Twist of the Orb

Post by: Grant Rodiek

It has been a while since I’ve written about Orb, mostly because it hasn’t moved much. I did an extensive amount of content design, but couldn’t quite shape a rule set around it. I found myself making far too many compromises and moving far too close to other games. It felt too derivative and I slammed on the brakes to just think for a while.

Naturally, this has been an easy delay to accept. Hocus and Landfall have occupied much of my time.

I have some ideas and theories swirling. I’m writing this blog to force myself to put them down on paper and gather some early impressions. Before I talk about the ideas, I need to reset everyone to properly explain what Orb is.

Orb is a 2 player game of infantry combat set in the future when elite special forces are dropped in orbit to assault positions on a variety of planets. I love special forces and the notion of orbital drop troopers. I think it’s an exciting tapestry. The idea is for the game to be deeply asymmetrical between two points:

  • Orbital player relies on a few incredible soldiers who are specialists. They rely on stealth, surprise, great toys, and discipline to get things done. This player’s perspective is that of the commander on the drop ship. NOT a soldier in the field. That is a very important distinction for my design.
  • Planetary player relies on a quantity of more regular soldiers and entrenched defensive positions. They enjoy intimate knowledge of the terrain and a volume of bullets to greet their guests. They also have reinforcements, which are an unexpected problem for the Orbital player. This player’s perspective is that of the base commander responding to a threat.

The first idea had some solid mechanics I want to preserve. These include:

  • When dispatching troopers from the dropship, the Orbital player chooses a role (ex: Sniper) and adds the Sniper cards to his action deck. The player can only use cards from his deck. I like the idea of prepping a team as you go. However, this will be something done at the start of the game while the other player is creating the map.
  • As the perspective of the Orbital player is that of a commander, he doesn’t have to track which character is the sniper, for example. Just that a sniper is in the field. This is a key abstraction of which I’m proud. You’re managing your teams!
  • The game will use a scenario generation mechanic. After Sol Rising, I don’t want to be responsible for hand crafted scenarios. They are so difficult! Instead, I want a randomizing mechanism that defines a location, reinforcements, objectives, and so forth.

This idea had some problems I want to solve.

  • All of the cool mechanisms were with the Orbital player. As my friend Chevee noted, one player gets to be cool, the other is a doof. Both need to feel cool.
  • I was having a very difficult time preserving a stealth mechanism with the setup I was pursuing. The more I lost the stealth, the more the game felt like every other tactical game ever.
  • I want a novel dice mechanic for combat resolution. What I had was basically putting lipstick on a pig. It angered the pig and wasn’t cool.

My solution for the stealth and making the planetary defense player more unique were solved together. I say solved, but really, it’s just an idea. I was inspired by three things:

  1. Tile laying in Carcassonne. I recently played this for the first time and love it.
  2. Map formation in Eclipse. The hex tiles fill in the spaces as players explore.
  3. I played a mock game with pen and paper, just saying the decisions of the orbital player aloud and drawing how the map changed.

Those things lead to this idea: The planetary player will be building the map as the game commences. His or her role will be that of tile laying. This lets them establish their base, build tough spots for the orbital team, create ambushes, and more. Like Carcassonne and Eclipse, there will be connections that matter. For example, line of site, such as a break in the jungle. You can deny cover in the approach to your base, while also exposing your guard towers to snipers.

If you put a machine gun nest way out here, it might be easily surrounded or circumvented. I also thought of a nifty mechanic to connect patrols. Think of it like Carcassonne’s road. Along that line, patrols can and will find you (the orbital troopers). The planetary player might make other concessions to connect those patrols, but having an active patrol line essentially provides a constant living fence.

The tiles should have a small set of symbols on them. Instead of saying “this is always a guard tower,” I would leverage something I used in Sol Rising, which I took from Robinson Crusoe, which is that “this symbol in this scenario can mean A, B, or C.” This gives you flexibility within limits.

Many games do things like this. You know, the conniving game master leaving a trail of sadness for the other player. Claustrophobia, Descent/Imperial Assault, and Dungeon Heroes come to mind. I think the content within this system for Orb can be unique and I believe more twists will emerge through development. They always do if you seek them!

The other neat twist with this is that there will be a few different ways tiles will be added:

  • Initial setup. A varied set of structures and areas will be placed based on the scenario generator. However, the scenario won’t define where the objects are placed, just what is placed.
  • Planetary Placement: During the game, the planetary player will place tiles as one of his or her options to build the board. But, they’ll have to choose this among other options, so they need to choose when something needs to be placed just so.
  • Random Placement: Sometimes, the orbital player will zig instead of zag. Things are outside one’s control in battle. I don’t want a chess-like game. There will be times when the Orbital player will pull a tile at random that the other player must then place in that spot.

I hope there is some tension between ideal placement, but also needing to manage troops and other items. I believe the planetary player will have a face down stack of tiles. He or she will pull tiles and place them behind a screen to evaluate, as well as troops to manage and other special tricks, like reinforcements (tanks!?) and surprises.

The orbital player will have 1-4 markers on the board which indicate possible teams. As the orbital player uses cards to attack and use special abilities, he or she will indicate the marker used. This essentially will note that someone is for sure at that position. Therefore, the orbital player is managing a hand of cards and their position on the board, which is ambiguous. Remember, stealth!

In addition to these mechanics, I’m taking great pains to simplify things like line of sight, movement, and range. I want combat resolution to be simple. I want complexity in the form of results and the terrain, units, weapons, and tactics shining through. I want the decisions to be interesting, not the framework underneath them. I think this is a huge opportunity for improvement and I want to grab it.

I haven’t spoken about the dice mechanic yet because I simply don’t have one. Which means it’s time to stop writing and craft one.

A Smidge of Orb

Post by: Grant Rodiek

The majority of my development brain is focused on Hocus Poker right now. The revision is testing very strongly and we (me and Josh) think we’ll be able to bring a very pretty version to Board Game Geek Con in November. I spent the past week or so revising the graphics files for Sol Rising and it’s being printed now by Print Play Games. I hope to have a really nice version to show to potential publishers at BGG as well. Other than 2 scenarios, I consider that game largely pitch ready.

That leaves me some free time to work on the next game, which I’ve been doing for some time. My process for a while now has revolved around a long period of contemplation and thought, followed by early rules and design documentation, then prototyping. It’s slow, but it tends to lead to higher quality output sooner.

I want to talk about my new game at a high level. Few details, as those can be distracting. I’ve spent a month or two thinking about its mechanics and the overall experience. I’m deep into the rules and I’ve begun designing content for a first prototype. I’d like to think I’ll have a lightly tested version for BGG Con.

For now, I’m calling it Orb. Purely a placeholder name. Try to figure out what Orb stands for before the end of the post. Your prize is, of course, nothing.

I’ve noted before that my new games are often driven by things I’ve learned, things I’m sick of, and things I’m excited about from my immediate predecessor. After York, I wanted to make a game thematic game that involved dice and scenarios. In this case, moving on from Sol Rising, I’m still interested in science fiction, but I want to leave the confines of a starship and get back to the dirt. I’ve never made a game focused on infantry, so that’s appealing. I want to avoid scenario design and, though I’m not removing dice, I want to bring in richer card play that was absent from Sol.

I knew I wanted to focus on a smaller, more tactical experience. Sol Rising is about fleet command and York is about running a war at the operational level. I wanted to focus on the exploits of a small number of soldiers.

My starting point: Science fiction. Infantry. Tactics.

I started to think about the things in this sector that really excite me and the fictional inspiration was just overwhelming. I LOVE the ODSTs (Orbital Drop Shock Troopers) from the Halo universe (picture at the top). They are the best humanity has to offer, up to the Spartans, that is.

They launch from these small pod capsules and explode onto the ground, directly into the thick of battle. It looks awesome and I plan to have a drop pod mechanic in the game.

There are also the Jump Troops of Charlie Company from one of my favorite cartoons, Exo Squad. These guys would also get into confined pods strapped to exo-suits (like the one Matt Damon wore in Elysium) and would drop into hostile zones on asteriods.



I love drop ships. Futuristic versions of the Chinook or Black Hawk, heavily laden with elite troopers, exiting the belly of a carrier or troop transport in orbit. You see cool ones in Aliens, Halo, Starship Troopers, and other great fiction.


Sci Fi. Infantry. Tactics. Drop ships. 

I’m also deeply enamored of Special Forces, both in our current time and in the science fiction I read. There’s something very exciting about highly trained, highly disciplined soldiers who execute their jobs against great odds successfully. I realized this also gave me a great opportunity for a deeply asymmetrical game. A few elite soldiers, no wait, drop troopers, who would need to complete a difficult task against a larger, but less elite force.

Drop Troopers versus Regulars. Assault versus defense. Roles. Already in the design I’m accomplishing this with new tuning variables on how combat is resolved, actions unique to different parties (in general, the drop troopers tend to be more flexible), and objective differences. There’s also a heavy stealth angle for the drop troopers. They need to setup their assault, be patient, then hit with a massive hammer. Once the space poo hits the fan, they need to get out and get home.

This won’t just be two factions, but two different ways to play. This will be an asymmetrical game.

Sci Fi. Infantry. Tactics. Drop ships. Asymmetrical.

War games naturally lend themselves to scenarios. However, after 15 (and counting) Sol Rising scenarios, I’m tired of creating this content. It’s exhausting and requires a unique skill set and energy. Therefore, the need occurred to me to create a dynamic scenario system. By this, I mean I design the framework and content by which the scenarios are created when you play as a part of the experience.

Keep in mind, I will be testing a single framework and content set for the foreseeable future, much like I did with Sol Rising, to verify all of the other mechanics. But, phase 2 will dive more deeply into dynamic scenarios. My current high level thinking is that players will grab cards from a small set for things like terrain (planet type), position (forward operating base, random patrol, heavy base), objectives (rescue hostage, destroy artillery), and any variations (weather, rules of engagement restrictions).

The map and resources available to players will be derived from this setup.

Sci Fi. Infantry. Tactics. Drop ships. Asymmetrical. Dynamic scenarios. 

Those are the top items, but there are a few more things I’m working on. I recognize that asymmetrical games have a high degree of a learning curve and one way in which I’d live to curb that is by making the game VERY card driven. I’m planning on a tight, small set of core rules, with few exceptions, and putting almost all of the content onto the cards. Yes, this will make the cards more complex, but I’d rather the rules be IN their hands instead of in their head.

One example relates to the various roles of the special forces units. You don’t need to remember what a sniper can do versus and explosives expert. You’ll have a card to do so. Similarly, if the scenario generator tells you to place a machine gun nest, you don’t need to know what that entails. You just add the cards it tells you and they’ll contain the rules.

That’s all for now. I’ll potentially talk about more specifics as I vet them and feel comfortable doing so. For now, I wanted to talk about the theme, experience, and high level goals in the hopes that some of you are interested. Enjoy your day!

Hocus Solitaire


Post by: Grant Rodiek

Note: The image shown above is courtesy of Mike Mullins, one of our awesome testers. These are the new, fancy Euro-sized cards obtained from Printer Studio. Corey Young will be handing out TEN sets of these for FREE at Origins next week!

I’ve been so overwhelmed by work this week that I’ve neglected the blog. I’d like to cap off this week with a quick treat for those of you testing Hocus Poker. As always, you can find the PNP for Hocus Poker here. You can read the rules here.

Poker is such an incredible breeding ground of games. We have so many ideas for Hocus Poker we’ve had to put aside to focus on the BEST version of the game. But, something we’d love to see emerge is a home rule, variant driven community that loves to mod the game. To kickstart that, I created a twist on the classic game of Solitaire that uses Hocus Poker’s cards.

My grandfather was one of the most influential people in my life. He loved to play cards. I would wake at 6 am at the ranch growing up to find him sitting at the couch, playing solitaire. He’d perk up and challenge me to a game of war. But, he’d always go back to solitaire. He just loved it. Inspired by this, I wanted to make a twist on Solitaire. Nothing ground breaking, but it meant something to me.

I began with the basic rules of solitaire, which I’ll list here.

Setup: This is a game for a single person. You will need 48 Spirit cards from Hocus Poker.

  • Take the 48 Spirit cards (Froggles, Goblins, Ghosts, Hexis) for Hocus Poker and shuffle them.
  • Deal the cards in front of you in 7 columns. The left most column should have a single card. Each subsequent column should have 1 more card. Ex: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 cards.
  • Set any remaining cards above the column in a face down pile, or hold them in your hand. This is your reserve.
  • Flip the top card of each column face up.

The Goal: The goal of the game is to have an ascending stack of each suit, so 1-12 for each, each with their own foundation.

Playing: There are no rounds or turns in the game. You can do the following actions in any order until you win or lose. You lose when you’re unable to take one of these actions.

  • You may place a 1 of each Suit on one of four foundations above the columns. Only one suit may be placed on a foundation, and they must be sequential in ascending order.
  • You may draw the top 3 cards of the reserve and place them on top of one another. You can do these, 3 cards at a time, until the reserve runs out. If you want to draw again, pick the reserve up, preserve its order, and deal from the top again.
  • You may move the TOP card of the dealt reserves onto the top card of any of the columns. Cards must be placed in descending order (ex: 12, 11, 10, 9). Cards of the same suit cannot be placed sequentially (ex: I cannot place a 12 of Goblins followed by an 11 of Goblins. A 12 of Goblins followed by an 11 of Ghosts is legal.)
  • You can move the TOP card of a column onto the top card of any of the other columns. You must follow the same two rules listed in the previous bullet.
  • You can move any number of sequential cards in a column to any of the other columns. All of the cards moved must be sequentially ordered obeying the rules listed in the previous bullets and their placement must be legal. (ex: I can move a legal 9, 8, 7 onto a 10. The 10 and the 9 can’t be matching suits.)
  • If a column is empty, you may move a 12 (or any number of legal sequential cards beginning with a 12) into the open space. You always have 7 possible columns.
  • Whenever the top card of a column is face down, you immediately flip the card face up.

Essentially, you are trying to manage your cards to create descending stacks in the hopes that you can create ascending stacks in the foundation. Everything above is standard, except no suits may match. In traditional solitaire, it’s a matter of color, as in you cannot place sequential reds or sequential blacks.

Here are the tweaks for Hocus Solitaire. These rules are unique to the Suits and ONLY trigger when you’re using the top card, either of the reserve OR a column.

  • Goblin Hoard: Once per column, you may match two matching strengths sequentially as long as the second card is a Goblin. (Ex: I can place a 6 of Goblins onto a 6 of Ghosts. This can only be used once per column!)
  • Ghost Float: Ghosts can be placed within a column and don’t need to be placed at the top of a column. (Ex: I move the 10 of Ghosts off the reserve and tuck him above the 9 of Froggles.)
  • Froggle Friendship: Froggles MUST be placed sequentially with other Froggles. Note that this is an exception to the rule that matching suits cannot be placed sequentially. Remember, this is ONLY if the top card is a Froggle.
  • Hexis: Your score is the highest Strength Hexis on a foundation. Typically, it’ll be very low, or a 12.

I’ve played about 10 times and tweaked it. The above SEEMS to provide a challenging experience with a few neat twists. I’ll keep testing as we go.

Enjoy, and tell me what you think!

You can find the PNP for Hocus Poker here. You can read the rules here.

A Story of Rage

Post by: Grant Rodiek

Happy Friday! I have about 3 really good blog posts in the works that I haven’t had time this week to finish. I’ve been very busy with work and Wozzle in my spare time. I wanted to cap off this week with a short story I thought you might enjoy.

GenCon 2012 was my first GenCon, heck, my first board game convention. It was especially memorable because it marked the release of my first published game, Farmageddon, which was on display at my publisher’s booth.

I was very busy during the convention. From 9 am to 6 pm I ran non-stop Farmageddon demos at a table in the dealer hall. I grabbed a quick bite, then from 8 pm to midnight I was testing York in the First Exposure Playtest Hall. I was very tired, but I loved the work so it was really fine. In fact, I vastly prefer a GenCon like this to one where I’m not working.

That’s the context. Fast forward to Sunday afternoon. This is family day, when all the adults bring their children. I’m exhausted at this point and have slept about 5 hours total. A dad that resembled Eugene Levy comes up with two young children, one is about a 7 year old girl, the other about a 9 year old boy. They’re young.

They wanted to play Farmageddon, which is probably a little too advanced, but both children could read and I’m not going to tell them no. I walked them through the instructions and a turn, then stepped aside to watch the main table. I had 2 tables and I felt it better to let them play as a family with me within arm’s reach to answer questions.

About 10 minutes into their game I hear a kerfuffle. The girl is sitting on one side of the long table, the boy directly across from her, and the father is sitting perpendicular at the end. The boy played the Farm Futures card, which lets him draw 2 Crop cards from the top of the deck OR examine another player’s hand and steal 1 card.

Naturally, the boy chose to steal a card from his sibling.

“NO!” she screams. “He can’t have my card.”

The dad, somewhat aloof, asks his son to see the card. He reads it, and quietly notes, “Sweety, the card lets him take one of yours. That’s just how the game is played.”

Pan the camera just to the side to see me nervously standing there running my hands through my hair. I have no clue what is going to happen. Words keep moving to the front of my mouth, but none exit. Really, my mouth is just open and I’m awkwardly leaning towards the table.

“No!” she screams again. “It’s not fair.”

“Dad, it says I get a card.”

“Sweety, he gets a card. Let him see the cards.”

While the girl is looking at her father, the boy identifies his moment and seizes it. He leans across the table and plucks a card randomly from her hand (which isn’t how it works, but at this point, I’m no stickler). The girl turns her head to look at him with absolute murder in her face. She is LIVID.

The dad still doesn’t really care. He is emotionally on a beach somewhere, drinking rum, without children.

The littler girl then does my favorite thing ever. She let out a feral growl and slammed her remaining cards on the table. Then, like an alligator leaving the river to consume a gazelle, she leaps onto the table, flat on her stomach, and begins clawing at her brother. This young, enraged she-beast began scratching, flailing, and sending cards everywhere.

The boy is caught off guard by this maneuver. The dad casually says things like “Now honey” and “Don’t do that,” but she isn’t listening. The boy grabs the cards, desperately, bending them and trying to protect his young face.

My potential customers at the other table and those standing around begin fleeing. People awkwardly stare at my tables and the scene and just keep walking by. Eventually, the dad calms her down, thanks me for the demo, and leaves.

Naturally, they didn’t buy a copy.

It was then I knew that Farmageddon was the best thing I would ever create.

Interview with David Chott

As I often do, I encountered David Chott via Twitter and its growing game design community. David and I hit it off and began exchanging emails with some regularity. We even met at a small cafe near my home when he came to visit SF.

David has been working on his game, Lagoon: Land of Druids, for quite some time. In this period, he has quit his job and formed a publishing company, launched by this game. That seemed like a good interview. 

My questions are preceded by HG, with David’s answers tagged with DC.

Hyperbole Games: David, welcome to the Hyperbole Games Hot Seat! That’s a name I created just for you. Tell my fine readers a little about yourself.

David Chott: This heated seat makes me feel so pampered, thank you! I was raised in a gaming family and have played a wide range of tabletop games over the years. I started designing games more than a decade ago, but mostly just recorded my ideas in notebooks. I got serious in the fall of 2012. A year later, with Lagoon well along, I quit my job to become a full time board game designer and publisher. That might seem crazy to some folks. But I live in Portland, so I can get away with it.

HG: Your first game is Lagoon. Before we dig into the delightful details, please give us the quick details.

DC: Lagoon: Land of Druids is a strategy board game for 2-4 players set in an unconventional fantasy world. It’s a game about determining the fate of the world, with each player leading a circle of druids on a quest to bend Lagoon’s destiny. Most games finish in an hour or less. Players build the world through placement of double-sided hexagonal tiles drawn from a bag. Use your druids to magically shape and redefine the world to bring about one of three possible destinies. The player who best masters the emerging destiny wins.

HG: What inspired you to make Lagoon? What was the spark?

DC: After hitting a wall as a designer, I read through all my old game design notebooks for inspiration. When I was done, I’d literally only found three ideas that excited me:

  • A scrap of paper I found with a sketch of hexagon tiles forming a landscape
  • Old notes about tokens that could share abilities
  • A recent idea for conflict between non-player entities being the focal point of a game

To my delight, I realized in a matter of minutes that I could combine all three elements cohesively. The idea with the tokens had players putting them on cards that conferred abilities to your other tokens. I thought it would be cool if instead the tokens were placed on hexagonal tiles to gain and share abilities from the hexes. Each hex would represent a different place in my world offering a unique power. The tokens, now druids, could then move around the hex-based world to do things and access different site-based powers. The scrap of paper with the hexagonal tiles called for them to be double-sided, which still seemed more interesting than single-sided tiles.

Lastly, I was obsessed with a particular scheme for non-player entities in circular conflict, and had been weaving it into each of my game designs for months. I decided to bring that in by aligning every site with one of the non-player entities and making sure the two sides of a site tile were always aligned with different entities. This would offer a choice whenever a player added a new site to the board. At the end of the game, the entity with the most sites in play would win the conflict. Players freely support or oppose any entity they wish, but the winner is the one who best supported the final dominant entity.

Amazingly, that’s pretty much Lagoon right there. All the core ideas were in place right there at the beginning. Because I was obsessed with the scheme for non-player entities in conflict, I had actually already worked out thematically that the entities would be opposing energies in a fantasy world. Players would manipulate the world to support one energy or another. At the end of the game, one energy would dominate and the player most responsible for delivering that dominance would be the winner. In previous designs there had been four energies. I thought that would be too many different tile alignments to give players sufficient control, so I went down to three energies. That also happened to make for a much more balanced and interesting circular power dynamic as well: the familiar rock, paper, scissors. The only significant mechanic that was added later is rewarding a player for exploring a site with a seed token that matches the explored site’s energy.

HG: What are some of your favorite games, and why?

DC: My taste in games has changed a lot in the past 5 years. I used to favor heavier Euro strategy games. Today, my favorite games include Liar’s Dice, Innovation, Tash-Kalar, Netrunner, Hive, Jaipur, Tigris & Euphrates and Dominant Species.

But my hands down all-time favorite game has long been Magic: The Gathering, even though I haven’t played very actively since the 90’s. There is so much genius in that game, but perhaps what I like best about it is the wide latitude it gives players to express themselves. Being able to compose your deck from thousands upon thousands of different card choices makes it possible for a player to innovate something wild that’s never been done before. It’s a sandbox. You can build a deck that perfectly matches your personality, mood or preferred play style. Back in college, I could look at any deck in our large play circle and probably be able to guess which of my friends built it. Building decks can be a highly creative act, and in many ways building and tuning a deck is a form of game design. This experience influenced me as a gamer and designer more than all other games combined.

HG: Did any of those favorite games drive you towards Lagoon? Which aspects?

DC: I adore emergence in game play, and many of my favorite games have it in spades (Magic, Innovation, Netrunner, Hive, T&E). This was a goal for Lagoon from the beginning. I find emergent game play so deeply satisfying for several reasons. Games with a good deal of emergent mechanics tend to provide a richly complex universe of possibilities without necessarily being so complex to play. The depth of possibilities in each play of these games means they often have a higher order of replayability than games without much emergence. Emergent mechanics are also quite good at delivering surprising situations play after play. The range of things that can happen in such games tends to be wider than in more rigidly constrained games with low or no emergent mechanics. When all of these factors come together at their best, the game experience is something like exploring a living system whose mysteries and possibilities can never be fully grasped or exhausted even after hundreds of plays. To me, that’s magic in a box. That’s what I want most when I sit down to play a game.

So I’m delighted that even after playing or observing more than 100 games of Lagoon, I am still seeing interesting new situations and combinations emerge that surprise me. Lagoon offers tremendous emergent potential. The game includes 24 double-sided hexagon tiles, for a total of 48 sites that each have a unique action players can use. The “board” of the game is a constantly changing layout of site tiles whose spatial positions have tactical and strategic significance. Throw into that mix the ever-changing balance of power represented by the number of tiles in play aligned with each of the three energies competing for Lagoon’s destiny. It’s a recipe for a whole lot of variety and surprise every play. I think players will find Lagoon has an extremely high replay value without the aid of expansions. At the same time, it is imminently expandable and I have some exciting ideas about how to do that.

HG: Who would love Lagoon?

DC: Lagoon’s fans like it for different reasons. There’s the emergent game play, combo building, and puzzle solving. Many appreciate that Lagoon is both highly tactical and highly strategic. Lagoon tends to go over exceedingly well with Magic: The Gathering players. But I’ve also had train game players geek out over Lagoon because its scoring mechanic has similarities to scoring in stock holding games.

HG: You released a PNP (found here) some time ago. What did you learn from the PNP?

DC: I made the PNP because several people who played it at BGG.CON were asking for one. I was optimistic that many more would try it too. It was downloaded more than 130 times, but I only heard from a handful of people that they actually made a copy and played it. Maybe more did, but they didn’t report back.

What I learned is that some Board Game Geek users are amazing people who are willing to invest a ton of time giving feedback on a PNP. I had one user create his own suggested iconography to represent a variety of the basic actions that might appear on site tiles. Another user went even further and completely recreated the PNP exclusively using beautiful icons he designed himself instead of text. I was floored by the energy they put into offering these suggestions for Lagoon, without really even knowing me personally. Our hobby is filled with so many wonderful people, that’s one of the things I love most about it.

But although it would be great if a game like Lagoon could be made language-independent by using icons, it would require a large glossary of icons to achieve that. Which creates a learning barrier for many players. Considering my desire to expand Lagoon with new mechanics that would only expand the glossary of icons further and exacerbate the problem over time.

HG: Let’s take it a step back. What were some of the key lessons you learned from testing in general?

DC: All the basic things you read about play testing and game design are true, but most of them you have to learn yourself the hard way before you really accept them. For example, less is more. Or a designer’s job is done when there is nothing left to take out. Be willing to kill your darlings. Figure out which are the interesting choices your game presents to players, and strip away everything else. Know your target audience. And so on.

It’s funny how, in retrospect, every single mechanic I pulled from Lagoon so clearly and obviously made a better Lagoon with their absence. But so many of them were darlings I fought and resisted removing even when my testing showed they were problematic and sometimes even when my players kept asking me to. This is a lesson I hope not to soon forget.

Lastly, players who get your game and like it are great ego boosters, but it’s the players who struggle with your game that you really need to talk to. These players may not have much to say in a post-game debrief because they don’t want to look dumb for not understanding aspects of your game if other players did. If a player struggles with your game, try to talk to them one-on-one where they may speak more freely. Try asking them to explain how to play your game, maybe even the day after they played it. You may be shocked at their understanding of how your game works, and then it’s on you to make it easier and less confusing.

HG: I’m an absolute board game art snob. I buy, or don’t buy, games purely because of their art. Lagoon’s art is just astounding. It’s gorgeous. Lay out for us the art direction points you gave to your artist. What was your vision for Lagoon’s presentation?

DC: There’s no substitute for working with talented people, so enormous credit goes to graphic designer Peter Wocken and illustrators Eduardo Garcia and Chase Velarde for crafting amazing visuals for Lagoon.

Doing the art direction for Lagoon has been one of my greatest joys in this whole project! I’ve invested a lot of time developing the story and aesthetic concept for the world of Lagoon, and have actually been working on this world for more than a year before this particular game existed.

I take my inspiration from nature. I live in the Pacific Northwest, and backpacking trips into our phenomenal forests are one of my favorite summer activities. I’m a forest person and Lagoon is primarily a forest world. The magical features and natural wonders depicted in the art are the sorts of things I would be delighted to stumble upon while wandering the forest, and maybe the sort of things as a kid I secretly hoped might lie around the next bend.

To convey my vision for the world’s aesthetic, I wrote a fairly detailed artistic sourcebook for Lagoon that establishes a lot of the basics for the benefit of my illustrators. I cover things like what druids should look like, the kind of mood illustrations in each of the three energies should establish, and more. Then for each illustration I often provide a paragraph or two describing what I’d like depicted. But I also like to be vague sometimes and let the artist make most of the decisions. I love being surprised with something awesome that is outside my own imagination! It’s a fun process, and I love it. I’m incredibly lucky to see my world come to life at the hands of such gifted and versatile artists!

HG: You recently quit your steady, paying job to become a full time game designer and publisher. Dear god, man. What is the reason for this? What do you hope to accomplish this year?

DC: I needed a change in career for a long time before making this shift. Frankly, I needed a change in my life even more. As someone in love with story, there’s something especially powerful about taking responsibility for the story of my own life and setting a new course in the direction of my dreams. It represents a major shift in my approach to life, and it’s the best feeling I’ve ever had. Staying true to that is more important than whether I succeed as a designer or publisher. If it doesn’t work out, fine, I’ll set a new course based on what I’ve learned and who I am at that point. I’m learning so much now every day and growing so much as a person, I have confidence that I can keep moving forward. I have a lot of exciting ideas for what I’d like to do after publishing Lagoon: Land of Druids, but the timing depends so much on the game’s reception and other factors that have yet to unfold.

HG: What are the key elements of 3 Hares Games? What makes your company unique? What will make you successful?

DC: Three Hares Games will focus on developing a high quality library of games that collectively tell the unfolding story of a single world, Lagoon. My vision is to set every game I publish in the world introduced by Lagoon: Land of Druids. I think that’s unique for a board game publisher.

I will strive to make Lagoon a unique and compelling world that players will want to revisit in a wide range of different games. I’m excited to dive deep into Lagoon’s mystical landscape and share more of its lore, its mysteries, and its characters with every game I publish. You’ll notice in Lagoon’s art that the three hares motif that is my logo and gives my company its name is taken from the world of Lagoon itself, so I’m very committed to this vision.

As a person, I am extremely motivated by story. Perhaps more than anything else. Which explains why this approach to publishing makes sense for me. If the world of Lagoon resonates with players, I will get to tell more of its stories in the future. Nothing would make me happier. I believe this approach can contribute to 3HG’s success, but no amount of story matters if the games are not fresh and fun to play.

I place a high premium on originality, and I like to think that shows in Lagoon. That’s a quality I want to cultivate as a hallmark of Three Hares Games, and I’m willing to take some chances to do it.

HG: Do you see 3 Hares accepting game submission in the future? If so, what would you think would be the defining characteristics of a 3 Hares Game?

DC: With my plan to set all the games I publish in the world of Lagoon, that makes accepting game submissions trickier. Mainly that’s because I’m unwilling to paste the Lagoon theme on a game that doesn’t evoke the world already. And I wouldn’t expect designers to invest the time to design something native to my world and thereby limit their chances for publication. I can envision collaborating with other designers though. Or potentially inviting a designer to make a game because I think it would work out well. As for defining characteristics, I address that to some extent in the previous question. I think it would also be safe to assume emergent mechanics will be an important characteristic.

HG: Lagoon is on Kickstarter RIGHT NOW. What were some of the most important Kickstarter lessons you took to heart before launching?

DC: This is hard to answer because there are so many lessons I tried to internalize and at the same time there were so many lessons available to me that I didn’t have time to assimilate. I have tremendous respect for anyone running a board game Kickstarter campaign on top of a full time job, because it has been a mad dash for me to cover everything and this IS my full time job (just about every waking hour). Since so many more experienced and wiser folks than I have written volumes on this subject, I don’t have a grand list of things to rattle off.

But here is what I can offer. The amount of time that goes into preparing a board game KS is mildly insane, so double or triple your time estimates. You’ll still be scrambling. Also, realize that your development process to test and polish your game should be on a totally different timeline than your KS preparation schedule. Game quality is primary. Don’t let the tail wag the dog and rush into your KS with a subpar product. It is a crazy amount of work to publish a board game using KS, so don’t put yourself through that with a game that isn’t your best.

My next lesson is that the board game community is filled with amazing people who are eager to see you succeed and often willing to help. Immerse yourself in the community on Twitter, go to board game conventions and make friends with other designers and publishers, help test other designers’ games, and try to be awesome to everyone you meet. I have received more help, support, encouragement, valuable advice, introductions, and all manner of other useful assistance from so many fellow gamers, and I only really got into the community starting back in August at GenCon. Without them, my game would never have reached this point, it would never have reached this level of polish, and I may well have given up.

HG: Final question. I know your focus is on Lagoon. I have done enough interviews to know you’re going to say “my focus is on Lagoon being a success.” But, can you hint at what’s next? Surely you have some ideas (and revenue needs) lingering in your brain.

DC: I’ve already hinted at plans to offer expansions to Lagoon: Land of Druids. I think that would be the most natural next step, assuming there is demand for them. I do have a small handful of new game ideas I’m very excited about as well, but none of them has made it to the prototype stage yet. So they could totally suck for all I know!

I want to thank David for taking the time to answer my questions. If you’re interested in Lagoon: Land of Druids, check out the Kickstarter page here. 

Review: Leacock Co-Op Trilogy

Review by: Grant Rodiek

You can read my review policy here.

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

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

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

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

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

Clean, easy to read rules.

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

The Review (in 3 parts)

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

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

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

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

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

The game in progress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paris is about to chain react…

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

So blue.

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

Blue? Blue.

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


The site of the crash.

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

The game at setup.

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

Completed airship.

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


Not water.

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

Steampunk gadgetry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Character cards. Notice the canteen level on the left.

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

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

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

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

Patching York


New player boards, new battle board, simple, ink friendly cards.

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I haven’t worked on York much lately. I crunched hard a few months ago piecing it together and finalizing it to make a nice Print on Demand version. Then, I had a wild idea and contacted a publisher who would be a grand slam for the game. We’re talking Hail Mary pass. Dream publisher. I met the publisher at GenCon, showed York, and it went well.

Now, I’ve been given feedback (after 4 plays in just a few weeks!) that the game is a bit too narrow. It lacks strategic variety and replayability. This is feedback I’ve received in a variety of ways, but as it’s coming from THE publisher, it’s the most important feedback.

I emailed a brain trust of pals and asked them at a high level what they thought. I didn’t share my ideas, I just said “what do you think?” If you’re curious, I pinged and heard back from Chevee Dodd, Ed Marriott, Matt Worden, and Mark Wallace. I picked these chaps because of their diverse tastes, I thought they’d have time to respond, and they’ve played the most recent build of the game. If you look at the list above, these are guys who veer wildly with a preference towards hardcore euros, trashy games, simple mechanical games, and more.

I also bugged folks from my long-term test group here in SF, guys who have played 20+ games.

The key takeaway was this: the game is too tight. It’s so tightly wound that players can’t do different things. I, as the designer, put a death grip on the players’ decisions.

The solution, as I processed this, was obvious. I gave everyone a .22 caliber pistol. What they needed is one of those automatic shotgun thingers. By and large, I haven’t changed the game’s mechanics. I’ve basically just revised the tuning. That’s a good takeaway. Sometimes you have a good foundation — you just need to tweak the digits.

If you’re curious, I’m listing my “patch notes” below. Jeremy Commandeur invited me to a really coolprototype event that I’ll be attending tomorrow night in San Jose. I could have dabbled with this for weeks, but instead, I got to it and have a revised game in only 3 days. I love deadlines.

We’ll see how it goes and if it’s the right step.

Patch Notes

Tuning Tweaks: These are basically just number changes, but I think they’ll make a big difference.

  • Players start with 5 Units (up from 3) – Do interesting things more quickly.
  • Players hold up to 7 cards (up from 5) – Play more cards and do more.
  • Players have a pool of 20 Units (up from 15).
  • There is no longer a Reinforce or Draw Card phase. These used to be free, obvious, non-choices. Now, they are Actions you take (or don’t take). To compensate, the Action phase now gives all players 5 Actions (up from 3).
  • As a result of the above bullet, there are now 4 Phases (fewer): Determine Turn Order, Actions, Battles, Upkeep. Less accounting, more playing.
  • During Upkeep, you only get +3 cards. Which means you’ll need to take draw card actions during the game as an Action.
  • Draw card now gives you +2 cards OR +3 if you control a city. I’m experimenting with more meaningful map-related decisions. There could be more, but I’m starting here.
  • Player decks increased to 30 cards (up from 25).
  • Cards in player decks now range up to 4 and 5 (they used to be only 3). In general, there are more higher number cards in your decks.
  • As an experiment, the 5 card can only be played in combat (icon to remind you).
  • Strategic Victory cards are now worth 4 points (down from 5) to encourage more territory and battle conquest.
  • Battles now reward 2 points immediately (same) but no longer reduce a player’s Unit pool. I want there to be less fear of defeat. Basically, more carrot, less stick.

Mechanic Tweaks

To make movement more fluid and faster, the mechanic has been changed.

  • Old: Move any number of Units form 1 Territory to any 1 adjacent territory.
  • New: Pick a territory. Move any number of Units in Territory to any number of adjacent territories OR move any number of units from adjacent territories to it into the territory.

Basically, you can spread out and gather your forces more quickly.

Forts are removed for the moment. I received some feedback on them that wasn’t conclusive. For now, after taking a move action, players may place a camp token.You can reinforce onto your camp (if the territory is uncontested) or HQ. Therefore, camps work mostly like forts, but do not provide a defensive bonus and can be moved.

Battles and Tactics Tweaks: I think the balance will be off, at best, for these. But, I think the mechanical change is a really strong one. I think it’s the right path.

The game doesn’t use dice, but it’s in need of some form of spectacular variance. Basically, it needs an “oh crap!” moment. Previously, the possibilities were pre-determined. If I play this tactic, it’ll do a precise thing. If you attack me with some number of Units, there is no way I can win. Also, all players used to have unique faction powers.

Now, everyone has the same 6 tactics: 3 defensive, 3 offensive. All of them now have a simpler activation cost (instead of 3 precise cards, it may just say “use any of this type” or “you need one of these, then whatever else you want). Furthermore, all of them can be “powered up.” For example, if you want, you can throw down 4 Artillery cards to do a massive artillery barrage. You can spend a great deal of infantry to flee and retreat some of your Units. This makes battle outcomes less expected and gives players a better choice — what are you willing to spend to win this battle? What do you think your opponent will use?

As a side note, the scouts, infantry, artillery, and cavalry are all used more thematically and intuitively now. It’s less of the abstract: One Horse Symbol + One Cannon Symbol equals arbitrary cube movement. Cannons explode, cavalry charges, and infantry dig in.

Oh! You both now simultaneously pick and reveal your tactics in secret. Evil, I know. The end result will be that battles have more unexpected, big, explosive moments, and as there will be more Units and some retreating, they won’t always be an all or nothing affair.

It’s mostly a UI change, but I also completely revised the battle board. The mechanic and end result is identical, but it’s significantly easier to learn now. I’ve done away with the 3 waves. Both players now have a front line (soldiers who will fight and die) and the reserves. Same thing, easier to learn.

One more tactics change is that you can now spend cards to power your Move action. You can spend Cavalry cards to increase your movement. More ways to spend your cards and it’s much simpler than my special maneuvers of old. Very similar experience, much simpler, and more choice. There are a few other simplifications around this, but you get the gist.

Something New: Events

I’m testing this Thursday as a way to introduce more variance, some neat, narrative style events, and generally, just to give players an “ooo what next!” every round. The idea is that at the start of every round an event card is drawn from a new deck. Let’s say there are 30. This event will add something to the board to change the state of things.

My goal is this: These add an opportunity. They are not a “whoever is on this space loses all of their units.” My two go-to examples are:

  • Spies have located an old imperial armory. Get here to get a bonus 3 Artillery card. If you think to the current conflict in Syria or even the Texas Revolution, these moments really matter.
  • The peasants have risen up in the cities. Add a neutral color of Units to the city spaces. You’ll need to deal with them.

Events will hopefully give players neat tools to use, an alternate way to earn points, and just throw a wrench in everyone’s perfectly laid plans. Note that I need to figure out a clever way to figure out where the Events land. I don’t want a card to always affect the same space.


As I noted above, for now, Factions don’t exist. For the longest time York was purely an asymmetric faction game. Then, to make it more accessible, I introduced a generic, shared faction for players to learn when beginning to play. What I found is that it was actually still really fun. It didn’t feel like baby mode.

The factions have greatly hindered accessibility, have added a not fun learning curve to the game, and, due to how I implemented them, added a bit more AP than I’d like. For now, I’m doing away with them. I have ideas on how to bring them back, notably just the 1 passive attribute of every faction, which was really one of the most important parts anyways. We’ll see.


An idea I like (from Chevee) but won’t implement yet is the notion of territorial regions. A single territory is worth 1 point, but if you get all 3 of a region together it’s a +3. Chevee stole this from Risk (his words) and noted that it fixes the “eh, I’ll just go around and take this territory instead” vibe. I like this, but feel I need to dial back all the changes. I’ll hold this one in my pocket.

In conclusion

What do you think? Thoughts? Concerns? Thanks for reading!

Review: Ginkgopolis

Review by: Grant Rodiek

You can read my review policy here.

Quick Notes: Ginkgopolis is a game for 1-5 players for which you should set aside 60 minutes to play and setup. The setup isn’t quick, but it isn’t arduous by any means. I’ve played the game with 2-5 players a total of 5 times. The other members of my group have played it without me 3 more times.

The game’s rules are relatively short and well presented with a handy quick reference guide on the back. Plus, they’re full of examples.

The green sections are step by step examples.

The game ships with an official single-player variant in the rules, but I haven’t tried it. The game is best with 3 or 4. With 5 it is a bit more volatile and ends a bit too quickly. With 2, the drafting just isn’t as exciting, though it does have a more predictable feel (for those who like that).

Setup for 3 players

The Review: Ginkgopolis is a sharp, well-paced game where every player is a city planner building a futuristic, granola, sorta Dr. Seussian metropolis. The game has two end conditions, each an exhaustion of resources, and the player with the most points is the victor.

The game’s primary mechanics are drafting and area control, two personal favorites. Players will draft one of the four cards in their hand and place it face down to use in one of three ways. The cards are delightfully simple and essentially dictate which tile will be affected by the action. Actions execute in player order. The actions are:

  • Play a card to gain resources. This is the “lame” action. More skilled players mitigate how often this action is necessary.
  • Play a card and tile to expand the city outwards. This gains you a one-time resource bonus, plus you are controlling a piece of the city.
  • Play a card and tile to expand the city upwards. This is expensive, but crucial for controlling the city. You also get a permanent passive bonus.

Look to the pictures throughout this article for more details on how to play.

Blue gives tiles, red gives the building currency, yellow gives points.

The game’s 3 resources are points (for winning), tiles (for building), and a currency (to pay for building and denote control/contribution). Points are earned throughout the game, from end-game bonuses (these are some of the permanent passive bonuses above), and from winning districts.

There are 3 colors of tiles. A district is formed when 2 or more tiles of the same color are adjacent to each other. As players place tiles upwards and outwards, they place tokens to mark their contribution. The player with the most of these in a district will win many points.

The starting grid. Notice there is a red district in the top left, a yellow district in the top middle, and a big blue district in the bottom right.

Ginkgopolis feels dynamic and perfectly volatile. It’s because the drafting feeds into the  shared tile laying/area control mechanic. Unlike 7 Wonders, which often feels like a solitary affair (I know it isn’t), in Ginkgopolis you’re vying for control over districts and carving out the portion of the city that is yours. When you build upwards you can maintain the tile’s current color (ex: blue on blue), OR you can pay a penalty to change the color (ex: blue to red). It is the city-building equivalent of punching a hole in your enemy’s front lines.

Many a final round sees one player thinking he controls a blue district, only for another to place a red tile in the center of it. This cuts the blue district in half and, depending on the distribution of tokens, may completely shift ownership. It’s a real delight for those who like to mess with others, but don’t care for punishing aggression. Plus, as every player only takes on action per turn, the board evolves in a manner that is very reasonable.

I really enjoy Ginkgopolis’ strategic heft, in that it is not very strategic. The game is highly tactical, but clever, devious players can hold onto a great tile (resources are kept secret) and use these tactical choices to meander towards a fluffy, strategic vision of sorts. For example, midway through the game I can see that my high number blue tile would really help me cement control over a really valuable district. I can spend a few turns building towards its placement.

The game relies more upon gut checks than solving an equation. That makes the game easy to consume, relatively easy to learn, and really exciting when your hunch pays off. It isn’t mathy and it’s never entirely predictable. Sometimes, you just don’t have the cards or the tile, so do what you can and stay in the game. This uncertainty leads to great tension and I feel the game often rewards the better Ginkgopolis player, not the resident statistician.

One of my favorite hunch-having elements is the discard hand mechanic.  Twice per game, every player is able to discard his entire hand, at a cost, in hopes of drawing 4 new cards that present better options. One of the reasons I win frequently is that I know when to do this. People will ask “You sure you want to do that?” A 10 point swing later, hell yes I’m sure.

The top of the card dictates the part of the board your action will affect.

Some Euros present a slew of symbols and complex hieroglyphics you need to learn. Ginkgopolis’ skips the cuneiform and instead uses a number/color system that  throws much of that away. The end result is that players focus on making choices towards building the city. You aren’t learning the game’s language, but the game’s strategy. The passive bonuses DO use some symbols, but there are only a handful and many times my friends just figured them out without look up.

If I were to play the yellow 2 card, I’d affect the yellow 2 tile.

The key takeaway is that the majority of the game is: This card does something to that tile. What do YOU want to do to it?

This starting set of passive bonuses gives me +1 Point and +1 currency when building outwards or +1 tile when building upwards.

Were the game just tactical hunches it would grow old quickly, but the game has several layers that really add variability and depth. At the beginning, every player is given 3 character cards at random which determine starting resources and initial passive bonuses. These bonuses tend to sync up, which means every game you tend to pursue a different strategy. This works much like the Civilization boards in 7 Wonders or character cards in Tokaido. Essentially, it’s most of the fun of asymmetric factions without the burdensome learning curve.

Really discerning, advanced players will begin to think about cards not only in how they will affect the current board, but how gaining that card’s passive bonus will help them sprint to the ultimate victory. It’s a very good layer that can be skipped your first few plays.

I also find it’s easier to draft defensively in Ginkgopolis than 7 Wonders. By this, I mean I choose to take a card more to hinder an opponent’s efforts than help my own. There is less information to parse in Ginkgopolis and you don’t need to look at your opponents’ personal boards. Everyone is affecting the center tiles, which lets you focus your mind and eyes there. It’s simple and deep, which is where I love my games to lie on the axis.

I love the presentation of Ginkgopolis and it would be a disservice not to call attention to it. I grabbed the game off the shelf purely because of the art and, knowing nothing about it, merely did a quick sanity check on Board Game Geek to ensure it wasn’t terrible. The box is full of wooden components, playful colors, and beautiful cards and tiles adorned with the game’s goofy, futuristic style. It reminds me a great deal of Dr. Seuss and that is the highest compliment I can give. Many pass on euros for a lack of theme or boring presentation. For me, Ginkgopolis is a visual treat with effective player communication.

The Conclusion: Ginkgopolis hits so many right notes for me. It features simultaneous drafting, which means every turn comes with a fun choice and there is practically zero downtime. It plays in an hour or less, which is my ideal play length. It’s interactive, but not in a mean way, which means I need to not only pick the right choices, but outwit my opponents. I like playing against people, not the game itself.

The game is dynamic and ever-changing, which makes it difficult to solve. It’s beautiful, which shows that extra dose of love and craftsmanship to what could simply be another game about medieval castles.

We’ve played the game about 8 times in just the past month. It’s the type of game where if I don’t bring it into the office my co-workers yell at me. I consider this the finest addition to my collection in quite some time and if you like drafting, area control, fuzzy strategy, and good tactics, this could very well be a “must buy” for you.

This is my first review. Tell me what you think!

Stacking the Fleet

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I’m in the business of space battles lately, because even Space Xenu knows that the world needs another fleet battle game. Snark aside, that line of thinking is what brought me to my current line of thinking. I had the realization that the world didn’t need the game I was making. Yes, it was going to be fine, but it wasn’t enough to stand out. I started thinking about space and what I could do uniquely to stand apart from Summoner Wars or Memoir ’44.

Before we discuss my current line of thinking, I want to catch you up on the gist of the game.

  • 2 player tactical fleet battle game with a focus on being an Admiral. Directing squadrons of ships (capital and fighter), not “this ship shoots this ship.”
  • Scenarios that you play within a persistent overarching campaign mode. Telling a story and evolving the game is key.
  • Ships will be identical in a rule sense, i.e. you don’t need to learn different behavior for a dreadnought or a fighter. Instead, I’ve designed a simple system where different ships will roll different dice (green, yellow, or red d6) and require different dice to be hit. So, a fighter may shoot weak green dice and only take a green to be destroyed. A dreadnought may shoot red die, which can’t hit fighters, but will pop destroyers quite nicely.
  • Formations play a big role in providing combat bonuses.

One of the biggest problems with the old system was that ships were represented by cards. If I had a fleet of 20 ships, that meant 20 cards. So, for two players that could mean 30-40 cards spread around that table. They took up far too much space and that limits the playability of the game.

There was also too much to read with too many orders scattered around. I knew I needed to fundamentally revise how the game was presented (what components, what the thing looks like) AND I wanted to do something to set it apart from flat, 2D battle games (like the two I mentioned above).

Space is 3 dimensional. There is forwards, backwards, left, right, but also up and down. How can I introduce an up and down without sending players screaming in anguish and pain? Attack Vector does this, with facing in all three dimensions (see below). But wow, it looks difficult.

I also thought about components. Could an entire squadron just be a single miniature? Is that satisfying? Can I stack cards or punchboard tokens? Would that even make sense? How would players even see the information. Stacking became the key verb. Stack. Stack. Stack.

Then I thought about Jenga. Specifically, Jenga‘s blocks.

These blocks have thickness, enough for simple shapes to be displayed. They can stack, which lets them be put in three dimensional formations. I started playing around with various ideas and shapes.

Firstly, I needed to figure out how I’d present the information. On the card version, the top would show color cubes to indicate what your rolled for combat. For example, 2 green squares would indicate you roll 2 green dice when firing. The bottom of the card would indicate what dice were needed to cause damage (and FYI, a 3+ is a hit for any color). For example, a fighter could be destroyed with a single yellow or green hit.

With the block component I introduced two new concepts:

  • Facing: The direction of your block indicates where it is heading. Which may dictate what weapons can fire.
  • Broadsides: Ships can fire lightly from the front, but much heavier from the side. In a game with laser batteries (not missiles), a good broadside made sense.

To me, this basic setup would allow me to quickly read ships and see what was going on. I then started creating basic formations. Just to see what shapes I could make that would make fictional sense.

I began thinking about conveying this information. Firstly, how do I bake defensive or offensive benefits into things? Change up rules, like a defensive formation requires hits of 4+ instead of 3+? That’s not too complex, but if you both have 3-5 squadrons, each with variations, that means a lot of double checking. Lame.

Also, yes, over time you would remember the shapes and what they meant. But for several games you’d…play a card down? “What does that formation do again?” “I dunno, check the card.” Lame.

A friend and long-time tester of my prototypes randomly threw out the suggestion that ships could have a “soft spot,” the Death Star exhaust ports that are vulnerable. This led us to discussing positioning. How do you cover your soft spots? And what’s the trade off? I started to think that your ship might have gun ports and soft spots. You can cover them with other ships, at the cost of losing firepower. Here’s a quick mock:

The ship next to the “1” has 3 Yellow batteries. That’s pretty impressive! But, it also has a soft spot, indicated by the red dot, in its center. Okay, well, I position my smaller ship alongside it to cover the soft spot. However, now I only have 2 Yellows firing, instead of a possible 4 between both of them combined.

This simple example led me to believe I could completely eliminate my designer created formations and rules. Instead, by creating ships with varying soft spots and armament I could let the players create their own formations. My hope is that player creativity and simply reading the UI on the ship guides you. The formation in the example is a very defensive formation. I could cover up this ship further, or string them along in a line so that all the guns are brought to bear. It may cost you, but that’s a risk you’re willing to take.

Let’s talk about fighters! A squadron will consist of 1-3 capital ships (longer blocks) and any number of fighters (square blocks, traditional war game shape). Each player will control (typically) 3-5 squadrons per scenario. Squadrons move together, rotate together, and will fire together. They are the control unit.

Whereas capital ships will move and maneuver sluggishly through the battle space, fighters will zip around willy nilly. They will be a finite and volatile resource that will turn the tide in a battle. My hope is that a good player will maneuver his capital ships such that he is bringing immense fire against his target while his fighters move against its flank to give him that 20% edge. Capital ships will be more strategic, fighters more tactical. I think stacking these little blocks on top of your enemy’s squadrons will be satisfying and visually exciting.

I’ve zipped through this in order to be brief. I haven’t even talked about squadron commanders, the story and campaign, and other elements. I’ll get there. For now, I wanted to write about the blocks and how the fleets will stack.

This is still fuzzy, so stick with me. Thoughts? Comments?

As a gift for reading, I invite you to take a visit to the Danger Zone.

2013 Designer Community Preview!

Post by: The Design Community!

The question “what are you up to?” is often asked, but folks are busy, secretive, or just not quite ready to share. On a whim, I bugged the community a few times to send me blurbs about their 2013 projects: current hopes, great prototypes, and random inklings. The response was surprisingly large. Read or skim below to find out some of the cool things your peers are designing. 

Some quick notes! If you see text in Italics, those are my editorial notes. Click on the designer’s name for their Twitter link. Follow and join the community. Also keep in mind that I set the loosest requirements for submissions, so every designer’s “blurb” will differ. Questions? Contact me or comment below. 

Dave Chalker // 

Dave is the designer of the incredibly popular Get Bit! Look for one, perhaps both of these games via this year. Dave hopes to find a publisher for these games to attain wider release.

Criminals is a psychological game in the style of Mafia/Werewolf and The Resistance. Everyone is secretly guilty of a different crime, so players try to determine who committed which crime, while also disguising their own. Players can win individually or as a group depending on their ability to find criminals. Criminals supports a wide range of players, anywhere from 3 to 9, with no need for a moderator, and is quick-playing.

Inside Joke is a party game where players try to get one specific other person to guess a hidden word before anyone else does, while everyone is shouting answers. Inside Joke works for groups who know each other by making obscure references, or for groups who want to know each other better by having a conversation about what kind of references they would have in common.

Corey Young

I’ll be pitching Fiarrr! to publishers in the mainstream market. It’s a pirate-themed, 2-player board game for ages 8 and up. Players take turns blasting each others’ ships as they gradually pass each other in the classic broadsides tradition. I’d love to see Gamewright pick it up as the next entry in the Loot and Scallywags dynasty.

Santorini will be my first tile game, as well as my first “artisan” game. Inspired by the beautiful architecture and scenery of the Greek island region, the game will feature a nearly vertical playing board representing a growing tourist city. Players will play hexagonal tiles on the inclined playing board, building up from the waters’ edge to the windmills at the peaks of the caldera. Players compete to locate their hotels such that they have the most beautiful view of the blue domes and fountains below. I’m focusing on the game mechanisms, but the art is going to be key to this game’s success.

One Way Out (or 1WO) is getting a complete overhaul, so I don’t think I’ll have it ready to pitch in time for convention season. Primarily a racing and blocking game, the theme is time/space jumping, with each level being a different location and genre. The hooks for this game are its novel real-time level creation mechanism and its variety of themes. The core game will come with 3 level/worlds which can be played in any order. New worlds (expansions) will be sold as simple decks of cards.

Jay Treat

Completed Projects Seeking Publication

Intrigue - A trick-taking card game for 3-4 scheming spymasters. Deploy agents from different factions such as the Templars or the Shadowmen. Success will require working with your opponents, because every player shares one agenda in common with another. Can you manipulate enemy agents into advancing your own cause? The plot thickens when players plan secret schemes that can mess with the even the best-laid plans.

Assault on Khyber Station - A tense co-op for 1-4 players escaping from aliens on a failing space station. Your sleepy outpost among the stars has just been torn apart in a surprise attack. With blast doors slamming shut all around you and ravenous aliens teeming after you, can your team coordinate their unique skills to navigate the wreckage and find the escape teleporter in time to warn Earth?

Read more about Assault on Khyber Station here

Projects in Development

The Last Planet - A quick, tile-laying war game inspired by StarCraft. Three races vie for dominance on the last inhabitable planet in their war-torn galaxy. Establish your presence, claim valuable resources, and build your war machine before the others can wipe you out. The Last Planet features innovative tile placement for intuitive and quick play.

On the Horizon

Black Hills - A shared deck building game for aspiring chieftains of a demon-plagued village. The passing of your father, the chief of the village, has left you all vulnerable to the demons at the gates. Work together to save the village from disaster and hope that none of your siblings take the dark path when they realize only the most successful among you will win your father’s headdress.

Hollywood Disaster: Who can turn this mess of a film into something successful? Players compete to improve a random bad movie by re-writing, re-casting, re-shooting and editing the scenes to create more matching plot and theme symbols.

Brett Myers

“There are only two forces in the world, the sword and the spirit. In the long run the sword will always be conquered by the spirit.”

-Napoleon Bonaparte

One of the games I’m most excited about for 2013 is a compact tactical battle game I’m calling Sword & Spirit: Little Corporals. As you might guess from the quote, Sword & Spirit: Little Corporals is set in the Napoleonic Era. It tackles warfare in this period using a novel combat system that captures the positional tactics and volleying of the era, while encouraging dramatic action and swings of fortune. My goal in the physical design of Sword & Spirit is a compact size: it packs the punch of similar blocks-on-a-board tactical games in half the table space, and folds into a box about 8 inches square.

AJ Porfirio // Van Ryder Games

Note the images are placeholder art. 

Hostage Negotiator is a solo game where YOU take on the role of the Hostage Negotiator conversing with some unscrupulous terrorist or hostage taker hell bent on having his demands met. Your goal is, of course, to negotiate the release of the hostages and buy time for your crisis commander to hatch a plan to kill or capture the terrorist.

Game play features a mechanic I call Hand-Building (think deck building without the deck). The game encompasses the conversations that you have with the Terrorist. Conversation Cards are played to influence the Terrorist. The player faces difficult choices such as what cards to take and which to play and when. There is dice rolling to resolve cards, so there is some luck involved as well, but proper card choice and tactical reaction will separate the rookie negotiators from the veteran ones!

Players may take multiple paths to victory: do you concentrate on lowering the Threat level of the terrorist, which convinces him to release hostages and ultimately surrender, or do you concentrate on buying more powerful Conversation Cards to save hostages and eliminate the Terrorist? Or do you try a combination of both?

Hostage Negotiator plays quickly, in 15-30 minutes, and is one of those games you want to play again as soon as it is over.

Check out the Rules here. If you’re interested in playtesting the beta, email AJ at .

Chevee Dodd //

I’m working on two projects that I expect to have completed early in 2013.  I plan on seeking publication for both games, but one will be made available on The Game Crafter while I seek out publishers.

Leathernecks ’43 is a simple dice game for 2-6 players.  It started as a game I designed for my daughters, Princess Dice.  There is significant difficulty in finding publishers for a girl-themed dice game, so I am in the process of re-theming it for a more gamer-centric audience.  The game is the first of a series I am preliminary calling Assault Dice. The system revolves around seven total dice of 4 unique designs.  Three of the designs represent members of the players’ squad: the Officer, Sergeant, and Radio Operator.  Rolling these symbols may allow you to advance those units, but suppressing fire from the enemy may hold you back.  The player may collect and use Smoke Grenades, however, to move through the fire.  Once one player’s unit reaches the bunker, the game ends and the player with the most Advancement Points wins the game.  There are no mechanics changes from Princess Dice to this game and you can read about the development at my website.

This game will be available on The Game Crafter in early January.

Hedeby is a card driven dice game (isn’t it usually the other way around?) where the players roll dice to gain goods, and use those goods to purchase workers from an available market.  Once workers have been secured by the player, they may use them to build buildings which give them benefits as well as victory points.  It is based on the Viking city of Hedeby that formed around 800BC after a nearby Slavic trading center was sacked.  The city formed up very quickly as the craftsman and traders moved in. I will be seeking publication for this game as well and doubt that I will make it available on The Game Crafter due to costs.  I have made the game available as a Print and Play at my website for anyone that wants to test it.

I have a lot of playtesting to get through before the game is ready to show to publishers because the unique buildings need to be balanced and re-balanced.  To help with my playtesting needs, I also developed a VASSAL module for online play.  It’s available at my website as well!

Jason Tagmire // Champion Land

Maximum Throwdown is a light, 2-6 player card-throwing battle game. Each player has a deck of cards in their specific color / faction that they will throw onto the table one after another. Cards feature icons that will provide the player with points or special abilities, but only if an opponent doesn’t cover the icons with their cards. The dexterity is key, as cards must be touching each other when thrown, but you don’t want to cover your own cards.

The game is in its very early stages. I originally created it as part of an internal creative game jam at Island Officials (the video game development company that is making Pixel Lincoln, the video game, and now branching out into the awesome world of tabletop games), and I’ve been tinkering with it ever since. After a few intense discussions, Alex Strang came on board to help take it to the next level. That’s about where we are now.

My goal for Maximum Throwdown is to debut it at Unpub, get feedback, tighten, test, and tighten some more. As for publishing, it could be a fairly inexpensive game to produce, but let’s see what people think first!

John DuBois

I’ve got two games I’m hoping to complete significant work on in 2013:

Bread and Circuses: A 4-10 player bluffing/negotiation game in which the players act as Roman nobles trying to manipulate events and their fellow nobles to achieve their secret objectives and make the greatest profit from a revolting peasant population.

In 2013, I’m hoping to finish a TGC prototype in January for the PPP, pitch to publishers in the first half of the year (Protospiel at the latest), and investigate self-publishing if there isn’t other interest.

Microbrew is a 2-5 player light economic game in which the players are investors in a craft brewery, supplying ingredients to brew the recipes that give them the greatest return on investment. This game’s a little rougher at this point, and my goal for 2013 is to do further playtesting and determine whether or not the game is viable in the first quarter of 2013. If it’s viable, I’m hoping to pitch to publishers at GenCon.

And of course, I’m sure to have some crazy ideas during the year to chase.

Charles Beauvais

Charles intends to pitch these to publishers in 2013.

Standing In Line: 15-minute betting game, designed to be played while standing in line. This game is also a member of the PPP. Click here for more detailed information.

Chroma Cubes: A strategy dice game in which players color in puzzles with crayons.  Players race to complete figures in their puzzle before their opponents.

How does it work? Each turn has three steps, which all players do simultaneously.

  1. Roll: Players roll all their dice on the first turn. On subsequent turns, only roll the dice you’ve used.
  2. Color: Use sets of dice to complete sections of the puzzle.
  3. Score: When you complete an entire figure, you get the highest remaining score. Players who finish later score fewer points.

Click here for more information.

Mission Control: A map-building game with a space exploration theme. Click here for a walkthrough of the game.

Christopher Chung // Flash Forward Games

The main title I’m working on is called Bucket List.

  • 2-4 players
  • Ages 12+
  • About 45-130 minutes
  • Resource Management game.

The synopsis of it is that your Doctor has given you one calendar year to live because of your terminal disease, so you go want to go out with a bang and complete as many tasks on your Bucket List as possible. Each task, ranging from visiting the Mona Lisa in Paris or Base jumping in Machu Pichu carries its own Legacy, Thrill, and Fatality Levels, so you must allocate your Money, Sanity, and Vitality to as many tasks as possible before your time is up. You have control over what you put into your “IV Bag,” but what comes out of it is entirely random. Score the most Victory Points by the end of the year through completing Plans or scoring Counters at the end of each month and you win.

I’m working on balancing the prototype right now, and deciding if I want to introduce a cap on turns; rather than endless play, give each player 12 turns (one for each month) and see what they can do with them. I hope to playtest this at game designer meet ups, create some sell sheets, and then see where it takes me.

Daniel Baneson // Fishagon

Solar is a fast-paced deck building/dice fighting card game developed by Fishagon.

The game comes with 24 cards each being of a different “class” such as Knight, Pyromancer, Assassin, etc. It’s a 2 player game where players decide who picks first and then enter a draft with each player choosing 1 card each “turn” until both players have a 12 card deck. Then they will proceed to drawing 3 cards a turn using 1 and putting 2 back at the bottom of their decks. Players then proceed to battle with a series of offensive and defensive stages using 2 die and the class skills for combat. The victor of 5 battles will win the game!

The artwork shown is concept art by our newly hired artist “Kaorien” for the Pyromancer class. The game is scheduled for release around March 2013 after a hopefully successful Kickstarter campaign!

Chris and Suzanne Zinsli // Cardboard Edison

Cardboard Edison has one of my favorite feeds on Twitter. He collects interesting advice from board game designers and publishers and shares it. Follow them!


  • 4+ players
  • 30-45 minutes

The first game from Cardboard Edison, Skewphemisms is a party game built on alliteration. Guess the everyday expression suggested by a series of alliterative clues.

We’re debuting Skewphemisms at Cartrunk Entertainment’s Unpub 3 event in Delaware in January. Because it’s a mass-market game with lots of opportunities for expansion, our goal for 2013 is to find a publisher with wide distribution to get the game into as many word-lovers’ hands as possible!


  • 2 players
  • 30 minutes

A real-time card game from Cardboard Edison, Tessen pits two players against each other in ancient Japan. To win, players will have to move fast and think even faster. Tessen uses set collection and hand management mechanics. The game rewards players who can keep track of their opponent’s movements as well as their own on the fly.

Tessen also will be at Unpub in January. In 2013, we plan to settle on a publishing plan for the game. We might self-publish, seek out a young publisher who specializes in quick, light games, or offer it through a print-on-demand service.

Jeremiah Lee

Zombie House Blitz from Stupid Awesome Games. Zombie House Blitz is a 2-6 player speed card game. Players race to get their family out of the house and safely into an escape car before the cars are full. Will be on Kickstarter in March.

Zombie in Your Pocket from Valley Games. Zombie in Your Pocket is a 1-4 player cooperative game of survival. Players are survivors trapped in zombie infested houses, malls, and game conventions. Find your friends, kill the zombies, and don’t let the bats poop in your eyes. This is a new cooperative game based on the popular Zombie in my Pocket print and play solo game.

Patrick Nickell // Crash Games

When I found out Patrick signed Tory Niemann’s new game, I immediately began bugging him for information. If Pay Dirt is as good as Alien Frontiers, this could be Crash’s break out hit.

Pay Dirt

  • 2-4 Players
  • 75-90 Minutes (Probably 2 hours on 1st play)
  • Worker Placement, Auction/Bidding
  • Industrial/Environment Theme

The inspiration for Pay Dirt came to Tory because he is a fan of the show Gold Rush and thought it would make a pretty cool board game. Tory just won a Golden Geek Award for Alien Frontiers:Factions and this would be his second published game and the follow up to the smash hit Alien Frontiers.

In Pay Dirt, a gold excavation game set in Alaska, players must manage and grow their entire mining outfit, from workers and personnel to equipment and gear. The Alaskan Yukon is an inhospitable environment, so players will face hardships that affect their entire outfit – not to mention the ever-dropping temperature that will eventually shut down their operation. The player with the most gold at the end of the game is the winner but this will be especially challenging since players have to sell gold in order to upgrade their equipment, gear and personnel.

On a personal note I have great hopes for Pay Dirt and I really feel that it will be my marque publication if it is successful on Kickstarter. I really love playing the game and I feel that it provides a unique and different approach to worker placement games. I feel the game plays very thematically and I have high hopes for the art.

I am planning on having the art completely done before the project launches on Kickstarter in September and I will be showing it off at UnPub3, Origins, GenCon and then launching it on Kickstarter in September.

Daniel Solis // Smart Play Games

Belle of the Ball: After a year of intense development, I’m ready to call Belle of the Ball a fully baked game. It’s the kind of game that apparently gets people to laugh out loud in bars and do impromptu interpretive dance. My plan is to put the current prototype up on a POD online store, build buzz, and pitch to publishers. Whether I DIY it or license to a publisher, I expect Kickstarter to be involved somehow, too. My hope is to have Belle of the Ball be my first published box title by the end of 2013. Ambitious, but I’m going to give it my best shot.

Diverse Testing! A few months ago, I noticed I had something like forty playtesters, but only five women. So, I actively put out a call for more women testers. It’s been a blast getting their feedback in the development and this is something I hope to continue in the new year. I’m going to highly recommend to all new game designers that they improve the gender balance of playtest pool.

My Measure of Success for 2013: I want the number of person-hours playing one of my games to exceed the number of person-hours I spent designing it.

Paul Imboden & Randy Field // Split Second Games

As designers, we’re in initial playtests for a trick-taking, everyone-for-themselves card game with changing contracts — possibly with a gangster theme, but virtually any theme would work, including none.

We’re rebooting Minimum Wage Gorilla, a blind-bid area-control game set in a zoo.  9 turns total, averaging 60-90 min with 4 players.  We’re excited about this one, and we hope it’s back into playtest mode.

And if we can find a way to not be utterly derivative, I’d love to take a crack at a modern-day ghost-hunting cooperative game.

As publishers, we’re also looking to import and/or seek out a few card games next year, as well as at least one dexterity game.  The Merchant of Venus fiasco has put us in “measure three times, measure once more” mode in terms of ownership, however, so expect us to call our shots VERY carefully.  This might mean pushing back to 2014… but rather that than the dual-ownership headache.

Also, this will not be the year we stop using Kickstarter.  We hope to rely on it less and less as Split Second Games becomes a known commodity, but we’re just not there yet.  Expect some offering(s) from us in 2013.

Marc Specter // GrandCon

Marc isn’t a designer, but he’s deeply connected to the community and is putting on a convention, GrandCon. He asked if he could share this info and I heartily agreed.

GrandCon features tabletop gaming in all its forms, as well as comic books and the creators behind them. We provide an atmosphere that will allow gamers and comic book fans to mingle and appreciate their shared interests.

Come to play or chat your heart out with fellow enthusiasts in a community that understands your passions.  Get lost in the adventure of your favorite role-playing game.  Admire costumes and art from vendors and attendees. Meet the creators behind your favorite mainstream and independent games and comic books. Check out unpublished games and sneak a peek at things to come.

Feel free to check out our Facebook page and website.

Michael Coe // Gamelyn Games

I’m currently working on 3 game designs to watch for.

1st being Lords, Ladies & Lizards. It’s a one-of-a-kind role playing adventure set in a medieval fantasy world threatened by an all powerful Dragon! Up to six Players get a chance to create and develop Characters through a complex journey that involves strategy, economics, politics and war! Players are able to play as either a Lord, a Lady or a Lizard, each with unique properties and leveling bonuses. Over the span of many game years, players will face personal struggles with jealousy and greed, deceit and rage! They will travel across three continents by land, by sea and by air, clearing the way of treacherous monsters. But there will only be one winner and that is the one who defeats the Dragon! Do YOU have what it takes to defeat the Dragon!?

2nd being Icefall. Players take on the role of ice climbers risking it all on the world’s most dangerous icefall! With a modular game board players will be adding to the top of the board as they climb and must stay away from the bottom of the board as it is removed periodically.

Every round players face the challenges of ice climbing by revealing tiles they are approaching. These tiles will present varying degrees of ice thickness, how slippery the surfaces are, the moraine gradings, crevasses, boulders and more! Each tile requires a different response from the player. Do you dig in and keep climbing? Do you swing to another location (tile)? Or, do you bust out the ice screw and hook in? Either way, you better decide fast, because every time the sand-glass runs out the lowest portion of the mountain crumbles into an avalanche. The players’ positioning on the board (mountain) will determine if they become part of the avalanche or live to make another tough decision.

The goal of the game is to reach the summit, where a rescue helicopter is waiting. The game incorporates press your luck elements with time control and quick decision making. Co-op games involve a steeper challenge requiring extensive team work including rope systems, leading and belaying.

Lastly, King’s Town. A 2-4 Player Civ Building Card Game. More about this one coming soon.

Matthew O’Mally // Black Oak Games

Knot Dice and Crossing Swords will be presented at UnPub 3, and I am discussing both games with publishers and considering self-publishing as well.

Knot Dice – Knot Dice is a box full of games, puzzles, and art. The dice themselves are custom Celtic knot pieces that can be put together like tile-laying games or into more traditional knot designs.

There are 40 dice in the box along with a two-sided game board and a scoring board. The game rules included are:

  • Kells – a cooperative game for 2-6 players, in which you try to form a closed design using as many dice as possible
  • Celtic Cross – a competitive game for 2 players, which feels somewhat similar to Scrabble
  • Speed Knots – a competitive game for 2-4 players, in which you try to form a closed design with your dice as quickly as possible
  • Hill Fort – a competitive game for 2-4 players, in which you try to form closed designs on a verticals space
  • Gordian Knot – a competitive game for 2 players, in which you try to form closed designs that wrap around all of the sides of the dice in a 3-dimensional space
  • Osbox – a competitive game for 2 or 4 players, which feels somewhat similar to Tetris, designed by Cameron Browne (used with permission)

I’ve come up with some other game ideas that won’t go into the game box, but will be posted on the web along with player-contributed games that I hope players will come up with once they have the dice in their hands.

Finally, there are a number of puzzles to be worked, solo or with 2-4 players, and plenty of designs to create and enjoy using one or more sets of the dice.

Crossing Swords – This is a sword-fighting card game in the fencing era (think musketeers, pirates, all those great sword-fighting movies). The idea was to come up with something that approximated the feel of a film sword fight, including both speed and strategy. I’m still working on some of the gameplay, so I hope to do a lot of playtesting at UnPub.

Unnamed – Lastly, I’m starting work on a worker-placement game. This is the kind of game I actually spend the most time playing, but it’s taken me a while to come up with something that I feel is good enough to pursue. I’ll post more on my blog as the game develops.

Grant Rodiek // Hyperbole Games

Ready to Go?

Empire: This is my big hope for 2013 and has been submitted to a publisher. Pending their input, it’ll hopefully be developed and published, or I’ll revise it for the Con season and new pitches. Empire is a medium heft area control Euro/war game for 2-4 players in about an hour. The game features four unique factions and entirely card driven gameplay for a low-luck game of strategy. The cards are simple and provide one key piece of decision tension: Do you play the card for Reinforcements, or combine it with others for a powerful Tactic? Read more, check the rules, or get the PNP here.

Livestocked and Loaded: This is the expansion to Farmageddon and will be published by 5th Street Games. The game adds Animals, Weather, and new Action cards to the mix. The game still needs testing time for polish and balance. The game will be put into circulation in the PPP soon and should be out sometime in 2013.

In Development

Insurrection: I’m on my fourth significant design revision for this game. It is now a 2 player tactics game broken into two distinct layers. Firstly, you have the high level game, where players play powerful cards to position their fleets and put Units in place. Actions take place on a 3×3 grid of cards with “orbiting” fleets on the outskirts. The key is positioning to strike when it is most advantageous.

Then, when a battle takes place, players bust out the dice and meeples and quickly battle through a simple skirmish game that incorporates cover, suppression, and flanking tactics. You can read about some of the earlier ideas for this here. My hope is to enter Insurrection into the TGC Map Builder Design Challenge. We’ll see where it goes afterwards.

Extra! Extra!: This is a silly game where I’m trying to take some of the laughter of a party game and mix it with some light strategy. 3-5 players are newspaper reporters trying to gather and write the best stories for the deadline. Players will build stories out of Who, What, and Why cards. The key is playing the cards to the right story at the right time. This game is set to test early next year.

Poor Abby Farnsworth: This witchy game might make a return. Maybe. As something completely new.

Have a great and fortuitous 2013 guys and gals!