Dead Weight: Parkour vs. Zombies - Alpha Prototype

It's been a long, long, long time since I've touched Dead Weight: Parkour vs. Zombies. Actually, it goes farther back than that old post. I first posted about Dead Weight back in 2006 on my old Luchacabra blog. Every October since then, I tell myself I'll put out some kind of playable iteration of the concept, whether that is a story game, board game, whatever. People still ask about the IP's status.

Well, by gum, I told myself on October 1 that this is going to be the year. Aaand of course October 30th came around again this year and I had a long, rambling document and a deck of custom cards quickly topping 150+!

Clearly, I just need a minimum viable product using the most basic of components possible. Thus, we have this bleeding alpha prototype I hastily wrote up in about an hour. It's a barebones roll-and-move press-your-luck set-collection game.

It's the zombie apocalypse. Parkour runners race through a ruined city trying to retrieve supplies for their home base. Carrying those precious supplies can end up slowing you down. And of course, those supplies only matter if you can make it back home. Did I mention the zombies?

Keep a supply of ZOMBIE tokens available.

Each player needs a d20 and a pawn representing their runner.

The group shares a single deck of regular playing cards, representing the supplies gathered along the way.

The group shares a single track with spaces numbered 0 through 50. Place your pawn on the 0 space. You can find a printable board below.


The game takes place over two phases, each broken up into several turns. In the first phase, the runners leave home to find supplies in the ruined city. In the second phase, the runners turn back and race home, trying to make it home first despite being weighed down by those very supplies.

Everyone takes turns simultaneously. On your turn, roll your die. You now have two choices.
  • You move your pawn forward that many spaces along the track.
  • Or you can roll again, which leads to two possible outcomes.
    • If your new result is equal or lower, a zombie is following you! You must move your pawn that many spaces. You also gain a ZOMBIE token. Your run is over.
    • If your new result higher, you move your pawn forward that many spaces instead... Or you can roll again, and again, and again, as long as your new result is higher.

When all players have completed their runs, check the current standings and follow these instructions.
  • If you are in the highest numbered space, draw three cards.
  • If you are in the lowest numbered space, draw one card.
  • If you are in between, draw two cards.
  • If you gained a zombie token this turn, draw no cards.

DEAD WEIGHT: Reduce your dice results by 1 for every CARD or ZOMBIE token in your possession. So, if you rolled a 15, but you're carrying three zombies and five cards, you would only move 7 spaces.

When a player reaches the 50 space, the first phase ends. Runners cannot move past space 50.

All rules are the same as the first phase except that you in each turn, you must now move your pawn backwards along the track, toward space 0.

When a player reaches the 0 space, the second phase ends.

Once the second phase is over, tally the score for your cards.
  • For any cards in a sequence, sum up the numbers on those cards and score that many points. Aces count as 1. Face cards count as 0, but may be used as wild cards to replace a missing number in a sequence.
  • For any cards of the same suit, sum the numbers on those cards and score that many points. Again, aces count as 1 and face cards count as 0.

Lastly, subtract a number of points from your score equal to your current position on the track.

For example, if you have  6♣  5  4♦  3♦  2  A, you would first score 21 points for the seven cards cards in a sequence. Then you would score another 14 points for the five cards that are all and 7 points for the two cards that are . You have a total of 42 points.

If you ended the game on space 17, you'd subtract that many points from your total score. Thus, you'd actually only end up with 25 points.

Consider each two-phase set as one "night" of running. You may play through several nights. At the beginning of each new night, reshuffle the deck and return the meeples to space 0. Tally the scores from each night for your final score.

The player with the most points wins! 

Indie+2 Indie Game Design Panel

Mark Truman hosted a lovely chat with Adam Koebel, Sage LaTorra and me tonight. Watch as we discuss the details of game design, Kickstarter, and lots of Dungeon World. Thankfully, Adam Blinkinsop pulled out some key quotes from the panel.

  • "Don't be afraid of people pirating your stuff." -- Adam
  • "If you hate something, don't be afraid to throw it away." -- Sage
  • "People had this idea that Kickstarter was something for the very beginning or very end of a project -- Kickstarter is very much for the middle of a project." -- Solis
  • "Stretch goals, at some point, stop making monetary sense." -- Sage
  • "None of the things my stats could mean were as interesting as not having stats at all." -- Solis.
  • "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of Star Wars universe" -- Adam's description of every Star Wars RPG

Thanks for hosting the panel, Mark! Oh, and check out the other panels on the Indie+ page.

Updates to Picker

Picker Dice Game 1.3
Based on the math feedback from Mark Sherry, I made some changes to the core rules of Picker. Mainly this involved resolving this strange bug where being a Picker was actually more detrimental to each player's score. Based on the revised rules, the simulations show that being a Picker gives you a slight percentile advantage, which better fits the spirit of the game.

Here are the basic changes:

  • The dice are different colors, which are now the basis of set bonuses, independent of the results.
  • There is no more SHAFT role. It was actually a greater detriment to all AIs and led to lower final scores.
  • The PICKER role always picks herself to be first player. Again, this balanced out the anti-picker bug a bit and streamlined the rules.
  • The set bonus is streamlined to a linear +3, with a maximum of +15 for a set of 6-of-a-kind.
  • Clarified that you can score bonus points for multiple sets, so long as each are a different color.

I've updated the main page with these new rules. Test it out and see what you think! The two-player game still doesn't feel substantial enough. How would you tweak it?

Indie Game Design Panel

Where: Google+ Hangout On-Air
When: Mon, Oct 29, 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM EST

Sage LaTorraAdam KoebelMark Diaz Truman, and I are doing a panel on Indie Game Design for this week's Indie+2 Convention. Come by and check it out! I'll try not to be a complete knob in front of the cool kids. Come by and ask questions!

Me First: A turn order auction idea. Tell me if it's broken or been done.

Me First Token 1up
This morning I scribbled down a quick note: "Deck of numbered cards. Deal a row of 1 per player. Your turn: Keep a card, face up in front of you. This is next round's turn order." I've since been informed that this is the initiative system in Savage Worlds.

Then I remembered this old post from July when I was still buzzing from Libertalia. All this congealed into this odd two-phase game that I will share with you now, along with crude and hastily compiled print-and-play prototype chits.

There is a deck of cards like the ones shown above. They have a big number, 1-4 arrows, and 1-5 stars. The game is comprised of two phases, the acquisition phase and the tax phase. Within each phase is several rounds, in which players take turns. Here's how it all works.


Shuffle the cards and deal one for each player, plus one. Place these face up in a row. For example, if there were a four player game, you'd deal five cards.


In the first round, the youngest player goes first, continuing with the next youngest, and so on. Thereafter, turn order changes with each round.

On your turn, take one card from row. Keep it face up in front of you. As you continue acquiring cards, keep them in one stack in front of you, so that only your most recently acquired card is visible on top of the stack.

The last player always gets a choice of two cards. Discard the remaining card that no one picked into a discard pile.

In every round after the first, the card number in front of you indicates the turn order, starting from the lowest number. If there are ties, the player with more arrows goes first.

END OF PHASE: When there are two few cards to make a complete row, this phase is over.

SCORE: Earn one point for every star in your stack. (I think there might also be set bonuses for collecting 3-, 4-, or 5-of-a-kind, be it a number, arrow or star. Haven't decided.)


Each player now sorts through their stack and keeps it in hand. Shuffle the discard pile into a new draw deck.


In the first round, the oldest player goes first, continuing with the next oldest, and so on. Thereafter, turn order changes with each round.

In the beginning of each round, draw one card from the draw deck and place it face up in the middle of the table. This is the beginning of the row.

Each player chooses one card from her hand, then reveals it, and places it into the row.

Each player takes turns taking a card from the row and adding it to his stack (NOTE: These acquired cards do not go to your hand, they go to a brand new stack.) Again, the last player has a choice of two cards. Discard the unselected card.

In every round after the first, the card number in front of you indicates the turn order, starting from the lowest number. If there are ties, the player with more arrows goes first.

END OF PHASE: When there are no more cards left in players' hands, this phase is over.

SCORE: Lose one point for every star in your stack.


The player with the most points after the tax phase wins!

Analyzing the Math behind Picker

hard math Whenever I have a math question, I call upon resident math whiz Mark Sherry for analysis. Seems like a lot of game designers have some background in advanced math, but I ended up taking the art path, so I'm very lucky to have Mark around.  I asked Mark to run some simulations for Picker, the pub dice game I posted last week.

Mark set up some AI players who each stick to one PICK strategy and one CHOOSE strategy throughout the game. Then he ran thousands of simulations to find out which strategy, if any, is the optimum strategy. If it was clear that one strategy would win, I'd tweak the rules, he'd adjust his AI, and run the simulations again. It's a nice, fast process.

PICK is who they pick to be first player when they're Picker. Mark tested these strategies.

  • Always pick the trailing player
  • Always pick yourself
  • Pick random player

CHOOSE is what they do when its their turn to choose a die. Mark tested these strategies.

  • Always keep the highest
  • Always keep the lowest
  • Never keep the highest
  • Never keep the lowest
  • Never keep the highest or lowest
  • Pick random

Always choosing the minimum result was so obviously a bad strategy, that Mark removed that AI almost immediately. Mark coded four AIs with the following strategies.

  • Alice picks a random player and chooses the highest die.
  • Bob picks the player to his right and chooses the highest die.
  • Carol picks a random player and chooses the highest result that won't make her the Shaft.
  • Doug picks the player to his right and chooses the highest result that won't make him the Shaft. 

Here's how often each player came in first, second, third and fourth place.

        1st Place    2nd Place    3rd Place    4th Place
Alice   3105         2923         2766         1206
Carol   1452         2106         2615         3827
Doug    1709         2195         2380         3716
Bob     3734         2776         2239         1251

Clearly Alice and Bob's strategies are dominant. Choosing the highest die, even if it makes you the Shaft, is pretty powerful. We kept tweaking, tweaking, tweaking. I ended up deciding on the following rule changes.

  • Game should be longer: 2 rounds per player. (A 4 player game goes 8 rounds.)
  • Each d6 in the game is unique. (Maybe players bringing their own die?)
  • For the sake of simulation, we assume the dice are different colors.
  • You get a set bonus when you keep the same die color, not result.
  • Bonuses are as follows: 0, 1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12, 12 repeating.

The hope was that decoupling sets from results would create a few more options for play. Mark coded two new AIs and added them to the simulations.

  • Eve picks a random player and chooses the color that builds her set.
  • Frank picks the player to his right and chooses the color that builds his set.

And he ran the new numbers.

        1st     2nd     3rd     4th     5th     6th
Frank   21.38%  24.06%  20.72%  16.37%  11.25%  6.22%
Bob     16.48%  18.84%  20.49%  19.81%  14.79%  9.59%
Carol   17.07%  13.98%  14.76%  14.94%  18.54%  20.71%
Eve     13.34%  13.98%  15.50%  16.31%  18.88%  21.99%
Doug    21.53%  17.31%  14.87%  15.25%  14.89%  16.15%
Alice   10.20%  11.83%  13.66%  17.32%  21.65%  25.34%

Promising! But there is  a mystery here. Mark observes that, in theory, Frank and Eve pick the die that maximizes their score increase for that turn. Yet Frank comes in 2nd place and Eve comes in 5th place. Who knows why? Any math whizzes have some ideas?

EDIT: Mark notes in the comments below that I missed mentioning a bug he found in those last results. He adds the following simulations and results:

"To make things fairer for the other players, I added two new algorithms. They're both based off of the one Eve uses, but one will give a negative weighting of 1 point to getting the shaft, while the other gives a positive weighting of 1 to becoming picker.

The scores are closer. Picking the prior player instead of a random player when picking gives a 1.5-2% improvement. Using Eve and Frank as a baseline (algorithms unchanged), trying to avoid being Shaft lowers win percentage by about 2 points. Preferring becoming Picker lowers it by 3-5% (pick strategy becomes much more important.)

Here's the (probably poorly formatted) table:

Alice 16.05% 15.79% 15.85% 17.31% 17.07% 17.93%
Bob   17.67% 17.95% 18.21% 17.12% 16.25% 12.80%
Carol 12.92% 12.98% 14.02% 15.58% 17.85% 26.65%
Doug  15.84% 16.59% 17.08% 17.78% 17.44% 15.27%
Eve   18.27% 17.27% 16.77% 15.93% 15.96% 15.80%
Frank 19.25% 19.42% 18.07% 16.28% 15.43% 11.55%

Pick strategies alternate: pick random, or pick the player before you in the sequence.
Choose strategies are: Avoid shaft (Alice & Bob), Prefer pick (Carol & Doug), No preference (Eve & Frank)

As with the table Daniel posted above, the first column lists the percentage of time that that player comes in first, etc.

Given that 'pick random' is clearly worse, I think a good replacement would be 'pick player (other than one's self or shaft) with the lowest score', either with ties being broken by whichever gets you your turn sooner, or by weighting the selection somehow."

Picker - A Simple Pub Dice Game

Picker Dice Game 1.3
Here's a super simple pub game to play with normal dice, inspired by the customized dice drafting mechanic in Seasons. It's so simple, in fact, that I could fit all the rules onto one graphic. Neat, eh?

3 or more Players
5-10 Minutes

Roll 1d6 per player. Each die is a different color.

Resolving Ties: If all the dice come up with the same result, roll them all again until there is at least one different result.

In the first round, youngest player goes first. Thereafter, each round's turn order changes.

Keep one result. Score that many points. Keep track of your chosen color each round.

If you are first to keep the lowest result, you will be first player in the next round.

Clarification:  If there are ties for the lowest result, only the first player to keep that result gets this effect. For example, if there are two 1s, and you keep a 1 first, then you're the Picker. Whoever keeps the second 1 gets no benefit.

Turns proceed clockwise for the rest of the round.

Play 2 rounds per player.

You will score bonus points if you keep the same color across multiple rounds.

2: +3
3: +6
4: +9
5: +12
or 6: +15 (max)

Of course, you may continue keeping dice of the same color after the sixth, but you won't get any further benefit.

You may score several sets if each are a different color. For example, if you kept the red die three times and yellow die five times, you’d earn 18 bonus points total.

The player with the most points wins!

Prismatic Art Collection Update

Prismatic Art Banner
It's been a few months since I've talked about the Prismatic Art Collection, so today on Ada Lovelace Day, it seems appropriate to give you all an update.

Prismatic Art is led and organized by Tracy Hurley with a teeny bit of art direction from yours truly. The Prismatic Art Collection seeks to increase diverse depictions of heroes in popular art. Part of that mission involves hiring more women and artists of color, thereby increasing diversity among professional artists, too. I'm happy to say both objectives are progressing very, very well.

Since the call for artists in March, and successful Kickstarter in late May, the project is moving along at a steady pace. We've gotten into a nice rhythm where artists send early sketches to Tracy, she sends 'em to me for some quick feedback, and the artists then finish up the piece. The collection got a major donation of art from the game Farewell to Fear, which greatly enhanced our offerings. All the art Prismatic commissions or collects is then released on a very open Creative Commons Attribution license, so feel free to use them in your own products.

Most of the art up right now is black and white or small color character studies, mainly because that was fastest. We have some more pieces coming from some big name artists, including Hugo Award-winning Ursula Vernon and Julie freakin' Dillon.

Most of the the current funds are accounted for, so I'm not sure if the collection is commissioning anything new for a few months. If you have some art in an old sketchbook or unpublished character art you'd like to donate, holler at us on Twitter @PrismaticArt or email prismatic_art at sarahdarkmagic dot com.

ccoolbook on Pinterest: Creative Commons photography and art

ccoolbook on Pinterest
Over the past few weeks, I've been curating ccoolbook a collection of creative commons licensed photography and art. I try to pull photos based on a theme each time I add to the collection. So far the themes have been:


Stuff like that. If you have any themes you'd like to see added to the collection, please tell me in the comments!

» ccoolbook

Designers & Dragons Masthead Redesign and Icon Design [Logo Process | Case Study]

Designers & Dragons Before After Designers & Dragons Icons Evil Hat Productions just announced that they'll be re-publishing Designers & Dragons, Shannon Appelcline's epic history of the role-playing game industry and community. They're going to expand the book into four volumes, each volume focusing on the events of on decade from the 70s through the 00s. Fred Hicks asked me to revise the masthead and create a system of icons representative of each decade of gaming.


This one was tough because we didn't want to stray too far into WotC's official branding and we needed to communicate "designers" as much as "dragons." The usual solution would have been to make each word a different font, as the original title had done. I explored that solution at first, just to get it out of my system, but as you can see from the design process below, we eventually landed on a more refined typographic solution. The slides below are actual pages from the design docs I sent to Fred.

Round 1

"Essentially the same idea as the original Designers & Dragons masthead, but much more refined. This update pairs the very contemporary Gotham with classic D&D font Fritz Quadrata. The ampersand fuses with the second D to become a smaller mark.

Or maybe you want to go full Fritz Quadrata...
...or all Gotham.
Perhaps something a little more formal and unified, if a little prudish. Trajan being a very stalwart “title font” for damn near everything, but particularly apropos on a history book.
Jenson has a slightly more aged, humanist feel.
Maybe we can try a very high-design approach here, pairing Bodoni and Carton, with a Bodoni italic ampersand lying firmly outside the rectangle. The organic curves of that ampersand make it a natural place for a light touch of the draconica, without going full-on TSR with it."

Round 2
"Continuing with the exploration of various Bodoni styles for “Designers” and arranging the various elements. Also using Diavlo for  “Dragons”
Maybe lowercase? It seems a little too busy and the swoops compete with Diavlo.
Two-tone to distinguish each half of the title?
Or go all the same? Probably room for a middle-ground. Also not sure if the Bodoni Italic is holding up well in this phase. Might need to choose another font.
Maybe make the whole thing Diavlo? The lowercase g’s would be right on top of each other, so I converted an uppercase G to be small caps. Hopefully it’s not too noticeable.
That’s definitely holding up better than Bodoni. What do you think?"

Round 3
"This time around, we’re equalizing the priority of “Designers” and “Dragons.” As noted in the last round, these are odd words to stack at equal weight because of the matching descenders in the g’s. Moving the ampersand down to the second line might help nudge the words off-center so they’re less crowded.
For the sake of curiosity, let’s try the title using the same typeface as the original ampersand font: Bodoni Bold Italic (&). Very classy and respectable. If we go this direction, I would recommend not adding a bunch of superfluous textures. A white title on a cover could be a slightly more professional direction.
For example...

Well, Fred liked it! So we proceeded to the icon design.

Each volume focuses on a different decade of gaming, each with distinctive events that changed the nature of the industry. The 70s were the origin of RPGs as we know them, led by the earliest editions of Dungeons & Dragons. The 80s were the industry's adolescence and Cyberpunk was the flavor du jour. The 90s saw the rise of Vampire: The Masquerade and Magic: The Gathering, we decided to focus on Vampire. And in the 00s, the d20 license encouraged dozens of small studios to release their own products.

Round 4

"We’re going with this as the masthead, so let’s look at some icon options. These will be used in full-color online and on marketing materials. Smaller black-and-white dingbats will be used in in-line text. I focused on one icon for each decade – 70s: Sword, 80s: Chip, 90s: Ankh, 00s: d20.

The “fancy: icon suite in black-and-white: The icons remain flat, but have a few touches to suggest dimension. The type is subtle, but clear. The background arrows flow into each other, capped at the beginning and end with flat sides.
 Color versions of the “fancy” icon. Tried to keep them generally monochromatic, but keeping the same shade qualities throughout.

The smaller dingbat versions of the icons in color and black and white. The interior details of each icon have been removed, along with the banners and text. The spokes of the circuit had to be slightly extended so they were clearly visible. The d20 doesn’t hold up as well in this treatment, ending up looking either like a hex or a cube (which are still related to gaming, but not specifically to this decade).

Cover and Spine Mockups."

Round 5
The changes from here on were mostly cosmetic, hence the repeated captions.

Round 6

Adding a handful of circular dingbats to the suite.

And you can see the final results at the top of this post! Hope you dig them. You can find out more about the books and follow their development at the Designers & Dragons product page!

Swap Clops Card Game

SwapClopsHeader A long time ago, I designed a tile-swapping game featuring little cyclops creatures drawn by Kari Fry. I wasn't entirely satisfied with how that game turned out, so it's lingered in my mind for some time. Here is my current thought on how it would be implemented as a simple euro-style card trading game.

You'll notice these mechanics from my previous post "Make Me An Offer," which adapted Apples to Apples mechanics into a straight strategy game. The card values are based on the beans in the classic game Bohnanza. Hopefully combining the two with a dash of something original makes a satisfying game. You tell me!

Click the link below for the print-and-play prototype. I literally whipped this up in an hour, so there are some rough areas. Specifically, the cards need a miniature suit icon on the top corners for ease of reference. Ah well, such is the life in rapid iteration. :)

» Print-and-Play Cards

Shuffle all the cards and deal five to each player. Set the remaining cards as a draw deck and set aside space for discarded cards. Also set aside space for each player to have three stacks of cards, called "sets."  Finally, gather a general supply of chips representing points.
Example Setup for Two Player Game


STEP 1: Place one or two cards from your hand into one of your sets. These cards must share a shape or a color in common. Once you have established that common trait, no other cards can be added to that set unless they also share that trait in common.
Example Step 1: Collect. You add two reds to your collection. From now on, only red cards can be added to this set.

STEP 2: Reveal the top card from the draw deck. Your opponent may reveal one or two cards from her hand. Place these revealed cards in the middle of the table. You are being offered these cards.
Example Step 2: Offering. A red square is revealed from the deck. Your opponent offers a blue circle and a tan circle.

STEP 3: You may accept one or two of the offered cards and place them directly into one or two of your sets. If you have no room in your sets for one of your accepted cards, you must SCORE one of your sets for gold coins to make room. (See STEP 5 for details.) Any unaccepted cards go into the discard pile. If you accept a card offered by an opponent, they earn the points noted at the top left of that card.
Example Step 3: Accepting. You accept the red square and the blue circle. Because your opponent offered the blue circle, she earns 6 points. You did not accept the tan circle, so it goes into the discard pile.

STEP 4: Draw up cards into your hand until you have a full hand of five cards.
Example Step 4: Drawing Up. You draw two more cards to fill your hand back up to five.

SCORE: At the end of your turn, you may score one or more sets. When you score a set, the chart at the bottom of the cards tells you how many points you can earn. You score points for the common trait of the whole set. So, if your set shares a shape in common, you only score points for the shapes, not the colors. (The small parenthetical numbers show how frequently that trait appears in the deck.) Once you have scored a set, discard those cards. You now have a free space to start a new set.
Example Score: The chart at the bottom of the card shows how many cards earn one, two, three or four points. Four circles earn one point, seven circles earn two points, and so on. Three yellows earn one point, five yellows earn two points, and so on.

ENDGAME: When you've gone through the deck, once (for two players), twice (for three players) or three times (for four players), the game is over. The player with the most points wins!

Belle of the Ball Prototype M Sent to Playtesters

The truth is that I'm completely making this up as I go along. Case in point: I don't know what the proper protocol is for sending out prototypes to blind playtesters, so I just assume I gotta make it as neat and tidy as I can.

Above, you can see the packet I sent out to Prototype M playtesters yesterday. It includes a half-letter staple-bound rule booklet, prototype cards in penny sleeves, a pre-sorted deck for easy first-play. I also included the following letter.

Dear Playtesters,

Thanks very much for playtesting Belle of the Ball! It’s taken a long while to get the game in its current state, but I feel more confident about the core mechanics. Please play the game aggressively, casually, logically and randomly. Give it a real testing to find any peculiar bugs or game-breaking problems.

If you have opportunity or inclination to do some A/B testing, try these variants:

  • Basic charms cannot be affected by STEAL or LURE.
  • You may only use one charm on your turn.
  • There is no limit on the size of the group.
  • You may only have three groups in your party.
  • EXCUSE has different ability: “The caller may discard a group from her party and score its points. The other players may do the same with one of their own groups in their party.”

Do you prefer any of these variants to the basic game? Are there any other issues or improvements that you’d like to discuss? Please email me at

Thank you!

Again, I don't know if that's an appropriate letter. Have you sent out prototypes for playtesting? How have you packaged them?
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.