Kickstarter Stretch Goal Perks: More or Better? [POLL RESULTS | INFOGRAPHIC]

Following up on the poll earlier this week, I asked if you prefer Kickstarter stretch goals that add more perks or improve the perks you already expected. This question got a lot of really great responses and the voting was very tight. Interestingly, though BETTER won the day, MORE had far more supporting comments. Granted, comments from either side had plenty of caveats.

"MORE!... Assuming the base product is already high-quality."
"BETTER!... Depending on the type of product."

So what do you think of the results? Surprised? Relieved? Share your thoughts in the comments!

The Play's the Thing - Cover Design

The Play's the Thing - Final Cover
Earlier this year, I laid out The Play's the Thing, a Shakespearean roleplaying game from Magpie Games.

I did the cover and interior layout, but the let's focus on the cover design. Marissa Kelly had the art you see above already made for the cover, so my job was mainly to create a suitable frame around it. I pulled some old book cover textures to create the feel of a well-worn play book.

It took quite a bit of cutting, pasting, blending and warping to get all these textures to fit together naturally. The blue area you see above is actually from a different cover than the striped area. Hope it looks relatively natural. Take a closer look and tell me if you can spot the seams.

Magpie Games super-chill people and a real pleasure to work for. Pick up the The Play's the Thing from their site or at your local game shop.

Belle of the Ball Guest Name Generator


Here's a fun little toy to tide you over while Belle of the Ball's is still in playtesting. Come up with your own name for a Belle of the Ball guest! Start with a first name from the first table. Then add a surname by combining a prefix and suffix from the second table. Bang! Now you're one classy Dental Untercaw or Chive Pimplesack!

POLL: Do you prefer Kickstarter stretch goals that improve your perk or give more perks?

I've been thinking about the finer points of Kickstarter campaign design lately. In particular, I'm curious to understand more about how stretch goals ought to be structured.

For context, stretch goals are funding goals that exceed the original funding goal. In the past two years, they've organically become central to any fundraising drive. Honestly, I'm shocked stretch goals aren't already a built-in feature of Kickstarter's interface.

Stretch goals typically promise two things:
  • MORE: "If we hit 200%, all backers will get the latest expansion along with the base game and an exclusive backer-only promo card!"
  • BETTER: "If we hit 200%, the base game will be produced with full-color art throughout and be printed on thicker, more durable material!"
Plenty of campaigns mix these two stretch goals or combine them into a single stretch goal, but I am curious what you find more motivating as a backer. Share your answer in the poll below and leave some comments with your thoughts!

A or B? Two Scoring Options for Belle of the Ball

After playtesting Prototype L a few times, I've seen analysis paralysis set and delay the game. This is partly from the peculiar scoring method. For some context, consider the symbols on the top left of each card to be what that guest is talking about. So Queen Jewel Jaite is talking about conversations, coffee and shields. Make sense? Okay, here are the two scoring options. First, let's see how it works now.

A: Cross-Preference

The left guest grants 1 point per guest with a speech bubble. (The middle guest and right guest qualify, noted by the arrow.) The middle and right guests grant 1 point per guest with a heart, but there are no such guests in this group. This group earns 2 points.

Here's a more complicated example. The left guest grants 1 point per guest with a heart. (The middle guest and right guest qualify, noted by pink arrows.) The middle guest grants 1 point per guest with a speech bubble. (The left guest qualifies, noted by a blue arrow.) The right guest grants 3 points per guest with a tree. (The left guest qualifies, noted by a yellow arrow.) This group earns 6 points.

Keeping track of these cross-relationships is a lot of mental overhead when you're also thinking about how to combine charms, tracking your opponent's party, and hoping to satisfy your Belles. So I am considering this simpler scoring method.

B: Matching
In this scoring system, I'd remove the whole group scoring diagram from the cards entirely. All that remains are the symbols on the top left corner. The new scoring system rewards you for having matching symbols in a group, one point per matching symbol. In the example above, the group has two shields and two speech bubbles. This group earns 4 points.

The group above has two hearts, but otherwise has no other matching symbols. This group earns 2 points.

Naturally, my inclination is to favor the option that takes away visual clutter from the card. It certainly makes more thematic sense that a group "discussing" the same subject would enjoy each other's company more. Think of it kind of like the Sims visual conversation. "You like trains? I love trains!"

I'm eager to see how the other playtesters feel about option A and if they'll respond better to option B.

Building the Belle of the Ball Card prototypes

Here's a status update! I've ordered seven prototypes from SuperiorPOD. These are going to six different playtest groups around the country.
  • Oklahoma
  • Missouri
  • New Mexico
  • Oregon
  • Connecticut
  • Maryland

Look for playtest feedback from these code-named groups in coming weeks. I feel very confident that the game's mechanics are mostly baked. The main tweaks need to happen to the actual presentation, making it more clear when a guest has a symbol and when a guest desires a symbol.

Oh! But I digress. Yesterday, I had a few latecomers ask about getting prototypes. It was too late to change the POD order, so I got to work making a couple handmade decks. I live tweeted the process last night and now I share it with you through the magic of Storify! 

Here's a Memory Game

This is another one of those game ideas that just came to me in my sleep and I have no idea if it's balanced. It's basic memory game with some elements of Du Bulais (Wicked Witches' Way in the English edition).

The game is comprised of a deck of cards with one or two symbols on each. The symbols may be red or black. Shuffle the deck at the beginning of the game. Also shuffle and set aside the three bonus decks.

At the beginning of each round, reveal a tableau of cards. In the first round, reveal three cards. In the second round, reveal five cards. In the third round, reveal seven cards.

All players: When you think you memorized the tableau, flip over a card so it's face-down. Continue flipping over cards until they are all face-down. In the rush, be sure to not change the order of the cards.

On your score sheet, write down the symbols in order as best you can remember. When everyone has written down their guesses, reveal the cards and compare to what you remembered.
  • For each correct black symbol, score that many black points. 
  • For each correct red symbol, the opponent on your left scores that many red points.

You get bonus cards for correctly remembering the order of each row of symbols, including the blank spaces. The black row and the red row are considered separately, so you could draw up to two bonus cards each turn. The potency of those cards depends on how much of the order you remember. There are three increasingly powerful bonus card decks: A, B, and C.
  • If you correctly remember the order of symbols 1-3, draw from Deck A.
  • If you correctly remember the order of symbols 1-4, draw from Deck B.
  • If you correctly remember the order of symbols 1-5, draw from Deck C.

Bonus cards say things like:
  • Each time you score a red symbol, gain one black point.
  • Each time you score a black symbol, deal one red point.
  • Your requirement for a Bonus deck draw is reduced by 1. (1-2: A, 1-3: B, 1-4: C.)
  • Discard this card to deal 5 red points to target opponent.
  • Discard this card to look at the tableau after it's flipped over. You have 5 sec.
  • Score +1 red or black point if you correctly remember a card with two symbols.
  • Gold Coin - Collect 1: 0 pts., 2: 2 pts., 3: 4pts., 4: 8pts., and so on.

At the end of the round, discard the tableau. The game ends after three rounds. Add up your black points, your bonus points and subtract any red points. The player with the most points wins!

Interview with Booklife on Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple

Earlier this year, shortly after Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple won a special judges' award at Origins, Booklife requested an interview. Do's editors Ryan Macklin and Lillian Cohen-Moore joined me to discuss the finer points of editing RPGs, how to edit mechanics, and writing for games. Here's a snippet!

BW: As editors, how does your approach differ when you edit a game versus other kinds of manuscripts?

Ryan Macklin: I’m primarily a game editor. A game has many different contextual channels, more than fiction or even most text books. Games books need to serve as instructional text (along with examples and other methods that facilitate learning) and sources of inspiration. That means text flow is as much of a page design consideration as what’s on a given page.

Since people learn by different methods, including having others read a book and teach, a given section needs to take that into account, as well as blend in evocative tone and color to facilitate learning the context of the game and giving additional points of reference to remember a given rule or piece of advice.

Lillian Cohen-Moore: Since I’m primarily a copy editor for games, I have to pay attention to whether I’m reading something with mechanics in it. If I don’t keep that in mind while changing passages to fit a style guide or clear up unclear text, I run a risk of taking a machete to text that’s essential for understanding gameplay.

Read more at Booklife!

Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple - Indie Game of the Year, Best Production, Most Innovative

Last night, all eyes were on the Ennie awards at GenCon. Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple was nominated for Best Interior Art and Best Game. As Rob Donoghue says, Do defies categorization, so our chances were slim and it really was an honor just to be nominated. Thanks to everyone who voted!

Meanwhile, the Indie RPG Awards were announced and we cleaned up! Check it!

Most Innovative Game

Gosh, this is the one award that I appreciate the most. I'm still learning what it takes to be a good game designer. With the support of great folks at Evil Hat Productions, playtesting feedback over many years, and Mark Sherry's math skillz, Do turned out to cooler than I could have hoped. Thank you!

Best Production
It took a lot of TLC to get this book laid out just right, but it wouldn't be any good without the amazing art. All credit goes to Liz Radtke, Kristin Rakochy and Jake Richmond for the art contributions. I also want to give a special mention to Amy Houser, who did some amazing art for Book of Letters that doesn't get seen nearly enough. Hire her a lot!

Indie Game of the Year for 2011
This one just blows me away. I have no idea what to say, honestly. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

What's next? Well, clearly I gotta do a better support job for Do. Taking a lesson from Bully Pulpit, expect new letters to the pilgrims more regularly. Can't say for sure how often, but moreso than now.

Belle of the Ball - Prototype L

» Download the Current Beta Rules PDF [Prototype L]
» Download the Print-and-Play Cards PDF
» Follow the conversation on BoardGameGeek

Sorry for releasing a new prototype so soon after the last one. There were some real inelegant features from that prototype that I would rather replace than leave out in the wild too long. Here are the new changes.
  • 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.
Hope you dig it!

School Daze!

Several months ago, Tracy Barnett tapped me to do layout on his new John Hughes/high school RPG School Daze. I'm happy to announce that the layout is done and this baby is off to print. Brian Patterson did the illustrations.

Because this would be primarily a PDF product, with options for POD printing, I wasn't so scared of going full-color edge-to-edge. I pulled a bunch of idle high school doodles into the background elements and channeled my inner 90s kid with some of the header treatments. Hopefully I don't date myself too much with this design, though.

Mainly I wanted to make a nice showcase for Brian Patterson's art. He's got a great style that's developing into something really special. And holy crap is he fast! There are literally dozens of unique headshot portraits he had to draw to spec in just a week, but sure enough he pulled them out. Really good job there.

Elizabeth Bauman edited the text, making sure everything made a lick of sense. Designers, you ned editors. Beleive me on this on.

Check out the preview spreads above and find out more about School Daze.

Winery Monks of St. Honorat: "Earn more to give more."

St Honorat
I just heard this lovely story about monks of St. Honorat who have taken their vows to an interesting direction.

The monks host a high-end luxury restaurant and create world-famous wine from their walled vineyards. All their items sell for top-dollar to the world's rich. However, the monks then pass along those earnings to numerous charities to fulfill their vow of poverty and charity all at once.

Naturally, I wanted to make this into a game. You must create and sell goods in order to donate those proceeds to charities. At the end of the game, your total charity is measured as a positive value. Any assets in your possession are a negative value.

I can see some nice emergent behavior coming from player-controlled pacing. So you could try to rush the endgame before the other monks have managed to make their goods, sell their goods or donate their proceeds.

Hmm... What are thoughts on how this theme could work in a board game?

Seven Minutes of Terror: The Card Game

(Image source: Science in a Can)

As you probably know, there are a million ways that this mission could have gone awry, but only one way for it to succeed. 36 weeks of travel through interplanetary space led up to just seven minutes of terror. But they made it! Here's a loose idea for a game simulating the years of planning leading up to a hold-your-breath moment of tension. The core of the game is something like co-op Go Fish.

Setup: Use a standard 52-card deck. Deal seven cards to each player. Set the remaining cards in a deck in easy reach of all players.

The player who has been the closest to outer space takes the first turn. On your turn, you can plan, research, then, optionally, build.

Plan: Tell another player you need cards of a specific rank. For example, tell another player "I'm planning 3s." To state this, you must have at least one card of the rank you asked for in your hand. The other player must then hand over a card of that rank, if she has any. If she has none, she tells you to "research."

Research: Draw a card from the deck.

Build: If you receive the card(s) you wanted by planning or researching, you may take another turn. If you now hold a pair of one rank, three-of-a-kind of one rank, or four-of-a-kind of one rank, you may place the cards face up in front of you. Once a set of one rank has been built, no further sets can be built from that rank nor can cards be added to an existing set of that rank. So if you built a pair earlier in the game, you cannot add any more cards to make it a three-of-a-kind or a four-of-a-kind.

Play proceeds to the left.

If each player discards a face card, a new round begins. Otherwise, that was the last round.

Endgame: The game ends at the end of a round in which each player cannot discard a face card.  This represents the tenuous funding cycle for space exploration. So, yes, the game could end in one round. At the end of the game, all players discard their sets and reveal their current hands. Proceed to Landing.

Landing: Here's the big moment! At the end of the game, the starting player draws seven cards one at a time and reveals each one. Check if that card matches any rank from a player's hand. For example, if you draw a 3 and there is a 3 your hand, that's a match.
  • If no cards match, the rover landed safely and will begin its mission!
  • If one of those cards has a rank matching a set in play, there was a minor glitch but the rover survived the landing fully operational.
  • If two cards match, there was a severe malfunction of a core system. The rover landed, but only sends back garbled data.
  • If three cards match, mission control just lost contact with the rover entirely.
  • If all cards match, the rover suddenly sends back loud, crystal-clear data showing life on Mars!
Congratulations to the Curiosity team! Remember, folks: Get off the rock!

Update: Revised the endgame. Now, you discard your sets and compare the last seven cards to your hands. Also made seven-card hands the default.

Bop! Behold this new shirt!

Bop! Behold the shirt! Kids' sizes available!

Megan is drawing an adorable comic about her first time playing D&D. I thought that third panel was so charming that I convinced her to make it into a shirt! Bop! Men's, women's and kids' sizes available! You can find more of her stuff at
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.