Game Salute, and they were starting to prep for a Kickstarter campaign.

I had recently abandoned my National Game Design Month project, Gods & Champions, since it ended up exploring a concept that wasn’t as much fun as I had hoped.

I had an idea for a “worker movement” game that I began designing on January 1. I was hoping that this would turn into something fun, but I hadn’t actually done any design yet.

Looking back on the year so far: While the Chaos & Alchemy Kickstarter campaign from Game Salute ended up launching several months later than I was expected, it was a huge hit! The game raised over $40,000 with over 1,000 backers. The art is looking fantastic, and I’m excited to see the finished products in game stores and gamers’ hands next year.

Alchemy Bazaar Setup v0.62c

The worker movement game turned into Alchemy Bazaar. The design time on this one has been much longer than the ultra-quick process I went through for Chaos & Alchemy in 2012, but I think it’s going to be worth it. I pitched the game to several publishers at GenCon 2013, and I have three publishers who are interested (with a pretty good idea of which one is most likely to pick it up).

I also started a new design in March 2013 for a quick, light, cooperative game themed around mountain climbing, which I’m calling Everest. I pitched this to game publishers at GenCon as well, and I have one publisher who is deep into the evaluation process (they’ve paid to have some nice prototypes created via The Game Crafter, and those are currently with play testers), so there’s a real possibility I’ll end up with another publication soon!

Everest Board

Beyond that, I’ve done some design work on a game involving robots battling in an area (cleverly titled Robo Battle for now) and super-early design work on a game about building ridiculous mansions. I have a notion in my head for an adorable game for kids, but that one is just in the “in my head” stages for now. So, 2013 has been fantastic for me and for Clay Crucible Games!

Grant Rodiek // Hyperbole Games

2013 was a very challenging year for me, but it was the year where I figured out what I want to be when I grow up, so to speak. I believe the work I put into 2013 and the lessons learned will be things from which I draw for years to come.


At the start of 2013 I had high hopes for York, which was with a publisher. It was rejected, then again, and is now with its third and final publisher. I had a fantastic pitch at GenCon, so even if it fails, that moment was thrilling.

If this publisher says no, I will re-factor the game for a POD release. I spent money on the art, which I love, and have some ideas for how to make it affordable and appealing for those interested. A hint, if you’re curious, is that it’ll be a 2 player game.

I learned so much in the way of graphic design building York. My prototypes generally look better, faster, and are easier to learn as a result of better graphics.

I also had some delightful failures. I still couldn’t figure out Poor AbbyHelix was instantly amazing then instantly the worst thing ever, Extra Extra was never built, Drafty Dungeon was neat, but derivative, and so forth. But, the lesson was to constantly be creating. In 2013 I was always trying new things and experimenting and that has led to delightful fruit. I also learned to work on multiple projects at once, which means my brain is always firing in different ways.

I continued to network and develop relationships that I hope pay off, both in the way of friendship, and in potential game partnerships as I improve my craft and design better games. One really important realization I had around GenCon was that I very honestly realized who I want to work with, and who I don’t.


My greatest successes of 2013 have been Mars Rising (previously Blockade) and Flipped.

Mars began as a simple tactics game (somewhat as a response to the complexity of York), and has blossomed into this accessible yet complex, highly thematic, story driven tactical experience. I’ve gone through so many iterations and I really love where it’s at. I don’t intend to change the mechanics much, but instead, focus on scenario development. I have the first 3 written and in testing and will create as many as I need to tell the first campaign (of hopefully many). A publisher approached me over the summer, mostly liked the version I sent, and is waiting on my next iteration. I hope I’m up to the task.


Finally, there’s Flipped. I feel like this is my capstone project that combines so many things that I’ve learned in the way of tuning, design, balancing, graphics, and more. This is my first euro and it’s come together so quickly as I’ve focused on what makes it unique and what the game needs. I’m crunching to get this game to a publisher. We’ll see where it goes.

I hope you enjoyed this community post! I want to thank all of the designers who emailed me to participate. Share your thoughts on what excites you, or what you found interesting above, down in the comments. 

Review: Leacock Co-Op Trilogy

Review by: Grant Rodiek

You can read my review policy here.

Quick Notes: I’m reviewing three cooperative games, all designed by Matt Leacock, so stick with me and follow along.

Forbidden Island is a game for 2-4 players (though you could solo two characters) for which you should set aside 30 minutes to play. I’ve played it with every player variable a combined total of 8 times.

Pandemic is a game for 2-4 players (though you could solo two characters) for which you should set aside an hour to play, though honestly, you might fail far more quickly. In that case, get ready to play again to make the most of that hour! I’ve played it with every player variable a combined total of 10 times.

Forbidden Desert is a game for 2-5 players (though you could solo two characters) for which you should set aside 30 minutes to play. I’ve played it with every player variable a combined total of 6 times.

Something you might not know is that the designer, Matt Leacock, is an interface designer for his day job. He is a master of how people interact with devices, software, and each other, so it should come as no surprise that his rules are masterfully written. The game’s are beautifully easy to learn, but tough to master. Pandemic’s rules are especially inspirational to me as a designer. His diagrams leave nothing unclear. I’d really love to know how much of that was his influence and how much the publisher’s.

Clean, easy to read rules.

All three games scale incredibly well, though as a general rule, with only 2 players they are a smidge easy, and with 4 or 5 players a smidge difficult. The sweet spot is in that 3-4 player zone. What I love is that all come with pre-defined difficulty levels and even then, the games are beautifully tuned such that you will always barely win or lose quite dramatically. It adds a great deal of tension. Think of Leacock’s experiences as Indiana Jones just barely sliding under the door to grab his hat. It’s a close call every time.

The Review (in 3 parts)

Note: I left my copy of Forbidden Island at my house in Napa, so I’m borrowing pictures for it. Sorry!

Forbidden IslandOne must learn to walk before they run, and run you shall do, because the island is sinking, the world is coated in a layer of schmegle and disease, and the desert twisters are a twistin’. 

Forbidden Island is the simplest of the three games and the cheapest at a mere $15, so it makes sense that this is our first port of call. But oh, what a lousy port! At the start, our heroes find themselves on an island that is sinking. That’s bad. But, there’s treasure! That’s good.

On their turns, players will optimize their actions to do things like move through the island, trade cards with nearby teammates, shore up the island to offset its perpetual sinking nature, and if you have the right cards, pick up the treasure. There are four different ones you must obtain and they are lovely. Gamewright does NOT mess around.

Then, you draw treasure cards. These are used to trade and pick up the treasures, though you must hold them within a strict hand limit. Gah! Do I discard the red to focus on yellow? Choices, choices. You might also get some sandbags, which let you shore up an island tile for free or a helicopter, which can whisk you around the island quickly.

The game in progress.

You might also draw a card that forces the water to rise. We’ll get to that in a second.

Unfortunately, after every delightful jaunt through the island, you must take your medicine. Your medicine in this case is the salty froth of the ocean. Based on the current water level, you draw a number of cards that dictate which island tiles flip to their flooded sign, or if already flooded, be removed from the board entirely.

This is not good. This is also part of the genius of the game. Remember the water rising card? These force you to draw more cards every turn, which means more of the island floods every turn. You must also reshuffle the already played cards to the top of the deck, which means the most flooded part of the island will get more flooded. Flooderer? The floodest.

When it rains on the island, it pours. Well, it seems rather sunny to be honest, but the waves are dreadful. Luckily, every player has a special character card which grants them a single game-breaking ability. Using these with your friends is key to winning the game. If you manage to capture all four treasures and get to the helicopter pad without dying, you win.

Goodbye island! So long! Enjoy your treasures, lads and lasses! Our adventurers will return in Forbidden Desert’s review.

PandemicI’d caution you to not beat up on Forbidden Island too much. One, because bullying is bad, but two, he has a much bigger brother who spends a lot of time at the gym. It seems this exposure to unclean metal and sweaty seats has made the brother sick. Bring hand sanitizer!

In Pandemic, you are a team of emergency specialists trying to save the world from killer diseases. You are the heroes of the CDC, Doctors without Borders, and other organizations that heal.

If you like Forbidden Island, you’ll love Pandemic. The two games are very similar in that you are leveraging your characters’ abilities, carefully choosing which actions, like traveling around the world, curing illness (instead of preventing sinking), and trading cards to ultimately cure the diseases.

Again, like Forbidden Island, you will draw cards that dictate where new diseases are added and when things get much worse. Over time there will be more cubes, you’ll pull more cards, and best of all, there’s a really clever chain reaction mechanic. Let’s say Paris is full of disease, and why wouldn’t it be? If a new disease cube must be added, every city connected to Paris takes on a “bonus” disease cube. And if those new cities are also full? Another chain reaction. Every time a chain reaction occurs, you move one step closer to failure and global obliteration.

Paris is about to chain react…

I have the first edition of the game, which in my opinion has an absolutely beautiful aesthetic and feel. Wooden cubes and a variety of soft colors really give it a classic aesthetic that I love. The newest printing BLUE is fine, BLUE, but I feel it’s a bit BLUE monochromatic. But, if you want to go deeper down the trail of disease, you’ll need this new version to play expansions, as the 1st edition and new expansions aren’t compatible without a compatibility kit. Lame! Also, BLUE.

So blue.

You can find Pandemic in Target, Toys ‘R Us, Barnes and Noble, or online for a very fair price.

Blue? Blue.

Forbidden Desert: When we last saw them, our adventurers were flying in a helicopter towards, I presume, a museum, with their four priceless treasures aboard. Unfortunately, they didn’t learn the lessons of the Carter administration and flew over a desert with a helicopter (Killer Carter Administration slam!). It seems our fair crew has crashed and must now escape the desert with their lives.


The site of the crash.

Where Forbidden Island and Pandemic come from the same parents, Forbidden Desert is the roguish cousin that arrives at the reunion 2 hours late, with a big tattoo, on a *gasp* motorcycle. He’s from that side of the family.

The game at setup.

I imagine Forbidden Island sold like the hottest of cakes, because Forbidden Desert is more unique, more difficult, a little more complex, and the production values are turned to a very sandy 11. You can tell its intended for an army of fans who have graduated and want more.  I just hope I create a game one day with the production values seen here.

Completed airship.

Your goal is to find all 4 parts to an ancient airship, construct it, and fly it out of the desert to safety (or to crash in the next Gamewright title?). You must do this before the storm becomes too great, the sand dunes overwhelm you, or one of you dies of thirst.


Not water.

Whereas the island disappears, in the desert, sand piles up, which prevents you from accessing the delightful parts beneath the surface until you clean enough sand. You can now excavate and flip over tiles to reveal powerful gadgets, like the jetpack, sun shield, or dustblower, tunnels, that protect you from the sun and help you travel quickly, water to refill your canteens, or the tiles that tell you where to find the airship parts.

Steampunk gadgetry.

You see, it’s not a matter of simply flipping over a tile that says “here’s the propeller!” No, you need to find the tiles that tell you the vertical and horizontal coordinates of the propeller. Then, you need to clear the space of sand and excavate the part. And one more thing — the desert is alive. The island sinks out from under you, but the desert tiles are constantly moving. That’s right! They move, shift, change the surface, all the while adding more sand.

Notice how the red piece (bottom right) was located by the vertical and horizontal arrow tiles.

This. Is. Awesome. It’s brilliant, so easy to understand, and adds more life to the game than its predecessors. Forbidden Desert is Matt Leacock’s best cooperative work. The fact that it plays up to 5 really packs an additional challenge into the experience.

We draw a card that tells us to move 2 tiles downwards…

…so we shifted 2 tiles downwards towards the center and added sand.

Forbidden Desert also stands out for tossing aside the set collection mechanic and putting a greater emphasis on the tools you find. When do you use it? Now? Or later. These elements really freshen the experience and help it stand out.

Considering the awesome bits that come inside the box, it’s a steal at the price.

Conclusion: I love all three of these games and have no reason to push them out of my collection ever. All three are fantastic gateway games to share with non-gamers or family members. All three provide a ridiculous value for the price and have simply outstanding components.

In all three, you, the players, get to go toe-to-toe against the unthinking, unfeeling cardboard robot Mr. Leacock has ingeniously devised. They present a puzzle-like quandary that is surprising, tense, and thrilling, and quite frankly, evil.

If I had to pick one as a starting point, I first need to ask what you want from the experience. If you’re new to games or just want to dip your toes into the cooperative pools, I heartily recommend Forbidden Island. It’s $15! You can set it up, teach it, and play a game in well under 40 minutes.

Character cards. Notice the canteen level on the left.

However, if you are a little more experienced (not much more, really), I have to recommend Forbidden Desert. The game is so reasonably priced for its gorgeous components and just so unique and special. I feel the mechanics allow for greater replayability than the other titles, and the addition of a fifth player means more can enjoy this sometimes brutal game. Hey, if you’re gonna die, die together, right?

Really, you can’t go wrong here. All three get a resounding thumbs up from me.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Posted in Reviews | Tagged , co-op, forbidden desert, forbidden island, hand management, matt leacock, pandemic, , set collection | Leave a reply

Tuning the Appropriate Value

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I’m tuning and balancing Flipped at the moment. I haven’t been changing the mechanics much at all for several tests, but I’m gently tweaking, nudging, and modifying the values on the tokens based on testing. This has been largely an economic experience rooted in the foundation of supply and demand, opportunity cost, and perceived value.

I loved economics in college (I was an international business major), so this has been really fun. I thought I’d share some of my observations and tips in the hopes it’ll help you tune and balance your game. Whereas Flipped is a euro style game in which you’re optimizing limited actions for the best outcome, these principles are also useful for a war game or any experience in which a player has limited options and must choose between varied opportunities. You know, a game.

Know your Knobs

I like to refer to all of your tuning variables in a game as your knobs. These are the things you can tweak, vary, increase, and decrease, in order to change player behavior, improve balance, and wholly influence the game.

In Ticket to Ride: Europe, the knobs are:

  • Number of cards you can draw
  • Number of cards of each color
  • Number of stations
  • Length and points awarded for routes
  • Penalty for uncompleted routes
  • Value of stations at end of game
  • Value of building a route
  • Distribution of route lengths and colors on board
  • Number of trains in a player’s supply

In Flipped, my knobs are:

  • Cost of acquiring the property
  • Number of properties in the neighborhood
  • Number of neighborhoods
  • Number of neighborhoods with inspection issues
  • Number of total properties
  • Number of clients
  • Number of demand types for clients
  • Demand satisfied per client (and type)
  • Points awarded
  • Requirements to build the property
  • Cost of adding the improvements to meet requirements
  • End game bonuses and points awarded

As I write about things below, try to imagine the knobs your game has and think about what you could tweak, and how, to adjust to the problems I call out.

Watch and Learn

The key to many of these things is player behavior. Yes, vocal players will complain and point out problems, but most people will act in accordance with their beliefs. The market will tell you what is good and what isn’t based on how it performs. The market being your players, in this article.

Value versus Perceived Value

It’s good for your game to have layers and depth, especially of the economic variety, but some of your layers may be a bit too subtle. As a result, the perceived value, which is what your players THINK something is worth, will be too low. A good way to detect the perceived value for something is off is if:

  • Players are entirely ignoring an option. It isn’t used and is therefore too expensive.
  • Players are overwhelmingly using an option. It’s used too frequently and is therefore too valuable.

In Flipped, there are two small neighborhoods with only 3 properties each (whereas the others have 5-9). End game bonuses are granted based on the composition of the neighborhoods at the end of the game. Because there are only 3 properties, these two “luxury” neighborhoods have fewer chances for interference and disruption. I saw that as an opportunity to increase their price.

Unfortunately, after repeated tests it was clear that players did not agree with the value. They overwhelmingly preferred to invest more deeply in the other neighborhoods and take more chances for success instead of doubling down on these expensive, single properties. To compensate, I made them less expensive and their perceived value went way up.

Instead of solving their value through a price mechanic, I solved it instead with demand. These properties are now very reasonably priced AND offer the benefit of a smaller, less chaotic neighborhood. This means players are willing to spend their initial turn to claim these over other properties. Therefore, they are still valuable, but now fairly so.

Penalties versus Incentives

If your players have the choice of an action paired with a penalty, observe how or whether they use it. An interesting one that many of you may have seen is corruption in Lords of Waterdeep: Scoundrels of Skullport expansion. There are new, incredibly powerful and lucrative actions. However, taking them gives you a corruption token. At the end of the game, using a very clever variable value mechanic, the corruption can be worth -5 or even -8 points apiece. It’s really dangerous and players must evaluate whether to take the action in light of what it’ll cost them, what they’ll gain, and whether they can eliminate the corruption.

The really difficult part is that good players will take some corruption. It’s just a matter of how much and for what purpose.

In Flipped, I have a mechanic where, if the need for infrastructure is at its peak, and you build a business or house, you take a decay token. In previous tests, this decay token would be paired with a variable number of penalty points and potentially would nullify any bonuses gained at the end from neighborhood bonuses.

Yikes! The behavioral result is that players simply didn’t build when infrastructure was maxed. If the choice is Wall of Spikes versus no Wall of Spikes, people are never going to opt for Wall of Spikes. That means I tuned a false choice into the experience, which isn’t depth nor strategy, but a behavioral rule.

There are ways to address this, which you can also see in successful regulation with governments. Often, folks chafe at the notion of regulation and penalties. However, if you provide incentives to change, you’ll see even the most dug-in of corporations march towards the dollar signs. No, I’m not trying to initiate a massive regulatory argument here, just take that with a grain of salt so we can discuss games.

More carrot, less stick. For Flipped, I’m introducing a few changes. Firstly, if you satisfy Infrastructure when it’s at high demand, you’ll earn a higher bonus. You already earn a bonus for satisfying high demand for anything, but for infrastructure it’ll be the highest. I’m also removing the immediate penalty of penalty points and instead making it a long-term potential problem.

If you have 2 or more decay in a neighborhood, you gain no end game bonuses. This has always existed, but now it’ll be even more prevalent. Sure, you can push the infrastructure of the city. Go ahead. But in the future it might cost you. This makes it an actual choice AND introduces a new angle for your opponents to exploit. That is a much better design.

Approximate Balance

There should be general balance in a player’s choices among similar avenues. For example, end game bonuses should be approximately equivalent in difficulty and value. The output for shared efforts should be roughly equivalent.

Let me explain this with an example. Clients have certain requirements, like remodeling or landscaping work. These tasks always have the same cost. That means I know the fixed cost of satisfying the wishes of the client and therefore what it should be worth.

I’ll be honest with you — in creating the clients for Flipped, I used my gut instincts. I did the math for the number of Housing, Business, and Infrastructure clients, but past that I generally used my cut to determine distribution and point spread.

Before the game is published, someone will need to use a spreadsheet to quickly map this out to find out the number of simple, complex, and difficult tasks there are, the general point spread, and the supply and demand of the game. This is easy to do with a spreadsheet.

The general suggestion then is to apply approximate balance to your game. Things don’t need to be 100% perfectly balanced. I don’t think that’s required and sometimes, it’s not fun (though sometimes it is required). But, examine the fixed costs and inputs of your game and make sure that, in general, the rewards are fair for the amount of work put in.


This post may be a bit high level and hand wavy. Hopefully it helps! Tell me in the comments what you think, what I got wrong, and make any suggestions for the class.

Posted in Blog | Tagged demand, economics, game theory, incentives, opportunity costs, perceived value, supply, tuning | 11 Replies

Public Information and You


Post by: Grant Rodiek

One of the most important lessons I took home this year was how to properly use public information in my designs. Battle for York is full of public information, specifically, the abilities of your faction and location of your armies.

One of York’s greatest flaws is a direct result of this public information, magnified by the number of factions. Players are constantly leaning over the table asking “what can you do?” and then 3 minutes later, “What can you do again?” It’s the wrong way to handle public information.

There are some signs of bad public information:

  • The information is critical to all players. If I need to know everything you have or can do, then that info should be in front of me. I define critical as it being something that will greatly impact and affect the decisions of others. For example, abilities for a deterministic battle system (ex: York).
  • There is too much information. If I address the above point by showing you everything…you now know everything. Everything can be a lot. Folks will disagree, but I find Smallworld‘s reference sheet entirely overwhelming.


  • The information is text and/or exception driven. It isn’t just a few facets, but a great deal. Soon, players’ cups will runneth over.
  • To complement the above point, the most important thing people need to know IS the text, not other, more easily consumed statistics.

Before I use my own designs as anecdotal examples, I thought I’d point out some examples of good, AAA public information.

Summoner Wars: Basically every card (i.e. unit) has text that grants it a special ability and rule exception. But, there are a few reasons this works just fine.


  • A unit’s attack power, and whether it’s ranged or melee, are easy to see. These are really important regardless of the exception.
  • All similar commons share the same information, which means if you learn it once, you learn it multiple times.
  • Movement and attack rules are, by and large, the same across the board (with some exceptions).
  • The cards are on the board face up when in play, not tucked away in front of a player. This makes them easy to view.

To be fair, the first time or two you play a faction, you’ll play a little slower checking things out. But, I do not think that is a problem with how they present the information, but the fact that, hey, it’s an asymmetric, faction-based game.

The Speicherstadt: Over the course of the game, players amass many cards (up to a dozen or more) of varying types. This could be very confusing, but it’s not.


  • The cards a player has acquired will influence his future decisions, but they won’t grant new powers or change the core interactions of the game. A contract might inform you “Grant needs green cubes,” but Grant will still interact in the same way (third person apparently).
  • The cards have no text, other than a few numbers. They use very simple, well-designed iconography.
  • Many of the cards, once used, don’t matter for the rest of the game. With the exception of one card (the Port), once a player claims a ship, it no longer factors into the game.

The two most important pieces of public information you need to know are how much money a player has, and how many workers he has left to place.

Applying My Lessons

Looking at York as a guide post for something that wasn’t quite working (but can be solved), I started applying these lessons to my current games. Mars Rising uses a lot of simple tricks to simplify the fact everything is public in the game.

  • When a defensive ability (like shields) is active, you place a token on the board. The other player can still ask for specifics, but ultimately this informs at a glance “This squadron will be harder to kill.”
  • Squadrons that have already attacked (once per round) have a marker, so you know you don’t need to worry about them shooting you in the immediate future.
  • Squadrons that have used an ability (once per round) have a marker, so you know you don’t need to worry about any funny business in the immediate future.
  • Ship classes generally define behavior. Interceptors shoot fighters. Destroyers are very flexible, but not particularly strong in any one area. Battlecruisers kill capital ships. People can eyeball a squadron and instantly know “they do this” without needing to know, specifically, the stats.
  • Current formations are shown with a token on the board. The rules surrounding formations are very simple. If I see a wedge formation, I know what it means.

Most importantly, your opponent’s information isn’t necessarily critical to your success. They can’t do anything on your turn. The goal is typically to destroy the enemy, with some exceptions for scenarios. Therefore, it’s most important to know what YOU can do and decide who to destroy.

Flipped, similarly, has a great deal of public information that doesn’t hinder the game. Yes, I see your properties. If I know you’re heavily invested in downtown, I can use that information to evaluate whether I want to go there and whether our clients’ end goals coincide or conflict. If I can hinder your score, then I might go there. Furthermore, knowing where you intend to develop aids my strategy towards manipulating the contractors. If I know you’re developing in downtown, I know whether we’ll be jockeying over the contractors and the movement penalty.

The other driving factor is that, in line with many euro games, I can only hinder and affect you so much. Yes, we’re vying for properties (timing on acquisition) and trying to support our neighborhood bonuses, but there’s only so much I can do in order to ruin your day. The game is about efficiency, optimization, and taking advantage of opportunities. Not hurting others. Therefore, I use your public information to guide my decisions, not to crush you.

Finally, I found it’s much simpler to place the cards in front of me so I can plan out my improvement schedule and the work that needs doing. I didn’t like holding cards in my hand and referencing them. It was unnecessary secrecy.

In both of these new games, someone with chronic AP could chew on the information for some time. But, that person would do this with a private hand of cards, or even a dice roll. The key in dealing with AP folks is to mitigate their sickness, not seek to solve it. There is no cure, as noted by the World Health Organization and seconded by the UN.

In closing, some good public information tips.

  • Public information works better in games where your decisions revolve mostly around what YOU are doing, not others’ decisions.
  • Good public information is simple and can often be represented with symbols. Lengthy text is best left to private information.
  • Use simple aids and reminders to tell people the most important aspects. Often, they don’t need to know everything. Think of the attack rating in Summoner Wars, or the defensive marker in Mars Rising.
  • Public information tends to work better with fewer players.

What are some of your favorite examples of good public information? Any additional tips? What did I get wrong? Share in the comments!

Looking Back on ’13, a Primer

Post by: Grant Rodiek

Throughout the year, as is warranted, I like to host community group posts. Today, I was thinking back on my 2013, what’s left of it, and what’s in my near future. I was curious how others’ year went. No, the year doesn’t end until midnight on December 31, but the Essen releases are about to be on shelves and things are winding down.

So, the question is, How was your 2013? If you recall, as a community we wrote this 2013 Design Community Preview, filled with our hopes and dreams. Now, I want you to fill us all in on the results. Whether you contributed to the preview linked above or not, I want to hear from you. Share your story with the community.

I’d like to post this article in a week or so, which means I’d love to have your submission in my inbox by Sunday, October 27. But, I’m super flexible. If submissions are still coming in, I’ll wait. My typical rule is to post it when it seems folks are good and ready.

A few had questions on what their entry should entail, so here goes. First, click the 2013 preview and give it a quick scan for reference. I’m going to reference my entry, which is at the very bottom. Go on, I’ll wait.

I’m going to write about York, which may or may not be published. I’ll briefly discuss its year and its variable future. I’ll talk about those terrible other prototypes I mentioned and their fates, as well as the fates of my other failures. These won’t be long notes, but I’ll try to note why they died and what I learned.

Then I’m going to write a little about Blockade/Mars Rising, which has just grown into something really special. And I’ll write about Flipped, which just thrills me.

To summarize: If you contributed to the original article, write about how things went.

  • Reminds us of your preview content (write this post as if people haven’t read the prequel)
  • Did you finish those games?
  • Were they published (or signed)?
  • What surprised you and came about during the year?
  • What are you working on now? What’s next?

In general, try to be succinct. Where things are interesting, feel free to elaborate. If you’re too long, I’ll work with you, so don’t worry too much. Feel free to provide prototype pictures or a web link if you have a blog to share.

If you DIDN’T contribute to the blog, fill us in on where you started and update us. More or less, act as if you did write, just fill in the blanks for us.

Does this all make sense? Email me entries at grant at hyperbolegames dot com. Send me the images and be sure to include links. If you’re running late, feel free to email me (I’ll wait!) or feel free to join the article after it’s posted. Email any questions to the same address.

Enjoy memory lane!

Flipped Visual Preview (Part 2)

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I’m attending UnPub in Sacramento this Saturday. I decided Monday night to upgrade my Flipped prototype from hand drawn index cards to something with a little graphical polish. This isn’t final or anything I could sell, but it’s a nice step forward for the prototype and I think it’ll be a better test candidate as a result. I really enjoyed putting together the first visual preview, so I thought I’d compile another to demonstrate the iterations.

Important Information

  • Name: Flipped
  • Player #s: 2-5
  • Time: 60 minutes or less
  • Primary Mechanic: Worker Placement
  • Hook: Dynamic demand model
  • Theme: City Builder/Urban Planning

The Explanation

There’s a score track lining the left and bottom sides of the board. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins. Points are earned by developing properties for clients. The game ends when the Property deck runs out.

The game’s core mechanic is worker placement. Your workers are currently cubes. You have a team of 5-6 (depending on number of players). Different actions require a different number of cubes. Cubes are returned at the end of the round.

Here are the Properties available for purchase from 6 different neighborhoods (currently just a color). The cost is shown on the card. This is refilled at the end of every round. To obtain Roosevelt County 2 (an address, essentially), I would use 2 of my cubes.

To put a little pressure and move the game forward, the right-most property at the end of the round goes into decay. The card is removed from the board and a decay token is placed on the space. I’ll explain decay later, but for now, know that you can pay a high rate to buy the property and remove the decay token.

If I buy the above card, I’ll be able to develop on the 2 slot shown in the picture. Again, think of these cards as deeds for an address.

Clients can be obtained in two ways: I can directly obtain the ones shown, or pay to draw blindly. Satisfying clients is how you earn points. However, clients you don’t satisfy are a penalty at the end of the game.

Clients represent 3 entities: Housing (families, bigger projects), Business (both jobs and places for the citizenry to go), and Infrastructure (Schools, Fire Departments). In the top left you can see one of the 3 symbols for these entities, the demand satisfied by developing the property (more on this later), and points awarded.

Some clients also have end game bonuses (shown next to the lamp). These provide bonus points if the composition of the neighborhood matches their request. For example, a family with young children wants to live in a residential neighborhood, preferably one with a school. This is a point of interaction and  hopefully more long-term strategy.

Before you can sell the property, you must meet certain requirements. These are most often improvements. There are some varied ones as well that are experiments to see how far I can push the system. Really, I need to identify what all is possible and fun.

There are four improvements: Landscaping, Painting, Electrical Work, and Remodeling (costs above). Some clients also require permits, which has a slightly different mechanic, in that as more players obtain Permits in a round, it costs more. I was thinking of the line at the DMV here.

The Park in the image above (or in the bottom right corner here) indicates 3 Landscaping icons, or 3 of those green disks. To save space, the symbol is under the disks, but I’ll improve that in the future.

To add improvements, I must move a contractor (white cylinder) to the neighborhood. While he’s there, anyone can simply pay the cost of the improvement to hire him. However, if he needs to be move, he costs an addition 1 cube. This is intended as a point of interaction and blocking.

Let’s say I obtained the Bookstore client shown above. It requires a Painting Improvement. Here, I moved the contractor to Roosevelt County and grabbed a painting disk.

You can see the two here put side by side. Now that I’m selling it (an action), I satisfy 1 Business demand (top left corner).

There are three demand tracks. At the start of the game, they are populated as shown above. The demand for these three types of properties will change every game (more on that in a second). Three things to see here:

  • If you satisfy demand above the up arrow, you gain bonus points. This abstracts high demand.
  • If you satisfy demand below the down arrow, you’ll lose points. This abstracts low demand.
  • If the Infrastructure demand is maxed and you build again, you take a decay token. This will penalize you at the end. This abstracts poor municipal services, power outages, pot holes in the streets, and more.

Remember we satisfied 1 demand for the Bookstore. Therefore, we remove 1 token from the appropriate demand track. We revealed a speech bubble, which I use to indicate a change in demand. These are points on some, but not all of the circles.

When demand changes, we flip the token over. Here it says that we increase Infrastructure by 2. The 2 inside the box indicates I’d gain or lose 2 points if I sold above or below demand, respectively.

Now, I place this token on the address in Roosevelt county. Remember those end game bonuses? If I need to be in a Business Zone to get the bonus, I need a plurality of red disks.

However, if there is too much decay in a neighborhood, NOBODY receives in game bonuses for that neighborhood. To refresh, decay is gained in two ways:

  • If a player builds when the demand for infrastructure is maxed out.
  • If a property decays off the property track. Unless developed, that property is decayed.

One more thing. Some homes have this symbol on them. When they are available, you place an Inspection token face down. These properties are cheaper, but something is wrong with them. Upon purchase, you flip the Inspection token to reveal one of the four Improvements. This improvement MUST be added before the home can be sold.

Good players will pair these with Clients to take advantage of them.

Art and Visuals

I’m currently using a 1 inch circular punch to quickly create tokens using colored construction paper. That’s why you see so many circles. Ultimately, I intend the properties to be smaller squares with appropriate art on them to convey “home” or “business.”

I’d like the demand chart to represent a bar graph like you might see in a newspaper or economic advisory report. I think that can look really slick and thematic.

Don’t look into any political commentary there. I believe the chart is from England. It just has the right visuals.

I think the game has potential to be thematic, at least as far as a game about property/city development can be thematic. I’m actually really excited by potential art styles. I especially love the idea of architectural sketches to show the potential of the city, as if to say “Hey player! You! Build this!”

Here are some of my favorite samples. You can see my entire Pintrest board here.


Thanks for reading! I really appreciate any comments or thoughts you have. I’m excited to take this game to UnPub to see what’s wrong with it and how I can make it better. Aside from obvious balance quirks, I’m looking for ways to increase interaction and add depth and strategy.

I’d like to think that if I continue refining the core, I can begin focus on balance testing and tweaking to ultimately pitch to a publisher.

Any questions?

Posted in Games | Tagged euro, flipped, , , pictures, prototype, visual preview, worker placement | Leave a reply

Writing Flavor Text


Post by: Grant Rodiek

A friend and peer recently asked about writing flavor text for games. We had a brief discussion via email on the topic and I thought it was interesting enough to reprise it as a blog post. For many, the notion of flavor text is best witnessed in Magic: The Gathering. It is a game most of us have played or have at least been exposed to. Most cards in the game have flavor text, therefore, many people assume that their game involving cards needs flavor text.

But, how does one do it? What is key to keep in mind when writing flavor text? I have some ideas I’d like to share.

Why Flavor Text

Flavor text is a hint into the world and grand story of your game. Every game can have a story of sorts, because it excites the players’ imaginations and gives meaning to their actions. An ideal use-case for flavor text consumption is that someone examines their hand of cards while waiting for their turn and notices a few flourishes of text that are interesting and pique their curiosity. It is the slight catalyst that lets them imagine a grander world beyond just laying tiles and rolling dice.

It’s a caption, not a novel.

Good flavor text can encourage investment in the premise you’ve presented. It’s not the only tool at your disposal, but it’s a clever and economical one that may satisfy your literate players. Even better, unless done poorly, it won’t detract from the experience. Those not interested are free to ignore it.

The Execution

One of the first things you need to do is decide the medium by which the text is delivered. Is your flavor text a series of quotes spoken by the characters controlled by the players? Is it a passage from a historical text or law governing the world? First person? Third person omniscient?

You don’t need to be rigid and use only quotes, or only historical passages, but you shouldn’t skip about wildly. Think about your presentation holistically and try to be consistent. Introduce exceptions when they add value. Bad exceptions are distracting and therefore detracting.

To continue on the topic of consistency, this means in style and presentation. It doesn’t mean every character speaks the same way. If you have a blunt Scottish guy and a precise German guy, they should speak differently and exhibit different mannerisms.

You must also be mindful of the tone. Is your game playful? Serious? The text must again reinforce your intent. Be careful with jokes, as they will get old. Instead, create a character who is generally silly. Use sarcasm and subtlety to reinforce “this guy is a joker,” not “So two Rabbis walk into a bar.” One has legs, one doesn’t.

And now I’m thinking about legless rabbis…

Decide what the text is cataloging. Is it a dictation of what is taking place in the game, by the players, right now? Is it a reference to supplemental elements that explain why the players are doing what they are doing? Is it a hint of the future? For example:

  • Fireball: I describe the action of hurling the fireball right now.
  • Fireball: I discuss the power of the fireball, perhaps from the viewpoint of a professor at the school of wizardry.
  • Fireball: I generally describe the use of violent magic, which includes the fireball.

You’ll need to do some worldbuilding to really sell this. No, you don’t need to create multiple languages and tomes of history like Tolkien, but you need to understand your world, its people, and the reasons behind their actions.

I tend to be a fan of worldbuilding. I like creating a narrator of sorts to give hints and roots to the actions players are taking. I don’t personally like to use commentary to narrate the current events. I want players to have the flexibility to tell and interpret their own stories. I think, for the sake of flavor text, you can take the Lost approach and reveal something for which you don’t have an explanation, or don’t intend to explain.

To counter, or at least moderate this point, be aware of the rules for your world. Establish the rules of your universe, such as how magic is conceived, who hates whom, and so forth, and do not break them. If you constantly throw fictional spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks, don’t be surprised to find your players lose interest. If it feels like you don’t care, they won’t care. Therefore, feel comfortable to create without the strictest responsibility to logic, but don’t become wanton.

I don’t often write flavor text for my games, but I try to make my cards interesting. I try to root them to something beyond “move cubes.” For example, all of the ship abilities in Mars Rising now have names tied to the equipment or maneuver. I want people to say “I’m launching countermeasures!” and roll for their lives.

In Battle for York, I’ve seen people slap down cards excitedly and go “Dig in boys!” and it’s because the name of the ability had a very action-oriented verb. The text easily lent itself to their imaginations. They leaned in, which is the sign the text worked. Other things I did for York included writing battle cries for the various factions (a catch phrase) and writing small introductory paragraphs in the rules. I needed to establish a motive, then I let the players tell the story of the war.

In Flipped, I can see myself doing flavor text for the clients. I want to help drive the theme and sense of you building a city for people with needs. I’ll probably have the clients list quotes for what they’re looking for in a home or property. These will be little humorous quips about avoiding bad neighborhoods and their hopes for the future. My hope is that you think “Ah, I’m building a home for a family,” not “Ah, I’m gathering cubes for points.” It’s light, but the text and art should help add a little much needed life to this euro.

Bad Flavor

Many designers seemingly view flavor text as “slap on a quick quote everywhere!” It must be pursued and implemented thoughtfully and with intent. Consider its purpose and presentation at the outset.

Writing is very difficult. A great deal of flavor text is lazy writing penned by someone without experience. You know when you read fan-fic and it leaves you a bit queasy? Bad flavor text does the same. Be sure to take several passes on every piece of text, no matter how short. The proper combination of strong verbs that build the scene and clever diction that reinforces the personalities of the characters is key. It’s difficult to do. Take the time and do it correctly.

Another issue is that the layout and presentation of the text often dwarfs the functionality and intent of the card. Flavor text needs to be subdued, italicized, tucked away, something, so that it’s ultimately an accent, not the prevalent feature of a card. Flavor text is a character actor. It doesn’t get the leading role in a summer blockbuster.

Finally, and this is a pet peeve, DO NOT write “Grrsssaaaaaa!” on an card to represent a beast or dying gasp or battle yell. No! Such things do not add to the narrative or world. You just typed out a sound.

The First Steps

Here are some action items for you to begin building your world and write text.

  1. Brainstorm the world. Roughly chart out its landmasses, cultures, pivotal historic moments, how the magic works, and the reason for the current conflict.
  2. Brainstorm the characters. Who is the protagonist? The antagonist? What is the canonical, over-arching narrative you plan to drive?
  3. What’s the next major action in the world towards which you can hint?
  4. What are some of your favorite works of fiction? How do they tell their stories? Do they use a witty first person perspective? A third person narrator? Begin writing using a voice you both love and with which you are comfortable.

The hope is that, as a result of your efforts, people have more fun when they play. They speak their actions aloud. They lean in and grin, knowing their soldiers (err, cubes) are taking a bold final stand. Use your text to fill your players’ heads with voices (the good kind) and enrich their experience.

Farmageddon 2nd Printing Available!

Post by: Grant Rodiek

2012 was a really big year for my first published game, Farmageddon. It was signed for publication, then my publisher raised $25,000 on Kickstarter. He ordered a larger than expected printing of 2700 copies which was very well reviewed, received a Parent’s Choice Award, and ultimately sold out. Very very cool, if you ask me. The game’s success far exceeded my expectations.

As of today, the game’s 2nd Printing is now available for purchase. I actually received my copies (I get a few every printing per my contract).

What’s different? Not much. In the rules, I changed the word “Actions” to “Things” in one of the early paragraphs as I had one (belligerent) friend who was confused by it. I added a clarification for the FrankenCrops in the back to future proof them better (we have 15 more coming in the future for a booster pack). Finally, I added a friend to the credits who was mistakenly left out.

The box is no longer a thick two piece, but is a big tuck box that holds the rules and decks. This was done to be more retail friendly and to improve margins. Phil’s hope is to get the game into bigger stores, so things like the hang tab and smaller box are important.

Finally, we’ve revised the text on a few cards purely for clarity. None of their functionality has changed. But, we listened to fans, saw what confused them, and tried to improve the cards.

One final thing is that the cards aren’t bowed. The manufacturer made a mistake with the initial printing and the cards were bowed. Thankfully, they flattened out naturally with time, but it made a bad first impression for folks. We’re sorry and I’m glad to see it didn’t happen again.

What’s Next? Hopefully, continued success. Phil made a big investment and funded a bigger printing of 5000 copies. He did this by putting money back into the business and by taking out a business loan. Personally, I’m very proud that he believes in my game to this degree.

If you have thoughts on Farmageddon, enjoy it, or know a family or group of casual gamers who would like it, please recommend it! Your word of mouth praise is literally the BEST marketing available. 340 of you have rated the game on Board Game Geek and it means so much to us. Christmas is approaching, so if you think of someone who would like this as a $15 stocking stuffer, recommend it!

The game is available exclusively via Amazon or 5th Street’s website.

In addition to the second printing, Erin Fusco, the artist for the original FrankenCrops, is coloring the new art for the Livestocked and Loaded expansion right now. This will be sent free to our Kickstarter backers and sold for around $10 to other customers. This expansion broadens the game with new Weather events, Animals, and new Action cards. There are new mechanics and the focus is to add more strategy to an otherwise unpredictable game.  Other than the fact I’m really bad at the expansion, I am really happy with it.

As a treat, here is some of the completed art.

Dry Spell Weather Card

Freak Blizzard Weather Card

Petunia Cluxity

Sauce the Pig

Woolsworth the III

Oola von Heifer

If you like these, just wait until you see the Corgalohts, the Inland Tsunami, or the new Farmers…

We also have 15 new FrankenCrops designed and sketched. These will also be sent free to our Kickstarter backers as an apology for the bowed cards. In my opinion, this is really excellent of Phil. It is very kind. These will be sold to others as well who want more spice.

The Future? Phil and I would like to keep supporting Farmageddon as long as there is demand. It’s a silly little game, but I still love it and enjoy playing it. I have tons of ideas for expansions. The theme is rich and full of options. If the 2nd printing and first expansion sell, we have great ideas and more FrankenCrops.

As always, we love, appreciate, and value your input. We thank you for your support. Without you testing the prototype, printing the PNP, inviting me to your podcast, backing it on KS, or sharing Tweets, we would not be where we are.

Happy Farming!

Posted in Blog | Tagged 5th street games, card game, , game, gift, livestocked and loaded, news, second printing | 2 Replies

The Gamerdex


Post by: Grant Rodiek

In honor of the release of the latest Pokemon, I thought it would be useful to write a handy guide on how to identify the different breeds of gamer. Feel free to use this to oust undesirable stock from your gaming group, better identify a tester to understand his or her feedback, and to know when you’ve caught them all. Here is the Gamerdex.

A wild Competizard appeared! This beastly nerd must win at all costs. Nothing else is important. Often considered by science to be the killer robots of the community, these discerning bruisers will often redo moves, over-optimize, and calculate an optimal path towards victory. They are known to evolve into a grumpier form if losing or, if in a co-operative game, feel doom is at hand. They may even shut off entirely. It’s best to let them win if you want them to remain focused and happy, otherwise, best to put them back in your pack.

Recommended Feeding: Android: Netrunner

A wild Exploitoise appeared! By day, these (often) engineering professionals solve problems of code and logic. By night, they seek game breaking strategies and gross imbalances in games. Whether they win or lose is purely secondary. They merely want you to know the game is flawed, and therefore, they are right. Good to have around for late-beta prototypes for balance testing. Avoid early alpha tests at all costs. They will be distracted by the tuning, rendering their observations useless.

Recommended Feeding: Summoner Wars. Note: They won’t like it, but they’ll delight in telling you about its imbalances. 

A wild Rollachu appeared! Some nerdly beasts merely want to roll the dice, draw the token, or play a card to see what happens next. Logic has no bearing on their instinctual pursuits, nor does a competitor’s spirit. They just want to see what’ll happen. Just…just one more roll. Like an addict, they palm their pile of d6 and heave them with abandon. Luck is their muse and mistress when fortune favors them. Luck be damned when it doesn’t. The Rollachu will be the first to refer to your game as an exercise in pre-determined bean counting. Don’t bother to explain the actual variance, just pass them the dice.

Recommended Feeding: Fleet Captains

A wild Perfectasect appeared! This beast’s evolutionary path forces them to make no decision that is anything less than optimal. They are patient, slow, observant, and forward thinking. They can count every ripple the stone will make when skipped across the otherwise still pond. Alas, they are not reactive, nor nimble, and if poked off their comfortable perch they will merely reset and begin counting the ripples anew. Games with unpredictable elements will leave them feeling queasy.

Recommended Feeding: Caylus

A wild Exposiduck appeared! This strange and overly verbal creature has three sets of lungs to allow it to explain every single thing that it, and you, and everyone else is doing in the game. It will analyze, explain, bloviate, and verbosely point out every possible nuance of the decisions being made. Much like a sports announcer in its content, though less so (often) in its actual understanding. It spends so much time talking that it spends very little time observing.

Recommended Feeding: The Resistance: Avalon

A wild Nongamanine appeared! This confused, normally cool, non-nerdy beast is often captured, removed from its natural habitat, and placed into the ecosystem of its nerdier beast friends. Generally familiar only with primitive games such as MonopolyScrabble, and Risk, it is nonetheless a good friend and a good sport and is willing to tolerate your insistence for a time. Lab tests have shown the Nongamanine will not understand terms like discard, resource, or d6, and will require careful nursing through the larval stages. Can be very powerful when leveled up and is to be treated with care.

Recommended Feeding: Ticket to Ride: Europe

A wild Dooster appeared! This fun loving, boisterous, and belch-worthy beast is the jovial member of the pack. Its spirit is invigorated by doing and it spends little time to think. Its enormous gut dwarfs its brain, and as a result, it relies purely on instinct. At most two options are considered before it chooses a path and pushes forth. A good friend to the Rollachu and the despised nemesis to the Perfectasect’s well laid plans, the Dooster is the spicy beast of the gamer world.

Recommended Feeding: King of Tokyo

What are some beasts you’ve identified for your Gamerdex? Share them below!

Battle Report: Mars Rising

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I’ve been busting my butt for a few weeks to get Mars Rising (previously Blockade) re-designed, re-built, and ready to test again. I had a friend over today for a long 2 player game day, so after a few games of the delightful Mice and Mystics and Vampire Empire, we setup Mars Rising for a quick play.

The image at the top of this article is the game setup from my vantage point as the Martian player. I’m going to walk you through the battle to hopefully give you a taste for what took place.

The Setting

The sovereign star nations of Mars and United Terra are uneasy enemies. The setup is not unlike our Cold War here on Earth in the present day. Mars and Terra are the dominant forces in the Sol System, with a few fledgling star nations and groups in between. For the first campaign in Mars Rising, I’m focusing on a short-intense conflict where Terra catches Mars off guard with a surprise assault on their holdings in the Jovian Lunar Belts.

However, today’s battle takes place in the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars. The Martian Defense Fleet has a small outpost manned by a few fighter squadrons in a station just off the Ceres dwarf planet.

This posting is a lazy waypoint for merchants. It’s slow and most sought by pilots on their way out, or those who don’t want to be busy. Nobody in the Martian forces were expecting to find a Terran Battle Fleet  here.

At the start of this mission, the Terrans have an overwhelming force:

  • 2 Interceptor Squadrons
  • Battlecruiser Squadron
  • Battleship squadron
  • Potential destroyer reinforcements (Event)

The Martians are overwhelmed. They have:

  • 4 Fighter squadrons (player’s choice of splitting between interceptors and bombers)
  • An immobile and largely defenseless space station
  • A lone Merchant transport

The Terrans win when they destroy 4 Martian units, one of which must be the station. In the unlikely event the Martians destroy 4 Units first, that will also end the mission. The Martians have a few secret goals: navigate the Merchant ship safely to a point on the map, at which point it can warp out to warn Martian forces at Io (this will benefit the next mission). And, hurt Terran ships — the Martians can fight desperately to force the Terrans to begin the next mission with a bit of a bloody nose as far as ships being weakened.

If you’re curious about approximate balance, Interceptors are best against other Interceptors and Bombers. Bombers are good against capital ships, terrible against fighters. Destroyers are generally balanced and nimble. Battlecruisers are heavy and meant to kill other capital ships. Battleships are death machines.

The Battle

My Fighter Squadrons

My fighter squadrons on the board around the station.

Early I began moving the Merchant ship away from the enemy battleship. I also tried to distract him by sending my bombers in the middle of his formation.

You can see the lone Square with the red marker and the “A” on it (to note Alpha Squadron). I dropped his battleship’s shields early! (The battleship is the narrow rectangular strip with the A to the right of my bombers).

The asteroids (brown circles) offered limited protection, but his fighters chewed me up.

The wooden blue and red circles? These are command tokens. You place these on your units to denote that they’ve been chosen for this turn. The trick is, you need to alternate and cannot pick units with a token.

The triangle with the red mark and an A on it is my Merchant ship. If you look just behind him in the foreground, you can see the battleships aren’t too far away. I chose here to hold off, but I should have kept moving him. As a result, that Battleship moved in range and devastated the merchant ship. He died — no warning would be sent to my fleet at Io.

You can see his Battlecruiser squadron, the blue triangle with the B, next to the station. The battleships are just to the right. My bombers were wreaking havoc, but I couldn’t stop him in time. The station fell, as we all knew it would. Notice the blue shield token — that denotes a defensive bonus. This is a learning from a previous prototype.

Ultimately, the squadrons at Ceres were devastated and the Terran fleet plowed through as we expected. I was a bit too hasty with some of my early moves and did not play for the long game. Lessons learned!

Development Notes

This was a good test and it told me a few things. Firstly, I’m on the right track. I liked the game and my friend liked the game. We talked about it quite a bit afterwards and he texted me when he got home asking for my email so that he could send me some ideas. That’s a good sign!

There are a few things to massage. One, Events should trigger on doubles, not triples. As it stood, they only happened once. I’d like them to happen about 4 or 5 times to really add variety.

Secondly, Battlecruisers in general have too many shields. Easily fixed.

The system failure tokens were really cool. When your shields go down, you draw one at random. It dings one of your four systems by 1. It can be really bad, just bad, or completely harmless, which I think is fun. It’s also thematic: “Captain, we lost battery four!”

I just needed to add 2 simple rules to balance out the current ship bonuses . You can never have more than 1 type of ability in a squadron, so, you cannot have 2 attack, or 2 defense. Furthermore, only 1 passive formation bonus per squadron. A third, mostly tuning philosophy, is to make the passive abilities less powerful. They are practically free, so don’t make them nutty good.

This was one of my first scenario tests and it was generally good to see my thoughts for how to handle them are on the right path. The game was short, explosive, and fun. I dig it.

One Wild Idea

My friend offered one really awesome idea that I’m toying with. The idea is, there are movement penalties on the outer rings. This would represent the size of space as you go farther from the center. An example is that the two inner rings would be 1 Movement, but the two outer rings would cost 2 Movement.

I’m curious how it would change the game.

Update: The wise Jerry Hawthorne just suggested I split the outer spaces into multiple spaces. That way, the rule doesn’t change — there are just more spaces. Smart guy!

He also had some fun scenario ideas, such as making the center a sun at times. Flying near it on the closest ring would cause shield damage (maybe!).


I’m very happy to be back into testing with a game. Blockade saw a bit of a hiatus while I waited to hear feedback and then rebuild it. Being able to test and iterate upon data and the experience is like a drug for me and it makes me really happy. I love developing an idea.

As a side note, I have about 15 clients left to tune for Flipped and it’ll be ready to play as well.