Preview Molly Ostertag's Art for "Curse You, Robin Hood!"

Molly Ostertag illustrated "Curse You, Robin Hood!" omg! OMG! I'm so happy with how these five characters turned out. She provided the line art and I did my best to add a few pops of color that wouldn't get in the way of her awesome work. Below is a time-lapse video of the coloring process.

And check out how it turned out below:

Twitter drafted my Hearthstone Arena deck!

Here's something silly and fun I did for my birthday. I asked my Twitter followers to draft my arena deck. I posted each screen on twitter and followed the commands of whoever responded first. Turns out the deck wasn't too bad! Check out the playlist below.

200+ Area Control and Worker Placement Mechanics!

IMG_3027 It's my birthday, so I thought it would be nice to do something special and crowdsource a big list of mechanisms! These apply to either area control games or worker placement games as triggers for special actions. Peruse this list next time you need some inspiration for your game design. The bulk of this list came from my twitter followers, which you can find on this thread. Thanks, tweeps!

If you ___ [this space/area/territory], do [action].

  1. enter
  2. enter from the north into
  3. enter from the south into
  4. enter from the east into
  5. enter from the west into
  6. leave
  7. leave empty
  8. go north from
  9. go south from
  10. go east from
  11. go west from
  12. complete
  13. start the turn in
  14. end the turn in
  15. start the round in
  16. end the turn in
  17. start the phase in
  18. start the phase in
  19. start the game in
  20. end the game in
  21. destroy
  22. destroy an area adjacent to
  23. have simple friendly majority present in
  24. have simple unfriendly majority present in
  25. have more present than all other players combined in
  26. have least presence
  27. have no presence
  28. have an even presence
  29. have an odd presence
  30. enclose
  31. complete an enclosure around
  32. become adjacent to
  33. buy from
  34. buy from an area adjacent to
  35. sell
  36. sell to
  37. sell from an area adjacent to
  38. build on
  39. built on an area adjacent to
  40. create
  41. are pushed out of
  42. farm on
  43. harvest from
  44. are part of a group on
  45. are the only one on (meaning your one pawn is the only one present)
  46. are the only ones on (meaning there are multiple pawns, but only yours)
  47. fence
  48. completely fence off
  49. connect
  50. join the longest connection to

You can quadruple this list by adding the following conditional modifiers
  • are first to...
  • are last to...
  • most recently...
And with that, you have 200+ different area control or worker placement mechanisms! By no means comprehensive, but maybe they can shake loose your designer's block some day.

Got any more mechanics to add to the list? Share them in the comments!

The People vs. Robin Hood

It's been about two months since I posted the rules for "Curse You, Robin Hood!" for public feedback. To summarize it, you're a merchant in the time of Robin Hood. You're trying to get rich, but not rich enough that Robin Hood notices your stockpile and robs from you. Each player simultaneously reveals a card from their hand, then some players engage in mandatory trades based on whether they play matching ranks or highest/lowest ranks. Here's the gist so far:

+ Many funny surprises as a result of the simultaneous reveals and mandatory trades
+ Great quick playstyle for tavern play
~ It's feather-light, which is a plus or minus depending on your group's preferences
- Though it is easy to play, it is hard to know how to play well
- Nuances of negotiation aren't immediately apparent

My options going forward are, very broadly speaking:

A. keep it light
B. develop a heavier game with this core mechanism
1. put it on a POD site
2. put it on the pitch track for traditional publishing

A1: Keep it light and POD it
This was my usual modus operandi throughout 2014, which served me pretty well for that whole period. However, it also made for a frustrating dilemma for future publishers who took interest in the games much later. At the moment, I've had more games rejected for being too light than for being too heavy, which says to me that these light games are just better products for POD channels.

B1: Develop a heavier game and POD it
This will take a little longer as I figure out what to add to the game, meaning new mechanisms and components. I can foresee what is currently a trading mechanism instead being some other mandatory interaction, similar to the destiny deck in Cosmic Encounter. With new components, that likely raises the price beyond the usual $9.99 psychological limit. A tougher sell for the POD market.

A2: Keep it light and pitch it
I've had more games rejected for being too light than any other reason, partly because the economic pressures of POD games compel light gameplay with low price tags. As a result, it's harder to "stretch" these games for kickstarter campaigns. Meanwhile, even if it does get accepted, you have to compete with hundreds of other light games that come on the market every quarter. It's a very crowded market. Gotta admit, this option isn't enticing.

B2: Develop a heavier game and pitch it
More recently, I've tried to beef up my old light games to be a little more meaty, but then now I'm having the opposite problem. The games are feeling a little too cumbersome in their procedures or upkeep. That's probably just me still grappling with this sphere of game design, but more than one bit of advice has told me that I need to go in this direction if my career is going to develop any further.

So yeah, I'm trying to figure out where to go next. No verdict just yet. All of these options have pros and cons. What do you think?

Watch: How to Automatically Highlight Keywords in Game Text [InDesign DataMerge]

A couple days ago Matthew G. asked me how to use InDesign to automatically highlight certain text without having to manually do it. He was generous enough to let me record my demonstration of two methods I've practiced over the years.

Check out the video above for details! Hope it helps!

He ain't heavy, He's a Euro

I had the great pleasure of attending Whose Turn Is It Anyway? this weekend. It was a lovely experience and a great opportunity to stretch my muscles on some heavier games.

Ever since publishers asked me to design more "middleweight" games, I've struggled to find a definition for that category. Certainly my existing catalog favors helium-light gameplay. My experience is very limited in this sphere so I'm actively trying to sample more heavier games this year. If I want me to design "middleweight" games, I better try out some heavy games so I can properly calibrate my perspective.

From Japan to France

Back to Whose Turn! I tried out Iki: the Edo Artisans, designed by Koota Yamada, and OrlĂ©ans, designed by Reiner Stockhausen. I had very good teachers for both games so I picked up the nuances pretty quickly.  Neither had the hefty ponderous atmosphere that I had expected "heavy" games to have. They were both certainly long games, clocking in at about two hours each with a tutorial.

Simple Actions on Loop
Still, the actual actions of play were very easy to learn and simply iterated themselves.

In Iki, you move you choose your turn order for the round, then on your turn move your pawn a fixed number of spaces around a board, then take whatever actions are available to that space. Those actions may result in earning various types of income at the end of each month or change the turn order in the subsequent turn.

In Orleans, you draw workers from a bag, assign certain combinations of workers to specific actions, then go around the table resolving one of each player's actions at a time, discarding the requisite workers back into your bag as you do so. The result is similar to a deckbuilding game, except it's a bag of chips instead of cards.

A Timer of Random Events
Over and over again, those simple actions would repeat themselves until the endgame was triggered at a pre-determined moment:

In Iki, that was determined by a pre-set calendar of 12 months, with periodic fires breaking out every few months. The monthly intervals were at a different rate than the fires, so you couldn't get complacent about having everything happening at once. Also the fires break out at random quadrants of the board, so you're never sure whether your artisans are safe for the next round.

In Orleans, it was determined by a stack of random event tiles that gradually empties out. Some of these events cause you to pay extra for resources you've acquired, but others allow you to earn income based on your progress on several different tracks.

So in essence, both games were fun challenges of efficiency to earn as many points as possible before the deadline. That seems very easy to understand. Why do I have this impression that "heavy games" are more difficult than this?

What is Heavy?

I asked folks nearby whether these games would be considered "heavy" and it was hard to get a solid answer. One attendee said he usually likes "lighter" games, by which he meant something like 45 minutes to an hour. I asked my followers in this tweet for their take, which revealed a few leading indicators:
  • Number of options per turn
  • Downtime between turns
  • How much skill or chance can affect final results
  • Overall play length
  • Actual physical weight of the box(!)
Now I at least have a better sense of direction for where I should take my own games.

Watch: Rulebook layout for the Great Dinosaur Rush

I just wrapped up the rulebook layout for The Great Dinosaur Rush, by Scott Almes and APE Games. Kevin Brusky at APE Games was generous enough to let me stream the layout process on Twitch. Now that it's complete, I made a sped up video overview covering the bulk of that whole process. There are still small tweaks to be made to a few words here and there, but the layout is pretty much settled down. Hope you enjoy this peek behind the curtain!

"Grid Bidding" Mechanism in the Lab

Here's a grid-bidding mechanism that I've had in the lab for some time and finally set down on paper earlier this week. Assume a two-player game for now: red and blue. Also assume each player has tiles numbered 1-7.

Set Up
To set up, each player takes turns setting one tile face-down along the top or side of the grid shown above.

Each player takes turns placing one of their remaining tiles face-up in the 3x3 grid as shown below.

Then it's time to score points! Reveal the hidden tiles now. Whoever has the highest total sum in a row or column in that 3x3 grid will win a number of points equal to the formerly face-down tile atop that column or beside that row. For example, in the top row, red has a total of 11 compared to blue's 4, thus winning 7 points.

As players take their turns, they can infer a little about the value of each column or row based on the other tiles that their opponent is playing.

 Multiplayer Scaling

You can expand the board to include one more row and column for a three-player game. Each player still has seven tiles, but only takes two turns during the setup.

Again, you can expand one more row and column for a four player game, but still only giving each player two turns during the setup phase.

Where could this go?
I'm thinking about a short series of 2-player microgames composed of 14 cards, 7 for each player. Each player's cards have unique abilities that trigger as soon as they're played face-up. The "1" have more powerful abilities, followed by 2-6. 7 is powerful enough on its own without an extra boost. :P
  • Tiles above and below this tile are doubled.
  • Tiles to the left and right of this tile are doubled.
  • Shift a face-up tile to an adjacent empty space.
  • Swap two face-down tiles.
  • Look a face-down tile.
  • Discard one of your tiles from the board then discard another tile of equal value.
  • Use the upgrade of an adjacent tile.
  • Place a token of your color on this space. It counts as +1 for you in this row and column. It remains on the board in subsequent rounds.
And that's all just assuming this little mechanism is the entirety of the game. It may very well be just a mini-game as part of a larger middle-weight euro game where instead of points, this grid merely builds up currency for you to spend in the other parts of the game.

Similar Games
I tweeted about this earlier this week to see if it had been done before. There were similar ideas in Grave Business, but I think this is going in a different direction. Others pointed out superficial similarities to Cordial Minuet, but aside from being numbers on a grid, I don't think there's much overlap there. If anything, I'm more inspired by the gameplay of recently released Hocus, where you can work towards winning a pot or towards making the pot more valuable.

Dreamwell from Action Phase Games on Kickstarter

Oh wow, check out Dreamwell, a gorgeous game with art from Tara McPherson. I really love it when tabletop publishers give new and interesting art styles a stage to shine. Action Phase brought in Kwanchai Moriya for Kodama: the Tree Spirits, which was a really great call. Looks like they're keeping up that track record with Dreamwell. The gorgeous blend of theme and presentation that makes my inner art director so, so happy. Check out the quick tutorial below:

And pledge here!

Deboxing #2: Codenames

It was a snowy weekend indoors, so I decided to give deboxing another try with Codenames. My last attempt was with For Sale, in which I foolishly cut across the logo instead of along it. Doh! I didn't make that same mistake this time thankfully. I should've V-cut the corners to they're flush with each other. However, I ran out of packing tape at the last minute so I made do with tabs and double-stick tape. I hope I can do this more often with some of my other airy game boxes!
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.