Kigi debuts at the Tokyo Game Market on 5/5!

GameField just announced that the Japanese edition of Kigi will debut at the upcoming Tokyo Game Market on May 5! It's so cool seeing how quickly this little print-on-demand game has grown in popularity. It was by far the fastest seller in the recent Spring Sale, moving over twice as much as the second-place seller. I'm just glad people enjoy it!

Smart Play Games Spring Sale Extended!

I was very very smart and scheduled a big spring sale over a holiday weekend, when many would be away from their computers. Oops!

Well, my poor sense of scheduling is your gain! I'm extending the Spring Sale at Smart Play Games through Saturday April 11, which just so happens to overlap with Tabletop Day! You have a few more days to pick up a bunch of great little card games.

So far the top sellers have been Kigi, Koi Pond, and Light Rail. Check them out and many others for super-cheap prices this week!

Tabletop Day Coin Design

The kind folks at Campaign Coins asked me a few months ago to design a special commemorative coin for Tabletop Day. You can see the meeple-licious results above. You can find this commemorative coin in three colors, Copper, Silver, and Gold, but only in the promotional Tabletop Day kit at your local Tabletop Day event this Saturday April 11!

Trickster Card Back

My plan for the Trickster line is to have the same seven suits across the entire line. When new decks are released, I just put out seven new characters arrayed across those universal suits, so you can combine characters from different genres and IPs.

That means I need a universal card back that would remain evergreen across the whole line. I didn't want to get stuck in the "Deckmaster" situation, where the card back has obsolete branding elements locked in perpetuity. I decided to follow the example of Pairs, and lift elements from classic card backs.

I just whipped the above card back up over the weekend, pulled together from a bunch of stock Victorian floral patterns and vintage labels. It feels a bit slapdash, with some odd gaps and tangents floating around, but it's sufficient for a prototype.

25% off all Smart Play Games

Spring is in the air at Smart Play Games! For a limited time, all of my card games are 25% off. Convention season is coming fast, so this is the perfect time to fill your pockets with over a dozen great games, including latest hit Kigi!

Kigi is the game of pretty trees and tricky choices. Players use overlapping cards to "grow" trees across the table, filling the branches with colorful flowers, butterflies, and dragonflies. Check out this video tutorial to learn how to play!

Please spread the word about this offer, as it ends after April 7. Thank you so much for your support!

Smart Play Games Sales Report - Q1 2015


It's transparency time again for Smart Play Games! I think it's important to be open about how my business runs and how much it earns. When I began this experiment in high-intensity print-on-demand publishing, I had no real sense of what "success" looked like. But I knew it would depend on others jumping into this market as well. But with such an opaque business model, if anyone else wanted to start their own print-on-demand releases, I figured it would be best to show what goes on behind the curtain.

Get on with it!
All that said, here are the raw numbers for this quarter. Top 3 sellers each month are highlighted.

MonthProductTotal SoldGross SalesEarnings
1/1/2015Bird Bucks2$13.98$2.44
1/1/2015Koi Pond: A Coy Card Game19$199.47$29.48
1/1/2015Koi Pond: Four Walls (Promo Card 2)6$5.94$3.82
1/1/2015Koi Pond: Four Winds (Promo Card 1)6$5.94$3.82
1/1/2015Koi Pond: Moon Temple12$75.88$22.43
1/1/2015Light Rail8$83.92$30.24
1/1/2015Light Rail: Downtown2$12.98$3.39
1/1/2015Monsoon Market10$103.88$19.03
1/1/2015Nine Lives Card Game3$27.97$8.88
1/1/2015Penny Farthing Catapult1$9.99$3.36
1/1/2015Solar Senate3$25.23$8.04
1/1/2015Suspense: The Card Game14$59.26$19.66
1/1/2015Ten Pen1$9.99$3.35

2/1/2015Bird Bucks1$6.99$1.22
2/1/2015Koi Pond: A Coy Card Game11$117.89$18.02
2/1/2015Koi Pond: Four Walls (Promo Card 2)6$5.94$3.82
2/1/2015Koi Pond: Four Winds (Promo Card 1)6$5.94$3.82
2/1/2015Koi Pond: Moon Temple7$44.93$13.08
2/1/2015Light Rail6$63.94$22.68
2/1/2015Light Rail: Downtown2$11.98$3.39
2/1/2015Monsoon Market6$62.94$12.68
2/1/2015Nine Lives Card Game1$9.99$2.96
2/1/2015Solar Senate1$9.99$4.02
2/1/2015Suspense: The Card Game3$12.97$4.45
2/1/2015Ten Pen1$9.99$3.35

3/1/2015Koi Pond: A Coy Card Game23$243.43$36.04
3/1/2015Koi Pond: Four Walls (Promo Card 2)12$11.88$7.64
3/1/2015Koi Pond: Four Winds (Promo Card 1)12$11.88$7.64
3/1/2015Koi Pond: Moon Temple13$81.87$24.30
3/1/2015Light Rail12$123.48$41.58
3/1/2015Light Rail: Downtown2$13.98$3.39
3/1/2015Monsoon Market9$94.89$16.91
3/1/2015Nine Lives Card Game4$39.96$11.84
3/1/2015Solar Senate1$10.99$4.02
3/1/2015Suspense: The Card Game4$16.96$5.94


Grand Totals:334$2,639.17$706.31

A Slight Change to the Schedule
2014 was a wild year, full of expected pitfalls (low media attention, narrow distribution), fantastic benefits (fast release, limitless inventory), and happy surprises (international licenses). I was releasing new print-on-demand card games each month, along with sales reports that reviewed the previous 30ish days' performance. Those were popular, but took a fair bit of time out of my usual working day. Doing a job, then talking about the job sort of became two jobs. Kinda meta.

This year is a little different, with my focus on long-term projects like Heir to Europa, A La Kart, and Trickster. In fact, I didn't even release new product this quarter! Publicly, it feels like I've gone from warp speed to a screeching halt, but it's only because so much of the development is now local to my area or confined to playtest mailing lists.

So, I'm following the example of Evil Hat Productions and scaling back my sales reports to once a quarter, so you get a better long-tail view of how my little venture is doing.

Kigi Grows in Spring
Kigi quintupled the last two months' sales in just the last ten dasy. I don't know whether it was my posting the youtube tutorial, announcing the Japanese license, or Antoine Bauza publicly purchasing six copies, but wow that's impressive. I've already had five international publishers express interest in the game, which is just bonkers to me. Yowza!

Franchises Keeps Swimming
One of the big challenges facing POD is the high price of shipping. It compels thrifty shoppers to hold off on their purchases until they can make a big bundle order. Koi Pond is unique in my catalog for having two promo cards and a full-on supplement. Having readymade impulse add-ons may be helping keep Koi Pond afloat in the long-term. That's what is giving me more incentive to release game franchises like Trickster and A La Kart: Games that can be purchased as standalone units, or bundle-ordered for better deal on shipping. Then again, Light Rail's Downtown expansion hasn't really performed well, so I should approach this direction carefully.

Dabbling in Paid Advertising
I gave Twitter ads a shot in January, hoping to lift a slumping post-holiday sales period. Unfortunately they didn't perform all that well, even after some adjustments to focus on desktop browsers within the continental United States. I may revisit this in the future with video ads, but for now I'm sticking to "organic" marketing. In other words, tweeting a lot. :P

What's in the Lab?
The past few months have been focused primarily on playtesting A La Kart, editing Heir to Europa, and planning Trickster.
  • A La Kart: With over 60 volunteers on the mailing list, and a cartel of excellent playtesters across the world, the March playtest session was fantastic. Each groups' feedback has been immensely valuable and I'm looking forward to taking A La Kart back into the garage for some retooling. Look for this release in a few months.
  • Heir to Europa: We just posted the rules PDF for Heir to Europa here for your perusal, which is the last step before we go into proper production. Again, feedback here has been great with surprisingly few typos or ambiguities to address. Condensing an eight page rulebook into eight cards was a challenge, but definitely successful. Look for this release in a matter of weeks.
  • Trickster: This game has developed shockingly fast from a paper-thin mechanism to a full-blown light strategy card game for fans of Pairs and Love Letter. It plays as well with 3 players as it does for 7. Lots of plans for decks coming up! I'm very excited about this line's potential. The first release may leapfrog A La Kart by a few months.
And that about covers Q1 2015 for Smart Play Games! Hope this was interesting for you! Feel free to ask any questions!

Trickster: Fantasy - Playtest Results

[Image: Playtesting a prototype of Trickster: Fantasy on March 30, 2015.]

It was a fast, productive playtest period for Trickster: Fantasy the past few weeks. It was nice to get back into that rapidly iterative process again for a new game. What began as a paper-thin activity is now becoming a very easy-to-learn but surprisingly deep strategy card game that works for groups as big as seven players.

Biggest Challenge: Needing More Choices
As usual, I began playtesting this concept ASAP. That meant the bare minimum of a functioning system that I knew wouldn't completely break down. Essentially, I had a core loop and not much else. At that point, it was only the second-player who really made a critical push-your-luck decision. Everyone else was sort of on autopilot. To be a truly interesting game, I needed each player to make a decision on their turn.

Solution: Hero Powers
I always planned for the "Trickster" franchise to be a series of games with uniquely themed artwork, which naturally implied different characters in each deck. That got me thinking that when each of these characters comes into play, they should really do something that feels unique to them. It should feel different when you play a bard than a knight. So, powers.

I whipped up a quick set of effects that I thought would be appropriately thematic but also strategically interesting. Surprisingly, these required very few changes from the initial release. Only the Sorcerer's ability really needed some tweaks to prevent odd game-states.

So what's in store for the future of Trickster? I'm talking to a few friends about possibly licensing their IP for new themed decks, but for now I'm going to try to prove the franchise's potential with a series of genre decks. After that? Honestly, my pie-in-the-sky dream would be to license a bunch of different cool geek properties and release decks inspired by those characters.

Licensing IPs is expensive though, so I need to pace those ambitions. Gotta prove the game is a seller first! But who knows...

[Image: Logo mock-ups for Trickster: Fantasy, Trickster: Space, and Trickster: Gothic]

There's a lot of places this game can go!

Heir to Europa Rules Preview

It's almost here! After months of playtests, editing, more playtests, and more editing, Heir to Europa by +Nick Ferris will finally be coming to DriveThruCards very soon. But first, we need your eyes to do one last typo-hunt and grammar check on the rules document. All those months of editing can really give a team tunnel-vision, so we need a fresh crowd of brains to take one more look and spot anything we missed.

Download the rules PDF here.

Heir to Europa is a sci-fantasy card game about a world undergoing a succession crisis. The various factions of Europa engage each other in psychic contests to literally win the minds of the people. Players take on the role of shadowy conspirators trying to predict who will eventually win the throne, thereby becoming the power behind that throne.

The gameplay is based on classic trick-taking card games, heightened with very clever twists that open up subtle new strategies and surprising tactics. Certain cards have special abilities, but those abilities will only be usable as long as the faction remains loyal. Each card played from a faction reduces its loyalty in the subsequent contest, so you have an inherent time limit to play those powers. This nicely balances out the novelty of modern mechanics with the familiarity of traditional card play.

It's a great medium-weight game that I'm eager for you to see. Download that rules PDF and tell me what you think!

5 Pitching Lessons from Tabletop Deathmatch (so far)

I've been watching season two of Tabletop Deathmatch with avid interest. The production values, presentation, and overall organization is light-years past season one. (And season one was pretty good!) To recap: Tabletop Deathmatch is a reality show competition held by Cards Against Humanity and its business partners to find the next great tabletop game.

The first eight episodes this season focused on introducing and teaching each game in the contest. No judging, just tutorial. This bit was fun to watch for general interest, but I was much more eager to see the subsequent evaluation by a team of top industry judges. So far only four of these judging episodes have been released, but each has offered extremely useful advice for any beginning designer.

Here are five lessons I've pulled out so far, in no particular order.

Present the game you have on the table right now. 
Not the game it could be or the game it used to be. If you've worked on a game a while, it's no doubt gone through dozens of iterations and you've considered a hundreds more future revisions. Regardless, mentioning all of those while teaching, let alone pitching, just muddies the presentation.

Know your game's weight and set accurate expectations.
 Despite easy rules, there may still be emergent analysis paralysis. I run into this problem too frequently. Because I avoid violent or horror themes in my games, I tend to use nature or cute animals, which in turn seems to imply far lighter games than I typically design. Don't pitch "a light social casual game" when you really have a quiet, contemplative strategy game.

Listen, learn, but remember you know your game better than they do. 
It's easy to get intimidated pitching to a veteran games-person, especially if they start calling out mechanics they recognize from other games. That intimidation can turn into defensiveness and perhaps even combativeness. That's no fun for anybody involved. Just remember a 2-minute pitch isn't an ideal presentation scenario for many great games, and even industry vets struggle to explain their games succinctly and accurately.

Public information slows down decisions. Decisions slow down a pitch. 
This is more of a general rule of thumb when you're trying to present a game very quickly. Everyone has their own cognitive horizon past which they won't bother analyzing. However, visible information tempts many competitive players to push against their horizon so they can make the "right" decision. Even in a demo! Try framing your pitch so you minimize the decision-time. Spend that time actually explaining the game, rather than waiting for a newcomer to make an informed choice.

"Failure" in a game should make you excited to play again. 
At no point should a "fail" state mean that someone doesn't get to actually play the game. "Lose a turn" is basically a cardinal sin in game design. Look at "success" and "failure" as forks in a road, not a traffic light. Either outcome should push the game forward.

Those are just a few little tidbits I've pulled from the show so far. What have you learned?

Kigi will be published in Japan!

Big news! Kigi will be officially translated and published in Japan by Gamefield! In Kigi, players "paint" a tree by placing cards along branching organic paths. It's a very easy game to learn, but presents interesting spatial puzzles and lots of replay value. This game has been a huge hit with families with varying play experience. Get the English edition here!

Here's a video tutorial:

Here are some photos of the original edition.

The release date and final packaging isn't determined yet, but I'll keep you posted!
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.