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

Thank You.

It's the season of giving thanks here in the states. I have far too many people to thank in one post, so the best I can do is hit the broad strokes.

Thanks to gamers everywhere. Your tastes vary, your homes far flung, but you all come together with friends to play. You keep our hobby alive, but more importantly, you have fun.

Special thanks to the friends and supporters who helped my growth as a game designer for all these years. Your wisdom is invaluable.

One super-special thanks to my loving wife, who puts up with all my goofiness, distractions and passions.


[In the Lab] 5x5

This is a post from the old blog, but I want to preserve it in the current lab. I still talk about it with Fred occasionally, so you never know when I'll pick it up again.


UPDATE: Fred just posted his continued thoughts of from his original inspiration post here.


A while back, Fred Hicks wrote up this cool idea where superpowers came from a mysterious radio signal. Certain people are "Receivers" for this signal and are regulated by the FCC.

We talked about incorporating a bit of HAM radio jargon. Specifically the phrase "5 by 5," meaning that a radio signal has perfect signal strength ("5") and perfect signal clarity("5").

The natural systemic representation for this would be a 2d6 system, wherein one die represents signal strength and the other signal clarity. "6" results would be special cases, representing some kind of critical-something-or-other.

I woke up with further thoughts on how to express this as a superpower. Of course, these re-tread some other ideas I've used in Do and Happy Birthday Robot, but I beg indulgence one more time. :P

I'm imagining Receivers as radio-powered analogues to the Marauders. Swirling balls of reality-bending chaos that must be contained or destroyed for the sake of universal coherence. With that in mind, here's my idea for how to handle radio-powers:

Step 1: Roll
On your turn, if you choose to use a radio power, first roll two six-sided dice. One die represents signal strength. One die represents signal clarity. Those designations are decided at the beginning of the game.

Step 2: Strength
You may describe some amazing feat of radio-powered reality-bending, but your description is limited. You may only describe this event in a number of words equal to your Strength die result, to a maximum of 5. (Results of "6" are discussed after these steps.)

You always have the word "I" as a free word, though. Saying "I," in your description does not count against this word limit.

For example: You rolled a "3" on your strength die. That means you could say something like the following sentences:

"I turn into fire."
"I blow freezing wind."
"I jam the signal."

Step 3: Clarity

Here's where things get tricky. Now your description will be modified based on the result on your Clarity die.
Oh wait, I just realized a problem here. My original idea was to make each player take turns changing one word in the description. The number of turns would be determined by the Clarity die. So if you rolled a 4, then four players would each take a turn changing one word of your description.

The idea was that radio powers are unpredictable and dangerous, sometimes causing unintended events.

But that doesn't fit the "5 by 5" theme if a higher number is supposed to be a clearer signal. Oh well, you see where I was going with it. :P

Oh yeah, and the idea for 6s is that they give you "Amps," You can put an amp on a word in your description so that it may not be changed.

Game Design and Real Life on Dice+Food+Lodging

Interviews with Daniel Solis
Here's Part 2 of my conversation with Tim Rodriguez on Dice+Food+Lodging, talking about applying lessons of game design to real life. Also some discussion of mechaphors, games Buddha won't play and Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple.

» Dice+Food+Lodging: Episode 020 – Conversation with Daniel Solis, part 2

Recoloring Illustrations for Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple [Video]

Liz Hooper is the head illustrator for Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. Well, technically, she's Liz Radtke now, but she's always going to be Hooper to me.

Anyhoo, she drew a bunch of awesome large-format illustrations for Do last year and it's been a while since I looked at my coloring job on them. I decided to go back and mellow out the contrasts and make the color scheme more consistent. The saffrons and reds are based on Tibetan Buddhist robes.

The video above is a full-screen recording of my process. I usually crop my screencasts to a small area of the monitor, but I figured it couldn't hurt to go full size this time. Here are the re-colored illustrations so far.

» More from Liz Hooper
» Music made especially for Do by Matt S. Wilson

Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple – Production Schedule

Draft 2 is complete. The word count for this draft roughly 35,000 words, mostly comprised of examples of play, advice, inspiration tools to improve your game. Now it's in Ryan Macklin's capable editing hands. Here's the current schedule:

Draft 0: The 80,000 word behemoth I wrote a year ago.
Goal: Get all the possible content for the game in one document.
Status: Done, December 2009

Draft 1: A from-scratch new draft written with several months' hindsight.
Goal: Review and revise the main text to only the bare procedures. Trim fat. Post those procedures online and play as much as possible.
Status: Done, September 2010

Draft 2: A re-organized draft based on Ryan's first high-level edits.
Goal: Add examples of play and advice to make the text truly complete.
Status: Done, November 2010

Draft 3: A final draft deeply edited by Ryan.
Goal: Ryan's edits scrub every pore, pulling out blemishes in the text.
Schedule: December 2010 or January 2011, depending on Ryan's availability.

Gamma Test: A full layout procedural chapter.
Goal: Play at Dreamation 2011.
Schedule: January – February 2011

Final Draft: The complete book, cover to cover.
Goal: Get PDF out to pre-orderers early to spot typos.
Schedule: Late February 2011

Print: Complete prepped file for the printer.
Goal: Give printer at least two months lead time to print the book.
Schedule: Early March 2011

Distribute: Ship out the book to pre-orderers and retailers.
Goal: Perhaps some extra digital bonuses for pre-orderers?
Schedule: Late May 2011

Launch: First major appearance of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple
Goal: Sell some copies at Origins, but focus on getting more buzz. Press release. Schedule podcast interviews. Online content.
Schedule: Late June 2011

Spike: Realistically, the peak of all sales.
Goal: Sell as many copies as possible at GenCon.
Schedule: August 2011

Slope: Post-GenCon and Holiday Sales
Goal: Post new letters and FAQs. Keep responding to any questions on forums.
Schedule: September – December 2011

Long Tail: Post-rush sales.
Goal: Keep Do in public consciousness. Submit for award consideration.
Schedule: 2012 and beyond

Happy Birthday, Robot! at the Ennies!

Wow, it seems like quite a week for HBR news, doesn't it? Fred Hicks tweeted this not long ago...

Ennies submission for Happy Birthday, Robot taken care of. They already had the DFRPG. Hopeful for Evil Hat's chances this coming year.less than a minute ago via web

And sure enough, Happy Birthday, Robot! is now on the submissions page!

I hope it does well. It's such an odd duck in terms of gameplay, but the mission behind it seems to have a lot of supporters. Whatever your personal preferences for crunch, story, and all that other game nerdery, you love the hobby and want to see it flourish. Happy Birthday, Robot! is one just one game in a vanguard, introducing the hobby to a new generation.

» Ennie Awards Homepage

Josh Rensch reviews Happy Birthday, Robot!

Josh Rensch just posted a kind review of Happy Birthday, Robot! on his blog. Here are some highlights:
"A wonderfully simple story building game that is fun for everyone. [...] Played it several times with both kids and just adults. It was fun either way but when it's adult only, it really gets interesting. [...] I get distracted by looking at this beautiful little book, so if I stop typing for a bit, that’s what happened. [...] If you have kids that are somewhat interested in our little niche hobby, you owe it to yourself to pick it up."
Josh's review just got picked up by, too! Woot!

» Review: Happy Birthday, Robot!
» Discussion thread:
» See more at Josh's Blog: GM with ADD

Short Experiences with Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple

The most recent episode of the Podge Cast talks a little bit about little games. One-shots, specifically, and how Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple can be used to create modular one-shots for conventions.

I'm glad that the group picked up on that just from the basic rules on the blog, because that's one of the fundamental design goals I had from the beginning: A setting that is divided up into little, independent chunks that the group can focus on for one session and reincorporate later, if they wish. That way, you avoid the problem of a huge setting chapter with only a fraction of information relevant for actual play.

Check out the episode towards the end, around the 30 minute mark, when the Podge Cast guys discuss Do before they get a chance to play it. "World's crappiest Santa" is a good synopsis. (You may want to skip the opening story if you're eating lunch.)

» The Podge Cast: TPC 114: Short Experiences
» Art by Liz Hooper

Sustainable Games: Arimaa, New Forest and Elephant Poo

Following up some of my thoughts from yesterday... If you're like me, you love the look and feel of playing with real wooden or stone pieces. Nothing beats the moving a carved stone bishop across a board. A piece with substantial heft.

Unfortunately, there is only so much good stone to go around and current lumber practices aren't doing much to keep deforestation in check. So, New Forest teamed up with a woodworking cooperative called "Agua y Monte" to create these gorgeous hand-crafted wooden Arimaa sets.

Arimaa is a chess-like game designed to be easily played by humans and hard to play for computers. I love such an anthropocentric game being made by real human artisans out of natural materials. (Considering the game is patented, I wonder what involvement Omar Syed has in this arrangement.)

New Forest will auction off sets and a portion of the proceeds go towards New Forest's reforestation efforts. Here's what New Forest says about their mission: "At New Forest Earth, our goal is to help people in Latin America make a living from their forests without destroying them. As part of that mission, we help people get more value out of a smaller amount of wood, so that they can cut fewer trees down and still send their kids to school."

On the other side of the world, artisans are using their locally sustainable, abundant materials to create board games. In their case, that material is elephant dung. Or "poo" as the announcer says. (Video automatically starts at the board game stuff.)

» Elephant Dung Paper
» Arimaa
» Via: Purple Pawn

1,000 Year Game Design

I dream of designing games that could be played out in the African Savannah. Games that you can play with little more than the earth and rocks around you. Rules simple enough to remember without printed text, but with enough depth to draw fans for a thousand years.

The ancient games that survive today – Chess, Tag, Soccer, Mancala, Hide and Seek, Go, Senet, and countless folk games – all evolved under environmental pressures totally different than the current commercial model.

A design had to be simple enough to teach and remember by word of mouth. If a rule wasn't remembered, but people still played the game, then the rule didn't need to be there. Generation by generation, the rules evolved to local tastes, stripped of anything that else.

The experience had to be rewarding enough to even bother teaching or remembering. When you're a wandering nomad with little down time between tending your herd, fighting off predators and keeping your family healthy, you have a lot on your mind.

The game pieces had to be common enough to be accessible to all members of society. Even while rich and powerful play with elaborately crafted game equipment, the everyday enthusiast could cobble together a rubber ball or some rocks. You can play chess in palaces or city parks. An ancillary aspect to accessibility is making sure that whatever equipment your game does use is sustainable, both in raw materials and production.

I'm pretty sure these are the attributes that shaped the oldest games:
Simple. Rewarding. Accessible. Put all that together and you have an elegant game with a strong chance of lasting for many generations. Maybe even a thousand years.

Those seem like ambitious standards, but worthy.

Updated Blog Design

Just revised the blog layout because it felt narcissistic to have my name and portrait so big at the top. Now both, along with the main nav, are tucked alongside the games in the sidebar. Also widened the space between main content and sidebar.

All of this is to keep the freshest, most up-to-date content at the top left of the homepage when you first arrive. The secondary purpose is so that when a post is seen on its own, it looks more like a proper individual page.

See for yourself, click on any of the games on the menu. Instead of my big afro, the game's title and title graphic takes center stage as it rightly should. I look forward to releasing more interesting games in the future and I'm confident this new layout will suit those plans well.

Happy Birthday, Robot! "Happy Wedding, Neil & Stephanie!"

On the most recent Jennisode, Tim mentioned playing Happy Birthday, Robot! after his friend Neil's wedding. Their first sentence was "Happy Wedding, Neil and Stephanie!" I really want to see how that story turned out. Apparently it was good enough for Tim to frame and present to the happy couple as a wedding gift!

» Jennisodes: Episode 12

The Podge Cast plays Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple

Just got done listening to a heeee-larious episode of the Podge Cast where the hosts play a raucous game of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. Pilgrims Tasty Sandwich, Moist Raptor, Turbulent River and Slippery Ladder cause all sorts of mayhem when they're called to deal with robots, family problems and a secret weapon called "The Mangler." It's got explicit language and imagery, but it is a heee-larious session.

What's really intriguing to me is how they approach the game as being about "the worst angels ever," which is actually really accurate. I mean, when half the problems feature a machine called "The Mangler," you know why the pilgrims have a reputation as a solution of last resort.

The highlight has gotta be at the end of the game when they realize that after all the chaos they caused, they still got a Parades ending. The whole thing is very funny, though. Megan and I were laughing the whole way through.

Listen with caution if you're around kids. The players use explicit language and imagery in their story that may not be suitable for younger listeners. Listen and laugh with headphones on.

» The Podge Cast: RPC 113 Pilgrims of the Flying Temple

Embargo Nerds

One of the things I love about designing abstract strategy games is that you can usually find suitable game bits all around you.

In this case, I wanted to demo Embargo for a co-worker while I was in the Raleigh-Durham office. Normally the game calls for a chess board and some pawns, but none were to be found at this office. (We'd be all set if we were in the OKC office, as you well know.)

So we improvised this setup using a supply of leftover Halloween candy and used the grid on the cutting board as our game space. Worked out pretty well. And yes, I see the irony of playing a board game with nerds candy. :P

Quantum of Solis 2010: You kinda had to be there.

I was in Durham, NC on business but stayed an extra night so I could meet up with some friends in the area. Seems like the nexus of southern US nerdery is right in the middle of NC, or that's my perception from Oklahoma City.

My NC office is in the American Tobacco district, which you can see here is a lovely area. Very similar to OKC's own Bricktown district. So much so that I felt at home even when wandering around before dawn. Rainy mornings, crisp afternoons and so much delicious local food. Mushroom empanada and guava shake? Yes, please.

But the highlight of the trip was definitely spending time with Mur, Remi, Matt, Julie, Ruth and Scott at Tyler's Taproom. We spent many hours discussing all topics geekly.

"The Swedes have it all figured out."
  • Whether it's worthwhile to get through sub-par episodes of a TV series if it ends well.
  • The Swedish social construct that lies somewhere between "girlfriend/boyfriend" and spouse. We called it Bulbasaur. Long story.
  • The quality of local beers, barbecues and this "barbecue tofu" I have only heard about in stories told around a campfire.
  • Matt's defense of the fourth Indiana Jones movie, atomic fridge and all.
  • Mur's love of the Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men by Annie Rush.
And too much other stuff to list here. I don't know where or when the next Quantum is going to be, but I look forward to seeing you there and then.

Name Tag

Name Tag Game
Name Tag is a high energy, no-impact version of tag. It's great with large groups in a playground or park. It also helps players practice learning large groups of people's names in a completely different context than a party or formal social gathering.

Stuff You Need
At least three players, but the more the better.
A referee who is an impartial arbiter outside the game.
Adhesive name tags, one for each player.
A marker for the referee.
A timer for the referee, but this is optional.

The referee writes a random word on each name tag.
The players all stand in a circle facing each other.
The referee walks around the circle, sticking a name tag on each player's back.
As she does so, she whispers to the player what their "name" is.
At the beginning of the game, no player knows each other's name, only their own.

The referee begins the game.
Players try to read as many other player's name tags as possible.
Players will run around trying to outflank each other. No contact is allowed.
The referee ends the game after a certain period of time.
Each player then tries to remember as many other player's names as they can.

For each name you remember, earn a point.
Example: You remembered Cat, Lunch and Truck so you earn 3 points.)

For each person you can correctly name, earn another point.
Example: You remember Larry is Lunch and Sally is Cat, so you earn 2 more points.

The player with the most points wins.

On Creativity and Gaming, on Dice+Food+Lodging

Interviews with Daniel Solis
Had a long conversation with Tim of the Dice+Food+Lodging podcast discussing all kinds of gaming-related goodness. The first part of that discussion is now online. I imagine Tim will be able to pull at least two more episodes out of that conversation, it was so long. See? This is what happens when people don't tell me to shaddup. :P

» Dice+Food+Lodging: Episode 019 – Conversation with Daniel Solis part 1

Presenting Emergent Play

There's a discussion on Story Games about how to go beyond minimum instruction in game texts. The primary problem, at least in my view, is the increased word count necessary when entering the realm of advice and strategy guide.

Player A wants just the reference text, not to be bothered with advice on this and that. Player B wants to know why he's doing what he's being asked to do, even if it reveals otherwise emergent elements of play. Heck, Players A and B may in fact be the same player at different times in their learning of the game.

Here's one way I'm trying to reconcile the tastes of both players: There is a section explicitly called out as non-procedural "advice" text. It is set apart from "instruction" text by a variety of layout conventions (smaller font size, leading, number of columns, etc.).
Example: You're in a part of the book where there are are a number of branching options, some of which will call on you to describe a scene. Rather than repeat the same advice in each branch, there is a preface titled "How to Describe a Scene." It is set in an 8pt sans serif while the main instructional text is set in 11pt serif.
This is distinct from a typical sidebar because the content isn't quite so tangential to the flow of reading. It's something that is just as important and deserves as much attention to the instruction, but can be visually skipped for those readers already familiar with those details and are now only using the text for reference.
Example: When you were first learning the game and reading the book, you read the instructional text and the advice text as a single continuous flow. When you go back for reference, you can easily skip the advice because it is so visually distinct.
That advice text is split up into a number of subsections concerning particular issues that frequently come up in play. Sections about long-term strategies, when it is appropriate to choose Door 1 or Door 2, optimal decisions to make here or there, and all supported with a peek under the hood of the game system.
Example: "How to Describe a Scene" is split up into sub-sections like "Describing a Scene Using the Five Senses" "How to Build on Another Player's Contributions" and "When You Should Save or Spend Plot Points."
Not all this advice is relevant in all branching paths of play, but it is relevant enough that it's useful to have it available all in one place. That advice established, you can continue into the branching paths of instruction and back-reference to specific advice where necessary. This method also allows enough space to write advice text that really is only relevant to branching path 1, 2, or 3, without burdening Branch 1 with advice that is only relevant in Branch 3.
Example: You're reading a later part of the book concerning one particular branch of play procedure. The instruction says "Describe a scene where the antagonist and your character have a heated argument." The advice section calls back to "How to Build on Another Player's Contributions" and "When You Should Save or Spend Plot Points." It does not call back to "Describing a Scene Using the Five Senses" because it is not especially relevant in this part of play. Furthermore, this part of the book has very specific advice like "How Antagonists Argue" and "In Case Things Turn Violent."
Having general advice in one place also allows you to work back references into an example of play.
Example: Ted is describing his character Tarak getting into a heated argument with Lord Bonecrusher. He's having a little bit of creative block, so he refers back to the advice on page XX. Specifically, he's having trouble deciding the nature of the argument without it turning violent. He sees in "How Antagonists Argue" that the antagonist may have a subordinate do the arguing. That subordinate doesn't have the authority to start a fight, but may shout and gnash teeth viciously. So, Ted describes Lord Bonecrusher leaning back in his throne, shrouded by shadows while his lackey Squick Anklebiter rattles his saber at Tarak.
This is one way we might be able to reconcile the amount of space required to go beyond minimum instruction while still being economical with our word count.

» Story Games: RPG Texts: Going Beyond Minimum Instruction

Reminder: Quantum of Solis 2010

On Friday, November 5, let's all get a big table at Tyler's Taproom at around 7pm. We'll have some food, drinks, laughs and maybe some gaming if we're not too beat.

Looks like we have at least five or six people who have RSVPed. If you're coming, leave a comment on the original post.

[Split Decision] Alpha Testing with Mark Sherry

I sometimes hear about game designers who are just naturally mathematically gifted. Not being one of those designers, I am fortunate to have Mark Sherry as a contact.

Here's our process. I'll tweet a random game idea or mention it on the blog, without really considering the long-term mathematical implications. That's where Mark's giant brain steps in, working out every idiosyncratic permutation of every variable. At times, he'll even create simple AI players, each with different strategies, just to see how those players stack up against each other.

He shares his observations and I'll be confused for many hours until he dumbs it down enough for me. Eventually I sorta "get" it and I'll get back to work tweaking rules if necessary. Here's an example of Mark in action, analyzing Split Decision.

We know from these charts that if a player chooses the highest pair at all times, he's probably going to get a 10. Working from that base, you can adjust the thematic and fictional elements of your game to center around that number. Make that number tempting enough that a player would want it, despite whatever long-term costs might bear out in the future.

Sometimes Mark will send something like this:
In something like the Matrix game, the goal is presumably to last as long as possible, while succeeding in tasks as much as possible. There is an optimal strategy for that, and I believe I've found it. To do something like choose always red is suicidal - you'll last only 5 turns. Playing smart, you'll last closer to 10 turns. (Average: 28 dice rolls for a 3 player game.)
And that gets translated into some simple game rules like this:
Rules: Play goes around the circle. Each player has his or her own red and blue tracks. If a player's track hits 10 items, then they are eliminated. The target number is 7. If a player fails to reach the TN twice, they are eliminated. Play continues until all players are eliminated. (Unimplemented variant(s): If a player is eliminated, all other players can either remove a dot from a track, or cancel a failure) With three players and 10000 games, the average game length was 28.721 dice rolls long.
Which leads to conclusions like this:
The maximum game length is 10 turns per player, since after that point, you've accumulated 20 track points. Given the greatest number of track points you can have before being eliminated is 9+9=18, you have to have completed at least one of the tracks.That gives you a frame for your game. With an endpoint in sight, you can create a pacing mechanic that works within those boundaries.

Needless to say, I recommend getting Mark's input if you need some alpha testing for your game. In my mind, it's as important as getting a good editor.

» Mark Sherry: mdsherry at gmail dot com
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.