Writer's Dice Update #2

As of Saturday night, we have 833 dice pre-ordered and we still have a week left in the campaign. Incredible. I just posted this little video above to show how the dice roll. Nothing fancy, just a product demo. :)

Superhero Audition Card Game

You're voting for your city's new official superhero! You'll test each candidate in a series of elimination rounds until only one hero is left! Vote wisely!
» Development Status: Beta
» Design Notes

Stuff You Need
1-6 Players
10-20 Minutes
A pencil and paper to keep score
A token to mark the First Player
A deck of Superhero Audition Cards

Each player gets their own set of three cards. One card has a star, the second card an X, the third has a robber. Keep your cards hidden so no one can see what's in your hand. Shuffle the hero cards and lay out a row of seven cards with the hero-side facing up. Place the remaining deck at one end of the row with the crisis-side facing up. The First Player token goes to the oldest player.

How To Play
Step 1: The Debate
There is a crisis afoot in the city! Consider the question on the crisis card and debate who you think the other players should vote for or against. You have no real information about the heroes except what's on the cards, so feel free to infer details. Example: Household pets are rebelling against their masters! Who can make peace between the species?

Step 2: The Vote
The player with the First Player token votes first. Turns continue clockwise around the table. On your turn, use your star to vote for a hero OR use your X to vote against a hero. Make sure your cards are face down so no one can tell who you've voted for or against. After voting, pass the First Player token to the player on your left. Example: After some debate, the players cast their votes as shown above. Player 1 voted first, followed by players 2, 3 and 4.

Step 3: The Results
Once all the votes are cast, turn the player cards face-up. You will score one point for every vote on a hero that matches your own. Any opposing votes on that hero will deduct from the available points. If you're the only one to vote for or against a hero, you'll score one point for that hero. Example: The players reveal their votes and score points accordingly...

Player 1 voted for Vampire Matt [STAR], but another player voted against [X]. Those votes cancel each other out, meaning there are zero points available to Player 1 from Vampire Matt. Player 1 voted against Professor Pharaoh [X], but another player voted for [STAR]. Those votes cancel each other out, meaning there are zero points available to Player 1 from Professor Pharaoh. That's a grand total of +0 points for this round. Ouch.

Player 2 voted for Professor Pharoah, but another player voted against. Those votes cancel each other out, meaning there are zero points available to Player 2 from Professor Pharaoh. Player 2 voted against Baby Hands McGee and there were no other votes for or against, so Player 2 gets 1 point from Baby Hands McGee. That's a total of +1 point this round.

Player 3 voted against Vampire Matt, but another player voted for. Those votes cancel each other out, meaning there are zero points available to Player 3 from Vampire Matt. Player 3 voted for Zoobot and another player agreed, so Player 3 gets 2 points from Zoobot. That's a total of +2 points this round.

Player 4 voted for Zoobot and another player agreed, so Player 4 gets 2 points from Zoobot. Player 4 voted against Scotch Ape and there were no other votes for or against, so Player 4 gets 1 point from Scotch Ape. That's a total of +3 points this round.

Step 4: The Elimination
After scoring, the hero who got the most stars moves to the end of the row closest to the crisis deck. In case of a tie, whoever is already closest wins. The hero who got the most Xs is eliminated and their card is placed at the bottom of the crisis deck. In case of a tie, whoever is already farthest wins. (Well, "winning" is relative in that case.) If a hero got opposing votes, those votes cancel each other out. Example: Zoobot got the most stars, so she moves to spot closest to the crisis deck. Vampire Matt, Professor Pharaoh, Baby Hands McGee and Scotch Ape each got one X, so let's sort this out. Vampire Matt and Professor Pharaoh each got a star, canceling out their Xs, so they're both safe. That leaves Baby Hands McGee and Scotch Ape, each with an X against them. Unfortunately for Scotch Ape, he's farthest from the crisis deck, so he's eliminated. His card is placed at the bottom of the crisis deck.

This ends the round. Play continues with a new round from Step 1, with a new crisis revealed on top of the crisis deck.

The Robber Card
During the voting step, you can use the Robber card as your vote. The Robber itself isn't worth any points. Instead, The Robber gives all the available points from the chosen hero to you and no one else. If multiple players place a Robber on a hero, they both get the available points from that hero. However, multiple robbers on the same hero do not count as matching votes. So, if a hero only gets Robbers, it is not worth any points. Example: The example above shows the results of a later round of play. Three players all voted for Vampire Matt. Under normal circumstances, those three players would all get 3 points, but because Player 1 has used his Robber on Vampire Matt, only Player 1 gets those points. In addition, he scores 2 points because he voted against Baby Hands McGee and another player had a matching vote. That's a grand total of +5 points. Good comeback!

How To Win
The game ends when there is only one hero remaining in the lineup. The player with the most points wins!

Design Notes
You can see some influences here from Apples to Apples, the Resistance, and Dixit. It all blends together shockingly well. The one thing I like most about the game is that you can use your old superhero cards or just about any other card from any other CCG as long as it depicts a person or creature of some kind.

#TweetTreasure [Twitter]

And then there was the time a bunch of people on Twitter came up with a bunch of treasures and magic items under the hashtag #TweetTreasure. Sadly, I neglected to save them all, but a few are commemorated in this Dragon Age Oracle post:

@wordwill: Rod of Misrule: This simple wooden branch, wrapped in twine at one end, compels its bearer to tell lies. #TweetTreasure

@sodmikail: Witch-hunter Ring: Hold the ring to your eye. Peering through it will reveal any glamour or illusion. #tweettreasure

@highmoon: The wearer of the Polyglot’s Earring understands any spoken sentient language except their native one(s). #TweetTreasure

More are saved in this FriendFeed history:

» Photo: CC-NC-SA-BY Ben Beard

Crisis in Superhero Audition [In the Lab]

You last heard me talk about Superhero Audition in this post, and its numerous extra edits. I've settled on a much more streamlined concept for the game: You and the other players are city council members voting on the city's new official superhero. Voting occurs in a series of elimination rounds, like American Idol. In each round, you have a new hypothetical crisis to base your vote.

A kitten is stuck in a tree! Who would be rescue it most gently?
Aliens steal Earth's moon! Who can bring it back?
An earthquake strikes California! Who can help the entire Pacific coast at once?
Orpheo the Necromancer summons a a ghost army! Who can defeat his magic?
The children's hospital hosts a charity event! Who's most popular with kids?

I asked the crowd on Google+ for some of their own ideas on crises. Nothing is too absurd! You know how silly the Silver Age was after all. I want a wide variety of situations, from small street-level stuff to giant global threats. Here are a few of my favorites, in some cases refined or reworded for consistency.

Chrono-Tom stopped time! Who can re-start it?
Shuteye sprays sleeping gas over the city from his blimp! Who can stay awake?
Cretaceous Z released all the animals from the zoo! Who can round them up?
The President's daughter is secretly a villain! Who can convince the president?
That child is about to be run over by that run away car! Who can save him?
A puzzling series of locked-room murders strike the city! Who can solve them?
Poseidon floods Manhattan as his underwater city! Who can hold back the sea?
An ancient space creature returns to Earth to lay its eggs! Who can turn it away?
Reboot is trying to rewrite history! Who can convince her to leave things be?
A mob boss is on trial! Who can convince the jury to put him behind bars?
Peaceful aliens visit Earth! Who is the best ambassador for Earth?
It's time for the Halloween costume contest! Who wins?
California is falling into the Pacific Ocean! Who can save it?
Pirates boarded the International Space Station! Who can get them out?
Cromax turned the world's leaders into apes! Who can restore their humanity?
Condenso shrinks the heroes to the size of mice! Who can still save the day?

Can you come up with any more crises? I need many, many more.

Photo: CC-BY-NC NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center

Writer's Dice Update #1

What an epic first weekend! We reached 100% funding in the first 14 hours. Over 200% funded in the first weekend.

As of now, we'll produce at least 430 dice! The next highest quantity we estimated with our vendor was 1000, which would be awesome. Our pace is slowing down now, so I don't know if we'll get that many orders. Who knows? 430 in three days seemed unlikely, too. We'll see!

Survey Question: Which games would you like to see in the PDF guide? I've got Happy Birthday, Robot!, Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, and Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

Writer's Dice Kickstarter is Live!

The Kickstarter for Writer's Dice is now live! For a limited time only, you can pre-order your own set of Writer's Dice. If you order two dice or more, you'll get a PDF guide for using Writer's Dice in writing and gaming.

The whole creation process for these dice is documented on this blog. See the initial idea for these dice here. The design for the prototype here. A photo gallery of the finished prototypes here. Budgeting for the campaign here. Making of the video here.

Click the link on the right and pledge your support for Writer's Dice. Thanks!

Prepping for the Writer's Dice Kickstarter: Part 2 - The Video

So you've heard my usual advice for making a Kickstarter video. All that still applies. Here was my strategy for this video in particular.

I was greatly inspired by Trey Parker and Matt Stone's lesson to NYU writing students in which they shared their technique for outlining a plot. In their lesson, they break out each beat so there's always a "therefore" or a "but" in between. That makes a naturally flowing sequence of events. It's a great lesson and one that fits seamlessly into the main appeal of Writer's Dice, to select the most meaningful words to connect each beat.

Normally, I'd start off a Kickstarter video as if it were a short 30sec commercial for the project. This time, I decided to neatly present that writing lesson into a cute tutorial, something like Common Craft or One-Minute Science. Megan and I brainstormed all the ways we could present this lesson: Stop-motion props? Stock art with silly voices? A sketch with actors in costume?

Finally, I settled on using the papery figures from Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. You might recognize the girl with hair buns from the examples of play in the latter half of the book. I dreaded the thought of animating in Flash, though. Surely there would be an easier way to do this.

I ended up recording a screencast from Photoshop. I just moved the individual layers around as needed. I hid the mouse and cursor during the export, then I brought together those screencasts in iMovie and sped them up about 2000%... yes, literally 2000%. Essentially, I was using the same stop-motion technique as a Common Craft video, but entirely on the computer. I wrapped up the video with a description of the dice and long close-up shots of the dice prototypes.

The video is titled "How to Write the Plot for your Story" in the hopes of capturing some SEO in the last few weeks leading up to 2011's NaNoWriMo. The whole video is designed to be (hopefully) edu-taining enough to be shared on its own, thus drawing more eyeballs to the Kickstarter campaign.

Prepping for the Writer's Dice Kickstarter: Part 1: Pricing

In the spirit of transparency, here's the cost breakdown for the Writer's Dice. This is the kind of budgeting and planning you have to do before you launch any Kickstarter campaign.

Production Estimate
Quantity: 100
19mm, .4 oz, Opaque Square-edged Blank Dice, Red
Custom etching on each face
Each die costs $1.75, a total of $175.

Shipping (according to USPS Price List Effective June 6, 2011)
Domestic package shipping up to 3oz (~4 dice + padded envelope) costs $1.71
To Canada, it costs up to $2.24
To Mexico, it costs up to $2.86
Everywhere else, up to $3.46

Pricing Strategy
I want to charge a flat rate of $5 per die, just like the Mathematician's Dice kickstarter. That means the single-die orders are going to be the most costly for us. We'll only have about $1.50 cushion for a single-die domestic order. We'll take At least a 17¢ hit on each single-die international order.

So, we have a couple options here. First, we can just hope we'll have more domestic orders than international and that they will offset our losses. Furthermore, if we have roughly the same turnout as the Mathematician's Dice, the vast majority of our backers will order multiple dice at once. That will further offset any small losses from international orders.

Otherwise, our other option is to charge shipping for international orders. Not sure how the Mathematician's Dice kickstarter afforded not charging international shipping, but I assume they went with the strategy described above and hoped for the best. I think I will do the same. A flat rate for all orders is nice and simple for the customer.

In the Mathematician's Dice campaign, only 83 got a single die. 669 backers got two dice at $10 and 413 got four dice at $20. Assuming The MD team had the same costs as us and these were all international orders outside of North America, those single orders cost them a total of $17.43. The two-die orders got a total profit of $662.04. The four-die orders got a total profit of $3940.02. Their highest tier, $50, only got 60 orders, but each one is a massive profit that more than offset the single orders.

Now, there is a very valid argument to be made in favor of including full shipping charge in the pledge amount, so single orders would be $7. (Essentially charging $5 for each die plus $3 for the shipping.) Then we cut that price down to $10 for two dice. And so on, offering further discount deals at higher quantities. It's a totally valid structure, and one we're weighing, but we honestly just like the no-muss, no-fuss single-price, even if it doesn't explicitly encourage a higher-volume order.

In the end, we'll probably end up with a compromise clause in the single-order pledge tier: "International orders, please add $1." That would suffice to cover the additional expense and still keep our otherwise smooth pricing structure.

This doesn't even take into account the percentage cut that Kickstarter and Amazon will take from the final Kickstarter pledges. But let's set that aside for another time. :P

EDIT: And, of course, after bringing it up with Megan, she immediately came up with an elegant solution. Offer a PDF product at the $10 level to encourage a jump from one die to two. A handy little guide for incorporating Writer's Dice into games and using them in writing exercises on their own. No cost to us, but it would be just enough to spur an impulse upgrade. Nice!

EDIT 2: Okay, we figured out the expenses for the Kickstarter and Amazon cuts. Turns out we must compromise on the $5 flat price in the case of international orders. An extra buck or two for international orders should cover the extra costs.

Writer's Dice Prototype Photo Gallery

Well, that was fast! Gamestation comes through yet again with super-prompt turnaround I've come to expect.

These dice are a little larger than your average dice, with a satisfying heft to their roll. I am very impressed with the detail they managed to pull out of the lettering. Those thin inner strokes are incredibly fine.

See more pics on the Flickr stream. Now, I can begin prepping the Kickstarter campaign in earnest!

A Reductive Variant of ZOMBIES!!! [In the Lab]

[UPDATE: This post eventually became PARTICLE PANIC.]

This idea came out of a brief discussion about ZOMBIES!!! and how it can sometimes drag out too long if the map gets too big. I got to thinking about how you can make a somewhat similar game using no map at all. A circular, claustrophobic, co-operative scenario like a high-tech lab overrun by its undead creations. Hm! Here are some very, very loose notes.

Torus Lab contains the deadliest viruses known to science. Well, contained. Now, infected staff run rampant through the ring-shaped facility, madly trying to escape. Only the last surviving scientists can find a cure for the four strains of the plague and save the world.

1-6 players
A pawn for each player
A blue die and a red die
Two decks of playing cards shuffled together
Lots of zombie miniatures

Shuffle the deck and deal three cards to each player. Cut the remaining deck into six roughly equal stacks. Arrange those stacks in a circle. Reveal the top card on each stack and place it face-up on top. Each stack is as a space on the game board. Each space is numbered 1 through 6. (Maybe use a post-it to mark this?)

Pawns start at the first space. Place one zombie in each remaining space. Your pawns move per the normal movement rules from ZOMBIES!!!, except that you're moving along the ring instead of on a map tile. You must fight zombies along the way, as per normal combat rules.

When you end your turn on a space that is clear of zombies, you can draw the top card from that deck and keep it in your hand. When you do so, turn over the next card face-up and place it on top of the stack. There is an upper hand limit of five cards.

Once during your turn, you may use cards in the following ways, depending on the suit. You may use as many cards as you wish.

Discard a HEART to reroll a combat die.
Discard a CLUB to add 1 to a combat die result.
Discard a DIAMOND to move your pawn one space.
Discard a SPADE to move a zombie one space.

If a player loses a combat roll, their hand limit is reduced by one.

If you land on the same space as another player, you may give that player any number of your cards. The upper hand limit still applies, meaning that player must immediately discard back down to five cards.

At the end of each turn, 1-6 zombies spawn at a random space. Roll two dice. The red die notes how many zombies will spawn. The blue die notes the space where they will spawn. A space cannot have more than six zombies. If a space ever spawns enough zombies to go over six, split the extra zombies among the neighboring spaces however you wish. Repeat as necessary until all zombies are spawned somewhere on the board.

The goal is to develop a cure for the zombie plague. The plague comes in four different strains, so you must find a cure for each. You can develop a cure on your turn by discarding a full set of five-of-a-kind cards. In other words, you must discard five HEARTS to cure the heart strain, five CLUBS to cure the club strain, five DIAMONDS to cure the diamond strain and five SPADES to cure the spade strain.

The game ends if there is no more room to spawn new zombies; if any player's hand limit is reduced to zero; or if a space runs out of cards. If you cannot find a cure before these events happen, the virus breaches containment and you'll lose the game.

So those are the loose thoughts. It might become a thing by Halloween.

EDIT: As a commenter points out below, this would be better themed as an accident in in the LHC. With that theme, I'd remove ZOMBIES!!!-style zombie movement entirely. Instead of zombies, the danger is widening rifts represented by rift tokens. They stay where they spawn, unless moved by spending spades. Yeeesss. I like this.

» Photo: CC-BY-SA RMTip21

"A lot to love." Wired GeekDad Reviews Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple

Hot dog! Michael Harrison of Wired GeekDad previously covered the buzz surrounding Do's Kickstarter campaign early this year. Now GeekDad MJ Harnish offers up this in-depth review of the game itself: "...lives up to, if not exceeds, the hype that preceded it and the final product (now available for purchase) is nothing short of beautiful."

» More at Wired: An In-Depth Review of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple

Writer's Dice Prototype Ordered

You've heard me talk about Writer's Dice before, but I decided this week I'd bite the bullet and launch a Kickstarter in November, hopefully with enough time to ship out the dice in time for the holidays.

Above is the design for the prototype. As you can see, these dice are still usable as standard d6s. The prototype should be in around the 27th at the latest. If you have some feedback on this design before then, please leave a comment!

Be on the lookout for more updates. This will be a very short campaign, maybe only three weeks. $5 a die. Nice and simple stocking stuffer for the writer/gamer in your life. Get excited!

Bajjutsu Master - Now in Creative Commons

You can now download a zip file containing the Bajjutsu Master icons and background in a variety of formats. All released under the following terms: Bajjutsu Master Icons and Background by Daniel Solis (http://www.danielsolis) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/)

Furthermore, the rules text for Bajjutsu Master is also released under the following terms: Bajjutsu Master by Josh Mannon and Daniel Solis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Both licenses allow you to share and remix either the work, as long as you attribute the original work to its author(s). You are not allowed to sell either work (without the authors' permission, anyway). Otherwise, happy downloading!

» Bajjutsu Master Icons and Background
» Bajjutsu Master Rules Text

[In the Lab] Superhero Audition Card Game

Woke up this morning with a weird little idea that I am not sure works mechanically. The premise is taken straight out of the old superhero audition gag. A panel of elite superheroes judges a parade of absurd potential recruits. Your goal is to pick the most and least likely candidates to join the team.

Setup and Components

There is a tableau of superhero cards (two per player, but at least six) arranged in a single row in alphabetical order. The superhero cards in the tableau show only the hero's picture and their name, nothing else.

Each player has two superhero cards kept hidden in their hand. Each card depicts one of the superheroes out in the tableau. The cards in players' hands are the same, but distinguished by a different border and orientation so you don't get them mixed up with the cards in the tableau. (Think of these like city cards from Pandemic.)

Next to the tableau is a deck of crisis cards. The crisis cards each describe a different kind of test for the superheroes to face.

Lastly, each player has a star token and a flop token. The star token and flop token have identical backs and shapes, but still have distinguishing marks so you know which player owns them.

How to Play
Step 1: Crisis
Reveal a new crisis card and read it aloud to the whole group. Discuss who would be the best and worst superhero for this crisis. You have no real information about the candidates except their appearance and their name, but feel free to make stuff up.

Examples: A meteor is going to hit the city! We need a host for this children's charity event! Alien shape shifters have replaced the president! The public is turning against superheroes! The supervillains escaped superjail!

Step 2: Recruit
Put your star token on the hero you think is best suited to this crisis. Put your flop token on the hero you think is worst suited to this crisis. Make sure your tokens are face down so no one can tell who you've voted for best or worst.

Example: Player 1 places tokens on Doctor Dimension and Ghost of Tesla. Player 2 places tokens on Ghost of Tesla and Spader-Man. Player 3 places tokens on Doctor Dimension and Spader-Man. Player 4 places tokens on Spader-Man and Vampire Matt.

Step 3: Resolve
Reveal each token. If you own the card with the hero who got the most star tokens, you gain one point. If you own the card with the hero who got the most flop tokens, you gain one point. (If there is a tie for stars, the hero closest to the crisis deck wins. If there is a tie for flops, the hero farthest from the crisis deck wins. Heroes who get only star tokens or only flop tokens take precedence over any heroes with mixed results.) If you gained points, you must reveal that hero in your hand. Otherwise, you can still keep your hand secret. Once scoring is complete, put your hero back in your hand.

Example: Spader-Man is unequivocally the winner of the most stars. Doctor Dimension, Ghost of Tesla, Rooster Jones, and Vampire Matt each got one flop token, so let's figure out how to resolve this tie. Doctor Dimension and Ghost of Tesla are out because they also got star tokens. That leaves Rooster Jones and Vampire Matt. Vampire Matt is the farthest away from the crisis deck, so he wins this tie. So, Player 3 reveals he has Spader-Man and gains 1 point. Player 4 reveals he has Vampire Matt and gains 1 point.

Step 4: Promote
Rearrange the heroes in the tableau, in order of stars and flops. The hero with the most star tokens moves to the place closest to the Crisis Deck. That hero is considered to be in First Place. The hero with second most star tokens (and no flop tokens) is in Second Place, and so on. Next, heroes who didn't get any tokens, or had equal numbers of flops and stars, are arranged in the middle of the tableau in alphabetical order. Lastly, the hero who got the fewest flop tokens is placed next, followed by all the heroes who got more and more flop tokens. The tableau should now reflect the current ranking of each hero. Return all tokens to their owners. Return all tokens to their respective players.

Example: Spader-Man got the most stars, so he moves to first place. Next, Doctor Dimension, Ghost of Tesla, Lady Livery, Nightvision and Squint, and Zoobot either got no tokens or got equal numbers of flops and stars, so they're arranged in alphabetical order. Lastly, Rooster Jones and Vampire Matt each got the same number of flop tokens, so they're arranged at the end of the row in alphabetical order.

Step 5: Trade
All players discard one or both of the heroes in their hand. Once this is done, shuffle the discard pile. Players must now draw cards from this pile to a full hand of two cards. In effect, this is a blind trade. Why would you want to do this? The closer a hero is to first or last place, the more bonus points you'll get if they're in your hand at the end of the game. So if you have a middling hero in your hand, there's nothing to lose. Also, if your hero was in first or last place in the previous round, players may be less inclined to vote for or against that hero in the next round.

Example: Players 1 3, and 4 discard their cards and draw up again from the shuffled discard deck.

The next turn begins with a new crisis card in Step 1 and the rest of the turn continues as described above. The game lasts at least three turns or one turn per player, whichever is higher.

The game ends after five crises. At the end of the game, you will score bonus points for the heroes in your hand. Score 3 points if one of your heroes is in first or last place. Score 2 points if in second or second-to-last place. Score 1 point if in third or third-to-last place. The player with the most points wins.

So yes, this is sort of a mashup of Apples to Apples, Dixit, and Who Would Win? It's another one of those games where I wonder if there's enough commercial potential for publishing. I like the simplicity of the superhero cards. Lots of room for cool new artists to get a spotlight and plenty of room for expansions.

There is a problem I can see already: Regardless of the crisis, what's the motivation for anyone to put tokens on any hero but the one they have in their hand? That will result in a persistently even distribution of tokens across the whole tableau.

So, we might need a reason for people to favor any hero besides the one in their hand. One way to do this would be categorizing and quantifying crises into a variety of silos (Physical 5, Mental 4, Social, etc.) and giving the heroes corresponding stats. A crisis would then be resolved somewhere between Steps 2 and 3. Each hero rolls one d6. 4-6 is a success. 1-3 is a failure. A hero must roll as many as times indicated by the Crisis number. Stars and flops give +1 or -1 to each die roll. If the hero gets one failure, they didn't resolve the crisis. The hero with the most failures is eliminated from the game and removed from the tableau.

Making this even more complicated, you could also have heroes who grant bonuses or penalties to heroes to their left or right in particular categories. But that's a little out-there. Perhaps rejected heroes become villains, who augment the remaining crises?

The problem with elimination is that we'd need more heroes at the beginning or reduce the endgame condition from five crises to three, just so there isn't a total overlap between the first placers and last placers.

Anyhoo, this is the general idea.

EDIT: I see two other solutions:

Apples to Apples Solution
There is no tableau or tokens. Only one deck of superheroes cards and a deck of crisis cards. Five superhero cards are dealt randomly to each player.

At the beginning of a turn, one player takes the role of judge and draws a crisis from the crisis deck. The other players offer one superhero card face down to the judge. The judge shuffles the cards and lays them out face-up. The judge decides who would be the best suited to this crisis and least suited to this crisis.

Whoever owned those selected heroes earns one point. Play until each player has been the judge once. Win by having the most points at the end of the game.

Consensus Solution
There is only the crisis deck and the tableau of superheroes. No player has cards in their hand, but they do have their tokens. The tableau is not arranged in alphabetical order and there is no first, second or third place. Play occurs as noted above until Step 3. Here's what's different:

You score points for consensus. If you are the only person to place a star or flop token on a hero, you score one point. If several players placed star or flop tokens on the same hero, you each score one point per token. Star and flop tokens cancel each other out, which reduces the potential score for a hero.

This opens up a potential for debate, bluffing and "take that." Players low on points can form alliances to create consensus blocs, which might form unbeatable unions. Perhaps if we inject some betrayal temptation?

Perhaps there is a third token, a STEAL token. It does not count as a flop or a star, but instead simply gives you all the points from that hero. It looks just like the other tokens, so you know for sure that anyone with three tokens might not be trustworthy. Fortunately, the STEAL token may only be used once by each player. So, a player with two tokens may not be trustworthy, but you know he won't steal all your points.

EDIT2: And in what might be a way-too-streamlined direction, I could remove Crisis cards entirely. They'd be replaced with the remaining deck of superheroes that are not in the tableau. The question for each round is "Who would pass this hero's test?" Maybe the heroes in the deck are villains and the question is "Who would beat this villain?" There is something appealing about that kind of minimalist presentation.

Les Grouillots - The Leftovers translated in French

Bonjour! Out of the kindness of his heart, Cédric Ferrand translated the slapstick fantasy storytelling game The Leftovers into French! You can find the whole package on his blog. Merci pour la traduction, Cédric!

» Les Grouillots

Classroom Activity Guide for Happy Birthday, Robot!

Here's a resource for all teachers, parents, librarians, bookstore staff and who want to incorporate Happy Birthday, Robot! into kids' learning. Teacher and education consultant Cassie Krause offers gameplay tips, extension learning advice, and experience guiding a whole class in a single story. Best of all, it's totally free, licensed under Creative Commons from Smart Play Games.

» Download Classroom Activity Guide for Happy Birthday, Robot!

Designing the Bajjutsu Badge and Desktop Wallpaper

Above is the time-lapse making-of video for the Bajjutsu badge. This was when it was a simple bi-fold last week, but I stopped recording during the small revisions that came up over the following days. At the end, you can see a quick pan of the current tri-fold version. Also, here's the opening screen as a Bajjutsu desktop wallpaper if you're so inclined.

» Music: CC-BY-NC-SA Fun Electronics

Bajjutsu Master

With this badge, you are a Bajjutsu Master. Compete against other bajjutsu masters in a contest of arcane powers! Ally yourself with a Bajjutsu clan or seek glory on your own! This game is perfect for when you and your friends are at conventions, concerts or other large gatherings.

» Download the print-and-play PDF. Once trimmed and folded, it fits into a standard clear convention badge holder. Bring it to your next game convention!
» Co-created with Josh Mannon
» Japanese translation by Andy Kitkowski
» Development Stage: Open Beta
» Development History
» Opening call and response by Ryan Macklin

When badge-wearing Bajjutsu Masters wish to battle, they begin with the time-honored call: “Only one Bajjutsu Master shall stand!” Those who accept respond “And it shall be me!”

If you have more than two players, you'll play either a melee or a clan battle. In melee, all players act alone. In clan battle, players split into two opposing teams. On your badge, attach a clip to the 6 space of the HEALTH METER. Attach another clip to the 0 space of the CHARGE METER.

Every turn, Bajjutsu Masters strike a pose at the same time. Everyone counts "Bah... Ju... Tsu!" and strikes their pose on the last syllable.

Arms up causes any opponent without crossed arms to loses 1 health, plus an amount of health equal to your charge. Afterwards, your charge returns to 0.

Arms crossed prevents you from losing health this turn.

Arms down gains you 1 charge this turn.

You may not take the same pose three times in a row.

When a player loses all health, they're out of the game immediately. (Double KOs are possible!) In a melee, the last player with any health remaining wins! In a clan battle, the last team with any remaining players wins!

You have a special technique available to you! It is noted on a small card you can place on the back of your badge. You may only have one technique during a single game, but you may use it as many times as the rules allow. You do not have to reveal the nature of your technique to your opponents until the first time you actually use it. A technique’s effects take place after normal effects are resolved. So, if you lose all health, whatever technique you planned to execute this turn does not happen.

Healing Wind Technique
Arms Up while you have any charge: Instead of doing damage, increase health of all allies by your charge plus 1, up to their full health. Your charge returns to 0. In a clan battle, you cannot heal yourself unless you're the only one left in your clan. In melee, you heal yourself instead.

Stubborn Tortoise Technique
Arms up or Arms down while you have any charge: When you are hit, you lose charge instead of health, until you run out of charge. Then, you lose health as normal.

Fire Form Technique
Arms Crossed while you have any charge: When you block any attacking opponent, the opponent loses an amount of health equal to your charge. Your charge returns to 0.

Void Spirit Technique
Arms Up while you have any charge: Instead of doing damage, all opponents lose 1 charge. If they spent this turn charging, they simply do not gain a charge. Your charge returns to 0.

Winding Viper Technique
Arms up while you have 3 Charge: Your attack only affects blocking opponents. All blocking opponents lose 1 health. Your charge returns to 0.

Different Bajjutsu clans have their preferred opening stance. Each claims that theirs is the best at not telegraphing their intended action to an opponent. The Clan of Man suggests beginning with hands crossed behind your back. The Clan of Dan suggests you stand proudly with arms akimbo. Decide your preferred stance and choose your allies wisely.

Instead of posing, you can use hand gestures. Cross your fingers to charge. Hold out a flat palm instead to block. Close your fist to attack.

You can even use your off-hand to keep track of health and charge. When your health meter is at 6, hold your hand so only your thumb and pinky are extended. That is "6." You can count your health down from there using your fingers.

Keep track of your charge by using your whole arm. When your charge is at "0," let your arm hang naturally. At "1," place your hand on your hip. At "2," place your hand on your stomach. At "3," place your hand on your heart.

By combining arm positions and hand gestures in this way, you can play Bajjutsu Master anywhere, any time.

The word for "badge" (in this sense, not so much for military service badges and the like) is the English loanword Badge, written as bajji (バッジ). Ji is also the first "letter" of Jitsu/Jutsu (ジツ/ジュツ, or simply the kanji 術) so their combination was an inevitability. And the call to make it Bajjutsu over Bajji-Jujutsu has an epic historic precedent in everyday Japanese word-shortening: Pocket Monsters (the official title!) is "Pokemon", Harris Teeter (grocery store on the East Coast) is known by Japanese locals as "Hari-Chi", etc. The double language hat-tip/pun was too juicy to pass up on.

RPG.net: Bajjutsu Master as a parlor LARP mechanic
Story-Games: Become a Bajjutsu Master!

Bajjutsu Master by Josh Mannon and Daniel Solis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Time and Money: My visit to DragonVale

I'm going to sound a little naive in this post. I'll make observations that might be obvious to anyone who's played Pokemon or FarmVille. I've avoided the genre until now. I had some experience playing an old SNES game called Harvest Moon, which could be considered a great grandparent of the new crop.

Right, I started playing DragonVale as research for Dung & Dragons. They seemed to have very similar themes, but totally different formats, so any insights I could glean from the app might be usable for a board game with some adaptation.

So here's how DragonVale works: Time and Money. You start with an untamed island, a small plot of cleared land, a nursery, and a portal through which visitors arrive on your island to tour. You're guided to buy your first egg, wait a few minutes for it to hatch or spend a gem to hatch it immediately. Once it hatches, you build it a habitat.

Your first two dragons are a plant dragon and an earth dragon. I named mine Celery and Clump, respectively. They are cute, make cute dragon sounds, and you name them, which pretty much means you'll imprint on them if you're susceptible to that kind of thing. Even if not, you'll pay attention to how much cash each dragon produces.

Celery produces almost 30 coins per minute. Clump produces only about 5. Naturally, feed Celery so he grows to produce even more money. Sorry, Clump, but you eat as much as Celery without producing nearly as quickly. Here's the next obstacle: Regardless of what the dragons produce, their habitats have a maximum capacity. Celery produces fast, but his habitat has a tiny capacity. It's the opposite for Clump.

So, next step is to upgrade Celery's habitat, which will take three hours. Three hours! Of course, you can spend a gem to speed things up. Ah, gems. Opiate of the impatient. As far as I can see, there is no in-game way to earn gems. The only way is to spend real money. Thus, like MMOs, an artificial delay becomes the primary way the game is profitable for it's creators. If you're impatient and have an extra buck, you can do well in this game. For everyone else, it'll take some time.

I'm still playing, but I don't know for how long. The lack of a foreseeable endgame is what turns me off. Even so, I am learning something about how to design around resource management, even if those two resources are just Time and Money.

"Astounding... Elegant" MTV Geek reviews Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple

Slap me in the face for not linking to this sooner. During GenCon, George Holochwost of MTV Geek reviewed Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple:

"I failed to report to the press room at GenCon as early as I would have liked. The reason? I was obsessively reading Evil Hat's new storytelling game Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple... Fans of Nickelodeon's Avatar: The Last Airbender will feel right at home with what Do has to offer."

» Read more at MTV Geek

Designing the Cover of the Third Year of Our Reign

Above is the first pass at the cover for Third Year of Our Reign, the new supplement for Greg Stolze's REIGN. Each cover in the franchise has shown a different stage in an ongoing imperial dynasty. This time, I got to thinking about one of the young heirs to the throne getting impatient. With a conspiratorial smirk and a ready spear, this young Imperial has deadly ambitions.

In the video above, you can see all the fits and starts that go into my process. At one point, I consider doing another montage composition like the last two supplement covers, but I end up focusing on this one character.

Ideally, those back-and-forths would mostly happen in the pencil-and-paper phase of design, but this is a peculiar situation. I've designed four covers for this franchise already, so I have a large library of strokes and visual elements already made. I'm on a tight timeline for the rest of the year and I've already overcommited. Also, I've had all summer to think about what would go on this cover already.

Consequently, this cover was completed much more quickly than usual. About two hours total.

» Music: CC-BY-NC-SA Butterfly Tea
» Previously: Designing the Title for Third Year of Our Reign

Designing the Title of The Third Year of Our Reign

Starting a long-delayed assignment from Greg Stolze, the cover of the Third Year of Our Reign, the next supplement for his high political fantasy role-playing game REIGN. The quick video above shows how I've made the titles for each installment of the franchise. Later, I'll show how I create the actual illustrations.

Music: CC-BY-SA PhReyMusic
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.