[In the Lab] Rulers - System Overview

Couldn't sleep this morning, so I decided to make good use of my time by writing up this system overview for Rulers, inspired in part by Rob Donoghue's commentary on the previous post.

System Inspiration
Split Decision's rich rolling, RISK for the Rule Duel mechanic, RISK: Legacy and Unknown Armies in the endgame, the storytelling elements of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple without the writing, and a bit of Aeon Flux and M. Night Shyamalan's The Village in the setting.

The Crown keeps tight control over a modern kingdom. The kingdom is the only stable area within a surreal land called the DMZ. The kingdom's citizens are divided into the twelve castes to maintain order. Despite this, a random group of citizens possess a telepathic power: They can create and impose rules on the people around them. This power is called Ruling, and the Crown is the most powerful Ruler of all.

Each year, the Crown hosts a televised event called Rulers in the DMZ. The Crown exiles a handful of rulers to the Demilitarized Zone outside the kingdom's borders. Each episode highlights their deeds and obstacles in the DMZ. At the end of the series, one exile wins the grand prize:

The winner decides a new set of Rules for the Crown to impose on the kingdom.

How to Play
Each player needs, a pencil and paper to record your character's details.

The group shares a separate sheet of paper to record ongoing game information.

The group shares three six-sided dice, one red, one black and one blue. It's handy if you have more than one set for the whole group.

Each player needs a Ruler character to play.

First, roll your three dice. You'll refer to these results in the following steps.

I'm Sector _______ and I'm a Ruler.
Add together the highest and lowest results and write that number in the space above. If your number matches another player's, increase it by one. Continue increasing it until you have a unique number. This number is how your character will be referred to throughout the series.

The kingdom is divided into twelve sectors, numbered from 1-12. Sectors represent strict levels of access an individual may have to resources and liberties. Only the Crown is Sector 1, meaning the Crown has access to the entire kingdom and may rule it as the Crown wishes. Each subsequent sector has less access, all the way down to lowly 12s who are often desperate, malnourished or convicted of serious crimes against the Crown. In other words, it's a caste system.

I must __________. I must __________. I must not __________.
Choose one result for each space. In each space, complete the sentence with that many words.

Each of these statements is a personal code. A Ruler's special powers come from intense commitment to three particular codes: Three things your character must or must not do. It is important that these be broadly applied and concise worded, otherwise the code has no power.

Codes come in all varieties, but generally break down into three groups. Codes of conduct are the most common, meaning a basic restriction on personal behavior. (I must heal any higher sector. I must assist all children in distress. I must not love.) There are also codes of access, meaning a restriction on personal liberty. (I must only eat meat. I must not look at women. I must not enter a place uninvited.) Lastly, there are codes of gospel, meaning a compulsion to teach or learn a particular subject. (I must teach compassion. I must learn sword fighting. I must reach inner peace.)

The Crown approves me because _______. [Crown Approval ___]
Choose one or two results. If two, add the results together. Complete the sentence with that many words.

During play, your Ruler will try to curry favor with the Crown by doing things he or she believes the Crown will like. The Crown's favor will be very helpful in the long-run, as this determines how long your prize may be at the end of the series.

The public supports me because _______. [Public Support ____]
Add together the result(s) you did not choose in step 4. Complete the sentence with that many words.

During play, your Ruler will also curry favor with the people of the kingdom, hoping to gain public support. This support is ultimately what determines who will win the series, so it's important to play to the crowd.

Choose an episode synopsis to decide what this episode will be about. Each episode focuses on a test for the entire group, with three obstacles that get in the way. Your character will try to pass the test, curry favor with the Crown and the people, and all without breaking code.

Tonight, on Rulers in the DMZ...
The Rulers return a group of lost citizens to the Kingdom.
Act 1 Obstacle: The citizens are criminals who don't want to return.
Act 2 Obstacle: They're being protected by automated security systems.
Act 3 Obstacle: The leader of the group is related to one of the Rulers.

The Rulers expand the Kingdom's influence deeper into the DMZ.
Act 1 Obstacle: Invisible predators stalk the jungle.
Act 2 Obstacle: Ancient ruins reveal a dark secret about one of the Rulers.
Act 3 Obstacle: Power corrupts one of the Rulers.

The Rulers befriend a local village.
Act 1 Obstacle: The villagers speak a language that causes madness.
Act 2 Obstacle: The village's well water is poisoned.
Act 3 Obstacle: A rival village lays siege.

[This is just a short list as an example.]

Turn Order: Each episode lasts three acts. Each act lasts however many turns it takes for one player to overcome the obstacle in that act. Each player gets one turn, starting with the lowest Sector number and continuing sequentially.

Countdown Clock: Each act has a countdown clock noting the time remaining for Rulers to overcome the obstacle. In a three-player game, the countdown clock is set at 10. In a four-player game, the countdown clock is set at 13. In a five-player game, the countdown clock is set at 16.

State what your Ruler does to overcome this act's obstacle, with some constraints based on the following steps:

Roll the three dice. Add together two of the results and set aside the third. The two results added together will be either equal to, less than, or greater than your sector number.

  • If less, your Ruler attempts to overcome the obstacle but makes negligible progress. On the bright side, the people take pity on you and send you a Gift. Gifts can take many forms – food, weapons, knowledge – but they all behave the same way in play. You may spend gifts to lower your Sector for one turn. After spending a gift, it cannot be spent in this way again.
  • If equal or greater, your Ruler attempts to overcome the obstacle and makes some progress. Remove your highest result from the Countdown Clock. If the Countdown Clock runs out, your Ruler successfully overcomes the obstacle. Refer to "End of the Act" for more information.
  • If you set aside a blue die, your Ruler gains that much Public Support points OR Crown Approval points. Record this number on your sheet. Refer to "End of the Episode" and "Series Finale" for more information about what these mean in the long run.
  • If you set aside a black die, your Ruler must break a code. Cross off the code he or she has broken.
  • If you set aside a red die, your Ruler may impose a new Rule on all characters for the rest of this Act or until someone breaks that Rule. A Rule affects all applicable characters. Your character may dissolve his or her own Rule at any time. Your Ruler may only impose one Rule at a time. Refer to "Laws of Ruling" for more information on writing Rules. Refer to "Rule Duel" for more information on how to break another player's rule.

On your turn, before you write what your character does, you might wish to break a Rule. If so, your Ruler and the other player's Ruler both engage in a kind of telepathic willpower contest. It doesn't matter how far apart they are from each other, a duel can span any distance. On-screen, the televised broadcast shows the duelists' rising heart rates, dripping sweat and bulging forehead veins. Here's how to duel:

If you are trying to break the Rule, you are the Breaker. If you are trying to maintain the Rule, you are the Defender. Each player gathers one die for each of their own unbroken codes, up to a maximum of three dice. Each player rolls one die at a time.

  • If the Breaker gets an equal or higher result than the Defender, the Defender loses one die.
  • If the Defender gets a higher result than the Breaker, the Breaker loses one die.

The Duel is over when one player has no dice remaining. The player with dice remaining wins.

  • If the Defender wins, you may not write an action that would contradict the Rule. The Defender gains his last die result in Crown Approval points.
  • If you win, that Rule is vetoed. That Rule may never be imposed again for the rest of the series. The Defender gains his last die result in Public Support points.

After a turn in which the Countdown Clock runs out, the Act is over. Any Rules imposed during this act are no longer in effect. The first act is always relatively minor in scope, the second act raises the stakes, and the third act is the climax.

After three acts, the episode is over. All players may replace broken codes with new codes. The player with the most Crown Approval lowers his or her Ruler's Sector by one, to a minimum of two. The player with the least public approval raises his Sector by one, to a maximum of twelve. Public Support and Crown Approval both reset to zero. If this is the last episode, proceed to Series finale.

The Crown awards the grand prize to the ruler with the most Public Support. The winner may write a new set of Rules for the entire kingdom, using as many words as she has Crown Approval points. The other Rulers return to the kingdom, now all bestowed with the rank of Sector 2.

In the Series Finale, it is possible for Rulers to attain Sector One or Sector Thirteen. If a Ruler reaches Sector Thirteen, she is exiled forever from the kingdom. If a Ruler reaches Sector One, she ascends to the Crown with either the support of the preceding Crown or of the Public, depending on whichever category in which she has the most points.

[In the Lab] A Situation for Rulers - Hunger Game of Thrones?

So the big problem with the Rulers universe is that it's a potent setting, but hard to come up with a crystal-clear scenario that creates focused play and touches on all the cool aspects of the setting. I call this the Shadowrun problem. So much of Shadowrun's awesome comes from the melange of fantasy and cyberpunk, yet the focus of play is on a teeny, tiny aspect of the universe: dungeon-crawling.

Folks on Story-Games came up with a lot of interesting scenarios. I eventually settled on a Prince Zuko scenario: Royal exiles in the DMZ. The king's sons and daughters are suddenly exiled, cut off from the line of succession, and cast out into the unruled zone between kingdoms.

That's fine, but it still doesn't give characters a real purpose. I like it when there's one thing everyone knows they're supposed to be doing, even if the story deviates from that over time. There's still a central lane players know they're supposed to walk. (For example: Pilgrims help people and get into trouble.)

So, I'm considering an extra wrinkle in the basic exile scenario: It's televised. The whole exile scenario is like a Rumpsringa. Royal exiles proving their worth individually while being forced to stick together by external pressures.

Mechanically, you could pull stuff from the "First Contact" scenario of Split Decision, where optimal actions could negatively impact public approval and vice versa. Minor betryals might get a pass once or twice, but a fickle audience will only put up with so much.

I suppose I should just get down to writing this thing into a playable beta at some point, eh?

Follow-up on the Costs of the Writer's Dice Kickstarter Campaign

In the spirit of transparency, I wanted to share a basic overview of costs for the Writer's Dice kickstarter campaign. Many thanks to my wife Megan who's been keeping track of this info. Our costs consider the following:

• Kickstarter's cut
• Amazon Payments' cut
• Final product dice
• Prototype dice
• Baggies
• Address labels
• Padded envelopes
• Mailbox rental
• Shipping

A total cost of $4375.

That's rounded up slightly to consider the stragglers we still need to ship out. The amount does not consider things like any returned packages (extra postage), printer ink, mileage, and our time/labor. We haven't found out the costs of North Carolina sales tax just yet, which Kickstarter doesn't have a way of calculating. Also, the amount of postage for parcels went up a bit before we were able to send everything out, which raised the overall cost of shipping somewhat higher than we expected.

We probably could have saved a tiny bit of money by not renting a mailbox or buying address labels, but the first three items on the list were by far the most expensive costs incurred. The one way I might be able to reduce costs is going to an overseas manufacturer, but I like keeping business in the USA and I have a good rapport with GameStation.

Fred Hicks has mentioned that if we were to go to traditional retail, we'd want all our costs so far to be about 20% of the gross. Direct sales, which is actually what we're doing, can be feasible with a cost 50% of gross. The costs of the campaign alone put us at just over 50%... but that's only part of the story.

We still have about ~390 dice left to sell through an online store. If we price those dice with a more accurate shipping cost (especially for international orders) we can cut those costs back down under 50%. The remainder of profits could be enough to fund a new production run of another product, like Utara. That will take some time, though.

It's also worth noting that my initial fundraising goal of $1,000 was probably waaaaay too low. Even with the smaller production run, the costs of shipping and the cuts from Amazon and Kickstarter would've put me well in the red. Now I know what a basic goal should be for a similar project.

So, bottom line: Next time I run a Kickstarter for a single custom die (qty: 2000), I'll need to raise a minimum of $4,000 to cover basic expenses.

[In the Lab] Further Notes on Dung & Dragons

Dung and Dragons Color
I've been on the road a lot the past few weeks, which means I had a lot of time to marinate on some thoughts for Dung & Dragons. I got to thinking about ways to adapt some mechanics from San Juan, Pandemic, and Yspahan. Here are my loose notes from the road.

Welcome to Dragon Ranch Co-op, a group of free-thinking dragon breeders raising the finest dragons, drakes, coatls and winged serpents in the tri-county area. No corporate stakeholders allowed here, just free-range dragons raised the old-fashioned way. There are no managers or corporate execs running the show. Every day, each rancher chooses the duty he or she would like to perform. If others join in, so be it! Of course, getting these people to work as a team can be harder than raising a fire breathing reptile!

Each player coordinates their own workforce to perform various duties on the ranch. Inspectors arrive periodically to grade your ranch's performance thus far, in one of several categories. Your goal is to get the best grade across all categories before all the inspectors have arrived. Manage your workforce well and coordinate with the other players to achieve the best grades!

Place a Stable card on the table. Place your starting dragon on the Stable. (Dragon cards are oriented vertically on a horizontal Stable cards, so you can see the Stable's info even though the dragon is on top of it.)

Set the bank board to the side. It begins empty.

Shuffle the card deck and deal three cards to each player. If any of these cards are an Inspector, set them aside and draw a new card. Once everyone has three cards, shuffle the Inspectors back into the deck. (The card deck is comprised of Buildings, Skills, Inspectors and Dragons.)


Choosing Duties
Players take their turns at the same time. At the beginning of the turn, choose one duty for each worker and set that die so that the top face matches your chosen duty. For example, if you want a worker to go on shopping duty, you'd set it to [1]. Keep your choice secret by covering it with your hand. Then, all players reveal their choices at the same time.

Performing Duties
Duties are performed in order of the number noted at the top left of the card. So, shovelers work first, then feeders, then builders, then shoppers, then trainers, then coordinators. If multiple players choose the same duty, the player with the Coordinator marker does that duty first, followed by the player to his or her left, then the next player to the left, and so on, clockwise around the table.

Duties have different game effects depending on how many workers are assigned to the same duty in the same round. Each duty lists effects according to the number of players who've also chosen that duty. For example, more workers shoveling in the same round allows each shoveler to collect more chips than a single shoveler would be able to do alone.

*1 Shopping Duty
Shoppers go into town to bring back new supplies for the ranch. Sometimes they run into an inspector! It's important to draw cards one a time. If you ever draw an inspector card, follow its instructions immediately before proceeding with your turn. 

1-2 Each shopper draws one card from the deck and keeps it in his or her hand. The first shopper draws two and may keep one.

3-4 Each shopper draws two cards from the deck and keeps them in his or her hand. The first shopper draws three and may keep up to two.

5-6 The first shopper draws four cards and may keep up to three. No other shoppers may draw cards.

*2 Shoveling Duty
Shovelers remove the valuable dragon guano from the stables, refining it into currency that can be spent to construct buildings, train skills, buy new dragons, etc.

1 The shoveler moves one facedown card from one dragon to the bank.

2-3 Each shoveler moves up to two facedown cards from each dragon to the bank.

4-6 Each shoveler moves up to three facedown cards from each dragon to the bank.

*3 Feeding Duty
Feeders provide food for the dragons. After all, they can't make guano without food! This is also the time when ranchers notice if a dragon is sick. It takes a whole team to restore a dragon's health, so feeders will have to forgo their duties to lend a hand. Otherwise, sick dragons simply refuse to eat.

1-2 Each feeder places a facedown card from their hand on each healthy dragon. OR If any dragon is SICK, one of those dragons is now healthy.

3-4 Each feeder places two facedown cards from their hand on each healthy dragon. OR If any dragon is SICK, two of those dragons are now healthy.

5-6 Each feeder places three facedown cards from their hand on each healthy dragon. OR If any dragon is SICK, three of those dragons are now healthy.

*4 Building Duty
Builders expand and upgrade the ranch's facilities. When you build a new building, place its card in the middle of the table.

1-2 You may build remove one building. Spend the listed chip cost.

3-4 Each builder may build or remove up to two buildings. Spend the listed chip cost. 

5-6  Each player may build or remove up to three buildings. Spend the listed chip cost. 

*5  Training Duty
Trainers improve the abilities of their workforce. 

1-2 Each trainer may place one skill on one player. Spend the listed chip cost.

3-4 Each trainer may place up to two skills on up to two players. Spend the listed chip cost.

5-6 each trainer may place up to three skills on up to three players. Spend the listed chip cost.

*6  Coordinator Duty
The player who chooses this duty gets the Coordinator marker. The player farthest from the Coordinator marker wins ties.

Discard: Each player has a hand limit of three cards. If you have more than three cards in your hand, you must discard the extra cards.
Healthcare: Each stable lists a maximum capacity for chips. If there are more chips in a stable than the capacity, that dragon becomes SICK.  If the dragon was already SICK, it runs away from the ranch. Discard this dragon. Its chips remain in the stable.

Health Inspector grades the health of your dragons. Here is your ranch's current grade in Health.
One healthy dragon = F
Two healthy dragon = D
Three healthy dragon = C
Four healthy dragon = B
Five healthy dragon = A

Building Inspector grades the facilities of your ranch. The inspector likes to see groups of three matching buildings. Here is your ranch's current grade in Building.
One group of three matching buildings. = F
Two groups of three matching buildings. = D
Three groups of three matching buildings. = C
Four groups of three matching buildings. = B
Five groups of three matching buildings. = A

Sanitation Inspector grades the cleanliness of your ranch. Here is your ranch's current grade in Sanitation.
Four chips on any dragon. = F
Three chips on any dragon. = D
Two chips on any dragon. = C
One chip on any dragon. = B
No chips on any dragon. = A

Training Inspector grades the skills of your dragons. Here is your ranch's current grade in Training.
One player with three skills. = F
Two players with three skills. = D
Three players with three skills. = C
Four players with three skills. = B
Five players with three skills. = A

After drawing an Inspector, shuffle it back into the deck.

There are also various cards that can contribute to raising grades in categories. Buildings that contribute to sanitation scores. Skills that contribute to Health scores. The basic idea being that this is a cooperative game with gradients of success, but the axes of success tug against each other.

The game ends when each category has been graded at least twice. It is possible that a category might be graded several times. As the inspectors get shuffled back into the deck, they appear more and more often, with less opportunity to adjust between tests.

RPGamer: "Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple is Tabletop RPG of 2011"

January was a good month for Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple and possibly the start of an auspicious awards season for our favorite flying troublemakers. Thebig news is that Do won a fancy schmancy award! Check it:

RPGamer names Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple as RPG of 2011
Whoa. This was totally unexpected, mainly because Do's status as a proper RPG is so tenuous. Still, I'm delighted to share the honor with everyone who helped make the game possible.

Gamehead reviews Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple
This is probably the most thorough review of the game I've seen yet, with special attention paid to the long-term Pilgrimage mode of play. Generally, Do is played as a one-shot, but I'm glad to see some love for the long journey. That's where the coming-of-age vibe really comes out.

And here are some international reviews! Fanzine Rolero reviews the game in Spanish. Rede RPG is a Portuguese site that will soon translate some of the free games on my blog.

ISO Obscure Hero Art for Superhero Audition Placeholders

So I really want to get some playtesting in for Superhero Audition, but it's clear that it needs some actual visuals on the cards to really get the feel of the game. The silhouettes just ain't enough, but I can't afford all that custom art just yet, so I need placeholder art.

The problem is that if the placeholder art is too recognizable (Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, etc) that might distract from the game a bit. I need obscure superhero art that would be suitable placeholders for these characters:

Chief Irritant
Grouper Man
Canine Chancellor
Superior Lad
Baby Hands McGee
Second Wind
Nightvision & Squint
Scotch Ape
Gold Mime
Vampire Matt
The Critic
Rooster Jones
C Everett Goop
Brother Nature
Bento Fox
Head Count
The Honey Badger
Stiff Upper Whip
Professor Pharoah
General Lee Speaking
Pixie Kicks
The Pregnant Pause
Martial Paw
Lightning Round
The Whisper
Ghost of Tesla
Doctor Dimension
Grim & Tonic
Luna Goth
Pearl Reckless

I'd appreciate any help you can offer. Found something cool on DeviantArt? Maybe Project Rooftop? Maybe an old superhero trading card? Send me a link! Here's the ongoing Pinterest board.

Writer's Dice

These are dice for writers, storytellers and gamers! In addition to the normal 1-6 pips, these dice are etched with six words packed with meaning: BUT, SO, AND, AS, OR, IF. Use them to plot your next novel! Roll them into your role-playing games! Gift them to your gaming buddies!

» Sorry, the physical Writer's Dice are now sold out!
» Download the App for iPhone/iPad, Android, or Windows Phone
» Download the free Writer's Dice Guide [PDF]       Creative Commons License

App Assets for Pebble Rebel

Ryan Novak, intrepid app developer, has set about programming an iOS/Android version of Pebble Rebel. It's still very early, but I'm building up an asset library for the app now. We're a two-man team, and I'm not exactly super experienced with developing graphics for a digital UI, so this might not be as flashy as some apps you've got now. But the game itself is gonna be solid in Ryan's able programmery hands.

A LOST variant for Survive: Escape from Atlantis

I played Survive: Escape from Atlantis for the first time the other day. It's a very fun game that feels much more modern than its actual age.

I got some flashbacks to the official licensed LOST board game, which also used hexagonal tiles, but was very, very disappointing. I got to thinking about the little thematic tweaks that would make Survive a pretty good licensed LOST board game. The most obvious one is as follows:

The Smoke Monster
The first shark is instead the Smoke Monster. The Smoke monster begins on an empty land space or an occupied land space if no empty land spaces are available. The Smoke Monster moves across land spaces. The Smoke Monster may not move across or land on a sea space. Otherwise, the Smoke Monster behaves as a shark.

In other words, a land shark. It gives players a little more reason to move people off the island into open sea, even if no boats are available.

Stop piracy. Destroy the boats.

And because I'm a shameless capitalist, I made a t-shirt! This graphic is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

UPDATE: An alternate is now available, for you more verbose types.

Stop SOPA and PIPA

Is the best way
to fight piracy
to destroy your own boats?
I design tabletop games. You might think I wouldn't have a dog in the fight over internet censorship since my games are probably as analog as you can get. In fact, you'd think the nature of game piracy would actually put me in favor of anti-piracy legislation. Quite the contrary!

Without the active and unhindered exchange of ideas in the game design community, I wouldn't have grown as a designer over the past ten years. Now that I'm a professional, I wouldn't have been able to reach out to dozens of artists, writers, designers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers and vendors as I develop those games for the commercial market.

In other words, without an open internet, my contributions to the economy would be closed. So, I join many others in standing against SOPA, PIPA, and any other legislation that would claim to deter piracy but curtail freedom.

Don't destroy our boats to fight piracy.

UPDATE: Now there are t-shirts, because I'm a shameless capitalist.

Swap Clops

Clops are one-eyed creatures with lots of personality. You're going to move them around and collect groups with matching faces. Score points by collecting lots of Clops! Score bonus points by collecting Clops with the same likes!

Clops have three main characteristics: Shapes, Faces, and Likes. First, Clops come in three shapes, either circles, squares or triangles. Second, Clops have five faces: Angry (Red), Worried (White), Serious (Blue), Bleeeh! (Green) and Happy (Yellow). And lastly, Clops have five likes: Sunshine, Apples, the Moon, Stars, and Books.

» Development Status: Beta, Dormant
» Illustrations: Kari Fry

Stuff You Need
A supply of 90 Clop Tiles [These designs are very beta.]
2-4 Players

Set Up
Arrange a grid of 8x8 tiles, randomly drawn from the supply. Make sure they're all rotated in the same direction.

Click to enlarge

How to Play
Each player takes turns, starting with the youngest player.

1) Swap two Clops
On your turn, choose two Clops with the same shape and swap their places.

2) Collect Groups of Clops
When you create a contiguous group of four or more Clops with the same face, collect the tiles in those groups. Place them face down in front of you. It is possible to make two groups in the same turn. Tiles only count as a group vertically or horizontally, not diagonally. If a tile has a wall, that wall separates it from its neighbors on the other side, effectively preventing that Clop from joining a group on that side.

3) Add new Clops
Fill the empty spaces with new random Clops from the supply. Fill in each space in order, starting from left to right, top to bottom. If you end up creating new groups in doing so, you do not collect them.

End of the Game and Scoring
The game ends when there are no new Clops to place. Continue the round until all players have had a turn. Then, score points.

You score one point for every Clop you collected.

There is also a +5 point bonus if you collected the most of a single like. For example, if you collected the most sunshine, you get an extra 5 points. If you collected the most Apples, you also get an extra 5 points. And so on, an extra 5 points for each like, if you're the player who collected the most of that like.

The player with the most points wins!

[In the Lab] Dice Pool Action-Selection Mechanic for Dung & Dragons

Sometimes I think of game mechanics in the abstract, without a theme in mind. Actually, it happens a lot. This time, I got to thinking about a role selection mechanic that was paired with a dice pool. For context, I'm referring to "action selection" games like Puerto Rico, Agricola or Citadels.

Say there are six actions, corresponding to each face of a six sided die. At the beginning of a round, a pool of dice are rolled. When you choose an action on your turn, that action might have a more potent effect if there are dice matching that result. So far, this turns out to be pretty much how Yspahan works.

Now I'm mulling a slight tweak, wherein that dice pool is not rolled at the beginning of the round. Rather, each player has one die with which they secretly choose their action. All players then reveal their selection at the same time. Again, those actions are augmented by the number of matching results. So, part of the game might be coercing other players to follow your lead. Heck, some actions might have diminishing returns if too many do so!

Turn order becomes an important consideration here. I think simply using a "first player" marker and clockwise rotation would be worthwhile. How do you get the marker? Perhaps that's one of the actions! So, if multiple players choose the same action, the player closest to the first marker goes first, perhaps earning a privilege for being first as in Puerto Rico.

As players earn new powers, one of them might be extra dice, so they might choose more than one action during their turn... or double, or triple the power of a single action.

Suspect this makes timing and planning a key part of gameplay, but it would take testing. Further, I am not sure what kind of theme this mechanic best fits.

Perhaps this would work in Dung & Dragons? If the theme is a co-op ranch where members place votes on which duties to perform around the ranch, I can see this fitting that theme well. Basically, you're a loosely collectivist commune. Coordinating your jobs, timing duties and planning ahead definitely fits. Hm!

[In the Lab] Swap Clops

I've been playing a lot of tile-swapping puzzle games like Bejeweled, Tetris Attack and ShapeShift HD. As is often the case when I play digital games, my mind wanders to how I can make an analog conversion, with new mechanics unique to a tabletop game.

Then I started thinking about the success of Angry Birds. Now, there have been tons of missile-launching video games, but one of the big things Angry Birds had going for it was the personality in each bird and pig. (It's important to note the WORMS franchise was doing the "cute animals as avatars in a missile game" thing for a long time in the 90s.)

And then I stumbled on a weird title. Swap Clops. It was going to be a Pitch Tag for Fred, but I couldn't give it up. I wanted to make something with it. A game about swapping eyeballs among cyclopses? Nah. Maybe "Clop" is a new branded name for the "floating ball with a giant eye" monster archetype. (I heard somewhere WotC has a trademark on the term "Beholder.")

So, Swap Clops is my take on the tile-swapping puzzle genre, adding characters with personality to the mix. Above, you see Kari Fry's concept drawings for the clops. Look for more game notes to come!

Card Layout for Race to Adventure

You've heard me yap on and on about card game design over the past year.

Well, Fred Hicks and Evil Hat finally called me on it and hired me to do the layout for their new card game Race to Adventure, the card game set in the Spirit of the Century universe. It's an action-selection game where you play Centurions traveling around the world via jetpack, biplane and zeppelin for a global scavenger hunt.

The images above are still in-progress, but give you a good sense of the direction we're heading. It's been a very fast process, starting from a week before Christmas up to the designs you see above. We're on-track to finish up the layout by the end of the month. How's that for a quick turnaround?

UPDATE: I neglected to give proper credit to Christian St. Pierre for the illustrations. He's the one responsible for the all the art you see above. I'm doing the backgrounds, frames, iconography, typography and branding. "I do all the visuals the artist doesn't" is what I like to say.

Take-Back-Toe Wins the Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge

The winner of the Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge is Take-Back-Toe by James Ernest. It was a close, close decision. All the finalists had unique attributes that made them stand out from the rest. Whether it be sustainability, accessibility, strong community, and just straight elegance, each entry had strong showings in one category or another.

Still, we found the strongest overlapping approval for Take-Back-Toe, a well-rounded abstract with a touch of randomness. We found it intriguing that the game can be played with any forty objects and no board. That mix of specificity and generality is a clever avenue for the game to survive generations as either a commoners' game (with seeds in pits) or an elite past-time (with specially crafted components). It makes the game very portable, too. While waiting in line at an author signing, a friend wanted to learn how to play. A minute later, we ripped up a sheet of paper and played on the floor. I've played with stones (as seen above), cards, and poker chips. It's a hit every time. We replayed this game more often than any entry in the lineup.

Congratulations to James Ernest!

And a thousand thanks to everyone who entered the Challenge – for your entry and for your patience during the long judging period. We're still just a couple of gamers and this is only our best guess at what will survive into distant future. All of the finalists have a great shot at becoming a thousand-year game. I do hope you all continue designing new games into the new year and beyond.

As for the future of the Challenge itself? Well, I'm taking a personal break. I hope the Challenge returns in the future with a larger judging committee. With luck, the Challenge can live on well beyond my stewardship.

And who knows? A Challenge entrant may actually last to the next millennium!
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.