A Smidge of Orb

Post by: Grant Rodiek

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

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

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

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

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

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

My starting point: Science fiction. Infantry. Tactics.

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

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

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



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


Sci Fi. Infantry. Tactics. Drop ships. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sol Rising Mid-Mortem


Post by: Grant Rodiek

I hit a very big milestone for Sol Rising last night: the campaign is content complete. That’s right! After about 6 months I’ve completed 12 scenarios that tell the story of the Terran invasion of the Jovian system. This was a really big undertaking, arguably the greatest thing (using great to mean large) I’ve designed.

Every scenario includes a composition of ships for both sides, their starting positions, interesting objectives (other than just destruction), new Events, new rules, and story moments to precede and modify every mission. Just typing that gives me flash backs. The campaign booklet is 28 pages and over 11,000 words.

I’ve learned a great deal doing this work, much of which can be applied to other designs and work. The game is not finished, obviously, as it needs to go through more testing and iteration, but I thought it would be fun to draft a “mid-mortem” to write about what I’ve learned so far.

You may read the rules for Sol Rising here. You may read the campaign here.

Remove Passive Effects: This is a lesson that took a few iterations to really drive home, but it’s such an important one. Most of the ships in the game have abilities you can activate. The majority of them were abilities that you’d activate and use immediately. Cause and effect. However, about 25% of them were passive defensive abilities that would leave a status on the board. For example, you could activate shields that would modify a ship’s defensive properties the next time it was attacked.

This caused some issues:

  • I needed to design a method to easily track this. This meant more tokens.
  • Tracking these effects increased complexity in a bad way. Players had to pay attention to more to make decisions and play.
  • I had to craft rules to deal with odd situations. What if the ship isn’t attacked? How long do the shields last?

On two occasions, my friend and design peer Cole Medeiros noted I needed to simplify them. He kept stressing cause and effect and how that simplifies things. After the first time I addressed some, but others remained. I thought it was better. After the second time, he offered the feedback with a twist.

“This ability prevents one damage when attacked next. Instead of forcing me to remember that, just remove a damage that’s already on the ship.”

Much. Simpler.

I applied this to all remaining abilities and removed them. Now, every ability in the game has an immediate effect. This has simplified the rules, simplified the abilities, removed components, and removed edge cases.

Passive abilities have absolutely ruined some games for me. I quit playing Seasons because I was sick of tracking what seemed like an endless stream of passive effects. I should have paid attention for my own game, but it took time to do so. Nonetheless, the lesson has sunk in (again).

Remove Conditional Abilities: In a game where you have activated abilities, it is crucial that in as many cases as possible you remove conditional requirements. By this, I mean: If X is the status, then do Y.

This is bad for a few reasons. One, it’s more complicated. The simplest form is to say: Do Y. By adding a layer, you’re making it more difficult for players to do things.

You’re also removing flexibility from the experience. Instead of letting players use simple abilities in new, unexpected ways, you force them to use the ability the same way every time. It makes the game more predictable and static.

Finally, and this was often the case for my game, I was creating conditions that were so unlikely to setup. They didn’t sync with the experience or the mechanics, which essentially rendered the abilities useless.

Your task when designing abilities is to focus on simple, flexible, highly usable abilities that excite the player. Give your players the tools to craft dynamic experiences. Don’t give them rigidly scripted game cards.

Design Mechanics and Content for the Game you Want: This sounds silly, but it is something you can overlook and fight against. In Sol Rising, I made the decision a few iterations ago to make the game a simpler, turn-based structure. This meant 1 player activates a squadron (move and attack). Then, the next player did so. And so forth.

However, I would frequently design odd mechanics or abilities that would fight with this structure. This continues the previous lesson, but I would craft abilities that would state: If 2 squadrons are in this specific position, you can do a thing. However, because players moved 1 squadron at a time, not 2 or more, it meant these systems weren’t playing nicely with each other.

Eventually, I found a way to keep the main mechanics very simple. Turn based, 1 at a time. However, I crafted a few simple, non-conditional abilities to let you move or attack with additional units.

The key lesson is to not fight against the framework you’ve created. Determine the experience you want, then craft a framework and the content to provide it. Keep your goals and mechanics in sync with one another.

When creating scenario based games, focusing on replayability at the outset is key. As a lesson from York, which has received feedback that it lacks replayability, and recognizing some of the faults with some scenario based games, I decided to really focus on replayability from the outset with Sol Rising.

Some games accomplish this better than others. With Memoir ’44, there isn’t much change between plays of the same scenario. The cards aren’t highly varied and the units remain the same.

One of my favorite scenario games, Mice and Mystics, adds in more varying elements. These include:

  • Players can choose different characters.
  • Players can choose different Abilities for characters.
  • The item deck is large, so what players “find” as they play changes.
  • The enemies that spawn in most rooms are randomized.
  • The timing of surges really changes things.
  • Optional side quests and routes to take.
  • Dice based combat system.

One more good example is Robinson Crusoe. It randomizes scenarios in a few ways:

  • You choose a random subset of Event cards every time you begin the scenario.
  • You choose a random subset of Inventions every time you begin the scenario.
  • The Event decks for each action are quite large and varied. Your successes and failures will change every game at different times.
  • The order in which you unveil tiles on the island will change things.
  • Players can choose different characters.
  • Dice based resolution system.

For Sol, I started with “what good looks like” and evolved it for my own game. Although I pre-define ships and starting positions, I hope advanced players will modify these things. Other variables include:

  • Dice based combat system.
  • Events that take effect at different times, or not at all, and affect players differently.
  • Completing bonus objectives.
  • Persistent campaign effects as a result of bonus objectives.
  • System failures to change how ships behave as the battle continues.

Finally, unlike Mice and Mystics and Robinson Crusoe, you’re fighting against a human opponent, not an AI. I’ve found this makes a huge difference on how missions play out.

The lesson, overall, is that if you prioritize something like variance and replayability at the beginning and factor it into your designs, you’ll see much better results. This isn’t something you can typically just layer in afterwards. The fact is that most players won’t play missions twice. I doubt most players even finish the scenarios shipped with campaigns. But, I want them to know they CAN play them multiple times and have a lot of fun.

Focus on the core first. This is definitely something for the “win” column so far. I knew from the beginning I wanted to make a scenario driven game of some sort. However, I didn’t even touch scenarios for roughly the first 6 months of development. Instead, I worked on how you command ships, how ships attack, how turn structure works, how abilities work, and more. This took a long time and in fact, I’ve continued to develop and change these things since I began scenarios. But, trying to build scenarios is very difficult. Doing so on top of a wobbly core foundation seems impossible.

The lesson is that before you go content crazy, or design scenarios, focus on the core. Make sure you know what a player’s turn entails and how your game works from start to finish.

Focus on one piece of content first. Another win, and a continuation of the previous point, is that I worked on Scenario 1 of Sol Rising far longer than any other. Before I made 12 scenarios, I needed to make one that worked really well. I had to revise the writing style for the narrative. I had to figure out what sort of Events were interesting and which ones weren’t. I needed to get a feel for objectives and communicating unique rules.

I’ve tested the first scenario far more than any other, but the lessons learned from it have informed and aided every other scenario. If you’re crafting a game with scenarios, or content sets, make one really really good before you make any more. Otherwise, you’ll be doing a lot of tedious iteration that could have been avoided.

The longer you work on a game, the more comfortable you’ll be with it.  I have a few games I’ve been working on for a year or longer. Farmageddon and its expansion, York, and Sol Rising all qualify. What I’ve found with Sol, like I’ve found with the others, is that by spending a long time on something, the more comfortable you’ll be with it. Many of my best revelations and ideas for these have come about as a result of truly understanding the game, its strengths, and its weaknesses.

Obviously, if you can get a game signed quickly and it all works out, awesome. Congrats. Enjoy this heaping pile of my jealousy. But, if you’re working on more complex games (as I have a habit of doing, curses), give your game time to grow. Give it time to mature and evolve as it needs to. There are so many avenues these days to rush out a game, but I think you’ll find determined patience will render its own rewards.

At least, it has for me.

I’m excited to take Sol Rising into the next stages. I’m also chasing down some publishing leads and hope it’ll be something folks can experience in their own homes before our sun collapses.

Questions? Comments? Put ‘em below!

Sol Rising Visual Development

Post by: Grant Rodiek

For whatever reason, about a week ago I decided to take a break from writing and editing scenarios for Sol Rising (previously Mars Rising) and focus on its aesthetics. It’s good to vary your efforts as you’ll use different aspects of your brain and, if enough time has passed, may find ways to improve old designs.

I did two things:

  1. Hired John Ariosa to do some really quick sketches. I was tired of using my Googled ship art.
  2. Decided to change the previous card layout.

For quite some time, this was the layout for the ship cards in the game:

This got the job done, but I had a few problems with it. It didn’t really take advantage of the space. The ability text was smashed into the center and the art wasn’t given room to breathe. I listed too much info in the top left corner. Notice the bombers have 0 lasers. If they don’t have guns, why bother telling you? Finally, the cards didn’t didn’t have any subtle reminders for other rules. Specifically, to place damage markers on the cards or to reveal System Failure tokens when shields go down.

Before I reveal the new layout, let me quickly explain how cards are used in the game for those not familiar (rules linked at the bottom). Ships in your fleet are represented by cards. These cards are never in your hand, but act as references. They are played face up in front of you to remind you of a ship’s stats and abilities. A single fighter card represents a squadron, or multiple ships. Capital ships are paired with up to 3 cards to form powerful squadrons. If ships are destroyed, you set the card aside. The position of your ships is represented on the board with small tokens.

Here are some of the new cards, featuring illustrations by John Ariosa.

Carrier with Shields

Bomber squadron. There are 3 bombers, each with their own health. All contribute to an attack.

Destroyer with Shields

A Battlecruiser with Shields

Destroyer with Shields Down

You see the small boxes on the cards. Here are where you place 8mm damage cubes to indicate…damage. The two different symbols in these boxes represent Shields, if your ship has them, or Hull, if Shields are gone.

Ability text reads more naturally horizontally and isn’t so bunched. I also only show pertinent information. If the ship doesn’t have Missiles, you don’t see that stat. On the bottom Destroyer, there is an additional square in the top right corner. This icon reminds you to draw and place a System Failure token.

Overall, I’m really excited. I love the art. If this is what John did in just a few quick hours with little iteration, can you imagine these ships with more time and love?

Next Steps: These cards can only go so far with my graphic skills. My skillset mostly focuses on layout (which you can feel free to dispute). I’m very very bad at colors, filters, and anything more than placing an icon. That’s why I stick to black and white.

Things I’d love to work with someone to improve are:

  • Select a superior typeface for better clarity and thematic expression.
  • Apply a superior color treatment to really draw the eye to the Icons and Stats.
  • Add a filter treatment to icons to give them some texture.
  • Improve the graphics housing the icons. Better boxes, or adding graphic outlines to the stats.

I’ll surely stumble across other tweaks through the course of testing, but those are the known issues at this time.

Balance, Language, Refinement: I haven’t touched the core rules for the game for quite some time. I’ve been focused entirely on the scenarios, which is a very different beast. As I began the work to port every card into the new style (52 cards/9 ship classes/over 85% with Unique abilities), I realized this was my best opportunity to take a balance pass and revise ship abilities where necessary.

Never ever miss such an opportunity! I revised almost every ability in some way. For starters, I stuck with a 12 Point font and with 1 exception, re-wrote every piece of text until it fit on 1 or 2 lines. By forcing such a strict limitation, I really improved the accessibility and quality of my text.

I was able to fundamentally re-examine the weapon and ship role balance in the game.

I was also able to completely remove a feature that I realized just wasn’t necessary. This simplified and cleaned up my feature set even further.

I took the opportunity to remove a few unnecessary ships (a third Assault Shuttle), add two Bombers, make sure the abilities were more unique (less re-use), and I added Veteran Fighters. All cards are double sided: Shields and no Shields. That is, except Fighters. They are unshielded and previously all of the backs were blank. However, I realized I could do some neat stuff with persistence in the campaign by adding a Veteran variant to every Fighter card. This means instead of 6 Interceptors and 6 Bombers, you actually have 12 of each. But, still only 6 cards.

Finally, I re-organized all of my graphics files in Photoshop. I always spend the time up front to properly setup my card files so they are easy to edit and maintain. However, like many things, they had grown messy. I took a new pass at organizing them and editing, printing, and adding ships is now simpler than ever.

The takeaway is that you should never skip an opportunity to take a new look at something you thought was finished. I revised almost every card and the game will be monstrously superior. If you have a big game and have moved past a feature, go back to it sometime. You’ll be surprised at what fresh eyes can bring!

Back to the Story Mines: With my fleet polished, it’s time to finish creating moments for it. I have 5 1/2 scenarios left to design, not to mention the original six to continue scrubbing. Each one requires a great deal of story editing and as I noted in this previous post, there are many variables for every scenario.

I hope to have this finished in the coming weeks. If you’re at all interested in testing this game’s campaign, leave a comment. I’ll provide you with a copy in exchange for your testing efforts. I’d love to have a few blind testers tear through the campaign.

Rules: You can read the rules here. Comments are allowed in the document if you so desire. Some of the Campaign scenarios are in disarray from editing, so I’m not linking to that for now.

A Campaign scene for the book.

Posted in Games | Tagged fleet, game, , graphic design, illustration, layout, sol rising, space, | 13 Replies

Mars Rising PNP


Post by: Grant Rodiek

At ease, admirals. I wanted to quickly gauge interest in a limited Mars Rising PNP. I say limited because it will be, for the time being, just a few scenarios. This is because I only have 3 I’m ready to share and because I want to limit the effort it takes to create the PNP.

For every scenario I specify the ships and components needed, which means you don’t need to build the entire game to play it. To play scenario 1, for example, you would only need:

  • Print the board, which you simply tape out of a few 8.5×11 pages
  • 15 ship cards
  • 6 regular d6
  • 20 quarter sized tokens (if you have a circular or square punch this’ll take seconds)
  • About 15 tokens (cubes, Summoner Wars damage markers) for damage
  • 12 Squadron tokens (really quick to cut out)

Basically, the effort, for a PNP, is relatively minor.

My hope is to gauge interest in the design, confirm my local testing, test the quality of the rules, but also, gather any scenario and ship ideas you might have.

It will take me a few hours to put this all together, so if nobody is interested, I’d rather put that effort elsewhere. If you’re interested in printing and playing the first, second, and third scenarios (essentially the intro to the campaign), comment below, email me, or hit me up on Twitter.


Scenarius Testus


Post by: Grant Rodiek

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

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

Quick links:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blockade Crazy Idea


Post by: Grant Rodiek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had a few thought cycles.

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

Here’s the idea.

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

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

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


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

Blockade’s Evolution Post GenCon

Post by: Grant Rodiek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next steps…

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

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


Stacking the Fleet

Post by: Grant Rodiek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With the block component I introduced two new concepts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MLH: Testing and Iterating

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I’ve been writing quite a bit about Molly’s Last Hope lately because I’m working on it fervently. I have a tight deadline for the contest submission and I need to be cracking! Last night I was able to hold a really good test of the game with a friend/co-worker/professional graphics designer who has tested many of my games in the past. The test revealed quite a few things about the game, good and bad, that I’ll discuss now.

Before I get too far, here are the current rules to the game. Please note I’m still updating them per last night’s test and I haven’t updated the diagrams and examples to incorporate the new art that you can see in the image above.

The Pace of Battles: The biggest problem identified last night, as well as the easiest to address, was the pacing of the battles. Our first battle simply took too long and resulted in too many wasted turns due to misses. Firing on an enemy had a 50% chance of resulting in a hit if they weren’t in cover, but in cover it switches to a 33% chance and that was simply too low. I noticed that all of the terrain on the game provided defensive bonuses. The thing is, there is too much cover and defense slows the game down.

So, I switched my thinking to that of “the best defense is a good offense.” To speed up the game, cover now provides you with a tactical advantage: you may re-roll Action dice in hopes of getting better options. Towers give you a similar advantage in that you may re-roll a Miss in hopes of rolling a Hit.

I also found that one Action die per soldier was too slow. Sometimes you needed to race ahead with a soldier and shoot. Now, you can assign 2 Actions to a single soldier, but they cannot be the same Action.

Finally, I removed Flanking as it just didn’t work AND was too complex. I’ll find something better and simpler.

We incorporated these changes after the first battle and it greatly improved the game. I feel that battles are still missing something…special…but I’m going to let testing reveal what that thing is. Unless it comes to me in a moment of unforeseen clarity!

While discussing pace, the game took about 60 minutes plus a half hour of discussion and design. I’d like to get that down to 45 minutes, which I think is possible.

Battle Balance: The battles were balanced to be horribly in favor of the player with the most Units. This is good, as it means the player was making good strategic choices on the Planet Board with his cards. However, it also meant that battles were largely an exercise in probability. You knew who would win, it was just a matter of getting the hits.

In one case, my opponent made a few REALLY bad tactical errors where he attacked my clearly superior force with a hugely inferior force. He did this a few times! However, his thinking was soundly rooted in classic guerrilla tactics. He was willing to expend his few Units in hopes of killing some of mine. I want to allow such risks to be plausible.

Previously, players rolled 1 Action die for every 2 Soldiers. However, this means the player with 5 soldiers has 3 Actions versus the player with 2 soldiers having 1. Now, you always roll 3 dice. This gives you more variety, removes a fiddly rule (1 die per 2 soldiers), but still favors the player with more units. He has more flexibility and more folks to whom he can assign Actions.

Also, now that players always have 3 dice, I can incorporate more mechanics like rolling doubles and triples, which I believe is a simple and effective way to add something special to the battle.

Battle Map Complexity: Building the Battle Maps was, as I hoped, a quick and easy affair. We built every map in less than a minute and were ready to go. Other than a slight graphic design snafu it worked incredibly well. However, the alternate rules I added to the Battle Maps were a mixed bag. For one, all alternate victory conditions were wasted. They open up too many edge cases and were rarely actually factored into the battle.

My take away is to remove alternate win conditions AND simply make it such that they provide alternate rules and variations for the battle. These worked really well when they came into play.

Card Complexity: By and large my cards worked really well. I designed the game from the ground up to use a symbols only, text-free system. This was a fantastic constraint and has largely limited my cards to be simple and understandable. My friend had very few questions on what his cards meant. The questions he did have are easily tweaked.

However, I have 2 or 3 cards per faction that were just a bit fiddly and too difficult to use. By removing constraints like Orbit required for some of these, or varying the tuning slightly, I can greatly improve the flexibility of the system.

While we’re on the topic of cards, I need to slightly reduce the number of reinforcements that the Confederation can dispatch in a single play. They were a bit too powerful, but not too much so. Just a smidge.

Discard Overpower: Some cards can force an opponent to discard cards, which both screws up his turns (the cards are discarded at random) AND hastens the end of the game. The game ends when a player is unable to play a card. Previously, a player could discard one card per battle to change a miss to a hit. This was a bad mechanic for a few reasons:

  • It didn’t fit in. Players were focused on the dice and their soldiers and often forgot they could use a card.
  • It’s too powerful. Guaranteeing a hit? Wowza.
  • It’s doubly too powerful. Guaranteeing a hit AND hastening the game end? Yikes!

I removed this and will find something neat to modify battles elsewhere. It just won’t be here.

The submission date for the game, March 1st, is rapidly approaching. I’m really happy with how far Molly’s Last Hope has come so quickly. Though perhaps it hasn’t been that quick at all? I wrote about the game first at the start of December. In November I shared some of the early ideas. So, I suppose one could argue (me being that one) that months of good thought and a simple idea have pushed the actual execution phase forward very quickly? I hope that’s the case.

I hope to get this into the PPP very soon. Also, in case you missed it, I added a page for Molly’s Last Hope.