I’m Original, No I’m Not

Post by: Grant Rodiek

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

So, let’s do that.

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the realities you need to face.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CCG Diagnosis

Post by: Grant Rodiek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Focused Deckbuilding

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Exception Driven

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

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

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

Every Netrunner card tweaks how these terms mix and work.

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

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

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

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

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

Look to Similar Games

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

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

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

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

Look to the Greats

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

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

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

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

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


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

Version 5 and the Brink

Post by: Joshua Buergel and Grant Rodiek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grant: Let it go.

Josh: BOOO.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dude, so many sweet references.

Josh: At least we amuse ourselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BGG Prep

Post by: Grant Rodiek

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

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

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

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

The Pitches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Plays

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Purchases

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

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

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


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

Posted in Blog | Tagged bgg con, , hocus poker, hyperbole, landfall, publishers, sol rising | Leave a reply

Entries Wanted: 2014 in Review


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

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

Here are some details about joining this post!

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

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

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

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

Design for FOMO

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I’ve been listening to Alex Blumberg’s StartUp podcast lately. It’s really outstanding. He was one of the main guys behind This American Life and Planet Money. Really, he’s a masterful audio storyteller. So far, his episodes are primarily centered around finding a partner, as well as investors to fund his new business. He needs to convince people to believe in him with a lot of money: $1.5 million to be exact.

In one episode, he notes that a key to receiving funding is to convince potential investors of FOMO: Fear of Missing Out. As in, if they don’t invest, right here, right now, they’ll miss out on this incredible thing. They’ll regret it forever. For example, one of the investors, who is a billionaire from Twitter, has FOMO from missing out on Air BNB, which is now a massive success.

I think our hobby has something special about it, oddly enough, that really allows for more FOMO. That special thing is our limited print runs. I know that I pre-order some titles because I’m concerned I won’t be able to get them for quite some time, if ever, if I don’t do so. This is especially true for expansions, such as Summoner Wars decks. With video games or books or TV, the data is floating in the cloud. You’ll never not be able to get it. Hell! They’re re-releasing games from my childhood now.

But, a board game may never come back. This is why I was willing to pay $150 for a copy of the Memoir ’44 Air Pack Expansion. It felt like a safe investment.

Board games, as a physical good, that must be expensively produced, warehoused, and shipped, are less perennial. The margins are low and capital is limited, even for successful publishers. Dungeon Run, Plaid Hat Games’ second release, sold out of its 5000 copy print run. Yet, Colby wasn’t sure whether it was a good investment to immediately do another printing. That game has been out of print for years now. And it was successful!

How then, can we ethically and responsibly create FOMO for our games? This is something very key to me and Josh’s plans for some of our upcoming designs. Therefore, I want to discuss it more broadly. Yes, I realize comparing board games to the FOMO of tech start-ups is a bit hyperbolic, but I like the concept and think it’s a fun thought exercise.

The Mystery Box

Publishers like Asmadi Games and AEG have limited mystery boxes. You can see Asmadi’s right here. What’s in the box? Hopefully not a head. It’s fun! Get it. See.

Cards Against Humanity did this brilliantly last Christmas with their 12 Days of Christmas special. For $12, customers received 12 gifts, one each day, none of which we knew about. It was really cool and an incredibly fun experience for me.

I think the mystery box is brilliant for a few key reasons:

  • Receiving stuff in the mail is fun. It’s less common these days and that makes it special.
  • Getting a deal is fun. $77 for $150 worth of games (the Asmadi deal)? Shipped? I can’t resist such a good deal.
  • Not knowing is fun. If you think about it, this is why people love serial TV series. As much as we hate it, we also love waiting for next season’s premier.
  • It being limited is fun. Plus, the fact that I get to do the unboxing and share it with others? Well, that’s a nice bonus in an age of “look at me” social engagement.


Kickstarter is FOMO wrapped in a fatty piece of bacon. The entire site is based around FOMO. Let’stick these off, and frankly, many of these should be obvious by now.

  • There is an actual countdown clock.
  • There is a sense of obligation. If YOU don’t back it, IT might not happen.
  • The need to belong is present. There are many others who thought this was a good idea. You don’t want to not be in the group, right?
  • You get your game first. I think this is not the most enticing treat, but it’s important for some people. And, it has led to controversy when violated.
  • The ecosystem has evolved to be Fomolicious.

Let’s discuss this last one a bit. Over time, the Kickstarter ecosystem for board games, specifically, has evolved to mean:

  • Free domestic shipping and discounted international shipping. That’s a deal.
  • Discounted price. That’s a deal.
  • Additional content included that’ll be sold separately. That’s a deal.
  • Early bird pricing. That’s a LIMITED deal. But, a controversial one.
  • Content or goodies exclusive to your KS backers. Also, quite controversial.

The exclusives has many side effects, some of which are anecdotal, so it’s difficult to gauge how problematic or good they are. I’ve read that some retailers (and consumers) are concerned about getting the full product if they didn’t back via Kickstarter. Then again, I’ve heard some backers exclaim they desire an incentive for buying early. This article isn’t about debating the merits of Kickstarter tactics, but bringing them up as a potentially good (or bad) example of FOMO.

The Preorder

This is similar to Kickstarter, but worth bringing up individually as it doesn’t come with Kickstarter’s expected ecosystem. The Preorder, as employed by folks like Plaid Hat Games, Stronghold Games, Portal Games, and GMT (with their P500) includes bonuses such as:

  • Discounted price
  • Receive the game first (again, wobbly in value for me, but hey!)
  • Variable goodies, such as Promo cards, signed copies, doodles of cows, and assorted items from the marketing closet

Something special about both the Preorder and Kickstarter is that you get a more personal connection with the creators. You’re emailing your favorite publisher directly instead of buying it from the store or Amazon. That can’t be discounted. Personal bonds are a great bonus of our industry. Leverage them! Every interaction with your customer is an opportunity to excite and please them.

The Art Project

The indie label is tossed around a bit liberally in board games. Board games are such a small business that a lot of big players, like Stronghold, or Rio Grande, and TONS of Kickstarter publishers have 1 or 2 employees who also have day jobs. But, for the sake of this, let’s use indie to mean passion projects that are done to be done. Almost like art and design for the sake of it.

We live in a great time for such projects. The Game Crafter provides tons of excellent print-on-demand products, including printed boxes, plastic standees, and a variety of cardboard shapes now. Print and Play Games features many of the same options, but is also intensely flexible. If you want a custom shape? Andrew can make it. Finally, Drive Thru Cards offers very high quality cards on a per card basis, and Printer Studio offers lovely, professional grade linen cards (at a higher cost, naturally).

When I think of art project, I think of Cave Evil. It’s so metal it hurts. It smashes its battle ax over the phrase “mass market” and just doesn’t care. If you like it? Rock on. If you don’t? Cave Evil will tell you where to shove it.

Cave Evil’s appeal comes from a variety of things. It has that Brooklyn Artisanal pickle vibe about it. I mean, shouldn’t such a thing exist? It seems hand crafted. It’s a labor of love. It had a tiny printing in 2011, saw a “final” reprint in 2013 of not too many more copies. That makes it rare and something that belongs in some collections merely to say “dude, look at this one.”

The Small Print Run

I don’t know how often this is a deliberate tactic, or simply a matter of viability, but some publishers consistently use small print runs, which I think aids them in some cases.

As opposed to a few years prior, Z-Man seems to produce far fewer titles each year, and in smaller print runs. Terra Mystica sold out very quickly, even at its high price, and due to the law of economics, surely increased demand.

Small Box Games has also been doing very small print runs for 7 years now. They could have upgraded to large print runs leveraging lower cost facilities in China by now. But, they haven’t. In a way, I’d say there’s an appeal to their products. They feel humble, reasonable, and have that local vibe that so many other businesses pride themselves on.

The Version

There aren’t too many examples of this, but the one in mind did so well it’s difficult not to mention. I’m speaking of Pairs from Cheapass Games. Do you love Pirates? There’s a deck for you. No wait. You look like a Goblin kinda girl. No no no no no. You want something with that John Kovalic vibe. Here, this is for you.

Abyss from Asmodee has multiple covers, which is somewhat similar, but not quite the same.

There’s something intoxicating about getting a version that is somehow special to you. I think Pairs hit on something brilliantly.

 Summarizing the FOMO

There are a few standout elements to creating a good sense of fear of missing out in our customers. One, and most importantly, is surprise. How can we surprise and delight our customers? Sending a variety of packages through the mail isn’t exactly cost efficient, but I think we can surprise in many ways.

  • Send personalized greetings to our customers. Recognize them for enjoying your products, and remind them that you care. We can do this on BGG, Twitter, our Vlogs, and Newsletters.
  • Provide discounts and sales to your loyal customers. Start with your mailing list.
  • Plan ahead. Print a handful of promo cards with the main game. At holidays like Christmas, or big events like Essen, mail your pre-order customers, or some slew of fans, the promo cards. A stamp doesn’t cost much and it’s a really fun way to get people excited about the game again.

I think we create FOMO with our brand and our personal image. Through consistency and quality people will begin saying “well, I can’t not buy that game.” This takes years, but the payoff is incredible. Really, you want to be the nicest guy or gal around, with good games, great customer service, and a big smile at every opportunity. People should be sad they weren’t there to support you.

Novelty creates FOMO. We work in a niche industry and I think sometimes we forget that. This is especially true for those of us who do this as a side hobby or business and not a bill paying activity. Even if we do create the next Wits and Wagers or Ticket to Ride, it is unlikely we’ll gain the awareness to capitalize on it. Even if we do create a game that by all means could sell 10,000 copies, we’ll probably be lucky to sell 1,000. Therefore, I argue novelty is not an excuse, but a marker to work towards.

I think the Japanese game fair (or whatever it’s called, apologies) embodies this. As a result, we have Love Letter and the micro-game wave.  You see this quite often in indie PC game development. There are some truly weird, bizarre, and incredible games on Steam and your browser.

Customization is intoxicating and I think we need to find more ways to emulate the Pairs experience. The challenge is to do this in a cost effective manner, obviously. But, providing options and flavors for people to choose really ups the ante.

Finally, and most simply, FOMO requires a sense of urgency and a great deal. Present something with a limited time on it, or a limited opportunity, and people may notice.

Surprise. Quality. Novelty. Customization. Urgency.

How do you think we can create FOMO?