The Mission Editor

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I was able to knock a few things off my to-do list, and I had the day off from work, so I had zero excuses to not work on some Mars Rising scenarios. Mars Rising doesn’t have a single killer mechanic I can point to, but it is full of what I’d like to call “neat ways of doing things.” For example:

  • The circular board is a fresh way of handling a tactics map.
  • There’s a simple dice mechanic to demonstrate two weapons types.
  • Squadron Formations give you a lot of ships, but only one control point.
  • Formations will add a tactical layer for advanced players.

Another neat thing, and the topic of this post, is how I’m creating scenarios for the game. I thought it would be interesting to walk through my process and toolkit behind these scenarios to hopefully inspire some of your own ideas.

Mars Rising was created for small groups of friends to enjoy over the course of a handful of play sessions. For example, me and my friend Cole, or my friend Rob, get together on lazy Sundays to game for hours. Just the two of us. I wanted a tactical game tied together with a little narrative and some persistence.

When I set out to create a campaign-based game, I had a few examples:

Risk Legacy: This game remembers your campaign and choices on the board. It is a one-time only, dire consequences kind of experience with stickers, ripped cards, and new mechanics. I love this, but didn’t think the finality of it was appropriate for Mars.

Memoir ’44 Campaign Books Vol. 1 and 2: Another favorite of mine. Memoir does a great job of toeing the line between historically accurate, yet fun and accessible. Memoir ties scenarios together by rewarding early success with reinforcements and better field position. It’s appropriate for the setting, but it’s a bit too even keeled for what interests me.

RPGs, in general, are campaigns. If you take Pathfinder or Dungeons and Dragons, you essentially have a game of N length that has a story written, experienced, and woven by its DM and players. That is an extreme I’m not trying to tackle in a tactics game. I want this to be easy involvement for folks. Right tools for the job, as they say.

Mice and Mystics: This is a game I love and a great example of what I wanted. It is a pre-written narrative that is persistent and has some choices throughout. Though, the choices are often simply delayed. Before it’s all over, you must accomplish X, Y, and Z, so it’s really a matter of how and when you do it.

Here were the elements I wanted to include for the Mars campaign:

  • Replayable scenarios. Obviously they won’t be quite as fun the second time around, but they should be fun on subsequent plays.
  • A narrative that players can affect. It isn’t a sandbox — I made the decision to create a canonical path to the story. But, players can affect things slowly over time, like a pebble creating ripples in a lake.
  • Enough flexibility to make every scenario unique. In Starcraft, every mission is 1.) Build Base, 2.) Find enemy, 3.) Build army, 4.) Kill enemy. In Starcraft II, every mission was a unique puzzle/experience. I wanted to model Mars after the latter.
  • Sufficient tools to foster a community of creators. This is super idealistic, but it’s important to me. I was very inspired by the number of generic tokens used in Robinson Crusoe. Not only does the designer use them brilliantly to vary scenarios, but the community uses them to craft their own. I want to encourage and support this.

Now that you have some background, let’s walk through the elements that help me satisfy these goals in a typical Mars Rising scenario.

  1. Story: I begin every scenario (and sometimes interject during) with a cast of characters, dialog, and story progression.
  2. Recommended Ships: To speed things up (and direct the balance level I desire), I specify ships to be used. But, players could vary this!
  3. Starting Positions: I can (and do) put players both in ideal and terrible starting positions. It changes things quite a bit. I can start you in an isolated position, off the board (you warp in with flexibility), or in the thick of things. It has a big impact.
  4. Environmental Elements: The game includes space stations, asteroids, turrets, mines, and I have generic “story tokens” that can be anything. Plus, you can use ships to be derelict craft. Flexibility is the name of the game.
  5. Objectives: Every scenario has unique objectives. Take out a space station, protect civilian transports, hijack merchant convoy ships, and more. How well you do here will affect…
  6. Subsequent Scenario Modifiers: I didn’t want you to have to remember something from Mission 3 that changes Mission 8. But, there are things in every mission that will affect the mission immediately following. Which can change everything listed above and more.
  7. Events: I have 10 Event tokens that are comprised of 4 different generic icons. Events trigger based on a random, but fairly probable dice rolls. The 4 unique events for the scenario, and the order in which they occur, really change things.
  8. System Failures: When your ships lose their shields, you draw a token to see which system takes a hit. Your ship might lose a missile or laser battery, an engine, or even a hit on the hull. These can really affect your squadrons!
  9. Player choice. How players maneuver their units, use their ship abilities, and succeed or fail with the dice will vary every game.

As you can see, there are a lot of little pieces that build every mission and hopefully lead to a very dynamic, varied experience. I’ve played the first mission about 6 times now and it’s been a little different every time, so I feel it’s working. The few folks who have tried the PNP have enjoyed it as well.

Now, some tips for how you can incorporate these things in your own designs:

  • Establish your core mechanics before working on scenario design. I spent at least 6 months refining what a ship is, what its weapons are, how the ships move, how ships attack, and how ships form formations before I made a single scenario. Your core must be solid. If you find yourself refining core mechanics and scenarios, you’ll want to die.
  • Establish your goals clearly. As you can see in my list of games above, there are MANY ways you can go about it. If you don’t know what you want, you’ll be in an endless loop.
  • Understand how every piece factors into the experience. Don’t just add stuff. Have a meaningful purpose for everything. Scenario design is much like typical game design. Know why a mechanic exists, and know why a scenario modifier exists.
  • Experiment with tokens and icons. Cards get expensive really quickly, but tokens are affordable AND flexible.

If you’d like to check out some of the scenario work for Mars Rising, you can do so here. If you haven’t read the game rules, you might want to do that first so that you have context. Check out the rules here. Comments are allowed in both documents.

What do you think? Anything of interest to you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Posted in Blog | Tagged campaign, , Mars Rising, mission editor, persistence, scenario design, | 3 Replies

Being a Great Company

Post by: Grant Rodiek

This isn’t a terribly unique topic for a blog post, but it’s something that I think about constantly. We live in an age of great entrepreneurship. Yes, those of us in the board game space can quickly point to Kickstarter as big deal, primarily as a new way for companies to generate capital and market products. But, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

There are limitless technology solutions for new businesses. Need a way to accept credit cards for payment? Anywhere? Square can help you. Need to do some basic legal stuff? Check out Legal Zoom. Amazon allows you to sell products globally in your underwear from your living room. Honestly, think about how simple it is to have a web-presence now! These are just a few things that make 2013 a great time to start a business.

I don’t run a business, but man I want to. Though I’m not an entrepreneur myself, I am a customer, an employee of a product development firm, and an observer. I think about this topic constantly. Below are what I believe are the characteristics of a great company. What do you think? Share your thoughts and examples in the comments.

Note: I tried to write my characteristics generically, but most of my examples will pertain to the board game space as that is the focus of this blog. 

You regularly deliver great products and services. By great, I mean great. And not in the “my wife likes me” sense. If you make games, people love them. Period. You hold yourself to a quality bar that is unwavering. Yes, everyone has opinions, which will differ. But, by and large, you deliver the highest quality products.

For games, this means components, art, good rules, a unique, polished game with high replay value, and customer support when things go awry (confused with rules, broken pieces, just want to email you).

Many folks in the board game space point to the quality components in their games. This is good, but never forget that making a super thick box and linen finish cards isn’t really a competitive advantage, or at least one that is unique to you. Anyone can hire Panda Manufacturing. It’s just a matter of capital. Instead, think of the aspects of your product that are not easily replicated. Think of the special thing you can bring to the table as a company, your competitive edge. Often, these are the minds who make your games and the entirety of your vision.

An example, I’d like to use is Mice and Mystics from Plaid Hat Games (manufactured by Panda, I should note). To save my fingers the typing time, I’m going to share a screen of its components.

My message to you is not that your game needs more stuff. But, let me highlight a few of these. The game has 10 unique miniature figures, each with a unique sculpt to bring the game to life. There are well over 100 cards, all with unique art that is gorgeous. You have a 58 page storybook filled with unique adventures and a delightful narrative. This took years to put together and quite a bit of capital. It also took the efforts of the designer, writer, rules editors, illustrator, sculptor, and a close back and forth relationship between the publisher and manufacturer to get everything right.

This is a great product.

Something a bit smaller on the scale would be King of Tokyo. There aren’t so many games that are that easy to teach, that gorgeous to hold and look at, that fun to play, with that many people, in that short of a time frame.

Great companies hold their products to those same standards, regardless of the scope of the work. Before you put your product up for sale, ask yourself if what you’re making is as good or better than the best thing your target customers can currently obtain. Your answer needs to be “yes.”

Your products or services are unique. They are not easily replaced or mimicked. This could be a result of your unique way of thinking, or even just surrounding yourself with very intelligent, creative employees. Perhaps you have created a truly innovative technology or process that is difficult to replicate. Whatever it is, you know how to create trends and sustain them. Competitors try to follow you, not the other way around.

I can’t help but list a few parallels in the board game space right now. There are some really obvious ones.

  • Dominion introduced in a very popular, outstanding mechanic. But, also a great deal of poor copycats. My hope is that we start seeing more games like Salmon Run and City of Remnants that use deckbuilding as an idea, not the beginning and end. One such prototype to eye is Xenon Profiteer by TC Petty III.
  • Love Letter opened our eyes to the micro game. Hell, we’re now at nano! I’d love to think we’ll start seeing new things beyond just deduction mechanics, but it’s difficult for folks to ignore the money.
  • Risk Legacy‘s concept of a game that grows and evolves with the players is just brilliant. Yes, you can argue the core of Risk held it back, but why aren’t other people taking this idea to explore?
  • The Humble Bundle brought forth the notion of pay-what-you-want with a bundle of interesting goodies you might not have otherwise heard of.

Another example I’d like to discuss in detail is Cards Against Humanity. For a second, let’s skip the debate about the quality of the game. I know that’s contentious (Full disclosure, the game has provided me with hours of entertainment). Instead, let’s look at how they keep their product offering and services fresh and innovative constantly.

In addition to the core set and relatively frequent expansions (they just released the fourth), and consistently employing nice, clean, easy to use websites, this year they:

  • Held a Game Design Deathmatch promotion.
  • Released the Bigger, Blacker Box.
  • Came up with Holiday Bullshit, a 12 gifts over 12 days for 100,000 people idea.
  • Increased their prices by $5 on Black Friday. Read the linked article to find out why this matters.

They are consistently releasing new products and energizing their community with buzz-worthy ploys, gimmicks, jokes, and great promotions. Notice how much people are talking about their 12 gifts? It’s a very unique way of doing things that isn’t easily replicated.

When you define that edge that makes your company and its offerings special, also consider how long you’ll remain special and how difficult it’ll be for competitors to whittle away that advantage. It took, what, 8 minutes, for Groupon to find itself with a dozen competitors?

You take customer service seriously and understand that your relationship with your customer does not end when you collect their money for the sale. This one is so important and it’s too often relegated to “customer service is really hard” or “it’s so time consuming.” Guess what? You need to buck up and deal with it. Mistakes from your company are one of the best opportunities to stand out with your customers. It’s also the best way to lose a customer forever.

One of the age old maxims of business is that 80% of your revenue comes from 20% of your customers. If you look at successful publishers like Plaid Hat Games and Stronghold Games with their great pre-order systems, or GMT with their P500, or the vigorous launches of Kickstarter campaigns by Tasty Minstrel and Dice Hate Me Games, you’ll see I’m not crazy. You need to build and support this 20%.

That means you’re on BGG answering every question like Ignacy Trzewiczek of Portal Games. It means you ship out replacement parts, no questions asked, as quickly as possible. It means you release new content for free or a reasonable price, because you want people to stick with you. Fantasy Flight’s Living Card Games, the Summoner Wars Reinforcement Packs, or the new scenarios from Collins Epic Wargames are all good examples.

Even an email that says “We hear you, we’re back up, but you matter and we’ll get to you soon” is key.

There are two things many customers will never forget: outstanding service and poor service. Why sit in the middle or fail here when you can stand out? It’s worth the effort.

You have a good reputation that precedes you. It is something your customers say, not something that is a part of your press release. Your success builds based on word of mouth and recognition that your logo means great things.

You are aware of your faults, even if you don’t necessarily share them publicly (generally a bad PR move), and strive to correct them. You treat failure as a lesson and opportunity, not a moment to dig in.

After some frustrating and lengthy delays shipping Mice and Mystics pre-orders, Plaid Hat publicly revised how they communicate dates. They explained their reasoning and their desire to improve. As a personal anecdote, when the initial printing of Farmageddon arrived with bowed cards (due to a manufacturing error), my publisher said he would make it right. He commissioned me to craft a 15 card mini-expansion with all new art that’ll be given free of charge to our backers. I think that’s pretty cool.

Another good example is the reputation of Jamey Stegmaier of Stonemaier Games. He has devoted countless hours to writing about and sharing his experiences with Kickstarter. This is a generous gift and it is also a great marketing device. People think kindly of him, as they should. And if you pay attention, his answer regarding compensation is always the same thing: support our games.

You should notice your reputation is a combination of many of the above points.

  • How good your products are.
  • How well you resolve customer service issues.
  • How you evolve as a company.
  • How you stay 2 steps ahead of your competition.

You take care of those around you. By this, I mean employees and partners. Now, many board game publishers, from “indie” up to the big timers have 1 or 2 employees. This is an industry powered by the help of passionate volunteers, contractors, supply chain specialists (fulfillment, distribution, retail, manufacturing, etc.) and, if you’re lucky and successful, an employee or two.

Good companies take care of those around them. For us as board gamers, this means:

  • You respond to inquiries from your designers in a timely fashion. Yes, I know there are thousands of submissions. I’m talking about people with whom you’ve signed and formed a business relationship with.
  • You provide clear, timely feedback to your contractors. If someone needs to illustrate 100 cards, they have no questions (for long) as to what you want.
  • You pay people quickly. It is shocking how many contractors remain unpaid for too long. When they do the work, you pay them. Simple as that.
  • You pay people for their work. Far too many contributors write stories, test, edit rules, make videos, and more with little to no compensation. For one, there’s the saying that you get what you pay for. But more importantly, good work should be compensated. That is only fair.
  • You give recognition when it’s due.

All of us have been employees at one time or another. We’ve all had bad bosses and bad situations. Think about what you didn’t enjoy, where you were unhappy, and improve upon that. Having a motivated, passionate workforce will be your greatest asset.

So. Where did I get things wrongly? Where was I right? What does it mean to you to be a great company? Share your thoughts below.

Posted in Blog | Tagged business, entrepreneurship, leadership, management, | 6 Replies

A Ridiculous Farce of a War

Post by: Grant Rodiek

A resolution I’ve set for myself is to write about my personal games less in great specificity, at least until I have something worthwhile to talk about. Though I love writing about my projects frequently, I’d rather the posts be more substantial and meaningful for readers. I think one of my current small projects has hit a nice moment. Let’s talk about Fool’s Brigade. 


This project came about as a convergence of three things. The first: While traveling in Southeast Asia I read two great books on the American Civil War. One, about the Iron Brigade of Wisconsin, and the second about Stonewall Jackson’s famous Shenandoah Valley Campaign.

The second: Dice Hate Me Games sponsored a 54 Card game design competition. 54 cards only, due in just a few weeks (so not much time to develop and go crazy). I love competitions, deadlines, and small creative boxes.

The third: After weeks of travel, my mind was shot, wobbly, and not really ready to jump back into Mars Rising. I wanted to make something new, silly, and simple to warm up.

I went to my dining room table with a pencil, a pile of index cards, some sand timers, and a handful of six-sided dice. Over the course of an hour I found myself pushing around cards horizontally arranged, much like you see blocks moving in a classic war game.


The idea that began to emerge was this: What if a large group of friends were split into two teams and tried to control a Brigade (divided into Regiments) against each other? And, what if there was a General on each side trying to corral this madness? Yes, I really enjoy Dice Duel, which was firmly in the back of my mind while coming up with this.

I was thinking about how officers would guide their men in a battle around the 19th century. Much of it had to do with discipline, gathering around the flag, and very simple orders, like March, Wheel Right, and Fix Bayonets. Before long I found myself shouting these things to myself and marching around my kitchen table. Beth, in our bedroom, would shout out “What the hell are you doing?” To which I would reply “Nothing….MARCH!”

The Core

The gist of the mechanic is that every player controls a Regiment. They have a horizontal, face up card on the table that acts as their Unit and reference card. The card details their possible orders, like March, Fix Bayonets, Fire, etc. There are no turns. You pick an order, count aloud to the number indicated, then shout the order and execute it. Then, do it again.

There are some extra twists that I think make this all funny:

  • Instead of the classic “1 Mississippi” or “1 one thousand” methods, you use your last name. Which means someone with the last name Smith will be faster than someone with the last name Holmberg-Weidler (a co-worker).
  • When you move, you move the distance between your thumb and pointer fingers. That’s also your firing range. Yes, your hand size can be an advantage.
  • Bayonet charges are resolved with a best of three Rock/Paper/Scissors. I had to get creative with only 54 cards and I love this solution.
  • If Bayonets are fixed, you hold one of your arms up. Thematic and functional.
  • If a Unit suffers too many hits, they must flee, uncontrollably, until someone else rallies them. Teamwork is key!
  • There are advanced Units with modified timing and abilities. Skirmishers, Cavalry, Elite Guards, Artillery. Oh yeah.

There are some other layers to make this more than just shouting. For one, the General is responsible for supplying players with Combat cards, needed to fire (but not charge with bayonets), as well as Goals. Goals are played to slowly corral your team into some semblance of cohesion, but also a way to earn points. These are things like Charge this enemy Unit, or Hold this Hill.

All told, I intend the game to be a 5-10 minute experience. I see about 4 layers of progression to the experience.

  1. Players use basic Regiments and no terrain. Are confused but laughing.
  2. Players use basic Regiments, terrain, and get better. Are laughing with a devil’s grin.
  3. Players use advanced Units and terrain. Think to themselves, “oh yeah. It’s on.”
  4. Players are just as good as the real Iron Brigade. A disciplined fighting force of idiots.

Give it a whirl!

You can read the rules here (comments allowed in the document). A handful of folks have really put them to the test and, considering they are limited to 2 pages, I’m happy with them.  If you want to try it out the game, email me at grant at hyperbolegames dot com. It’s a 54 card Print out, black and white ink, super simple. I’d love to know what you think.


What are you making for the 54 card competition, if anything? How is it going? What do you think of Fool’s Brigade? Does it sound like something your group would enjoy at a Con or office party? Have a good one!

Posted in Games | Tagged 54 card challenge, american civil war, charge, combat, fool's brigade, muskets, real time, team based | Leave a reply

My Personal Favorites of 2013

Post by: Grant Rodiek

2013 is near its end and I wanted to write about some of my favorite games and publishers of the year. According to my Board Game Geek plays, which I update regularly, I played just shy of 400 games. I have no doubt others can trounce that number, but considering the average length of games I play is about an hour, that means I spent, on average, about an hour per day playing games. That’s pretty cool!

One thing to note is that I’m not really holding myself to the calendar year of 2013 for my selections, as you’ll soon find. My opinions are based on the best games I played in 2013, regardless of when released.

My Favorite Game of 2013: Mice and Mystics

  • Published by: Plaid Hat Games
  • Designed by: Jerry Hawthorne
  • Illustrations by: John Ariosa

I reviewed Mice and Mystics earlier this year, so you shouldn’t be terribly surprised that I enjoy the game. This game was released in the final weeks of 2012, so the fact that 12 of my 14 plays were in 2013 shouldn’t be shocking. I’ve now finished all but the final 2 chapters of the first storybook, which means I’m only 2 chapters from experiencing the glorious expansion I’ve already purchased.

Mice and Mystics is not so much a revelation in mechanics, but as a package, it is near unrivaled. The components are outstanding! Gorgeous, detailed miniature sculpts. Gobs of artwork from John Ariosa, a personal favorite. Tons of tokens, custom dice, and big, beautiful location mats. Then you factor in the delightfully whimsical fairy tale and lightweight cooperative action and you just have a treat.

I was so excited every time I brought this game to the table and I look forward to playing it for years to come. This is such a special game from the great team at Plaid Hat. Great job guys, especially you, Jerry.

Best Game for a Large Group of People: Space Cadets Dice Duels

  • Published by: Stronghold Games
  • Designed by: Geoff and Sydney Engelstein

This game is ridiculously stupid, laugh out loud funny, and armpit stains intense. Two teams of up to 8 people total square off in one of my favorite Star Trek parodies of all time. Every player mans a station on the ship, such as the helm, weapons, sensors, or shields. Your station comes with a set of custom dice that, when rolled properly, can be assigned for bonuses or to execute actions. Like moving the ship, or shielding your left side.

Problem is, you can only roll if engineering “activates” your dice to roll. The game quickly turns into shouts of  “dear god give me a 4!” and “shiiiiEEEEEELLLLLLDSSSSS!” Both teams are doing this, by the way.

The game is entirely in real time EXCEPT when someone shouts “FIRE.” Then, you evaluate to see if they were successful or not. The game plays in 30 minutes or less and I’ve never not played two games in a sitting. Everyone always says “one more!” in between breaths immediately following the destruction of their ship.

Best Storytelling Moment of 2013: Bodies washing ashore in Robinson Crusoe

  • Published by: Portal Games
  • Designed by: Ignacy Trzewiczek

GenCon 2013 was a great deal of fun. I know more people than ever in the board game space and GenCon is a great way to meet them all. My good friend Cole and I took Ignacy up on his offer to teach us Robinson Crusoe after hours. Me, Cole, and a lad named Mike sat down while Ignacy took on the role of teaching and overseeing the game.

Robinson is a very difficult game, but also a dark one. Bad things happen to you and they aren’t just boo boos. At times, the disaster is just a continuing series of waves. You know your doom is imminent, but you don’t quite know what the final straw will be. Like survivors starving on a deserted island, Cole and I more or less went mad and couldn’t stop laughing.

We finally lost it when the bodies of our shipmates washed ashore, which further damaged morale. Or was it when Cole suffered a head injury from a spider? It doesn’t matter, really. Between the game being brutally, hilariously hard, and Ignacy’s dry sense of humor (and Polish accent), we laughed heartily and I knew I had to buy the game (which I did).

Best Euro of 2013: Ginkgopolis

  • Published by: Z-Man Games
  • Designed by: Xavier Georges

I reviewed the game here. I bought this game purely because I loved the art style, but was happy to find it’s a very compelling, interactive euro experience. The drafting mechanic is well-implemented, but it’s the incredibly tense area control mechanic that really won my group over. Just when you think you own a district, an opponent plops down an unexpected tile to completely re-wire the city.

The graphic design is also top notch and really helps teach this game that can be a bit kooky to learn. This is a great lunch game and I think it’ll be the one I bring in this week. Thanks for reminding me, Grant.

Note: I would have nominated The Speicherstadt, but it won last year, so I’ll let it rest. For now.

Note Note: We don’t play that many euros, nor do we play really hefty ones, so you shouldn’t be surprised that we didn’t pick something like, say, Terra Mystica.

Games I really like but didn’t play enough to give an award

  • Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy: This is a really fun Euro-ish worker placement-ish game. You’re managing a family tree and building your aristocratic legacy. It’s an odd theme, but it totally works here (and as players my group really gets into it). There’s a lot of tiny info to process, but it’s the type of game my mind really processes well. I’ve played thrice and expect this to become a favorite.
  • Theseus: The Dark Orbit: This is a really clever game and I feel I’ve only scratched the surface. I’ve played it in head to head, team, and four player free-for-all and it offers something different for each. I need to play more to understand the balance and really dig into the game, but I love the art, the theme, how you dynamically build the station every game, and how the game hides a great deal of complexity behind one really simple mechanism.
  • Shogun: This is a game I played, sadly, only once. What a neat game! This is a grand game of strategy and area control. It has a classic euro aesthetic, the unique battle tower mechanism, and pre-planning of actions. This needs more love in my future.

Games I Desperately need to play more of in 2014

  • Android: Netrunner: I just learned it and I want to play it quite a bit. Scratch that. Need. Complex, but intuitive. Beautiful art and highly thematic. A great opportunity for deckbuilding and developing a sense of meta-play among friends.
  • Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel: I bought this game last year and have only played it once. I re-read the rules every few months to longingly express my desire to play.
  • Twilight Struggle: I’ve owned this game for I think 2 years now. If I don’t play it soon, I’m selling it. After all, what’s the point of a game you don’t play?
  • Tales of the Arabian Nights: I played this with Cole last night and loved it. We just laughed so hard. My favorite part was how, for a VERY random game, the story of us and our world was somehow consistent. We kept seeing hints of continuity that just made the game better and better.

Favorite Publishers of 2013

I define my favorite publishers as folks who consistently make games I love. These are games that I really want to play and have beautiful aesthetic qualities. Furthermore, the publishers act in ways I greatly respect. When I play the game of “What would I be like as a publisher?” these are the folks I’d try to emulate. These three publishers really scratch an itch for me and teach me things about the industry.

One thing I noticed about all three is that all of them are very designer-driven companies. In fact, the head of each company has had a big hand in the company’s biggest games, if not designed them outright. Another thing is that I’ve met the owner for each of these companies. That may be a factor of my fondness for them.

Here they are in no particular order.

Plaid Hat Games: Plaid Hat publishes some of my favorite games (Mice and MysticsSummoner Wars), hosts a weekly podcast that is actually quite informative if you pay attention and piece the details together, and are all around great guys. My other favorite thing is that they are open with their community, bust their butts to improve constantly, and in my opinion, do things right. As a final tidbit, they introduced me to John Ariosa, who is one of my favorite illustrators.

I recently received City of Remnants (rules read, unplayed) and can. not. wait. until Seafall arrives. I love watching Plaid Hat succeed and can’t wait to see where they go next.


Portal Games: Portal is a company I’ve been aware of for some time, but haven’t played many of their games. I played Neuroshima Hex extensively on the iPhone a few years ago and really enjoyed it. But, this year I really dove in, starting with the excellent Robinson Crusoe. Then, I took a chance on the company’s Essen pre-order and bought everything on offer. Guess what? LegacyTheseus, and Voyage of the Beagle are all excellent.

It’s not just the games, though. Ignacy is ridiculously responsive and frank on BGG. If you have a question, post, and he’ll be there immediately. You can also read his blog, filled with hilarious, informative, and brutal entries about development and publishing.

He recently announced his game based on the popular The Witcher IP is going to print. After playing his other titles I was so interested I read the book (it’s good) and now really want the game. Ignacy tries to create games that tell stories and I’ll continue watching him in 2014 to see what new stories he’ll bring to my table.

Academy Games: These guys take historical premises that are typically mired in 6 hour, overly complex simulations and distill them into games you can learn, play, and love. 1775: Rebellion is this year’s excellent example, much like 1812: The Invasion of Canada, or the Conflict of Heroes series.

I met Uwe Eickert and his son Gunter at GenCon 2012 and again in 2013. Both times they’ve played my prototypes and provided me with invaluable feedback. These are great, friendly guys with much to teach and share. If you find an opportunity to demo with Uwe, do so. The man’s a character and loves games. He’ll also give you outstanding, frank opinions on your designs if he has the time to play them.

Every Academy Games release tempts me. I’m curious to see what 2014 brings.

What are some of your favorites? Share below in the comments!

Coming to America


Post by: Grant Rodiek

I have returned! For those who didn’t know, or didn’t care, I left the states on November 14 to visit Chiangmai and Phuket, Thailand, as well as Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Haolong Bay, Vietnam. It was a really neat and long trip. If you follow me on Twitter you’ve doubtlessly seen dozens of the photos I posted. I mentally wrote a piece on the trip that wasn’t your typical “oh my god this was amazing and so was this,” but I’m not sure it’s right for this blog, or interesting to anyone.  If you have questions or comments on the places visited, don’t hesitate to ask!

Now that I’m back it’s time to get down to business. I didn’t accomplish much in the way of actual work I can point towards on the trip, but I spent a great deal of time thinking. I have some neat ideas to work on and the way forward for current projects is more clear. This is what’s on my plate in approximate order of priority.

Mars Rising: The task at hand is to finish the beta version of Mars Rising.

Immediately before I left I shared a PNP for Mars Rising. I received a few rules notes from Phil Kilcrease (publisher of Farmageddon), some interest and downloads from others, and most surprisingly, an email from one of the writers of The Expanse trilogy of sci fi novels. I wrote about these books in this post.

At the bottom of the rules for Mars Rising I gave special thanks to the authors of various novels, including The Expanse trilogy, for inspiring the game so much. Someone told the author and he emailed me. I was in Asia and he was in Australia, but I’ve offered to send him a copy of the game. If he never even responds to that email I’ll still be a little giddy. The Expanse trilogy is one of my favorite sets of books of all time, so hearing from the author in any capacity is quite cool.

What’s left for Mars? In the (expected) absence of PNP test data, I’m going to move forward with finishing the campaign. 4 missions are finished and I have the rest of them outlined as far as the story is concerned, which includes general scene and setup. This will inform the mission’s unique rules and mechanics. I’m shooting for about 13 total missions, though Mission 12 will have two variants based on the events in prior missions. Basically, 12A and 12B.

My ambitious goal is to finish this before the end of the year. But, I think it’ll seep somewhat into 2014. The work that’s left is very time consuming and slow. For every mission I need to write the narrative, define the ships used (for both sides) and their starting positions, define the mission goals and bonus objectives, and define any unique rules. These range from new behaviors to ships, to shifting asteroids, to entirely new mechanics, like cloaking or capturing ships. It’s fun work, but it’s not fast.

Classic Design Contest Judging: I received 11 entries for my Game Classic Remix design contest. Such participation is quite cool and about 10 more than I expected. I put this on the back burner, because I’m desperately trying to finish Mars Rising and I crunched on Flipped for a bit to get it ready (more on that shortly). My plan moving forward is thus:

  • Review all rule sets and provide feedback to the designers.
  • Select my favorites to play. This could be 3, or 8, or all of them. But, I have limited time and some of the entries are clearly superior. Some were sorta thrown together.
  • Play my favorites a few times each, provide feedback, and select a winner.
  • With permission of the participants, I’d like to format and share the rules in one big document for others to enjoy.

This is a fairly time consuming effort and it’s a good eye opener to why it sometimes takes publishers so long to review submissions. I’ll get to it!

Poor Abby for Dice: The publisher Dice Hate Me Games is hosting a game design challenge. The premise, essentially, is to design a game that uses (up to) 54 cards, and that’s it. I really like the simplicity of the challenge and I spent much of my vacation pondering ideas.

What emerged was a pretty neat smattering of ideas for a 2-4 player Poor Abby Farnsworth. In case that means nothing to you, Poor Abby was a game I worked on for quite a while and killed. It was a 2 player deckbuilding game themed around the Salem Witch Trials, with Poor Abby being the witch. This new idea isn’t a deckbuilder at all and really has nothing to do with the previous iterations, theme aside.

The deadline is fast approaching and I have other priorities. But, I think this can be simple enough that I can design something, build it, and test it a few times. More than anything I like the exercise of it. Dice Hate Me’s involvement is more useful to me as a deadline. If I can get it ready, I will. If not, I’ll pursue it on my own as a simple Drive Thru Cards or The Game Crafter product.

Draftaria: A while ago I prototyped Drafty Dungeon for my Skillshare class. I liked it, but didn’t, so I let it stew for a bit. Then, I expanded the scope of it, renaming it (placeholder name, of course) to Draftaria. More Zelda/Skyrim, less Diablo. I’ve been working on the design for a while now and have begun building the game.

The game is still a very simple drafting game, but my hope for it is now more thematic than mechanical. I’m really interested in creating a beautiful, exciting adventure game. A game in which you create and explore a world and accomplish great things.

Unlike many Ameritrash games of this type, I’m seeking extreme elegance in its mechanics and simplicity in the cards. Players will simply select a card and roll some dice on their turns. I intend to limit most of the rules to the cards, so players spend more time playing, less time referencing. I want it to be a game about creating stories, but not a storytelling game. The stories will be driven by your choices and experience. This isn’t Pathfinder, for example.

I’ve pitched this game to many friends and there’s been a great deal of excitement for the ideas and mechanics I have. This will be a slow burn to build, but I think it’ll be something special. Maybe a good Game Crafter candidate?

Flipped and YorkBoth of these games are submitted to publishers. I don’t know much about either, so I’m sitting as patiently as I can (other designers know how this goes) and trying to remain optimistic. If Flipped gets rejected, it’ll be pretty easy to pick her back up and just keep iterating and refining. I’d be focused on ways to add more uniqueness, make it more accessible, smoother, and more balanced.

York will be harder to pick back up. I have some great art commissioned by John Ariosa that I want to use. I don’t think I am happy enough with the current iteration to sell it to anyone. Too many second guessing. I have some ways I’d like to iterate it, most likely as a two player experience. If this gets rejected, I’ll bring it back under my wings and design/develop it more. It’ll be ready when it’s ready.

Historical Game: Lowest on my priority list, but very prominent in my thinking. I really want to make a game to pitch to Academy Games, GMT Games, Worthington Games, Collins Epic Wargames, etc. Basically, I want to make a high quality, unique, historical war game to pitch to a prominent publisher of such experiences.

This is difficult, as there isn’t a lot of fertile, virgin land. People have made countless war games about the countless wars of our history. Therefore, I’ve tried to approach it from a different angle. I have, what I consider, two good ideas. One is based in the American Civil War. I don’t want to talk about it in specifics (something I’m trying to be better about), but the premise is generalship and managing an army. I’m using some key verbs there. This isn’t a game of command and tactics, but logistics and politics.

The second game is one of spycraft and deception during the Second World War. I’ve thought on its mechanics for a while and like where my mind is wandering.

Both of these will be bigger games for big players. They’ll need a lot of work and will take time. I’ll be toiling with them quietly for some time.

That’s it. What are you up to? Anything fun happen while I was away? Wifi is fairly prevalent throughout the world, so I was able to keep up with Twitter and such before bed most nights. Share any comments below!

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