2012: A Year in the Game Design Lab

Stone Age dice & meeples Over the past year, I've posted numerous game ideas in various stages, but all have been considered "in the lab" because they're really not ready for prime time. I just wanted to share my thoughts a bit. Next year I'm ready to actually see some of these ideas come to fruition. Here's a pretty comprehensive list of ideas posted to this blog in 2012.


Games to Prototype and Test
These are games which are to the point where I could make a prototype and actually test at some point.
  • Dung and Dragons/Dragon Ranch has been a long-simmering theme: Hippie co-op farmers raising dragons for their valuable poop. I finally cracked a cool mechanic for this idea, it just needs to get tested and refined. I'm really excited about how these simultaneous actions could interact with each other in unpredictable ways.
  • Wine Collector: This was an experiment in deduction game design. Not sure how well it's actually going to work in practice, but I definitely like the notion of averages being on one side of a card with a single number on the face.
  • Haunted House continued that notion, replacing numbers with shapes. This was inspired by a particular sequence in the latest Mario Party games in which you must repeatedly decide between three doors, only one of which leads to safety.
  • Exodus: Earth wants to be a "worker removal" game, where effects are triggered by removing a meeple off of a space. The eventual goal is to remove all of your meeples from the board before a meteor hits Earth. I just need to figure out the basic mechanics of the thing first.
  • Sidekick Quests: The Card Game came into being when my wife and I visited Lyndsay Peters in Canada. We hacked together elements of Waterdeep, No Thanks and some other stuff to make this hodgepodge of different mechanics. This was eventually streamlined to a much simpler push-your-luck card game that you should see available for beta soon.
  • Pop n' Locke's Last Heist was released as a playtest PDF to Writer's Dice backers early this year, but never saw much testing or discussion. Thankfully Tom Cadorette had a good playtest of it in August. I need to hit the document again to see where things should be tweaked and finally release things thing to the wider public.
  • Proxima-3/3io was ostensibly a board game adaptation of Triple Town. I need to test this set and see how the game feels to play as a multiplayer experience rather than a single-player puzzle.
  • Picker began with some exploration of Libertalia's blind auction mechanics. I still need to figure out how to solve the inherent negative spiral of choices that players have available to them. As it stands, there is still a "correct" choice in every turn. That's not bad, it's just a problem when there is one optimal choice rather than several.
  • Step Right Up is a game about snake oil salesmen hawking their wares on a crowded boardwalk. They sell goods to hire different kinds of goons to do their dirty business. The mechanics feel sound, they just need testing. The theme is unfortunately getting kind of crowded lately, though.
  • Seven Minutes of Terror was inspired by the Mars Curiosity landing and its absurdly complicated landing sequence. I think with some thematic cards and stronger endgame goals, this could be a nice light 10min game.
  • Dead Weight: Parkour vs. Zombies finally got a board game execution this year. It needs testing, but I'm glad I finally put that baby out in the world.
  • The following Thanksgiving, I posted Black Friday, a racing game that was also an auction game. Your position on the race track gave you best pick of items in your space, but you also had to bring back your items to the finish line in order to have the best score without penalties.


Themes in Search of Mechanics
These are game ideas that have a strong theme, but still need mechanical refinement.
  • Swap Clops the Tile Game and Swap Clops the Card Game: I'm really itching to use this fun art that Kari Fry made for me in January. Who doesn't love floating, surly one-eyed monsters? I still think the Clops have potential as a long-term IP.
  • Rulers: This Hunger-Games-meets-Mage idea was one of the rare story games from me over the past few months. This neverseemed to hook folks much, but then again I was lax in my development efforts, too. I'm going to see what I can do to put these out in a more digestible form soon.
  • Towers of Battle was a weird letter tile and area control game idea I posted on February. In hindsight, I must have read about apps like Letterpress and Puzzlejuice when I came up with this thing.
  • Vulture Capitalist/Bird Brands was inspired by No Thanks, Amun-Re, and Empryean, Inc.  I still occasionally get some mechanical ideas that could fit in this silly theme.
  • Dr. Remedy Grove: I had thoughts about this as a game franchise, each entry focusing on ecological themes and components made from sustainable materials. Kind of a Carmen San Diego for ecology.
  • Monks of St. Honorat honor their vow of charity in an interesting way: They earn lots and lots of money from their world-famous wine, then donate it all to their various charities. "Earn more to give more" is an interesting take on Brewster's Millions.
  • Where is the Poison? is inspired by the poison scene in Princess Bride. These mechanics seem good enough, but they could be much more streamlined. I imagine that this could be even as minimal as Seiji Kenai's Love Letter, but it just needs some more attention.
  • The Everywheres was a dimension-hopping game based on the CC-licensed superhero Jenny Everywhere. I really want to explore this game further with a mashup of Split Decision, Talk Find Make, and Thanks and Complaints (below).
  • Thanks and Complaints as a replacement for the typical success/failure binary in role-playing games. It brought to mind much different reactions to typical adventure game violence.
  • This City-Building Tile game is has a reasonable theme already, but I think some more thematic tiles would do wonders to make the game more strategic, too.
  • Asteroid Mining is a pretty cool idea to me and I think I'm close to a good mechanic here. I need to decide what it is you do with the materials you're mining, though. May also need a smaller asteroid belt/card deck.


Mechanics in Search of a Theme
This is by far the biggest category in the lab. These are mechanics that as yet haven't found a good theme with which to be paired.
  • Dice Pool Action-Selection Mechanic: This was posted right after I played Yspahan and saw its very clever dice mechanic in action. I wanted to capture something similar as an action selection device.
  • Dice-matching resource management: I must have been on a dice kick last spring, because here's another dice pool based resource acquisition mechanic. No idea where this one will go, but at the time I imagined it as a game based on Maslow's Hierarchy.
  • Dice Puzzle was eventually cracked by my mathematically inclined friends, but it was a cute diversion. I may revisit the basic interaction again at some point. 
  • 3-2-1 had you roll three dice, keep two results, then give one result to the next player. It brought to mind a lot of co-op potential. Will tinker with this eventually.
  • Legacying was a popular subject last year. I even wrote three best practices for how to do it well, which got noticed by designer Rob Daviau. I look forward to seeing how others use the Risk: Legacy mechanics to design brand new games.
  • Secret Action Selection + Public Negotiation was one of the many mechanics I explored for Dung & Dragons last year. It turned out to have a critical hurdle: If you're co-operating, why keep action selection secret? I never revisited this idea long enough to answer that question, but I should.
  • Player-Controlled Resource Values struck my fancy as I explored stock market themes. In this case, buying and selling a commodity raised or lowered its value on an abstract tracker. The price you pay now influenced the price you'd pay later.
  • Memory + Action Selection was another one of those mashup ideas that never got explored too deeply. It may still have something worthwhile as a kids' game with some additional strategy for adults. Basically, if you found two matching tiles, you could do the action noted on those tiles. Thus, you're not just memorizing placement, but pursuing specific tactics.
  • Multi-Memory: I also explored multi-dimensional memory mechanics in this abstract card game, but it might be too dry a brain burner for the MENSA Select judges.
  • Vases, Crates and Barrels broke down the rarity and distribution of the Yspahan game board into a single deck of cards. I still need to suss out how best to use this information, but it's powerful mojo.
  • Then there was this Yspahan+Knizia+Cosmic Encounter mashup where you negotiated trades for certain goods with the other players. Ultra minimal, but with emergent behavior. (At least, that's the hope.)
  • Chibi Sweeper was a tabletop mashup of Minesweeper and Chibi Robo. Not sure where this one is really going, but once again, I like the idea of knowing half-information, then deciding whether to commit to the second half.
  • Recycling Decks is basically a typical deckbuilder, except your discarded cards go to your opponent. It really needed a strong theme to make that make sense, though.
  • Make Me an Offer was the first in a series of little ideas where I tried to take the basic interaction of games like Apples 2 Apples and Cards Against Humanity into the realm of a Euro board games. Not sure how successful it is without a better theme though. In hindsight, this might be a strong game with a deck of Sushi Go cards. Which led to...
  • A Co-Op/Competitive trading game that could theoretically work as a system for For The Fleet. It just needs more redshirts.
  • I had a handful of trick-taking mechanics this year, but this was the most polished. It just needs a good theme to justify and explain the mechanics.
  • And finally, this worker-placement spillover mechanic was an interesting idea that sparked a lot of discussion for themes. Scientific progress perhaps?
Phew! 2012 was a prolific year for half-assed ideas. That's being generous, most of these are quarter-assed at best. Goal for next year? Add the rest of the ass. Yes.

Ch-Ch-Changes

Hannah Lee Stockdale (@HannahClover)
Hello, all!

I don't usually share personal news on this channel, but I think this will be relevant to your interests.

Effective December 31, 2012, I am resigning from my position as Associate Creative Director and Digital Director at Third Degree. I started as an intern in 2004 and I've learned so much about being a creative in the fast-paced ad business, especially serving credit unions. It's been an enriching experience with more talented people than I can count.

During those years, I was "art director by day, game designer by night," without either job interfering with the other. On the contrary, working for an agency gave me the security to pursue a game design hobby, while the hobby's community gave me experience in social media that I could bring back to the agency. There was synergy, as ad people on TV like to say.

Unfortunately, that dual-career lifestyle eventually started wearing on my mind and body. Signs of burnout were evident to all... except to me until recently. If I was going to be the person I really wanted to be in the next nine years, I had to make some big changes.

My wife and I discussed whether we could afford me spending a year trying to make this game design thing actually happen. If I cut down expenses, keep up freelance work, and budget well, we actually could afford to spend a year on me trying to go pro. So that's what I'm doing in 2013.

To my freelance clients, I thank you for your putting up with me as I made this transition over the past month. You'll be seeing faster turnaround from me starting next week.

To fans of my design stuff, you'll be able to see a lot more of my handiwork next year as I take on more freelance jobs in the general geek industry. Look for more RPG layout, logo design, card design, and iconography.

To fans of my game stuff, I hope I can get your support as I refine the numerous ideas I've posted on this blog. The actual business of selling games to publishers, gamers and backers is an adventure all its own. Thanks for coming along with me. You won't be disappointed!

Follow my #DS13 hashtag on Twitter to as I discuss this new experiment further. I'll return you to your regularly scheduled programming next week! Thanks for your time!

-- Daniel

P.S. The portrait above is by Hannah Lee Stockdale. You should hire her a lot.

InDesign DataMerge Playing Card Example [Free Download]



Happy holidays! This season, I thought I'd give something to anyone interested in designing their own card games. You may recall I posted a hodgepodge collection of tutorials I found regarding the use of InDesign's DataMerge feature to automate much of the card layout process. I plan to make a video tutorial of my own soon, but for now here's a .zip file with a very basic example of a DataMerged deck of playing cards.



Open DataMergeExample.indd in InDesign CS6 or DataMergeExample.idml in older versions of InDesign. You'll find empty text blocks and image blocks. It looks like there's nothing there, but there is! These are placeholders for the text and images that DataMerge pulls from the the .CSV found in the Assets folder. When you check the Preview checkbox in the DataMerge panel, you'll see each of these placeholders populated. (BTW, I just used a default font for Mac: Times, which can be replaced with Times New Roman if you wish.)

/ASSETS
This is also where you will find .EPS files for the suits and face cards. I like to use .EPS for vector files since they can be resized to any scale without losing resolution. So far as I've found, a .CSV is most reliable  for DataMerge if it is in the same folder as all of the card assets. Theoretically you can use the .CSV to populate from a deeper directory, but I haven't been able to do so reliably.

/RAW FILES
Here are the InDesign files for the suits and faces, saved in .INDD and .IDML formats.

/RENDERS
I've already exported a DataMerged InDesign file which you can find in the Renders folder. There you will also find a folder with all of *those* cards exported to flat .EPS files. It is from a folder like this that I pull individual card assets for use in example diagrams or print-and-play files.

/STOCK
Here is are the original source files from the Noun Project along with legalese for their specific licenses.

You can also find the original Google spreadsheet here, if you're curious. I hope you find this useful as you design your own card games. If you dig it, I can post some more packages with more complex card decks inspired by CCGs.

POLL RESULTS: Familiar Themes vs. Familiar Mechanics



Earlier this week I asked which mix of familiar or unusual mechanics and themes you preferred. I asked mainly because Reiner Knizia once advised on Twitter that a design shouldn't be too unusual. To do so would turn off too large a section of your audience. Basically, if you're designing a game for the larger hobby market, he advised either making the theme unusual or the mechanics unusual, but not both.

That seems to hold true for a significant portion of poll respondents. Here's the breakdown of 82 responses.

Unusual Themes + Unusual Mechanics         35      43%
Familiar Themes + Unusual Mechanics         34      41%
Unusual Themes + Familiar Mechanics         11      13%
Familiar Themes + Familiar Mechanics         2        2%

What are we to take from these responses? Bear in mind that it's a very tiny sample from an admittedly skewed pool of respondents. Most respondents want unusual themes AND unusual mechanics, which is surprising.

I expected the #2 response to be much greater given Knizia's advice. After all, unusual mechanics may be easier to learn if you're familiar with the basic premise of the game. But no, it seems the respondents prefer lots of novelty in both categories. If they must sacrifice some novelty it would be in theme, not mechanics.

A smaller subset would rather have an unusual theme and familiar mechanics. I imagine those respondents would be amenable to themed expansions of a game franchise, take for example the numerous Fluxx or Munchkin expansions. I'm curious!

And by far the fewest respondents favored total familiarity. I imagine those respondents have a handful of genres they really like and explore those games very deeply, perhaps pursuing complete mastery?

So, how did you respond? What do you prefer? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Asteroid Mining Theme with Card Drafting, Rondel Mechanics and Area Control

Trenex at asteroid belt
I've been playing Seasons a lot lately on Board Game Arena. Gosh, I am terrible at it. Not sure what it is, but I've been finding it a really difficult game to wrap a strategy around. Oh well, at least it's introduced me to some interesting rondel mechanics I'd like to explore further. Rondel mechanics and card drafting seem to be all the rage in game design this year. Here's a loose idea for a game that adds area control to the mix.

Players are asteroid miners laying claim to 54 big rocks orbiting the central planets of the solar system. The big rocks are code-named according to the cards in a standard deck. 2Club, JackDiamond, Joker-1, etc. Your goal is to lay claim to the asteroids and earn the best profit after three years.



This board represents is an asteroid belt. The center rondel rotates one increment per round, highlighting six distinct regions of the asteroid belt at any one time. (Note the wavy, dotted and solid lines.) I think the Rondel will also show market values for various resources, too.

There is a 54 card deck. Each card corresponds to a space. Each space has a resource that it offers. Each round, all players draft n cards from the deck. After drafting, place claims on that space of the board.

Next, all players extract resources from all spaces they control. A resource cube is then placed on each space. REGIONAL BONUS: If a player owns the most spaces in the current region, she gets a bonus. Dominating a wavy region earns x bonus, dotted region earns y bonus, a solid region earns z bonus.

Next, players may spend resources to build facilities or get credits.

  • To build facilities, simply remove the cubes from any space you control and place the facility card in front of you. (Facilities can increase the value of resources, grant area bonuses, or impose trade tariffs as noted below.)
  • When you get credits, trade for the current market value of those resources. Also note if players control a space between yours and the rondel. If so, those players half points, rounded down.

In other words, the outer rings have the most valuable resources, but controlling the inner ring lets you tax the import of those resources because you control access to the central planets.

The player with the most credits after three full rondel rotations wins.




Folks on G+ had some interesting ideas for additional effects, like labeling overlapping sections of the outer rings according to major arcana of the tarot, like constellations. Also some thought about having to actually move a delivery ship across the board one space at a time, thus making waiting for a delivery window actually important. Interesting indeed. What are your thoughts?

Super Secret Santa Party Game

Around this time of year, offices and families engage in an old tradition of secret gift-giving. These traditional games have widely varying rules, but there are some core similarities.

Usually, you're randomly assigned to give another person a gift. You may not know this person well, so you have to just investigate or guess at what they would like. As the receiver of said gift... Well, let's just say it's easy to get disappointed. This is so common, that a spin-off tradition called "white elephant" or "dirty santa" emerged wherein you're *not* supposed to consider what the receiver would actually like.

In either case, no one really gets something they actually want and you spend that time awkwardly chit-chatting while doing so. Honestly, it sucks as a play experience. Fortunately, a fellow named Brian Winkeler of Robot House Creative taught me the rules of a superior form of Secret Santa. I call it Super Secret Santa.

Stuff You Need
  • 5-30 players who kinda sorta know each other
  • One participant volunteers to be the Head Elf
  • A prize (a gift certificate, a bottle of wine, or some other generally nice thing)

Preparations
  • Each player sends the Head Elf a wishlist of three gifts under the price limit.
  • The Head Elf anonymizes those lists.
  • The Head Elf randomly assigns a list to each player.
  • Each player then must purchase one of the gifts on his or her assigned list. Do not wrap the gift!
  • The Head Elf prints prepares a list of numbered blank lines, enough for each player to get their own blank list.

The Party
  • The Head Elf arranges a display of all the gifts with numbers beside each one.
  • The Head Elf hands a blank list to each player as they arrive at the party.
  • Amidst drinks and food, the Players spend the party figuring out who wished for which gift. Debate and subterfuge is encouraged!
  • Later on in the party, the Head Elf then gathers all the players to one room.
  • The Head Elf picks up each gift and asks "Who wished for ____?"
  • The Players then shout their answers.
  • The Head Elf reveals the correct answer, to groans and cheers from the crowd.
  • The Player who guesses the most gifts correctly wins the prize.
  • Ties are rare, but if they can be broken by correctly answering trivia questions about the Head Elf.

Tips
When you wish for a gift, don't wish for something generic like a bottle of wine or a gift card. It makes guessing really difficult and no fun. Instead, pick a gift that says something about your personality, possibly that the rest of the group didn't know about you. This can also throw off guesses and reveals who knows who best. Plus: Everyone gets something they want!

I'm Designing a Deck of Cards for Fate!

The title pretty much says it all! I'm designing a deck of playing cards for Evil Hat's Fate system! Well, technically it'll only happen if the Fate Core Kickstarter reaches its stretch goal. What's so special about this 100-card deck?
  • The back can be used as a handy-dandy Fate Point chip.
  • The faces show one of 81 possible combinations of a 4dF roll.
  • The faces also have colorful phrases to add even more flavor to your results.
  • PLUS: We're still figuring out ways to layer in even more information on the face of each card for even more cool game potential.
What you see above is all I've designed so far as a quick example. If you want to see the whole deck layed out, go back the Kickstarter now and put me to work!

POLL: Familiar Themes vs. Familiar Mechanics

Time for a quick poll about mechanics and themes in tabletop games. Reiner Knizia once tweeted that it's better to have some element of familiarity mixed in with novelty. Of course he never specified the exact percentages of familiarity or whether it's better to have a familiar theme or familiar mechanics. So, let's turn to the public! Which do you prefer in your tabletop games?


I'll let you draw your own conclusions about the difference between a "familiar theme" and a "unique" theme since everyone has different frames of reference. When it comes to mechanics, the question becomes even more contentious. So, I'll let you make the call.

Riverbanks: An Example of My Game Design Process [In the Lab]


Folks ask me all the time where I get game ideas, whether it's mechanics first or theme first. Sometimes it's a little of both, as we'll see here.

One of my favorite recent mechanics comes from Doug Bass' Garden Dice. In that game you roll four dice to plant crops on a 6x6 gridded plot of land. The dice tell you the coordinates of where you may plant. You can do other actions based on the remaining two dice results. Choosing which dice to use in which capacity is a big part of the long-term strategy.

So I spent yesterday thinking a few ways to use this basic skeleton for other purposes, the first of which is a dice-based resource acquisition game. This begins without a theme, but in exploring the mechanics, we start to see how a theme naturally emerges.

6x6Grid-A-1

Play centers on a 6x6 grid from which you can acquire resources: A, B, C, D, E, and F. The intersections of each row and column show combinations of two resources and double-resources along the diagonal from top left to bottom right.

On your turn, you roll three dice and choose two of those results to be the coordinates from which you will acquire the noted resources. The third die shows how many of those resources you will acquire.

For example, you rolled 2 5 4. You chose to harvest from 2/5, which means you get 4 of resources E and B. If you rolled 4 4 3, you could choose to harvest from 4/4 where there are two Ds. This means you acquire resource D at twice the rate as normal. So, instead of just 3 Ds, you acquire 6.

But towards what end? I'm not sure. Perhaps you are trying to purchase advancements that require a specific recipe of resources, Waterdeep-style? Whatever the case, there are interesting permutations in this system.

6x6Grid-A-2

1/1's resources can be a little more common than 6/6's resources. The likelihood of rolling 1 1 1 and 6 6 6 are equal. However, a roll of two matching numbers and a non-matching number is much more common. Thus, on a roll of 1 1, it is much more likely that the third result will be greater than 1. Conversely, on a roll of 6 6, it is much more likely that the third result will be less than 6.

Granted, it's a small statistical difference. (EDIT: And, as Levi Middleton points out, D ends up being the more rare resource.)

This still gives me some sense of structure for a theme. Perhaps the A resource is a common ingredient in the game's recipes whereas the F resource is something more rare but valuable, like straight victory points or perhaps wild resources that can be used as placeholders for other resources.

The other interesting facet of this system is that each combination of resources has a twin on the opposite side of the board. 5/3 gives the same stuff as 3/5. So, perhaps there is room for adding another type of resource to acquire, based on which side of the diagonal you choose.

6x6Grid-A-3

Indeed, this comes to resemble the banks of a river. The river itself is abundant and fruitful. Its banks are blessed with useful combinations of resources while the far corners are dry prairies and deserts with less useful combinations of resources.

When you acquire resources from a space, so you also lay claim to it. In choosing a space that is occupied by another player, they may ask for a "tax" to give you permission to use that space.

Thus, our old friend the area control mechanic plays a significant part in this game. Those recipes I mentioned earlier? Those may be used to purchase advanced settlements that levee taxes on neighboring spaces; or award points to occupants of neighboring spaces; or renders a space unusable thereafter. Who knows?

Anyhoo, this is how my game design process usually begins. I'll notice a curious wrinkle of probability that makes a decent metaphor for a real-world phenomenon. Of course, it's usually at this point that someone will point out a game that has already covered similar territory, usually designed by Reiner Knizia!

But I hope that documenting my thought process is at least somewhat enlightening. Because geez, I just love designing games.

Co-Op Worker Placement Mechanic

Working Hard
Little mechanical idea in search of a theme:

Consider a worker placement mechanic in which you collect whatever resource you get for placing your worker on that space. You also get a bit from any neighboring spaces, but only if they're occupied by another player's worker. This makes turn order a tricky thing, because by going first and getting the first choice, you may also enable your opponents to gather resources of their own.

It's an interesting idea. Not sure of a good theme for it though. Any ideas? I want to flesh this out a bit more for the blog. I asked folks on Google+ about it and the idea that must stuck out to me was flipping this as a co-op theme. Almost like research?

One researcher does the hard work to be the first discoverer of certain scientific evidence. Then follow-up researchers have an easier time developing their own new ideas, "standing on the shoulders of giants" as Einstein put it. This also brings to mind the Exodus Earth game idea I posted a few months ago. Possible juice there.

The Quentin Tarantino of Game Design? [G*M*S Magazine Interview]


Waaaay back in September, I was interviewed on the G*M*S podcast to talk about graphic design in board games.

The conversation quickly turned to game design itself and some of the creative constraints I put on myself. Mainly, that constraint has been avoiding designing games with a combat or violent theme. I've also been avoiding games with colonial themes and, by extension, avoiding games about farms.

So between those two constraints, I've left myself out of the most populous genres across gaming: The American fantasy combat and the European colony simulation. What's left is odd themes like parties competing for guests, or raising dragons for their dung, and flying kids helping strangers. (Later this week I'll talk about the intersection of new or familiar themes with new or familiar mechanics.)

Anyhoo, you should listen to this episode if you like hearing about the craft of rules presentation, game design. Also to find out why the host calls me the Quentin Tarantino of game design. Ha!

» G*M*S Magazine Podcast: Episode 70


Speaking at Triangle Creative Commons 10-year Celebration


Head's up! I've been invited to participate in a lightning talk at a Creative Commons ten-year celebration on Red Hat's campus. woot! Very exciting. Hope I can see you there!

Triangle Creative Commons 10-year celebration

Red Hat
1801 Varsity Drive
Centennial Campus, NC State
Raleigh, NC 27606
Wednesday, December 12, 2012 from 5:30 PM to 7:00 PM (EST)

I'll be talking about how games can live on for a long, long, long time thanks to the Creative Commons license. I'll touch on a little bit of ancient game history, the state of the current market, the Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge and the difficulties in preserving digital games.

You can preview my slides and speaking notes here!

Co-Op/Competitive For the Fleet?

For the Fleet Heeey, remember For the Fleet? It's a game about brave star captains and their short-lived crew. It never really got much play after that Alpha release, so it's been sitting in the back of my brain ever since. Trying to figure out what to do with that theme next.

Then I got to thinking about how elegantly Phil Walker-Harding designed the set collection mechanics in Sushi Go! Check out the video demo on that link to see what I mean. The game is just so danged clever.

But Sushi Go is a card drafting game. Everyone's trying to get the best pick of their own hand while preventing their opponent from getting something that they want. But what if you could had a stake in your opponent's group somehow? What if you were actually invested in your opponent's prosperity, because it helped, you too, though to a slightly lesser extent?

This got me thinking back to Make Me An Offer, the odd mashup of Euro sensibilities and American Apples 2 Apples mechanics. What if you played Make Me An Offer with Sushi Go cards? For example...

It's your turn. You have a hand of cards. You put out one of your cards as a way of stating "I'm trying to build a set from this card."

Then each player draws and reveals a card from their hands at the same time, thus offering those cards to you. These may be worth something to you, maybe not. Either way, you may take one or more of those cards and add them to your collection.

In doing so, you allow those players to put a meeple on that group of cards. Any cards that were not selected are discarded.

Everyone draws one new card from the deck and the next player takes their turn.

At the end of the game, you score your collection of cards. You also score for the other players' collection of cards, as if each meeple in their card-group was a card in your collection.

For example, if your opponent has five nigiri, and you have two meeples on that group, it counts as a two-nigiri group for you.

Thus, players aren't just trying to build up their own sets, but get a sizable share in your opponent's groups, too. Granted, your opponent will always get the better reward for their group, but you can keep up a little bit.

So that's the loose mechanical idea. If it were to fit the Zap Brannigan theme of For the Fleet, I'd need to add things like "SHIELDS" which protect groups of cards from the hazards of space. That implies some periodic events that would endanger a group. Hm. HMM.

If the cards were types of crew members, that would be interesting. Each player is trying to recruit the best crew for their ships, trading crew with each other in the process? Worth considering.

Kickstarter/Crowdfunding Delivery Survey Results


Last week I asked a whole bunch of questions about what you expect as a backer of a crowdfunded project, including communication levels, delivery timelines and satisfaction with what ended up being delivered.

Originally I planned to aggregate all of this data into a nice infographic, but unfortunately it's been an extremely eventful week so I hope it's cool if I just link you to a spreadsheet with the responses. I'll make something else fancy later, promise!

Click here for the results!
Click here for the charts!

Not surprisingly, the vast majority of respondents backed projects in the Games category. That's to be expected given my audience. What surprised me was how many more respondents backed three or more projects. I guess it's not all that shocking, maybe those prolific backers are more inclined to share their opinions on a crowdfunding survey?

Anyhoo, check out those results. Lots of raw data for you number crunchers out there.

Survey Results: Crowdfunding Project Creator Updates

kicking
I want to put together a nice infographic of results from last week's fulfillment survey, but it's been an eventful few days. I'll fill you in on the details of that soon, but for now, here's a taste of some of the anonymous comments regarding creator updates. In that survey, I asked:


Care to say a little bit more about your feelings about creator updates?


Generally the positive responses cited the necessity of updates to track actual progress in the job (or lack thereof)

Regular creator updates are vital, regardless of whether news is good or bad. Getting an update announcing a delay or problem in project completion and fulfillment, with an explanation of the reasons/causes of the delay/problem, is far preferable than not getting an update at all. Some creators have given the excuse that frequent updates detracts from their time available to work on the project; but I (and probably many others) consider this a very poor excuse for inadequate communication.   
I like them. They make me feel that the creator's still invested in her project, and it's neat to see the process in something like real-time.

I like them when they have something to show, or when there's a big breakthrough on the project, less so when it's excuses about timing, etc. In those situations, I'd rather hear less, rather than be reminded they've blown their deadline, so long as I get an assurance that they're working on it.

It's the thought that counts - if a delivery date has been delayed, regular status updates (whether it's "Hurricane Sandy left us without power for a week" or just "We've run into some delays but are working hard to finish the project") are the best way to make peace with backers. At least we'll know you haven't fallen off the face of the earth.

A handful mentioned their annoyance with updates in which there is no discernible progress with the project.

"When product is going to be delayed for what ever reason an updated should be posted to give the funders an idea of what is going on.

Essential, but frustrating when they're just fluff with no real indication of progress.
"Still no progress" updates are annoying. 

And that leads us to the negative responses regarding creator updates. Some of these responses called out grievances against specific project creators, but I don't want to make this a forum for any particular project's complaints. I do recommend you contact that project creator if you wish to find out the project's status. Unfortunately, no one is going to keep creators accountable but the backers.

I usually accumulate a number of updates for a given project before I get around to reading them. That said, I do appreciate communications from the creator. Even unread updates in my inbox let me know that the project hasn't been abandoned or something. 
Most of the projects I funded I kind of funded for the general good.  I read the updates, sometimes, and sometimes I didn't.  Once they got funded, it kind of felt out of my hands how they proceeded.

I find that most updates are pointless. They're either the creator whining about why fulfilling their project is so hard or telling us about awesome things that don't affect us. For example, it irks me that Goblins Drool is late to ship to me but there's tons of people who got to play it at GenCon. As a backer, I should be the first person in on the fun.

I don't need twenty-six updates in two months about a project. If there's a ton of stuff happening that's really cool about the development and fulfillment of your project, consolidate that into a weekly update.

Most of the time, they're kind of worthless fluff pieces. I prefer much more concere progress reports, just often enough for me to not forget about the project and feel like its actually progressing.

And a slight tangent to address video updates. First, a detractor:

I pay less attention (I skim) to ones that aren't about actual product delivery, "go here and download this", etc. They're high volume. Long ones, I just don't have time to read through. Videos, similar issue around time investment.

And a fan:

I usually skim them, to see if there are any updates about ship dates, delays or production previews. For projects with supplemental content (videos on the making of the product, for example) I pay extra attention.

But overall, the comments highlighted the mixed blessings of creator updates.

Without a doubt the most variable part of the crowdfunding experience. As the sites become more standarsized in their part of the equation it is this place where a developer's rigorous (or not) detail orientation as well as transparency position come out.

I always have to brace myself when backing a new project to receive way more emails, because I know that in addition to the updates I care about, many creator updates will just be advertisements for other Kickstarters or similar marketing.

Additionally, different creators use updates before and after funding success differently. I prefer creators who use post-close updates simply as a "here's where we are in our production timeline" rather than, "here's more information about the project itself." Wormwood Saga is a good example of the first, Project Eternity is a good example of the second."

Most Kickstarter creators are diligent about updates during their campaigns and directly afterward, but once we get into the long, dark, tea-time of the actual manufacturing process, the updates usually dry up.  As a prolific backer, I find that I may forget about a given project without regular updates.  At least until I go look at my history and review what I am still waiting to receive.

Updates that are simply new information, updates on progress need to be MORE distinct from updates that require active response from backer. I believe the current system of sending out surveys and NOT getting positive confirmation back from creators is problematic.

This list of best practices seemed to sum up most people's feelings on the subject.

I really appreciate updates, WHEN THEY ARE RELEVANT. To whit:

  1. You are telling us about a new stretch goal.
  2. You are informing us of an exciting new funding level!
  3. You are showing us a how-to-play, an instructions PDF, a Print-n-Play, or the like.
  4. You are updating us on how the game is shaping up, where we're at with regards to production, and shipping, etc.

I EMPHATICALLY DON'T CARE TO BE UPDATED ABOUT OTHER PROJECTS, WHETHER YOURS OR SOMEONE ELSE'S.

But this was my favorite comment.

Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple was the only project I backed where I actually wanted to get updates.

Aw shucks! Thanks!
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.