Mars Has Risen

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I’ve had an absolutely killer and productive week working on my games. When I have to conceive an idea from scratch, it’s really difficult for me. But, when I get to develop and iterate on an existing idea, I just hum with productivity.

I’m not ready to share too many details, but at a high level I wanted to jot down my thoughts on my process and where I’m taking Blockade.

Name Switcheroo

Firstly, Blockade is now Mars Rising. Is this a final name? Who knows, that’s for a publisher to decide. Blockade worked as a pun for my old, block driven design, but ultimately, is not a useful name and is ridiculously common. If you’re curious what I think entails a useful name…

A good game title:

  • Conveys the theme of the game
  • Provides a sense for what the player will be doing
  • Is Unique
  • Is easy to remember (and TYPE)

To briefly continue on this segue, there are exceptions to this. For the life of me I cannot remember how to type/spell Tzolk’in (had to look it up), yet it seems to be doing quite well. Plus, you can see dozens (if not hundreds) of similarly named games on the iOS App Store, which means lesser known titles get to piggy back (like parasites) on the current, similarly named leader.

But, back to the topic at hand. For now, I’m using Mars Rising. It definitely states sci fi, some form of conflict or ambition, and there will be massive space ships on the cover. There will probably also be a subtitle, because it’s all the rage. Most likely based on the campaign (of which I eventually hope there are millions).

Martian Introspection

Around the time of GenCon I was given the following feedback for the game:

  • Consider a more feasible component than blocks
  • Consider a method of allowing for ship and/or fleet customization
  • Reduce the fiddliness

I thought on this for some time and identified a card-based method. This tested fine, but as a direct port from blocks to cards, it was merely fine at best. It wasn’t going to win hearts and minds. This pushed me to really look inwards at the game’s problems and opportunities to really make it magical.

  • The color-based dice mechanic added too many components, worked, but was obtuse
  • Tallying dice based on exposed sides of the ships was fiddly and cumbersome
  • Weak spots had to go. Having to look across the table to someone’s setup was cumbersome.
  • The formation mechanic needed to be strengthened, simplified, or discarded.
  • I really needed to deliver on the promise of unique ships.

This honest look was the best thing that could happen for the game! If you must know, last week’s posts were derived from my efforts. Check them here and here. I really needed to evaluate how to make the game work properly and awesomely as a card-based game. I also needed the game to be smoother and more efficient to produce. Here are a few high level changes.

The Dice

The dice color mechanic is something I’m proud of, but ultimately, it was flawed. At the end of the day, you had yellow dice to shoot fighters and green dice to shoot ships. You had two steps to every roll, whereas dice are typically a one-step process. By two steps, I mean you had to roll to see if you had a hit, then combine hits to see if you damaged a target.

Recognizing that the dice were anti-fighter versus anti-ship, I gave ships two stats: lasers (anti-fighter) and missiles (anti-ship). Now, when attacking, you choose what you’re attacking and with what armament. You then tally the stats in the squadron and roll up to six plain six-sided dice.

  • Anti-Fighter dice hit Fighter craft on a 3+. They hit capital ships with a 6.
  • Anti-Ship dice hit Ships on a 3+. They hit fighters with a 6.

This gives the game the same balance and distribution of power I desired, without the complexity and color management. Big, slow, cumbersome missiles MIGHT hit fighters, but it isn’t likely. Weak fighters MIGHT damage capital ships, but it’s not likely. Six plain dice are also much cheaper than a pile of custom dice. A good change.

The Ships

Ships in the game used to be a series of sections that you’d either cover with other ships in formations or reveal to change your damage output (but also expose weak spots to incoming fire). It was neat and worked really well with blocks, but ultimately, I need to make a simpler game with that mechanic, not this one. I may do that at some point (and have ideas).

Ships have been completely overhauled.

This is the Destroyer Javelin. In the top left you can see its Shields, Lasers (anti-fighter), Missiles (anti-ship), and Engines (# of maneuvers). You then see its special ability that can be activated. On the right side you see the unshielded side. You flip the card once its shields are down and it loses its ability.

This format gives me FAR more flexibility in modifying the differences in ships and replaces the Fleet Action card mechanic. Ships can now have activated abilities, passive formation abilities (arrange your ships as such to get a bonus), or just better stats.

This supports fleet building and greatly enhances the replayability. I have a lot of ships.

The Rest

The game has changed in other ways, but I think these details are enough to convey the new direction. The core of maneuvering remains the same. You will still activate a single squadron, rotate them, move them, and attack. That’s why I’m confident this is the right step. I’m not discarding things that I spent months testing and refining. I’m enhancing them.

Oh, and the board is now finally round so it resembles a radar screen. I also added a fourth loop. The old board (24 spaces) was too tight. Now (32 spaces), there’s room to experiment and execute more devious maneuvers.


I spent the weekend updating the rules for the new mechanics and diagram needs and tweaking cards. I still need to create 11 more Battlecruisers and a pile of tokens and ship markers, but I’m close. I may have it ready for a prototype event I may attend Thursday. We’ll see.

My focus now is the campaign. I have 3 missions designed and I hope to have 15. First, I’m going to storyboard the 12 additional missions, which entails high level goals and plot points. Then, I’ll design the mechanics for each. Finally, I’ll write the story for each. Then, it’ll be a great deal of playtesting for balance and mechanics on the scenario.

If you’re interested in reading the revised rules, and I’ll happily share them. I’d love your input. Questions? Concerns? Thanks!

Scenarius Testus


Post by: Grant Rodiek

Blockade fared well at GenCon. My goal was to bring forth a nice core rule set to demonstrate maneuvering, combat, and my nifty little formation mechanic. I think this went well. But, I heard repeatedly that players want more variety. They wanted to see new objectives, variant means of setup, and so forth. Since then, I’ve also been asked to consider alternate ship and fleet building options.

Well, you’re in luck. Scenarios were planned from the beginning! In this post, I’d like to discuss scenario design at a high level in the hopes the thoughts are useful to other designers. I’ll be using examples from games like Memoir ’44, Robinson Crusoe, Mice and Mystics, and Blockade.

Quick links:

  • Rules for Blockade
  • Campaign book for Blockade (Story and 3 Scenarios)

Note: The rules don’t yet incorporate my card-based presentation idea mentioned here. However, some scenarios tell you to “draw the reference card.” I hope that isn’t too confusing.

Scenarios exist to provide structured and planned variety in a game. Scenarios can easily add spice to an intentionally simple core design that might otherwise lack replayability. Much of the complexity in York, a game without scenarios, is to allow for flexibility so that not every game is the same. Alternate goals, faction abilities, dynamic fort placement — all of these help make different plays unique. Were it scenario driven, the core could perhaps be simpler.

Scenarios can also provide a framework for telling a story, which is something you’ll see more and more of in games.

To satisfy these goals, here are some of the components of good scenario design:

Scenarios provide new goals. One of the best ways to vary a combat driven game is to shift the goal from “destroy everything” to something else. Starcraft II does this masterfully. Yes, in every mission you’re going to be building bases, commanding units, and engaging in combat. But, why you do that changes almost every time. Some of my favorite Memoir ’44 missions force me to capture an objective or protect something. Yes, I’m still fighting, but I’m doing so with a purpose other than annihilation.

In Mice and Mystics, sometimes I need to fight specific monsters, or take specific actions (like Search) in certain rooms. Am I still mostly fighting as I move through the level? Yes, but now I also have something else to do.


Every scenario in Robinson Crusoe gives the player a new goal, which is often an entirely new mechanic. These are cleverly given their own boards to visually reinforce what needs to be done. I have only played this once, but I think it’ll be a good teacher for me.

So far in Blockade, most of my missions end when a point total is reached by one of the teams. Points are primarily earned by destroying the opponent, but I’ve introduced alternate methods to distract you, like defenseless merchant ships you can destroy (and escort), or precious cargo containers that you can board and steal.

Good goals should present a new experience without forcing me to re-learn the mechanics. Things I’ve learned in one scenario should transfer to another, but how I use this knowledge can shift.

Scenarios twist the rules. Scenarios in many ways are like cards — they let you break the rules within reason. Memoir ’44 does this in a few brilliant ways:

  • Players defending in a surprise attack begin with fewer cards to represent the commander being surprised and having fewer options.
  • Soviet players must select their move one turn in advance to represent the commissars restricting the freedom of battlefield commanders and generally obstructing the victory.
  • Winter rules make some terrain types deadly, when in summer, no such rules exist.


These rules need to be introduced lightly and sparingly. At most, 1-2 per scenario. Remember, the player shouldn’t have to revisit your rule booklet every time a new scenario is played. Bend the rules, twist them. Don’t erase them and start from scratch.

In one Blockade mission, I allow the Martian ships to escape from a pre-defined jump point. To do so, they must hit a difficult roll. That’s it.

Good scenarios give me a new way to experience the core I love without hurting my head or confusing me.

Scenarios change a player’s tool set. Military games do this really well. In new scenarios you can define:

  • The number of units a player has available
  • The type of Units a player has available
  • The location and setup of these units on the board

Blockade uses all of these, because it just makes sense. Fantasy games like Mice and Mystics alter the enemies you fight or the members in your party.

You can also change the actions available to a player. Perhaps a lieutenant in this situation can order a squad to use smoke grenades, which isn’t always available. This way you limit and customize a player’s actions to add variety within reason, but don’t overwhelm them with 50 actions available always.

In Robinson Crusoe, different scenarios change the tools (literally, like rope) available to you. This means you don’t just use knife, traps, and chemistry every scenario. You have to branch out!

Good scenarios give the players a new toy to play with. Something exciting that sparks their imagination. Good scenarios force players to get out of their comfort zone and pursue a different tactic.

Scenarios change the scenery. Scenarios are a great opportunity to transport players to a new part of the world you’ve created. With just a few boards and hex tokens, I can fight on any battlefield in the world in Memoir ’44. Similarly, Robinson Crusoe adds volcanoes, or Mice and Mystics moves me from the guard room to the courtyard.

In Blockade, I’m dealing with space, so I can’t just add trees. However, I CAN introduce asteroid belts, debris fields, space stations, defensive lasers, planets, and anything else you’ve seen in Star Wars. This can easily be done with a handful of generic tokens and event cards shuffled into the deck to power them.

Using the items above, this scenery can introduce new rules. For example, asteroids add protection when you’re inside a belt, though if they crash into you, they can also hurt you. Watch out!


Continuing on this, the scenery can add new goals. I may have a scenario where one side needs to protect a space station. The other should destroy it.

Therefore, scenery isn’t just a set of new curtains, but a medium by which to enhance and vary the experience.

Good scenarios take players to new places and change the rules in a thematic and exciting way.

Scenarios change the difficulty or provide an advantage. This isn’t a primary one, but it’s something I like. Scenarios give you a chance to handicap a great player by putting him at a disadvantage, or giving players an opportunity to see who does the best in a bad situation.

Personally, I think it’s fun to see who can hold the Alamo the longest. Can you beat 13 days?

One of my favorite examples is the Battle of Hoth. The Imperials clearly had an advantage here. A superior fleet, the element of surprise, and superior ground forces. The Rebels were always going to lose. Really, the question was how badly? Based on the movie, I’d say they did quite well! With relatively few loses, the fleet and majority of their resources escaped with only minor casualties.

That’s the type of thing I’d like to see in Blockade. There are going to be times when the Martians, for example, should lose. But, how badly will they do so? Can the Martian Admiral change the course of history, or at least give himself a better footing in the next mission when the tables turn?

Good scenarios let you change the balance of things. Balance isn’t always required. Really, the only requirement is that the scenario is fun and reasonable. 50 against 1? Lame. There’s an obvious level of silliness, but getting it just right is the hard part.

What do you think a good scenario should do? What are some of your favorite scenario based games?

Blockade Crazy Idea


Post by: Grant Rodiek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had a few thought cycles.

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

Here’s the idea.

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

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

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


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

Blockade’s Evolution Post GenCon

Post by: Grant Rodiek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next steps…

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

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


The Blockade of GenCon

Post by: Grant Rodiek

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

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

Here were the issues as I saw them:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts? See some of you next week at GenCon.

Making Blockade Awesome


Post by: Grant Rodiek

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

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

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

Component Iteration: Blocks, boards, and dice

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

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


Pegs and capital ships. Lots of damage.

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

ALL the pieces for Blockade last week.

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

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

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


New game board and custom dice.

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

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

Maneuver Iteration

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

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

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

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


Old fighters in use on old board.

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

Special Action Iteration

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

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

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

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

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

Other Fun Things

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

Red "extras" are drying.

Red “extras” are drying.

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

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

I have a lot of fun ideas for the universe.

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

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



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

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