2010 Retrospective

Getting married was certainly the biggest personal event of 2010. If we could survive organizing this event while also planning a move to a new house, a trip to Seattle and publishing HBR all at the same time, we can survive anything. Speaking of which, just a split second after the above photo was taken a tornado siren started blaring in the background. No worries, just a drill. Here are the pics and vows.

And then there was the honeymoon in Seattle, where we saw the sights, heard the sounds, met the people, and ate everything we could fit in our eager stomachs. We're eager to return soon to absorb every inch of that lovely city and its colorful characters. Pics here.

Some rights reserved by Marc Majcher. Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.
Happy Birthday, Robot!
With the help of more people than I can count (but at least 110), I published my first game. For as much time as I once spent trying to design RPGs, then board games, it's funny that my first game would be an odd off-shoot of both species. As usual, you can find more about it at HappyBirthdayRobot.com.

Third Degree
Meanwhile at work, I got promoted to Senior Art Director. With that came new responsibilities and accomplishments, like rebranding a client, launching a new campaign for another, performing in a Halloween parade, writing humorous on-hold messages and traveling a lot.

This was the year gaming invaded the creative department. What began as a single turn-based game of Blokus on one desk grew into five ongoing games at each creative desk. On top of that, I met some amazing people at Dreamation and GenCon. The former helped spread the word about HBR, the latter spawned SageFight. (Respect. Trust.)

And this is the year I finally "grew up" a little and got a proper blog. I experimented with Composeum at first, but a single-topic blog just wasn't for me. I had to go cold turkey, leaving behind Livejournal after ten years. I learned a bit of template design by working on JeremyAndKathleen and customized the template you see now. Since this blog's launch, I've been much more diligent about posting new games and new game ideas. I've also done a lot more interviews, which is always fun.

Yup, 2010 has been very good to me. I hope to pay it forward in 2011.

Anillos del Tiempo (Time Rings Puzzle) from Designo Patagonia

Speaking of sustainability, I came across this lovely gem on Swiss Miss. Each unique Time Rings Puzzle is made from naturally fallen Cypress trees. Designed and handmade by Manu Rapoport and Martin Sabattini, a design duo that use Patagonia’s sustainable natural resources and materials.

I'm not usually one for "art games," per se. Too often the message overrides any sense of actual fun to be had in the game. What I find interesting here is that there is no real message surrounding the puzzle. It is simply a lovely toy with a unique production model. That being the case, you bring to it what you have in mind. Let me put on my art student hat for a moment.

Putting together this puzzle is a thoughtful metaphor for repairing natural ecosystems. Even when the puzzle is complete, the pieces don't fit together perfectly. Our effects on the environment will never totally be erased. The resemblance to a broken glass pane doesn't go unnoticed here. Okay, taking off art student hat now.

Getting these lovely puzzles to your doorstep has its own ethical dilemmas, like shipping via fossil fuel-driven freight lanes. But, hey, that's a hard problem to get around... unless of course you have some thoughts on how you could re-use your own local resources. Hm. Hmmm, indeed.

» More from toys from Designo Patagonia (Spanish Language)
» Buy: Time Rings Puzzle

[Do] And then, there was a cat parade.

A Spooky Outhouse forum member posted an actual play report of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple back in October. How did I not catch it until now? Anyhoo, here are his comments.

It was fun. I'll definitely play it again. [...]

I think you could use the game as a very effective method for creating a back-story or setting for another rpg campaign. [...]

It took about an hour and a half. We used one of the stock letters on his site. Our Pilgrims were terrible helpers. As with so many games, it was derailed immediately. The author of the letter didn't even show up in our story until about a third or halfway through because we were busy with hilarious trouble.

We had Pilgrim Noisy Lantern, who gets in trouble by talking too much and helps people by guiding the way; Pilgrim Squishy Octopus, who gets in trouble by being indecisive and helps people by bringing them together; and Pilgrim Sloshy Boot, who gets in trouble by drinking and helps people by walking.

It was interesting how some of those were very potent: talking too much and drinking, for example, while the others felt more limited at any given time. Drinking was one that was actually limited, but the results were always sterling, so the limitation was helpful. I think that experience might actually help me to write better BW instincts, but, mostly, I just want to play again and experiment with types of help/trouble events.

Sloshy Boot started the proceedings by drinking all of the town's celebratory ale and Noisy Lantern immediately offended everyone in the kingdom by flapping his gums about the previous king's impotence. By the end, the King was involved in a tabloid scandal and the people ran the Pilgrims out of town, burned down their own library, and abolished all government because of the troubles it brought them. There was also a cat parade.

We messed up a few times by not following the ways in which our Pilgrims are supposed to get into trouble or help, but it didn't make it any less ridiculous or fun. I can't wait to try out a couple more of the stock letters so I can feel confident in writing my own letters and experimenting with sizes and contents of Goal Word lists.

Highly recommended.

I asked if this forum member still has a transcript of the story they wrote. If so, I'll post it on the blog. Can't wait to see the details. :)

» Original Post

Video: Making a Prototype Game Box

Following up the previous post, here's a new video of me making a second prototype game box. This time, I printed the template on kraft paper and spray mounted it onto cardstock. Please ignore the band-aid, by the way. It's an unrelated Jungle Speed injury.

» Music: Neverhood Soundtrack - Olley Oxen Free

Making a Prototype Game Box (5" x 5" x 1.5")

Making a Prototype Game Box
Got a couple of board games as presents for my co-workers, both made of renewable bamboo resources. The games, I mean. Not the co-workers. The co-workers are made of meat.

The games' small form-factor was quite pleasant. 5"x5"1.5" kraft paper tuck boxes with real wood bits packed into a very compact package. I got to thinking this might be a package I could put together at home for my prototypes. Making a tuckbox with these dimensions would be impossible on an 8.5"x11" letter size sheet of paper.

Drew up some plans on some legal paper. (You can find a PDF of the finished template below.) Turns out I can make a top and bottom lid out of a letter-size sheet with extra room for bleed. Grabbed some scotch tape and scissors to see how this worked in three dimensions.

After cutting the outlines, I folded along the seams as shown above. If you're using thicker material, you should score along these edges so that you get clean folds.

And taped the tabs to the inside of each lid, as seen on the top left. Also taped the bleeds down over the tabs to keep them extra-secure and make a soft, rounded edge along the lip.

Here's what the lids looked like on the outside and inside. A little sloppy, but that's how prototypes tend to look.

And it fulfilled my initial goal, a 5"x5"x1.5" box that I could produce at home. I have more thoughts in mind as to how this form will work in actual practice. I'd use real card stock, use a more exact template, an x-acto blade and straight edge to get the dimensions more precise. To kick it all together, I'd probably wrap the whole box in a nice full-color sleeve, too.

Here's a more polished, vector version of the template for both lids.

» Download: 5" x 5" x 1.5" Game Box Template PDF
» Video: Making a Prototype Game Box

[Do] Sunday Night Group - Episode 2

Actual Play of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple
This is a story created by playing Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple.

» Previously... Episode 1

The Pilgrims

Pilgrim Hesitant Goggles gets into trouble by having a hard time deciding what to do and helps people by seeing things clearly. (Anders - Absent) [1]
World Destiny: 4
Temple Destiny: 3

Pilgrim Rolling Star gets into trouble by being clumsy and helps people by guiding them to new ideas. (David)
World Destiny: 0
Temple Destiny: 5

Pilgrim Yellow Moon gets in trouble by being afraid and helps people by shining light on their problems. (Jamie)
World Destiny: 3
Temple Destiny: 6

Pilgrim Shiny Pen gets in trouble by being too flashy and helps people by being a great writer. (Daniel - New Addition) [2]
World Destiny: 0
Temple Destiny: 0

The Letter

"Worlds Collide" by Colin Fredericks

The Story

Pilgrim Yellow Moon visits Yotta and tells him, "Yotta, maybe you should accept the words of your great sages, and learn to live in the moment."

Yotta exclaims in shock, "you mean we should all just bow down and accept the loss of all life, culture, and history on our world? You will die in the flood too you know!"

Pilgrim Flashy Pen writes a heartfelt poem to the Great Sages of Juku expressing the anguish that will fall on their world if the floods come.

Unfortunately, Pilgrim Flashy Pen's calligraphy is so ostentatious that the Great Sages of Juku are offended and incensed at his letter.

Pilgrim Rolling Star explains to Yotta and Yellow Moon that the two worlds might not crash together so much as merge together, and that it might be possible to save many lives.

Pilgrim Rolling Star doesn't notice that his calculations are just a few digits off, and that Ishita really will cause a cataclysmic collision between the worlds.

Pilgrim Yellow Moon talks Pilgrim Shiny Pen out of the funk he is in and they travel to the Water Planet together, and discover that the inhabitants of the Water Planet are working on a plan.

The Phloerals capture Yellow Moon immediately and put him in jail, explaining their plan to use their gigantic steam engines to steer their world into the Desert Planet and swallow it all under their water.

Evading capture from the Phloerals, Pilgrim Shiny Pen writes the updated calculations to Rolling Star in great ink strokes across the sky.

This is impossible to hide from the Phloerals, who capture Shiny Pen as he finishes his message, and put him in the cell next to Yellow Moon.

Rolling Star teaches Yotta his special Pilgrim Fu techniques and together they manage to rescue Yellow Moon.

Pilgrim Yellow Moon tells the Phloerals that their plan is against the will of nature and seeing the error of their ways, they relent and release Pilgrim Shiny Pen.

The Phloerals express their sorrow, as their engines are out of steam, and can no longer change the course of the water planet.

Pilgrim Shiny Pen writes to the people of Rova securing safe haven for any refugees from Juku and Ishita, including soft comfy bed in a safe, well-lit corner for the very frightened Yellow Moon.

During the evacuation of Ishita and Juku, pilgrim Shiny Pen's flashy clothes get caught on a tree branch, and he's stuck on the water planet.

Pilgrim Rolling Star trips on a wire in Ishita's engines, causing its orbit to be on a collision course with Rova, where everyone is taking refuge.

Yellow Moon is so frightened by the coming deluge that he wets his bed. [3]

Yellow Moon, embarrassed, takes the bedclothes to the laundromat.

Pilgrim Shiny Pen remembers a haiku by the great poet Broken Willow, who wrote of many ways to escape the prickly grasp of the worldly life, giving Shiny Pen insight into how to safely extricate himself from the tree's branches.

Pilgrim Rolling Star has great new idea: he can reverse-engineer the engines' power to bring Ishita into orbit around Rova instead of crashing into it.

Pilgrim Rolling Star falls on the throttle lever, creating an orbit that shifts Rova's tectonic plates and causes annoying tremors across the planet.

Pilgrim Yellow Moon is still in the laundromat when the earthquakes caused by the water planet strike, and he immediately sees the similarity between the action of the washing machine and the motion of the tectonic plates.

Yellow Moon is so overcome by the gravity of the situation, that he hides inside a washing machine. [4]

Pilgrim Shiny Pen corrects the orbit of Ishita around Rova by writing a poem across the sky that is so amazing, it causes everyone on that side of Rova to gasp at the same time, pulling the whole planet just an inch farther from Juku.

The stars themselves are so impressed by his poetry that they capture him, bring him to the heavens, and make him write poems for them.

Pilgrim Rolling Star talks to the stars and inspires them to write their own poetry in the style of Shiny Pen, so as to better express Shiny Pen's genius and also allow him to continue his pilgrimage.

Epilogue: Parades

Pilgrim Yellow Moon peers out of the washing machine - the immigrants to Rova seem to be happy now.[5]

Having seen their error, the Great Sages of Juku welcome Yotta as one of their peers.

Now that their planet has a new stable orbit around Rova, and their engines are no longer operational, the Phloerals return to their home world and dance and sing and cry with joy, and their happy tears rain down on both Rova and Juku for ages to come.

New Names

Pilgrim Yellow Eyes gets in trouble by being afriad and helps people by seeing truth. (Jamie)
World Destiny: 5
Temple Destiny: 13

Pilgrim Rolling Fist gets in trouble by being clumsy and helps people by fighting for justice.
World Destiny: 5
Temple Destiny: 13

Pilgrim Hungry Pen gets in trouble by being lured away from an ascetic lifestyle and helps people by being a great writer. (Daniel)
World Destiny: 5
Temple Destiny: 3


[1] Unfortunately Anders couldn't make it for this session. This was to be a useful learning experience, though. I have contingency protocols in the game for just this sort of situation. Basically, if a player can't make it to a session, their pilgrim got lost on a detour on their way to this world. If a player can't make it to any more games at all, she can jump straight to her Destiny with whatever World/Temple points she's built up so far.

[2] In the first episode with this group, I sat back as a facilitator, keeping track of stones and helping with Troublemaking. With Anders out, that left us one member shy of a full group. This was not something I planned for, the game text has contingency protocols for new players joining in the middle of the Pilgrimage. The quick character creation process makes it easy to write a new character. My wife looked around the room, found a shiny pen and wrote this quick character description. Thus, Pilgrim Shiny Pen was born.

[3] [4] [5] This was a sudden shift in the story, both in scope and subject matter. We kept the momentum going as best we could by drawing sharp contrasts between the high-flying cosmic poetry and mundane trip to the laundromat. It was probably the one moment in all the games that felt most like a Happy Birthday, Robot! non sequitor. It all ended up for the best and became a humorous anecdote later on.

Liz Hooper art for Belle of the Ball

Liz Hooper's sketches for Belle of the Ball
Liz Hooper just sent me her final inked illustrations for Belle of the Ball. I have worked with her on Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, so I knew she could produce good facial expressions and characters with strong personalities. In the game, each Belle represents a different set of victory conditions, reflecting their unique personality. As always, Liz knocked it out of the park. Check out her finished work below:

Liz Hooper's illustrations for Belle of the Ball

» More about Liz: lizhooperdesign.blogspot.com/
» Belle of the Ball Beta Test Rules
» Mori McLamb's art for Belle of the Ball

The Leftovers in "The Bunny's Burrow"

Join the Leftovers as they journey deep into the underground lair of that most unholy of monsters. The creature so terrible – with such sharp teeth, with fur so fuzzy, a nose so nibbly – its true horrors cannot be named.

Well, okay, it's a rabbit. It's really quite vicious, I assure you. Enter this two-page mega-dungeon and test your wits against the Monster once again.

» Download: The Leftovers in "The Bunny's Burrow" Page 1 and Page 2

Artist Directory

Added an artist directory to the sidebar. These are artists I've hired or worked with over the years. Here are links to their sites and games with their art.

Liz Hooper
Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, Belle of the Ball
Liz is a long-time collaborator and friend. She always brings professional, carefully executed work.

Rin Aiello
Happy Birthday, Robot!
Rin's adorable illustrations helped define Happy Birthday, Robot! Her work was critical in Kickstarter fundraising.

Mori McLamb
Belle of the Ball
Mori's an up-and-coming artist with clean lines, elegant character design and reliable work ethic.

Kristin Rakochy
Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple
Kristin's cartoons and animals are a neverending delight.

Jake Richmond
Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple
Jake did the earliest promo art for Do and helped crystallize the vision.

Dale Horstman
Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple
Dale is a Swiss Army Knife of illustrators, able to work in many media.

The Leftovers
Crazyred kindly lent his doodles for The Leftovers.

SageFight rocks the Office Christmas Party

Last week we had our office Christmas party at the University of Oklahoma student union. Our co-workers from the North Carolina branch were in town for the party, one of whom was particularly interested in playing some kind of game. Naturally, I proposed SageFight.

When approaching anyone to play SageFight, I try emphasize how fun it is, but it's hard to communicate until they see a whole group going. This time around, for some reason, few of the guys were up to the challenge this time around. Instead, the ladies kicked off their shoes and circled up about five SageFight Melee bouts.

The guys, for their part, kept time by stomping and clapping to the beat of Queen's "We Will Rock You." This is such a universally recognized beat that it's pretty easy to get volunteers to keep time. Added bonus: That beat is slow enough that new SageFighters don't feel intimidated by the pace.

» Official SageFight Homepage
» Ongoing Story-Game Threads about SageFight: 1, 2, 3

[In the Lab] Mitosis

I'm still tinkering with that organic, gridless version of Pente I posted a few moons ago. Here is where the game stands now. It has problems and I am weighing possible solutions.

Stuff You Need
2 or more players
Each player needs fifteen stones, each set a different color
Any play area, like a table or floor

Placing Stones

The game begins with one stone for every player placed close to each other on the play area. (See top left.) Play proceeds in turns. On your turn, you may place a stone anywhere on the play area as long as it is touching another stone. (See sequence above, arrows noting new stones.) A stone cannot touch more than two other stones, so long strands start to form.


If a pair of stones of the same color are "sandwiched" between two stones of another color, that pair is removed from the play area. Return those stones to the player of that color. (Above: The red player sandwiches a pair of black stones and returns them to the black player.)


Each strand is worth one point. That point goes to the player who has the most stones in that strand. If two or more players tie for the majority, they share that point. (See above.)

For now, the game ends when one player runs out of stones, but I am willing to consider another endgame condition. Because players take back any stones that get captured, I fear the potential for an endless game. Perhaps captures are simply that. Captures.

Problems and Possible Solutions
I get the feeling that no player will ever put themselves in a position where they could have their stones captured because it will give the capturing player a free point. (A capturing player always ends up with one loose stone on the table, creating a new strand in which he has the majority.) This puts a player who is behind at a permanent disadvantage. Instead, the easiest strategy is to just alternate stones into infinity. Black-White-Black-White-Black and so on.

To remedy this, I considered another action you could take on your turn instead of placing a stone. On your turn, you can remove one of your stones. That effectively splits a strand, which could change the majorities in-play. (See above for an example of Red removing a stone.)

Another option would be to change the scoring system so that the value of a strand is based on the minority of another player's stones. In the example above, this doesn't really help Red very much, but it helps White enough to create a tie. Those two black stones are worth 0 because there are no stones of another color in the same strand.

And lastly, I considered allowing a stone to touch up to three other stones, thus allowing a strand to branch out a bit. However, this led to enough problems that I abandoned it as an option.

So here's where the game is at the moment. It is technically feasible, but it isn't fun yet. That's a frustratingly subjective feeling for someone who tries to be objective and rational as I do. I don't know where the fun is in this game yet. Indeed, there may not be any to be found. I post my notes here so that you might find the kernel of fun. I'm happy to take any of your suggestions in the comments below!


TradeShowdown by Daniel Solis is a dice fighting game using real business cards as your fighters.
It's nasty business when the fiercest MMBA fighters from across the industry meet on the TradeShowdown floor. Just remember the first rule of business:
A. B. C. Always. Be. Crushing.

TradeShowdown is a dice game that uses real business cards to represent fighters in a knock-down, drag-out battle for business supremacy.

Stuff You Need
2 or more players
Each player has a business card representing his fighter.
Each player has a pencil and eraser.
Each player has ten dice. These may be any size from four-sided to ten-sided.

How to play
Each player goes through the following steps at the same time. If you're playing with two players, assume your fighters are attacking each other. If there are more than two players, then each player declares who their fighter is attacking for this round.

Step 1: Roll
Pull up to ten dice from your supply. Roll them.

For example, the blue player pulls six dice from his pool and gets the following results: 164888. The violet player pulls four dice from his pool and gets 6680.

Step 2: Check for Sets
Check how many dice have matching results. Such a group is called a "set." Each set has a “height,” “width,” and “depth.” The depth is how many dice you rolled total. The width of a set is the number of dice that are matching. The height of a set is the digit on the matching dice.

For example, the blue player has one matching set. Its depth is 6 because that is how many dice he rolled. The width is 3, because that is how many of his dice match. Its height is 8, because that is the result all the matching dice share. The violet player's set has a depth of 4, width of 2, and height of 6.

Step 3: Attack
The fighter with the lower depth does damage first, followed by the next highest depth, and so on. Tied fighters do damage simultaneously. To do damage, you may draw a slash across any of the opponent's digits equal to or lesser than the height of your roll. You can draw as many slashes as the width of your set. A digit may only be slashed twice, forming an X across that digit. Once a digit is X’d, it is out of play and cannot be slashed again.

For example, the violet player had the lower depth, so he attacks first. His set has a width of 2, so he will draw two slashes somewhere on the blue player's card. His set has a height of 6 He may draw these slashes on any digit six or lower. He slashes a 6 and a 5.

The blue player goes next. His set has a width of 3, so he will draw three slashes. His set has a height of 8, so he can slash any digit eight or lower. He draws a slash on a 2. He X's a 4, taking it out of play.

When all your opponent’s digits are X'd, he is defeated.

For example, the violet player X'd out all of the blue player's digits, so the blue player is defeated. The violet player is victorious!

There is a delicate balance inherent in each roll. In order to perform an effective attack, you must have good sets. To have good sets, you need to roll lots of dice. However, if you roll lots of dice, you leave yourself vulnerable to attack. Choose your dice you roll wisely. Choosing smaller-sized dice means you are guaranteed to have more hits, but you will quickly run out of vulnerable targets. Choosing higher-sized dice means you can reach those hard targets, but matching is less likely.

Optional Special Moves
These are a few special techniques you can add to your game.

Multiple Attacks: It is rare, but possible to have multiple sets in a single roll. Consider each set is a separate attack in the same round, as if your fighter launches a flurry of punches followed a moment later by a groin kick.

Intimidate: After rolling, but before doing damage, your fighter can do some kind of self-destructive display of strength. Draw a slash across any digits on *your* business card. For each digit you slash, add one to your set's width, as if a die come up with that result. For example, if you rolled a set with Height 8, Width 3, and slashed two 8s on your business card, your set would now be Height 8, Width 5, as if you had five dice result in 8s.

Tag Team: You can play with two business cards, each representing one half of a two-fighter team. Between rounds, you have the option to "tag in" the other fighter. When you do so, swap out the business card you were using in the previous round. One or both members of a tag team can intimidate during a round, but only the currently active member will get the benefit.

Combos: The zip code on your business card is a special combo that releases a special attack. When you roll, some dice will not be part of a set. If any of these dice match a digit in your zip code, you may set aside those dice from further rolls. You may not have more than one combo set growing at one time. When you have five dice matching the zip code on your business card, you may perform a special attack from the following list. Once you have activated a special attack, the dice return to your pool once more.
Number Cruncher: Draw a slash on all instances of digits matching your zip code on your opponent’s card. For example, if your zip is 03038, you can slash all 0s, 3s and 8s on your opponent’s card.

Snapping Pencil: Your attack has crippled your opponent. He has lost his ability to roll a number of your choice. In all subsequent rolls, your opponent cannot count results of that number in his sets. For example, if you cripple their 8’s, then they can’t count 8’s.

Collating Claw: On your next roll, before you slash your own digits on your business card, you can swap one dimension for another. That is, swap depth for height, depth for width, width for height, etc.

Hot Coffee Spout: Your opponent is blinded, causing them to flail around helplessly. The depth of each of their rolls is doubled, but does not give them extra dice.

» Illustrations from Shutterstock: Terry Chan
» Business Card Designs from Shutterstock: Bukhavets Mikhail and Moham'ed
» Title Font from Blambot: Badaboom
» Many thanks to everyone who suggested titles for this game!

Pilgrim Burning Wheel

After you make a pilgrim, you start seeing pilgrim names everywhere.
Pilgrim Jumbo Shrimp. Pilgrim Multipurpose Paper. Pilgrim Green Tea.

Sometimes even another game can sound like it was tailor-made for a pilgrim's name. Case in point: Luke Crane's Burning Wheel. Señor Crane gave his blessing to make Pilgrim Burning Wheel a sample character for Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. I put out a call for ideas on Twitter and got back these ideas.

olde_fortran: "Pilgrim Burning Wheel gets in trouble by swimming and helps people by giving them a bonus dice (or two)."

jcdietrich: "Pilgrim Burning Wheel gets in trouble by starting fires for fun and helps people by improving their self esteem."

grahamwalmsley: "Pilgrim Burning Wheel gets in trouble by giving in to anger and helps people by telling stories of faraway places."

AskALich: "Pilgrim Burning Wheel gets in trouble by necromancy and helps people by speaking with the dead."

TrapCast_Jenn: "Pilgrim Burning Wheel gets in trouble by challenging others with his wits and helps with his masterful skills."

Great ideas, everyone!

» More about Burning Wheel

More stories from Happy Birthday, Robot! (Plus advice from frequent players)

Today brings you three tales of Happy Birthday, Robot! courtesy of very creative players ranging in ages from single-digits up to grown-ups. (Also some advice about recurring mature-ish themes in actual play.) First on the lineup, a story from Petrie's, a store with a strong focus on community-building around gaming. Together with three kids, they wrote two great stories.
Happy Birthday, Robot!
Tiny Robot plays with balloons... Oh, happy Robot!
Robot’s friend plays balloon-catch and tag.
The dog ran and ripped the balloons which scared Robot and his friend the goofy-looking professor.
“Aah!” said Robot and he blew out the flower cake’s candles.
It was time to open the sparkly presents.
Robot happily played with his shiny new toys and said proudly “Happy Birthday to me!”
Robot’s doggy kept trying to take Robot’s toys with another happy robot.
The End
It's cute when you can tell a player just wanted to use an extra word. That's when you get stuff like "flower cake." You can read the second story on the Petrie's blog post. It features moms throwing bullies in storm drains. Seriously.

Jonathan C. Dietrich and his family posted their very first story just tonight!
Happy Birthday Robot!
Robot went outside to smell the air and it smelled bad.
He and Dad loved the bad air.
Robot's friends hated the air and thought that they would miss his
Robot started crying because he would miss his friends.
Robot's friends came back to the party to smell the air but fainted.
Robot didn't care.
Robot ate cake.
The End.
Another new story comes from Seth Ben-Ezra, as played at Go Play Peoria. It's a slightly darker tale, thanks to early input from one of the boys playing. You can read it on Seth's blog. I am very curious about how often players write Robot crying or introduce mature-ish themes. Though Seth says he still had fun, I asked him how he'd approach the game in the future.
"If I were to do it over again (which I probably will), I'd communicate the "cute" and "happy" expectation up front. And then, if we got into the game and someone was going against that, I could point at it and yell. ;-)"
Heh. Let's hope it doesn't come to that. ;) I've read plenty of stories told with the HBR system that wouldn't have made it into a book intended for little kids. Those stories were told with the expectation of something a little more mature in tone. Few people have more experience telling grown-up Robot stories than Marc Majcher and his cohort of improv friends. He offers this advice from the last time he played HBR.
"It veered off into super crazytown in the middle, but we got it back to sweet-and-funny-land eventually. In my experience, it sometimes comes from people who are trying to "win" the game by screwing up other peoples' contributions."
Definitely seen that happen, too. That attitude usually passes with some strong peer encouragement or just more frequent play. Because HBR is intended to be an introductory storytelling game, I didn't offer a thorough structure for setting "lines and veils" or narrative precedents. HBR's strengths are that it plays pretty quickly and any discordant contribution is limited to just a few words. Plus, that discordance is half the fun of the game. (It's also part of why I think HBR would make a great engine for an Axe Cop story game.)

One of my favorite stories was the one where a player (a grown adult, mind you) had only two words to contribute. He looked at the story. It was early in the game and the sentence thus far was "Robot searched around the forest for his ____ ___." Whatever Robot was searching for would play a prominent role in the story going forward. He would set the tone for the rest of the game. He leaned forward and scribbled his contribution. He held up the paper, announcing his masterpiece.
Robot searched around the forest for his butt medicine.
Mature themes for mature players. Yup.

» Petrie's Family Games
» Jonathan C. Dietrich's blog
» Seth Ben-Ezra's Blog: A Dark and Quiet Room
» Go Play Peoria
» Art by Rin Aiello

Free Font: Marain Ancient

The last Marain font was so popular, I decided to take another stab at it in a different style. This time, the letterforms are based on Herculanum. (Herculanum is sort of a younger sibling to Papyrus in that it is often over-used, but not nearly as egregiously as its big sister.) As with Marain Script, I imagine this font being used by an ancient culture (lowercase-c) who adopted the language of the Culture (capital-C) long ago.

This time, the font actually has all the proper Marain characters, too. They're mapped according to the chart on the right.

Once again, I used Fontifier to create this font. I am looking for another font creation tool that won't make the characters so pixelated. (Update: Mark Sherry was kind enough clean up the o, O and @ so they're a bit less pixelated.) If you have any suggestions that are just as easy with better results, I'm open to any ideas.

» Free Download: Marain Ancient
» My previous Marain font: Marain Script
» More about the Culture novels by Iain M Banks
» Music: Xenogears OST - Thames, the Men of the Sea

Recoloring "Graduation Day" for Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple

Still tinkering with the color for the art in Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. The last round got some people saying the contrast wasn't quite high enough. Also too much yellow and perhaps it could use a touch of blue for really dark, darks. You can see below the progression that's happened so far.

The first pass had too many pure black shades and all the pilgrims were too much into the foreground. The second pass went too far in the other direction, making everything sort of muddled into the dark paper texture. The third pass seems somewhere in between.

The pilgrims are clear, distinct, but the ones in the back are much further recessed with atmospheric perspective. The darks aren't as severe as the first pass, but just enough to call out things like the hair and so forth. I also took the liberty of coloring the bits of the most foreground pilgrims differently here and there. It's nothing scientific, as you can see in the video above, just going on gut instinct.

I'll return to the other art this weekend, before Ryan gets back with edits to the text. Going back and forth between the visuals and the text like this is a little dizzying, but it's nice to take a break from one to do the other.

» Music: Yoshida Brothers - Storm

Mori McLamb art for Belle of the Ball

Back in October, I sent out a call for artists for Belle of the Ball's prototype tiles. Many talented illustrators answered the call. The selection process was tough, but I finally chose two artists. One is Liz Hooper (now Liz Radtke, thanks to one lucky gent), who did most of the illustrations for Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. You'll see her Belle work soon in a future post.

I also chose artist Mori McLamb, who has proven to be a skilled, directable and professional young illustrator. From the very first sketches, I knew she'd be a great fit. I loved her clean lines and expressive character designs. Her assignment was to do six of the guests, getting as much variety in ages and demeanor as possible. Boy, did she deliver.

The farm boy in the ill-fitting suit on the far left will be a member of the Goatsbury family. The older gentleman in the center has the look of a Boarbottom. The rogue on the far right is likely a Dundifax.

The older woman with kooky eyes is the matriarch of the Crawhole family. The refined woman in the center is no doubt a Lordhurtz. The youngest woman is probably a Richminster. I can't wait to get started designing the prototype guest tiles with Mori McLamb's illustrations. Whee!

» Mori McLamb's Deviant Art Gallery
» Hear more about the project in Mori's own words.
» Many thanks to ThiefOfHearts for recommending Mori.

Case Study: Freemarket Icons and Logos

Montage of Freemarket Game Props and Merchandise
Case Study At a Glance
» Project: Create icon set for a new sci-fi RPG.
» Researched euro-futurist, modernist and post-modernist media.
» Collaborated long-distance, on-budget with regular updates.
» Produced a suite of vector icons.
» Freemarket sold out of all stock in its debut at GenCon.

Jared Sorensen and I first worked together on the layout for the new version of his game Lacuna. A few years ago, he and his partner-in-crime Luke Crane were teasing "Project Donut." A secret new game in development, with little public branding besides enigmatic blog posts and images. Jared and Luke are no johnny-come-latelies to the game business, publishing over a dozen successful indie games between the two of them.

Jared and Luke provided
these icons as examples of
what they had in mind.
Jared and Luke asked me to create a suite of icons for the project. I was eager to get started just to learn more about the game itself. The game was Freemarket, set in an overcrowded, post-scarcity, post-human space colony where social collateral is the common currency. Jared and Luke would be publish it as a full-color boxed set, with counter chips, instruction book and assorted cards. Sorencrane needed icons for wayfinding, infographics and as general spot illustrations.

• 2” Circle
• Avoid Identifiable Humans
• Avoid Body Parts
• Avoid Letters/Numbers
• Avoid Gears
Jared and Luke also requested a few additional constraints on the iconography, which you can see on the right. I'm always up for working within and around creative constraints.

Research is fun!
After learning more about the game's mechanics and the context for the icons themselves, I got to work gathering secondary research. Freemarket is not a crusty post-apocalyptic wasteland or a totalitarian dictatorship, it's a benevolent, altruistic sociocracy. This called for a clean, Eurocentric aesthetic. To get my bearings, I referenced the infographics of modernist science fiction movies (2001 and Alien) as well as later post-modernist flicks (5th Element and Minority Report). I also curated a reference library of minimalist logos from Logo Pond.

Download Freemarket icon PDF
Because the assignment called for so many icons and the project was on a tight budget, we agreed that I would provide the icons in black and white vector with some suggestions for color. For each round of creative, I provided a full PDF document of the whole icon suite. Sorencrane would return that PDF with comments. Those comments would be included in the next document, along with previous iterations of the icons for reference.

The complete suite of Freemarket icons.

You can see how the icons were implemented on the packaging and other game materials in the photos below. (Thanks to John Stavropoulos and Terry Hope Romero for the unboxing pictures.)

Case In Point: The Aggregate
In Freemarket, the space station's residents are cared for by an artificial intelligence called the Aggregate. It provides sustenance, living space, safety and essential biological needs.

This was my first attempt at an icon for the Aggregate. This icon focuses on the idea of aggregation, or many parts joining into a whole. This was Sorencrane's feedback: "The Aggregate is an AI and needs some kind of personality (even though it’s not sentient, nor does it possess a personality). Kinda like the MacOS smiley face or the Apple logo. What we need is the warm and friendly/inviting version of the Paranoia “eyeball in the monitor” image."

The second round's Aggregate icon is simply two eyes, inspired by the expressiveness Pixar achieved in the character Eve from Wall•E. I imagined the Aggregate changing its expression as it interacts with the residents of Freemarket, even though it doesn’t have a proper personality per se. It's just all part of an interface to better serve the residents.

I also mocked up examples of the Aggregate's "expressions." Here you see "Virus Detected," "Security Threat," and "Sleep Mode."

» Photos courtesy of John Stavropoulos and Terry Hope Romero
» Freemarket Unboxing
» More about Freemarket
» More about Logopond
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.