Upcoming Interview on With Special Guest

Interviews with Daniel Solis
I'll be on With Special Guest on July 3rd at 8p Eastern. We'll talk about the Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge and a bunch of other stuff. Past episodes' guests have included Jonathan Coulton, MC Frontalot, and Wendee Lee. Good company! Check out the show Sunday night.

» With Special Guest
» With Special Guest

Happy Birthday, Robot! at the Tower's All-Weekend Gaming Event


Alexander Williams shares his experience running several sessions of Happy Birthday, Robot!

"I ended up running three games of HBR in a day, twice with an eleven year old and a fourteen year old and once with an all adult group. The big take-away from that? I should never play with children because they're too violent and nasty. Also, they never needed an explanation of what a complete sentence was; adults? It took them a while to figure out that complete sentences were."

» Read the stories on his blog
» Photo: CC BY Alexander Williams

Time Between Kickstarters [Twitter]


So what do you think is an appropriate time between Kickstarters? Any of the above tweets close to the mark? Speak your mind in the comments!

Deadline Extended for the Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge [RELEASE]

The Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge
[FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE]

The Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge deadline for entry is now extended by one month, to August 31st. The reason? Challenge founder Daniel Solis will speak as a guest of honor at Gen Con!

Solis will devote an hour to discussing the Challenge and its current entrants. The deadline for entries is extended to allow Gen Con attendees just learning about the challenge to develop and submit their game.

Look for SEM1128728 in the events listings. Bring your prototypes and pitches!

The Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge offers a $1,000 reward to a game designer who can create a game that will still be played by people a thousand years from now. For more information, visit www.ThousandYearGame.com

Gen Con: The Best Four Days in Gaming! is a consumer and trade experience dedicated to gaming culture and community. For more information, visit www.gencon.com or register at www.genconreg.com

He says "She says…"


Becky Chambers' recent article "A Few Good Chells" is an honest, refreshing perspective on third- and first-person gaming. Specifically, the importance of protagonists' gender and how that importance is diminished or enhanced depending on third- or first-person interface. It's a great read.

Of particular note is her childhood experience of choosing female video game characters even though they didn't fit her preferred style of gameplay. The best parts are when she's trying to explain video games to her mom and why this all means so much to her. Mom sums it up wisely: “It’s not so much about wanting to be female as it is about wanting to be you. And you are female.

In general, I try not to start big, serious internet discussions about race or gender in gaming. The subject draws a lot of heat, but little gets produced. Many of my friends dive vigorously into those discussions, but I'm content to sit out. I find it much more satisfying to just make my own games and let them speak for themselves. Still, in light of the article, I couldn't help but reflect on my two published games. I made some deliberate choices in each that must be saying something, yeah?

Both Happy Birthday, Robot! and Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple could be considered something like a third-person game. Most role-playing games assume a first-person perspective, wherein players to some extent inhabit their characters as they engage the fictional world. Heck, you could say that's what defines a role-playing game. (Though that's a whole other discussion, to be sure.) But no, in my games I put you, the player, outside of the protagonist in the story. You are you. The protagonist is the protagonist. Call it a holdover from years of abstract board game design.

In Happy Birthday, Robot!, you and the other players share control over a story about Robot's birthday. I specifically chose "Robot" as the central character because Robot is gender-neutral. I wanted a girl or boy to both be able to bond with Robot equally. I do find it odd how often players assume Robot is male, though. Perhaps I was a little naive? Well, either way, that was why the game was called Happy Birthday, Robot! and not Happy Birthday, Princess! (Also, the combination of "happy birthday" and "robot" had very good SEO opportunity.)

In Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, each player gets to control his or her own character in the story. So now if you want your hero to be male or female (or a robot), that's up to you. Still, in the game instructions I chose to use the female pronoun in all general contexts. I wasn't trying to make a profound political statement. I just thought, "Why not?" Interesting to note that the only comment I ever got on that choice was one player reading a playtest document. He saw the consistent use of "she," and asked whether all pilgrims were female. "Nope," I said. And that was the last peep I heard on the subject.

I guess that "Why not?" impulse also influences my decisions when it comes to art direction and cover design. Why is the cover character on Greg Stolze's REIGN a woman? Why not? Why a woman on the cover of J.R. Blackwell's Shelter in Place? Why not? Okay, I do have more substantial reasons behind those design choices, but mainly I try to break out of default assumptions about game protagonists. If for nothing else, it makes honest marketing sense: Cool characters in compelling contexts will draw fans of all stripes. (Just ask the adult male fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.)

Soooo, yeah. Just some idle thoughts, I guess. No cohesive commentary. If you want to read more on this subject, check out "Intro to GLaDOS 101," about a professor assigning Portal on his class's reading list. Turns out many didn't even notice that the character they inhabited was female. "It came as a surprise to a couple of the guys--'What, what? A chick?'"

» Photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Danny Duarte

Cel Shading the Cover of Do: The Book of Letters


I recorded my cel shading process for the cover of Do: The Book of Letters. As you can probably tell, it takes a LONG time to do each character. This figure alone is about three and a half hours.

Music:
Troublemakers - Matt Wilson
As sete mulheres do Minho - De Outra Margem - CC-BY
Departures - Mattias Westlund - CC-BY

Father's Day Edition of Happy Birthday, Robot!


Charles Starrett had only one wish for Father's Day: To play Happy Birthday, Robot! with the family. He posted his family's Father's Day-themed story on his blog and kindly allowed me to repost it here:

Happy Papa’s Day!
Papa walked downstairs and opened the cabinet doors to find chocolate.
Papa saw J there and she promptly ate the cake batter!
S scolded J and J bit S’s butt fiercely but silently.
S turned and made Papa punish bad J but Papa refused.
He wouldn’t dare hurt J because she’s awesome and he had received J’s bribe previously!
S protested hysterically and Mama whined but sent J to bed.
Papa made J serve him his dinner but she ate his dessert.
Papa asked, “What happened?” and ate J’s dessert but apologized.
Papa launched a world-scale invasion while riding on S’s back.
J backed down immediately.
Papa apologized and paid S’s medical bill.
Papa won anyway.

» Charles Starrett's Blog
» More about Happy Birthday, Robot!

Interview on WGN Radio about the Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge

Interviews with Daniel Solis

WGN - Thousand Year Game Design Challenge Interview by Daniel A Solis

Nick Digilio interviewed me on WGN Radio about the Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge. It's a lively conversation with a surprise call-in at the end. This went much less awkwardly than my first radio interview.

Amy Houser's Art for Do: The Book of Letters



We knew Do: The Book of Letters had a very tight timeline, so we decided to split up art duties. (Liz Radtke continued her tradition of fine cover illos for Do.)

For the interior, we tapped illustrator and toy designer Amy Houser to do some quick doodles and fancy lettering. Little did we know that Amy's "quick doodles" are pretty polished by our standards! They look right out of concept drawings of a Pixar movie.

Above is a montage of just a small sample of the drawings she put together for the supplement. Each illo is paired with a different letter, so some of you contributors may recognize scenes from your own letter in this mix.

» Buy Do: Book of Letters for five bucks!
» Amy Houser's Blog
» Find Amy and other recommended artists in my artist directory

Speaking at GenCon 2011

Daniel Solis Speaking Appearances
I'm happy to be an Industry Insider Guest of Honor at GenCon 2011. This means I'll speak on a variety of panels and seminars with topics ranging from cover design to crowdfunding to game design. Here's my schedule.

The No-No's of Game Design - SEM1128758
Matt Forbeck, Jonathan Tweet, Jeff Neil Bellinger, Stan!, Daniel Solis
Designing games is as much about what NOT to do, as it is what you should do. Our Industry Insider panelist Stan!, Jeff Neil Bellinger, Matt Forbeck, Daniel Solis and Jonathan Tweet will review different mistakes new (and experienced) game designers make.
Thur 12pm - 1 Hr - ICC 212

Patronage & Kickstarter: How to Get Paid Up Front - SEM1128827
Gary M. Sarli, Wolfgang Baur, Daniel Solis, Greg Stolze
Insights from Industry Insider Guests of Honor Wolfgang Baur, Gary M. Sarli, Daniel Solis and Greg Stolze on how they funded projects by convincing patrons to donate early in exchange for exclusive access, rewards, and even input into the project.
Fri 9am - 1 Hr - ICC 212

The Best Games EVER! - SEM1128737
Greg Stolze, Wolfgang Baur, Ryan Dancey, Stan!, Daniel Solis, Will Hindmarch, James Ernest, Jeff Neil Bellinger
The titles the same, the guests are different! This popular panel is back for another lighthearted discussion as our Industry Insider guests talk about their top best game products EVER ... and defend their choices. Guaranteed to be a spirited debate. Audience participation is welcome!
Fri 11am - 2 Hr - ICC 212

A Cover is a Promise: Designing a Cover that Works - SEM1128753
Daniel Solis
Art director & Industry Guest Daniel Solis offers practical tips for designing RPG book covers that fit your game & speak to customers. See plenty of examples from mainstream & indie RPG products. See what tricks you can pull from other media. Daniel is a creative director at Third Degree & adjunct professor of Print Media Design at OCU. He has designed covers & interior layouts for Mur Lafferty, John Wick, Greg Stolze, & Jared Sorensen.
Sat 11am - 1 Hr - Westin Council

The Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge - SEM1128728
Daniel Solis
Game designer and Industry Insider guest Daniel Solis is issuing a challenge to ALL game designers: Create a game that people will still play and enjoy a thousand years from now. In this seminar, Daniel will describe the origin of the challenge, what it means for game design and discuss some noteworthy entrants. Daniel will also spend time reviewing your prototypes and pitches.
Sun 10am - 1 Hr - ICC 212

Register for these events at GenConReg.com! See you there! I'll also be signing books at some point during the convention. More to come when that schedule is finalized.

Cover Design for J.R. Blackwell's "Shelter In Place"



J.R. Blackwell asked me to lay out her zombie LARP Shelter In Place. For now, here's the first draft of the cover. and the rationale I sent along with it:

"I decided to use real photos to make it clear that this isn't a tabletop RPG, which would normally use illustrations or computer-generated art on the cover. The first thing you see is a pair of eyes staring right back at you. I imagine these eyes would pop even if the book is on the back rack in the indie RPG shelves. All photos are sourced from CC-licensed Flickr photos or stock imagery.

"I'm continuing the severe diagonal motif from the inside pages as a structure for the rest of the cover elements. To contrast the cold teal of the top half, the rest of the cover is an intense hazardous orange, like traffic cones or hunting jackets.

"I hope you don't mind that I added "live" to the tagline. Purely from a marketing perspective, I thought the parallel between "live" and "zombie" was striking. If I were to go further, I'd probably phrase it as The Live Action Game of Undead Horror, to more directly contrast "live" and "dead." "Live Action" calls out to the LARP gamer, without alienating a potential buyer by using that acronym. Also "The" positions the game more confidently as the definitive zombie LARP game on the market. Anyhoo, that's just my two marketing cents. I'm happy to replace the tagline with A Game of Zombie Horror."

This isn't the first time I have slightly augmented a creator's tagline during the cover design process. When I designed the cover for John Wick's Wilderness of Mirrors, I changed its tagline from "A Spy-Playing Game" to "A Better Spy-Playing Game" since so much of John's personality expressed confidence and certainty about his game's virtues.

On top of that risky move, I used photos on the cover. Now, J.R. is an accomplished photographer in her own right and I was a little worried about using someone else's photos in her book. Want to know if she liked it? See for yourself:

"These are colors I never would have chosen, fonts I didn’t know about and a layout that I couldn’t have asked for. And I love them. I love this cover so much that last night I carried it around with me at a party to show to the other guests 'Look at this,' I said, like a proud mama with a baby 'Just look at how wonderful it is!'"

JIm White's Playtest Feedback for Belle of the Ball Beta v1.1


Jim White recently downloaded the Belle of the Ball Beta and playtested it with his group. He sent such a thorough and well-considered critique that I decided (with his permission) to just post the email in its entirety. I hope it starts a bit of conversation and maybe gets some more playlists going soon.

---

I printed out and played Belle of the Ball Beta v.1.1 yesterday, and I thought I'd email you about my experience with it.

We had 4 players; two of us were moderately hard-core gamers, and two were more casual board gamers. To give you an idea of our gaming context, yesterday we also played Bananagrams and Ticket to Ride Europe, and Bohnanza is a perennial favorite game.

I picked Felicia Fawsley's Felicitous Feast as it seemed a simpler belle to start with. After a quick walk-through of the rules, we got to playing. First thing we wished for: Honored Guest tokens need to be something physically substantial so they can be seen more easily.

I heard many comments akin to, "I have no idea what I'm doing," or, "I guess it doesn't matter what I play." I feel like there's an overwhelming randomness to the game that makes it difficult to enjoy. In our game, if we got lucky enough to draw an eating guest (a 1 in 4 shot), we could score during play. Otherwise, we could try and build up the Honored Guest collections or spoil them with a singleton somewhere else on the board, which wasn't terribly compelling. And given the difficulty in saving cards for endgame with a hand size of only 5 plus the ease of spoiling Honored Guest points in a single play, there didn't seem much point to planning strategies for endgame. In our game, we didn't have an Honored Guest score over 2 due to spoiler activity, and the player who drew the most eating guests won the game hands down.

Design ideas follow. Feel free to ignore or take with a grain of salt.

Right now, the Belle entirely drives the rules and there's effectively no basic game. Cards for the Belle's scoring conditions all come up one time in three or less. I would like to see a mechanic more akin to Ticket To Ride, where every time you play to the board you score something. Maybe if you score 1 for each similar characteristic one step away from the guest just invited, whether that's action or suit, that would give a better sense of control to players on every turn rather than "Nothing I play will matter in the long run." Or better yet, maybe counting up similar characteristics and just score the one characteristic with the most points would work - so if I place a dancing Dundifax next to 3 other Dundifaxes and 2 other dancers, I'd score 3 points. With this approach, players would have a reason to want to build Honored Guests up and give endgame a little more impact. I think the few cards in the deck with no actions need to do something special under this system - maybe making them wild cards for purposes of action matching when they're played or something.

Given that idea, maybe you could offer optional advanced rules could give bonuses by suit played for scoring conditions. For an off-the-cuff example, if you play a Crawhole, you can score both neighboring eaters and Crawholes as opposed to choosing one or the other. Or a Dundifax counts double when it's next to a Dundifax that shares no actions, since they'll want to have the most skills available when fleecing other guests.

I was thinking of ways to add a more social element to the game, like a Diplomacy-like alliance system to make it more like a dinner party, but I can't think of a good way to do that. I don't think a trading mechanic would work with the flavor of the game, though it would add a social component.

Overall I like the feel of the game and I think it's got potential, but right now it seems incomplete. Once the basic game can stand on its own, adding in the Belle's effects and advanced rules for house bonuses would really add some depth to the game.

---

Later, Jim sent further thoughts:

---

I had another idea for an optional rule. What if players could choose a family to play? Endgame the player would score as if she were a card in hand, and that would give incentive to build up honored guest blocks.

Further, if each player of a family had a "main operative" token (a simple glass bead would work) that they could place on any member of their family any time their Honored Guest token moved to a different group, then their operative could be scored at game end as if it was just played. Alternately, families could earn separate family-specific bonus points based on the placement of their operative. For example, let's say Dundifax wants to influence as many other families as possible, so they get 2 points per distinct family bordering their operative at endgame.

Family-specific bonuses are really easy to replace or modify with house rules. In fact, optional rules may do well as printed cards you can lay by the board to let everyone know what rules are in effect, as kind of a game-specific Belle card for Families.

If you can use these ideas or post them for more discussion, then I am content.

Thanks!

---

Thank you, Jim!

So, have you had a chance to playtest Belle of the Ball? Any thoughts on adding elements from Ticket To Ride or any other game?

"Cydonia or Bust" Letter Contest [Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple]


Grant Chen of gaming blog MiniEnt is holding a letter-writing contest to get the pilgrims to Mars! He says:

"I want to see letters from Mars. That’s why MiniEnt is going to hold its very first contest: CyDonia or Bust! We want to see letters from Mars addressed to the Pilgrims of the Flying Temple asking for help.

"If you write the best letter, you’ll be getting a PDF of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple when it becomes available for sale.

"If you already have a copy, we can offer Happy Birthday Robot or some other non-Dresden Files PDF from the Evil Hat store."

Deadline: Saturday, June 18, 2011

» See more at Cydonia or Bust!

Liz Radtke's Vector Trace for the Cover of Do: The Book of Letters


Liz just finished the vector trace for the cover of Do: The Book of Letters. I'll cel shade and color this like I did for the corebook's cover. W00t!

» See the process.
» Liz Radtke's Blog

PDF of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple Now Available to Backers


Hello, Backers! You should now have access to the electronic edition of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. This includes a full-color PDF and a barebones printer-friendly PDF, too. Hope you enjoy! Please share your experiences on forums, Facebook and Twitter. Ping me at gobi81 at gmail dot com when you do so. I'd love to share your stories, too.

Here are some more updates:

* The PDF will be for sale on evilhat.com in a few days! Or right now!

* The book is at the printer. It is on schedule for distribution with plenty of time for GenCon. (I'll be a GenCon signing books at the Indie Press Revolution booth. Schedule TBD.)

* The book will be on sale for pre-order in July at evilhat.com.

* Do: The Book of Letters is being edited and illustrated right now. (All of your letters have been accepted!) You can see Liz Radtke's sketches for the cover here.

* We plan on wrapping up BoL in late July, so look for more announcements then.

First playtest of Stupor Market [In the Lab]


We playtested Stupor Market at local German restaurant and bar Ingrid's Kitchen. (Great food and drinks as usual.) Findings:

* During the reveal, holding up your word next to your card made it much easier to tally points. Definitely including that in the rules.

* Being clear about how to phrase point scoring is particularly important. Easiest way to explain it was as "Bonus" points. "You get one point for every food you guess correctly. You get a bonus point for every player who guessed your food correctly, but not if they all guessed correctly. In that case, you only get your standard points, but not bonus points."

* I had an occasional advantage because I knew which foods were in the deck, but I was still perplexed by some of the words. "YALLER BUR PEDDER?"

* 30 seconds feels like a good time limit. No need to be randomized, but may need to increase for more players.

* A low-budget version of the game would be just a deck of food cards, retailing between $5 and $10. Advantage would be low cost of production and a strong position in the party game market.

* A fancier commercial product would include the food cards, dry-erase boards, markers, and timer. Possibly a score tracker and tokens, too. ~$25 That'll make it more difficult to prototype. Alternative to dry-erase would be printed pads a la Yahtzee.

Overall, the game seems promising! It was a fun filler with a pretty small footprint. I may need to expand the initial deck with more foods to increase replay value, but I'll stick with fruits and vegetables at first.

Dan Cetorelli Completes Hand-Bound Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple


Dan Cetorelli just put the finishing touches on the custom, hand-bound copy of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. This lovely artifact is going to our highest Kickstarter backer, along with a bunch of other Evil Hat goodies. If you've enjoyed watching Dan's process, leave a comment on his blog!

Lyndsay Peters' Dragon Chow Bags for Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple

Lyndsay Peters' Dragon Chow Bags for Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple
Lyndsay Peters' Dragon Chow Bags for Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple
One of the exciting things about the exclusive rewards we offered for the Kickstarter is when they actually become real! Lyndsay Peters of Dragon Chow Dice Bags made these pouches with custom fabric combination for Do's high-end backers. I'll bundle them up with the green and white stones and send them along with the game as soon as it's printed. Thanks so much, Lyndsay!

» Dragon Chow Dice Bags

#DoCrossover [Twitter]

I have really fun brainstorming sessions with twitterfolk. I'd like to save those conversations for posterity, so I'm experimenting with Storify and starting a new "Twitter" tag.

Storify lets you embed a whole stream of related social media units into a single widget. Each tweet has live links so you can reply and retweet straight from the widget, too. Saves me the work of directly linking to each tweet.

Really enjoying it so far. Hope you dig it, too!

Thousand Year Game Design Challenge - May Update

The Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge
Recent buzz from the Long Now Blog, MetaFilter, and Jane McGonigal spurred a huge spike in traffic. We had several new entries last month and many more rumored to be coming soon. Here's what we have for May.

Cartography by Benjamin Alan Mohr
Here's an example of a classic genre with a clever visual motif. Each tile has land and water. One player is trying to create self-contained areas of land (islands) while the other is trying to create self-contained areas of water (lakes). I look forward to giving this one a play or two.

The Movie Game by Tonio Loewald
(or the World-Playing Game) This game is sort of a freeform narrative exercise in which each player takes on the role of a character from a movie, using the beginning, middle or end as a breakpoint from the established story. Together, the players take turns being the protagonist and supporting cast.

Rush Run Riot by Kelvin Beriguete
This kinda-sorta chess variant strips down your pieces to kings, pawns and "bouncers." Much like Arimaa, you have the option of moving pawns twice, but can trade in those movements to move a bouncer. Bouncers are neutral and can be moved by either player. Interesting!

Sáto by Kristian Järventaus
In the long tradition of scifi-inspired board games, Kristian presents a hexagonal abstract strategy elimination game. The pieces are all identical, but have some interesting methods of moving around the hexagonal grid. Because pieces can move along concentric circles, I wonder how hard it'll be to anticipate and plan offensive maneuvers.

F*ckin' Do It Then by Ryan Hughes (NSFW Language)
So far, the majority of challenge entrants have been very cerebral affairs, so I'm delighted to see this visceral title enter the mix. Players draw random words and bid on whether they can make another player guess their word with as few clues as possible.

Venn’s Revenge by Louis J. Cassorla
This entry is one of the few to have an explicitly stated social agenda: To improve spatial recognition abilities in all players. Players draw circles on overlapping sheets of translucent paper, trying to overlap previously drawn circles. I must admit, I'm still trying to parse the rules as written, but perhaps it'll be easier when it actually hits the table.

Klon by Antoine Richard
Chess has several nuanced rules of movement to learn before you ever make your first move. Antoine has taken a slightly different direction, imposing those movement rules on specific spaces of the board while leaving the pieces themselves generic. He apparently even made his own wooden board!

Liz Radtke's Cover Sketches for Do: The Book of Letters

Process of sketching the cover for Do: Book of Letters
Sketch process between Liz Radtke and I as she illustrates the cover of Do: The Book of Letters. This is just one way an art director and artist can work together and certainly not the only way. We've been friends for years, so that certainly influences how well we work together.

My first direction to Liz was something like this: "Let's continue using the same trio of pilgrims for the covers, with dreadlock kid taking the spotlight. This time, they're being chased by some kind of crazy monster on the back cover. I dunno. Something crazy, though. Go wild."

She came back with the first sketch you see up top. She says: "The monster on the back is kind of a mix of a Kirin and Lamassu (a Sumerian god.) He is being teased by that awful rabbit jerk. With eggs. Get it? Rabbit eggs. :P Hopefully no one will read into this too much as a battle between Christians and Pagans, but I do love me some weird mythology."

I compiled some art references as notes to change some of the expressions on the lead pilgrim's face. Also slapdashedly collaged in other pilgrims for posture and composition reference. (These references are all pulled from Bannister's blog, by the way.)

Liz just sent the revised sketch you see at the bottom. Fantastic! Approved, with only a couple minor tweaks.

This cover will be executed much like the cover for Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. She'll create some nice clean black line vectors and I'll fill them in with cel shaded colors.

» Liz Radtke's Blog
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.