Hocus Poker: The Pitch

Post by: Joshua Buergel and Grant Rodiek

Grant: It turns out Hocus Poker 5.0 is pretty dang fun. We were pleased with the results from our own local tests, BGG Con tests, and family tests over Thanksgiving. After about 6 months, we feel it’s time to share the game with the public once again. We’re going to blind testing!

Before we get too far, you can read the rules for Hocus Poker here. You can get the PNP files here. The game is 82 cards and nothing else. As far as PNPs go, it’s not too bad!

Josh: And, really, you can skip printing 8 of those cards if you’re comfortable keeping track of score using literally anything else you have handy. That puts it at 74 cards, which is really not too bad at all. It’s a fun, quick game, and we’d love to hear about more people trying it out.

Grant: After flubbing a pitch at BGG Con, Josh and I exchanged a few emails back and forth to better improve our pitch. Here’s what we settled on. Imagine this spoken dramatically with great flair and bravado.

Hocus Poker is a classic style card game that asks how would wizards play a game of poker. This game takes some elements of poker, but uses them to create a wholly unique experience.

The game is played in rounds by 2-4 players. If any player has 25 points at the end of the round, the game is over and the player with the most wins.

Ultimately, players will build their best poker hand, as the best poker hand will claim the pot. There are a few twists that make this game unique. Firstly, all players will build the community and pots together on their turns. Secondly, there are two communities. Thirdly, cards can be played as poker cards or for their Gem value in the pot. Every card can be used in three ways: in a community, in a pot, or in your personal pocket.

That’s the basic game, which is quite fun. Let’s talk about advanced Spells.

Josh: Before we get to that, I’d just like to say here: it’s important to realize that while this game is obviously rooted in Poker, we’ve really tried pretty hard to make it a unique game. I think it’s easy to think of games as “just” a variant of some other classic game, and obviously we’ve used that as a starting point. But Hocus Poker is really its own thing at this point, a game that plays differently from just about anything else in my collection. Which is saying something.

Grant: I’m very proud of it. It took a long time but we believe that we have a game that is unique, easy to learn, and has a light skill element.

Who would you say this game is for, Josh?

Josh: Is it a cliche to say everybody?

Grant: Yes.

Josh: Aw. I would say this: very serious poker players are not really our target audience here. If you play a ton of poker and take it really seriously, you’ll probably find yourself just saying “we should just be playing Hold ‘Em” while you play Hocus Poker. That’s cool, I love Hold ‘Em, I play it every week at a regular game. We weren’t trying to improve that game, but you might still find yourself pining for it if you’re a serious student of the game. Other than that, it slots in well as a light card game for most folks. It helps to have a familiarity with Poker, just knowing the hands, but is certainly not necessary.

Grant: I think it’s a great lunch game, or game night opener. I have aspirations of it being the type of game someone tosses into their backpack to take to a picnic.

Josh: I’ve actually used it as a game night closer several times, as a wind down from a big centerpiece game.

Now, advanced spells. The basic structure is cool, it provides for interesting play, surprises, and an engaging game where nobody is eliminated. That’s all good stuff. But you can really turn it up a lot with the advanced spells. Once you do that, everybody suddenly has unique options on their turn. Nobody’s position plays the same, and you get a varied experience just by changing which set of spells you have. Asymmetry is tons of fun, and I think what we have here works well.

Grant: Every set of 3 Spells, which we refer to internally as a Spell Book, follow along a particular style of play and advantage. Flame, for example, is highly reactive. You’re able to dump a pocket of 1 or 2 cards into a Pot, then build a new Pocket. Why is this advantageous? Well, once you build a pocket, it cannot be modified. And you only get two. Secondly, often times you’re trying to balance between building the community to support your sought hand AND building a pocket to leverage it. With this spell, you can play a pocket early to stall and see what people play. Somebody may feed the community with a set of cards that let you build a straight or Full House. You dump your now bad pocket and react.

Josh: And that’s just one. Each book gives a different feel, while still providing for enough familiarity that people can still play the game just fine.

Grant: Right now we have 6 different books, for 18 Spells total. Although the game only plays to 4, we want there to be quite a bit of variety.

Josh: With 6 spell books, there are 15 different combinations in the four-player game. That’s pretty cool!

Grant: There’s quite a bit of variety and breadth here. In a way, it reminds me of how Red7 has a few ways to play. Easy, less easy, and woah there’s lots of stuff now. For us, the ramp is: Basic Spells, Add Moonbears, then finally, Add Advanced Spells.

Now that we’re re-entering blind testing, what would you say our goals are? Other than mocking me in emails. That, sir, is accomplished.

Josh: My job there is never done, though.

My primary goals here are pretty simple. One, are we right about the fun here? We both like this version, a lot, and our local testers do as well. Will that carry over to people who aren’t just trying to be polite to us? I think our local testers would tell us if the game was lousy (they have in the past), but taking it wider is the only way to be sure.

Grant: I’d be pretty upset if my local group told me “this is awful” for most of the year only to lie to me now.

Josh: Yeah, and I know where my friends live, so I’m pretty sure they aren’t going to make me angry.

The second goal has to do with the content. We have thirteen Moonbear spells (well, there are a couple repeats) and 18 advanced spells. I want to make sure that those are balanced, fun, fair, comprehensible, and just all around entertaining. Balance is really most important across the spell books, not the Moonbears, but shaking out the content is really a big goal here.

Grant: Yes. The data points I want from our testers are:

  • Scores paired with Spells used: Do we have a trend for a certain Spellbook winning most often?
  • Favorite Spells: It’s worth the effort to balance content that’s most fun and popular. If everyone hates Darkness, for example, it’s probably better to replace it, then start balancing again.

Josh: Other things to watch out for:

  • Spell use. Did everybody use all of their spells? Or did somebody just ride one spell hard and ignore the others.
  • Moonbears. Did they seem reasonable? Too powerful? Too specialized? Unfair?
  • Timing. How long is the game in minutes and rounds?

Grant: I’m a smidge less concerned about Moonbears in that, as you’ve noted before, they are a spice. Which ones come into play and when is really difficult to predict. And they are bonuses, so we’ve deliberately made them a bit more niche in their application and less potent. But, it’s something we have to get right.

Josh: What I’d like to keep an eye on is if any Moonbears are regarded as really lame. We can swap those out if people think they’re stupid or irritating.

Aside from those concerns, we of course are both looking out for rules clarity and subjective impressions, which are always important to watch out for. Honestly, this isn’t that long a list of things to watch out for.

Grant: The subjective stuff will help us gauge our next steps. The game is a little weird and, my flubs aside, we’re not exactly sure who to show it to. But, we’re also not opposed to doing it ourselves. If folks like the game and we can begin some good word of mouth with our early testers, that might push us one direction or another. Or, it might help generate buzz for someone to aid us.

Josh: Unless our testers all chase us around with pitchforks, it’s a game that will get published, somewhere. But, where? We don’t know, honestly, and we’re going to try and figure that out with this test. But there is one thing we’re pretty sure we’re going to do with it, which is enter it into the Ion Game Design Competition.

Grant: For starters, I’ve always wanted to go to Utah in the winter. It’s just a bucket list item for me. But, if we fare well in the competition, we think that’ll help us find a home, or aid us as first-time publishers. But, the timeline is coming up quickly. I think we’re sending out the PNP at the last possible moment to get input before we have to submit to the competition.

Josh: We’re cutting it fine, to be sure. But, even just the rules feedback we’ve had so far has helped. If anybody would like to have a look at an unusual but fun light card game, we welcome any thoughts you might have, especially if those thoughts includes abuse for Grant.

Grant: Now I know how John Arbuckle felt.

Josh: The only thing worse than making a Garfield reference is spelling it wrong.

And yes, I know how his name is supposed to be spelled, which also turns out to be worse.

Grant: Would you believe me if I said this was an elaborate trap to tease that information from you?

Josh: No. Would you believe me if I said it was because I have a seven-year-old who loves Garfield?

Grant: Yes, and I’d say you’ve made mistakes as a parent.

Oh, hey! Check out Hocus Poker! Rules here. PNP here. Tell us what you think! You can

Josh: Yes, email him. He loves abuse.

Table Top for Four, Please

Post by: Grant Rodiek

At the time this post was written, Sol Rising was signed by a publisher with whom the game is no longer signed. I’ve updated this post to reflect current information.

I had many good tests of Sol Rising at the Santa Clara Protospiel and I have some ideas for how to really take the game to the next level. One of the coolest ideas is a way to make the game work for 3-4 players. This has come to light in a few ways, some simpler than others.

  • There are proper rules and components to support space brawls (i.e. free to play mode) for 3-4 players in either team or free for all modes.
  • I’m trying to design a mini-campaign (3-6 missions) designed from the start for up to 4 players.

Now, all, some, or none of this might make it into the final version of the game. I want to be clear that in development, things can change.

So, what does it mean to craft a campaign that works with 4 players instead of 2? My immediate thought was to simply add more units. Just make every fight bigger. But, that seemed really boring. Players already have big fights in the 2 player campaign. The last 3 Missions are already large fleet battles that don’t need modifications to support 4 players. Teams just divide up ownership, like they would in a big game of X-Wing, and go at it.

We return to the question. How do I make a campaign that is unique and interesting for 4 players? The answer was staring at me from the 2 player campaign. One of my goals for the campaign was to make it highly replayable and make every scenario unique for both players. In most missions, opposing players have divergent objectives. One might want to capture something, whereas the other is simultaneously trying to escort ships to safety. One is on a mission of destruction, whereas the other is trying to bide their time for reinforcements. Each player had a unique perspective and outlook on the mission.

Therefore, the task was simple, at least in thought: give each player in the mission, all 4, a unique perspective. Give every player something special. The hope, then, is that each player has a lot of replayability. “Ooo! I really want to be in command of the landing force next time.” Or, “Playing as the station commander looked interesting.”

There’s a rabbit hole of complexity I can chase, but I think if I frame it from the outset, give myself a box with limits, it’ll lead to faster development and stronger, simpler choices.

Fictionally, this will be a separate story that takes place after the events of the campaign in the Jovian belts. At the end of that campaign, the Martian squadron in Neptune departs to reinforce the Jovian fleet, which has left Neptune exposed. Not so much to Terran forces, but to the pirate fleets that raid planets in the outer rim. Unlike Mars and Terra, Neptune doesn’t have an official navy per se, but a police force. I’m introduce Fleet Marshal Georgia Ark, who has been tasked to use her limited resources to track down the pirates and put a stop to them. In the absence of Martian fire power, and with the knowledge that they won’t return soon, the pirates have grown more aggressive, violent, and greedy.

Within this fiction, I see some opportunities:

  • The pirates should behave differently.What this means right now, I don’t know. But, thinking in the spirit of organizations not strictly hierarchical, I see pirates as being more independent, more nimble. I see them having less firepower, but also more tricks. Component wise, my challenge is to do this without adding new cards. I can probably add some cards to help clarify rules, but I’ll need to re-use existing ships.
  • The police should behave differently than the fleet. They won’t have the same resources as the military. They won’t have as much firepower. I want to make Fleet Marshal Ark a crafty character. She knows she has her hands tied. She knows her task is difficult. Thinking like an FBI agent on a stakeout, what can she do to bring down the pirates?
  • Every player should have one Objective. This will be geared towards the Units assigned to them. The Objectives of players on the same team might not always complement each other. This means teams will need to decide where to focus. Or, perhaps really crafty (and lucky) teams can pull off both.
  • If the campaign is shorter, I can experiment with more pronounced persistent effects. It was important in the longer, 12 mission campaign to not completely hose one-side after a single misstep. If the campaign is 12 sessions, and half of them are a foregone conclusion, that’s not fun. But if there are only 3-6?
  • Continuing that previous bullet, I can try to really work within a few settings. Perhaps Neptune orbit, a nearby asteroid, and one of Neptune’s moons. If I know these are my 3 stages, there could also be a very limited choice structure. Perhaps the cops can say “we’re deploying these guys to investigate a lead on the moon.” Again, with greater constraints in the setting, I have more flexibility.

The initial process here will be lengthy. It will take time to get the first one right, then the second one as I incorporate new persistent elements and mechanics. But, I imagine like with the first campaign, once I pin down the formula and the system, it’s just a matter of work. Write it, script it, test it.

What about this setting excites you? What would you like to see? Your ability to evolve Sol Rising is quite high at this point! We’d love to know what you think.

As you were, Fleet Marshal.

Pullin’ an Interview with Dodd

Chevee Dodd is a good friend and a designer I’ve known for about 3 years now. He’s someone I talk to almost daily and share most of my design thoughts with. He’s a clever, hardworking guy and I was excited when he finally decided to, eh hem, pull, the trigger on this project. Read the interview below, but don’t forget to check out his Kickstarter page.

My comments are labeled HG. Chevee’s are labeled CD.

HG: Introduce yourself, for the 8 people who come to my site and somehow don’t yet know about your charming persona. Who is Chevee Dodd? And for the kids at home, how do you pronounce your name?

CD: Hold up. 8 people? Do you really think it’s that high? Man. I need to spend more time in your comments section!

I am a 35 year old father of two little girls, from a small town, you’ve never heard of, in beautiful West Virginia. I’m an ex-Marine, ex-parts department manager, ex-mechanic, IT professional for the WV State Board of Education. I design games for fun but also enjoy motorcycling, woodworking, video games, and fishing. On a first date I enjoy long walks on the bea….. wait…

Oh, and it’s pronounced Chevy, like the car.

HG: Before we cover Pull!, let’s go over your resume. Tell us some of your other, favorite games you’ve designed. Personally, I’m a big fan of Scallywags (published by Gamewright) and Princess Rainbow Unicorns.

CD: Scallywags seems to be a popular design of mine, probably because it’s the only one that’s ever been mass-produced. I don’t really like it all that much and hope to one day revisit the design and clean it up a bit. Princess Fairy Rainbow Unicorn dice is certainly a design that I’m proud of. It began as a dice game for my two little girls but it has grown it’s own little cult following. A version of the game, Leathernecks ‘43 is available through The Game Crafter, but most people seem to want the princess version for some reason. Like, grown men. Who knows, maybe it’ll be next on my list?

I’ve been actively designing games since 1997. I really didn’t start to get serious about publication until a few years ago and Scallywags is a direct result of that effort. I’m particularly fond of a dice and card design, Hedeby, that I worked on for most of last year. It’s currently being considered by Mayfair and I would simply be elated if they picked it up. Mayfair has been my dream publisher since I started this adventure.

HG: Give us the rundown of Pull! What is it, why do you love it, why should we care?

CD: PULL! is a non-traditional partnership card game based on traditional partnership card games. It takes heavy inspiration from classic trick-taking games such as spades, whist, and euchre, but I hesitate to call it a trick-taking game. That terminology brings with it some expectations that just don’t fit the game. There is no “trump” per-se, there is no “lead”, following suit isn’t always necessary, and there are some oddities in the scoring. While it’s true that each person plays a card and the person who plays the highest value card will win, that’s approximately where the similarities end.

In PULL!, we are shooting at clay targets. Players are dealt a hand of cards and two targets are revealed. Targets are worth a number of points. Each player, in turn will play one card until all players have played a single card on each target. The highest card played on each target will win that target’s points for their team. If a team scores both targets in a round, that is called a Double and may be worth bonus points. The targets have two values on them, you score one value if you took it as a single and the other value if you took it as part of a double. Two more targets are revealed and the hand continues in this fashion until all players have played their 10 cards. Points are recorded and a new hand is dealt.

HG: It’s probably easiest if people just watch this 5 minute video you made.

CD: That’s certainly not a bad plan! Not only is it linked on my page, and the Kickstarter page, but I’ve included a shortened link and a QR code in the rule book to make the job easier for new players to find.

HG: How did Pull! come about? Your games always have an amusing origin story, like how Paper Route was the result of an off-handed Tweet from Cyrus Kirby.

CD: This one is no different. I already mentioned that I worked on Hedeby for most of last year. That was almost the only thing I worked on all year. It was a dark time for me and I didn’t cope with it well. Sometime last fall, I got fed up with it. I wanted to make a game that was easy to print and play and cheap enough to produce through print on demand. The only problem was, I had no ideas. So, I turned to Twitter. I asked for people to send me theme ideas and I’d pick one to run with. I received dozens of responses but one kept sticking with me: Clay Pigeon Shooting w/ Trick Taking. I had a working prototype a few hours later and I’ve been actively designing it since.

HG: How many clay pigeons have you killed in your life?

CD: Approximately zero. To tell the truth, I’ve never actually been trap shooting. It’s apparently popular at the range I shoot at as there is always orange fragments covering the berms. So, I often shoot those fragments with my rifles. Does that count?

HG: I’ll allow it. Why did Pull! become the first game you self-publish in a big way? You’ve been satisfied with Print-on-Demand publication previously, or pitching to AAA publishers.

CD: PULL! sits squarely between the two outlets. It is a game that doesn’t sit well with AAA publishers because of the trick-taking background but it has a larger audience than what I can reasonably approach with a strictly print on demand strategy. Most of my print on demand games are similarly difficult for AAA publishers but are also difficult to self-produce because of component cost. This is the first game I’ve done in a while that I feel confident I could bring to market while still maintaining a relatively normal life.

PULL! has also been a community effort from day one. The inspiration, the rules, the graphics.  I’ve leaned on the community heavily to make it what it is today. It’s a perfect candidate for crowd funding because the crowd has already made the game. Going through this process myself will allow me to give back to the community through the lessons I’m learning and I like giving.

HG: What were some of the challenges you’ve encountered in the process up to pushing the “go” button on Kickstarter?

CD: Aside from the usual game design challenges, the Kickstarter process itself is a little awkward. For instance, I knew that I would have to set up an Amazon Business account to accept payment, but what I didn’t know was that the type of banking account I had made that process very different. When I registered my LLC, I set up a business checking account. Because this was a business account and not a personal account, Amazon required me to send them a bank statement that contained the business name and address as well as the bank account information. I couldn’t simply self-authorize as I would have had I used a personal account. Oh, and the only way they would accept this information is by fax. Yeah. A fax. I had to find a fax machine. I hope to write quite a few articles about the Kickstarter process after all is said and done.

HG: The first and last time I used a fax machine in my life was to buy a home. Strange how those things refuse to die in an age of scanning.

CD: Yep. I’m an IT guy. This process actually baffled me. Five years ago, I could have scanned it and then plugged my computer into a phone line and sent it via my PC, but none of my laptops even have internal modems. So, not only was it difficult to find an actual fax machine, it was practically impossible for me to use the technological replacement because phone lines are a thing of the past. I’m sure I could have found a mobile app or an online tool for this, but in the end, I found an actual fax machine and sent it.

HG: What are some of your favorite games? How, if at all, did they inform your development of Pull?

CD: Some of my all-time favorites are Acquire, Settlers of Catan, DC Deckbuilder, and Tichu. I wouldn’t say that any of them had a direct influence on the mechanics of PULL!

Tichu, being the only trick-taking game of the bunch, was a sort of point of reference for me. My group plays it many times each week and when I started looking at PULL! objectively to find some ways to inject fun into the game, I paid more attention to the mood during our weekly Tichu sessions. I analyzed why some moments were fun and others were dull and I tried to capture some of that fun in PULL!

HG: Tell me about those moments. Walk us through them.

CD: I take trick taking games very seriously. Because of this, I enjoy them often for different reasons. I enjoy figuring out what each person’s cards. I enjoy calculating the possibility of strong plays that can break the other player’s strategies and swing the hand in my favor. I also enjoy how the deal has a strong effect on the game, but through perfect (or near-perfect) play, the stronger player should win through a series of hands. All this means that I, personally, enjoy the duller sides of the games.

I was prompted by Matt Worden to find the fun parts of PULL! and there weren’t many. There was very little ability for the player to mess up their opponents plans. Watching my group play Tichu, I realized that those big moments when a player wrecks a Tichu is the most rewarding part. I needed to introduce some of those big moments into PULL! but it is difficult without a bidding process. Most popular trick taking games require a player to bid, or have a declaration mechanism, such as nil in spades or Tichu in Tichu. When one player declares their hand is strong, breaking that players hand is often some of the most fun in trick taking games. PULL! has neither bidding nor hand declaration mechanics. Introducing those sorts of moments needed to be on a round-by-round basis and they needed to be matter.

When I introduced the hidden second card, those moments were brought into the game. The change was suggested by Eric Handler, the person responsible for the game’s inspiration, and he suggested it after I had already sent review copies out! It’s such an important change for the game, however, that I could not ignore it. I immediately emailed the reviewers and told them I was changing the game. Nothing like developing mere weeks from the Kickstarter launch!

HG: What are some of the “big moments” in Pull’s development? If it were a novel, we’d call them plot twists. What were the big shifts you didn’t expect, or that were pleasantly surprising?

CD: I’ve been a fan of trick taking games my entire life. Some of my fondest memories revolve around playing spades and whist. When I was asked to design a trick taking game, I tried really hard to focus on those classics and force through some sort of derivative instead of a game of it’s own. What this meant was that the entire deck was dealt out and I minimized randomness as much as possible. I wanted players to be able to calculate the strength of their hand but I didn’t reward that at all. I totally missed it. The game was almost 100% driven by the strength of the deal with little to no ability for the players to make creative plays that change the outcome of the hand.

When I finally listened to the feedback I was receiving, the majority of suggestions revolved around introducing more randomness. When I finally started loosening up the design it immediately became 100% better. Sometimes I am my largest obstacle.

HG: In general, what are your thoughts on randomness in game? Without writing a full blog post, give us a quick rundown about how you like your randomness and where Pull! lies on that spectrum.

CD: I like a healthy dose of randomness but not so much that I feel powerless. Trying to put a figure on it, I’d say I like my games to be about 30-40% random. It gives me something to blame when I lose but also provides a great challenge. A better player should win in a random game through normalization over many rounds. That challenge is compelling for me and it’s part of the reason that random games are so fun.

Look at the massive player base that has built up around Magic: the Gathering. That game encompasses the 30-40% randomness that keeps people coming back. When you lose, you didn’t lose the game, you got screwed by your deck. When you win, however, it’s because of your superior skill at deckbuilding and play.

PULL! falls squarely in that window. The luck of the deal is certainly a big factor as it is with most trick taking games. Skilled players should win over a series of hands, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. At the same time, there is enough strategy and tactical thinking to keep it interesting. I’d like to think that I got the balance right.

HG: Anything else you’d like to add?

CD: I love you.

HG: I know.

I want to thank Chevee for the interview. Give PULL! a look on Kickstarter. $16 gets you the game. 

The Greater Niche


Post by: Grant Rodiek

What a great time to be a game designer! The last few years have been incredible in the digital space with the growth of lower cost platforms that allow for smaller, more nimble independent teams to publish outside the traditional publishing framework. iOS, Android, Steam, more powerful browsers, Facebook (for a while), Xbox Live Arcade, the Playstation — it’s just outstanding.

We’re seeing a similar revolution in the board game space. Kickstarter, obviously, is the biggest one. Or more generally, the internet and things like Amazon fulfillment, which lets relative nobodies fulfill customers around the Earth. And foreign printers being more accessible than ever. Go to the Panda GM site and check out how simple it is to fill out a quote! They have drop downs that tell you what you can choose! But, perhaps more importantly is the growth of Print on Demand (or POD) sites. Not only their growth, but just how robust and high quality they’ve become in such a short period.

Over 2 years ago when I first self-published Farmageddon via The Game Crafter, it came in a dinky, nondescript cardboard box like the one I used to store Magic cards in when I was in junior high. The cards were mis-cut, the colors were off, they printed rules on plain office paper, and it was…humble. Now, games that ship in their fully printed boxes are shrink-wrapped with fantastically cut cards, thick cardboard tiles, tons of minis, and even stickered custom dice. Many people are even using them to fulfill their games!

TGC doesn’t include the also excellent PrintPlayProductions, with their excellent chipboard variety and great interface (as well as many of the things TGC does), Blue Panther with their cool wood stuff, and more. If you’re doing cards only? DriveThruCards prints ‘em at $.08 apiece, no limit (if I recall correctly).

I think many immediately rush to “how can I get in on this?” or they see dollar signs (or your preferred currency), or they think only of wild, off the wall innovation. All of that is fine. But, one thing that’s really comforting to me is that this movement allows us to give niche ideas their proper due. It lets us retread well-worn favorites knowing we don’t need to sell 50,000 copies, but maybe just 500.

Think about the power of that for a moment. That obscure RPG you want to write? You can now find your audience. That non-World War II conflict about which you want to make a war game? You can now find your audience. Want to craft a trick-taking game? Or a game built around poker? Go for it. You can find your audience.

There is power in that. A few years ago I would cut ideas because I didn’t think I’d be able to reach enough of an audience to obtain a publisher’s eye. Now? I don’t have to limit myself to “can this compete with Ticket to Ride?”

The key to keeping this revolution alive is passion, quality, and customer service. That sounds awfully business-y for a design-oriented post, but it’s key. If you’re targeting a niche, you don’t have a lot of customers to churn through and anger. Each one is precious. You can lose a customer with one misstep. However, if you please that niche customer? Someone who knows there are only so many creators making their preferred experience? They’re all ears. They want you to succeed. They’ll help you succeed, not just with dollars, but with their passion. If you give them outstanding games and experiences that go above and beyond to make them happy, they’ll reward you for it. Plus, their word of mouth will slowly expand that niche outwards.

It’s all too easy to put your game on a POD site and walk away. It’s too easy to say “well this is what I want” and check out. Don’t do that. Don’t forget that our current age is an absolute gift for creative people. Finally, we get to make the games we want on our terms. That doesn’t mean we should cast aside publishers. Absolutely not. I love publishers and plan to keep working with many of them. But, when you find your Wozzle, or your Pull!, or the game that delights you and just a handful of others?

Go for it. It’s 2014 and that’s completely possible.

What’s the niche you want to see more of? What’s the game you plan to make?

Interview with Danny Devine

Danny Devine is a great guy and a really smart designer. I had the pleasure of meeting him in person in the Summer of 2013 and again at an UnPub event in Sacramento. He’s got a great sense of humor and a great design sense. I have played his game Ghosts Love Candy and loved it. When I found out Mob Town was coming out on Kickstarter, I knew I had to interview him.

Hyperbole Games: I’m looking up my police file on you. Danny Devine of Reno. Introduce yourself — who are you? What should we know about you?

Danny Devine: Well, my name is Danny Devine…and I’m from Reno NV… (dang it Grant! You stole my well crafted intro!)

I am happily married to my beautiful wife Rachael, we have a rambunctious 2 year son and a dachshund that is somehow more rambunctious than he is. When I’m not working at my day job or chasing the family around the house, you can usually find me at the kitchen table with a new game prototype or in my office working on some art for said prototype.

Hyperbole Games: Your first published game, Mob Town, is now live on Kickstarter for funding. Your publisher is 5th Street Games, the kind soul who saw fit to publish Farmageddon. Tell us about Mob Town. 

Danny Devine:  Good ol’ 5th Street Phil, he sure knows how to pick ‘em.

Mob Town is a 2-4 player area control game that features secret agendas, set collection and a little dash of take that. Every round starts by building out a randomly generated town that is different every time you play. Players play as rival Mob families competing over limited space in order to earn the most points before the Law shows up and ends the round. The game takes between 30-45 minutes to play making it a great game to play during lunch, which is when I usually play.

Hyperbole Games: What is the origin of Mob Town? How did it come about? 

Danny Devine:  The very first thing was the core set collection mechanic. The main deck has 5 suits each of those suits is helpful at taking control of exactly 2 types of the 5 different areas you can control. The theme was a basic medieval theme, really pasted on and dull, but it gave me a place to start. Once I had that I built, I added on from there. I had created the Map Building mechanic for a game called “Space Thingz from Space.” That game was terrible, but the Map mechanic had real promise.

It was literally the same week that I had added that to the game that the Game Crafter announced their Map Building Design contest. It was too perfect to pass up. How could the contest be based around something I just started working on? As dumb as it sounds, it felt like more than just a coincidence to me. I had never entered a design contest before, nor had I ever released one of my games into the wild. All I knew is that if I didn’t try it, I would regret it.

Hyperbole Games: Who would love Mob Town?

Danny Devine:  I would say that Mob Town is for people who like fast paced gameplay, simple mechanics with plenty of decisions and options, and people who don’t mind sticking it to their neighbor when they get too big for their britches.

The theme is friendly and inviting enough that you could play this game with Kids or Grandparents and no one will be offended.

Some of initial rules go a little beyond really casual games, but if you have played games like Ticket To RideCarcassonne or any of 5th Streets other games, you will have no issues here.

Hyperbole Games: You’re also the artist for Mob Town! Tell us about your inspiration for the style, which is cute, anthropomorphic mob animals.

Danny Devine:  The look for the 5th Street redesign was definitely inspired by the movie Roger Rabbit. We needed a way to make Mobsters family friendly to match 5th Streets line and that was the way to go. Artistically the look for the game was inspired by the load screens from Grand Theft Auto San Andreas. They are clean, simple, gritty and appealing all at once.

Hyperbole Games: I had no idea, but the connection really makes sense. I LOVE Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Brilliant film.

What are some of your favorite games? Did any of them influence Mob Town?

Danny Devine:  My favorite genre of game currently is deck building; I am in love with TrainsMarvel LegendaryPathfinder Adventure Card game (that one is pushing it, but it still has a semi deck building feel to it). Unless I’m thinking of someone else, you’re a little “meh” on deck builders right Grant?

Hyperbole Games: Not necessarily. I love Ascension and have played it almost 2000 times. And, I think Dominion is brilliant, though I don’t want to play it much. I guess I find many of them very same same, so I lose interest. That being said, one of the prototypes I have in mind next uses a deckbuilding mechanic at its core with some other innovations. So…who knows?

Danny Devine: As far as the influence for Mob Town, I can definitely pinpoint the main 2, Ticket to Ride and Small World. The suit matching set collection aspect and idea of 5 face-up cards to trade with all came from my love for Ticket to Ride, along with the 1 action allotment per turn. Having only 1 action per turn makes your decision harder and makes downtime between turns almost non-existent. With Small World I loved the idea of everyone competing over cramped quarters and the aspect of things getting harder and harder to take from people as time went on.

Hyperbole Games: Do you have any expansion ideas for Mob Town? What do you think about expansions, in general?

Danny Devine:  We are actually including the first expansion “Mob Town City Limits” in the Kickstarter campaign, so for $35 you can get the base game and the expansion straight away.

The cool thing about the expansion is that it really feels like 3 mini expansions that you can mix and match or use all 3. We have City Cards, which have “clever” animal pun names like Beaverly Hills & Clam Francisco that not only name the city each round, but alter the gameplay that round as well.

Landmarks are shuffled into the property deck when you build the town, controlling these spaces gives you a special ability on your turn or bonus points. Finally we have my favorite, The Professionals, these are for-hire characters that grant you a powerful ability to help turn the tide in your favor, things like taking over certain properties for less or getting and extra turn when the Law shows up.

We also have a solo/co-op variant in which players take on the role of the Police trying to run a powerful Mob Boss out of town before he completes his operations.

I love expansions! When there is a game I really like, I want more of it especially if it adds new mechanics or shakes up gameplay. The only problem I have with expansions is when I can’t play with them because its someone’s first time playing. My game group ruined Carcassone and Small World for a couple of our friends because we gave them too much at once…oops.

I know you are a fan of them in general as well, and you’re working on a fantastic one that I got to play last year for Farmageddon. What is your favorite expansion, what about your least favorite? Why?

Hyperbole Games: My favorite expansion is probably Kaispeicher for The Speicherstadt. It’s a very smart way to expand the game that still feels core to the experience. I played Leaders for 7 Wonders the other day and thought it was brilliant. I also own and love tons of expansions for Memoir ’44 and Summoner Wars and Netrunner that are basically more stuff.

My least favorite expansion is probably the one for Alien Frontiers. It added a lot of stuff that didn’t feel necessary, greatly slowed the game, and made it too complex. We stopped playing with it pretty quickly and never looked back. Ultimately, it felt like it wasn’t needed.

You also have an adorable game called Ghosts Love Candy, which I played last year at GaymerX. That is a delightful game. Tell us about Ghosts Love Candy and the schedule for it.

Danny Devine:  Ghost Love Candy is a quick playing cardgame (about 20 minutes) for 2-6 players. It’s based upon the common knowledge that Ghosts absolutely love candy but can no longer acquire it. However, on Halloween, rules are off! Ghosts have learned that they can temporarily possess trick-or-treaters and eat all the candy they can get their invisible hands on. The mechanics were inspired by games like Get Bit and Smash Up. It’s really light-hearted easy to teach and play but still offers plenty of room for strategy.

Ghosts Love Candy is currently scheduled for a Kickstarter launch in late June early July.

Hyperbole Games: Will you also do the art for Ghosts Love Candy?

Danny Devine:  That is the current plan; I already have some art styles in mind for it that I can’t wait to try. I currently have a LOT of art to do for the Mob Town expansion and we have the talented Derek Bacon on board to help out there. I’m running a tight deadline to finish art for Mob Town and get Ghosts Love Candy rolling, so we have polished looking review copies to send out, but I am looking forward to the challenge. Having a finished game designed and Illustrated by me is truly a dream come true.

Hyperbole Games: When you generally begin work on a game, what is your process or approach? How do you create something?

Danny Devine:  Theme or mechanics, theme or mechanics, that’s what people always jump between. I am no different; it really depends on the situation. A lot of times my ideas for mechanics will come from games I’m currently playing that I mash together until something new and interesting emerges. That was the process for Mob Town, mechanics were in place before the theme emerged. With Ghosts, the complete opposite. I had an idea that I wanted to make a game about ghosts possessing people at a party, I mentioned it on Twitter, and it eventually evolved into a Halloween inspired game. The mechanics fell in place shortly after I realized I wanted it to be more chaotic free for all like Smash Up, instead of a Mr. Jack like deduction game.

In general, I design games that fit in the medium to light category and can be played during lunch (under and hour).

What about you Grant? Based on your games that I have played, I get the feeling theme is really important to you up front when designing.

Hyperbole Games: I design for an experience and bring in thematic and mechanical pieces as I satisfy that. For York I wanted an attrition heavy, aggressive war game that used technology from about the mid 19th century. I didn’t want to use dice and I wanted it to play in an hour with 4 or fewer players. That drove a lot of ideas. For Sol Rising, I wanted space ships and fleets. I wanted you to be an admiral. For Flipped, I wanted a light euro first and came about a light city builder thing as a follow up.

Two published games is a big deal. But, I have to ask you what’s next? Any other ideas you’d love to pursue? Themes that interest you? Mechanics that are exciting?

Danny Devine:  Too many to list! I can’t possibly make them all, but I am certainly going to try. I will give you 2 quick examples of the front runners right now. Keep in mind, they are basically both in brainstorming states right now.

Monkey Fruit Farmers: 2-5 Player worker placement game. Players take on the role of a fruit farmer that hires local monkeys to pick fruit for them in order to sell them to the market or fulfill the endless amounts of orders flowing in. There is going to be a fluctuating economy based on the demand of each fruit. Sometimes bananas are worth more than apples. The monkeys you are hiring must be paid in fruit, and they want what the people are eating, which means you have to decide when to feed your monkeys the top dollar fruit, meaning more monkeys but less profit, or throw them the leftovers and watch as half of them go on strike.

I don’t have a name for this other one yet, and it’s pretty ambitious but what I want to achieve is the overarching character development from the Pathfinder card game or how Risk Legacy changes from game to game, but make the experience more compact and easy to play. I want something that can be played at lunch, and the whole campaign takes 5 playthroughs allowing for a week long lunch campaign. I love how dice games like King Of Tokyo or Bang the dice game play, so if I could fit a dice and card game as the core mechanic I would love to. And to top off this pile of random, I want players playing as Super-Hero Vigilantes, not with super powers, but like Kick-Ass or Batman. I would love to figure out a way for you to start the game day 1 as your origin, and by day 5 you are battling your arch nemesis that developed along with you in a glorious final battle!

I want to thank Danny for taking the time to conduct this interview. Check out Mob Town on Kickstarter now!

Interview with David Chott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HG: Who would love Lagoon?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Speicherstadt Makeoverspiel

Post by: Grant Rodiek

If you’ve seen my Twitter commentary or read this blog, you probably know, or at least have a hint, that I like The Speicherstadt. Actually, like is a bit of an understatement. I love this game and it’s easily one of my favorites. This is my favorite Feld by far, and I think it’s a great game for a few reasons:

  • Fantastic variance in how the cards come into play.
  • Tight, yet simple resource management, which reduces amount of math in play.
  • Highly interactive and arguably mean, without feeling that way.
  • A beautiful twist on auctions and worker placement.
  • Easy to learn and teach. One of my favorite games to show to non-gamers.
  • Short. The game is often 45 minutes, even with a full 5 players.
  • Brilliant expansion. Arguably, one of the best expansions I’ve played.

But, holy nerd gods does the game’s presentation not do its mechanics justice! Firstly, it’s called The Speicherstadt, which references a warehouse district in Germany. It’s not English, and for people who didn’t study German in Austria like me, it’s a bit of a mouthful. Though, I must admit that once my friends were taught to say it, they began shouting it like a battlecry. The expansion’s name, Kaispeicher, is even worse!

Also, it has a man moving a pallet of goods into a building on the cover. Also, brown.

Frankly, I don’t think the game has received the love it deserves, and I believe that’s partially due to how it has been presented to the consumer audience, at least in North America (which, yes, I recognize isn’t the entire world, but it’s a significant market, nonetheless).

A quick explanation, for those not aware, is that many publishers, especially those as big as Z-Man, will often partner with publishers in other markets to co-publish a title. This helps save on manufacturing fees and development fees, such as art, the printing itself, and localization. But, whereas a name like Trajan or Castles of Burgundy span multiple markets, The Speicherstadt is a miss.

Enough whining! Step into my hypothetical publisher’s Tardis, where we shall revise The Speicherstadt to be a winner in America. If I could ever sign a previously released title to craft a new edition, this would be the one. Note: I referenced Doctor Who to improve site traffic. I in no way endorse or condone this show.

Firstly, the theme must be altered. This is dangerous territory. When considering a theme, one must carefully consider the actions the player will take and not slap an inappropriate veneer over the game. A boring truth is better than an exciting lie.

The game is about turning limited resources/investments (coins) into great outputs (points/profits). To do this, you must shrewdly outbid and outmaneuver your opponents, all seeking similar goals. Some things that come to mind with this premise:

Politicians expending influence and jockeying for position to gain positions and pass favorable legislation. This is dangerous territory, but I believe farcical politicians passing laws not tied to any country or culture could potentially work.

To replace the fire of Speicherstadt, you could have political scandals, blackmail, and external crises. Contracts could be legislation or deals. The goods (cubes) could be influence from various constituents, wealth, or bargaining chips of some sort.

Inspirations: The Prince, British Commonwealth styled parliaments, or perhaps a more futuristic bureaucracy, similar to that seen in the universe of The Resistance.

A Wall Street style stock market. This is essentially the same premise of The Speicherstadt, but I believe this approach allows me to apply a more modern and colorful vibe.

To replace the fires, you could have recessions and depressions, and other such negative forces. Contracts could be requirements from investors and board members, or the elements of product launches.

Inspirations: Take a look at the Wall Street trading floor. It’s madness!

Local business starting from scratch to gain customers and prestige. Or, go broader with start ups with similar products jockeying for investors and IPO. When I think of this, I think of my small home town where new restaurants and small shops constantly appear and disappear. They fight desperately for customers, loyalty, and to stand out.

I also look to my current surroundings in Silicon Valley, where there are so many companies trying to gain the best employees, give the best benefits, and convince everyone they have the best product. Players would act as owners or CEOs, guiding their new company.

The resources could be awesome employees/personnel that are needed on product launches (contracts). Some of this might be a stretch, which means there would be a lot of work involved in making this intuitive, clever, and appropriate. That goes for all of the themes, really. Nothing is a clean A to B switch.

What is something that you think would work? Comment below!

Secondly, the game would need a short, to-the-point name to match the theme chosen. The name should follow standard conventions for what good looks like, including:

  • Short
  • Action focused (I love verbs or strong nouns)
  • Conveys the player’s actions
  • Confirms the theme from the cover art

As I don’t have a theme, I won’t bother too much with names, but it’s not too difficult to begin churning ideas from the three noted above.

Thirdly, I would completely revise the art style. I would focus on a style that is highly stylized, colorful, and a little silly. After all, politicians, CEOs, and Wall Street traders are all a bit ridiculous, hyperbolic characters. Political cartoons have been having fun at their expense for centuries.

Cards would tell stories of the actions and assets players buy in the game. My first thought, naturally, goes to Brett Bean, a masterful character artist.

His characters are always colorful, slightly exaggerated, and show a great range of emotion. If you don’t follow his work, his morning routine is to go to a local coffee shop and warm up by drawing other customers. Here are some of his pieces that I think match my goals:

My hope for the art would be that it would draw the eye of customers walking through a game store. My hope would be that the characters shown on the cover and on the cards on the back would make them smile and be curious about what’s going on. And, when they discover the premise, that they don’t think “oh god, not another game about business.”

The key is to stand out without confusing. It’s very tempting to go 200% wacky and wild, but then you might utterly confuse your consumers. “Wait…what the heck is this game about?” If people ask that question, you’ve failed. Dudes wearing brown homespun pants and wielding pitchforks on games might be boring, but people know what they’re about.

Would I change the game? No, not at all. Other than taking a stab at the rules to improve clarity and adding a round example, I wouldn’t touch the gameplay. I would include the expansion into the base game. In this hypothetical future, there would need to be a very good incentive for people to give this game another look. Packaging the expansion and base game together should satisfy that, or at least raise eyebrows.

What is a game you would love to revise from a publisher’s perspective? What is an overlooked favorite, or a gem that could be tweaked to 11 with just a new coat of paint? Share your thoughts below!

Thanks for going along with me. Have a good weekend!

Mars Has Risen

Post by: Grant Rodiek

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

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

Name Switcheroo

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

A good game title:

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

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

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

Martian Introspection

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

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

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

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

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

The Dice

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

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

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

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

The Ships

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

Ships have been completely overhauled.

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

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

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

The Rest

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

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


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

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

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

Jamey and Grant Discuss Everything (Pt 2)

If you missed Part 1, read it here. Euphoria is live on Kickstarter and already funded!

A discussion with Jamey Stegmaier and Grant Rodiek (bold)

Euphoria is your new game, live on Kickstarter now. What is Euphoria? What do we need to know?

Jamey: Euphoria is a dystopian-themed worker-placement game set in the not-so-distant future. Each player is trying to grab control of the dystopia using worker dice and recruits with special abilities. Play time is 15 minutes per player, and the cost to back 1 copy is $49 (shipping and customs included to the US, Canada, and the European Union).

Why this theme? What excites you about it? Why do you think it’s exciting for others?

Jamey: I LOVE dystopian fiction. Ready Player One, The Hunger Games, Oryx and Crake, Wool, Pure, and classics like Fahrenheit 451 and Brave New World. I love the sense of discovery as I read dystopian fiction: How does the new world work? Why did it end up this way? I find it easy to get immersed in dystopian worlds because they aren’t that different from our own. A lot of them take controversial issues from the modern day and exaggerate them. And I really like that the protagonist in dystopian fiction is up against all odds, and yet he/she truly does have the power to change the world. In Euphoria, you are that protagonist.

I’m honestly not quite sure if others find dystopias as exciting as I do. From a gaming perspective, it’s not on the level of sci-fi as 4x space-themed games, but it’s also geekier than a wine-making game. I’m curious to see how people respond to it.

What are a few of your favorite dystopian novels?

I loved the Hunger Game series and read them all in about 4 days. I read Fahrenheit and 1984 in high school but don’t remember them too well. My favorite is probably the Avery Cates series by Jeff Sommers, which I read last year. It focuses on an assassin, Avery Cates. The first book is The Electric Church and is highly recommended.

Jamey: I just requested a Kindle sample to check it out. Thanks for the recommendation.

What was your inspiration? What did you set out to create?

Jamey: I had a few different inspirations. One was the dystopian theme as I described above. Another was dice. I love rolling dice, but I like games with less than 20% luck, so I wanted to find a way to incorporate dice in a low-luck way. Alien Frontiers and Kingsburg provided some early inspirations in that area. Also, the flow of the game was really important for me. I wanted to make a game that didn’t have rounds or phases, one that fluidly moved from one player to the next. I wanted to make a game where you didn’t have to calculate a new first player every round. And as a bonus, when you eliminate rounds and phases, a game that could easily last over 2 hours averages around an hour instead. I want to play games multiple times on game nights, so that was part of my goal.

Your KS page proudly boasts 60+ blind playtesters. How did you gather these people? What was your process?

Jamey: I am very, very fortunate that many Viticulture backers were willing to playtest print-and-play versions of Euphoria. I put out a call to playtesters in an e-mail, and they responded in droves. After many months of development in St. Louis, I had my artist and designer make the game board (the board art is needed to make sense of the game), and I uploaded the PnP to dropbox. I asked all playtesters to play it at least twice (or not at all), because in my opinion it’s nearly impossible to get a true feel for a game while you’re learning to play instead of playing to win. After the original blind playtest, I revised the game based on the feedback and posted the revised version for a second round. Then a third round. That may sound fast, but when you have 60+ people blind playtesting your game and you’re playtesting the results in the meantime, it doesn’t take long to figure things out. What is your playtest process like?

I’m fortunate in that I work at a game company, so I’m surrounded by peers who love games, are very sharp when it comes to game design, and who aren’t afraid to give me honest feedback. I often schedule lunch sessions (I design games that are 60 min or less) for 2-4 people, set it up, then watch people play.

I also try to attend events like Gencon and Protospiel where I gain access to a lot of new people really quickly. Another favorite trick of mine is to play with people who aren’t gamers to figure out ways to improve usability and accessibility for the game. For example, if my girlfriend isn’t confused, then gamers really shouldn’t be confused.

Finally, I try to put the games in my PPP blind playtesting program. I’ve tried the PNP route, but if the game is beyond a certain size, most people won’t bother (I don’t blame them). My future games will be much simpler than York, so perhaps PNP will become more viable?

Jamey: I was pleasantly surprised that so many people were willing to print and play a full color game with so many components. And that’s great that you’re surrounded by people at your company who are willing to play your games. I like the tip to playtest games with non-gamers.

Tell me about your “dice faces represent knowledge” mechanic. How did that come about? How did it evolve?

Jamey: Great question. This brings me way back to why I decided that dice needed to be the workers. In a dystopia, the more knowledge people have about their society, the more likely they are to run away. That’s a common ingredient in almost every dystopia, so I knew I needed to capture it in Euphoria. Dice were an easy call there: The numbers on the dice would represent worker knowledge. So in the original version, all of your workers started with 1 knowledge, and if they ever got up to 6, you lost the worker because they knew too much. However, it wasn’t all that fun, especially since there was no dice rolling in the game–rather, the dice simply served as a way to track knowledge. I went through lots of iterations to figure out how dice rolling could be exciting without being too lucky, and still factor in knowledge. The end result is that your individual worker knowledge matters when placing workers. There isn’t a single spot on the board that limits you based on the number on your worker die. But your recruits make an impact there. For example, the Wastelander faction wants its workers to have high knowledge. They’re all about researching and memorializing the old world. So many of the Wastelander recruits give you a bonus if your worker has the highest knowledge of any worker on a certain area on the board.

The idea of your worker knowledge getting too high and workers escaping also made it into the final game, but in a different way than the original version. Individual worker knowledge doesn’t matter, but collective worker knowledge does. You start out with two workers, and every time you roll your workers, you look at them and add up their knowledge. If it is 18 or higher, one of your workers runs away. You can mitigate that using the knowledge track, which lets you reduce collective knowledge…but the same track can also increase your knowledge. So it serves as a check and balance for players who want to go after more workers.

You mentioned the Wastelander faction. Does your game have different factions? Can you explain these in greater depth? What does it mean to be a faction in Euphoria?

Jamey: Sure, the game has three different factions (and it might have four if we meet a certain stretch goal), each of which is physically separated from one another. The Euphorians live in a city called Euphoria where the buildings are slathered in gold…at least, the buildings where the elite live. Everyone else lives below them, working long days on the generator, where they produce electricity on giant hamster wheels to support the lavish lifestyles of the elite. The Euphorians hypocritically claim to value equality, so Euphorian recruits often give you bonuses if your workers interact with workers of equivalent knowledge.

The Wastelanders are those that were unprotected when the old world ended. They are survivors to the core, and they have the scars to prove it. They’ve rebuilt their society using the remnants of the past, sculpting a city from trash and clay. They covet the relics of the past, and thus Wastelander recruits–especially those with high knowledge–specialize in acquiring artifact cards.

The Subterrans are the final faction. They anticipated the apocalypse and dug deep underground to avoid it. There they found an underground winter untainted by the chemicals in the air and an abundance of stone to build a new subterranean empire. The Subterran overlords like to keep their people in the dark–literally and figuratively–and thus they give you bonuses when your workers have lower knowledge than other workers.

How do players choose their factions? Your game plays with 2-5 (6 with a Stretch Goal). How do you dole out factions?

Jamey: Players don’t exactly choose their factions–rather, they choose their recruits, and the allegiances of the recruits impacts you. So at the beginning of the game, each player is dealt four random recruit cards. They pick two and discard the others forever. They then reveal one of the recruits–that is their active recruit. You only get to use the bonuses of your active recruit. The other recruit remains hidden until you or other players unlock all recruits of that faction.

Neat! It’s organically woven into the experience. It sounds very dynamic, which I like. Tell me about the player interaction. How can I affect you?

Jamey: There are a few different ways you can affect me. The most common way is on the temporary use action spaces, which are all over the board. If you place a worker on one of those action spaces and I want to place a worker there, I can do so, but it bumps you off the board. That lets you delay the use of one of your turns to retrieve your workers from the board. I’ve found that the mechanic works really well because it’s fun to get bumped off the board, but you never feel blocked from a space that you really need to use.

The second way is the commodity-gathering areas. These are areas where collective worker knowledge affects what you receive when you place worker there. They all follow the same pattern: If the total knowledge of all dice on the Generator is between 1 and 4 after you place your worker there, you get 1 energy and 1 Euphorian allegiance point. If it’s between 5 and 8, you get 1 energy and you lose 1 knowledge on the knowledge track (as mentioned above, that’s a good thing). And if the total is 9+, you get 2 energy and you gain a knowledge on the knowledge track. The thematic idea there is that the more workers that pile on, the more energy they’re producing on the generator, but because there are so many there, they’re going to exchange information with each other. I’ve found that this mechanic scales really well for any number of players.

The third way is perhaps the most fun element of the game: Constructing markets. There are a bunch of different markets you can build in the game, but they’re placed face down during setup so no one knows what they are. Each construction site requires either 2 or 4 workers and specific resources to build the market, so you can attempt to build one alone, or you can collaborate with other players. When a market is complete, you flip it over to reveal what it does. Each market has a penalty on it that applies to each player who didn’t contribute to the construction. For example, the Registry of Personal Secrets affects Freedom of Privacy. If you didn’t help build it, for the rest of the game (unless you go out of your way to overcome the restriction), you have to play with all of your cards on the table for all to see. All of the markets are thematically tied to the dystopian theme, and some are harsher than others. So in building markets, you’re restricting what other players can do, causing them to think on their feet and pivot in their strategies.

The art, from what I can tell, is a very functional dystopia. Definitely Hunger Games or Fahrenheit-451. Your campaign talks about the apocalypse, which in my mind involves asteroids or nukes or alien invasion. Do you see your apocalypse more as the cataclysmic event that lead to the foundation of this dystopian society? How do you feel these two pair together? Walk me through your thoughts.

Jamey: Interesting question. I’m using the word “apocalypse” broadly–it’s more like a sweeping change that changes the world into a dystopia. Sometimes it’s caused by something cataclysmic like the examples you gave, but sometimes it’s just a change in world order. That’s one of the most interesting things about dystopias to me–the people in charge of the dystopia are doing what they think is necessary to prevent the world from collapsing again. Right and wrong aren’t black and white–they’re a mix of grey.

In the Euphoria campaign, we’re giving people the chance to help us decide the sweeping change that will create the world of Euphoria. I’m going to pit slightly outlandish apocalyptic scenarios against each other head-to-head via backer survey until only one remains. By the time you publish this, you should be able to see some of those scenarios–which one are you rooting for?

I voted for alien invasion and robot takeover. I’m not a fan of mutants and bipedal dolphins seems to diminish your fiction.

I know you’re an avid reader. What books did you read to prepare you for this game, if any?

Jamey: In addition to all the dystopian fiction I read, I consume a LOT of content about board games: reviews, blogs, podcasts, and videos are all part of my daily diet. I like reading many different takes on the same game, and I like hearing from designers like yourself to learn about your processes and insights. I know that I can’t play every game, so all of the amazing content out there serves to reinforce my existing knowledge of board game design and publishing. Do you have a go-to gaming blog, podcast, and/or YouTube channel?

There are two sites whose content I always consume: Shut Up & Sit Down and Drake’s Flames. I think the key reason I enjoy them so much is the humor and quality of their writing. SU&SD is founded by a few writers whose work I’ve been reading for quite some time. They are hilarious, but most importantly, instead of just walking me through the rules, they go over the experience of playing the game. Why it’s delightful, what makes it special.

I read Drake’s because he’s brief and inappropriate and funny.

I should listen to the Plaid Hat podcast because I’m obsessed with those guys. I’m a huge fan of their games and greatly inspired by their success.

What are your favorites? What am I missing?

Jamey: I 100% agree with those three recommendations. I would also add Board Game Reviews by Josh, iSlaytheDragon, The Opinionated Gamers blog, Metagames, The Little Metal Dog show, the Ludology podcast, the Long View podcast, Tom Vasel’s reviews reviews (I like his enthusiasm), Ryan Metzler’s reviews (he’s incredible good at explaining how to play a game in a short period of time), and Undead Viking’s video reviews (I like his side tangents). There are many more, but this list is already getting unwieldy.

I actually read Josh’s reviews sporadically. Did you know he was one of my first blind testers for Farmageddon? He gave me some frank, harsh feedback (privately) for the game that fundamentally guided me towards fixing it. I’m so thankful he did so.

Anything you wish to add?

Jamey: I think that’s it! Thank you so much for taking the time to create this interview. I’m happy to answer any questions your readers have–I look forward to the conversation.

If you have any follow up questions for Jamey, post them in the comments below! You can check out Euphoria’s Kickstarter page. $49 gets you the game shipped free to the US, Canada, or EU!

Publishing Case Study: York

Post by: Grant Rodiek

Creative nerds everywhere want to be entrepreneurs. Thanks to Kickstarter, the Internet, and money growing on trees, it’s now relatively possible for these nerds to become entrepreneurs.

I am not a publisher, but I want to be. Badly. Yes, I self-published Farmageddon and yes I’m self-publishing Battle for York. The distinction I wish to make is that I did these as a creative exercise. I did these for myself. I believe a publisher creates games for the purpose of revenues and profits. A publisher does it to be a business. I did it for funsies. Now, that doesn’t mean a publisher doesn’t have fun and doesn’t love games, but to be successful, my games need to make money and I’m not quite there yet.

This article is intended as a case study to stir discussion and aid those interested in game publishing. I receive quite a few emails with questions about publishing and I do my best to answer them with what (little) I know. I’ve been taking notes for years and watching. This article will discuss the development I did to publish Battle for York, what I would have done differently if this were a real, profit-focused print run, and the marketing ideas I have for the game. In summary, you’re going to read about what I did, what I would have done, and some of my goofs.

Development: The Actual

Overall I’m quite pleased with the development of Battle for York. Some of my friends have told me that they tested their game a few times, a publisher signed it, then they were hands off for the next year’s worth of development. Well, I did that development. York was thoroughly tested over the course of a year with friends and co-workers, non-gamers, gamer gamers, random folks at GenCon 2012, folks at Protospiel Milwaukee, and a few folks in the Prototype Penpal Program.

Testing overall went through 3 main phases: mechanical, balance, and usability. The first phase focused primarily on making the game work. Getting it to an Alpha state. The second phase focused on making sure the game was fun and fair. Also, to ensure it’s fun to play 1, 5, 10, and 20 times (it is!). This phase is about getting it to a Beta state. The final phase was about making sure the game was as easy as possible to learn and play. It was about ensuring the reference boards and cards presented the information as well as possible. I haven’t done this for a game before and I found it insanely useful.

All told, the game has over 70 tests with dozens of people. It was tested extensively with 4 peers for the sake of deep, long-term balance testing. The rules have also been read, tweaked, and massaged for the entirety of this year. I write my rules at the beginning of the project for precisely this reason. I am reasonably confident my rules are good.

Development: The Potential

If this game had more of a development budget I would have done a few things differently. As it stands now, I had one local long-term test group and one blind long-term test group. I would have sent out copies to at least 2 more groups for long-term blind testing. This would have been invaluable for balance and accessibility. Plus, more word of mouth marketing.

I also would have tried to work out a testing moment with a prominent reviewer. Now, this might not have occurred — reviewers are busy and reluctant to do these things. I would have been willing to pay them for their services, services being 2-5 tests. I would do this in the hopes of getting a private, mock review. I would want to make sure it would go over well in the review circuit. Now, I cannot guarantee every reviewer would agree with the mock review, but testing with 1 or 2 is a good sample size. Hint: We do this all the time in the digital game space. It’s very useful.

Another change is that I would have begun stalking local FLGS to attempt to get some local word of mouth built. There are a few good stores near me: Gamescape in SF, End Game in Oakland, and Black Diamond Games in Concord. However, doing this takes time, gas money, and the stores need to be cool with me testing/shilling my game on their premises. This isn’t just a show up and rock it affair, so it would need some effort.

Finally, I would have hired a dedicated editor to examine my rules. I would not change the number of peers who examined them. Their service has been amazing and again, the rules are good. But, paying someone who is on the line to make it awesome is a good thing to do. This maxim is so true: you get what you pay for.

If you’re curious about the design side of Battle for York, ask questions, or check out this lengthy post I wrote on its origins and development.

Art: The Actual

I’m very pleased with the final art for Battle for York. The cards were illustrated by one of my favorite artists, John Ariosa. The work he created was amazing, working with him was fantastic, and overall I’m just thrilled. Here are some of his pieces:



I wrote about working with artists earlier, but I’ll rehash some of the info. I spent a year thinking about the art for York and built not one, but two Pinterest boards for it: Theme 1 and Theme 2. I had a clear vision and that really helped things.

I also greatly scoped down the required assets to fit within my tiny budget and John’s time frame. Ultimately, I hired him to create 5 images, each done in 4 colors. I asked for characters with simple backgrounds, which also kept things within scope.

I also hired Robert Altbauer from the Cartographer’s Guild to illustrate a map for me. I discussed the project with 3 artists, but ultimately settled on Robert because of his style and experience, his demeanor, and his very reasonable quote. I had him create 2 maps: 3 player and a 2-4 player. These were based on drawings I created for the prototype — the layout was refined and complete. He made it pretty and created icons for it, including the Cities, Seaports, Forts, and Headquarters. You can see one of his maps with the board elements here:

I handled the graphic design duties for the project, which included icon sourcing and layout. For icons, I used Game-Icons.net and modified them as needed, usually just by simplifying the icon or modifying it to fit the aesthetics of the rest of the game. These icons are consistently created and provided free within the creative commons license, so I used them.

Because I was obtaining the icons and because my graphic skills are limited, the overall look and feel of the game is simple, clean, and modern. Here’s a card to demonstrate this point:


You can see one of every card on Facebook here. This style was shared throughout the game’s assets, including the game board, the rules booklet, the stickers, and the player boards.

All designers do some form of graphic design for their prototypes. This project has been very instructive to me both in how to do layouts and execute tricks in Photoshop. Experienced graphics folks will giggle at what I produced, but I did my best and I learned a great deal. I created dozens of iterations for the player boards, refined the rules dozens of times, and even experimented with the relatively simple board.

Never undervalue the importance of properly communicating elements to your players.

Art: The Goofs

I did two stupid things. One is something most publishers do, for better or worse, the other is just a goof of mine. Firstly, my game isn’t the most colorblind friendly. In testing I used colors that did not share a colorblindness spectrum, but for the final game I opted for color. The four player colors are yellow, blue (oops) and green, red (double oops). Were this a fully published game, I would probably do something more along the lines of green, yellow, black, and white. Maybe. I’m not sure and right now it’s not something I’ll change.

Fortunately, the cards and game boards are very color blind friendly in regards to the information presented. But, the game pieces are less so if you’re colorblind.

The second goof also has to do with color. I’ve always used red to indicate “offensive tactics” and blue to indicate “defensive tactics.” These items also have symbols, but the colors really drive it home. My prototype did not feature red. The final game does. Now, there are red and blue player colors AND I use these colors for offensive and defensive tactics. Doh! It’s not the end of the world, but it is lame and it’s something I’d address in a real version.

Art: The Potential

The game’s assets are ultimately not very consistent. I knew this going in, so this is less a learning for me and mostly something to do differently if this were a real publication effort. The key differences is that I would have added additional process and layers to it as well as hired a graphic designer.

I also would have hired the illustrator to craft more art. Instead of 5 cards with 4 colors each, I would have made the cards color agnostic and created a unique set of 5 cards for every faction. This would have quadrupled my costs, but also made the game more varied and exciting visually.

When creating the art, I hired the illustrator (John) and map artist (Robert) simultaneously. The cards have a very painterly style and the map looks like, well, a map. In a full printing, I would have hired the illustrator first. After he (or she) created a handful of assets, I would have then sought a map artist who could work within that style and remain consistent. Another option would be to have a graphic designer create a wireframe then simply have the artist do an aesthetic pass to make it look gorgeous and consistent.

I would have also hired a graphic designer to create icons, improve my layouts, and do an aesthetic pass on all UI. When I say improve my layouts, I say that because I would still create everything. I would mail the graphic designer a copy of the game with all my assets, have him (or her) learn to play it, then with his expertise, improve upon it. From there, he would make it beautiful. As the designer, I expect myself to know what my player’s need best. I expect the designer to know slightly more than me. Ish.

The mapmaker wouldn’t begin the map until he received an improved wireframe from the graphic designer. I sent the mapmaker a layout, but it wasn’t the final one. Granted, not much changed, but still, these things matter.

I would also retain the artist to do an aesthetic pass on the icons created/sourced by the graphic designer. If you look at what York actually has, it’s painterly and somewhat fuzzy illustrations (intentional) with clean, sharp icons. These would be merged and made consistent.

Stylistically, I would also direct my team to create something that fit the fiction better. Currently, the game is set in the 19th century with some decidedly 21st century styled lines. Clean clean clean. I’d like to see a parchment vibe, something that makes me think of the time period. Island Siege by Ape Games and graphic design by Daniel Solis did this well. Here is their player mat:

In my mind, these are fairly obvious decisions based largely on time and money. Could York look better? Sure! But, the cost to do so isn’t worth the money I will make for it. To summarize my notes here:

  1. Hire a graphic designer
  2. Leapfrog between artists in order to maintain consistency
  3. Create a more appropriate aesthetic to match the theme

Marketing: The Actual

I didn’t do a very good job marketing Battle for York. Much of this have to do with me thinking  to myself, “it doesn’t matter much.” I like to develop my games openly and as a result folks may feel overwhelmed by the amount of information I share. At work, PR always guides us to have 2 or 3 points and stick to them. Market those 2-3 things precisely and repeatedly. With York, I posted about development (balance, UI, testing, mechanics, etc.) and shared everything as it became available. I should have shared things more sparingly.

If you notice with Blockade, I’m mostly teasing it via Twitter. I’ll write fewer posts and they’ll matter more. Of course, if you EVER want to know anything about my projects, email me. I’m an open book.

Another example is that when John was sending me assets one at a time, I simply shared them on Twitter. I believe there is a more effective and potent way to wield these beautiful surprises. In a proper campaign, I would have merged my Faction Previews with the art reveals. I also would have crafted a more elaborate fiction and story for each. There would have also been a video format. Just imagine how fun this would be!

The intent, would be to build hype and excitement for the theme and mechanics of York bolstered by gorgeous visuals and a well-crafted fiction.

I asked people, somewhat, for thumbs on BGG, but I don’t like spamming folks for what is ultimately an exercise in pageantry, and as a result I don’t have many thumbs. You have to ask for things!

Once I receive my copy of York, I’ll do a video unboxing to show the components and create a video tutorial to explain the game. I’ll also be sending a copy to a few reviewers. Finally, I’ll have it with me at GenCon to share and demo.

Marketing and Kickstarter: The Potential

I actually detailed some of the things I’d do differently above. So much for that format! The truth is, York is too big of a game for me to self-finance and I would have to run a Kickstarter campaign for it. Let’s discuss the Kickstarter I would have run. Before we get into Kickstarter…please don’t freak out. These are just my opinions. There is no right way. There is no single way. This is simply what I think would be my way based on my own experience with Farmageddon and a lot of observation.

Obviously, before the game launched, a handful of reviewers would have a nice prototype of the game in order to review and share. It blows my mind that some people still launch a game on Kickstarter without critical reviews to vouch for the game. This is a no no.

Before I launched on Kickstarter, all art assets would be final, all graphic design finished, and all rules final. I personally don’t like the “NOT FINAL” caveat. I’d self-finance this and say “boom, here’s the game. THIS is what you’ll receive.” It’s a personal choice and ultimately, everyone should do what they feel is best. This also helps you stick to your manufacturing schedule. Many KS projects still have to finish the game after KS.

I would share a PNP and also share a small number of copies with common BGG users to comment and discuss. This was very powerful for Farmageddon’s campaign and I feel sharing a PNP shows confidence. I would also take a note from Stonemaier Games and provide a money back guarantee. Now, before I did this, as mentioned at the very top, the game would be tested even more to fully relax me when giving this guarantee.

Stretch Goals are probably the thing I like least about the current Kickstarter ecosystem and it would definitely be a problem for me with York. I don’t like many of the extras for a few reasons:

  • The extras packed in can really increase the MSRP, which can hurt long-term sales.
  • I want to present and create the game as it’s meant to be. No more, no less.
  • They make publishing, an already difficult thing, a bit more wild and unpredictable.

Nevertheless, here are the stretch goals I had in mind for a Battle for York campaign:

  • Additional factions: York features four asymmetric factions. Manufacturing more is really just a matter of a player board and 25 cards, plus the art. I would design and test 2 more before the campaign so that adding them wouldn’t be a big deal.
  • Stories: I hired a writer to create two short stories for the current game. In hindsight, these would be awesome stretch goals. Craft stories for every faction that go beyond the “short story” limit.
  • Promo Cards: I created some of these for the current version (Tactician, Saboteur) and really like how they change up and in some ways, break the game. I think good promos are fun and I’d probably do a few of them for a KS campaign.
  • Custom Tokens: The game would largely use punchboard tokens to keep the game at a lower MSRP. However, for scoring and turn order tokens, I could have neat custom meeples created. Note: The current game uses all wooden components, so in that sense, it’s arguably nicer than the “real” version. This is probably the least likely goal I’d pursue.
  • Bag: To cut down on MSRP I’d remove the bag from the base set. But, as a stretch goal for backers, I could include the bag. Note: There’s a bag with the current version.
  • New Maps: The current maps are balanced and designed for straightforward gameplay and symmetry. I’d love to create weirder maps that shift the gameplay, add new mechanics, and really vary things. Adding new maps is simply a matter of adding more boards. Oh, wait…those are super expensive! Still, something I could “add” much like Days of Wonder did with the Memoir ’44 Winter/Desert board.

All of these would be estimated and quoted before the launch of the campaign. If my goals were hit, I’d simply reveal the next stretch goals. They would fit within my budget and I would not lose money. As a side note, I really like how Mercury Games Kickstarted The Guns of Gettysburg. They had a very upfront, honest policy regarding Stretch Goals.

My funding goal would probably be around the $10k-20k mark. I know that’s a big gap. The minimum number of copies is typically 1000 and 1500 (depending on the manufacturer), but I’d prefer to print at least 2000 as that’s where you begin to see price breaks. Margins improve here, but your investment greatly increases.

Ultimately, the number I decided would be based on the amount of money I’d be willing to put towards it.This was one of the reasons I didn’t KS York — It’s more of a niche game and I’m not sure it’s the one to put $10,000+ of my savings towards. I hope to design and publish that game (or sign someone else who does), but I’m not sure York is it.

I prefer Kickstarter projects with a few, simple backer levels. Typically:

  • Get the game for the US
  • Get the game for Canada/Europe
  • Get the game for somewhere else

Foreign backers would probably need to buy multiple copies to make it cost effective, but I haven’t gone deep enough into that to say for sure. My Kickstarter page would be simple with the following information:

  • KS video would largely be a 2 minute pitch. “This is why you should back.”
  • Page would detail components at a high level, link to reviews, share some of the art (cards, game board).
  • Page would give a quick glimpse into the world’s fiction.
  • Page would have a gameplay video. “This is how you play.”

The campaign would last for 30 or fewer days. I would be highly responsive and transparent for any questions ask (see the Farmageddon campaign for proof!). I sent several RFQs and settled on a manufacturer who would create a high quality game, was nice and reliable (from personal referrals), and could help me make the game at a $40 MSRP. I just didn’t pull the trigger.

Fulfillment and Post-KS Sales: The Potential

Fulfillment is a tricky subject. There are so many options and ways to do it. I know a few that I would NOT use. As for what I would use, I’m currently leaning towards doing it myself (if sales were low) or using Amazon fulfillment. Amazon could also help with shipping to European backers, again, if sales warranted such a thing.

In the short run I would rely heavily on Amazon’s storefront. Doing so gives me a place to store the games, a nice, safe, outstanding web store, and lets existing Amazon customers use their logins, their credit card info, and Prime status to get free shipping. Basically, I wouldn’t invest in my own Hyperbole Games storefront until sales warranted such a thing.

I would immediately begin the slow, challenging process of getting into the traditional distribution channels. There are a lot of great distributors and it would take time to build a great relationship with them. I would need to attend trade shows like GAMA and GenCon with some presence in order to do so. It is so key to be in FLGS to reach a mass audience. Once in an FLGS, my hope is that superior art and a very reasonable price would warrant a look from potential customers. Those two elements are so very key.

I would send the game to additional reviewers, especially ones with a large presence like The Dice Tower and some of the popular war game reviewers, like Marco Arnaudo. I would absolutely save some of these for after the KS campaign.

I would also begin creating expansions. I’m a huge proponent of the expansion driven business model. I love it as a consumer, a designer, and a publisher. As a consumer, it gives me more of a thing I love, but also, it’s my choice to do so. As a designer, I get to create content atop a foundation. Content is so much easier than mechanics! You also get to dream up and create less typical elements. With the base game, you want to cover your bases and hit as many people as possible. With an expansion? Go nuts. Finally, as a publisher you are able to drive additional revenue off the same IP. You can leverage existing art assets and branding. It’s also less risky to create a smaller expansion than yet another full game. Many of the most successful publishers utilize the stuffing out of this business model, including:

  • Days of Wonder: Ticket to Ride, Memoir ’44, Smallworld
  • Steve Jackson Games: Munchkin
  • Plaid Hat Games: Summoner Wars and hopefully Mice and Mystics
  • Mayfair: The Settles of Catan
  • Fantasy Flight Games: Almost everything they make. Lately, NetrunnerX-Wing, and older titles like Arkham Horror. 

Over time, the hope would be to build a small, core audience who continues to support the game’s expansions. In turn, I would support them with scenarios, PNP components, and the obvious rules support. Byron Collins of Collins Epic Wargames does a great job of supporting his community. So does Plaid Hat Games. I would like to emulate this.  This core of consumers would hopefully grow via word of mouth and eventually I’d be a millionaire. Or, I’d simply reprint and improve the game.



This post is absurdly long! I apologize. This post covered:

  • Development: Actual versus Potential
  • Art Development: Actual versus Potential
  • Marketing: Actual
  • Marketing and Kickstarter: Potential
  • Post KS Sales: Very hypothetical potential

This post was fun for me to write and share, but most importantly, I want it to be useful and interesting for you. Were you looking for specific information not covered? Did I gloss over something? Please feel free to comment below. Or, email me your question at grant[at]hyperbolegames[dot]com.

Thanks for reading. I sent Battle for York to the printer last night and I am so very excited to hold it in my hands.