Get Off The Rock [New T-Shirt | Creative Commons Download]

I'm a big supporter of science and technology, especially teaching both at a young age. There are plenty of good general reasons to pursue science, but I think the ultimate goal should be space colonization. To put it bluntly: Get off the rock.

Get as many humans off the planet as possible, as long as possible, as soon as possible. Take a look at this time-lapse video of the milky way. It breaks my heart how much closer those stars could be now.

Sadly, I'm not going to go to space any time soon, but here's my tiny attempt at promoting space travel – Four simple words to keep it on top of mind. Clearly, I'm not as tactful as Neil deGrasse Tyson or Carl Sagan. :P

UPDATE: Want to use this graphic in your own stuff? Good news! It's released to the Creative Commons. Download the vector EPS below...

» Get off the rock (CC-BY-NC)

Mismatched Theme and Mechanics: Future Plans for Belle of the Ball

Hey, you remember Belle of the Ball, right? Well, to be honest, I was never entirely satisfied with how the game turned out, but I couldn't pin down what my problem was exactly. Over time... a long time... I figured out that there was just a mismatch between the theme and the mechanics.

In essence, the mechanics are an abstract tile-laying game, which is totally fine on its own. The problem is, I gotta think about the target audience here. Is someone attracted to the Jane Austen theme going to enjoy a slightly layered abstract strategy game? Would they prefer a lighter game that specifically uses cards as, well, cards?

Yeah... So, my distant future plans are to retheme this tile-laying game mechanic. That will leave the "Belle of the Ball" theme free for a light card game. Here's the basic outline I have marinating in my head for that new incarnation.

Players each have a hand of guest cards. The card shows what this guest is doing: Drinking, eating, flirting, dancing, etc. It also shows whether this guest will attract or repel other guests, based on certain conditions. Lastly, the card will show how much this card is worth in points.

On your turn, invite a guest to the party. You do this by laying a card in front of you. Over time, you'll have a row of guests. This is your clique. When you invite a new guest, that guest will immediately attract guests to your clique or repel guests from your clique.

When your guest attracts, choose a neighboring player. Take any affected guests in her clique and place them in your clique.

When your guest repels, choose a neighboring player. Take any affected guests in your clique and place them in her clique.

Note: This does not lead to chain reactions.

When you invite a guest, you can place it alone or place it on top of another to make it a couple. Some cards are more valuable when coupled with cards of a particular type. Couples behave as a single guest, with the attributes of the top card. Couples may not be split apart.

You may also invite a Belle. Belles are placed in the center of the table. They are never part of any player's clique. Belles change the rules in new ways. ("Everyone is attracted by ____." "You may invite two guests on your turn." "No one may invite ____.") There may only be one Belle in play at a time.

The round ends when one player has four couples in her clique. Add up the scores for your clique. Take note of any coupling bonuses. Whoever has the highest score wins the round. Reshuffle the guests for a new round. Do not reshuffle Belles who have already been in play. Best out of three rounds wins the game.

Suuuuper simple.

The basic mechaphor of inviting guests and cultivating cliques would still be in place. In addition, you're playing matchmaker at the party. You're inviting guests, hoping they attract other guests, maybe so you can pair off with guests in your clique. The themes are still in place, but in a much more approachable game mechanic.

More James Stowe Art for Pop and Locke's Last Heist

Here's some more art from James Stowe for Pop and Locke's Last Heist! See his last couple pieces for the game here and here.

The main direction for these two pieces were to show Pop and Locke on an actual heist, using the magical household objects to help out in their tasks. Last time, you saw Pop doing the grab and Locke on the assist.

This time, I wanted to show Locke in the foreground with Pop in a bit of trouble. (You can spot him in the security cameras.) Locke is using the pocket watch that puts dogs to sleep while grabbing the facility keys off the security desk. She's gotta be careful, though! The watch only works on dogs, not goons.

I'm really glad we were able to get James on this project. When your game is about heists, it's hard not to veer into Mission: Impossible, Ocean's Eleven, or Leverage. James' light, cartoonist style was a perfect way to show that this game has a much more goofy kind of atmosphere. Hopefully it makes you want to play the game, too!

You can find more of James Stowe's work on his blog.

Meeple Earrings and Jewelry

Megan is making earrings and other jewelry from meeples! They're real meeples assembled with high quality materials and unique beads. Perfect gift for the gamer who likes to show off some pizazz! Watch the video above to see her at work. Check out her wares on the Hard Boiled Megg Etsy store.

Talk Find Make: Punch-Proof Problems for Peace-Loving Adventurers

This is a simple system for "pacifist adventure" role-playing and storytelling games. Here the heroes find non-violent solutions for a big dilemma. The heroes might follow a code of peace, the antagonists could be physically invulnerable, or the heroes are just outnumbered. No amount of punching will help. It's up to you and the other heroes to Talk, Find, and Make a solution.

Doctor Who, Nancy Drew, Dora the Explorer, Columbo, Daniel Jackson (Stargate), Lyra Silvertongue (Golden Compass), MacGyver, The Question (DC Comics), Veronica Mars, Agent Scully, Penny (Inspector Gadget), Dorothy Gale (Oz), Hermione Granger.

Stuff You Need
One six-sided die for the whole group.
One player (the GM) will take on the role of the antagonists and secondary characters.
The other players each need a hero to play.
The whole group needs problem scenario for the heroes to solve.
The whole group needs twenty stones (or chips, or other small objects).
Place nine of those stones in the center of the table.
Split those stones into three groups of three stones, labeled with index cards.
The index cards should read "TALK," "FIND," and "MAKE."
Set aside the other eleven stones.

Create a Problem
The whole group can collaborate to create a problem or the GM can have one prepared. A problem takes the form of three sentences. The first sentence introduces the heroes and what they do. The second sentence introduces an antagonist or problem that can't be fought with violence. The third sentence poses a dilemma the heroes must face as they pursue a solution to the problem. Here are some examples.

You are mice who live in the walls of a small house. A real estate developer wants to demolish the house and make room for a parking lot. How will you save the house without drawing attention to yourself?

You are a team of peacekeepers now on the run because of a crime you didn't commit. You must find proof of your innocence and uphold your duty to protect the innocent wherever they are oppressed. How can they maintain your duty while keeping a low profile?

You are bloggers trying to reveal the truth about the Freedom Squad, an international cabal of costumed superhumans. The Freedom Squad is wildly popular around the world, so it'll take some work to prove their nefarious intentions. How can a group of mere mortal bloggers take on a team of modern-day deities?

You are interdimensional travelers lost in space and time. A mysterious machine sends you to new times and places in crisis, but forbids you from using any violence to solve problems. How can you resolve the crisis so the machine will take you home?

Make Your Hero
Heroes solve problems in three ways: Talk, Find, and Make. Talk is when you interact with others. Find is when you reveal new details about the problem. Make is when you fix or create new stuff to solve the problem. Some heroes are better at one of these abilities than others.

Answer one of the questions below to describe how your hero performs this ability well, thanks to unique skills or assets. Answer another one of the questions below to describe how your hero performs this poorly, thanks to some character flaw or hindering trait.

How do you talk?
How do you find?
How do you make?

For the ability you do well, write a "+1" next to it. For the ability you do poorly, write a "-1" next to it. Players should try to get as much diversity amongst their abilities as possible. These answers describe some key details about your hero and how he or she is different from the rest of the group.

For example: Face is a famous author with lots of fans, but hopeless with computers (Talk +1, Make -1). Bulk is a stoic figure who intimidates suspects for information, but whose gruff approach scares people (Find +1, Talk -1). Click is a shy nerd, but a skilled computer hacker (Talk -1, Make +1).

How to Play
Each round, each player chooses to either Talk, Find or Make.

Talkers take turns first, starting with the oldest player and continuing clockwise around the table. If Talking, players describe their heroes interacting with each other or secondary characters.

Finders take their turns next, again starting with the oldest player and continuing clockwise around the table. If Finding, players describe their heroes searching for new information.

Makers take their turns next, starting with the oldest player and continuing clockwise around the table. If Making, players describe their heroes creating new objects or devices.

Players may simply take their turn to engage in free-form description and then let the next player take their turn. However, at some point a player will describe their hero actually trying to solve the problem at-hand. The GM or the player in question may determine if this is the case. Either way, see the following steps for what happens next in your turn.

Solving the Problem
After describing what your hero is doing to solve the problem, roll one six-sided die. If you're rolling for an ability that has a "+1" or "-1" next to it, adjust your dice result accordingly. So, if you rolled a 4 for Talking and you have a +1 bonus to that ability, you can consider that result a 5 instead. Results cannot go below 1 or above 6.

If the result is 1 or 2, something you did made the situation worse (or you're simply that you're running out of time). Add that many stones to the group corresponding with your action. So if you rolled a Talking action, add stones to the TALK group.

If the result is 3 or 4, you changed the nature of the problem slightly. Move that many stones from the group corresponding with your action to another group of your choice. So, if you rolled a Finding action, you move that many stones from the FIND group to either the TALK or MAKE group.

If the result is 5 or 6, whatever you did is starting to help. Remove that many stones from the group corresponding to your action. So if you rolled a Making action, remove that many stones from the MAKE group.

Whenever there are not enough stones to move or remove, just move or remove as many as you can.

Whatever the outcome, you may now describe how the problem is worsened, changed or improved thanks to your action. Once done, your turn is over and the next player takes their turn.

When there are no more stones on the table, you solved the problem! If you plan to play again with the same character, you may update your "+1" ability to describe how you now do that thing differently.

When there are twenty stones on the table, the problem overwhelmed your heroes! If you plan to play again with the same character, you may update your "-1" ability to describe how you now do that thing differently.

Advanced Play
Add names of specific antagonists and problems to the cards. Is there a mechanical problem that can only be solved by Making? Is there a hostile diplomat who can only be swayed by Talking? Is there a missing person who can only be tracked by Finding? When a card is emptied, that little problem is solved! Try playing with multiple cards to add more targets for your heroes.

A quick roundup of current and upcoming projects.

Spinning Plate Suspense

Current Projects as of February 22, 2012
Layout The Play's The Thing by end of February
Design Spirit of the Century imprint logo by end of February
Layout Zeppelin Armada by end of March-ish
Writing next draft of Pop and Locke's Last Heist to Tom Cadorette by Mid-March
Writing next draft of Rulers in the DMZ to Will Hindmarch by end of March

On the Horizon, Pending Kickstarters
Prismatic Art Collection with Tracy Hurley and others
Layout School Daze from Tracy Barnett
Layout VELOCIRAPTOR! CANNIBALISM! from JR Blackwell, Jenn Rodgers, et al

Want to do, but isn't immediately paying
Graphics for Pebble Rebel
Playtesting my own games
The next Kickstarter for one of my own games
Designing graphics for Kill Your Darlings with Jared Axelrod
Layout the Board Game Calendar with Justin Jacobson and Chuck Wendig
Design T-Shirt for this quote

And this is all "by night." If I ever look dog-tired, this is why. :P

New Art for Pop and Locke's Last Heist from James Stowe

Thanks to Evil Hat Productions, we have a bit of an art budget to hire James Stowe again to create more art for Pop and Locke's Last Heist. The one thing I really wanted to see (as did many others) was Pop and Locke actually pulling a heist. Here is my actual art direction to James.


I want to show Pop and Locke actually in a trouble during a heist. The game mechanics require you to incur a degree of trouble in order to achieve the best ending. However, most heist movies reflect these troubles with violence, showing heroes pinned down and exchanging gunfire. For example.

That's not how Pop and Locke work. After all, part of their advantage is that they are an unlikely heist team. Pop, Locke, and the Target all have access to the weirdly powered Objects, which usually make traditional weaponry impractical. Instead, the Targets use a combination of high-tech surveillance and hired goons to protect their treasures. Meanwhile, Pop and Locke use their Objects' powers to pull off their heists. So, what does that leave for heist scenes? Quite, a bit, actually!

Descend on a wire and harness above the target
Reveal the surveillance beams
Distract the dogs!
Cut through the fence!
Disable the alarm!
Avoid the cameras!
Pickpocket the key!
Carry the heavy box out!
Keep the drill running!
Find the passcode!
Convince her to give me the passcode!
Get his cellphone!
Find the blueprints!
Discover the hidden exhaust port!
Blow that popsicle stand!
Control your partner!
Wear a ridiculous disguise!
Mark the gold!
Loop the camera feed
Cut through the glass
Replace the (statue, diamonds, artwork, launchcodes...) with a fake
Vault over the pressure plate
Pop out of the dusty old crate
Decode the warning in an ancient language
Pop the gems from their setting
Slip the papers inside an ordinary book
Guess the password
Hide behind the set of armour
Roll under the descending security gate
Hit the target with the grapple gun
Photograph the contents of the safe
Plant false evidence

I'd love to see Pop and Locke in the middle of any of these situations, take your pick. Some stuff I would like to see for sure:

* Dramatic perspective, just to get that nice cinematic feel.

* Pop and Locke pursued or caught by goons. Generic goons, like old-timey 60s Batman henchmen. You can even draw them as an indistinct mob of silhouettes, just to keep the details on our heroes.

* Pop has captured the Object they were trying to steal, but it's ridiculously oversized for his body. What's a large household object? A recliner? A potted plant? Hm! A plant. Try that.

* Locke using a spoon to levitate something out of the way, a goon or a door or an obstacle.

* If you can show some sign of alarms, that would be good. Whether that's a big red beacon or a clattering bell or a high-tech ticker with a row of exclamation points, that's all good. (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) Something to show that an alarm has been tripped.

I put together this Pinterest board for heist reference, which I think was immensely helpful, especially getting across the look for goons.


So that's the direction I gave a few weeks ago. Then James comes back with this finished piece that somehow manages to incorporate SO MANY elements of what make this game unique. It's clearly a heist, pulled by unlikely heisters, with obviously magical stuff going on, all to steal a potted plant, which for some reason is guarded by cartoonish goons and a laser grid. It's all in there and I love it so. Excellent work, James!


My good friends Jenn Rodgers and JR Blackwell and their gang of vagabond game designers are kickstarting a card game with a fun little theme. They call it a "inspired by a crude and inaccurate understanding of natural selection."

If the kickstarter is successful, Jenn and I will tag-team the visuals. she will be illustrating all the adorable foods and the fearsome predators. Including giant squids why not.

So if you want to see the designer of Shelter In Place, illustrator of the Dresden Files RPG, and layouter of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple forming a reptilian Frankenstein monster, back this project!

Simple Doctor Who Story Game Rules for Kids

Otakon 2011 - Doctor Who
A parent of a Doctor Who fan wanted a Doctor Who story game with ultra-simple rules. If you have recommendations, please post them on this thread. For my part, I took a quick pass at a system. Hopefully it kind of fits the bill.

The Problem
The game begins with ten stones on the table. This represents the problem on the new world you're visiting. When you land on the world, you don't know what the problems are.

How You Solve the Problem
Each turn, the Doctor can do one of three things to help: Talk, Search or Make. When you Talk, this means you're making friends with someone or trying to scare someone. When you Search, this means you're finding clues about the problem. When you Make, you're creating a new gadget or helping to repair an existing one. Describe your character doing one of these things to solve the problem. After describing what the Doctor does to help, roll d6.

If the result is 1-2, add that many stones to the table. This means something you did made the situation worse or simply that you're running out of time.

If the result is 3-6, remove that many stones. This means that whatever you did is starting to help. That's no guarantee it'll work a second time, though!

Saving the World
When there are no more stones on the table, you saved the world!

When there are twenty stones on the table, the Doctor is forced to regenerate. The Doctor's appearance and personality can shift radically after regeneration. This also means the Doctor approaches old problems with new insights. Reduce the number of stones back down to ten.

The Doctor gets +1 to Talking rolls when using Psychic Paper.
The Doctor gets +1 to Searching rolls when using the TARDIS.
The Doctor gets +1 to Making rolls when using the sonic screwdriver.

"Hey Girls of the Flying Temple!" A letter by Lyndsay Peters

Lyndsay Peters wrote another letter for Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. She's a big fan of writing her own letters for her games. This time, the letter was inspired by a video with NSFW language. Glad she kept this letter G-rated so I could share it with you. :)

Hey Girl!!

I live in a little town, just a quiet village. Every day, like the one before? I hate this town.

ANYWAY. Here's my problem, girl. Tonight they're having a ball. It's pretty much the only interesting thing these people do. So I need my dress to look amazing, to show those girls always talking about me that I CAN HEAR THEM! Problem is, this town sucks. There's Bernice with her wigs, but other than that it's just sheep and pigs. I am not wearing a matching sweater to this ball.

So here's what I need you to do. Make a good impression for me. Of me. Because girl, I'm special. And after the ball, nobody should forget it! If you need inspiration, make it like pretty in pink, but if the dress looked good.

Oh, look out for Gaston. Who is that guy? I thought we uninvited him!

See you soon, girl!

– Belle

Goal Words

Lyndsay also posted her actual play report here. (NSFW language) Lyndsay's group is a salty bunch. :P

Affordable Success: Why I'm Postponing the Kickstarter for Utara Dice Game

Utara Dice 2
I've decided to postpone plans for kickstarting my dice game Utara. Here's why.

Utara's biggest problem is that it calls for so many custom dice. I thought I could manage it as a small outfit thanks to new tools like Kickstarter. That opened up opportunities for high engagement and distributed costs. Those would compensate for high up-front production expenses of custom dice. That expense was just from the relatively affordable option of laser-engraved dice. Each of those would cost $1.10 to make at a quantity of 2,000.

Pricey, but at least it followed the model of similar novelty products like Mathematician's Dice and Writer's Dice. We figured a goal of ~$4,000 would get us where we needed to be. The trick would be focusing on the novelty and flexibility of individual dice, rather than the game Utara. We'd need to develop more properties using one, two or three Utara dice, but at least it could be done.

As I sought feedback on the tier rewards, it became clear that if I was to focus solely on the dice, most people wanted something a little more refined. The ideal would be ivory dice with black inlay engravings, like old piratey artifacts. Unfortunately, the cost for that spec would be $2.50 per die for 2,000 dice. The rule of thumb for retail is mark up about 3x-to-5x your production costs. That means a single die would be a little under ten bucks! Even with bulk consumer deals, like a set of ten for $30, the price point would be much higher than a similar product from a larger company. (Martian Dice comes with more dice for a fraction of the retail cost, for example.)

So, the next viable alternative is to actually go for an injection molded run of dice, custom made just for Utara. There are international options for just this purpose, as I learned from Fred Hicks. Turns out those prices per die were something like pennies per die, but required much higher quantities in a single production run. The ballpark guesstimate was something like 30,000 dice for around $7,000. However, those would take months to produce, go through customs, and travel by freight ship across the ocean. Then I'd need to hire a warehouse to store, sort and fulfill individual orders (unless I wanted a mountain of dice sitting in my living room.)

Even then, assuming a single retail unit contained 30 dice, for all that trouble I'd only get 1,000 units to sell. To be truly feasible, I'd need to order far more than 30,000 dice. 50,000? 100,000? I had enough trouble carrying a box of 2,000 from my car to my doorstep. I shudder to think about how much more of a hassle a larger quantity would be.

It's clear that I'm in this transitional period between boutique designer and middle-sized producer. What I kickstart next has a strong chance of succeeding, based on whatever social capital I've accrued over the past three years. That being the case, I really need to keep affordable success in mind.

That means if the Kickstarter succeeds and I can't fulfill on what I promise, or if I have to compromise on quality, that social capital will be squandered. So, I can't pursue a Utara Kickstarter right now. Even if I set a Kickstarter sky-high and it succeeds, I just don't have the time or infrastructure necessary to make it a product without compromise. It'll just have to wait for a partner with deeper resources somewhere down the line.

Thanks for following the ups and downs of Utara. It'll come some day, just not right now. For now I'm going to pursue formats that are much more feasible for a small guy like me. Card and party games with minimal components that can be domestically manufactured and distributed in small runs. I have plenty of options in that space.

Superhero Audition, Belle of the Ball, Dead Weight, Dung & Dragons, Stupor Market, What's Your Excuse?!, and For The Fleet are all worthy candidates. Which interest you?

A Taste of Storytelling at Labyrinth Games & Puzzles in Washington DC

Labyrinth Games & Puzzles in Washington D.C. just hosted a big event called a Taste of Storytelling, featuring Happy Birthday, Robot! and Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. The store owner was very kind to host my wife and I over the weekend and give us a tour of the city. We saw lots of cool schtuff and there was way more to see than we could fit in one Saturday. We'll return soon!

But the main event was on Sunday and it was awesome. About thirty attendees played six different sessions of either Do or HBR. It was my first time actually being in the room while others taught and ran my games, which was a surreal and exciting experience. Probably my favorite moment was when everyone fell quiet at the same time, long enough to overhear me ask "So... what could possibly go wrong with using a sword as a baseball bat?"

During short one-shot games like these, I've been trying to relax the writing requirements of Do. Upside: It speeds up play quite a bit when people can just say what their pilgrim is doing. The downside is that you really need an outside facilitator (a GM, basically) just to keep track of everyone's current trouble-state. I'll adapt what I've learned from to my newer storytelling games.

Oh! And Megan was kind enough to be the typist during our HBR sessions. The best part of that? She could have her laptop read aloud the story after the game was complete. That drew big laughs from the group. Here's a sample of some of the stories from the event, first from Do.


-Pilgrim Sublime Elephant gets in trouble by being slow to action and helps by having a great memory.

-Pilgrim Exuberant Mountain gets in trouble by helping and helps by being patient.

-Pilgrim Anxious Fountain gets in trouble by being nervous and helps by being very giving.

-Pilgrim Insolent Monkey gets in trouble by mouthing off and helps by climbing things.


••Pilgrim Sublime Elephant remembers this was not the first time Melanie has written to the Temple and begins a thorough search through the vast archives. After hours of searching, Sublime Elephant finds the letter...just as a cat nabs it from his hands and runs away.

Exuberant Mountain chases the cat straight into the whale's mouth.

°°Pilgrim Anxious Fountain brings a tasty treat for the whale to eat in order to get access to the swallowed cat. The cat then leaps out of the whale and is chases Anxious Fountain.

•Pilgrim Insolent Monkey loudly demands the whale release the planet and is promptly swallowed in the process. Insolent Monkey then quickly climbs up and out the whale's blow hole.

°°Pilgrim Sublime Elephant realizes he didn't need the original letter because read it previously and states, “I know why that planet was so delicious!” Sublime Elephant, however, did not know he looked up the WRONG Melanie and sets off for a different world.

••Pilgrim Exuberant Mountain finds the planet inside the whale and begins dragging it toward the blow hole. Dragging the planet thereby destroys the roof of the house in the process.

°Pilgrim Anxious Fountain realizes she needs to help her friends, confronts her feline fears, and heads back toward the whale.

••Pilgrim Insolent Monkey sees Sublime Elephant lumbering in the wrong direction and re-directs him toward the whale. Sublime Elephant resolves to shove one of the trees into the blow hole and is subsequently sneezed into the sky (a literal snot rocket, one might say...).

Sublime Elephant manages to yell, “Burn the cookies!” while flying past the other Pilgrims.

Exuberant Mountain makes a quick decision to set the roof, still in his hands, alight to burn the cookies as directed. The whale then sneezes hard enough to expel the planet!


-Pilgrim Sublime Elephant: ••°°• The lessons learned here in sky whale congestion will serve me well in teaching other pilgrims back at the Temple. He'll soon becomes a library hermit in the temple.

-Pilgrim Exuberant Mountain: •• Fire + Whale = Whale Bacon. I'll create the universe's largest BBQ shack.

-Pilgrim Anxious Fountain: °°° I learned so much during this adventure. I'll return to the temple to create a training program and share what I learned.

-Pilgrim Insolent Monkey: ••• I am the Whale Whisperer! And also a traveling outcast...

And here's a story from Happy Birthday, Robot!

Happy Birthday Robot!
Robot ate cake and called his friends, but his friends couldn't come.
Robot was sad that his friends missed his party, so he decided to cry.
However, Robot's friend Matt was able to come later and they had fun, but Matt lost his present.
Robot had extra presents to give Matt and they both had a lot of fun, but something bad happened.
Robot saw it started to rain...with lightning! But, the sun was out.
A beautiful rainbow showed Robot where a present was hidden, but someone else was there.
Amazingly, it was his other friends who were coming to visit.
And when he saw friends he was totally amazed!
Robot really wanted the present (it was a water slide). And it was ginormous!
So, they played.
After they went on the water slide, they dried themselves off.
Matt found his present and oiled Robot.
They went home to eat more cake.
Robot said, “this was the best birthday ever!”

Check out the pics above a fine city and an even finer game shop. Many thanks again to Labyrinth Game Shop. DC gamers, you're super lucky.

Some Party Games from Megan and Daniel

The Cast of Arrested Development does the Chicken Dance
Megan and I just came back from a game trip to Labyrinth Games in Washington D.C. (more about that soon!) And now Megan is vibrating with game ideas of her own. She's always been more into party games than my gamer-type games. So, this was a fun little experiment. We came up with two games with a similar charades-like theme, with some elements of games like Cranium, Quelf, etc.

So here are the two games. Both are co-op party games that make players act silly, but with a touch of strategy in the choice of how you do so. The first game is inspired by that scene from Arrested Development where the each member of the Bluth family has their own very weird chicken impression. (The photo above is of some silly people doing the Bluth chicken dances.)

Bluth Family Chicken Dance Game

There is a deck of cards, each one with the subject of an impression. There is also a 30sec timer.

Everyone draws one card. If you don't like the card you drew, you may discard it into the game box and draw another one. you may continue doing this until you get a card you like.

When everyone has chosen a card place it face down. Everyone puts their card down in the center of the table and mixes them around, so no one knows who had which card.

Start the timer.

Everyone does an impression from their card at the same time until the timer runs out. While doing that impression you may move around, make noise, point at objects, or use props, but you may NOT say or write any words.

Each card is revealed one at a time and everyone gets one attempt to guess who was doing that impression. 

If someone guesses correctly, put that card in the scoring pile. If someone guesses incorrectly, discard that card into the game box.

If you get twenty cards in the scoring pile before the deck runs out, you win!

What is this? I don't even...

There are three decks of cards: an adjective deck, a noun deck, and a verb deck. Each card lists two options for it's respective subject, an easy option and a hard option. (For example, the adjective card could list Happy as an easy option and Bright would be a hard option. The noun card could be model or bikini model. The verb card could be turning a wrench or repairing a sink.) There is also a 30sec timer.

Each player takes turns, starting from the youngest player.

On your turn, you draw one card from each pile. These cards combine to make statements like "I am an -allergic- -panda- -in a car chase.-" If you don't like a card, you can discard it into the game box and draw another. You may repeat this as often as you like.

When you're ready, keep your cards hidden and start the timer.

Do an impression of any combination of the words on your cards. You may do anything to make this impression, such as moving around, make noise, point at objects, use props, but you may NOT say any words.

When any player guesses one of the words on one of your cards correctly, you may place that card face up on the table. 

When the timer runs out, see which cards are revealed and which are still hidden. Any cards that are still hidden get discarded. If someone guessed the easy word on one of your cards first, the card goes on the 1-pointer scoring pile. If someone guessed the hard word one of your cards first, the card goes on the 3-pointer scoring pile.

If the group gets 20 points in the scoring pile before any deck runs out, you win!


So clearly the 20 point victory condition is pretty arbitrary. That's not what we would tweak to moderate difficulty, though. In both these games, we'd just adjust the size of the main decks so players have less room to be picky about their cards. It's a fun little mechanic for those of us (like me) who are picky about our live performance, while still giving extroverted people (like Megan) the freedom to be very silly.

[In the Lab] Towers of Battle as a Card Game?

Towers of Battle Cards

One last thought on Towers of Battle. It's much more economical to make it a card game than a board game, but that still requires a LOT of cards. Perhaps if each card had two letters and you could form a word with either letter on a card? Bonus points if the word is formed from letters in the same row. Bonus points if both rows make a word? You could even include in the mercenaries on the cards with the sword and shield symbols. Hm!

[T-Shirt] If you see the Buddha, kill the buddha for his treasure and XP.

Years ago, Kevin Allen Jr. and I had an exchange that went something like this.

K: if I ran into a wood elf we would not have chatted. I would have killed him for his treasure and the XPs. Duh.

D: I think that's an old Buddhist proverb. If you see the Buddha, kill the Buddha for his treasure and the XP.

K: I'm gonna get that engraved into a prayer wheel.

The joke is based on an old zen koan: "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him." Interpretations vary, but the gist is that while you are on the path towards enlightenment, you will sometimes externalize the image of enlightenment into some kind of ideal form. You must banish these images from your mind, because they are just distracting byproducts of material perception. True enlightenment comes from within oneself. Deep.

Now here's a shirt (and other illusions of the material world) for those of us who aren't quite so enlightened just yet.

[In the Lab] Towers of Battle

As is often the case, a twitter discussion led to some fun game ideas. Initially the discussion was about some hybrid of Scrabble and Battleship. My thoughts soon drifted to a totally different theme set in the days of ancient Babylon. Ancient builders compete to create the tallest tower, hiring mercenaries to pick off each other's towers brick by brick. Somehow scrabble figures into this. Above you see a veerrry loose mockup of something in my head.

On your turn, you draw up to seven letter tiles at random. Then you can do one the following basic actions...

Build: Then you may play a word on your side of the board along the lowest row of unoccupied spaces. You may build more than one level at a time, building one row on top of the other as a rising "tower" of words. You and your opponent may each only have one word in the same row. Your words may not run into each other. There must always be at least one unoccupied space between the words. In the example above, the right player just played ZIPPER and added it to the top of her tower.

Repair: You can add letters to one existing row of your tower, as long as the resulting combination of letters is a legal word. In the example above, the left player had the word LOP. He added another O to make it LOOP.

Hire/Move one Mercenary: You can also discard seven tiles to hire a mercenary. A mercenary begins at the lowest level of your tower, but may move one level up or down on subsequent turns. Your mercenary's movement is restricted by the height of your tower, he can't go any higher than that. In the example above, the left player has one mercenary at the top of his tower. The right player has two mercenaries in her tower, one at the top and one still rising.

Attack: Your mercenary can attack your opponent's tower to gradually disintegrate it. First, note which level of your tower your mercenary currently occupies. Gather one die for each letter in that comprises that level of your tower. As a row loses letters, it's okay if that resulting combination doesn't make a legal word anymore. In the example above, the left player's mercenary would attack with six dice, because WINTER has six letters. For each die result 4, 5, or 6, the right player would lose one letter from DIM, her word in that row.

If a row ever loses all its letters, then any rows built on top of the destroyed row are also lost. If a player loses all letters, he loses the game.

You gain a victory point when you begin a turn with the tallest tower on the board. I imagine there will be other ways to get victory points, like special tiles, themed words, combos, etc.

There is a strategic tension between building a tall tower fast, with several short words, or building a wide defensible position. Short words create weak rows that can be easily attacked by a lucky roll. You could focus on creating long words that are strongly defensible, but you sacrifice victory points in doing so.

Or something. Like I said, this was a very loose idea cooked up on the intertwitters. :P

5 Tips for Crowdsourcing Content as a Kickstarter Reward

crowd surfer

Folks asked if I could share some best practices on crowdsourcing content as a part of a Kickstarter campaign. Ooh boy, yeah. Crowdsourcing is a very fun way to engage your backers in the project. It's like a giant mad libs. I've incorporated crowdsourced content into Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple (letters, characters), Happy Birthday, Robot! (examples of play), and soon Utara (island names). There are a few basic tips I've learned.

1: Survey your real estate.
"We're releasing a role-playing game with a random citizen generator. Want to be listed as a resident of our world? Pledge now and join up!"

What are you offering and how much of it can you offer? If you can, offer examples of the context in which your offering will appear. For example, if you wanted to include a d100 random citizen generator in your game, you could offer space in that list for high-level backers. Limiting the availability increases the value of that space. As the spaces get sold out, that also gives you stuff to post updates about throughout the Kickstarter campaign, ie screenshots of the page with the generator.

2: Keep submission guidelines clear and constrained.
"[Tier Description] Backers at this level will be listed in the book as a citizen of the worlds. See the description details. [Then in the body description...] Each listing can be up to 100 characters. Please submit by January 1st. All submissions subject to editorial approval, so keep the language clean, folks. For example: Jenn Wong raises striped unicorns for their magical feathers."

Make the submissions as easy to create as possible, with clear guidelines. Short text is usually a good standby, as you can see from any rapidly trending Twitter hashtag. If their submission doesn't fit, gently offer alternatives and explain why their submission doesn't fit your guidelines. These are paying customers, but they also respect your vision.

3: Declare your default format.
"If you prefer, or if the deadline has passed, we'll make up a submission for you based on your name."

People are busy, so be prepared to come up with this content yourself. Write these up ahead of time with your team and leave open blanks for backers' names. Twitter can be very helpful in this process, but also call for ideas from all channels: blog, google+, facebook, etc.

4: Take requests.
"If you'd like your entry to be named in honor of someone else, let's talk!"

We got lots of backers in Do who wanted their children, friends or family to be named instead of themselves. That, or we got requests to incorporate their interests or occupations. We tried to accommodate those requests whenever possible. As soon as you get a request, make special note in the Kickstarter backer report for that person.

5: Use custom survey questions and the Backer Report functionality.
"Congratulations! You're a citizen of the worlds. Tell us in under 100 characters, what's your name and what do you do?"

When you ask folks for their shipping information, you can append custom questions to the survey to get their content all at the same time. I can't overstate how useful the backer report is for keeping all this information in one place. Export the CSV, load it onto Google Docs and share it with your team so you can all collaborate at the same time.

Any more tips you'd share for crowdsourcing content?

Real Estate of Utara: Kickstarter Reward Tier Planning

We're gradually refining the reward tiers for the upcoming Utara kickstarter campaign. We're gathering estimates from various vendors and comparing them to the hard costs of our last dice run. You might recall the last update on these plans, and now some stuff has changed based on the rising costs of postage, manufacturing, etc. Here's the basic rundown so far.

Explore a new world with Utara compass dice. These custom dice show either North, East, South, West, a sun or a moon on each side. They can also be used as normal six-sided dice by counting the stars on each side. Use these dice in "Lost in Utara" for unexpected trips in your role-playing games. Roll them in board games like "Tides of Utara." When you back this project, you also help create the world of Utara. Small pledges create an island, while big pledges create whole archipelagos. Explore the World of Utara with Utara compass dice.

Goal: ~$5000 in 30 Days
Given our experience with the costs of prototyping and the costs of the Writer's Dice Kickstarter, now we have a better sense of what it costs to fulfill without going red.

$1: Citizen
All backers get thanks in the rulebook.
If the campaign is successful, the map of Utara will be released as a high-res PDF to Creative Commons.

$10: Explorer (250 Available*)
You get two Utara dice, enough to play the "Lost in Utara" mini-game.
You also create and name a small island on the map of Utara. (One cell large.)
[International orders add $3 shipping.]

$20: Trader (350 Available*)
You get four Utara dice, enough to play "Expedition to Utara."
You also create and name a big island on the map of Utara. ($20: Two cells. $30: Three cells. $40: Four cells.)
[International orders add $4 shipping.]

$45: Sailor (50 Available)
You get ten Utara dice, enough for two players to play "Tides of Utara!"
You also name an archipelago on the map of Utara.
[International orders add $5 shipping.]

$100: Navigator (5 Available)
You get twenty-five Utara dice. That's a five-player "Tides of Utara" set!
You also name a sea on the map of Utara.
You also get an exclusive Dragon Chow Dice Bag.
[International orders add $10 shipping.]

$500: Cartographer (3 Available)
You get twenty-five Utara dice. That's a five-player "Tides of Utara" set!
Your name is listed in the center of the map as a cartographer. (For example: The lands and seas of Utara as discovered by Lewis & Clark.")
You get an exclusive Dragon Chow Dice Bag.
You also get an exclusive handmade ~26" square fabric map with each hemisphere of Utara printed on either side, brought to you by Dragon Chow Dice Bags!
[International orders add $20 shipping.]

$1000: Crown of Utara (1 Available)
You get twenty-five fifty Utara dice. That's two five-player "Tides of Utara" set!
Your name is listed in the center of the map as the sponsor of the expedition. (For example: "Surveyed for her majesty, Queen Jane Smith.")
You get an exclusive Dragon Chow Dice Bag.
You also get an exclusive handmade ~26" square fabric map with each hemisphere of Utara printed on either side. The whole kit comes in a wooden box, brought to you by Dragon Chow Dice Bags!
[International orders add $20 shipping.]

* And now a math problem...
I have a limited amount of real estate in which to sell of naming rights to islands (one cell) and big islands (two-to-four cells). I have about 640 whole 19mm x 19mm squares in each 24" x 24" hemisphere. I would rather not fill up the whole map with islands. By making only 300 cells available for purchase in each hemisphere, we can ensure that the map doesn't get totally dominated by landmasses. There will always be a little more sea than land.

Case Study: Iconography of Race to Adventure

Click the images above to embiggenate! We're wrapping up the final design for the cards in Race to Adventure. You can see a sneak peek at an early draft in this earlier post. I want to give you a light overview of some of the process.

At the top of this post, you can see how the icon language evolved over several rounds. The images from that last post were from around Round 4 or 5. Since then, we got some really useful input from the gamma test team. They're all avid Euro board game players. Since there are long-term international hopes for this game, we wanted a global perspective.

Mostly the direction was to err on the side of minimalism and simplicity, like a Euro or German game. In Euro terms, this seemed to mean no high-texture or three-dimensional rendering anywhere near the icons. We went back and forth on that point for a while. We settled on the side of three-dimensionality, with some constraints. The essential silhouettes of the icons are still clearly visible, but also use color-coding sampled from the actual item card art.

Visualizing movement was another troublesome matter. The biplane moves one space in a cardinal direction, then another space in a cardinal direction. Then, all other players may move one cardinal direction. The earliest rounds were very literal, showing a full spread of potential movement with lines arrayed from a central pawn. When movement could cross borders, as with the jetpack, we literally showed a border around the pawn.

Clearly this becomes problematic in the confined real estate of the average playing card. In each iteration, we became less and less literal for the sake of space constraints and distance-reading. Instead of showing an example playing field, we simply use icons to represent each type of movement. We now use cardinal arrows to communicate each cardinal movement. Those arrows rotate 45º to indicate diagonal movement. When movement can cross borders, we use a separate icon for that.

Thus, you can see how the "words" of this visual language are born. Two orthogonal crossed arrows translate to "Two movements, each in a cardinal direction." The basic syntax filtered out into the rest of the game, too. It was a great experience working with a robust gamma testing process. Definitely looking forward to working on more card games in the future!

P.S. As an added bonus, here's the Pinterest board I pulled together for inspiration way back when the project first began.

[In the Lab] Notes on Dead Weight

A long time ago, I came up with an rpg premise that seemed to resonate with a lot of people. There's one tower sanctuary left after a zombie apocalypse. Parkour runners loot the surrounding ruins while trying trying not to get weighed down. If you're too slow, the zombies get ya.

John Harper came up with a cool Apocalypse World hack for the setting and it's been dormant since. People still ask about it occasionally, though. I'm just not a role-playing game designer, so if I were to revisit this world, it'd have to be as a more tactical board or card game. So here are some thoughts on Dead Weight as such!

At it's core, it's basically a hack of Bomb's Away! Everyone begins with one runner card. There are three decks of cards on the table, containing either DISTANCE cards or ITEM cards.

On your turn, you roll one die and strike that result from your runner's card. Then, you can draw a new card from the first deck. You can keep rolling as many times as you like, each time drawing a new card. On your second roll, you can draw from the first or second deck. On your third roll, you can draw from the first, second or third deck. If a deck ever runs out, you cannot draw from it. (In other words, that part of city has been looted.)

DISTANCE cards get you more time in the city. Instead of striking a result on your runner's card, you can strike the result on the distance card.

ITEM cards are what you can use to buy new resources, hire new runners, and equip better tools. Eventually, you can buy admittance passage to higher levels of the tower. While carrying an ITEM, you must roll an additional die and strike that result as well.

BUSTING: If you roll a result that is completely struck out, you BUST. You lose all the loot and get one result on your runner's card permanently struck. (This is why you eventually want to hire more runners, too.)

TURNING BACK: You can always turn back and cash in your items. When you do so, place them face down in a discard pile.

NEW AREAS: When a deck runs out, place the discard pile face down as a fourth deck. This is a new, previously unexplored distant part of the city, ready to be looted. Discard piles continuously become new parts of the city in this way, so you might have a fifth deck, a sixth deck, and so on.

The first player to buy admittance to the top level wins.

That's the loose idea, anyhow. For a minute there, I thought this would be more of a dexterity game, but I couldn't settle on a way to actually make that work in play without that aspect totally overshadowing all the other tactical elements.
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.