Belle of the Ball - Power Icon Rough Drafts

In Belle of the Ball, guests have special powers that are triggered as soon as they create a group of friends, join a group of friends, or have a new guest join their group of friends. That's a tough set of conditions to state succinctly. (See my previous posts on over-coding and under-coding in card game design.)

For now, it's worded as "When this guest is friended," which is awkward and very distinctly modern. Ideally, I could just consolidate that whole line into a simple symbol, so I can refer players back to the rulebook where I have more room to state things in more detail. (It also makes the game easier to translate for foreign markets.)

Oh hey! I already have that symbol on the cards. It's the little icon of two stacked cards that appears with the Friend Bonus.

That'll work. There is also some space on the lower left corner where I could insert an icon or some other bit of information. This would be great in play because you can stack and overlap your guest cards without having to lift up any of them to read rules text.

The special powers are a little complex to explain visually, especially in a small space. Here's the full list of powers with a quick first attempt at expressing them visually.

When this guest is friended, choose a player. Steal 1 random card from their hand. Another version of this power allows you to steal 2 cards. Does the 2-card version look like you only get to keep one of the two?
When this guest is friended, you may invite 1 more guest from Lordhurtz county. There are also versions of this power for the other counties. The front of the card shows an enlarged county symbol. Is it clear that this is guest card is being pulled from a hand of cards? A normal hand of cards has five cards, I should probably include those. Also, should I include a thumb in the icon to really drive home the "hand" idea?

When this guest is friended, you may draw the top card from the discard deck. The icon shows a stack of face-up cards with one card pulled away from it. Does this icon need a pinching hand, like the stealing icon?

When this guest is friended, draw 2 extra cards from the Guest deck when you Refresh. The icon shows a stack of face-down cards, with two cards pulled away from it. Does this icon need a pinching hand, too?

Lots to think about in the coming weeks. I look forward to testing these at small sizes and in actual play.

Belle of the Ball - Beta Updates

Heyo! Belle of the Ball has gone through several more beta tests and it's polishing up to be a very fun light strategy game.

» Download the Current Beta Rules PDF
» Download the Print-and-Play Cards PDF
» Follow the conversation on BoardGameGeek
  • Term changes: "Couples" are now "friends." Up to three guests may be in a "group of friends." Adding a guest to a group of friends is "friending," until we can find a better term. "Social activity" is now "mood." "Physical activity" is now "interest." "Attracting" is now "calling."
  • Each player gets two Belles – one public, one secret. This allows multiple ongoing strategies, offensive countermeasures, and keeps a bit of deduction that was fun from previous versions.
  • Four of the Belles are replaced with Ribbon tokens, each linked to a different interest. Ribbons  reward you for gathering the most guests of a particular interest. Ribbons move around the table like Catan's knight and road bonuses.
  • The game is now one long round instead of a series of three short rounds. The endgame trigger makes the game last about thirty minutes. 
  • Clarified that the winner of a duel decides the order in which the dueling guests get discarded.
  • Ties in duels result in the duelists and the called guest being discarded.
  • The symbols on the cards are now framed by distinct shapes. County is framed by a hexagon, because there are six counties. Mood is framed by a triangle, because there are three moods. Interest is framed by a diamond/square because there are four interests.

Hierarchy of Interface for Tabletop Games – The Stavro Principle

Hierarchy of Interface for Tabletop Games as observed by John Stavropoulos (Source)

The actual components of play, like character sheets, cheat sheets, boards and bits.

The actual documented rules and how they are presented, including exact wording, procedures and game terms.

The parameters of play as best recalled by the players. Less formal than text, but more formal than the basic design intent.

The assumptions of how a game would be played, often expressed directly by the designer with minimal formal documentation.

“Dice,” “Pencil” symbol from The Noun Project collection.
“Paper” symbol by Tom Schott, from The Noun Project collection.
“Quote” symbol by Henry Ryder, from The Noun Project collection.
“Note” symbol by Brendan Lynch, from the Noune Project collection.
“Pawn” symbol by Kenneth Von Alt, from The Noun Project collection.
“Dialog” symbol by Dima Yagnyuk, from The Noun Project collection.

This graphic is released under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

So, a little background: John made some observations about RPG rules presentation on a Google Plus thread. Luke Crane suggested this could be modeled as a hierarchy by some designerly folks. I took the case and made slight slight tweaks broaden the scope to board games, too. Feel free to use this in your discussions. I'm not really interested in getting into game theory debates though. :)

Vector Illustration Process

Here's a new time-lapse video of my vector illustration process using the weird and now-defunct program Macromedia Freehand. I'm waiting for the time when I update my OS and I can't run Freehand anymore. That will be a very sad day. But this has been fun practice for character design that isn't a bunch of circles. :P

Mainly, my process has been finding really good illustrators and learning from their character design as much as I can. I've been drawing off and on since art school, but I never mastered those little touches that make a real professional. Hands are a particular challenge, so I spent a lot of time sketching different poses and shapes. Hats are also tough, with weird contoured brims and odd dents.

In the end, I had to rely on other artist's sketches from the sample art I've collected on my Pinterest board over the past few weeks. I tried not to just straight-up copy or trace over their work, though. Like I said in my last post, this is a backup plan and will more likely just serve as loose art direction for real professional illustrators.


Pedro Gabriel was kind enough to translate TALK FIND MAKE into Portuguese. Check it out here: FALE ACHE FAÇA. If you'd like to translate any of my games into another language, ping me at gobi81 at the gmail.

The "Backup Plan" for Belle of the Ball's card art

Belle of the Ball - Heads
I'm still gathering estimates to hire illustrators for Belle of the Ball's card art. Understandably, 108 unique portraits can quickly add up, even with the most generous estimates. To assemble the team I want on this project, it'll take significant amounts of up-front funding.

Kickstarter seems like the most obvious option, but I don't want to start a campaign until the game is more polished. The most recent playtest session put a nice polish on the midgame strategy, endgame conditions, and overall phase structure. It could still use another handful of playtests before I'm fully satisfied. If you're interested in joining the public beta, see the details here.

But yes, as for the actual art, I'm cobbling together eyes, noses, mouths, bodies, and attire from lots of different vector stock illustrations. I tried to follow a clear system: Social activity expressed in the face, county expressed in the body, physical activity expressed with the right hand (still in progress). Yes, it's all copy-paste, which does not make this an ideal solution. I wanted the guests to have more individual design, y'know?

Welp, at least this is a reasonable backup plan. I'll post a video of my process later this week.

Exodus: Earth - A worker removal game played on a RISK-like board? [In the Lab]

Perseid Meteor Seen From Space (NASA, International Space Station, 8/13/11)
[In the spirit of Earth Day this week, I'm going to brainstorm some ideas for games with an ecological or natural theme. Imagine these games printed on 100% recycled chipboard. Also see my post on sustainable game components.]  

And now we come to the last in this series. Hope you've enjoyed this idle brainstorming this week. Half the fun of this exploration has been figuring out mechanics for non-combat, non-colonial themed games. It was in that "non-colonial" direction that I started considering the opposite of colonization: Evacuation.

You know me, I'm a big supporter of getting off the rock. The notion of a massive planetary evacuation was a very tempting idea. This has the ingredients of a very interesting big box board game, too.

First, start with a basic world map and divide it up into distinct regions. Does this need to be countries as in RISK? Cities, as in PANDEMIC? Not sure, but there is some serious juice in literally playing on a world stage. All it needs is a sense of urgency, like an existential threat... like a meteor.

A rough mockup of the world board and the countdown tracker.

Thus, we have a story. A meteor is on a collision course with Earth. It will arrive in seven years. Let's say each round represents one year. Each round, the marker (a meteor token) moves inexorably closer and closer towards earth. The game continues until the meteor hits Earth. The player who gets all her meeples off the board wins. Seems like a simple enough core for a game.

If this is an evacuation game, it makes sense to have some mechaphor about removing meeples from the board – a worker removal game. There are a few games already in this genre, most notably Forbidden Island and Survive! Escape from Atlantis. Both those games have a very narrow scope, focusing on a handful of individual escapees. This game would expand that scope over a larger space and time.

Each player a has limited number of meeples, representing international teams of specialists performing different tasks. The game begins with each player takes turns placing meeples on spaces of the board. During each round, players take turns moving their meeples from one space to another. Leaving a space triggers a special action based on the space being left, usually harvesting limited resources, "hiring" more meeples, or building special infrastructure.

The ultimate goal is to build a Spaceport. The spaceport has only one special action: "Remove this meeple from this space to remove it from the board." The goal of the game is to evacuate all your meeples from the board via a Spaceport. Bear in mind that over the course of play, you might create many, many meeples to help you build the spaceport.

If you get all your meeples off the board, you win. If the meteor hits Earth and no one evacuates all their meeples, then the player who evacuated the most meeples wins. There might be alternate paths to victory, too, like lasers to push away the meteor for a round or bunkers that allow meeples to survive on Earth at the end of the game.

Wine Collector Auction Game [In the Lab]

[In the spirit of Earth Day this week, I'm going to brainstorm some ideas for games with an ecological or natural theme. Imagine these games printed on 100% recycled chipboard. Also see my post on sustainable game components.

I read a story once about counterfeit wine bottles. Some unwitting collectors will buy these fakes without realizing it. The funny thing is that the bottles are worth more when you're not certain that they're fake. So, collectors keep these and/or sell these suspected forgeries, all the while never knowing if they're legit. It's like "Schrödinger's Cabernet."

There has to be a game here. Maybe an auction game? Let's explore.

Assume there is a deck of double-sided cards, or "bottles." The "back" of the card shows a vineyard and the estimated value of wines from that vineyard. The "front" of the card shows the value of that specific bottle, which may be much higher or lower than the estimate.

BLECH VINEYARD [6 Bottles. Estimated Value: $2.]
[$1] [$1] [$1] [$2] [$3] [$4]

QUIET VINEYARD [9 Bottles. Estimated Value: $3]
[$1] [$2] [$2] [$2] [$2] [$2] [$3] [$6] [$7]

STABLE VINEYARD [9 Bottles. Estimated Value: $4]
[$1] [$1] [$2] [$3] [$4] [$4] [$5] [$6] [$10]

GOLD VINEYARD [6 Bottles. Estimated Value: $5]
[$2] [$2] [$3] [$5] [$7] [$11]

WILD VINEYARD [6 Bottles. 3M/2S/1P. Estimated Value: $6]
[$0] [$0] [$0] [$12] [$12] [$12]

There are also four available roles. Each role rewards you for collecting particular types of wines.

BLECH COLLECTOR - Score 6 points if you have the most BLECH cards in your collection.
QUIET COLLECTOR - Score 5 points if you have the most QUIET cards in your collection.
STABLE COLLECTOR - Score 4 points if you have the most STABLE cards in your collection.
GOLD COLLECTOR - Score 3 points if you have the most GOLD cards in your collection.

2-4 Players

Choose a player to get the "first player" token.

Deal a role card to each player.

Each player begins with a $20 in poker chips. Keep a general supply available for the rest of the game.

Taking turns, each player draws three cards from the top of the deck and keeps two. The unselected card goes to the top of the deck.

Remove one card from the deck for each player. These cards will not be used in this game.

Shuffle the remaining deck and place it in the center of the table.

Each turn has five phases.
1. Each player may offer a card for auction.
2. Each player may spend $2 to appraise an available card.
3. Each player may bid on an available card (including the top card of the deck).
4. Each player may open a bottle by revealing a card in their collection.
5. End of turn. If the top card is unsold, discard it. Pass the first player token to the left.

1. Offer (Optional)
You may take a card from your collection and put it up for auction by pushing it forward. It is now available for purchase in the auction. For each player without cards up for auction, add one card to the market. Then, draw one extra card and add it to the auction. In the end, there should be one card per player, plus one. So, in a two-player game, there will be three cards up for auction. In a three-player game, four cards. In a four-player game, five cards.

2. Appraise (Optional)
You may "appraise" one bottle that is up for auction. When you appraise a bottle, look at the front of that chosen card and put it back down without revealing it to anyone else. If you appraise a bottle, pay $2 to the general supply.

3. Bid
Taking turns, each player bids at least $0 for one card that is up for auction. The next player may do the same, and so on. On your turn, if someone has placed a higher bid on your card, you may place a new higher bid on that same card or you may offer a bid on another card. In the end, each player should have one bid on one card. The highest bidder for each card takes that card into her collection.

If you bought another player's card, pay that player. If you bought a card from the deck, your spent money goes to the general supply.

The unchosen card is discarded for the rest of the game. If that card belonged to you, you get paid that card’s shown value from the general supply.

4. Reveal (Optional)
You can also earn money by "opening a bottle." Choose one card in your collection. Reveal its front. You may collect the money indicated from the general supply. Keep that card in your collection, face up. It is still in play and may still be auctioned at a later point.

5. End of Turn
The first player token passes to the player on the left. The game ends when the deck runs out of cards. Complete the rest of that turn and proceed to scoring.

You score one point for the total value of your collection as it is currently visible. So, yes, you could score more points than a card is actually worth. You might also score fewer points than a card is actually worth. That's the risk of wine collecting!

In addition, score one point for every $3 in your supply and score points from your role card.

The player with the highest score wins!

Proxima 3 - Dice-based abstract strategy game [In the Lab]

North America and Pelican Nebulae (narrowband) [In the spirit of Earth Day this week, I'm going to brainstorm some ideas for games with an ecological or natural theme. Imagine these games printed on 100% recycled chipboard. Also see my post on sustainable game components.]

Let's take this "Earth Day" theme to the distant cosmic past, when Earth and planets were still coalescing around our sun. In this game, you and the other players gather stardust to create asteroids, planetoids, and other stellar bodies.

The game is comprised of the board shown above and a block of 36 dice. You can play with 2-4 players.

On your turn, roll a die. Place it on an unoccupied space on the board. You may not place a die in the center space.

Collapsing: If you create a contiguous adjacent group of three or more dice with matching results, remove all the dice in that group except the die you just placed. Raise that remaining die's result by one. So, if you make a group of 1s, the remaining die is now 2. If you make a group of 2s, the remaining die is 3. No die may be higher than 6.

Chain Collapse: If the remaining die creates a new contiguous group of three or more matching dice, remove the second group as well. The remaining die is raised yet again, by one increment.

Score: You score points for collapsing groups of dice. Your score is (number of dice in the group) + (value of dice in the group) + (number of bonus dots the group occupied). For example, if you made a group of three 1s with one die occupying a 3-dot space, you'd earn 7 points. (3 + 1 + 3)

The first player to earn 25 points wins. That's a very arbitrary number. If you playtest this game and decide it should be higher, I'm happy to hear your suggestions in the comments!

Dr. Remedy Grove: Amazon Rain Forest Medicine and Sustainable Ecosystem Game [In The Lab]

Rain Forest
[In the spirit of Earth Day this week, I'm going to brainstorm some ideas for games with an ecological or natural theme. Imagine these games printed on 100% recycled chipboard. Also see my post on sustainable game components.]

A while back, I had this loose image of a Pre-Columbian village on the Pacific coast of South America. The village doctors would travel from the coast, past the Andes, into the Amazon basin looking for strange and mysterious ingredients for potions. That idea stuck in my head for a while, but now I'm thinking about a slightly different theme.

The game is set in more modern times. The Amazon rain forest has potentially life-saving medicinal plant life. Each player is a doctor, traipsing through the Amazon and discovering patches of plant life. You are trying to collect just the right kind of plants, but still leave enough behind to regrow over time. With the right plants, you can cure certain patients and they'll return the favor in various ways.

The game is comprised of a Plant deck (various fictional plants and flowers), a Medicine deck (split into six different types of medicine), a Patient deck (ailments that require certain combinations of medicine to cure), and standard dice.


Each plant card is a slightly modified version of the Bomb's Away! board. Here are three examples.

6     [   ]
5     [   ]
4     [   ]
3     [   ]     [   ]    
2     [   ]     [   ]    
1     [   ]     [   ]     [   ]     [   ]    

6     [   ]     [   ]     [   ]     [   ]     [   ]     [   ]    
5     [   ]     [   ]     [   ]     [   ]     [   ]    
4     [   ]     [   ]     [   ]     [   ]    

6     [   ]
5     [   ]
4     [   ]
3     [   ]
2     [   ]
1     [   ]

A tableau of plant cards are laid out in the middle of the table, much like those seen above. The numbers 1-6 represent different types of medicine with varying rarity. 1s are most common and 6s are least common. In the final game, these would have cute scientific names like "Oneum" "Twosia" "Threed" "Foural" "Fiven" and "Sixic."

On your turn, you roll one die to "harvest" medicine from one of the plants. You must place that die on the lowest unoccupied space a row matching the die's result. So, a [1] die must go in the lowest unoccupied space in any available [1] row on any card in the tableau. If any plant gets six or more dice on it, the plant is discarded and a new plant takes its place in the tableau.

Then, you may gather medicine from that chosen plant. Each type of medicine card is arranged in its own deck. So, all the Oneum medicine cards are in their own clearly visible stack, as are the Twosias, Threeds, Fourals, Fivens, and Sixics. You draw a Oneum if you got a 1 result, Twosia if you got a 2 result, and so on. The number of medicine cards you may draw depends on how high up the track you placed your die. If in the second space, you may draw two medicine cards. If in the third space, you may draw three medicine cards, and so on.

Belen Market - Iquitos Peru

So, what do you do with medicine? You have a hand of Patient cards. Each patient describes the cure that they need and what they'll offer in return for the rest of the game.

CURE: Oneum x3
REWARD: Grad Student: You may re-roll one die when harvesting plants.

CURE: Oneum + Twosia + Threed + Foural
REWARD: Private Garden: Draw a plant. Only you may harvest from it.

CURE: Foural + Fiven + Sixic
REWARD: Tribal Guide: Roll an additional die when harvesting. Choose a result.

When you spend medicine to cure a patient, that patient goes in front of you so everyone can see the reward. The medicine cards go into a discard pile. At the end of each round, discard one patient from your hand and draw a new one. At the end of each round, one each medicine is taken from the discard deck and returned to its stack. (Representing the regrowth of the local ecosystem.)

However, if a stack of medicine ever runs out, it cannot be replenished. Once it's gone, it's gone. So, there is a tension in trying to collect the most valuable medicines but also doing so in a manner that won't completely deplete the supply.

After X number of rounds, players score points from their patients. You also score points based on the kind of medicine you have in your possession. The medicine's point value is determined by how much of that medicine is still in its respective stack. If 0 cards remain, it is worth 0. If one remains, it's worth one point. Up to a maximum of three points per medicine card. This creates another incentive not to deplete a medicine stack too much.

So, that's the rough idea. It would need a solid balance between the rarities of each medicine, the rewards from each patient, their point values, and making sure the whole game just moves at a quick pace. It would also need some testing to determine the appropriate length of game.

UPDATE: In hindsight, it may be more appropriate to call the Plant cards Region cards instead. This unifies the terms "plant" and "medicine" into a single game concept. Then, the region cards simply represent patches of rainforest where the plants are available. Yeah, that makes a lot more sense.

Prismatic Art Collection: A little more Lando and Leia

In a series titled More Like This Please, Tracy Hurley has cataloged good examples of depicting strong women in fantasy art. Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor is also great reference source for how to do this right. Alas, the Escher Girls are more common than depictions like below:

Illustration: Jason Chan / © Wizards of the Coast
Illustration: Guillaume Bonnet

Illustration: ~nathantwist
As Tracy says: "More like this, please!" That's why I'm happy to support the Prismatic Art Collection. We're commissioning more diverse depictions of fantasy heroes from a diverse community of artists. All the art we commission will be released to the Creative Commons, so you can use it in your games, books, and websites.

Our first goal allows us to commission at least 20 new pieces of art. I say "at least" because we're also licensing existing art and several artists have generously donated their art, too. We'll end up with way more than 20 pieces by the time we reach this first milestone.

If you want to see more diverse fantasy heroes, back the project. With a growing library of diverse fantasy art, small and independent shops have access to more art for their products.

If you want to support the art community, back the project. It's tough work being a freelance artist. Supporting the Prismatic Art Collection creates a market incentive to expand diversity in fantasy art.

If you are an artist, email Tracy at for details. We're offering fair market rates for new or licensed art. Check out our growing roster of award-winning and rookie artists on the Kickstarter page. A roster that now includes freshly Hugo-nominated Ursula Vernon! A freakin' Hugo nominee!

By the way, if you liked our cute little avatars in the Kickstarter video, I'm offering to make avatars of your adventuring party. Check the Kickstarter page for more details!

Dice Puzzle

Here's a solo dice puzzle for you. It's an oddly hypnotic way to spend a few minutes before giving up in frustration.

Gather a block of 36 dice.
Roll a die.
Place it on the table.

On Your Turn...
Roll a die. Place it adjacent to a die already on the table. Gradually, you'll create a branching dice formation. As soon as you create a contiguous chain of 3 or more with matching results, remove all the matching dice in that chain. Chains do not count diagonally adjacent dice. Only vertically and horizontally adjacent dice count.

1. Your formation can't extend past a 6x6 grid. Note: There is no board. The overall formation of dice simply can't extend taller or wider than 6 dice. Thus, the first die you place is technically the center. As you add or remove dice, the outerbounds of your formation can shift dramatically. Indeed, over time, the formation may seem to crawl like an amoeba over the table.

2. You may not remove any dice that would create "islands" of disconnected dice. Thus, you might have a chain that contains more than 3 matching results, but you may not remove those dice if it would leave behind even a single die disconnected from the rest.

3. If you already have a contiguous chain of 3 or more matching dice on the board, it stays on the board until you can add a freshly rolled matching result to that chain. Then, you may remove that chain.

If you manage to remove all the dice from the table, you have solved the puzzle. If you find a reliable strategy or solution, leave it in the comments!

New Podcast Interviews: Luck, Law, and Kickstarter

Image: Interview
Heyo! I have new interviews to share with you on this fine Tuesday morning. Get your headphones on and prepare to have your ears caressed by my dulcet tones.

First up, I pay a visit to the State of Games podcast, live in their studio! We talk about Luck in Game Design. How it works, how to design around it, and how to channel it into a successful game. We also spend some time talking about luck from the game-buyer's perspective. Do you prefer to respond to luck or prepare for luck? That preference can help inform your next game purchase.

» State of Games: The One About Getting Lucky

Next, I talk to the Law of the Geek about the long saga of the Happy Birthday, Robot! license to the Sandstorm. I'm joined by Tim Koppang, my legal counsel during those negotiations. Together, we outline the timeline of events and the legal protections Tim made sure were in place just in case. There is a lot of law geekery here, watch out! For my own take on this legal journey, check out my previous post here.

» Law of the Geek: Legal Challenges in Game Licensing

And lastly, Fred Hicks and I visit the Rolling 20s podcast to talk about our respective experiences with Kickstarter. This was recorded just as the Dinocalypse Kickstarter was just taking off, so it's fun hearing the cautious optimism knowing how much rapid growth was yet to come.

» Rolling 20s: Kickstarter with Fred Hicks and Daniel Solis

Early Designs for the Guest Cards in Belle of the Ball

Here's where I'm leaning for the guest cards. Granted, these aren't as ornate as the original cards from the last iteration, but the cards are being used in a very different way now, too.

It's really important that the suits be visible and recognizable across the table, so they had to be big, bold and uncluttered. There is also a lot more data on the cards, including base scores, couple bonuses, special powers, and so on. No room for Victorian swirls or flourishes that could distract or obscure important information.

That still leaves open room for more ornate decoration on the card backs and especially on the Belles. I'm looking at these mint tins as a source of inspiration for both.

In addition, I went ahead and added more Victorian flourishes around the border. Turns out they're just fine as long as they're low-contrast enough to not distract from key information, like suits, point values and game text.

In revising the cards, I noticed that a few cards were labeled with more Perfect matches than are actually present. Apologies for that mix-up. I'll post revised printable cards in the next phase of playtesting.

Clearly, I'll need to accommodate more space if I'm going to list the matches by name. But for now, at least you know the rank number of the matching guest.

Okey dokey! Here is a revised printer-friendly PDF (Version F). The link in the OP is updated, too. It's a stripped down version of the card sheets I'm using at home playtests.

The card backs:

The refined folks of Lordhurtz county.

The well-heeled and ill-mannered people of Richminster county.

The hard-fightin' citizens of Boarbottom county.

The tasteful vineyard stewards of Wineberry county.

The crude roustabouts of Crawhole county.

And the sharp-knifed rogues from Dundifax county.

All the black and white art marked "FPO" is placeholder only. Art in the final game will be original, color. The black and white lineart is reference pulled from a variety of sources like DeviantArt and artist blogs. (Here's my Belle of the Ball pinterest board with links to original sources. "FPO" is a common marker to indicate that this art is just reference, it stands for "For Placement Only."

But the color art you've seen so far, as in the original post, is actual official art that I've already commissioned from Liz Radtke and Mori McLamb. You can see their original sketches and process in these posts: Liz's sketches, Mori's sketches. They did me a big favor in letting me commission lineart that I would then color.

Because there are so many portraits required for this game, I'll need to hire a whole team of artists. The extra challenge there is keeping them all relatively consistent in their art styles. Compiling art references in PDFs and Pinterest boards like this makes coordinating such a large project a lot easier.

Crystal Mandalas in Card Game Design

After describing the organic "wabi-sabi" style of card game design I used in Belle of the Ball, I got some comments on boardgamegeek expressing a preference for more symmetrical deck design.

Mark McEvoy : "I'm of the camp that prefers the symmetrical systematic approach because then you can be certain that specific combinations exist / are unique / are not disproportionately plentiful in your deck."

David Boeren : "If there is ever a time where the different elements interact with each other then I do not want them randomly assigned. That makes it harder to balance and it makes it hard on the players who now have to remember a lot more about the deck to avoid bad play decisions."

Sure, I see the appeal. But speaking as a designer, it's way too easy to get sucked into a death-spiral of perfectly symmetrical mandalas. These precious crystal structures are such fastidious distractions for OCD perfectionists like me.

The example above is one way to divide up a 180-card deck. There are two halves (36 cards each; day, night), six elements (28 cards each; fire, electricity, plant, water, air, earth), and twelve individual groups (9 cards each; Group 1 – Group 12). Sixty cards have a combination of one half, one group and one element. Sixty cards have a combination of one half, one group and one element. Thirty-six cards have a combination of one half, one group and two elements. Twelve cards have a combination of one half, one group and three elements.

Oh, but wait! What about cards with four elements? Five elements? Could some cards straddle two or more groups? Is there a ranking system for the single-element cards? But crap, that would make more than 108 cards. Whatever shall we do? omg!

Yeah... See what I mean? This kind of meticulous deck composition is waaay too fussy. More time is spent organizing these compositions than actually designing a game. Sure is pretty to look at, though.

Belle of the Ball: A Fine and Dandy Card Game for 2-4 Players

A Fine and Dandy Card Game for 2-4 Players
» Last Updated: August 1, 2012
» Current Beta Rules PDF [Prototype O]
» Download the Print-and-Play Cards PDF
» Follow the conversation on BoardGameGeek.

These are the public beta rules for the Belle of the Ball card game. It's been through several rounds of private alpha testing and it's finally ready for the public. I'd love your input!

You are Belles of the Ball. Invite Guests to a lavish party. Your goal is to introduce Guests to each other, make best friends, win ribbons and build the most popular clique at the party. Download the PDFs in the links above and leave any feedback in the comments below. I plan on a commercial release in late 2012.

Updates listed in chronological order.

  • Term changes: "Couples" are now "friends." Up to three guests may be in a "group of friends." Adding a guest to a group of friends is "friending," until we can find a better term. "Social activity" is now "mood." "Physical activity" is now "interest." "Attracting" is now "calling."
  • Each player gets two Belles – one public, one secret. This allows multiple ongoing strategies, offensive countermeasures, and keeps a bit of deduction that was fun from previous versions.
  • Four of the Belles are replaced with Ribbon tokens, each linked to a different interest. Ribbons  reward you for gathering the most guests of a particular interest. Ribbons move around the table like Catan's knight and road bonuses.
  • The game is now one long round instead of a series of three short rounds. The endgame trigger makes the game last about thirty minutes. 
  • Clarified that the winner of a duel decides the order in which the dueling guests get discarded.
  • Ties in duels result in the duelists and the called guest being discarded.
  • The symbols on the cards are now framed by distinct shapes. County is framed by a hexagon, because there are six counties. Mood is framed by a triangle, because there are three moods. Interest is framed by a diamond/square because there are four interests.
  • Removed all card text from the guest and Belle cards. Replaced with symbols. (Thanks to all who offered feedback on the rough drafts.) The rulebook now explains the powers in more detail than was manageable in the space of a card.
  • Some powers are re-arranged so Lordhurtz and Richminster counties don't monopolize them as much. More powers given to Dundifax and Crawhole county.
  • "Steal 2" is replaced with a new power: Swap. This allows you to swap any two guests within your clique. See the rulebook for details.
  • Two New Belle Bonuses: Earn ten points for the fewest groups of three friends. / Earn ten points for having the most cards in your hand.
  • Replaced the FENCING ribbon with a FIRST PLAYER CARD. If you still have an older deck, replace the ribbon with a distinct card.
  • Revised CALLING and DUELING so they are the same action. Now, instead of calling and wondering whether the opponent will duel, you duel for the opponent's card.
  • Revised BASIC ACTIONS so they are distinct choices: INVITE a guest, DUEL for a guest, USE a power. Secondary actions that may arise from these choices are FRIEND a guest and CLAIM a ribbon. 
  • Revised the use of POWERS so that using them is a distinct basic action from inviting and dueling. Now, you simply choose one group of friends whose powers you want to use this turn.
  • Revised "Swap." It is now "MINGLE: Choose any two guests currently in play who share at least one symbol in common. Switch their positions."
  • Revised "Extra Refresh." It is now "EXTRA DRAW: Draw two extra cards from the draw deck."
  • Added an END OF ROUND step, passing the First Player card to the left.

Complete list of powers in Prototype J
  • The card backgrounds have been redesigned and polished up.
  • All Belles grant 10 bonus points.
  • All Ribbons grant 5 bonus points.
  • BFF and friend terminology scrubbed.
  • "Matches" are now fully described relationships between those characters, with a subtle Victorian flair. These are tentative.
  • "Friending" is now "grouping." It's more grammatically correct and easier to parse in game terms.
  • You may now use powers of a single guest or group of guests.
  • New powers added: Shove, Reject, Peek, Befriend, and Breakup.
  • Many, many power guests have powers. The only ones who don't get powers are usually those with 6 popularity.
  • Mingle revised to be exclusively within your own clique. Symbol restriction is lifted, though.
  • Consolidated the complete game rules onto one double-sided 8.5" x 11" sheet. The third and fourth pages are extra, are an example of scoring and space for any forthcoming FAQs/credits.
  • All changes noted in this blog post.
  • Reduced the guest deck to 72 cards, which meant re-arranging all the attributes.
  • Removed ribbon cards.
  • Reduced the point values for popularity and group bonuses so they're a bit easier to tally and stay under 100.
  • Added tertiary iconography to make it clear when a guest is royal or when they're wearing a sash, glasses or a hat.
  • Removed Dueling as an action. 
  • Added the "lobby" to make draws a little less blind.
  • All "Powers" are now called "Charms." They now have an affect on your clique and on the other players' cliques.
  • Some guests now have "Insults" which are instant effects that can be triggered by discarding that card along with 2 or three others.
  • Increased Belle cards to eighteen.
  • Totally revised the bonus structure for Belles. They now reward points if you have a particular guest in your clique. They also reward points if you have exactly a certain number of guests with a particular symbol. You get a half-reward if you have over that number.
  • Each guest's three characteristics are consolidated into one circle at the top left of their card. Each circle is divided into three suits.
  • The "Sword" suit is replaced with a "Book" suit.
  • All the County suits are replaced with icons. The letters were just not registering as an icon like the other suits. Instead, those six suits are show Fish, Tree, Sun, Moon, Shield and Gem.
  • Removed base popularity from all guests. The only way to score points is to get the group points. This emphasizes building optimal combos and streamlines scoring.
  • There are many more opportunities for group points now. 36 guests grant 1 group point for being grouped with chat, snub or flirt. (12 of each.) 24 guests grant 2 group points for being grouped with music, book, cake or tea. (6 of each.) 12 guests grant 3 group points for being grouped with Fish, Tree, Sun, Moon, Shield or Gem. (2 of each.)
  • The "Insults" are consolidated into the general listing of "Charm" and revised so that they do not have an additional cost. That was just too much information to convey. Instead, these charms simply require that they be discarded from your clique instead of from your hand. So, there is still a timing strategy to consider rather than resource management. 
  • The text of each charm is now displayed directly on the card. It was easier to do this than to force players to refer to an icon glossary. Once you know the game, the text is unnecessary and you can figure out all the necessary info along the left edge. Unfortunately, this makes the cards less international than I had hoped, but I have to be realistic about my sales goals.
As you saw in my last post, 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.

  • 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-player setup.

The host deals three Guest cards per player face-up in a LINE. Read each name in an ostentatious voice. For example, a two-player game has a six-card line.


You may play a Belle at the start of your turn. Follow her instructions. Belle cards allow you to ignore certain rules of the game.

STEP 1: Invite
You may take the first Guest card in line. - OR - You may take a Guest card that is further back in line by placing one chip on each skipped Guest card.

An example of inviting the first guest in line.

An example of inviting the second guest in line.

STEP 2: Group
Each new guest goes to one of four stacks, or GROUPS, in your collection, or PARTY. Once placed, Guests may not move to another group. You may only have up to four groups. There may be only be up to five Guests in a group. A group of five is a FULL GROUP.

Example of grouping a newly invited guest.

STEP 3: Score
If you have a full group, look for any suits, or INTERESTs, the guests in that group have in common. Earn 1 chip for each matching interest in that group. For example, if your full group has 2 hearts and 5 globes, you earn 7 chips. You may score multiple full groups in the same turn.

Example of matching interests in a full group.

Example of collecting chips for matching interests.

Discard any of your full groups. The player to your left takes the next turn. Continue until the line is empty.

Example of discarding a full group.

The round ends when the line is empty. Each player draws back up to three Belle cards. (Reshuffle the Belle discard deck if it runs out.) The player with fewest Chips gets the Start Player token. Play new rounds until the Guest deck runs out.

The game ends after the last round is complete. Any remaining groups do not score. The player with the most chips wins!

This prototype refines the basic mechanics from Prototype M's major overhaul. Here are the changes made and tested since the last prototype.

Belle of the Ball - Guest Front 1

  • The guest deck is now just 60 cards. I removed one of the rare interests and redistributed the remaining 12 interests.
  • You use face-down guest cards instead of chips. These are called "BRIBES." Those cards stay face-down the whole game so they don't get mixed up with the rest of the deck.
  • The game begins with three bribes per player and that remains for the whole game. Bribes are never added or removed from the economy and they do not count as points until the end of the game.
  • Belles and Guests are shuffled together in the same deck. Players do NOT start with Belles in their hand. When you take a Guest card from the line, it goes into your party. When you take a Belle card from the line, it goes in your hand.
  • Players begin with a starting party of one guest in each group, dealt at random. This is a nice way to speed up play and remind everyone that a party has room for four groups.
  • At the end of the game, you score one bonus point per bribe in your possession, one bonus point per Belle in hand, and one bonus point for every two cards in your party. This was a way to at least make your unfinished groups worth something.
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.