#DS13 in Review

It's been a year since my life took a major course-correction. After eight years, I resigned from my career in the ad business to pursue game design. (I kept freelancing, though. You can see the results on my portfolio.) But as for this blog and my game design in general, let's see what this year hath wrought.

Popular Posts of 2013

Published Games
  • Belle of the Ball seemed most ready for prime time, so I brought it to UnPub 3 and PAX East. Fortunately, that goal was met quite early in the year when Dice Hate Me agreed to buy Belle of the Ball in March. Since then we've had a lot of great art from Jacqui Davis, a very successful kickstarter, and we're now wrapping up production files for delivery to China. Not bad for one year!
  • Koi Pond, a zen-like card game about raising koi. Look for more expansions to come. This originally began with a completely different theme, but it eventually became a very cool little scoring mechanism.
  • Suspense, the brain-burning microgame which first had its origins as a back-pocket entry to UnPub3.
  • Nine Lives, a trading game about rescuing stray cats from an alley while trying not to get scratched.
  • Royal Draft was published in the summer 2013 issue of Casual Games Insider. 
  • Espionage is in development with a super-secret publisher.
  • A Princess Bride-themed bluffing/set-collection game is being developed by Game Salute.

Undeveloped Games
  • The River Ancient: A tentative title for now, but this Miyazaki-inspired dice-placement game is what I'm really focusing on for the next few weeks leading to UnPub4. We'll see if it does as well as Belle of the Ball.
  • Mansa Musa: Mansa Musa, the richest human in history, single-handedly caused massive inflation when he passed through a city with his gigantic retinue.  I wanted to depict Mansa Musa's trip as a kind of progress, going all the way to one end of a path, then back again, with some modular worker-placement stuff along the way. This eventually got too complicated for me to tackle at the time, but I'm feeling a little more confident now.
  • Zheng He and the Monsoon Market: I was curious about the vast and vibrant Indian Ocean trade network that existed for hundreds of years before Europeans arrived. Chinese mariner Zheng He sailed the world's largest fleet of the world's largest wooden boats, not to conquer or convert, but to trade. I adapted some bits of 7 Wonders with Sushi Go to make a drafting card game. I need to refine this to a new public prototype.
  • Train Town: This was a very rushed prototype sent to a Korean family board game design contest. Shockingly, it advanced to finals. Not so shockingly, it didn't win. I still like the basic idea of a 2x2 Tsuro-style tile-laying game where the goal is making compatible paths rather than moving a pawn.
  • Dung and Dragons: This game is about raising dragons for their gold poop. It's been my white whale for a long time, since well before 2013. I'm embarrassed to say this game was at the top of my 2012 year in review. I need to get a prototype out and on the table ASAP so it's not just lingering in my head. I've dallied far too long.
  • Noodle Roll: My misinterpretation of the rules in Martian Dice led to a whole other game idea about serving various noodle dishes to customers at a ramen shop. It has some interesting scoring mechanics and dice-placement interaction, but needs way more playtesting to be at all worthy of even a pitch to publishers.
  • Puppy Pile: A simple trick-taking game about puppies piling onto treats. This might be inspired by my volunteer work at the local animal shelter.
  • What's in the Egg?: A pretty loose idea for dice-based based on one of my earlier designs. The longer you sit on an egg, the more maternal attachment you have to it, but you're never certain what will actually hatch.
  • Schrodinger's Cabernet: Further exploration of an older idea about wine collectors trying to pawn off counterfeits to unwitting dupes.
  • Feather: A card game that I'm going to tinker with a bit more, possibly with this hourglass deck.
  • Kigi: A path-building game that isn't based on a hard grid, instead you just grow branches on a sumi-e painting of a tree.
  • Tornado Rodeo: A drafting game about wrangling farm animals out of a tornado.
  • Expedition: This was what I was initially going to pitch to the Dice Hate Me 54-Card Game Design Contest, but the price-drafting ended up being problematic.
  • Penny Farthing Catapult: This was what I submitted to the contest instead. An ultra-light game of Newtonian physics and poorly built catapults.
  • Trickster: A Reverse Trick-Taking Game: An odd little idea for a drafting game that in effect becomes the opposite of a standard trick-taking game.
  • Planet Builder: Speaking of trick-taking, I liked this method of building a planet in four cards, with a touch of worker placement and set-collection.
  • Spheres of Influence: AKA Alien Embassy, another card-based tactics game that grew out of an interest of adjacency mechanics. This time, I was interested in using card-orientation to represent ownership.
  • Tyc: In one of my weirder tangents, I decided to make a "Gamer's ____" version of Tic Tac Toe, but it ended up being as solved as standard Tic Tac Toe.
  • Regime: Which I'm coyly describing as "Super Suspense." Similar gameplay, but a little less punishing, room for more players, and a more of a theme.
  • Troll's Dilemma: A prisoner's dilemma party game that I'm still testing, mainly because it's so simple to whip out at any gathering. I have some tweaks to make, but this actually feels pretty solid.
  • This year I spent a lot of time thinking about auction mechanics and how the value of goods changes with their rarity. Probably one of the more developed versions of this notion was this abstract auction game. It's something that will probably linger for a while.

I'm happy to say that we've decided to give this crazy experiment another year to play out. I'll keep on designing games and self-publishing them on a regular basis. In time, I hope my sales from games will outpace my freelance work. That's a very long-term goal, but it seems more feasible now than it did a year ago. Let's go!

Review of Designing Card Decks with InDesign's DataMerge [Video]

Hey all! I recorded this Google+ Hangout On Air earlier this weekend and I wanted to share it with you today. This is a very fast example of InDesign's DataMerge functionality for easily designing the cards for tabletop games. In this case, to make a deck of cards for my Mononoke prototype.

Here's what the cards look like laid out as a river valley. All credit for this layout trick goes to Jonathan Walton, who is a very clever game designer. You should check out his stuff! I like this layout format because it makes an organic river valley, is unique from Cadwallon's and Spyrium's 3x3 grid, and breaks up the power of the central nodes in a 3x3 grid.

If you want to know more about how to make a deck of cards in InDesign, or just the basics of card design, I offer a full online class with over two hours of HD video tutorials. Check it out here: Design Your Own Print-Ready Cards for Tabletop Games

Troll's Dilemma, A Free Microgame in your Pocket

Here's a simple Prisoner's Dilemma party game you can try out with your friends and family, using whatever loose change you have lying around the house. You don't even need a table! Just a bunch of players and some room to walk around. It does help to have a scoreboard visible to the whole group. You should also have a timer or a clearly visible clock.

Troll's Dilemma
15 Minutes / 4-30 Players / 10 and up

Heads or tails? You decide. You're trying to build a big consensus leaning one way or the other, but you only score points when players disagree with you. So really, you're trying to coerce a major consensus, so you can betray it. But there is a twist! Oh, such a twist.

After eight rounds of play, the player with the most points wins.

Set Up
Each player should have their own coin with clearly visible HEADS and TAILS sides. I recommend Othello chips since they're black on one side and white on the other, but any coin will do. Split up all players into separate sides of the room as evenly as possible. Note: These groups are not teams, they're competing within their own group to score the most points.

Each round follows three basic phases:
  • Discuss: Start the timer. Players have 30 seconds to discuss whether to choose HEADS or TAILS. 
  • Choose: When time is up, players must secretly make their choice, set their coin on the back of a hand and cover it with their other hand. There is no coin-flipping. You must decide.
  • Score: All players reveal their choices. Each player scores 1 point for each player who made a different choice than his own. For example, you're in a group of ten players: Six players have chosen HEADS while four players (including you) have chosen TAILS. Everyone who chose HEADS will get 4 points while everyone who chose TAILS will get 6 points. If everyone on a team agrees, no one gets any points.

Set Up the Next Round
Bring together both groups again. Whoever chose HEADS will go to one side of the room. Anyone who chose TAILS will go to the other side of the room. Thus, each round makes a new team.

There is a chance that one player will be lucky enough to be the outlier of their group, being the only player to choose HEADS or TAILS. This lets them score maximum points from their group, but it also mean their next group will be very small.

In a very extreme circumstance, there could be a group with just one player in it. He'll simply have to wait out this round, but still make a choice and hopefully join a big new group in the next round.

In either of these cases, big scorers from one round are usually going to be lower scorers in the subsequent round. I hope this will be a natural catch-up mechanic. Outliers in one round will be very eager to join a consensus in the next round, thus shading their interaction with the other players.

Memory Auction Card Game with an "Hourglass" Deck

Hourglass 1

James Ernest has a couple games that use a "triangular" deck distribution, most notably the very fun 12 Days and the newly released Pairs. A triangular deck means the cards are numbered from 1 to whatever, and the number is also how common that card is in the deck. In other words, the card distribution would be something like:

2 2
3 3 3
4 4 4 4
5 5 5 5 5

...And so on. It makes for a nice scaffold for some interesting mechanics. In 12 Days, if you collect the majority of a number, you score that many points. In Pairs, you're trying to get a low score, pushing your luck to reach the very rare lowest cards before getting a pair of identical numbers.

So here's a loosey-goosey idea for an "hourglass" deck, built around two inverted triangles that meet at their lowest numbers.

6  6  6  6  6  6
5  5  5  5  5
4  4  4  4
3  3  3
2  2
-2 -2
-3 -3 -3
-4 -4 -4 -4 
-5 -5 -5 -5 -5
-6 -6 -6 -6 -6 -6

Here's a simple "memory auction" game you might play with this deck.

  • Shuffle the deck and deal a hand of 5 cards to each player.
  • Put one face-up card per player in the center of the play area, these begin the Stacks.
  • Set aside the deck and begin taking turns.
  • On your turn, take one card from your hand and put it on one of the Stacks with the following rule:
    • If the top card is face-up, your card must be placed face-down.
    • If the top card is face-down, your card must be placed face-up.
    • A stack cannot have more than four cards in it.
  • Continue taking turns until each player has one card left in-hand to use as a Bid.
  • Whoever has the lowest bid gets first turn to pick a stack to keep. Continue taking turns taking stacks, in ascending order. (Cards of the same rank would have alphabetical notation for tie-breakers.)
  • When you keep a stack, set it face-up in front of you to keep track of your score. Add your Bid card to this collection as well.
  • The game continues with a new round, starting again from the top.

When a full hand cannot be dealt, the game is over and players tally their score. If you have the majority of a number, score that many points, whether that's positive or negative. Highest score wins.

I've no clue about a theme for this, but I like the idea that the strongest bids can also potentially cost you the most points. Sure, if you're lucky enough to bid -6 several rounds in a row, you guarantee you'll be taking a 6 point hit against your final score.

Alpha Tests for Princess Mononoke-inspired Board Game

So I pulled together a very barebones alpha test of the core scoring mechanic for this Princess Mononoke-inspired board game.
  • Randomly shuffle 40 cards, in four suits, ranked from 1-10.
  • To start each round, deal a 3x3 grid of cards. Each player rolls four dice and keeps the results.
  • On your turn, place a die on a vertex of the grid.
  • At the end of the round, take any cards for which you have the greatest total sum of dice results surrounding that card.
    • Any dice placed on the edge get a +1 modifier.
    • Any dice on the outer corners get a +2 modifier.
  • In case of ties, the card remains in place into the next round.
  • If any sum of a suit goes over 10, score a number of points equal to your lowest suit. Then discard any cards of the suit that went over 10.
  • Continue until you cannot make a full 3x3 grid and the player who has the highest score wins the game.
There was a lot of really interesting emergent behavior in the alpha tests. I worried about letting so much ride on a single 4d6 roll each round. I think the averages even out after about five rounds, which is about how many rounds a 40-card deck allows for, but the future upgrades I plan to add will really make it work.

But that said, players sometimes wanted a really low roll so they didn't accidentally score when they didn't mean to do so. Players were also very scared of the high cards, often avoiding them to not score at a sub-optimal time. However, "dodging bullets" didn't really feel as satisfying as "winning" the auction.

Going on, the next steps are to...
  • Make a custom deck and lower the tip-over point from 10 to maybe 5.
  • Add upgrade cards in the deck as things you can compete for in the auction.
  • Make the deck larger to lengthen the game a bit. Upgrade cards will help with that.
  • Add an ownership of some kind, where players can claim spaces and get a benefit for it.
  • Oh, and make a board?

Looks oddly like a castle now that I lay it out this way. Huh. It'll take some flavorful graphic design to make this look anything like a valley. Hm.

A New Look for Regime Card Game

After playing the new edition of COUP, I figured my own "futuristic intrigue and deduction" game should probably have a much more distinct aesthetic if it's going to stand out in the market.

At first, I was going with a much more photorealistic look, but I do that a lot and it's hard to make my spotty collection of stock photos look consistent. Then I thought it would be interesting if these were more like graffiti stencils sprayed onto a wall. Perhaps double-exposed with a different section of the game's setting. This lets me use just about any stock photo since I would be greatly exaggerating the contrasts and stripping out all color anyway.

So what do you think? Cool or hokey?

A Princess Mononoke-inspired Board Game?

Here's a quick overview of the game I'm tinkering with for UnPub4. This could technically be my first board game that could use an actual board! The game focuses on one small valley over the course of several generations, as tribal populations wax and wane, trying to keep a sustainable balance with the local ecosystem.

The board is comprised of a 3x3 grid representing a misty valley. In each cell is two randomly drawn cards, one on top of the other. The bottom card is face-down and represents a conditional effect, sort of like "terrain" of the valley. The top card is the actual resource up for bids in an auction.

To start the round, each player rolls 3 standard dice. This represents the population of your particular tribe this generation. The lowest total population takes the first turn. On your turn, place one die on a vertex of the grid. You cannot place a die on an occupied vertex.

Certain faces have certain abilities based on the reputations you've earned in previous rounds. These reputations describe the culture of your tribe over time. Resolve those effects upon placing the die and end your turn. For example:
  • Intimidating: Replace an opposing die from this district with this die.
  • Co-Operative: Double the value of all your adjacent dice.
  • Riven: Halve the value of all of your adjacent dice, rounded down.
  • Assimilated: Add this die to an opposing bid, the sum is now your bid.
  • Unpredictable: If a player tries to outbid you, you may reroll this die.
  • Clever: This die adds to your bid, but doesn't count against the resulting payout.
  • Any bonuses based on certain adjacent geography.
And so on, lots of different reputations available for purchase, as I'll explain in a moment. For now, resolve the effect and end your turn. Each player continues until all dice are placed, thus ending the round. Then players claim their resources.

After each round, players claim any top card around which they have the greatest population.  In the example above, the blue player later trumped everyone with a total population of 7. As noted in the prior post, I imagine these cards having three tiers of reward based on the winning bid: 1-6, 7-9, and 10+. The higher the winning bid, the less you win. In other words, overpopulating that part of the valley led to strained resources.

For the sake of prototyping, I'm considering a simpler rule that the winning bid is subtracted from the rank of the suit, minimum of 1. The suit itself is considered one of four resources. For example, blue would only win 1 Spade from this card.

Scoring and Advancement
Your ultimate goal is to make your tribe as happy as possible over the course of many generations. This is represented by their happiness score, which in turn is based on how balanced their various needs are. Imagine a tracker for each player that looked something like this.

Heart   [0] [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [9]
Diamond [0] [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [9]
Club    [0] [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [9]
Spade   [0] [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [9] 

As you collect resources, they will accumulate at different rates. Let's say Heart is currently at 9 as indicated in bold above. Diamond is at 2, C at 6, and D at 1.

When any one of your resources reaches 10, it loops back around to 0 and you get to do two things:
  • Earn a reputation. Take a reputation card and assign it to the lowest unassigned die face for your tribe, starting with the one-pip face. Hereafter, playing a die with that result allows you to use that special effect.
  • Score points equal to your lowest resource. So in the example above, as soon as you earned one more A, you would score just one point because your lowest stat is currently at 1.
So these are the two competing interests: Do you upgrade as soon as possible, sacrificing optimal points? Or do you hold off, trying to keep your tribe's desires as balanced and satisfied as possible even if it keeps you from earning your best choice of special abilities?

Next Steps and Notes
I just couldn't shake the diminishing returns auction mechanic I posted about earlier last week, but I wasn't really inspired by the election theme. Generally speaking, my games tend to have zany and/or peaceful themes and I think this mechanic could work for that sort of experience. I asked folks on Twitter for some suggestions and the one that struck a chord most was Tragedy of the Commons by way of Hayao Miyazaki.

You've heard me talk about Tragedy of the Commons as a game mechanic way back when I first played Lords of Waterdeep: Scoundrels of Skullport. Back then, I had a strong ecological vibe in mind, but I didn't want to get too preachy about it. Princess Mononoke in particular seemed a nice point of reference for the desired tone.

From other conversations comparing Spyrium's to Guilds of Cadwallon's modular worker-placement boards. (See this video of Guilds of Cadwallon's gameplay for a quick overview.) I love this mechanic and I'd like to see it explored more. No idea what to call the genre, but I dig it regardless, and I'd like to take it into the auction mechanic I described earlier.

For now, I have a lot of work to do to make this a playable prototype. I must make a quick set of resource cards, determine what the reputations might be, and figure out a lot of math. Oof.

Firefly RPG: Echoes of War: Freedom Flyer is now available!

The latest PDF adventure for the Firefly RPG is now available! Echoes of War: Freedom Flyer has our plucky crew meet up with Maggie Miller, who is all set to leave home and find greener pastures on the Rim. She just needs help paying off Ma Miller's medical bills, dodging a bounty hunter, and nabbing a ship from an old flame. You know, little stuff.

You an 80+ page adventure for just five bucks. FIVE BUCKS. You can't find a shinier deal this side of Eavesdown Docks. Come and get it!

Family-Friendly Bundle of Holding (now including Happy Birthday, Robot!)

You have just one day left to get a bunch of family-friendly RPG PDFs, including Happy Birthday, Robot! Just go to the Bundle of Holding site and pay whatever you like. Beat the average threshold and you'll get even more RPGs!

Here's the complete list on offer:
  • Hero Kids: An ideal introduction to fantasy roleplaying for children aged 4 to 10.
  • Mermaid Adventures: Exciting undersea adventures and strange mysteries. (Ages 6-11.)
  • The Princes' Kingdom: Young heirs to the throne of Islandia, visiting the citizens of their land and solving problems. This bundle is the first .PDF version of The Princes' Kingdom sold anywhere! (Ages 5+, plus an adult.)
  • Happy Birthday, Robot!: The charming storytelling game by Daniel Solis for families or classrooms. (Ages 9+ -- and especially good for grownups.)
  • Adventures in Oz - Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road: A loving journey into the lands of L. Frank Baum. (Ages 8+.)
  • Project Ninja Panda Taco: Jennifer (Jennisodes) Steen's game of competing Masterminds and their biddable Minions. (Ages 8+.)
  • School Daze: It's high school the way you wish it could be. (Ages 13+.)
  • Camp Myth: The RPG: Third Eye's adaptation of the Chris Lewis Carter YA novel series about mythic creatures at summer camp. (Ages 8-13.)
 So what are you waiting for? Go to Bundle of Holding right now!

Diminishing Returns Mechanisms in Dice-Based Auctions

I had the pleasure of playing Eric Zimmerman's Quantum last night. It has some very clever abstract mechanics that make it easy to learn and adds plenty of thematic add-ons that greatly expand the tactical options in later turns. Highly recommended.

At the core of Quantum's system is an elegant balance between speed and strength. The die face represents how many spaces a ship may move, so a 6 ("Scout) speeds across the board very quickly. However, combat is resolved by adding the number on your ship to a 1d6 roll. The lower total wins, with attacker winning on ties. So a 1 ("Battlestation") is very strong, but cannot move very fast. All other mechanics are built around this skeleton.

It got me thinking about other dice-placement games in recent years that incorporated some clever mechanics, notably Kingsburg and Alien Frontiers. Auctions have been on my mind, too, particularly auctions that work well with two players. (Folks on Twitter had several recommendations for two-player auction games including Biblios and Blue Moon.) But honestly the auction game that I've enjoyed the most lately has been Keyflower.

What I had in mind was mashing up some of the resource acquisition of Kingsburg, auctions of Keyflower, and upgrades from Quantum. Add to this a theme where you don't want to bid too high, mirroring the speed/strength tradeoff in Quantum's ships.

Naturally, you already have that inverse relationship in any auction. Efficient bidding is key. You don't want to spend more money than you need to, just enough to beat everybody else and enough to turn a profit. But what if your actual payout from an auction was affected by the size of the winning bid?

Let's say we have a game about elections. We're competing by spending advertising money on different districts, each of which have different constituents in a variety of interest-sectors, like Business, Philanthropy, Military, and so on. We want to spend enough ad money to win a district, but if too much money is spent in the district, it creates a disaffected electorate who offer less support to the winning candidate.

At the start of each round, each player rolls four dice. This represents the funding for the week. Then players take turns using those dice results to bid on several District cards out on the table.

For example, Bob bids a total of 5 for this district. If he wins, he'll get 3 blue, 3 red, and 4 black. (For now, these colors are just abstract, but they would be replaced with thematic icons in a final production, each representing a different interest group.

But Sarah decides to outbid Bob. Her bid is 7, which means that if she wins, she'll only get 1 blue, 2 red, and 2 black.

Sarah wins the district. She must tuck the District card beneath her player board so that it only shows what she earned.

Later, these resources may be redeemed for upgrades that give each die face a special ability when it is used as a bid. You'd have six slots available, representing each die face. Upgrades are built and assigned from 1 to 6, because the 6 is such a powerful bidder anyway. For example:

  • Intimidation: Replace an opposing die from this district with this die.
  • Friendly Media: Double the value of another one of your dice in this district.
  • Guerrilla Tactics: Halve the value of another one of your dice in this district, rounded up.
  • Sour Grapes: Add this die to an opposing bid.
  • Piggyback: Add this die to an opposing bid, the sum is now your bid.
  • Nimble Campaign: If a player tries to outbid you, you may reroll this die.
  • Anonymous Donor: This die adds to your bid, but doesn't count against the resulting payout.
And so on. Lots of possible upgrades with this theme.

Royal Draft

Here's a game that originally appeared in the Summer 2013 issue of Casual Game Insider.

It's an exploration of the basic half-blind drafting mechanic that I tinkered with earlier this year for Princess Bride's poison cup mechanic, which in turn was inspired by Antoine Bauza's two-player variant of the Little Prince: Make Me a Planet. You may also notice some familiar turn-order mechanics that I would later use in Nine Lives.

This game was paired with an article about how to present a choice between chaos and order to make an approachable filler game.

This simple drafting game has players present chaos/order choices to each other. It requires a standard deck of playing cards with one joker. It takes two to five players and lasts about ten minutes. The goal is to score the most points. It’s quick enough that can be played multiple times with scores tallied across all plays.

Remove the four kings and the joker from the deck. Shuffle and deal one to each player face-up. If no one got a Joker, discard it from play. Shuffle the remaining kings into the rest of the deck and set it down in the center of the play area within reach of all players. Each player should have enough room for a row of up to ten cards. Use poker chips or a notepad to keep track of score.

Noting the rank of a card is important for determining turn order. The ranks are (in order of lowest to highest) Joker, Ace, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, and King. Suits are also ranked. They are (in order of lowest to highest) Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, and Spades. Alphabetical order, in other words.
So, a 7 of Spades is ranked higher than a 7 of Hearts, which is higher than a 7 of Diamonds, which is higher than a 7 of Clubs.

Preparing Each Round
Play is divided into rounds. Each round, one player takes the role of Dealer. In the first round, the player with the highest ranked king is the Dealer. Thereafter, the role of Dealer will pass amongst players according to their choices during play.

To start each round, the Dealer draws one card per player, plus two, from the deck.
So if this is a four-player game, the Dealer will draw six cards. (4+2=6)

The Dealer places two of these cards face-down in the center of the play area, then places the remaining cards face-up alongside the face-down cards. These cards are collectively called “the offer.”

Turn Order
Now players take turns. In the first round, the player with the Joker or lowest-ranked king takes the first turn. The player with the next highest ranked king takes the next turn, and so on, until the dealer takes his turn, thus ending the round. In future rounds, turn order will change based on player’s choices during play as explained below.

Playing a Turn
On a turn, the active player takes one of the offered cards and adds it to her collection. Cards in a collection are kept in a neat row, with the earliest card (the king) on the far left, with the most recently taken card on the far right. If taking a face-down card, the active player must turn it over so it is face-up.

Busting: If the active player has taken an odd-numbered card and there are two face-up odd-numbered cards already in her collection, she must turn those two cards face-down. The newly added card remains face-up. Note that this only applies to numbered cards. Aces, Jacks and Kings are fine.

Dealer’s Privilege: Though the dealer gets last pick, he takes two cards from the offer. The Dealer decides the order in which they are placed in his collection.

End of Round
There is one card remaining in the offer after everyone has had their turn. This is discarded from play, ending the round.

New Round, New Dealer, New Turn Order
Each round, the player who took the highest ranked card in the prior round is the new dealer. Thus, the turn order is also rearranged so that whoever took the lowest card will get first pick, followed by the player who took the next highest card, and so on. (Strategy Note: Each turn, you face a choice of whether you want best pick of the offer or the option to take two cards as the dealer.)

The game ends when one player has nine or more cards in her collection.

Royal Score: Each Jack, Queen or King in your collection scores 1 point per card of their suit in your collection. A royal card does score for itself.

Joker Score: If you have the Joker, score 2 points for each face-down card in your collection.

Set Score: A continuous row of cards with a matching suit or rank, scores 1 point per card in that set.

Example of Scoring
At the end of the game, your collection has the following cards, in this order.

Royal Score: Your King of Hearts gives you one point per heart in your collection, including itself. There are three Hearts in your collection, so you score 3 points from your King of Hearts. Your Queen of Diamonds gives you one point per Diamond in your collection, including itself. There are two Diamonds in your collection, so you score 2 points from your Queen of Diamonds.

Joker Score: You don’t have a Joker in your collection, so you don’t score any points for your face-down cards. (If you did, your two face-down cards would score 4 points.)

Set Score: You have three Hearts in a row, which scores you 3 points. You have two 2s in a row, which scores you 2 points. You have two Diamonds in a row, which scores you 2 points.

In total, you score 11 points!

Penny Farthing Catapult (Alpha Test)

Hey, it's been a crazy-busy week but I just wanted to quickly document the results of the alpha playtests for this even crazier new game PENNY FARTHING CATAPULT. You may have seen me tweet the development for this game over Thanksgiving, but it really had a successful first playstorm session at Atomic Empire the following Monday. Here was the resulting game:

You're mannerly nobles who settle their grievances in the time-honored tradition of dueling with catapults attached to old-timey penny farthing bicycles. These contraptions are so rickety and poorly engineered that when you launch your catapult, you get pushed backward an equal distance!

Your goal is to have the highest score by collecting valuable trinkets that get launched during the duel.

The Deck
The deck is comprised of fifty cards in ten suits with five sequential ranks in each suit. The suits are things like "Rubbish," or "Pillows," or "Silverware."

Set Up
Shuffle the deck and arrange a circular track of fourteen cards in the middle of the play area. Arrange each player's catapult as equidistant from each other on the board as possible, the youngest player placing first. Deal four cards to each player's hand.

On your turn:

LAUNCH: Play a card from your hand to launch your catapult. The distance of your launch is indicated by the rank of your played card. So, if you play a "4," your distance is four spaces. You may launch at either direction of the track.

COLLECT: Collect the card on the track and replace it with your played card. Cards in your collection are kept face-up.

MOVE: Then move your catapult in the opposite direction that many spaces along the track.

While launching, you may CALIBRATE: If you have a suit in your collection matching the suit you're playing, you may CALIBRATE. Adjust your distance up to a number of spaces equal to the quantity of cards in that suit you have in your collection. So, if you launch Pillows 4, and you have two Pillow cards in your collection already, you may adjust that distance to 2, 3, 5, or 6. Whatever distance you choose, you must still move that distance in the opposite direction.

After launching, you might HIT: If you hit a space occupied other players' catapults, they must discard a card of their choice from their own collection. This makes it useful to keep some low-value cards in your collection as a shield to protect your treasures.

END: End your turn by drawing a card from the deck.

Endgame and Victory

Continue playing until everyone has played their entire hand of cards. Your score is the lowest rank of each suit in your collection added together. Thus, low-value cards are useful as shields, but they might potentially lower your endgame score. Be careful about what you collect!

November 2013 Sales Report

Time for a look back on November 2013 and take stock of how business is going. (You can see past sales reports here.) This month saw the launch of Nine Lives in the middle of the month, which boosted overall sales while other products were approaching their long-tail phase of life. That's always the plan, launch a new product right at that moment and hopefully the staggered schedule will be sustainable for my ol' brain. More on that in a bit. First, the numbers. Note month-by-month sales growth is noted in italics.

15x Koi Pond: A Coy Card Game -3 from Oct
8x Koi Pond: Four Walls (Promo Card 2) -2 from Oct
7x Koi Pond: Four Winds (Promo Card 1) -3 from Oct
14x Suspense: the Card Game -1 from Oct
19x Nine Lives Card Game
$509.40 Retail
$197.99 Royalties

Grand Totals To Date
459 Products Sold (+63 from Oct)
$2,713.43 Retail (+$509.40 from Oct)
$686.04 Royalties Earned (+$197.99 from Oct)

Note, I spent about $40 in review copies to send out seven review copies to various reviewers. This technically is taken out of my royalties for the month. I'm not adjusting the sales reports to reflect that, but it's something worth noting since it's effectively almost a quarter of the month's profits.

Right, so a note about scheduling. I was perhaps too ambitious hoping I could get a new product out each month leading into the holidays. My freelance work (which is how I actually make a living) is quite busy this time of year as publishers try to head off Chinese New Year's annual two-week factory slow-down. So unfortunately, I'm going to have to delay Koi Pond: Moon Village a month, perhaps two.

Very sorry if that's a disappointment to folks eagerly waiting for it, but take heart that it will come out! As will many more games to come in 2014! I'm committed to making this venture work in the long-term. My big ambitious goal is that by this time next year, I can pay a month's rent with monthly earnings from my games.

Koi Pond and Nine Lives 10% for 24 hours only!

Head's up, dealhunters! For 24 hours only Cyber Monday (10am EST Dec 2, 2013 – 10am EST Dec 3, 2013) both Koi Pond and Nine Lives are each 10% off!

Koi Pond is a zen-like card game with subtle interactions and emergent tactics. It's great for players who like to get into a flow state while they play. It can also be surprisingly cut-throat, so don't get too complacent!

Nine Lives is a much zippier, high-interaction, take-that set collection game. Players are each trying to rescue stray cats from a city alley and trying not to get scratched in the process. Collect majorities of breeds, collect rare breeds, and have the fewest scratches. This is a great game for the kids, too.

Thanks very much for your support, everyone!

Do: Fate of the Flying Temple playtest on G+ Hangouts!

Mark Diaz Truman has been designing the Fate Accelerated version of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple we're calling Do: Fate of the Flying Temple. This is a much more accessible RPG format for tabletop gamers, built on the very popular Accelerated version of the Fate Core engine. Mark was kind enough to host a playtest on Indie+ for some Do fans!

The storyline in this game is set some time after a pilgrimage, when the pilgrims return to the temple to find it has disappeared! In its place is a single dragon egg that is just about to hatch. It's up to the pilgrims to find out what happened to the temple, how their impressionable baby dragon is involved, all while still helping people and getting into trouble.

Here are the pilgrims:

Pilgrim Festive Blanket (Aaron)
   Avatar: Welcoming and open
   Banner: You gotta fight for your right to par-tay!
   Dragon: Helpful instincts
    Good (+3): Flashy
    Fair (+2): Forceful, Clever
    Average (+1): Careful, Quick
    Mediocre (+0): Sneaky
    Party Guy -- +2 to Quickly Overcome when trying to find people.
Fate Points: 2
Stress: [ ] [ ] [x]

Pilgrim Leaden Chain (Paul)
   Avatar: “That’s Three Times You Promised”
   Banner: Inertia of Thought
   Dragon: Being of Elemental Fire
    Good (+3): Careful
    Fair (+2): Forceful, Sneaky
    Average (+1): Clever, Flashy
    Mediocre (+0):  Quick
    Methodical Planning -- I get +2 to Carefully create an advantage when I have time to notice all the small details.
Fate Points: 1
Stress: [x] [x] [ ]

Pilgrim Feisty Dragon (Todd)
   Avatar: A scrappy ex-fighter that jumps to into danger to save others.
   Banner: Always ready to go and seldoms looks before he leaps.
   Dragon: Telepathic Link
    Good (+3): Forceful
    Fair (+2): Flashy, Quick
    Average (+1):  Careful, Clever
    Mediocre (+0): Sneaky
Fate Points: 2

Our Aspects
Temple Aspect: The Flying Temple is Missing!
Letter Aspect: Juku and Ishita Are Going to Collide
Scene Aspects:
  Swirling Field of Debris [x]
  Nearby Planets [x]
  Beautiful, Scaled Egg [x]
  The Egg Unwritten [x] [x]
  We’re Going to Be Okay [x]
  Corridor of Debris B[x]
  It’s Just a Cloak [x]

How to play Nine Lives Card Game [Video Tutorial]

If you've been wondering how to play Nine Lives Card Game, watch this tutorial video just for you! It goes over the basics of set up, bidding, trading, and scoring, along with some tips towards the end to optimize your score. (Watch out for those scratches!)

Buy Nine Lives Card Game on DriveThruCards

Review it on BoardGameGeek

(Music: Ehma - Pizzicato)

What's in the lab for Koi Pond?

Duke Gardens 2013 Heyo! While things are super busy over here, I thought you'd like to see the card list for Koi Pond: Moon Village, what's shaping up to be a very big expansion for the game.

  • 4-Koi (2 each in Red, Yellow, Blue or White): These cards count as four koi in their color.
  • 5-Koi (2 each in Red, Yellow, Blue or White): This cards count as five koi in their color.
  • Rainbow Koi (4): These koi count as one of any color.
  • Apprentice (4): Play into your pond, score 1 pt for each 1-koi your opponent has in their pond.
  • Monk (4): Play into your pond, score 1 pt for each 2-koi your opponent has in their pond.
  • Abbot (4): Play into your pond, score 1 pt for each 1-koi your opponent has in their pond.
  • Shrine (1 each in Red, Yellow, Blue or White): Place in House, River or Pond to double the number of koi of that color in that space.

Given the spiritual nature of these characters, I might need to call this expansion Moon Temple. We'll see. I feel weird having two "temple" games in my catalog.

You might recall I once tinkered with adding a fifth suit to the game, but I found it too cumbersome to make backwards-compatible with the rest of the game. Instead, I'll list that as a separate product, which is as yet unnamed. These may include:

  • All colors of the fifth suit, including the 4s and 5s noted above.
  • New hybrids and shrines that include the fifth suit.
  • Pairs: Cards that count as two different suits (as opposed to hybrids that count as only either).

Some mini-expansions I've been thinking about as small bundles:

  • Thieves: Upon revealing a thief in your pond, you may take one card from an opponent's pond or river and place it in your pond or river. Each thief in your pond gives you an increasing penalty, though. (-1, -3, -6, -9, 15)
  • Villagers: Each villager has a particular desire to see certain koi and will award you points if you meet their demand. For example, "4 points if you have three red koi in your pond." Keep villagers in your pond from until the end of the game, even after scoring. So they may score multiple times
  • Ribbons: There are tons of new ribbons that could be added to the game. I've talked about them here, but I'll list them again for convenience.
    • Win a round scoring koi in all four suits.
    • Win a round without using a cat, crane or turtle.
    •  Win a round scoring koi of only one suit.
    •  Win a round scoring only scoring with a cat, crane or turtle.
    •  Win a round with the most Koi of X suit in your house.
    •  Win a round without drawing cards from the lake.

And so forth. Lots to do!

Nine Lives is Alive!


I'm very happy to announce that Nine Lives Card Game is now available on DriveThruCards. This is a very fun trading and bidding game for up to 5 players, aged 8 and up. Each player is trying to rescue as many cats as possible, especially those of a rare breed, all while also trying to be the least scratched player at the end of the game. Look for a video tutorial in coming days, but it's super easy to learn.

Production Update on Belle of the Ball

Hello, ladies and gentlemen! Apologies if it's seemed quiet on the Belle of the Ball front these days. These are the quiet months between funding and actual manufacture where there's really not much news to share. But there is one milestone coming up that you'll be happy to hear:

After about a month's worth of final polishing for the county powers, I'm prepping the very final production files for the game! That means final card designs, final rulebook layout, final final final. Yep, it's a fun and exciting time where we have to double-check everything twice over, just to make sure no typos sneak in under our radar, like the mention of "bribes" in those early county cards.

Once the files are ready, it'll still be some months for the game to be proofed, printed, packed, shipped on the slow boat from China, go through customs, get to warehouses, then finally distribution to your doorstep. We all appreciate your patience and support! Thank you!

Organic Sumi-e Tree Themed Card Placement Game

Elm Tree Illustration

I've always liked the idea of wabi-sabi in card game design, but never had the guts to actually release a game that was that organic. After the positive response to the faux sumi-e art in Koi Pond, I knew I'd have to do it again in a new game and this seemed a nice pairing of aesthetic and design goals. So I got to tinkering with some loose ideas.

Mainly orbiting around the idea of a card-laying game in the spirit of Carcassonne, but not strictly limited to a hard grid. You've seen a similar mechanic in James Ernest's Agora/Camden, but I'm not sure if it's been used much elsewhere. So I made a quick prototype.

Each card shows a branch of a tree. The final art will show the branch entering the card from one edge, splitting and terminating into two, three or four smaller branches that do not extend off the edge of the card. The end that goes off the edge indicates the point of origin, which may have one, two, or three dots to indicate the weight of the limb.

On each card are also flowers, leaves, dragonflies, pollen and cherries. At least for now, these were just the first things I thought of and were easy to distinguish as icons.

Lastly, cards are double-sided because I just wanted to get as much variability out of the deck as I could.

Each player starts the game with one card face up in front of herself, indicating her tree. Each player also begins with one card in her hand.

On your turn, you may play a card onto any player's tree, extending an existing branch. In doing so, note the connected cards all the way down to the trunk of the tree. If these cards have matching features, score 1 pt per match. Then draw another card to end your turn.

If you placed a card that causes this limb to have more than three dots, remove cards going down the limb until the third dot is removed. If this causes other cards to be separated from the tree, they are removed as well.

At the end of the game, the player with the largest tree (most cards) gets 1 pt per card in her tree.

I'm trying to think of a title for this game. I was hoping for "tree" in Japanese, but it's too close to "Tsuro." Perhaps Sakura (Cherry Blossom)?

My Game Design To-Do List: Set sail or get off the dock.

It's a crazy-busy time here in the lab. Aside from the stack of freelance projects on my plate, a number of game-related projects are building up and I'm having some trouble prioritizing. Here's a list of what I have so far:
  • Nine Lives: (Due this month) Done, just waiting for proofs to arrive so I can review and approve, then it will be ready to sell.
  • Koi Pond: Moon Village: (Due December) The first proper expansion for Koi Pond will include several new cards that I'd like to get a give a few more rounds of playtesting. I must also do the art for those cards, which is a bit time-consuming in itself.
Beyond that, I have a variety of options and obligations. I would like to keep releasing card games through 2014 but I have two other things on my mind.

First is UnPub4 in January, for which I've not yet declared which games I will be testing yet. Ideally they'll be games that I can have ready for sale around March, either to pitch to publishers or have for sale on DriveThruCards. At the same time, Dice Hate Me will be running a contest to design 54-card games!

So I'm trying to decide which two games I will test at UnPub4, which games will be ready for DriveThruCards on January-March, and which game I will submit to the 54-card contest. My options are as follows:
  • Train Town: Despite not winning the Korean board game contest, I think it has potential. It needs new art, which I'll probably have to do myself. Again, the art is the time-consuming part of it and still depends on if/how I retheme the game. In theory, I could have it ready for sale in January or February.
  • Expedition: The loose game idea I posted earlier this week was well-received when I proposed it to Dice Hate Me, so I'm inclined to pursue it for further development for that contest. For the time being, I'm using a loose scifi theme about colonizing an alien water planet. It's rapidly spinning out to being too complex, so I might just keep it simple for now and add further secondary mechanics later.
  • Cheeky Panda: Inspired by Dead Man's Draw, I tested this game on Monday and it was quickly honed down into a light, take-that, interactive game of theft and trading. It needs art, but the quick pace makes me think it's a good candidate for UnPub4. In my experience, I get the best feedback out of a playtest event when I can iterate rapidly.
  • Trickster: This one is still very nascent, but will probably be the easiest to prototype. It's built on a trick-taking mechanic, with a mythical trickster theme. When you play your cards into the trick, you play two at a time. One face-up, one face-down. You're never quite sure if you actually want to win the trick.
  • Misspelled: I haven't talked about this much, but it's a retheme of Stupor Market, my old word-based party game. Players are young wizards learning how to pronounce the words of a spell. My solution to Stupor Market's problem of needing a dry-erase board? Card drafting, each card has a silly-sounding syllable.
  • Monsoon Market: Speaking of drafting games, MM has been in my lab for way too long at this point. Again, art is the biggest delay and I also need to tweak some of the auction mechanics. But geez, I was talking about this game after the last UnPub event. Time to set sail or get off the dock.
Okay, talking this through makes things a little clearer:

UnPub 4: I should focus on games that are harder to self-produce, since I'd likely need a publisher's support to get art done at the very least. A kid-friendly game also helps, since the event is held at a school. That means Monsoon Market, Train Town, or Cheeky Panda, most likely

DriveThruCards: I should focus on games I can produce myself and are relatively simple to develop, which will likely be Cheeky Panda, Trickster, or Misspelled.

54-Card Contest: The time crunch means I gotta keep things simple. Retheme some cards for Expedition, maybe add some player powers, but otherwise keep the core mechanic as a focus.

Carcassonne: Roadbuilders

Roadbuilders is a small variant on Carcassonne playable with the basic set or any of the expansions. It makes completing roads worth points even if you do not have a meeple on the road. Use this for some added flexibility when you're out of meeples and need to sneak in just a few extra points.

Whenever you place a tile that completes a road, look for any tiles on that road that also have city segments on them. For each pennant on those cities, score 2 points. You can score these points even if those cities are not yet complete.

In the example above, the road highlighted in blue is adjacent to two cities bearing pennants. All totaled, there are four pennants on those cities, so the player who completes that road would score 8 points.

Also in the example above, the road highlighted in orange is adjacent to two cities with a total of three pennants, whoever completes that road scores 6 points.

I have a new portfolio site! danielsolis.prosite.com

Hey folks! I have a new site specifically to showcase my graphic design and book layout. It's danielsolis.prosite.com I've been sending out applications to a few freelance projects that have risen in recent weeks and figured it was about time to get all this stuff in one place. Holy cow, it's weird seeing my old ad projects mixed with my gaming stuff. I'll be adding more work in coming days, but for now it's feeling pretty dang comprehensive.

Expedition-Themed Price-Drafting Card Game

Everest and Lhotse, from Pang La

Dice Hate Me games will soon be launching a contest for 54-card games. The winner will be published in a collection of 54-card games later next year.

At the moment, I'm pursuing an expedition-themed price-drafting card game for my submission. Players are explorers in some hostile environment that gets exponentially harder and more rewarding the farther you go. Think the South Pole, Mt. Everest, the Mariana Trench, the Moon, that sort of thing.

So first, everyone begins with 10 points. (Consider these dollars, if you prefer.) To start your turn, reveal cards from the top of the deck until all three suits appear or five cards appear. Each suit represents different pieces of equipment needed on the journey.

Next, set your own price for that bundle of equipment, for example "This bundle costs 4 points." Then each subsequent player has an opportunity to buy that bundle for that price, paying you those points. If it comes back to you, then you must pay the points to the bank.

Set that bundle beside your ongoing tableau, but do not merge them together yet. This represents you still asking donors to help fund your excursion. (If this was a mountaineering theme, I'd set up the tableau vertically as shown below.)

Instead of buying/selling a bundle, you may instead LAUNCH your expedition with whatever gear you have ready. In doing so, you must add cards to the tableau in the following manner:
  1. Add one card to the first level.
  2. Add one card to the first level, then second level.
  3. Add one card to the first level, then second level, then third level.
  4. Add one card to the first level, then second level, then third level, then fourth level.
And so on, continuing to add cards in this manner until you have used all cards in your bundle. Then you score points!

Look for matching suits and/or ranks in a level and score 1 point per matching suit, multiplied by its level. So a pair at first level earns 2 points, a pair at second level earns 4 points, a pair at third level earns 6 points, and so on.

After launching an expedition, your bundle of equipment is empty and you must solicit funding from other donors once again.

Continue playing until the deck runs out. Whoever has the most points wins!

Pre-Order the Firefly RPG!

Hello, browncoats! The Firefly RPG is now available for pre-order. Here are the deets straight from MWP:

FIREFLY puts you right in the middle of the action of the wildly popular television series, outrunning Alliance cruisers and trading bullets with fearsome bounty hunters, folk who want what you have or want to put out the light of hope that you represent. This game uses a freewheelin’ version of the award-winning Cortex Plus System to bring the ‘Verse to life at your table or online, including extensive rules and guidelines for creating a crew and resolving dramatic action. Also included are ship plans, system charts, an episode guide and more.

Writers: Monica Valentinelli, Mark Diaz Truman, Brendan Conway, Jack Norris and Dean Gilbert
Additional Contributions: Margaret Weis, Rob Weiland, PK Sullivan, Dave Chalker, Cam Banks, Phil Menard and Tony Lee
Developers: Monica Valentinelli and Mark Diaz Truman
Editors: Amanda Valentine, Sally Christensen and Alex Perry
Art: Crystal Ben, Kurt Komoda, Marie Bergeron, James Nelson, Christopher West and Ben Mund
Design: Daniel Solis
MWP 7020 - ISBN: 978-1-936685-32-5
Hardcover - Color - 360 Pages

Projected in Stores: February 18, 2014

Order from us or a Preferred Retailers and you receive the PDF for Free - once it's live!
And did you know there are already several brand new quickstart PDF adventures available? Check out the Firefly: Echoes of War line on DriveThruRPG.

SkillShare Update: How to Make a 3x3 Card Sheet in InDesign DataMerge

Let's say you already know how to use InDesign's DataMerge function to create a whole deck of cards from a single spreadsheet. You already know that's way better than making each card one-by-one, but has one obvious drawback if you want to make a print-and-play prototype. It only makes one card per page!

What you want is 3x3 card sheets sized just right for a home printer, plus die cuts to aid in trimming. But you don't want to make a whole document with individually placed flat card images. That would be just silly, considering the trouble you went to make the basic deck as variable and automatic as possible.

You need the Multiple Record option of DataMerge, which duplicates an individual card layout nine times on a standard letter size sheet of paper, while still maintaining your original variable data elements. There are some tricky things to troubleshoot during this process, like accounting for the bleeds you've set up in the original layout that might interfere with the multiple record layout.

I've added a new video to my Card Design SkillShare course that covers this useful took and some little bugs that might pop up in the process. For just $25, you get over two and a half hours of video tutorials covering the basics of card design all the way up to professional production tools. Check it out here:

Design Your Own Print-Ready Cards for Table Top Games

Early Thoughts on Pecos Bill's Tornado Rodeo

Pecos Bill

I'm gradually getting into the groove of designing and developing several card games at once, so long as they're relatively simple mechanics with some interesting endgame scoring mechanisms. At the moment, I've still got this idea for a reverse-drafting game that emulates a tornado in the middle of the table, picking up debris and dropping it onto each player.

At first the idea seemed way too gruesome for my catalog, but I think I can soften it by adding a cartoonish Old West theme centered around the Pecos Bill folktale. Each player is a tornado wrangler, trying to tame tornadoes in the open plains. Collect the cows, pigs, chickens and other farm animals from the tornado, but watch out for cacti, rattlesnakes and scorpions!

Tornado Cards
I'm imagining a deck of cards that feature several cartoony animals tossed about in the whipping winds of a tornado. Along the bottom of each card is a contract, showing a specific combination of animals for which you will earn bonus points at the end of the game.

Each player begins with a tableau of cards in front of them. Everyone takes turns at the same time. On your turn, you may do one of the following:
  • Add one card from the tableau to your hand, then pass it to the right. OR
  • If your hand has at least three cards, collect your current hand of cards and set it face-down in a score pile.
If the player to your left collected cards, you'll start with an empty hand and must do the first action noted above.

Endgame and Scoring
The game ends when one player's tableau is empty. Scores are based on the following:
  • Majority of Cows: X per cow
  • Majority of Pigs: Y per pig
  • Majority of Chickens: Z per chicken
  • Fewest Scorpions: Y per scorpion
  • Fewest Cacti: Z per Cactus
Also score bonus points for any contracts in your score pile that are satisfied.

Next Steps
I'll need to find an artist keen on drawing tornado-tossed farm animals. Hm!

Rulebooks in POD Card Games

The tricky thing about publishing through DriveThruCards lately is the absence of a printed rulebook. There are numerous other options, like the link to the rulebook in PDF format on DriveThruCards' site or making it available for download on BGG. This has the advantage of being a "live" set of rules, which can be updated as questions arise.

The average buyer still expects rules with purchase, though. So that means formatting a set of rules that fit on several 2.5" x 3.5" cards, numbered so you can keep them in order while learning the rules. The downside is that once it's in print, it'll be rough PR move to change the deck and explain to previous buyers why their old cards are are faulty.

So, just like in traditional publishing, you gotta look over your rules a lot! Here are the rules for Nine Lives, version 1.0, after extensive review from very industrious Twitter followers. Many thanks to all the people who helped out looking over the rules to make sure it was clear as possible!

Download: 1.9 Meg PDF

As a bit of compromise, I do include a disclaimer on the first page of rules that the rules might be updated later, including a link and QR code to my site. Hopefully this covers all my bases, between a "live" digital document and a static printed document.

Final Tweaks to Nine Lives Card Game


Wahoo! This week's playtests of Nine Lives went very well. I was fortunate to play, tweak, play again, tweak, and play again in rapid succession with several groups of 2-5 players.

I can tell when I'm close to done on a game when ties become a problem. It's much easier to adjust a game that is too tightly balanced. In this case, I removed a few scoring methods from the last iteration so it was just the following:
  • If you have the most cards of a breed, score 1, 3, 5, 9, 15 points for one, two, three, four, or five cards, respectively.
  • If you have the fewest scratches total, score 1 point per scratch in your possession.*
  • Score 1 pt per rare breed in your possession.
The exception was if two players tied for majority of breed or minority of scratches. In those exceptions, neither player would score. This resulted in tied first-place finishers.

Allowing all players to score majority/minority, even if tied, made the victories much more decisive. Odd, but it seemed to prove itself again and again with final scores within 10 points of each other but rarely tying, and never tying for first-place.

Aside from that tweak, I'm going to swap the placements of the numbers and breed/scratch icons. The number and power are only important when the card comes into play, but otherwise you're staggering your cards according to their suit and scratch so it's more important to keep track of that in the long term.

Oh, and I've got a cover card! Look for more soon!

Regime Card Game: Early Thoughts

Since releasing Suspense: the Card Game, I've been considering a loosely expanded idea for another deduction game that works for more players and has more opportunities for interaction and catch-up. I was thinking about the current mini-trend of vaguely geo-political Hunger Games themed games like Resistance and Coup.

So, this is Regime, in which you are trying to influence the secretive Leader, the true political power behind-the-scenes in a shadowy, unstable body politic. Lure constituents into your bloc so you're in the Leader's good graces by the end of the game.

The Deck
The deck is comprised of 30 cards, divided into five factions (suit). Within each faction, three are considered low-rank (no border around the suit), two are considered mid-rank (circle around the suit), and one is considered high-rank (circle and rays around the suit).

Deal 6 cards to each player. (5 cards if playing with six players.) The first player chooses one card from his hand to put face-down in the middle of the table, establishing a Leader that determines the victory condition at the end of the game.

Turns begin with the first player taking first turn. On a turn, play a card from your hand face-up in front of you. When you play a card, you may also use the ability on that card, noted by the diagram on top of the card.
  • Trade 1 card between your hand and your bloc.
  • Trade 1 card between your hand and an opponent's bloc. 
  • Trade 1 card between your bloc and an opponent's bloc.
  • Trade 1 card between your bloc and an opponent's hand (random).
  • Trade 1 card between your bloc and the Leader.
  • Trade 1 card between your hand and the Leader.
The game ends when the 1st player has only one card in hand. (Everyone else has two remaining in hand.) Leader is revealed, then players score.

You score points by having bloc members that match Rank and/or Faction of the Leader. For each bloc member that shares an attribute with the leader, score the stars on that bloc member. If your card is a double-match, it scores twice.

Just like Suspense, it's critical to deduce the "secret card" in the middle of the table in order to score points. You could get lucky and collect a bunch of low-rank bloc members, which is certainly most likely to score, but also scores the least. This makes the game a bit less cut-throat than Suspense, which is very much an all-or-nothing game with a tiny escape valve. Here, deducing the secret card is still important, but you have a bit more leeway since you have two categories in which you may score. You also have plenty of opportunity to manipulate the victory conditions or other players' sets. I'm eager to test this out as a future release in early 2014. We'll see how it turns out!

Crystal Ben's Cover for the Firefly RPG

Yay! I can finally show this to you! This a 3d mockup of the Firefly RPG corebook cover, featuring art by Crystal Ben. Crystal was a total pro during the whole process. Here's the backstory of how this cover came to be.

Trust me, we went through a lot of options in considering the cover image. When we first got started, I looked at all the past licensed comics, posters, merchandise, etc. I found lots of repurposed publicity shots, which didn't give a sense of the action, drama or humor of the series. I also found a lot of montages that tried to cram in all nine cast members, again to the detriment of communicating the spirit of the series.

Thankfully, we had a green light to get original art for the corebook. I thought if we got original art, it ought to depict a new scene that wasn't available from screenshots or 8x10s. I decided we should just focus on a small subset of the main cast who would be most analogous to an "adventuring party:" Zoe, Jayne and Mal.

Crystal sketched a LOT, indeed including a few montage ideas. In the end, we still zeroed in the idea of making an action scene, right at a tense point where a GM would ask "What do you do?" The next step was figuring out how to best compose this action scene while still reading clearly enough for a proper cover. We had one shot to communicate a whole scenario, imply back story, suggest consequence, and, oh yeah, actually help sell the book.

EXT. Pile of stolen Alliance cargo.

MAL, ZOE and JAYNE standing guard while SERENITY arrives for pickup. They're ambushed! It was a setup! The trio has no time to duck for cover, just enough to draw and stand their ground.

We even had a late version of the art with multiple laser sights trained on all three of our heroes. A teeny bit too grim.

If you know my game design ethos against violent themes, you may be surprised I directed a cover with three armed characters. We have variant sketches with fewer guns and a less tense scene. Mal was holding a communicator to call in an air rescue. Ultimately, we deferred to the license, which does have lots of gun stuff. I drew the line at the heroes actually firing though.

Final takeaway: Crystal Ben is amazing and it was a pleasure to collaborate on this project. There's lots more to come!

October Sales Report

Suspense Card Samples

As the year winds down and 2014 approaches, I'll post more regular end-of-month sales reports since I plan to release new product every four weeks or so. (You saw the previous big giant year-to-date sales report, yeah?) This month's new product was Suspense: the Card Game, a spooky product befitting the season, I thought. So how'd October turn out?

10-2013 (to Date)
18x Koi Pond: A Coy Card Game
10x Koi Pond: Four Walls (Promo Card 2)
10x Koi Pond: Four Winds (Promo Card 1)
15x Suspense: the Card Game
$371.07 Retail
$121.60 Royalties

Grand Totals To Date
407 Products Sold
$2,701.22 Retail (I did my math wrong here, sorry, it's $2204.03)
$587.13 Royalties Earned* ($488.05)

Product Performance
Koi Pond sales are down to their August/Gen Con levels, which is to be expected. Koi Pond's second-month sales were the highest ever, so I hope Suspense will follow the same performance pattern. Meanwhile, the two Koi Pond promo cards continue to sell as pairs, which might indicate I should bundle these when they're finally done.

Royalty Spike?
The royalties for this month might look like an unusual spike in an end of year bar graph. Indeed sales were good, but also the price for premium card stock dropped in the last two weeks of the month. I hadn't lowered the price of my products, so that meant I got a few cents more profit margin for each product.

I'm realizing the downside of POD for reviews is that it's almost as expensive to send a review copy as it is to just buy a copy myself. In traditional publishing, your cost per unit is much smaller so you can more easily eat the cost in hopes of raising the profile for your game. Not so with POD, where costs are flat rates all the way through. So that being the case, I need to supplement with publicity that I can still control and afford like podcast interviews, continued blog coverage, and maaaaybe some BGG advertising.
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.