UnPub Mini Highlight: Duck Blind by Tom Gurganus and Hunting Dice by Zachary Gurganus

duck decoys  

(This week I'm highlighting games to be presented at Atomic Empire Unpub Mini on March 2, 2013. Unpub helps game designers get their unpublished games in front of players. Unpub makes good games great. We have seven designers presenting on Saturday, so bring lots of gamers!)

Game design is a family affair in the Gurganus household! We'll have a new game by Tom Gurganus and a dice game from his son Zachary!

Duck Blind
Designer: Tom Gurganus
Contact: tomgurg@gmail.com
Players: 4
Time: 30-45 minutes
Ages: 8+

Duck Blind is a card based auction game in which players are hunters collecting ducks. Ducks and sets of ducks earn VP, give players actions, and mess with other players.

Hunting Dice
Designer: Zachary Gurganus
Players: 2
Time: 40
Ages: 10+

Hunting Dice is a game about deer hunting. Players use dice to shoot at deer as well as move those deer closer to their hunter and away from their opponent’s hunter. Deer are worth various points based on their antler size. Players earn experience points based on their final scores. These XP are used to upgrade their hunter and his equipment for future games.

Duck Blind and Hunting Dice are scheduled to appear at the Atomic Empire Unpub Mini on March 2, 2013!

Further Thoughts on Modeling Inflation in Mansa Musa Board Game


I've been thinking more about the inflation system I posted earlier this week. It didn't have the elegance I was really hoping to achieve. I wanted to be able to tell at a glance how valuable it would be to sell a good to a particular market. Here's another way of doing that.

The cards above represent cities along Mansa Musa's pilgrimage route. They begin with 1-3 random cubes and the remaining spaces stay empty. Musa moves from west to east, then east to west, along the dots indicated below the cards. Each time he lands below a column, he fills it with up to three random cubes.

$ Value of cubes = (number of empty spaces on that card) - (number of cubes of that color on that card).

So if the blue player above were to sell a red cube to the city on the far left, she would earn $4 because there are four empty spaces on that card. Selling a blue cube here wouldn't earn as much because this city already has so many. Selling a blue cube here earns only $2. (Four empty spaces, minus two).

Selling goods earns VPs = (number of empty spaces on that entire row) - (number of cubes of that color in the entire row).

So if the blue player above were to sell a red cube to the top row, she would earn four victory points because there are four empty spaces in the entire row. Selling it to the middle row would only earn three victory points (four spaces, minus one). Selling to the bottom row would only earn two victory point (four spaces, minus two).


So we have three basic methods of determining units of value. CARDs determine the dollar value of any particular cube. ROWs determine the victory point value for selling goods. COLUMNs are what get filled up when Musa arrives. Thematically, I was having trouble figuring out what to call these. I got some good advice from folks on Twitter, especially Ben Marshalkowski and T. C. Petty.

I think cards will stay Cities, columns will be the East and West District of that city, and rows will be social castes. This creates some interesting natural in-game language. For example, if you were to consider the top row to be Nobles, you might say, "The nobles of the second city have everything they could want, no point in selling there. But no Nobles have red cubes, and the Nobles in the first city are hungry for more of anything, I'll sell my red cubes there."

And perhaps the castes offer different rewards for selling to them. Perhaps Nobles earn you the most money, Merchants earn a balance of money and victory points, and Peasants earn you little money but lots of victory points.

Yup. Feeling pretty good about this iteration. Things get even more interesting when you mess with the grids.


Conjoined spaces count as just one space. Anywhere without a space doesn't count as a space. A random shuffle and rearrangement can make some rows much more valuable than others. I think adding bonus tokens to the axes can add even more replay value. Hm!

Unpub Mini Highlight: Havok & Hijinks by Adam Trzonkowski

danils i think

(This week I'm highlighting games to be presented at Atomic Empire Unpub Mini on March 2, 2013. Unpub helps game designers get their unpublished games in front of players. Unpub makes good games great. We have seven designers presenting on Saturday, so bring lots of gamers!)

Havok & Hijinks
Designer: Adam Trzonkowski
Contact: ferrel@epicslant.com
Website: Epic Slant: http://epicslantpress.com/
Players: 2-4
Time: 15-20 minutes
Ages: 13+

Havok & Hijinks is a fast paced, humor-focused, card game designed for people with a little time to kill!

Havok & Hijinks is scheduled to appear at the Atomic Empire Unpub Mini on March 2, 2013!

Inflatable Jewels? A Modular Method for Indexing Inflation in the Mansa Musa Game

MansaMusa Value Tracker

Here's my current experiment with adjustable values for goods that get progressively inflated or deflated as Mansa Musa passes through. (Reminder: Mansa Musa was the richest human in history. On his pilgrimage from Mali to Mecca, he spent so much gold that he caused a wave of hyper-inflation across North Africa. His procession was basically a Medieval Singularity of post-scarcity.)

I'm considering using a set of cards to create a winding connected path representing Mali to Mecca. I think this linear path can serve two purposes: It's a pacing mechanic for the game a whole with Musa inexorably traveling east, then back west. It's also a sliding dial to note relative inflation.

Basically, the Musa meeple acts as a progress bar and wherever you are to the east or west of that progress bar indicates the relative value of your goods. After all, checking an inflation line chart isn't exactly a fun time for most people.

I wanted to index the value of goods to Mansa Musa's progression across the track. Every so often, there is a demarcation space in the track that is used as the increment of inflation. In the final game, these might represent cities.

The base value of goods are as follows:

ARCH.:    3
MATH:     2
ART:      1
STONE:    2

If you're to the WEST of Musa, the value of the first three goods is increased while the other three are decreased. When determining the value of ARCHITECTURE, MATH, and ART, add the number of hexes between you and Musa to their base value. For SPICES, STONE and JEWELS, subtract the hexes.

In the example above, the blue player is two hexes west of Musa, so the value of goods would be:

ARCH.:    5
MATH:     4
ART:      3
STONE:    0

If you're to the EAST of Musa, the value of the first three goods is decreased while the other three are increased. When determining the value of ARCHITECTURE, MATH, and ART, subtract the number of hexes between you and Musa to their base value. For SPICES, STONE and JEWELS, add the hexes.

In the example above, the orange player is one hex east of Musa, so the value of goods would be:

ARCH.:    2
MATH:     1
ART:      0
STONE:    3

For now, goods cannot be worth less than zero, though I am amused by the idea that if you're far west of Musa, people would actually pay you to take away their jewels. It's an idea worth considering if it's not too mentally burdensome in actual play.

For replay value, the map cards could be shuffled or flipped for alternate layouts. More cards could be added for more players, too.

Unpub Mini Spotlight: Dorobo by Rocco Privetera

ninja town 010
(This week I'm highlighting games to be presented at Atomic Empire Unpub Mini on March 2, 2013. Unpub helps game designers get their unpublished games in front of players. Unpub makes good games great. We have seven designers presenting on Saturday, so bring lots of gamers!)

Designer: Rocco Privetera
Contact: me@privetera.com
Website: Mighty Fist Games: http://www.mightyfistgames.com/current-games/dorobo
Players: 2-6
Time: 30 minutes
Ages: 10+

A push-your-luck dice game with a Japanese Ninja theme about stealing from houses; has strategy and player interaction but only 21 dice and is simple to learn.

Dorobo is scheduled to appear at the Atomic Empire Unpub Mini on March 2, 2013!

Unpub Mini Spotlight: Roman Conquest by Josh Young

roman marbles
(This week I'm highlighting games to be presented at Atomic Empire Unpub Mini on March 2, 2013. Unpub helps game designers get their unpublished games in front of players. Unpub makes good games great. We have seven designers presenting on Saturday, so bring lots of gamers!)

Roman Conquest
Designer: Josh Young
Contact: joshyounggames@gmail.com
Players: 3-6
Time: 30-60 minutes
Ages: 12+

Each player is a Consul in ancient Rome with a small support base. Grow your support base by recruiting Legions to conquer new lands, building towns and cities, or improving Rome itself. Gain the support of Senators, or bribe other player’s Senators to expand your support base.

Roman Conquest is scheduled to appear at the Atomic Empire Unpub Mini on March 2, 2013!

Photoshop Sumi-e Tutorial Video [Koi Pond]

Koi Pond Card Back

UPDATE: Koi Pond: A Coy Card Game is now available on DriveThruCards!

Last weekend I put together some prototype art for the Koi Pond Card Game (née Coy Pond) that's been getting a lot of positive response from people. I thought I'd share with you a bit of my process. Clearly I'm not a sumi-e painter, but over the years I've learned a few tricks in Photoshop that might be useful for you. Follow along in the video below!

0:00 I start drawing the vector strokes by themselves. I have a peculiar process for doing this because I prefer to work in an increasingly obsolete program called Freehand. I'm old and stubborn.

1:15 I open a neutral watercolor background in Photoshop. Then I paste the stroke vector into photoshop as a smart object.  I select it as an outline and paste in a mottled gray texture so the strokes get an organic fill. This layer is multiplied so the background texture also seeps through the fill.

1:35 In quickmask, I use a very large, soft brush in dissolve mode and skirt the edges of the strokes. The dissolved edge adds a roughness for the next step.

1:45 With the selections made, I use gaussian blur to soften the edges of the mask. (Note: I'm not blurring the layer, just the edges of the layer mask.) I repeat the selection-blur steps several times in different areas to different degrees so it all feels a as organic as it can.

2:40 I paste in another watercolor stroke for the fill color inside the fish and use Transform > Warp to curve the stroke according to the fish's body. In particular I want to get the tail as wide and rough as possible to emphasize the roughness of that paintstroke.

3:20 To polish off the fish's silhouette, I import white-on-black watercolor strokes. These layers are screened so that they block out any color I don't want. I use transform > Warp again for final details.

4:40 For a bit of depth, I dropped in another blue watercolor texture to take up the bottom two-thirds and screened a bit at the top edge. This lets the red fish really pop out.

And that's it!

Song: Joma de mi vida-U joma'il in kuxtal
Album: Suut u suutuk
Artist: BALAM
License: Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) You can copy, distribute, advertise and play this music as long as you give credit to the artist.

More Exclamation Cards for Suspense


I was fortunate enough to play Suspense a few more times with southern gentleman gamer Jonathan Bolding. Together we brainstormed a handful of new exclamation cards to add to the basic Suspense deck for further replay value. In the base game, you just shuffle the whole deck and deal it out to each player until only the thirteenth card is left as the secret card. Out of the thirteen cards, only one isn't a number: the exclamation, which currently says "Lowest Sum of Numbers in Play."

With some simple permutations, we came up with a bunch of different exclamation cards.

  • Lowest Sum of Numbers in Play
  • Lowest Sum of Numbers in Hand
  • Highest Sum of Numbers in Play
  • Highest Sum of Numbers in Hand
  • Lowest Black Sum of Numbers in Play
  • Lowest Black Sum of Numbers in Hand
  • Highest Black Sum of Numbers in Play
  • Highest Black Sum of Numbers in Hand
  • Lowest White Sum of Numbers in Play
  • Lowest White Sum of Numbers in Hand
  • Highest White Sum of Numbers in Play
  • Highest White Sum of Numbers in Hand
  • Fewest Cards in Play
  • Fewest Cards in Hand
  • Most Cards in Play
  • Most Cards in Hand
  • Sum in Play Closest to 6 without being over
  • Sum in Hand Closest to 6 without being over
  • Sum in Play Closest to 6 without being under
  • Sum in Hand Closest to 6 without being under

That's twenty different cards total. Now, one of the appeals of Suspense as a microgame is that it doesn't have a lot of cards. There is almost a fetishistic appeal in that minimalism.

If I were reluctant to add 20 cards to this deck, I'd just add one card that has all of these permutations listed on it. I'd remove the victory condition from the exclamation card so it's just a blank placeholder. Then before each round, you roll a d20 to determine what the exclamation card represents this round.

But I'm not that reluctant to add more cards to the deck. In production terms, the cost-difference between a thirteen card game and a thirty-two card game is pretty slim. We'll see how that turns out!

Coy Pond - Prototype A

Coy Pond Art Red

» Download Coy Pond Prototype UPDATE: Koi Pond: A Coy Card Game is now available on DriveThruCards!

After tinkering with Love Me Not last week, I drifted into this other more fully fleshed out idea for a game. Draw three cards into your hand. Keep one face-up on front of you, discard the other face-up and keep the third. On your next turn, you do the same thing, gradually cultivating your hand so it is as balanced as possible with cards in front of you.

At first, I couldn't think of a theme for this. The most obvious at the time was a museum curator, keeping some works on display, but also keeping some works from the same artist in the archives. Alas, Knizia really has the definitive art museum themed card game in Modern Art. So I settled on just calling the game COY. Sometimes just the title of an otherwise abstract game is enough to get across its mood.

But then I started thinking about koi ponds and oh gosh, that led me down the borderline between rapid prototyping and reckless prototyping. I started with some old business cards to create the initial deck.

Testing several times until I got the scoring mechanics settled down into something manageable. Then I got thinking about art, which is WAY TOO SOON. Don't do this, people. Focus on your mechanics before you go polishing the look of your game. I put the cart way before the horse. But anyway, they're pretty pictures I guess.

But for now, I want to actually test the game some more, so here is a barebones print-and-play PDF for you. Coy Pond is a euro-style card game for 2 players that lasts about 15 minutes. I'm eager to hear your thoughts!

» Download Coy Pond Prototype A

Love Me Not [In the Lab]

Such heavenly touches ne'er touch'd earthly faces Yesterday I tweeted a little idea for a mechanic:
"Always one step behind" idea: 1st Turn: Choose card, place face-down. 2nd Turn, and on: Choose, place again. Then reveal prev turn's card.
Whenever I toss out a little idea like that on Twitter, it's a fast way to find out if that mechanic has been used elsewhere. Turns out this one is the central mechanic of the Killer Bunnies franchise. It's also present in the 1960s game Nuclear War and more recent game Wings of War.

Gosh, that's a rather blood-soaked legacy for this mechanic. I wonder if there is a way we can take it somewhere less violent. I've got variable values on my mind this week, so let's start there with a little parlor game. I'm popping this into the Boardroomers February Game Design Contest as well. I call it...

Okay, I'm a day late for a Valentine's themed game, but the them is pretty loose anyway. This game is  inspired by wistful romantics plucking flower petals while muttering "he loves me, he loves me not."

In this game, players will take two cards, accepting one into a tableau and discarding the other into their own discard pile. Scores are based on suits in tableau multiplied by suits in the discard pile, so choose wisely!


The deck is comprised of 2-5 and J of each suit in a standard playing card deck, for a total deck of 20 cards. You also need three cubes, which are used to note the winner of each match.

Each player takes turns simultaneously.

Example of a complete first turn.

    1) Draw two cards.
    2) Choose one and say "he loves me." Place this neatly in front of you face-down. This is the start of your TABLEAU.
    3) Place the other card haphazardly face-down to your side and say "he loves me not." This is the start of your PILE.
Example of game in progress, through turn 4.
  • NEXT TURN, AND THEREAFTER: Repeat as above. Additionally, reveal your chosen tableau card from the previous turn.
Example of end of game.
  • FINAL TURN: Repeat as above. Additionally, both players reveal their final chosen tableau card simultaneously and reveal their discard piles.

The match ends after five turns.

You score all cards in the following manner.

(number of [SUIT] in your tableau) X (number of [SUIT] in your pile)

So, if you had two hearts in your tableau and two hearts in your discard pile, you'd score four points from hearts. Repeat this for diamonds, clubs and spades.

Then you score bonus points for jacks in your tableau, in the following manner.

(Jack of [SUIT] in your tableau) X (number of [SUIT] in opponent’s pile)

So, if you had a Jack of spades in your tableau and your opponent had three spades in his discard pile, you would score 3 points from this jack. Repeat for each face card in your tableau, even if they're part of the same suit.

The player with the most points wins the match. The first player to win two matches wins the game.

WIP: Island Siege Iconography

I've been spending the past few days working on iconography for Island Siege (now on Kickstarter)! There is a lot left to do, but I thought I'd show you how it's all looking so far. First up, the game comes with custom minted coins from Campaign Coins. If you've seen their past work, you know they're good. I'm looking forward to seeing these designs cast in that weathered bronze finish.

I was really tempted to put some meeples on that 10-piece crest, but I figured that was a little too on-the-nose. These will look great cast in a metallic finish.

Next up, the game called for a set of four flag icons: Pink, white, gray and black. The trouble in the prototype was that the white, gray and black flags looked too similar to each other. In particular, gray and white were hard to tell apart. The initial direction was to possibly add a unique icon to each flag to distinguish them, but these icons will be really small so I thought it made more sense to make them distinct silhouettes from the start.

Now it's very clear that gray is different from both the black and white flags. At small sizes, the silhouettes of black and white are still a little similar, but their stark contrast helps distinguish them. The black flag's tattered edge further reinforces the differences, if there were still any confusion between the two. The Coquina flag stands out on its own just for its color, but you know me, I always look for a chance to double-code.

Finally today, I want to show the "Imperial" icons. These go on an Imperial card card and represent three different effects. The first is basically just victory. The second is adding dice to your roll. The third is allowing you to reroll dice. The challenge here is that the game uses custom dice, so I couldn't just use a standard pipped die as an easy to recognize symbol. The die does have one very distinctive face showing a Captain's wheel, though. I used that as the signifier and placed it on a simple cube as you can see below.

Because two of the three icons referred to dice, their main signifier is the plus sign and the rotating arrow. Hopefully those are distinguishable from a distance and at small sizes. I added a touch of distressing to the edges so they still looked somewhat period appropriate. Perhaps the die should be smaller so those symbols take up more of the central focus? Either way, the client is pleased and so are the backers.

Still plenty more icons left to design, including forts, buildings, ships, meeples, various cubes and dice faces, too. Look for more soon and back the project so I can get paid!

An Auction Game in Search of a Theme


Players have an equal supply of bidding cards numbered 1-10. (Each bid card also has a secondary number used to break ties.) There is a deck of goods (stone, wheat, meat, wine, and coins in equal proportion) and a deck of actions in the middle of the play area.

There is also a value tracker board that notes the abundance of Stone, Wheat, Meat and Wine and the relative value for possessing those goods.

Each turn, goods cards and action cards are dealt out in a row in the middle of the play area, starting closest to the deck and working your way out. Deal a number of cards from each deck equal to the number of players, plus one. So a four player game would have a row of five goods and five actions. The first pair of action and good is called the first lot, the second pair is called the second lot, and the third pair is called the third lot. The last lot actually includes both pairs of actions and goods, so the fourth lot is the only set with four cards in it.

Each player chooses a bid card and an action card from her hand and places them face-down in front of her. When all players have made their choice, players simultaneously reveal their bid card and action cards.

In ascending order, each bidding player gets the first, second, third and last lot. In other words…

  • Lowest bid gets the first lot.
  • Next lowest bid gets the second lot.
  • Next lowest bid gets the third lot.
  • Highest bid gets the last lot.

Tied bids are resolved by the smaller parenthetical number at the bottom of the bid card.

In ascending order of bid, each player resolves his chosen action. For example, these include things like:

  • Trade one good with another player.
  • Draw a good from the deck.
  • Draw an action from the deck.
  • Score (x) points for (good).
  • Score points equal to the highest bid.
  • Add +3 to your next turn's bid.
  • Return one bid card to your hand.
  • Gain 1 gold.
  • And more!

They all have a variety of effects that will benefit you in the short term or long-term.

Players must discard their chosen bid and action cards. Move the goods markers along the value track to note how many of each good is currently present. As the game progresses, some goods will be more rare than others and thus retain their maximum value. Others will become more abundant, and thus lower in value.

When each player has played seven bid cards, the round is over.

Players then score points for collecting non-coin goods, meaning Wheat, Stone, Meat, and Wine. By the end of a round, some goods will be rarer than others just by luck of the draw. Note how many of each non-coin good is present in all players' possession.

Score points for each good based on whether you have the most or second-most goods and how abundant that good is.

For example, in the board above, the player with one wine earns 10 pts flat. The player with the most stone earns 5 pts per stone in her possession and second-most stone would earn 2 pts per stone in his possession. The player with the most wheat earns 5 pts per wheat in her possession and second-most wheat would earn 2 pts per wheat in his possession. The player with the most meat earns earns 4 pts per meat in her possession and second-most stone would earn 1 pts per meat in his possession.
So if you had one wine, the most stones (three), no wheat and second-most meat (two), you'd earn a total of 27 points this round. 10 from your one wine (1x10), 15 from your three stones (3x5), 3 from your three meat (3x1).

If there is a tie for most goods, both players earn the secondary point value.

Finally, all players discard all of their non-coin goods. Clear the value tracker. Each player replenishes their bid deck and a new round begins.

The game ends when there aren't enough goods to fill all lots. (I imagine roughly three rounds.)

Players score 1 bonus point per coin in their possession.

The player with the most points wins.

Lots of really good ideas are rolling in on various channels. Here are a few of my favorites:
  • Split up the big lot into two lots. Give descending bidders pick of all lots, regardless of their order, as in a more traditional auction. 
  • Resolve actions in ascending order of bid so there are divergent tensions for the bids.
  • Instead of a value tracker, just count how many of each good is left in the goods deck and multiply that by the number of that good you have in your possession. A very elegant way of creating an inverse proportion of abundance and value. The problem is that it just compels everyone to get as few of each good as possible, I think anyway. Needs to be tested.
  • Possible theme: Players are movie execs trying to come up with ideas for movies. The "goods" are characters, settings, plots, and audiences for the movie pitch, resulting in stuff like Snakes on a Plane or Cowboys vs. Aliens.

Experimenting with Card Reveal Mechanics


I've had this post in my Drafts folder for months and never got around to posting it. The weird thing is how much of these ideas filtered into other game ideas in the mean time. So anyhoo, here is some designerly stuff to chew on today.

I'm a big fan of any players simultaneously revealing a secret choice. It creates a nice rhythm to play and keeps all players engaged at the same time. When options are limited, it creates an especially savory deductive tension. I long time ago, I noted a little hack for Rock Paper Scissors that works a little like this.

Multi-player Rock Paper Scissors
Rock: Score 1 per Scissors
Paper: Score 1pt per Rock
Scissors: Score 1pt per Paper.
Track with off-hand. First to 5 wins.

Translating that to a deck of cards would be interesting. Let's assume a generic farming theme for now. I can see some interesting data pulled from some basic ingredients:

  • Cards revealed and discarded. (Events)
  • Cards revealed and kept in a tableau. (Buildings)
  • Cards that interact with Events.
  • Cards that interact with Buildings.

Mixing and matching these ingredients, I can see a small deck of cards building already. Assume each player begins with an identical deck of cards as listed below.

The game lasts three rounds. Each round lasts five turns. At the start of each round, each player randomly draws six cards into her hand.

Each turn, all players choose one card from their hand and place it face down on the table. Then, all players reveal their chosen card and resolve each of their effects.

  • 2x RAIN (Event): Gain 1 pt per RAIN revealed this turn.
  • 2x ORCHARD (Building): Gain one FOOD when a RAIN is revealed. (You can only possess up to three FOOD.)
  • 1x STORAGE (Building): You can possess up to six FOOD.
  • 1x HOUSE (Building): At end of round, score 1pt per FOOD in your possession.
  • 2x TOUR (Event): Gain 1pt per Building in play.
  • 1x THIEVES (Event): Score 1pt per unprotected Building in play.
  • 2x GARRISON (Building): Buildings to the left and right of this card are PROTECTED.
  • 2x QUORUM: (Event): Score 3pts per QUORUM revealed this turn.
  • 1x DEMOLITION (Event): Discard one building in play. It may be yours or an opponent's.
  • 1x JUBILEE (Event): Draw one card from your discard deck back into your hand.
  • 1x COOP (Building): Gain 1pt and one FOOD per turn if this is the only CHICKEN COOP in play. Gain one FOOD per turn thereafter.
  • 1x MARKET (Building): You may discard one FOOD per turn to score 1pt.
  • 1x CAPITOL (Building): Gain 3pts at end of round if you possess CAPITOL.

Of course this basically ends up being a 7 Wonders without the card draft, which isn't nearly as interesting. Just a thought for now.

UnPub Mini at Atomic Empire in Durham NC!

Mark your calendars, folks. I'm running an UnPub Mini at Atomic Empire in Durham, NC. The Unpub games festival helps game designers get their unpublished games in front of players (and sometimes publishers). Unpub Minis are smaller events where local gamers can help local designers make their games great.

Atomic Empire
3400 Westgate Dr. Suite 14B
Durham, North Carolina 27707
Saturday March 2
1pm to 8pm

We've already got seven designers registered for the event:

Roman Conquest by Josh Young
Dorobo by Rocco Privetera
Havok & Hijinks by Adam Trzonkowski
Fog of War by David Perry
Cows vs. Chickens by Matt Wolfe
Hunting Dice by young Zachary Gurganus
Duck Blind by his father Tom Gurganus

If you've been to Atomic Empire before, you know how big and inviting their play space is. It's going to be a fun time! The event is free and open to the public, but Atomic Empire has a wide selection of games so you'll probably come away buying something. (And please do! They've been very kind hosts.)

» More details at the official UnPub page

A Fictional Setting for Belle of the Ball

Belle of the Ball was originally inspired by the Shindig episode of Firefly, which presented a lavish party with clear visual influences from Victoriana and the Antebellum South, but mixed with lots of other aesthetic cues.

Since then, I've described Belle's setting as a Victorian or Southern ball, since that's an easier explanation to new players. I'd still like the game's art to take both as a source of inspiration, but both come with a lot of historical baggage. I prefer a more contemporary, balanced representation in the art than would pass "historical accuracy" nitpicking.

To get around all that, I'm developing a fictional setting for Belle of the Ball. Not too vast, mind you, just a simple, short bit of worldbuilding to make clear that the game is set not in England or in the American South. Rather, it's some other place at some other time that just so happens to have dapper wardrobe and silly names. I've actually already given each guest a title and county of origin. For example...

  • Gigglesack Lololol, Zest of Latesun
  • Velocipede Vintertav, Gem of Krinkle
  • Radioactive Rendermum, Barge of Jamshire
  • Meowsmith Mutterhutt, Rock of Indigum
  • Obelisk Orlantop, Inch of Highmount
  • Mumblecore Masherfax, Cape of Glitterfall
  • Lafayette Linenhatch, Quill of Flappingap
  • Thathery Thumbvee, Eye of Dent
  • Jugular Jugkeg, Wall of Craw
  • Pinchlehead Pimpleleg, Jack of Boarsend
  • Critique Crappique, Drake of Anglebottom

At first, this was an excuse to embed layer of information on each Guest card, in hopes of future expansions tapping into this data set. Now it may also serve as the outline of a whole fictional setting.

I imagine Anglebottom, Boarsend, Craw, Dent, Flappingap, Glitterfall, Highmount, Indigum, Jamshire, Krinkle and Latesun being counties (or tiny countries) on a large Isle. I'd love it if that isle had a name with "bel" somewhere in it. Here's what folks on Twitter have brainstormed so far.

  • Isle of Beltingham
  • Isle of Belton
  • Isle of Belmont
  • Isle of Claribel
  • Isle of Maribel
  • Isle of Belshire

Something like that. Happy to take any more suggestions!

Creative Commons and the Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge [VIDEO]

A few months ago, I was invited to speak in a round of lightning talks at Red Hat. The event was in celebration of the Creative Commons' license's ten-year anniversary, so my talk focused on the winner of the Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge, which was released on that license. They were kind enough to record the talks, so you can see mine above. Hardly the makings of a TED Talk, but I think it went okay. Here's the official synopsis from OpenSource.com.

Daniel Solis (@danielsolis), an art director by day and game designer by night, describes what sets ancient games apart from the ones sold in today's market. Beyond big boxes, colorful pieces, and lots of noise, ancient games employ three main criteria: access, elegance, and fun. Access—across language and geographic barriers. Elegance—applying a few rules that are easily understood but take a long time to master. And fun—we all know about that.

Solis tells us that while Chess is only 800 years old, older games like those from ancient Babylon are unplayable by us today: we simply don't know the rules! Interested by this, Solis started a challenge for anyone to create a game today that might still be played 1000 years from now. He asked contestants to use what he identifies as the base characteristics of long-lasting games: access, elegance, and fun.

The winner, James Ernest with Take Back Toe, went a step further: he licensed his game under Creative Commons, reminding players that long-lasting games encourage free sharing and collaborative learning.

The video and that bit of text above are both released under an attribution, share-alike Creative Commons 3.0 license from OpenSource.com.

Suspense: The Card Game


2–3 Players • Ages 10+ • 10–15 Minutes

Prototype D
» Download Rules PDF
» Download Print-and-Play Cards

SUSPENSE: THE CARD GAME is a contest of wits, deduction, and cunning!  The deck has six white numbered cards 1–6, six black numbered cards 1–6, and one "!" card which is considered a zero. Each card also displays a unique victory condition.

The game is played in a series of matches. Each match is comprised of a series of turns.

In the first match, the youngest player is the dealer. To start each match, the dealer shuffles the cards and evenly deals them out to the players face-down. Players keep cards in hand hidden from other players.

Dealing the cards evenly should leave behind one extra card. The dealer places this secret card face-down in the middle of the play area.

Only the dealer may look at the secret card.

Each player takes turns, starting with the dealer, clockwise around the play area. On your first turn of a match, you MUST choose one card from your hand and play it face-up in front of you, visible to everyone.

On subsequent turns, do one of the following:
  • Play: Choose one card from your hand and play it face-up in front of you, visible to everyone. This card is now said to be in play.
  • Pass: Skip your turn. Note: You are still in the game.
Keep all the cards you have in play visible.

The match ends if either of the following occurs:
  • The sum of the face-up numbers is 15 or higher (in a 2-player game) or 20 or higher (in a 3-player game).
  • All players choose to pass. In other words, no one wishes to play any more cards.
Now each player, starting with the dealer, may choose to do the following:
  • Fold: If you believe that you will not win this match, declare that you fold. Keep your hand of cards hidden.
The dealer then reveals the secret card and all players reveal their hands.
  • The player who meets the secret card’s revealed victory condition wins 2 points. In a tie, both players win 1 point.
  • A player who folded and does not meet the revealed victory condition win 1 point.
  • A player who folded and meets the victory condition gets 0 points.
  • A player who did not fold and does not meet the victory condition gets 0 points.
The match is now complete. The player to the dealer’s left becomes the new dealer for the next match.

When a player has 6 points, she wins! If two players reach 6 points in the same match, they both win!

The game is a process of elimination. For example, when a card is played that says “Highest number in play,” you know the highest number in play will NOT win the match because it can’t also be the secret card.

1 and 6 in play or in hand are most likely to win any match. It’s an unfortunate circumstance if you have neither, but not insurmountable. If you deduce that the winning card is in someone’s hand, you can potentially bluff your opponent well enough that they bring it into play instead, thus giving you a better chance to win.

Watch the dealer’s choices for clues. If the dealer folds, she does not believe she has the card in play or in hand that would win the match, which may mean you do and probably should not fold.

EDITING: Will Hindmarch

PLAYTESTING: Chip Beauvais, Kevin Brusky, Kenneth Coble, Bryan Fischer, Matt Fowler, Darrell Louder, Ryan Macklin, Levi Middleton, Chris Norwood, T.C. Petty, Megan Raley, Brad Smoley
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.