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Showing posts from 2012

2012: A Year in the Game Design Lab

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Over the past year, I've posted numerous game ideas in various stages, but all have been considered "in the lab" because they're really not ready for prime time. I just wanted to share my thoughts a bit. Next year I'm ready to actually see some of these ideas come to fruition. Here's a pretty comprehensive list of ideas posted to this blog in 2012. Games to Prototype and Test These are games which are to the point where I could make a prototype and actually test at some point. Dung and Dragons /Dragon Ranch has been a long-simmering theme: Hippie co-op farmers raising dragons for their valuable poop. I finally cracked a cool mechanic for this idea, it just needs to get tested and refined. I'm really excited about how these simultaneous actions could interact with each other in unpredictable ways. Wine Collector : This was an experiment in deduction game design. Not sure how well it's actually going to work in practice, but I definitely like the

Ch-Ch-Changes

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Hello, all! I don't usually share personal news on this channel, but I think this will be relevant to your interests. Effective December 31, 2012, I am resigning from my position as Associate Creative Director and Digital Director at Third Degree. I started as an intern in 2004 and I've learned so much about being a creative in the fast-paced ad business, especially serving credit unions. It's been an enriching experience with more talented people than I can count. During those years, I was "art director by day, game designer by night," without either job interfering with the other. On the contrary, working for an agency gave me the security to pursue a game design hobby, while the hobby's community gave me experience in social media that I could bring back to the agency. There was synergy, as ad people on TV like to say. Unfortunately, that dual-career lifestyle eventually started wearing on my mind and body. Signs of burnout were evident to all... e

InDesign DataMerge Playing Card Example [Free Download]

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Happy holidays! This season, I thought I'd give something to anyone interested in designing their own card games. You may recall I posted a hodgepodge collection of tutorials I found regarding the use of InDesign's DataMerge feature to automate much of the card layout process. I plan to make a video tutorial of my own soon, but for now here's a .zip file with a very basic example of a DataMerged deck of playing cards. [DOWNLOAD] Open DataMergeExample.indd in InDesign CS6 or DataMergeExample.idml in older versions of InDesign. You'll find empty text blocks and image blocks. It looks like there's nothing there, but there is! These are placeholders for the text and images that DataMerge pulls from the the .CSV found in the Assets folder. When you check the Preview checkbox in the DataMerge panel, you'll see each of these placeholders populated. (BTW, I just used a default font for Mac: Times, which can be replaced with Times New Roman if you wish.) /AS

POLL RESULTS: Familiar Themes vs. Familiar Mechanics

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Earlier this week I asked which mix of familiar or unusual mechanics and themes you preferred. I asked mainly because Reiner Knizia once advised on Twitter that a design shouldn't be too unusual. To do so would turn off too large a section of your audience. Basically, if you're designing a game for the larger hobby market, he advised either making the theme unusual or the mechanics unusual, but not both. That seems to hold true for a significant portion of poll respondents. Here's the breakdown of 82 responses. Unusual Themes + Unusual Mechanics         35       43% Familiar Themes + Unusual Mechanics         34       41% Unusual Themes + Familiar Mechanics         11       13% Familiar Themes + Familiar Mechanics         2         2% What are we to take from these responses? Bear in mind that it's a very tiny sample from an admittedly skewed pool of respondents. Most respondents want unusual themes AND unusual mechanics, which is surprising. I expected th

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

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I've been playing Seasons a lot lately on Board Game Arena. Gosh, I am terrible at it. Not sure what it is, but I've been finding it a really difficult game to wrap a strategy around. Oh well, at least it's introduced me to some interesting rondel mechanics I'd like to explore further. Rondel mechanics and card drafting seem to be all the rage in game design this year. Here's a loose idea for a game that adds area control to the mix. Players are asteroid miners laying claim to 54 big rocks orbiting the central planets of the solar system. The big rocks are code-named according to the cards in a standard deck. 2Club, JackDiamond, Joker-1, etc. Your goal is to lay claim to the asteroids and earn the best profit after three years. This board represents is an asteroid belt. The center rondel rotates one increment per round, highlighting six distinct regions of the asteroid belt at any one time. (Note the wavy, dotted and solid lines.) I think the Rondel will a

Super Secret Santa Party Game

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Around this time of year, offices and families engage in an old tradition of secret gift-giving. These traditional games have widely varying rules, but there are some core similarities. Usually, you're randomly assigned to give another person a gift. You may not know this person well, so you have to just investigate or guess at what they would like. As the receiver of said gift... Well, let's just say it's easy to get disappointed. This is so common, that a spin-off tradition called "white elephant" or "dirty santa" emerged wherein you're *not* supposed to consider what the receiver would actually like. In either case, no one really gets something they actually want and you spend that time awkwardly chit-chatting while doing so. Honestly, it sucks as a play experience. Fortunately, a fellow named Brian Winkeler of Robot House Creative taught me the rules of a superior form of Secret Santa. I call it Super Secret Santa. Stuff You Need 5-30

I'm Designing a Deck of Cards for Fate!

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

POLL: Familiar Themes vs. Familiar Mechanics

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Time for a quick poll about mechanics and themes in tabletop games. Reiner Knizia once tweeted that it's better to have some element of familiarity mixed in with novelty. Of course he never specified the exact percentages of familiarity or whether it's better to have a familiar theme or familiar mechanics. So, let's turn to the public! Which do you prefer in your tabletop games? Loading... I'll let you draw your own conclusions about the difference between a "familiar theme" and a "unique" theme since everyone has different frames of reference. When it comes to mechanics, the question becomes even more contentious. So, I'll let you make the call.

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

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Folks ask me all the time where I get game ideas, whether it's mechanics first or theme first. Sometimes it's a little of both, as we'll see here. One of my favorite recent mechanics comes from Doug Bass' Garden Dice . In that game you roll four dice to plant crops on a 6x6 gridded plot of land. The dice tell you the coordinates of where you may plant. You can do other actions based on the remaining two dice results. Choosing which dice to use in which capacity is a big part of the long-term strategy. So I spent yesterday thinking a few ways to use this basic skeleton for other purposes, the first of which is a dice-based resource acquisition game. This begins without a theme, but in exploring the mechanics, we start to see how a theme naturally emerges. Play centers on a 6x6 grid from which you can acquire resources: A, B, C, D, E, and F. The intersections of each row and column show combinations of two resources and double-resources along the diagonal from to

Co-Op Worker Placement Mechanic

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Little mechanical idea in search of a theme: Consider a worker placement mechanic in which you collect whatever resource you get for placing your worker on that space. You also get a bit from any neighboring spaces, but only if they're occupied by another player's worker. This makes turn order a tricky thing, because by going first and getting the first choice, you may also enable your opponents to gather resources of their own. It's an interesting idea. Not sure of a good theme for it though. Any ideas? I want to flesh this out a bit more for the blog. I asked folks on Google+ about it and the idea that must stuck out to me was flipping this as a co-op theme. Almost like research? One researcher does the hard work to be the first discoverer of certain scientific evidence. Then follow-up researchers have an easier time developing their own new ideas, "standing on the shoulders of giants" as Einstein put it. This also brings to mind the Exodus Earth game i

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

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Waaaay back in September, I was interviewed on the G*M*S podcast to talk about graphic design in board games. The conversation quickly turned to game design itself and some of the creative constraints I put on myself. Mainly, that constraint has been avoiding designing games with a combat or violent theme. I've also been avoiding games with colonial themes and, by extension, avoiding games about farms. So between those two constraints, I've left myself out of the most populous genres across gaming: The American fantasy combat and the European colony simulation. What's left is odd themes like parties competing for guests , or raising dragons for their dung , and flying kids helping strangers . (Later this week I'll talk about the intersection of new or familiar themes with new or familiar mechanics.) Anyhoo, you should listen to this episode if you like hearing about the craft of rules presentation, game design. Also to find out why the host calls me the Quentin T

Speaking at Triangle Creative Commons 10-year Celebration

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Head's up! I've been invited to participate in a lightning talk at a Creative Commons ten-year celebration on Red Hat's campus. woot! Very exciting. Hope I can see you there! Triangle Creative Commons 10-year celebration Red Hat 1801 Varsity Drive Centennial Campus, NC State Raleigh, NC 27606 Wednesday, December 12, 2012 from 5:30 PM to 7:00 PM (EST) I'll be talking about how games can live on for a long, long, long time thanks to the Creative Commons license. I'll touch on a little bit of ancient game history, the state of the current market, the Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge and the difficulties in preserving digital games. You can preview my slides and speaking notes here !

Co-Op/Competitive For the Fleet?

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Heeey, remember For the Fleet ? It's a game about brave star captains and their short-lived crew. It never really got much play after that Alpha release, so it's been sitting in the back of my brain ever since. Trying to figure out what to do with that theme next. Then I got to thinking about how elegantly Phil Walker-Harding designed the set collection mechanics in Sushi Go ! Check out the video demo on that link to see what I mean. The game is just so danged clever. But Sushi Go is a card drafting game. Everyone's trying to get the best pick of their own hand while preventing their opponent from getting something that they want. But what if you could had a stake in your opponent's group somehow? What if you were actually invested in your opponent's prosperity, because it helped, you too, though to a slightly lesser extent? This got me thinking back to Make Me An Offer , the odd mashup of Euro sensibilities and American Apples 2 Apples mechanics. What if you

Kickstarter/Crowdfunding Delivery Survey Results

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Last week I asked a whole bunch of questions about what you expect as a backer of a crowdfunded project, including communication levels, delivery timelines and satisfaction with what ended up being delivered. Originally I planned to aggregate all of this data into a nice infographic, but unfortunately it's been an extremely eventful week so I hope it's cool if I just link you to a spreadsheet with the responses. I'll make something else fancy later, promise! Click here for the results! Click here for the charts! Not surprisingly, the vast majority of respondents backed projects in the Games category. That's to be expected given my audience. What surprised me was how many more respondents backed three or more projects. I guess it's not all that shocking, maybe those prolific backers are more inclined to share their opinions on a crowdfunding survey? Anyhoo, check out those results. Lots of raw data for you number crunchers out there.

Survey Results: Crowdfunding Project Creator Updates

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I want to put together a nice infographic of results from last week's fulfillment survey , but it's been an eventful few days. I'll fill you in on the details of that soon, but for now, here's a taste of some of the anonymous comments regarding creator updates. In that survey, I asked: Care to say a little bit more about your feelings about creator updates? Generally the positive responses cited the necessity of updates to track actual progress in the job (or lack thereof) Regular creator updates are vital, regardless of whether news is good or bad. Getting an update announcing a delay or problem in project completion and fulfillment, with an explanation of the reasons/causes of the delay/problem, is far preferable than not getting an update at all. Some creators have given the excuse that frequent updates detracts from their time available to work on the project; but I (and probably many others) consider this a very poor excuse for inadequate communication. 

Further Ramblings on Dung, Dragons, and Collectivist Simultaneous Action Drafting

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Dung & Dragons is one of those long, slow marinating ideas that occasionally needs to be stirred before being put back on a low heat. Right. To catch up newcomers: The game tentatively titled Dung & Dragons concerns a hippie collectivist farm that raises and cares for dragons, who in turn poop gold that keeps the farm self-sustaining. The whole idea came from an episode of Firefly where the crew was bartering various chores as currency. This struck me as a very cool idea for a game, trying to get the jobs you like while also maximizing the effect of those jobs by negotiating with the other players. Love it. I've gone through a few different models for how to design a game around this idea, but this week's exploration of trick-taking games has me thinking about a new way of doing things. Let's run through the basics. Above are the nine basic action cards. There should be one of each per player in the action deck. Shuffle and deal a hand of nine to each pla

A Trick-Taking Card Game in Search of a Theme

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Tagging on yesterday's game mechanic , I had another idea for a hand management game, but this time using trick-taking mechanics instead of area control. This one is really nascent, but I think a good strong theme would give it some direction to deal with any problematic bugs. SETUP 2-4 players A deck of playing cards. 4 Players: Deal 13 cards to each player. 3 Players: Deal 17 cards to each player and put the remaining card in the center of the table. 2 Players: Deal 26 cards to each player. PLAY On your turn, play a card from your hand onto the table. The next player does the same, and so on, forming a pile of cards. When a player plays a card that brings the sum of the pile over 10, she decides which suit will be scored at that time. Cards without a number (A, J, Q, K) do not raise the sum, but they have other value as you'll see below. Then all players have a choice of discarding as many cards as they wish as long as those cards have a matching suit. Your

Odd Idea for Hand Management and Area Control Scoring

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I have this odd idea for a scoring mechanic that combines hand management and area control in which each one is as important as the other for maximizing scores. If you'd like to test this out yourself, download PnP tiles here . Here's the gist: TILES There is a supply of randomly shuffled map tiles. Each tile has an arrangement of streets and four types of districts: P ARK, M ONUMENT, R ESIDENTIAL, and B USINESS. These would be replaced with icons in a real game. SETUP Draw a random tile and place it in the center of the board. Each player begins with a hand of two tiles. Hands are kept public, visible to all other players. PLAY On your turn, draw a tile into your hand. Then, play a tile from your hand onto the table, adjacent to another tile. A district is considered complete when it is completely surrounded by continuous street. If a tile completes a district, all players immediately score points in the following manner. SCORING Check if you have icons in

POLL: Kickstarter/Crowdfunding Delivery Survey

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It's time for another Kickstarter/Crowdfunding poll! This time, we're focusing on the delivery/fulfillment timelines for crowdfunded projects backed between January 1 and August 31 of 2012. Answer in the questions below and I'll put together an infographic next week. Loading...

Happy Thanksgiving, Pilgrims!

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It's Thanksgiving here in the States, when we gorge ourselves on mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and, of course, a lot of turkey. Here's a new letter for Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple from one special turkey's perspective. Dear Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, Gobble gobble. I'm a turkey. I'm to be served to the farmer's family for the upcoming holiday! I have mixed feelings about this, as you can probably understand. This family has been so good to me through the years. When I was just a featherless chick, they kept me warm and plumped me up. Together, we won all the county fair turkey fashion shows. Oh, what a sight I used to be on the runway! Unfortunately, my feathers aren't so glossy these days. My confident stride is a little wobbly. I just need a favor from you before I head to the dinner table. I'm only a turkey, so I can't really talk to Mr. Farmer. Could you express my thanks for all the care he and his family have given

Black Friday: Racing Auction Game

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It's Thanksgiving week in the states! A time for plenty and gratitude for food, friends and games! Alas, most board games take up a lot of space on the table, leaving little room for the bountiful meals. Here's a racing auction mashup that should only take up a narrow sliver of space in the middle of your table. The theme is that you're racing along a store aisle on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. Taking time to gather the best combinations of gifts can score big points, but reaching the finish line can double or triple that score! You'll need 2-4 players A unique meeple for each player. 5 sets of uniquely colored chips, 15 chips in each set. The boards and cards in this PDF. Each player gets a 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 card, as shown above. Setup Place the meeples at the start of the track. Place a stack of randomly drawn chips beside each space of the track. Each stack should have one more chip than the number of players. Play Each tur

Belle of the Ball - Prototype N

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Belle of the Ball has gone through some big changes in basic gameplay between Prototype M and now. All for the best, though! This prototype has all the same set-building strategic fun with a much clearer set of short-term tactics and take-that offense. In case you need a refresher on the premise: You and the other players are holding parties on the same night, right next to each other! Attract guests, group guests with shared interests and mess with your opponent’s party! The player with the most popularity chips at the end of the game wins! [DOWNLOAD THE RULES] [DOWNLOAD THE CARDS] SETUP Shuffle Guest cards. Discard twelve random cards. Set the rest as a Guest Deck. Shuffle Belle cards. Deal three to each player’s hand. Set the rest as a Belle Deck. Set aside spaces for discarded Belles and Guests. Give a Start Player token to the host of this gathering. Each player has implied spaces for four stacks of cards. Give each player five chips. Example of a two-playe

Rapid Prototyping vs. Reckless Prototyping: How the Sausage is Made

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It's been a while since I wrote a long "how the sausage is made" post about the process of game design. Here's one! (tldr; There are big changes coming to Belle of the Ball , but they're for the greater good.) If I'm known for anything, it's probably that I shoot off game ideas at the drop of a hat. Of course, game ideas are very different than solid games. While working on Belle of the Ball , I resisted my natural urge to make drastic changes as a result of a bad playtests. I tried to stay patient, making small changes, and testing them out with several different groups in rapid succession. Here's what I've learned over the past year. 1: Base Changes on Feedback Designing a proper game takes a lot of time for playtests, review, refinement, editing, and testing again. (I'm not talking about publishing here, just the design.) In January 2012, I decided I'd design a fully polished and working card game with Belle of the Ball 's

Mashing up Divinare with Liar's Dice

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I had the good fortune of playing Divinare last weekend. ("Fortune." Get it?) It's about old-timey psychics competing to prove who's the real deal. It's a clever little deduction game with an element of take-that and push-your-luck in one elegant package. As much as I love Cards-with-Numbers , I'm especially fascinated with cards that only feature art and no other game information. I'll do a post on that soon. Check out Tom Vasel's review of Divinare for details of how to play. The experience reminds me a lot of playing the classic game Liar's Dice. If you haven't played that, you should too. Here are the basic rules as I play them at home. Note that there are numerous variants, I just happen to like this one. Each player has five standard dice and dice cups for concealment. Each round, each player rolls their dice under their cups. Each player looks at their results in secret. The first player guesses out loud a quantity and a face

The Long Quest for a Cards-with-Numbers Game

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For many reasons, I've been fascinated with card games that can be played with little more than a deck of sequentially numbered cards. Sometimes there are colors acting as perfunctory suits, like Uno or Reiner Knizia's Poison . The real gems are games like No Thanks or 6 Nimmt which have no suits, just numbers. There's something so seductive about the pure abstraction there. On that note, dice games are heavy hitters when it comes to abstract purity – Yahtzee and Liars' Dice come to mind. Heck, even dice games with custom faces can be abstracted back down to algebraic notation... but let's talk about cards for now. I must admit, part of the appeal is from a commercial perspective. Cards-with-numbers are easy to playtest, easy to lay out, require minimal art, and can be reproduced relatively easily. I think this creates a positive pressure on the design of the game itself. The mechanics and rules presentation must be well-executed since the components coul

Tuning the gears: Belles

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Here's one microscopic example of some of the balancing decisions I make during Belle's development. In the early phases of Prototype M, I decided that the basic Belle bonus should follow this rule of thumb. "Each Belle wants you to collect exactly one third of a particular suit. For example, there are 12 teas, so the tea Belle wants you to collect 4 teas." I chose the arbitrary point value of 20 for accomplishing a Belle's condition. It's the nearest round number higher than you could possibly earn from the most well-matched group of guests. That makes it enough to be worth pursuing, but not so much that it would tilt the whole game if your opponent matched guests well enough. Here's the problem: A guest with a red Charm requires that guest be ejected from a party in order to activate that charm. This makes a red-charm guest's suits a little bit harder to collect than others, because a red-charm guest more likely to leave the game early. Any B