Hidden Depth

If you’ve been reading this blog, Jay Treat should need no introduction at this point. He’s my most frequent guest columnist and I’m quite glad for his help. Here’s another great column I’m sure you’ll enjoy!

Guest Column by: Jay Treat

Hello again, game design friends. Today I’d like to discuss hidden depth in games. All manner of games are purchased for the fun that they promise, but it’s the fun you can’t see until you play that keeps players coming back (and telling their friends). Some of the greatest games come in tiny boxes with short rules, yet offer heaping amounts of rewarding gameplay.

Let me tell you about a pair of very deep games you may not have heard of with very simple rules. So simple, I can teach both games in this post without breaking flow or going overly long.


Hanabi (by Antoine Bauza) is a cooperative card game with a deck made of five suits with ten cards each: three 1s, two 2s, 3s & 4s, and a single 5. Deal four cards to each player (five with fewer players). Here’s the gimmick: You don’t see your own hand. Players hold their cards facing everyone else so that their own cards are the only ones they don’t see.

On your turn, you must take one of three actions:

  • You can play a card to the table
  • Spend one of the team’s 8 starting clue tokens to give another player some information about her hand
  • Discard a card to buy back a spent clue token.

The goal is to build five fireworks displays by playing a 1 and then a 2, and a 3, a 4, and hopefully even the 5 in order for each suit.

It sounds easy, but the game is very tight. So much so, that the goal isn’t really to score 25 points by completing all five piles, just to score as high as you can. Hopefully higher than previous scores. It’s that difficult. 23 is a thoroughly impressive score. The trick is that there’s more information that needs to be given to play correctly than you’ll have the time to give.

When you tell a player about her hand, you can choose a suit or a rank and point out all the cards in her hand of that suit or rank. “This is your only red card.” “These are your 3s.” As such, the game requires some memory (which card in my hand was a non-red, non-blue 3 again?) and deduction (I can see the other 9 yellow cards between my partners’ hands, the display and the discard pile, so I know this yellow card in my hand must be the 5), but the real meat of the game is innuendo.

There’s no table talk allowed, obviously, so the ability to communicate more through your plays, and to intuit other players’ subtle hints is crucial to a successful game. “These are your 1s” means something completely different on the first turn of the game (you should play any/all of them) than it does halfway through (you can discard them …unless we’re still missing a suit). “This is your only 2” is a hint to go ahead and play it when there are four fireworks displays stuck on 1, even if you don’t yet know for a fact the suit doesn’t belong to that fifth stack.

You can misplay, by the way. If you misread a clue and played a blue 3 while the blue fireworks display is still at 1, the card is discarded (you don’t earn a clue token for it) and the team earns a strike. If you get three strikes, the game ends immediately in total failure. That’s bad and to be avoided, but sometimes it’s worth the risk to go for the gold when you have incomplete information on the theory that a third 17 is no better than a 0 and you’d rather have a chance at scoring 18 or better this game.

I haven’t been able to find a copy of Hanabi until I checked while writing this. Looks like the collector’s tin is available right now and I just heard a new edition is on its way.

Kakerlaken Poker

Kakerlaken Poker (by Jacques Zeimet) is a competitive card game of bluffing with a deck of 8 suits, each with 8 rankless cards (each card within a suit is functionally identical but sports different art, which was a classy move on the publisher’s part). You deal the deck out to start, and then on each player’s turn he chooses a card from his hand, plays it face-down in front of another player and names a suit: “It’s a Rat.” (The suits are various pests and insects like spiders and stinkbugs.)

The player can accept the card, declaring whether your assertion was true or not. She reveals the card and if she’s wrong, she keeps it. It goes face-up in front of her for the rest of the game. But if she’s right, it goes face-up in front of you. That’s a bad thing, because the game ends when one player gets four copies of a single pest. At which point that player loses and everyone else wins. Fun, right?

Here’s the twist: instead of accepting the card, she can look at it and then pass it along to another player, declaring its suit again. She can name the same suit you did or another. The player she passed it to now has all the same options she did. The card can continue to be passed until there’s only one player that hasn’t seen it, at which point he must accept it, declaring whether he believes it is the last suit named or not.

Like Hanabi, this game might sound way too simple to be interesting, but it’s not. It’s absolutely fascinating because there’s so much subtle communication, human interaction and good old bluffing happening. When you slide a card at me claiming it’s a fly, my initial response is entirely dependant on the known fly population. If you have three flies in front of you, I will suspect it is not a fly, because you would be taking a huge chance of losing the game if it is. If I have three flies, though, it becomes rather likely that it really is a fly, since accepting the card has a 50/50 chance of ending the game in everyone else’s favor. Unless I also have a few scorpions, in which case you may be counting on my heightened fly-aversion to trick me into gaining another deadly scorpion.

But wait, what if another player has a fly in front of her and no one else does? You probably don’t want me to accept one way or another. You want the card to make its way to Anna through me. I could pass the card along to her and try to get her to keep it …but why should I take the risk you didn’t? So I pass it to Bob, with the understanding that he should pass it to Anna. Maybe he will and maybe he won’t. This whole time, people are adding more information to the claim. Perhaps I looked at the card and said “it’s not a fly, but it eats them for breakfast: It’s a frog”, but Bob looked at and said “Don’t listen to him, Anne, it really is a fly!”

What if instead, I passed the card to Bob without looking at it (you can do that) and said “fly.” My claim isn’t based on an actual observation of the card, I’m just preserving your original statement. What does that mean? It could be that I don’t care, or perhaps I’m preventing myself from displaying a tell. Or maybe I’ve figured out some subtle play that you haven’t. Goodness knows that happens often enough in this game.

Cockroach Poker” is also known as Eight Curses, where the suits are replaced with enchantments with the curse subtype from Magic: the Gathering’s Innistrad block. I can’t support playing a game without buying it from the publisher so that the designer is rewarded for his or her effort, but I will grant that Eight Curses is an entirely appropriate retheme.

What’s going on here?

Designers spend so much time crafting rules and interactions (cards, markers, rondels, turns, whoknowswhat). But, so often the real joy of a game is the rich human interaction that you could never fabricate yet falls into place naturally if you leave room for it. Most party games are powered entirely through the intricacies of social interaction. Werewolf and Celebrities are all about subtle communication. Even seemingly mindless games like Apples to Apples and Cards Against Humanity are fun purely because of the way they cause you to interact with the other players.

So what, don’t all games have this? I would argue that all good games have some hidden depth, whether it’s more social or mechanical. If a player can find a reason to take a move other than those spelled out in the rules or on the cards, she has discovered a nugget of hidden depth. If your game is chock full of such things, you’re offering your players more of the “ah-ha” moments that make them feel clever and enjoy your game.

Note that granting your players more freedom doesn’t usually help the way you might think. Players are often paralyzed when presented with too many choices. For example, I played a political simulation many years ago at Origins in which each player had some global political office and they set us loose for four hours to see what would happen. A few players leveraged their resources, wheeled and dealed, and caused some interesting results. However, the bulk of us just milled about with no clue what to do next. That was too much freedom.

It is when your choices as a player are limited that you are most challenged to play optimally, and it is because of those restrictions that you are forced to think outside the box, prompting you to discover clever solutions.

It’s quite apropos that these few thoughts only scratch the surface of how to add hidden depth to your game, and that I’m quite certain there’s much more to it that I simply haven’t uncovered yet. It’s that inkling that there’s more to discover yet that will keep me thinking about this subject and that’s the exact same motivation that keeps players coming back to games like Hanabi and Kakerlaken Poker.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Have you gleaned any insights about when a game or mechanic will have hidden depth, or won’t?

Handful of Fun

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I believe very strongly that cards are the best component with which to design great games. Perhaps it’s just how my mind works, but every time I conceive a mechanic or way to do something, I ultimately replace it with a card driven system. Cards are a fantastic tool for your design arsenal and I intend to elaborate on this point fully. However, like all tools, cards come with their own downsides. I’ll try to cover those as well.

Oh cards, how I love thee! Cards are amazing! So many of my favorite games (Memoir ’44, Dragonheart, Dominion, Ascension) use cards masterfully.

Cards allow for private Information and player ownership. There’s something delightful about knowing something your opponents don’t know. It’s really as simple as that. What I have in my hand can fundamentally alter things for you, my dear enemy, and you have NO clue what’s coming! This sounds a bit like a take-that only pro, but that’s not the case. Can you imagine poker if everything was visible? No, you can’t, because that notion is foolish.

True, if everything is on the table, it’s possible to consider every possible outcome and plan accordingly. But, the element of surprise and, more importantly, surprise that only I can plan for, is great fun.

Cards also give players something to own, something to hold. The card is more precious because it’s yours and only yours (or, something you share in limited quantities).

Cards allow for exceptions. As you’ve heard me and several others say on this blog, it’s key to keep a game simple, elegant, and free of undue complexity. However, if you build a solid foundation, cards give you an opportunity to really spice up a game and making it sing.

The game of Dominion is fundamentally built upon an absurdly simple set of rules (draw 5 cards, 1 Action, 1 Buy, discard) that is broken by acquiring Action cards. Summoner Wars, as I discussed in my column about factions, is a series of thematic, coordinated exceptions. If wielded correctly, cards turn your game into something truly special.

Cards provide a canvas for gorgeous illustrations. Custom meeples are neat, but I’ll take a beautifully illustrated card any day. Never overlook any of the sensations and elements that your board and card game can provide. One of the most essential sensations is great art, as Farmageddon’s successful Kickstarter can attest.

Beautiful art immerses your players, tells a story, excites the imagination, and helps your game fly off store shelves. Without cards, you immediately have fewer opportunities to leverage this benefit.

Cards allow (some) games to be infinitely expandable. Magic: The Gathering is an unstoppable juggernaut. So are the previously mentioned Dominion and Summoner Wars. Cards are relatively easy to manufacture and with a little bit of shuffling they can keep a great game vibrantly alive for a very long time.

Furthermore, because you can do so much with cards in the way of functionality, a few cards can really change a game in fundamental ways. Ascension’s constructs really help to make Ascension a unique deckbuilder. Same component and layout, just a few key words make all the difference.

Cards help players learn and remember the rules. A few weeks ago I was working on a simple, pure dice game. One of my biggest frustrations with the design was that players would have to remember every symbol and rule in the game because you cannot print lines of text on a normal sized six-sided die.

Every time I added a rule or tweaked something, I would say aloud “nobody will ever remember that!” As a result, I switched to cards. Cards allow me to have a greater variety of incredibly simple spells. Why? I can write the text, use icons, and reinforce all of this with a clever layout when using cards.

Cards are one of the best uses of luck. When it comes to games, I’m an absolute probability junky. I love it. With a six-sided die, you always have a 1 in 6 chance of rolling one of the sides. Obviously, if a symbol is duplicated OR you have a way to modify the dice roll (see: Alien Frontiers), then the probability is modified somewhat.

However, if you give a player a deck of cards, as he draws from the deck and plays cards, he will begin to know what he has, what he doesn’t have, and when he might get it. Dragonheart is an incredibly simple game that does this very well. There are only so many cards and you begin to know the pulse of your deck. Dominion is a bit more complex, but YOU build the deck, so you know the approximate chances of drawing that card you need.

You have to be careful with this. Early iterations of Farmageddon had limited appeal because the distribution of Action cards wasn’t really even-handed. Essentially, the player who drew the Dust Bowl or Foreclosure cards tended to win most of the time. However, in the final version of Farmageddon, there are now 12 cards (up from 8), the distribution of the more powerful cards is lessened, and there are other cards to balance things. Now, victory tends to go to the player who plays his cards the best, not the player who randomly draws the best cards.

But, I thought you were perfect? Cards aren’t perfect. As much as it pains me to point out my lady’s flaws, I must.


Art is expensive. Meeples may not allow for gorgeous illustrations, but they do have a fairly straightforward cost. Art, especially good art, gets very expensive very quickly. One of the reasons I shelved the current iteration of Poor Abby Farnsworth is that I designed it in a way that it would require an inordinate amount of art. Nobody would ever publish it and there was no way I could afford to self-publish it.

When designing with cards, keep your art costs in mind. Try to find ways to tastefully re-use art, find ways to do things with a small set of icons and symbols, and more. Yes, this is and should be a component of your design process. Don’t wait for a publisher rejection to think about this.

Cards encourage exceptions galore (naughty designer!). Wait…a positive and a minus! That’s right. Just because you can fill your game with exceptions doesn’t mean you should. Long time Magic players will freely admit that at times the Wizards of the Coast R&D department has gone off the deep end with crazy exceptions and ridiculously fiddly cards.

Be smart about your exceptions. Make each one matter, be useful, and be clear. If it doesn’t really improve the game, don’t add complexity for nothing.

Cards lack the tactile qualities of dice, meeples, and tokens. There’s something fun about moving your token around the Monopoly board or rolling that beautiful wooden set of custom dice in Memoir ’44. In most instances, holding a handful of paper cards, no matter how well crafted (linen, matte finish, yum), just don’t match up to a hefty set of dice. Yes, games like Gloom, with its transparent plastic cards and clever mechanics, show you can do something special even still with cards.

When it makes sense, use all the tools at your disposal. People loving chucking dice and making irritating tapping noises while waiting for their turn with tokens. Or, stick with cards and know you might be missing a little something. Perhaps you could create a mechanic based upon shuffling?

Cards tempt designers to write flavor text everywhere. Again, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Designers love flavor text. I’m not sure what it is, but there are so many times when I open a new game to find a card with .08 font size functional text and a wall of useless, italicized flavor text. Incursion comes to mind immediately.

Your focus must first be on functional text and symbols. Be sure to write everything in a reasonable font size so that it’s easily legible for players of all ages and eye site quality. Once you do this, your next step should be to ensure there’s room for great art. A picture is worth 1000 words and a great picture is worth far more. It’s more interesting to let the player create a story in their head.

If you solve those two priorities and STILL have room to spare, sure, maybe, consider some flavor text. But, I’d still encourage you to focus on great art and great gameplay. The rule booklet is a better place for flavor text, even better, your website with supplemental materials. I know I’m being overly pessimistic, but good designers aren’t necessarily good writers. It’s key to not get bogged down with distractions. That goes the same for what you show your players.

What’s your favorite game component? Where was I right above? Where was I wrong? Note it in the comments below!

Blood from the Turnip

Post by: Grant Rodiek

One of the best environments for great creative output is one of strict limitations. One of my favorite aspects of Twitter is the fact that I’m only allowed 140 characters with which to present a meaningful thought. Others quickly resort to bastardized ‘net English, but I relish the challenge of culling back the unnecessary characters until I fit within the unwavering limit.

My friends and co-workers in the digital game design realm often ask about the differences between print and digital. How does video game design differ from board game design?

My first response is always “forced simplicity.” By this, I mean that in a board game you cannot hide anything “under the hood.” For example, in  even the most basic first-person shooter the enemies run an AI routine that makes them appear convincing and conniving, or at the very least, fun to explode. In a board game, however, everything is defined by clear, hopefully simple and repetitive rules. The information needs to be visible on the board or on a tiny card.

I think this is a beautiful distinction and it’s one that draws me to print games. One of the first mistakes of the new designer is to over-complicate something. Lately, it seems that the digital realm is trying to over-complicate everything, which is probably why the mobile game market is growing so rapidly!

Simplify is often the rallying cry of many designers. It’s a drum I love to beat, but it’s also one that you see Reiner Knizia bring up often. Some are quick to dismiss this thought because they prefer games with significantly more heft. This is a mistake, especially for designers.

I believe that two descriptors for outstanding games are simple and deep. No, simple and deep are not polar opposites. A game that embraces these descriptors is The Princes of Florence. The worst place to be, in my opinion, is shallow and complex. A game that embraces these descriptors is Fortune and Glory.

Here, I made a handy chart for you!

I’m going to elaborate on these statements now. Princes of Florence is a game that combines several very simple, elegant mechanics. It is absurdly deep!

  • Players bid over features to add to their tableau. Each player can only win a single item and can only bid the money they have.
  • Players place items within the confinements of a very simple rule set on their tableau.
  • Players take two Actions, chosen from a small subset of actions. Some of these actions are unavailable because the player doesn’t have the means by which to do them.

Euro designers like Kramer and Feld are masters of simplicity. They find the easiest, simplest ways to do something interesting. They then combine these refined elements into a broader cohesive experience. The depth comes through in how you use your limited choices, scarce resources, and maximize your options versus those of your opponents.

Even Trajan, which is a beast of a game, is fundamentally simple. The mancala bowls, worker placement, hand management, and other mechanics are all incredibly simple and elegant. The game is just incredibly broad and therefore becomes a brain burner very quickly.

Fortune and Glory, on the other hand, is an incredibly complex game. The game features several decks, which means you’re constantly referencing the rules to find which deck you draw for each situation. Different situations require different dice rolls and different outcomes for those dice rolls. Feedback isn’t immediate. Instead, you must draw a card on the subsequent round to find how you must resolve your failure. The game features co-op and competitive rules and a slew of one-offs. As a result, you have a game that isn’t remotely intuitive and is very complex.

But, this complexity doesn’t lead to meaningful decisions or depth. Instead, the game presents the player with some of the most convoluted, purely random dice rolling possible.  I would argue that the game, which seems to be more focused on theme than mechanics, would better serve its customers by simplifying its mechanics and getting to the fun more quickly!

For the sake of brevity I’m focusing on these two extremes. Yes, it’s okay to allow complex mechanics into your design. Star Trek: Fleet Captains is a game full of one-off mechanics, like transporting an away team to an enemy ship, Tribbles, and system events. However, the game manages to be fun, provide interesting choices, and be true to the Star Trek IP. My own game, Farmageddon, has a relatively simple core mechanic, but has 12 Action cards. This definitely adds a bit of complexity to an otherwise very simple game.

This may seem like an overly preachy post focused on semantics. But, the call for simplicity is so very key for making better games, reaching new players, and becoming more than a niche hobby. Your focus as a designer should be to craft a FUN, thought-provoking, and thematic experience (or some subset of those 3). Your focus should be on the end experience and the best way to do that is to refine the cogs such that players spend their time loving your game, not consulting the rules.

A good mental exercise is designing a dice only game. Dice. Only. How much depth can you bring about in a game that does not feature a board, or meeples, or cards? I’ve been pursuing this exercise myself and hope to share my dice game idea in the near future!

Squeeze blood from the turnip! Maximize your creations with as little as possible.

Field Marshals Checkup #3

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I really love working on Field Marshals. I spent so much time on Frontier Scoundrels, Poor Abby Farnsworth, and other failed designs, so finally landing on something worthwhile is good for the creative soul. I imagine it’s somewhat akin to the satisfaction Wellington felt after the battle of Waterloo? That may be a tinge hyperbolic…

Nevertheless, it’s fun to watch players thinking about their turns and trying to make the most out of their options. It’s fun to watch them pull out powerful tactics only to see their opponent counter them. It’s neat that it’s becoming a game.

To cut to the chase, here are the new rules for Field Marshals. Below, I’m going to discuss the changes I’ve made as a result of testing, followed by a quick examination of some of the map development I’ve done. Note: Map development is REALLY DIFFICULT.

Testing Changes

In the latest test of Field Marshals, I tested a few key things:

  • Revised Tactics, especially new options for the defender in a battle. Previously the battles favored the aggressor entirely, which just isn’t accurate for the time period OR fun.
  • New conscript mechanic, which determined a player’s turn order and maximum Units.

Defensive Tactics

The revised tactics were definitely a step in the right direction. However, the value proposition for defenders just wasn’t there. Essentially, a defender would need to spend 3 cards (out of a hand of 5) for a marginally useful ability. By spending those 3 cards as a defender, he wouldn’t get to use them on his turn, meaning his round was relatively horked. Furthermore, the Ambush mechanic, which wasn’t a Tactic, was poorly integrated. It created clunkiness and confusion.

Now, all defensive tactics are activated with one card. For all 3 Tactics, playing the card is a definite trade off, but it won’t ruin the defensive player’s entire round AND it gives them a chance to turn the tide of the battle. I believe it’s the right direction. Ambush is now a tactic, which means it’s fully integrated into the system and it’s consistent across all defensive tactics.

Conscript Mechanic (Part 1)

The conscript mechanic was also a step in the right direction. Non-random turn order is better, having to decide how to build your Unit pool is good, and in general, the design needed a little breadth to deepen the strategy. However, the mechanic as implemented added a great deal of components and the dynamic turn order was too static for my tastes.

Before I explain my changes for the conscript mechanic, it makes sense for me to discuss the updates to the map first. They are very closely tied together.

The Map

In addition to the two features discussed above, some of the map’s current problems really became apparent. Fundamentally, too many map elements encouraged players to separate and spread out instead of fighting over scarce resources. For example, players start from the center and move to the outskirts to accomplish goals. There are too many coal territories, which means they don’t need to be fought over.

As a result, I’ve shifted a few things. The changes weren’t difficult to make, but I think they’ll have a huge impact on the quality of the game.

  • There are no longer Secret Orders that direct players to conquer Seaports. I don’t want players rushing to the edge. Seaports are now just a tool to use, a means to an end.
  • I’ve condensed the map slightly so that there are fewer overall territories.
  • There are now 3 coal territories instead of 4.
  • Coal territories are located in the center of the board. Player Headquarters are located on the outskirts.

Here is the map I just tested:

Here is the update:

Conscript Mechanic (Part 2)

Instead of adding conscript tokens to normal territories on the board for players to obtain, conscripts will now simply be tied to controlling territory. The previous mechanic had a few problems:

  • It added 12 new tokens and cluttered the board.
  • It encouraged players to sprint around the map to collect tokens. It rewarded mobility, not holding territory (which is fictionally strange and bad for the game).
  • It encouraged players to separate instead of competing for scarce resources.

The new mechanic allows players to increase their maximum Unit pool merely by controlling territory. However, there’s a twist. For each territory connected to his Headquarters a player controls, he can increase his max Unit pool by a set amount. Note that each individual territory doesn’t need to be connected, it’s that the set of connected, contiguous territories must ultimately be connected to the Headquarters.

In addition to adding Units, connected territories are worth more points at the end of the game than disconnected stragglers. And, if you notice the map above, there isn’t enough space for everyone to have all of the territories to hit the max pool easily. Plus, there are coal territories to conquer, fortresses to build…

Other Changes

  • Players will now earn points for Battle Trophies
  • Players will now earn points for controlling an opponent’s HQ
  • I’ve made slight tweaks to the card distribution in the decks.
  • I’ve modified the cards required to activate Tactics as well as some of the numbers on the tactics (See snapshot of the player reference board below to see what I’m talking about).
  • Assorted reference board improvements.

GenCon is quickly approaching, which means I need to polish off these changes and order some prototypes. I also hope to have some blind testing feedback before I pitch, which is also pressing. Deadlines lead to good decision making! We’ll see how it rounds out.

As always, questions, comments, and feedback are appreciated.

An Interview About Forsooth!

Sam Liberty is one of my favorite people on Twitter. He’s hilarious, but also a very thoughtful, accomplished designer. I’ve been bugging him to write for Hyperbole Games for months, but he’s too busy doing TED Talks, getting games published, and in general trying to convince me to make Field Marshals about combative pastries (he’s serious). Well, I took this battle to him and his designer partner, Kevin Spak.

I didn’t know much about their upcoming pen and paper roleplaying game Forsooth!, but I assumed (rightly) it was worth discussing. I also assumed their design process would make for a compelling read. How awesome is it that I’m 2 for 2?

At Sam and Kevin’s site you’ll find designer diaries, print and play versions of their games, and more.

Note: HG and Italics mean Hyperbole Games. SFG means Spoiled Flush Games (Sam and Kevin).

HG: Thanks for agreeing to this interrogation! Can you tell me a little bit about yourselves and Spoiled Flush Games?

SFG: Our pleasure! We’ve been working together since college, where we met and developed a few card and board games. We had the bright idea to design 52 card and dice games using just a deck of cards and a set of hobby dice (plus other sundires a normal person might have lying around), and publish them together as a book. We actually never published it, but now we look at it as sort of a well of ideas that we can draw from for full-scale games. A lot of mechanics that emerged from the process have found their way into our designs, most notably the combat system for our deck-building game, Gladiators (Rio Grande, 2013). That’s where our name and logo comes from, too. We’re fond of playing cards, to put it mildly.

We’ve got another game, Cosmic Pizza, coming out from Cambridge Games Factory soon.

HG: So you’re saying you made 52 games? Not a number of games that use 52 cards? That’s quite impressive. Is there any way for people to read some of these?

SFG: That’s right — we designed 52 games, many of which use 52 cards. We’ve been publishing some favorites on our website’s free games blog, and have seven of them online as of today. In addition to the rules, we also post design diaries for each one.

HG: Gladiators is a collaboration between the two of you, then?

SFG: Basically, every game we’ve designed since we met has been a collaboration between the two of us. At this point, neither of us would even think about designing a game without taking it to the other at a very early stage. Our process is extremely collaborative, which we think is part of the secret to our success, such as it is.

HG: I agree that such a strong collaboration can only be a part of the “plus” column. The reason I brought you here (“here” being cyberspace) is to discuss your upcoming pen and paper RPG, Forsooth. Can you tell us about the game?

SFG: We designed this game for Game Chef 2011, and are honored to have won the competition. The theme that year was Shakespeare, so we designed the best Shakespeare game we could. It doesn’t use a GM and requires no advanced preparations. In our experience it takes 3-4 hours to play, but there’s a Cliff Notes version included that plays in just around 90 minutes. The game seats 3-6.

As for setting, it can be anywhere the players like, as long as that place looks and feels like Elizabethan England. Shakespeare famously played fast and loose with setting, and so do we. The spotlight is really on characters.

Each player creates their own cast, controlling multiple characters, that can enter and exit scenes at any time, as long as no player controls more than one onstage character at a time. These characters have motivations (what they’re trying to achieve) and oaths (a behavior they’ve sworn to uphold) which give them some direction, plus a nature that lets everyone know what type that character is. Natures are paired descriptors that you choose from a list, like “Sophisticated Fool,” “Melancholy Rake,” or “Scheming Brute,” for example.

It’s amazing the power that players have in Forsooth! to really affect the fiction. Because it’s all improvised, nobody knows where the play will go, or what will happen in a given scene. The best moments are often when a character does something really unexpected or outlandish — and because it’s written in the rules that whatever a player says goes, everyone else just needs to roll with the punches. Characters also have another powerful set of tools to get what they want: soliloquies and asides, which let you actually change your fate or over-write previously introduced information.

So, yes, the characters have stuff they want to achieve, but it’s not really a good idea to get too hung up on that part of it. The object of the game is actually to win applause from your opponents, which you do by performing well, i.e. entertaining them through your roleplaying. Each game will have two winners, one that broke his oath (forsworn) and one who kept to it (true) with the most applause, so it might be dramatically appropriate or strategically smart to break your oath, too.

HG: Can you give us some examples of some of the good settings?

SFG: At the start of the game, you’ll choose themes and a setting. We found in testing players wanted something a little more specific than “Wherever!” so we introduced what we call “setting descriptions.” These are simple descriptions of the setting that take the form of “A ______ near a _______ in _______.” For example, “A castle near the shore in Denmark.” Players agree on these before character generation, so you can appropriately name your characters. We have lists of choices (though you don’t need to use them), and give the option of rolling the setting at random.

HG: How are Oaths chosen or assigned to players?

SFG: Players pen oaths for each of their characters. In my mind, this is the most  challenging part of character generation, so we include a long section on what makes a good oath. They describe an action that the character has sworn to always take, or never take. One of my characters in our last playtest had sworn to “Never perform surgery while drunk.”

HG: Hilarious! Is there a limit to the number of characters? What’s the typical number for players?

SFG: It varies depending on whether you’re using the Cliff Notes or standard rules. In the standard game, you will have two characters in your cast in most cases. A three-player game uses a three-character cast (nine characters for the table). If you’re using Cliff Notes, it’s usually one less. If you’re using Cycles rules (campaign play), you can eventually earn extra characters, and in that sense, there’s no strict limit on your cast size. This is a good reward for expert players who can handle larger  casts.

HG: Have you seen issues where players withhold applause/points because they want to deny others the win? I can imagine some players are perhaps too competitive and hurt the experience?

SFG: Short answer: no. We haven’t seen this behavior in playtesting. However, the rules do discourage this in a couple ways. First, applause totals are technically secret. You don’t really know how much each character has at any given point. Second, you’re required to give out a certain number of applause chips by the end of the game, or all your characters get -1 for each chip you failed to get rid of.

HG: What are some of your favorite pen and paper RPGs? How did they influence Forsooth?

SFG: We’re both D&D players from way back (who isn’t?) but Forsooth! bares absolutely no resemblance to it, or most of its kin. It’s got a real indie vibe to it, no dice rolling, extremely improvisation and character driven, etc. We were heavily influenced by The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen, by James Wallis. Like Munchausen, Forsooth! has a winner, and that winner is chosen by the table by giving out chips. We love the storytelling of Munchausen, but wanted a more interactive game. Munchausen is all about one player telling a boastful story (as is fitting), whereas Forsooth! is all about improvising a play together as a group.

Another strong influence is Luke Crane’s Mouse Gaurd. Veteran Mouseguard players might notice echoes of beliefs, goals, and instincts when they’re writing motivations and oaths for their Forsooth! characters. Like in MG, what characters believe and want are central, more than numerical scores (we only use one number in the whole game!). Also like in MG, you’re using these aspects to tell the rest of the table what you’re interested in, inviting them to throw a wrench into your motivation or tempt you to break your oath.

HG: I own Fiasco from Bully Pulpit and, though I haven’t played it yet, I’m fairly familiar. Both of your games seem to have a highly improvised, over the top feel to them. Is this a fair comparison?

SFG: We’re in the same boat as you. We own it, haven’t played it, but really want to. The only reason we haven’t is we’ve been playtesting Forsooth! at every opportunity. I was blown away when I read Fiasco, and do feel the games appeal to a similar audience. We have rules to encourage interconnected casts between players, for instance, and encourage bold, exciting action. They compare very favorably to each other.

HG: How long has Forsooth been in development?

SFG: We started work on it as soon as the Game Chef 2011 theme was announced, so roughly a year.

HG: How does development on an RPG differ from a board game, if at all?

SFG: They’re strikingly similar. We have ideas, we talk about them, we implement the best ones, then watch them explode in testing. Actually, Forsooth! came together really quickly and well, simply because it’s so rules-light. We did make many changes from the original version, though. The game remained generally the same, even if almost every specific thing about it changed, from what a soliloquy and aside actually do, to the number of characters you control, to what triggers the end of the game.

It’s a lot harder to playtest an RPG, however. Finding willing guinea pigs is more difficult. Anyone who agrees to do it needs to hack out a huge block of time to give you a meaningful test. Getting multiple play-throughs in one sitting is almost impossible. It’s a lot harder to objectively judge the results and pick out what exactly is causing a problem, because the players personalities obscure that so much. Yet, playtests are every bit as important as with a board game.

HG: What are some features or aspects that you removed from the game? Why?

SFG: We removed some artifacts born from the restrictions of the Game Chef competition. For instance, we were required to include “exile” as a design theme, so we said “your highest fate character is your Exile, and the game ends when all Exiles are married or dead.” The plot of the game always involved a band of exiles living together in a castle. It was a little MTV’s Real World. Now, we just say your highest fate character is your “protagonist,” but we kept the married or dead thing, which always went over well with everyone.

At one point, we had a list of events that had to take place during scenes to help give players direction, but it proved an unnecessary restriction and source of stress, so we axed that.

The Game Chef version was really short, by necessity, so we’ve added a lot more than we’ve taken away.

HG: Other than finding testers, what has been the hardest aspect of development for you?

SFG: The hardest part has probably been figuring out the actual cause of problems. In a board game, you can see that a strategy is too dominant or a card is too unbalanced. Even in a traditional RPG like D&D it’s apparent when a character option or monster is too strong. In Forsooth! we had to say “OK, the players are having difficulty wrapping their minds around the setting. Why? How can we fix that?” or “OK, players are forgetting characters and constantly referring to the sheets, how can we ease this?”

HG: Do you have any advice for someone who may want to create their own RPG?

SFG: Figure out what your game does differently than other games, what it does better than other games, and focus on that relentlessly. Design philosophy has changed drastically since D&D and GURPS were your only choices, and today, I feel there’s more room for RPGs that explore one thing, or a few things, very deeply, rather than games that are a Swiss Army knife that tries to do everything, simulate everything perfectly. All the games mentioned in this interview (Mouse GuardFiascoBaron Munchausen, and Forsooth!) have that in common, and all are successful for that reason.

HG: What are some of your favorite moments or stories that have emerged during testing?

SFG: So many. Most of them are really funny. Even when you improvise a tragedy, it turns out hilarious, 99% of the time. In the very first playtest we had, our friend Adam Stone played a princess with a tendency to enter scenes and wistfully foreshadow her own death. In a cliff notes playthough, Denise Granniss used her line of narration to introduce a Barbary Pirate raid. Another time, Kevin had is Foolish Thinker break his oath to “Do nothing he could not justify through reason,” by falling in love. The game by its nature ends up littered with hapless fools, insufferable mopers and outlandish villains who we love to see befuddled and foiled.

Occasionally, though, the action does stray into dark territory and some really startling, gut-wrenching moments occur. In my last game, one of Sam’s characters suffered a complete breakdown and smothered an infant alone onstage. One scene later, when another character asked where the baby was and she replied, ‘I’ll go get her,” you could feel the tension around the table, especially when she returned holding the dead baby — which all the other characters thought was alive. The shocking reveal brought down the house.

HG: When and where will Forsooth be available? At what price?

SFG: The game will be available in PDF and soft cover from Amazon.com beginning June 22nd, and we’ll be placing it in more stores (online and off) as we go along. It’ll retail for $14 (soft cover) and $10 (PDF). We’re also planning on producing an e-reader version.

HG: Tell me about your Game Chef experience. Has winning opened any doors for you? Did you compete in the 2012 competition? Any advice for potential participants?

SFG: I don’t know if winning has opened up doors for us, but it’s always useful to be able to say you won something. “We designed a game,” is nice, but “We designed a game; it won a competition,” is nicer. We skipped the 2012 contest for a couple reasons. First, we were hard at work on this RPG. Second, we consider it a little uncouth to enter a contest you already won once.

Creating a game out of nothing in just a week is a tough order, but if you love game design and playing RPGs, how could you pass it up? We had a ton of fun designing and playing Forsooth!. Building a full, satisfying game in limited time and limited space is an interesting challenge in and of itself. The perfectionist in you will want to create a game with fun, innovative mechanics and character generation rules, a lush, fleshed-out setting, layers of descriptive flavor text, and painstakingly spelled out examples. This is almost impossible. The key is making a plan of attack, figuring out what you can skip and what the players will fill in on their own. For Forsooth!, that meant including almost nothing about the setting of the game and trusting the players to figure out how to make the game work without too much hand-holding. This allowed us to devote our space to a complete and playable game system with enough extras to round off the sharp edges. Other games that impressed us had amazing settings, but left the finer parts of the rules to to chance. Figure out what your game is really about and focus on that.

HG: Is there anything you’d like to add?

SFG: Well, if any interested parties are in the Boston area, they should come to Jiffycon Boston on June 16th, where they can meet and play Forsooth! with us.

We’d also like to use this space just to say thanks to everyone who helped make Forsooth! a reality:Game Chef’ers, play testers, Terry LaCasse (Founder and Director of CNY Shakespeare) who graciously contributed a foreword, Janine Liberty (Sam’s wife) who copy edited the manuscript, and Kevin’s girlfriend Melissa Newman-Evans who did an amazing job designing the cover and laying out all the text. That’s about all!

HG: Thanks guys, awesome interview!

An Interview with Pixel Tagmire

I’m a fan of Jason Tagmire. If you recall, he and his wife wrote one of Hyperbole’s first guest columns about cooperatively developing his game, Sandwich City. Jason’s latest game, Pixel Lincoln, recently launched on Kickstarter.

I was interested in discussing Pixel Lincoln with Jason, primarily because I’ve been trying (unsuccessfully) to design a good deckbuilding game for months now. I wanted to know how Jason approached it so that it could possibly help me (and others).

Note: HG and Italics means Hyperbole Games. JT means Jason Tagmire.

HG: Can you tell us about Pixel Lincoln?

JT: The game is 2-4 players. I intend to create rules for a 1 player version, because it seems very natural, but I just haven’t been able to dedicate any time to that aspect of the design as of yet. Game sessions are about 30-45 minutes each and game length scales fairly evenly from 2 to 4 players. I’m somewhat stumped on the genre because it’s very similar to an adventure video game.

In the game, [each player] plays as Pixel Lincoln traveling through time and space chasing after John Wilkes Booth, who has stolen Lincoln’s (unknowingly) magical top hat. You will acquire items and defeat enemies to build your deck. Once the levels are all beaten, or all of the bosses are destroyed, players will tally up their points and compare high scores. Just like video games, high score always wins.

The game is loaded with retro gaming nostalgia. There are power ups, cheat codes, boss battles, side-scrolling levels, level checkpoints, secret items, NPCs, and much more.

HG: One player version? How is that natural in a competitive setting? I’m very intrigued and you must elaborate.

JT: The style of video games that this emulates were for the most part, one player. You would play by yourself, or players would take turns playing one at a time. And in a lot of cases, you were simply playing to beat your previous high score. The competition was against the game, and yourself. I’d love to be able to preserve that and incorporate that into this game.

HG: Where did you get the idea for making a game about Abraham Lincoln? What drew you to him and the idea of making something fantastical with such a famous historical figure? I’ve long wanted to make a game about my hero, Theodore Roosevelt, but haven’t found the right design yet.

JT: It was 2008 and I was making one of my very first card games. One prototype had a 3×4 grid on each card and you would move a token from left to right along a series of cards. I was essentially trying to recreate a side-scrolling video game with cards. I had no characters and no story, just a really rough general idea of how it would work.

Even in early stages of development, my first ideas are always about production. I knew that I couldn’t afford to make custom tokens for this game, so I looking into buying some tokens from a parts company. At one point I read a post on Board Game Geek where the author said used pennies for his prototypes. At one cent each, they are the cheapest and most accessible prototype parts.

I was using the penny and sliding it across the grid and it hit me that I should just make Abraham Lincoln the main character and use the penny for the actual in-game token when self-publishing. And since Lincoln is so iconic, it was an easy choice. The beard, the hat, the penny, the Lincoln Memorial, log cabins… all of these are defining to most Americans.

I took the original Mario Bros sprite, changed it into Lincoln, and Pixel Lincoln was born. Even though he was pretty short and squat, and wasn’t wearing his hat he was instantly recognizable and instantly very cool.

The old card game was an homage to Mario Bros and Megaman, so I kept the standard level types in the game (underground, underwater, etc). I just needed enemies. Whenever I made them realistic, it felt out of place, so I turned to a few artist friends, gave them the template and asked them to create enemies. Within an hour I had the puking turtle, tommy gun cats, smiley slimes, tiny T-Rex, and many more. We went with it and those characters carried into to the DS game and now into the deckbuilding game.

HG:  Pixel Lincoln was a DS game, right? Why did you decide to convert the property into a print game?

JT: Pixel Lincoln was actually a card game first. Way back at the end of 2008, I created Pixel Lincoln and self-published a card game. The art was great and the concept was a lot of fun, but the game itself was more of a novelty than a game. There weren’t a lot of choices to be made, but people still loved the idea of Pixel Lincoln. A few years later, I connected with video game developers Island Officials and started development of Pixel Lincoln for Nintendo DS. I was a designer on the game and after 2.5 years of production my role was just about complete. I left the DS project and Island Officials asked if I would be interested in making an analog version of Pixel Lincoln, again. Pixel Lincoln is my baby so I jumped right on it.

HG: How long has the game been in development?

JT: I have worked on it pretty much daily since the beginning of March.

HG: Who is handling the art and graphic design for the game?

JT: One of the reasons we decided to make Pixel Lincoln: The Deckbuilding Game as my first analog project with Island Officials was because the art assets were already completed. I am using artwork directly from the game for both the cover art and card art. The cards feature the in-game sprites, but blown up 1200%. The cover art uses our concept art from artist John Fisher, who I’ve worked with previously.

I am handling the graphic design duties for this game. I made a deck of prototype cards for testing and everyone loved the mock ups. I was going for the feel of a Nintendo cartridge meets a Game Boy unit. Over the last 2 months, I feel like I’ve pushed myself as both a game designer and graphic designer to places I’ve never been able to reach before.

HG: Why did you choose to make a deckbuilding game? It’s always really fascinating for me to find out why a designer chose to frame his project a certain way.

JT: When I was chatting with Island Officials, they suggested a board game. My first thought about that was the high production cost, so I decided to go all cards. About two weeks later, I brought them some card mockups and very rough prototype and I think they were shocked that there wasn’t a board.

After I decided to go with cards only, I immediately flocked to the idea of a deckbuilding game. I loved the idea of combining some of the oldest video game concepts with some of the newest board game methods. And deck building is traditionally about gathering and collecting cards, which thematically fits very well with gathering and collecting items in older adventure video games. And finally, deckbuilding games are usually known for their customization, which is key in this game.

HG: Is each player essentially playing as Lincoln? Or is each player influencing a central character of Lincoln? What’s the players’ perspective in this?

Each player plays as Pixel Lincoln. On your turn you will play through the level defeating enemies, obtaining items, building your deck, and advancing your score. At the end of the turn, the controller passes to your opponent (not physically, but metaphorically) and they take a turn as Pixel Lincoln. Each player has a central card in front of them that says “Player 1″, “Player 2″, etc.

HG: What is the unique mechanic or setup for Pixel Lincoln? I’ve been working on a deckbuilder for months and it’s been incredibly difficult to create it such that it doesn’t feel like a “me-too” when played alongside Ascension, Dominion, A Few Acres of Snow, etc.

JT: There are a few things that set Pixel Lincoln apart from the others. I didn’t stray from the familiar concepts of draw/discard piles or anything like that, but I did play around quite a bit with the cards that are available to the player. In many deckbuilding games, you can obtain the cards that are in play. In Pixel Lincoln, you have the act of exploration. You can see what is in coming up in the level, but not too much as there are only 5 cards in each level at the start of each turn. You have the opportunity to see what is coming up in the level by playing specific cards or abilities. There are also multiple levels in each game, so you can see what cards are in an opponent’s level during their turn. This was influenced by classic 2 player games and watching an opponent explore a level that you’ve never reached.

HG: Could you explain the exploration mechanic a bit further? I’m intrigued and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

JT: The game has one level per player, and each level is its own randomized deck consisting of enemies, items, a boss, NPC’s, and checkpoints. So, in a four player game, there are four different levels.

During the game, 5 cards are drawn from each level deck and laid out from right to left. This represents everything that a player can see in front of them in the level. There may be enemies or items, and when a player defeats or purchases them, those cards are added to their discard pile. If a player decides to explore, they must discard a card from their hand and another card is drawn from the level deck and added to the table. That card is now available to defeat/purchase. If you have enough cards in your hand, you can continue to explore, etc.

Also, the levels are all accessible from the beginning, so each player will choose where they want to go. If I am the only player in Level 1, I am the only one with access to the cards that are drawn for that level. However, just like with a turn-based video game, I am still seeing what other players are doing in their levels. If I see cards that I need for my deck, I may decide to leave the current level and hop into one that my opponent is in.

Deckbuilders traditionally receive a lot of negativity for not having enough player interaction. This was big on my list from the start. I made sure that the players could affect each other. When players are in the same level, there are various things they can do to affect each other.

And theme is probably the biggest difference between Pixel Lincoln and Dominion or Ascension; Pixel Lincoln feels like you are playing a video game.

HG: Can you give some examples of the type of player interaction? This was an area I sought to improve upon as well (though I personally love Dominion). I really didn’t want to go the “Take-That” route, so I’m curious how you chose to incorporate player interaction.

JT: The interaction is both direct and indirect. When you defeat an enemy card, it goes to your discard pile. Enemies have big points and they are great for end game scoring, but they aren’t equippable like items. When they are in your hand, you can cash them in for money (to buy items) or use their abilities. The abilities on the enemies were the ones that would affect other players the most.

I added some “take-that” style cards because it fits the style and feel of Pixel Lincoln. There are enemy cards with a Cancel ability, which will cancel an opponent’s card effect. There are defense style enemies that give negative victory points and can be forced on your opponents. There are bomb style enemies that force everyone in the current level to discard cards. Time travel cards allow you to rearrange the decks, which can help you or hurt your opponent, depending on how you decide to use it.

The indirect interaction is within the levels and trying to get specific cards before your opponents do. Because all cards are not available to all players, players will see what their opponents are doing and then develop new strategies. Many cards are unique. Each enemy and item has an ability and an overall suit. These suits (stars, clocks etc) are used within the game for additional special abilities and scored at the end of the game as sets. If you talk to an NPC, they will tell you which set to collect in order to gain big points. There is a bit of a race to grab certain suited cards before your opponents do.

HG: Do you have a favorite deckbuilding game? Why?

JT: My favorite deckbuilding games have been games like Pond Farr (Salmon Run) (Noted: The Salmon Run on BGG is not the one to which he is referring) and Mecha Mayhem that I’ve played at Unpub. I’m loving what others are doing with deckbuilding, especially when it’s incorporated into a game that consists of more than just the deck of cards. Both of these games apply deckbuilding as a tool instead of making it the entire focus.

And although it’s not quite deckbuilding, Quarriors is my favorite “-building” game. The components are a big factor, but I think Quarriors has so much replayability in such a tiny package. By making 3 different cards for each character, the games are never the same. I’m also a big fan of culling down my deck and I like how Quarriors does it.

HG: I was fortunate enough to receive an early prototype copy of Salmon Run last year and I agree, it’s a really great game. I’m also very fond of Quarriors — I just love the premise, even though it is highly random. Seeing as how these are some of your favorites, did you at any point try to find a way to make Pixel Lincoln a bit grander in scope with the deckbuilding just a mechanic, not the entire game?

It’s funny that I didn’t design this in the style of my favorite games, but I tend to do that with many of my designs. I design to the game and see where it takes itself. If it starts to stray from my original intent, but the changes are for the better, then I am all for it.

The biggest reason I didn’t use deckbuilding as just part of the game was because I didn’t want to dive into other components. I was trying to hit a price point for production and couldn’t stray from the cards.

I’d love to mess around with different takes deckbuilding in future games. It’s a simple concept, with so much room for growth.

HG: What advice can you give to someone trying to design a deckbuilding game?

JT: Don’t let the haters get you down. Deckbuilding has gotten a little bit of a bad name lately. It doesn’t deserve it, because even with the common complaints, it’s still a very new style of game and it has a lot of staying power. I would suggest checking out games like Pond Farr (Salmon Run) and Mecha Mayhem to see how deckbuilding can work as a secondary aspect of the gameplay. It’s like deckbuilding without even knowing you are deckbuilding. It might even fool the haters.

HG: Why do you think people have been harsh on deckbuilding? From my perspective, like every genre, some people just don’t care for it. But, the other factor is that the success of games like Dominion has been so explosive that many other publishers have jumped in with “me-too” cash grabs. Do you think it’s something other than this or what?

JT: I guess it’s more like “people are harsh on Dominion“… but deckbuilding is like the new kid on the block. With each new deckbuilding game that is announced or released, comes the wave of Dominion and Ascension comparisons. As more and more deckbuilding games come out, we’re seeing less and less of this, but it’s been hard getting past the big names in the format.

I think there is a little-bit of the “cash grab”, but I see it more as a “following grab”. Something like Battleship: The Movie: The Deckbuilding game would definitely feel like a cash grab, but the games that we’re seeing today look like they’re trying to gain a following by using a popular and familiar format.

But… I would totally play Battleship: The Movie: The Deckbuilding game.

HG: What were some of the biggest challenges you had to solve for the Pixel Lincoln design?

JT: The biggest has been direct player interaction. There is plenty of indirect interactivity, but the direct interaction took a little while to develop. Each players area is wiped clean at the end of their turn, so when it came time for a player to affect one another, there wasn’t much they could do. The inactive players only had the cards in their hand, which could easily be affected by the active player, but I wanted more than that.

From the start, enemies would be added to your deck for big points, and enemies would be used against your opponents. But the way they are used has evolved quite a bit. I considered using them for direct attacks, but it pulled away from the video game feel. Now each enemy has an ability on its card, many of which affect your opponents.

Another big challenge has been printing test copies. The game has a lot of cards and I’ve started over with the design about 3-4 times. It’s been tough to test without solid prototype cards because the game is pretty deep in its theme.

HG: What do you mean by “each player’s area is wiped clean?”

JT: By this, I mean all cards that have been played during a player’s turn are removed from play and discarded at the end of the turn. Cards in hand may carry over to the next turn, but your playing area resets each turn.

HG: What’s your favorite part about the game?

JT: The nostalgia. I’ve been trying to cram every one of my favorite old school gaming memories into this game. I made a “Pause” card recently. I’m incorporating cheat codes into it. There are hidden items, warp zones, and extra lives. It brings back good memories.

HG:  What did you use to build your prototype?

JT: I have a method that I’ve been reusing over and over. It started with a set of black card sleeves with Pokemon cards inside for support. Then I’ll slide in a piece of paper, which is usually handwritten at first and start to test out the game. As it develops, I’ll print the next version as text only and slide in the printed version. Then when it’s time to show it off and get deeper into testing. I’ll print a full color version and slip that into the sleeves. This is exactly what I did with Pixel Lincoln as well as a few older games. If you look through the sleeves you’ll find various old games and various versions of Pixel Lincoln.

HG: Where did you find your testers?

JT: I’ve been testing at local events such as Unpub Mini and the NJ/PA Board Game Alliance. At both of those events I can play with both designers and gamers, and receive very different and helpful feedback. I’ve also been testing with designer friends and various individuals at the Island Officials offices. 

HG: What are some things you tried and removed from the game? Why?

JT: I tried direct conflict by using your enemies to attack your opponents, but it evolved into having special abilities on each card, and these abilities will directly effect your opponents. I tried player vs player battle as an out of turn sequence that was triggered by an action, but it just pulled away from the main game. I also tried using fixed levels in one variation, but with fixed levels you lose the variety and replayability.

HG: What do you plan to work on next?

JT: The next few weeks are very busy for me. I’m editing the Pixel Lincoln Kickstarter video and finishing some better versions of temporary cards. I’m heading out to Origins on June 1st and I’ll be promoting Pixel Lincoln‘s Kickstarter launch and demoing another game of mine, Sandwich City. After the weekend, Pixel Lincoln launches and it’s going to be 45 tough days. During that time, I need to finish and tighten the artwork and finalize the last 5% of the design tweaks, while also promoting the game as much as possible. I’ll be at the Too Many Games convention in PA in mid-June and then at WBC and Gen Con later this summer.  By then, Pixel Lincoln will be behind us and I’ll be onto one of my pending projects, which is most likely ZombieZone, a head-to-head Zombie vs. Human battle board game, which has the feel of an abstract strategy game.

HG: I’ve had my eye on Sandwich City for quite some time. Not to derail the conversation, but what have you done with it lately? Any plans there?

JT: After The Game Crafter contest ended I started working on a 3 and 4 player version of Sandwich City. The game was originally built for 2 players due to the cost and component limitations in the contest. I tweaked it and finished up the multiplayer version and now I’m starting to show it to people. Ultimately, I’d love to see it fully produced, so I’m about to dive right into unfamiliar territory and see where it takes me.

HG: Anything else you’d like to add?

JT: Thanks for having me! Glad to be part of such a wonderful, inspiring site.

HG: The pleasure is all mine! Thanks for taking the time for this interview.

Limit ‘em Good

Post by: Grant Rodiek

A peer and I were discussing his new design recently. I noted that his game featured a large number of Actions, which led to a really interesting discussion about the number of actions available to a player, accessibility, arbitrarily limiting players, and more. The topic seemed ripe for a column.

Designers often think first about everything they want players to do in the entire game. They go big and think grandly about where the game might end. However, the breadth of choice is often overwhelming for new players, terrifying for casual gamers, and paralyzing for analysis prone competitive players.

The key, then, is to limit the choices available to players. On the surface, this may not seem palatable as it simplifies your design, makes it less compelling, or lessens the strategy. Not so! The discussion before us is not about removing choices, but to limit them, pace them out, and integrate them into the game in a way that enriches the strategy.

Take Diablo 3 for example: At the onset, each player has two actions available to them. They aren’t even chosen! However, within minutes the player receives a third action, then a second choice for their first action, then a modifier on the first choice, and so forth. The game begins with seemingly little to do, but quickly presents the player with a huge variety of choices.

Let’s move back to the print game realm. A game that broadens the experience both well and poorly is Agricola.

Initially, the game features a limited set of actions available to the player. These actions are identical in every game, which is great for returning players. At the beginning of every round, a new action becomes available. These are also the same every game, though the order in which they are revealed changes slightly. This is where Agricola succeeds masterfully.

However, Agricola suffers, in my opinion, when it gives each player 14 cards at the beginning of the game. 14 is an enormous number, especially when combined with the 6 or so actions available to players. Furthermore, there are approximately 300 cards from which these 14 cards are dealt, which means you will see a completely new variation of cards every game. While this is outstanding for deep strategy and replayability, it is very overwhelming for new players. Thankfully, Agricola includes a no cards variant.

Dominion is a game that limits, then broadens, a player’s choices very gracefully and masterfully. At the onset, you have 10 Kingdom cards, 3 Coin denominations, and 3 victory card denominations. Typically, in a player’s first few turns he is only able to purchase a small subset of the Kingdom cards, 2 of the Coin denominations, and 1 of the victory cards. To simplify their choices further, in most instances players don’t want additional Coppers or Estates.

However, as the game progresses, players have more Coins to spend, more Buys available, and more options. The game progresses from relatively straightforward to broad within just a few turns, allowing for rich choices and a highly accessible experience.

One more example. Star Trek: Fleet Captains is a fairly complex game that is arguably clunky at times. However, this broad game succeeds in my opinion because it does a good job focusing the player at all times.

The best way to earn points in the game is by completing missions. Players only have 3 missions at a time, which means it’s relatively easy to decide which action is best to complete the current missions. Furthermore, players only have a few ships and not every ship can do everything. For example, many ships are terrible at combat, cannot cloak, or are too slow to be used for exploration. In a very subtle fashion the player’s choices are limited.

Where to next?

If players ignore many of the choices you provide them, you may have too many. One of Poor Abby‘s biggest problems is that it has so many choices players often outright ignore all but the obvious ones. Another issue is that if players have every option always available to them, they may create the “optimal” strategy, or just as bad, the perception that there is an optimal strategy, which limits your game’s long term appeal.

Here are some suggestions for ways to limit the options in your game without curtailing its depth:

  • Make the options contextual. By this, I mean you can only take the action in certain circumstances. In Discworld, some actions are only available to the player who has placed a building in a district. In Alien Frontiers, the dice largely determine the actions available to you. Or, if it’s a card, specify when the action can be used.
  • Create a “cool down” on the action. For example, if the player uses the Action in Round 1, he cannot use it again until Round 3.
  • Provide the players additional actions as a form of advancement. Much like an RPG when your character levels up or the tech tree in a strategy game, give the players additional options as they progress. Ascending Empires does this incredibly well. Even better, without implementing an unnecessary rule that strictly prohibits it, they make it so it’s unlikely for a player to specialize in more than one tech branch, which limits their options.
  • Limit the number of Actions a player can take. You can limit them to one per turn (again, Ascending Empires) or one per ship (Star Trek Fleet Captains). The best part is, like a Buy in Dominion, you can introduce exceptions that modify this rule. By limiting a player’s actions, you help focus their mind on the immediate problems before them (or pose a really tricky question for the deep thinkers). You also reduce the number of combinations in a single turn. Finally, but limiting the number of actions a player can take in a turn you just reduce the number of things a player must DO each turn.
  • Make Actions cost a resource, such as fuel or gold. This is a twist on the bullet immediately preceding this one, but again, you can tune your game such that early in the game players can only take 1 or 2 actions. But, as they improve their “engine” or save the resource, the number of available choices is increased.

Ultimately, you must decide what’s best for your game. But, know that too many options will hinder the experience for all types of players. Finding ways to simplify is not just for casual players! Through cleverness and thorough design it’s possible to have a game that is accessible, deep, and requires great thought without requiring players to carry the rule book in their pocket.

What are some great examples of games that limit a player’s choices while preserving depth?

The Story of Scallywags

I bumped into Chevee Dodd on Twitter. A few weeks ago, he approached me about writing about his upcoming game, Scallywags, on this site. I was a tinge apprehensive at first, as I didn’t know him that well and I don’t want Hyperbole Games to just be another PR platform. I inquired about his game and all apprehension immediately ran out the door.

Chevee’s game Scallywags was recently picked up by the outstanding publisher Gamewright. This is a huge accomplishment for any designer and it’s one I’d love to share at one point. Chevee asked me what to write and I told him to tell a story. One of my goals for Hyperbole is to showcase great work from other designers — this is great work. Grab a cup of coffee to read Part 1 of Chevee’s story. Part 2 will be posted on Friday.

Guest Post by: Chevee Dodd

Never give up. Rejection Is Part of the Process

In 1997 I found myself adrift in the gaming industry.  Like many gamers at that time, I discovered our hobby through Magic the Gathering.  I loved collectible card games, but I had not yet been introduced to eurogames.  Strictly through chance, I found myself in a position to travel with United States Playing Cards during the summer to demo the X-Files CCG at their convention booths.  Along the way, I discovered the German phenomena that was Settlers of Catan (which was not yet printed in English) as well as some excellent American games that were fighting for this new sector of the market. 

I met James Earnest at Origins that year. He had a single tiny table next to our booth and struggled to sell his games for most of the show.  Saturday, in open gaming, he showed up with a briefcase full of games and started demoing.  By noon on Sunday he had sold out of his product and was taking pre-orders for the next batch.  Jame’s games were quick, simple, and fun.  They didn’t offer a great deal of difficult decisions, but they kept players coming back for more.  I was inspired.  “I can design these games,” I told myself.

I vowed to make a game as I left Origins.  I took a box of my boss’ business cards and told him that I was going to design a game and draw the cards on the backs.  He laughed, but I was dead serious.  It took a week or so for me to find inspiration, but like so many of my ideas, it hit me quickly.  I had also discovered Lunch Money during Origins and I absolutely fell in love with its simplicity and interesting play decisions.  The problem at that time was that I primarily played two player games. I had found a goal: Make a game similar to Lunch Money, but for two players.  In a flurry of inspiration I completed the design in about a half hour.  When I say completed, I mean done.  The game has never changed from that first concept.  I spent an hour or so drawing each card. My friends and I still play it and laugh at the silliness of it today.

I know this anecdote has nothing to do with Scallywags directly, but I tell this story to make a point: this was the beginning of a very long journey for me.  A journey full of disappointments and rejections that eventually led to Scallywags.

I had designed a game and I thought it was good enough for publication.  So did my friends.  We had played it hundreds of times after all!  It had to be good!  The problem with the game was that it was one big inside joke.  The cards and flavor were all based on that summer convention season that only included myself, a close personal friend, and a bunch of guys from a company 400 miles away.  That’s no problem, though.  Right?  Any Knizia fan can tell you that slapping a theme on a game is easy!  And that is exactly what I did.  I slapped a few themes on the game and sent out some letters of introduction to various publishers.

Within a few weeks I received interest from a few publishers.  They asked to see my rules for the game.  Excitement was high!  I could write a pitch that interested people and surely that meant I could make games that they wanted to publish.  After some more waiting, I received requests for prototypes.  This was the big time, I was sure of it.  All I had to do was send off some prototypes and wait for the contracts to roll in.  That never happened.  I merely received some nice, informative rejection letters.  In some cases, I even received my prototypes back in the mail.  That’s a disheartening moment.  It’s like someone mailing back your discarded dream.

Luckily, I was still young.  Rejection just hardened my resolve to try harder.  I didn’t stop designing games and I didn’t stop trying to get published.  I learned a great deal from those first efforts.  I learned to be more selective in my choice of publisher.  I learned to refine my prototypes and make them as functional and presentable as possible.  Most of all, though, I learned to accept rejection.  It is a part of the process.

Everyone in every creative position faces rejection.  Authors, musicians, programmers, inventors, artists, photographers… the list goes on.  This process is no different for game designers.  Learning to let go of the emotional attachment you have with your work is a very hard lesson to learn.

It proved to be a lesson that I would have a difficult time accepting.  I was so jaded by rejections that I stopped trying to find a publisher in the traditional manner. I decided to explore a new territory, Print and Play.

Print and Play

The original inspiration for Scallywags came in 2008 during a family trip to the beach.  During that trip I read Treasure Island for the first time.  I was in a pirate mood and wanted to design something using coins.  Further inspiration came one evening while browsing BoardGameGeek.com.  I found a BGG user named Jeremiah Lee who had designed a neat little game called Zombie In My Pocket and posted it on BGG for everyone to consume.  For free.  I hadn’t encountered Print and Play before that point, but I was instantly awed by his success.  His game received significant traffic and it wasn’t long before other people started making custom sets with fancy graphics.  It was the ticket I had been looking for.  A way to share my games with the world without fighting through the publication process.

The actual design process for Scallywags was not all that dissimilar to my first game design from 10 years prior.  There was a flurry of inspiration, some quick math, and I immediately started working on the first prototype.  The game involves coins that only have their value printed on one side.  While that is not necessarily a unique component, I had an interesting mechanic to go with it.  What if the coins were shaken up and dumped on the table to land either face up or face down?

I thought that would be a neat way to randomize point distribution so that not all information was perfectly available.  I had already decided that players were trying to amass the most gold, now I just needed to figure out a way to distribute the coins to the players.  That’s where cards come in.  Going back to some of the fun take-that mechanics of James Earnest’s Cheapass Games, I wanted to have players taking coins and giving coins from this central pile.  Players would be able to look at face down coins and hand them to opponents, or take the risk and snatch up face down coins for themselves without looking first.  There’d be cards that would let you steal opponent’s coins and cards that let you trade.

A little bit of math helped me work out how many coins there would be of each value as well as how many of each of the eight different cards would appear in the deck.  This is the part of designing that I really love.  I’m not a mathematician or statistician.  I’m not even really all that smart.  However, I love breaking games down and analyzing the related probabilities.  It is exceptionally rewarding when it is my own game.  I only spent about an hour working through the specifics of the coins and cards.  I was already in love with the game and wasted no time starting on the artwork.

Now, I can draw some cartoon characters, but I’m no artist.  The good news is that this was a goofy game and my little characters were a perfect fit.  I was so sure that this game was going to be good I didn’t even playtest it before the art was done.  The first time I presented the game to my regular group, I had a full color printing of the cards and slick wooden coins that I stamped with a custom rubber stamp.  In fact, the components never changed from that fist playtest through submitting to BGG and the publisher.  Sure, some rules changed, but the components worked well together and my math turned out to be pretty solid.

The game was titled Doubloons! at this time.  I had wanted to call it Loot, but I learned that there was already a game titled Loot that just happened to be about pirates and their treasure.  I picked a new name and submitted it to BoardGameGeek.  I remember waiting for it to be approved.  It took days, but felt like weeks.

Meanwhile, I refined the files a bit and tidied things up for printing.  I used business cards for prototyping because they are generally the same size and shuffle easily.  With the advent of printable business cards, I didn’t see any reason to do anything differently.  The card files were formatted to be printed on punchable business cards and I reduced the rules to a single page.

I was ready for BGG fame.  I was certain that I had picked a theme and a specific set of mechanics that would appeal to a broad range of BGGers and soon I would be swamped with fan mail.  That almost happened!

Thank you for reading Part 1 of Chevee Dodd’s story! Come back Friday to read Part 2. 

Game Design Gone Loopy

I bumped into Jesse Catron on The Game Crafter chat when I first joined the small online board game design community. Jesse sent me a copy of his prototype Pond Farr and it was a real hit with my group. It’s lighthearted, has a good degree of take-that and player interaction, and beautifully incorporates a deckbuilding mechanic into a board game. It’s a really clever game and falls into the “I wish I thought of that” category.

By playing Pond Farr (soon to be published by Gryphon Games as Salmon Run) and interacting with Jesse, you quickly learn two things: One, Jesse is really clever and thoughtful. And two, he’s a ridiculously nice guy. I was really glad he took the time to write a guest column for this blog.

Guest Column by: Jesse Catron

I was honored when Grant asked me to write something for his blog, but I really had no idea what to write about, nor did I know whether anyone would care to read what I have to say.  I certainly don’t presume to be an expert in game design, nor an expert in writing articles. Nonetheless, after a few weeks of drawing blanks, I finally thought of a topic that I find interesting and relevant to game design. It’s also one which hasn’t really been covered (at least not to my knowledge).  Despite the title, I will not be writing about crazy game designs or crazy game designers.  I’ll leave that for another article.  Instead, I thought I would write about feedback loops and how they relate to game design.


Feedback loops are fairly common in many aspects of life. Some examples include the thermostat in your home, the hormonal systems of the human body, and even the guitar sounds of the late Jimi Hendrix. All are controlled by feedback loops. In general terms, a feedback loop is a control of a system in which the output of the system cycles back to affect the input of the system. This feedback can either be positive or negative. Note that it is not positive and negative in a sense of good and bad, rather that the feedback amplifies the output (positive) or diminishes the output (negative).

When your home’s heating system heats the house to a certain temperature, that higher temperature triggers your thermostat to turn off your furnace.  If the temperature falls too low, the low temperature triggers your furnace to turn back on. You can quickly see that feedback loops of this nature can be good at regulating a system into stability.  This is the hallmark of a negative feedback loop. The initial output of the system (increased temperature) affects the input of the system such that the future output of the system is regulated or diminished (your furnace turns off so the temperature will not continue to increase).

Just as negative feedback loop stabilizes a system, a positive feedback loop tends to destabilize a system. The self-perpetuating nature of the amplification in a positive feedback loop will send the system out of control. It’s like holding a microphone too close to a loudspeaker; the audio output of the speaker is looped into the input of the microphone, which then results in increased sound (output) out of the speaker. This increased (louder) output of the speaker is again picked up by the microphone and results in an ever-increasing output of sound until nothing but a high-pitched squeal can be heard.  Left unchecked, a positive feedback loop will spiral out of control.

So what does this have to do with board games?  If you analyze board games in terms of feedback loops, you can see how commonplace they are and how useful they can be in game design. The ability to recognize feedback loops and identify how they can cause or solve design issues is a useful skill for a game designer.

Let’s take a look at how a feedback loop can cause a problem in a game. One that comes to mind is the run-away leader. In this scenario, one player takes an early lead and can’t be caught by the other players. This is often, but not always, caused by a positive feedback mechanism.  When dealing with a run-away leader problem, you either need to eliminate the positive feedback loop or add something to keep it in check, often a negative feedback loop.

For example, in Settlers of Catan, the player with the most productive settlements will generate the most resources, which enables him to build more settlements and gain even more resources. This is a positive feedback loop. A player with favorable rolls and/or strategically well-placed initial settlements can often take an early lead. However, there are several factors in place to mitigate this potential run-away leader.  Firstly, the randomness of later dice rolls may slow this player. However, relying on bad luck is not a good method of hampering a run-away leader. A more useful method is to introduce a negative feedback loop to the system, which is often known as a catch-up mechanic. In Settlers, this is done via the Robber. The Robber is placed on a resource hex to prevent production at that location. In a game with a clear leader, the other players will invariably place the robber on location that will most hamper the resource production of the leading player, slowing down the leader and allowing the others to catch up. The Robber is not a flawless catch-up mechanism, however. The leading player will likely have the greatest ability to buy Soldier cards and move the Robber to lessen its effectiveness at slowing him down. The run-away leader is also regulated by the trading mechanic in the game.  Most players will be less likely to trade with the leader, or if they do trade, they drive a harder bargain. This is usually quite effective.

You may be thinking that negative feedback loops (stability) are always good and positive feedback loops are always bad (instability).  While often true, this is not always the case.  For example, in Monopoly (I realize not the best game design), there is a positive feedback system in which the player collects monopolies or properties that generate wealth. This allows the player to collect more and better properties and therefore collect even more wealth.  Granted, there are mitigations to the loop like the luck of the rolls, but the positive feedback system in Monopoly is essential to drive the game to its conclusion and prevent it from dragging on forever. One player’s wealth must grow and grow (amplify) until the other players are bankrupt.  Many player-elimination games are designed this way.

Perhaps the best example of the usefulness of feedback loops can be found in deck-building games. Let’s use Dominion, the granddaddy of deck-building, as an example.  If you think about it, what are you actually doing when you play Dominion? You’re essentially trying to build the most efficient and powerful positive feedback system.  Let’s set aside the Victory cards for a moment and examine the Treasure cards. You begin with a number of weak Copper cards. You play some Copper cards to gain a better Silver card. The output of you playing Copper cards is a Silver card, which in turn affects the future output of your deck. That Silver card will cycle back into your hand, which gives you more buying power and therefore enables you to eventually purchase Gold. The buying power of the deck is amplified with each cycle. This is a basic positive feedback loop.

Though a bit more complicated, the Kingdom cards work in a similar fashion.  Most Kingdom cards amplify your deck’s ability to play more cards per turn and/or make more purchases (or better purchases) and those abilities are compounded with each cycle of the deck.  A few Kingdom cards, like Militia or the Witch, work by introducing negative feedback into your opponents’ positive feedback engine, but these are exceptions.  Being that Dominion is a game centered around creating a positive feedback system through the Treasure cards and most of the Kingdom cards, would it therefore have an inherent run-away leader problem?  No, and the reason it doesn’t is the genius of the design in my opinion.  Donald X. Vaccarino wisely used a negative feedback system as the victory condition. The Victory cards hamper the positive feedback system you are building, yet are essential to winning the game.  Deck-Building games are great examples of the effective use of both positive and negative feedback loops.

As an aside, while most early deck-builders like Dominion utilize the construction, development, and management of these feedback systems as the whole of the game, the future of this game genre is to use it as one component of a greater game with a larger scope.  This is already occurring with games like A Few Acres of Snow and Mage Knight.  I digress.

Clearly, both positive and negative feedback loops can be used effectively in game design.  Positive feedback loops can, but not necessarily, cause run-away leader problems.  It is vital to be able to recognize them when they do cause problems and to know how to effectively use negative feedback loops to keep them in check. In my own design, a deck-building racing game called Salmon Run (the game formerly known as Pond Farr), I had to be especially cognizant of its positive feedback system and utilize sufficient negative feedback systems to keep the leader in check.  No one wants a run-away leader in a racing game!  Fortunately, I succeeded and most games are very close.

Thank you for reading! I hope you find this article useful in your game designs.

What are some other examples of games with good (or bad) positive and negative feedback loops? Contribute in the comments below!

Update! Daniel Solis created a really cool infographic to visually break down the post written by Jesse Catron (and others, as cited on Daniel’s site). I wanted to include it here so that you have the WHOLE enchilada in one place.

Mechanically Sound #2

Post by: Grant Rodiek

Mechanically Sound is a recurring column in which I quickly detail some interesting game mechanics that have appealed to me recently. By promoting the mechanics, I’m not necessarily recommending the game itself (though that’s often the case). I want to hear from YOU as well. What are some great mechanics?

I have been uncommonly busy these last few weeks, which means I’ve played fewer new games. Nonetheless, a few interesting mechanics have caught my attention. For this column I’ll be briefly discussing the interesting bidding mechanic in The Speicherstadt, the market in Octopus’ Garden, and 1812: The Invasion of Canada‘s flee mechanic.

Bidding in The Speicherstadt

Typically in a bidding game players go around one-upping each other. “I’ll pay 5.” “Oh yeah, I’ll pay 6.” And so forth. The Speicherstadt by Stefan Feld presents a fantastic twist to the traditional bidding mechanic that deepens the choices.

There are a set number of cards available each round. Each card can be won by a single player or no players if there are no bids. Each player has a finite number of meeples that he places on a track above a card to denote a bid. The first token means two things: the first player gets first right of refusal to buy the card and the card costs one coin.

However, this is where things get tricky. For each additional meeple placed, the cost increases by 1. If two meeples are placed, the first player can buy it for 2 coins. If there are three meeples, the cost is 3 coins. The first player may pass on the bid and remove his meeple. Now, the player with the second meeple has the option to purchase for the cost of the number of meeples behind him. The cost decreases as players pass.

This system allows for a really compelling situation that involves blocking to drive up the price and gaining position to have first choice. Even better, the bids are resolved from left to right, so you can drive up the price on a far right bid knowing your competitor won’t have sufficient funds once he gets there, forcing him to pass. It’s outstanding.

The Market in Octopus’ Garden

On each player’s turn in Octopus’ Garden by Roberta Taylor, the active player may purchase objects for her ocean. However, the options available for purchase are drawn randomly from a bag. Secondly, the player must buy an entire row or column of objects.

This means if you want the oyster, you need to buy the grass and coral as well. That means you need to pay full price and fill your ocean with less than optimal items.

Octopus’ Garden in particular lacks something that really makes it a game that you want to keep coming back to, but the market mechanic is really excellent and may fit perfectly within your design.

Fleeing in 1812: The Invasion of Canada

1812: The Invasion of Canada by Jeph Stahl and Beau Beckett is an outstanding game that I could reference constantly. To be honest, I probably will.

The game features a novel form of attrition that uniquely alters the state of the game constantly. There are 5 factions in the game: British Regulars, American Regulars, Canadian Militia, American Militia, Native Americans. Each faction player rolls a unique set of dice. All dice have 3 possible faces: Hit, Flee, or blank (command decision). Hits allow you to remove enemy units (i.e. a kill) whereas command decision has a variety of effects. Let’s focus on Flee.

For every Flee symbol that is rolled, the active player must remove and place 1 Unit onto the Fled space on the board. At the start of his next turn, these units are placed back on the board far back at the player’s muster area (i.e. spawn point). Ultimately, the units aren’t killed, but they are removed from the front lines and must be brought back to the front. This takes time and often, you need the units in the battle right now.

The other beautiful aspect of this mechanic is that it’s a brilliant way to demonstrate the personality of the units. British Regulars never fleet. Never. They will stand and fight until they are killed or you move them. American Regulars rarely Flee, but they still do it. The Militia on both sides constantly Flee and by mid-game they are a joke to all involved. This is historically accurate, but also incredibly elegant.

What have you encountered lately that really stood out? List it in the comments below!