Playing the Fool: Getting Rules Wrong in all the Right Ways

Yesterday morning Lyndsay Peters and I played Martian Dice via Google Hangout, which is when I discovered that I have been playing it incorrectly this whole time.

I thought if you wanted to capture humans, you had to capture them before cows and chickens. If you captured cows or chickens first, you couldn't capture humans in a later turn. However, you could capture as many cows or chickens as you liked until you busted a roll or ended your turn.

This wasn't the case at all, as it turns out. You may capture humans, cows and chickens in any order you like, but you couldn't take one type if you had done so earlier. I'm still not sure how I got that so wrong. I think it's because there was a line break in the sentence explaining that rule. But really, it's just silly how wrong I got that. Sheesh!

There are no rules so short and clear that everyone will follow them as intended. In fact, the shorter rules are just as prone to misinterpretation.

But on the bright side, this got us in a discussion of actually using my misinterpretation as the core mechanic of a new dice game. After all, I've been playing it this way for so long, I thought it was perfectly sensible. We combined with the point-dice mechanics from King of Tokyo. The basic idea was this:

  • Roll 13d6. This guarantees you'll get at least three identical results.
  • You must keep one set of three or more identical results and score their face value in points, plus 1pt for each die beyond the initial three dice in the set. (So a set of 3333 would score you 4 points.)
  • Thereafter, you can keep rolling the remaining dice and keep one set from each roll, as long as that set is of equal or greater face-value as one you've already kept. (So if you kept 333, you could not keep a 111 or 222, but you could keep another 333, 444, and so on.)
  • If your roll results in no legal sets, you get a STRIKE. Strike three times and your turn is over.

That led to still further discussion of expanding the long-term gameplay to an area control mechanic for endgame bonuses. Something with a noodle-making theme, perhaps, describing each set as a strand of noodle. That's a subject for another post. For now, I'll just remember to check my rules knowledge more often. Who knows what new games will come?

What's in the egg?

Easter Eggs | Macro

Back in 2011, I posted this simple push-your-luck dice game called Bombs Away that could be played with one die. I soon discovered some similarities to a 1994 casino-themed dice game called Sharp Shooters, which was later reimplemented by Ravensburger as Royal Casino and Temptation.

The basic mechanic still appeals to me, though I've since taken as a personal challenge not to design any games with violent or combat themes. So, the bomb has to go. Curious about alternate "ticking timebomb" metaphors would work with this mechanic, I kind of like the image of a mystery egg. Players are taking turns sitting on an egg until it hatches.

The longer you sit on the egg, the more claim you have over it, but what comes out of the egg may not be what you expect! The egg is represented by one d6. You roll the die to sit on the for one day and place one of your colored cubes in an open space beside the result.

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

You can continue sitting on it, rolling once for each day, or you can pass your turn to the next player. If you ever roll a result which has no empty spaces, the egg hatches! All sorts of things might hatch from the egg, resulting in different benefits and penalties for each player who sat on the egg. There is quite a bit of information to draw from this simple system.

  • Did the egg hatch on a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6? Each might be a special group of results, with 1 being the most rare results since it's so unlikely.
  • Who sat on the egg the longest? Whatever hatches may reward this player for taking the time to incubate it.
  • Who hatched the egg? Even if you didn't spent much time sitting on the egg, whatever hatches might imprint on you, giving you some benefit in the long-term.
  • Who sat on the egg the least? Whatever hatches might resent this player for not spending enough time caring for it. Or maybe go the opposite direction and reward this cautious player!
  • Which row is most occupied when the egg hatched? This might determine the value of whatever hatches, meaning if there were a lot of 5s filled on the egg, but it hatched on a 2, it gets some special ability.

Want to get even crazier? Make it a worker placement game where players incubate a whole roost of eggs. Each player bids to lay on a chosen egg, each being incubated at different rates based on the preceding die roles. In this case, pecking order really does matter. Neat!

More Playtest Findings from PAX

Tabletop Gaming at PAX East

While I was at PAX East, I playtested three other prototypes currently in various stages of development.

Princess Bride Drafting Game has been long in development, but finally hitting a breakthrough now that it has departed from strictly simulating the Battle of Wits. It's now a drafting game in which players bid for milestones and landmarks to complete their personal quests while also trying to bluff their opponents into drinking poison. It's a drafting game where you're not just bidding for resources, but also turn order on the next draft and how many resources you'll get to draw. Most feedback was positive and I hope to formalize this prototype into something more pitchable soon.
  • Retheme the cards slightly so that there are more main character options, including the villains of the story.
  • Make the secondary characters in the deck landmark locations.
  • Give the main characters unique abilities, like The Man in Black's immunity to poison, or Fizzik's great strength.

Belle of the Ball was a hit again. I got many play requests from people who had heard of the game from this blog. I also got a few thanks for non-violent/non-colonial theme. I tried out several new cards that generally followed the model of the "bad cheese" card, negating scores for certain interests in a scoring group. I also added several new Belle cards that scored you points based on other players' behavior, such as when they paid bribes, accepted bribes, invited lords or ladies or played Belle cards. On top of all this, I also tested the new two-lane format. It went swimmingly, offering far more substantial choice on each turn, preventing bribe-hoarding, and making a more satisfying experience overall.
  • Come up with evocative names for the new Belle cards along with new diagrams that can more easily be recognized from a distance.
  • Make the heraldry more subtle so it doesn't distract as much.
  • Remove underlapping border around the interest icons so they have less interference with their silhouettes.

Suspense: The Card Game probably got the most play overall, simply because of its small footprint. The pitch really drew in the core gamer demographic: "Deduce the victory condition while also trying to meet it." I'm exploring ways to expand the game to four or five players, which might be difficult. I'm thinking about another set of six cards with red numbers, each victory condition based on highest/lowest black/white sum in play/hand. The problem of course is that 13 cards elegantly creates one possible outlier in an even deal, adding anymore makes things a little more messy. I'll figure it out though.
  • Explore expanding the game to four or five players.
  • Instead of waiting until the end of the round to introduce the "Fold" option, state it up front so players always have it available.
  • Explore a gambling variant based on Wits & Wagers' wagering chips. (Score points equal to your wager chips x stars on the winning card.)

The Nature of Low-Interaction, Head-Down, Multiplayer Solitaire Games [Koi Pond]

Koi Pond

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

I tested a lot of games at PAX last weekend. Let's talk about Koi Pond Prototype C first. It was mostly well-received. People liked the fast, simultaneous gameplay, and it seemed couples liked the low-impact interaction that the predators provided. Everyone loved the "balance" scoring mechanic, too.

But there was one comment that stuck with me. A playtester found it was "fundamentally uninteresting." By that he meant there is no necessary interaction or even a desire to interact. It's very much a head-down, multiplayer solitaire game. Furthermore, in the last two turns, you have too many cards in your hand to sort through, which also contributes to the head-down nature of the game. You're so focused on organizing your mountain of assets that you have even less reason to pay attention to anyone else.

Now, I could justify this type of gameplay by simply pointing at the theme. Koi Pond tending is a different experience than in-your-face combat, after all. Those who are drawn to the theme may prefer that calm, quiet experience. Core hobby gamers are not necessarily going to be drawn to that kind of game (unless it's an app).

               HIGH INTERACTION
                    #   |
SIMULTANEOUS -----------+----------- TURN-BASED
               *        |
                LOW INTERACTION

But that's too easy. The process of game design requires constant refinement and reflection. In this case, I sense my own desire to send Koi Pond to production as soon as possible, to ride the wave of Belle of the Ball and Suspense's success from earlier this year. Seeing that in myself, I must pause for a moment to consider alternatives for Koi Pond that won't just make the game interactive, but make the players want to interact.

If you've seen Prototype C, you've seen the Ribbons, Fishers and Dogs which I'm testing to add more in-the-moment interaction. However, I've got a potential revision to the overall flow of play that I tested at PAX that may solve several of these problems in one go.

Hopefully this moves Koi Pond from its current position on the above graph (*) slightly up into the range of higher interaction, while keeping the same fun, fast, simultaneous gameplay (#).


Instead of each player having her own river of discarded cards, there is a "lake" in the middle of the table. This is a loose pile of discarded cards shared communally with all players.

The game is divided into Weeks and Days. A Day is divided into a Draw Phase, Placement Phase, Reveal Phase.

  • Draw Phase: Each player takes turns drawing three cards, which may be chosen from the face-down draw deck or the face-up cards in the lake.
  • Placement Phase: Each player places a card from their hand face-down into their pond and another card face-down into the lake. Any remaining cards stay in-hand.
  • Reveal Phase: Each player reveals their chosen cards.

If you reveal a koi in your pond, you can place it in the appropriate stack.

If you reveal a predator in your pond, you remove it from the game and choose one opponent as the predator's target. The opponent must remove any koi matching the predator's color from the game. Housecats remove matching koi from an opponent's house, Cranes remove matching koi from an opponent's pond, Turtles remove matching koi from the lake. Any player can protect pond, house or the lake by playing a Dog card. A Dog card used in this way is removed from the game.

If you reveal a Fisher in your pond, you can draw two extra cards on your next turn. Having done so, you must remove that Fisher card from the game.

A new Day begins after the last player reveals their choices. 
Each Week lasts FIVE days, at the end of which players score points and Ribbons are awarded as noted in Prototype C. 
After three Weeks, the game ends and players earn bonus points for their ribbons.

There is a lot to like in this variant. Players experience just a touch more interaction, along the lines of Lost Cities. Now you must worry about which cards you discard since your opponent can take them. Predators are much more straightforward, since they're simply action cards that have an immediate take-that effect. Furthermore, the deck doesn't run out nearly as fast, which means the deck can support up to five or six players, especially if dogs and fishers are included in the basic deck.

The downside is that the game takes about twenty minutes longer, as you must wait for each player to choose their cards. This is slightly mitigated by the fact that once a player takes his cards, he can effectively proceed with the rest of his turn while everyone else makes their own choices. By the time the last player is taking their first phase, the first player is already done with their second phase.

I'll continue testing this and other variants. I hate to make a simple, elegant game more complex than it needs to be, but I also hate leaving any stone unturned in a game's development. If Koi Pond ends up right back where it started as a low-interaction meditation game, I can at least say I tested the alternative.

Titles and Counties of Ludobel Isle [Belle of the Ball]

I'm fleshing out the back story for some aspects of the world of Belle of the Ball. Specifically the title for each character and their county of origin. For example, Lord Marmalade Megablade is the Ace of Jamshire and Lady Radioactive Rendermum is the Barge of Jamshire.

All the titles/counties are silly things like that, but they're distributed very deliberately through the deck. For example, each county only has one Lord and one Lady. Each county has only five guests. Each title only appears three times through the deck, so not every county has every title.

I embedded this supplemental information in the guest cards for use in later expansions, but they're also useful for art direction. Of course, that means the titles have to actually mean something. Any things you imagine would be true of these titles and countries, just by the sound of their name?



 I have my own ideas of course, but I'm curious about your word association response.

Games I'll have at PAX East

I'll be in the board game area with prototypes of some of my upcoming games soon to be published over the next few months:

Koi Pond is a draft placement game where you're building a koi pond. Lots of difficult decisions and a satisfying scoring mechanic. Players really love the art. I'll have a few expansion cards to test as well.

Belle of the Ball will be published by Dice Hate Me Games, this is a great game for for fans of Guillotine, Bohnanza, and ridiculous Victorian names. Play it cutthroat or Euro style, it's got tons of replay value.

Suspense: The Card Game, soon to be rethemed, is a brain-burning deduction microgame with just thirteen cards. You're deducing the victory condition while also trying to meet it. This one is really popular.

And in addition I have two playtest prototypes straight from my lab:

Mansa Musa is my first economic game and it's an odd one. The King Mansa Musa is on a religious pilgrimage, spreading his gold in every city he visits. You're a merchant purchasing goods from cities behind Mansa, where they're suddenly cheap. Then you're trying to race ahead of Mansa so you can sell your goods to cities Mansa has not yet visited, for a profit. Sell to nobles for money, sell to peasants for victory points or sell to merchants for either.

Princess Bride Drafting Game is a prototype I've been developing for GameSalute's open call to developers for their Princess Bride license. This game uses the Battle of Wits scene as the basic structure for a drafting game. Players are each characters from the story trying to complete a quest by acquiring milestone cards and meeting certain secondary characters. In play, the dealer draws one card per player, plus two. The dealer chooses two to place face-down in the center of the table, the rest are placed face up. Then players draft their selections from this lineup, one card per player except for the dealer who drafts two. Cards feature all the milestones of the Princess Bride story, including the poisons which could be very dangerous!

Come see me in the board game area and I'll be happy to play any of these games with you.

Koi Pond - Prototype C

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

Howdy folks! I'm happy to show off Prototype C of Koi Pond. This includes several refinements and polishing bits to help play go a little more smoothly.

  • Predators always score from the opponent to your left. No more switching between rounds. (I mean, you can if you want to, but explaining that was cluttering the rules presentation and otherwise didn't change the game mechanically.)
  • Hybrid koi now have an extra outer circle around their suits to help color-blind players notice them more easily. Hope that's sufficient!
  • Several people wanted predator cards to have a diagram or art showing where they score points from. I'm not ruling that out yet, but I'm compromising for now by including reference cards for use during play. This explains scoring at-a-glance.
  • The scoring example diagram is more organized and clearer so you an see which suits of koi score X number of points.

Aside from those and other small tweaks, I've included some experimental cards that I'd love to see tested out more thoroughly. These do not have art yet, so they're easy to distinguish from the core deck.

  • VISITOR (x18):
    Shuffle this into the deck. Between rounds, you may keep any visitors that were played into your pond. Keep them to the side, away from the pond or river.
    End game bonus: Score 5pts if you have the most visitors at the end of the game. Lose 5 pts if you have the fewest visitors at the end of the game.
  • RIBBON (x3 of each suit):
    Keep this card to the side of the game during play. If you have the most koi of a suit in your pond at the end of a round, take one ribbon of that suit.
    End game bonus: Score 1, 4 or 9pts for a set of one, two or three matching ribbons.
  • DOG (x6):
    Shuffle this into the deck. A dog in your pond will prevent one predator of your choice from scoring from your pond, house or river.
  • FISHER (x6):
    Shuffle this into the deck. To use the fisher, play it into your pond. Then, swap it for any opponent’s koi from their river.

I hope you enjoy the refinements and the new optional cards! I plan to go to DriveThruCards for production in a couple weeks. The final card layout will be polished up so they're friendly for left-handed players. The reference cards will also be fully designed and I'll hire a proper editor to go through the rulebook. Stay tuned!

» Download the Rules
» Download the Cards

Stuff in development for Koi Pond - Prototype B

Koi pond

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

I've had Koi Pond in private beta testing for the past few weeks experimenting with various ideas to deepen the gameplay without losing the core elegance. I called this Prototype B.

One thing that's definitely going into the game are hybrid koi. These are koi which can be either of two different colors, split right down the middle: White and yellow, yellow and red, white and blue, red and blue, yellow and blue, and red and white. When you place a hybrid in your pond, you decide which color it will be immediately. When you place a hybrid in your house, you decide at the end of the round which color it will be. When you discard a hybrid into your river, you do not decide its color. In that case, it's the player who has a turtle predating your river who decides which color that hybrid will be, usually a color that turtle can score points from. (Note: hybrids always come in quantities of 1 koi, so they're a bit balanced in that way.)

In tests, the game plays well with two, three or four players. I would need to add more cards or shorten the rounds for a five- or six-player game, but that's not such a bad thing for an expansion.

Presently the game plays three times for a complete session, mainly to balance out any lucky streaks and randomness that may occur in a single game. I've gotten some wise counsel from W. Eric Martin that in such games, it never really feels like multiple rounds are necessary if they're all just identical games without anything building up between them.

I'm thinking about methods of earning points in the long-term that might transcend the individual round of gameplay. The trick, again, is not losing the core elegance of the game. I don't mind adding new cards though. So here are some options:
  • Race for Ornaments: I remember how Phil Walker-Harding's Sushi Go! tackled this problem. That's another game played multiple times, with almost identical gameplay with one exception: Pudding. You keep pudding even after the round is over and the player with the most pudding at the end of the game earns 6 points. The player with the fewest pudding loses 6. I could use the same mechanic with "Ornaments" in your pond. Bamboo, rocks, lilypads, that sort of thing. They score no points in the short-term, but lead to a positive/negative bonus score at the end of the game for the player with the most/fewest ornaments.
  • Race for Visitors: You would play visitors into your pond just like the ornaments. It's basically a parallel race to the ornaments, wherein having the most most visitors earns you bonus points and fewest visitors earns you negative points.
  • Race for Ribbons: Imagine that there are ribbons available matching each suit of koi, so a blue ribbon, a yellow ribbon, a white ribbon and a blue ribbon. When you're the player with the most koi of a suit in your pond, you earn the corresponding ribbon. For example, if you have more blue koi in your pond than any other player, you earn the blue ribbon. (In a tie, no one wins the ribbon.) The first ribbon of a suit scores 1pt, the second scores 2pts, the third scores 3 pts. Each full set of all four color ribbons earns 9pts. This creates a gentle counter-pressure to the short-term balanced scoring mechanic.

In addition, I've been experimenting with some ideas that may not make it to the base game, but which could find their way into some kind of expansion or variant.

  • Villagers: These are basically the same as predators, but which predate from your house rather than your pond. Thus, they're much more secretive than predators.
  • Guard Dog: This blocks one predator of your choice from preying upon your house, river or pond, depending on where the guard dog is played. (Think of it like a protective measure, but still balanced because the dog can't be in two places at once.)
  • Fisherman: When you play the fisherman, play it into your pond. Then, swap it for an opponent's koi from their river. (This is a way to get the Lost Cities-style of digging into someone's discard pile. It also keeps you looking at the whole play area.)

So that's all in the lab at the moment. Nothing too final yet. Just keeping you in the loop!

Belle of the Ball to be Published by Dice Hate Me Games!


I'm very excited to announce that Belle of the Ball has been purchased by Dice Hate Me Games! You can read the official announcement here. I'm particularly excited that they've tapped Jacqui Davis to illustrate the guests and the Belle of the Ball herself.

It's been a long road to get here, starting with the earliest versions of the game when it was a tile-placement game until its current incarnation as a light strategy set-collection/bidding game. There have been many many playtesters along the way from those early days. Sadly, I haven't been keeping thorough enough records during that process, but I'd still like to thank those playtesters I can for making this possible.

    W. Eric Martin
    Megan Miranda
    Jace-Leia Newhook
    Rob Newns
    Patrick Noto
    Leah Novak
    Lyndsay Peters
    Vitas Povilaitis
    Jesse Pudewell
    Megan Raley
    Tim Rodriguez
    J.R. Romero
    Adam Schultz
    Lisa Scodari
    Devon Silvia
    Jason Summerlott
    Sarah E. H. Thomas
    Dennis Ti
    Rebecca Ti
    Greg Tito
    Cheryl Trooskin-Zoller
    Joshua Unruh
    Jim Van Verth
    Anastacia Visneski
    Whit Vosburgh
    Rachel Weber
    Andrea Withers
    Simon Withers
    Austin Wilson
    Natania Barron
    Charles Beauvais
    Sara Beauvais
    Jonathan Bolding
    David Buerger
    Dave Chalker
    Richard Dansky
    Chris Deibler
    Tad Dockery
    Rael Dornfest
    Peter Fall
    Ben Farrell
    Danvers Fleury
    Cheryl Grinds
    Tom Gurganus
    Micheal Harrison
    Hayley Helmstetler
    Fred Hicks
    Quentin Hudspeth
    Jason Innes
    Scott King
    Dave Kirby
    Cherilyn Kirkman
    Chris Kirkman
    Mur Lafferty
    Val Lang
    Jonathan H. Liu
    Daniel Lofton
    Gia Lombardo

Sorry if there's anyone I missed! You're all awesome and you helped make Belle of the Ball much more streamlined and fun. This is just the beginning, of course. The Kickstarter will launch in late Summer for a release in Q1 of 2014. Keep an eye out for more news to come!

GamerChris has an early review of Suspense, Koi Pond and Unpub Mini at Atomic Empire

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

Chris Norwood was kind enough to play prototypes of Suspense: the Card Game and Koi Pond Card Game and include previews on his most recent podcast ep. He also spends some time talking about the Unpub Mini event I ran two weeks ago.

Suspense gets previewed at 10:03
The Unpub section is explained at 32:39
  • 36:14     - Roman Conquest
  • 39:22     - Duck Blind
  • 41:57     - Dorobo
  • 41:57     - Acute Care
Koi Pond (nee Coy Pond) gets mentioned at 45:26

Give it a listen!

Candyland Movement Expanded to 2 Dimensions


I got to thinking a little bit about Candyland's movement rules and how they could still be relevant in an modern board game. For a refresher: In Candyland, you play a card and move your pawn forward along a linear track, to the nearest colored space matching the played card.

An updated and elegant version of this mechanic is found in Cartagena (shown above). The players must still play cards and move their pawn forward, but the only way to draw new cards is to move backward along the track. Still, the track is linear and the game is very much a race to the finish.

Now I'm thinking about a point-to-point movement mechanic played on a hex map with various terrain types, gradating from beach, to plain, to suburb, to city, to mountain, to forest, and so on. In order to move to any part of the map, you may simply play a card matching the terrain type of your chosen destination. Want to go to the desert? Just play a desert card.

Here's the catch: You must pay for the journey by discarding one card for each new terrain between your current location and your destination. Any card will do, the discarded cards don't need to match the crossed terrain. They're just an abstract representation of the cost of movement. Thus, moving within the same terrain is free. Moving to a neighboring terrain costs one card. Moving from, say, desert to jungle costs a lot more.

I can see a pickup-and-deliver game using this mechanic. Tension can be added by including deliverable goods on the cards, thus you're not just spending fuel, you're spending precious cargo. Anyhoo, feel free to lift this mechanic for something you're working on. Might be useful!

Some Thoughts on a Princess Bride Card Game


A few nights ago on Twitter, I got to thinking about a simple mechanic for replicating the poison cup scene in Princess Bride. (You may recall I've explored this theme before in a previous post: Where is the Poison?)

Each player has a supply of seven red cubes and ten blue cubes. On your turn, you place one, two or three cubes in each hand and "serve" them to your opponent. One hand is open, its contents visible. The other hand is closed, its contents hidden. Your opponent must choose one to accept. The goal is to get seven blue cubes and win, or to eliminate your opponent by forcing them to take five red cubes.

There were a number of mathematical problems with this premise, ably and quickly pointed out by Paul Owens. I've been stretching my brain to get a functional Princess Bride prototype ready before PAX East, to submit to GameSalute's license, and these mathematical issues keep getting in the way of a pure deduction game.

I think expanding the basic mechanic beyond a plain binary and removing elimination may be the key to making this idea functional as a real game. In the process, I'm exploring the two-player bluffing mechanic from Antoine Bauza's forthcoming Little Prince tile game and some familiar scoring from Sushi Go.

The cards you see above are an example of what you might see in a typical turn of a two-player game. Each card bears icons representing various elements of the Princess Bride story. On your turn, you draw as many cards as there are players, plus one. Choose one of these cards to keep face down, then present them all to the players. You choose the turn order for each player to take one card. The last player takes two cards.

At the end of the game, you score points for sets of icons.
  • Hearts to express your true love: If you have the most hearts, at the end of the game, earn Xpts.
  • A map to navigate the Fire Swamp: Each is worth Xpts. If you get five, earn +Ypts.
  • Swords to defeat Inigo: Each is worth X. If you get three, earn +Ypts.
  • Fists to defeat the Fezzik the Giant: Every pair earns you Xpts.
  • Poison for the Battle of Wits: If you have the most poison at the end of the game, lose Xpts. If you have the second most poison, lose Xpts.
  • Miracles to recover from mostly-death: Each Miracle earns you Xpt for each poison. This effect is cumulative for each Miracle in your possession.
  • Masks to hide your identity as long as possible: In play, as soon as all players have one mask, the player with the most masks earns Xpts per mask in her possession. If the game reaches the end without all players getting masks, the player with the most masks still earns Xpts per mask in her possession.
In addition, you could incorporate unique characters from the movie as cards in the deck, each rewarding bonus points for particular sets of icons in your possession at the end of the game.

And so on. I think two or three more icons would round out an initial prototype.

Unpub Mini at Atomic Empire: Numbers, Takeaways and Videos

Havok & Hijinks

The Unpub Mini at Atomic Empire in Durham was a big success. We had seven designers registered and the whole game room was at full capacity for most of the day. It helped that there was a Netrunner tournament and a 3d printer visiting for the first few hours. Both to brought in lots of walk-through and crossover traffic. Between tournament rounds, we had a lot of gamers coming over for a quick demo or play session.

In total, we collected 86 feedback forms from individual playtests. I'm pretty sure we had at least twenty more playtesters in attendance who for whatever reason didn't fill out a feedback form. In terms of numbers of feedback forms, the big winners were Fog of War with 17 forms, Duck Blind with 20 forms, and Havok & Hijinks for with 27 forms.

I thought at first that a party game like Havok & Hijinks would be the runaway leader. Short games with lots of players, usually party games, are be able to turn over way more playtests than another genre. Duck Blind compensated by playtesting with large groups and Fog of War had two prototypes running as separate sessions.

Hopefully a future event will be even bigger and we can get that form count in the triple digits.


More Prototypes for Long Games with Few Players: A few games only got a few feedback forms, which seems a real shame. Next time, I'll encourage more prototypes for games with longer times and fewer players. Maybe I'm overthinking this part of the event, but I found Unpub most useful as a designer when I could rapidly cycle through a high volume of individual playtesters. I'd really like all designers to come away with as much feedback as possible.

Get some help: Boy, running even a small event like this for seven hours solo is tough. It helps that John Moller and Car Trunk Entertainment have so many assets readymade for volunteers. That side of things was well taken care of. Where I needed more help was making sure newcomers were greeted while also keeping the playtesters cycling between game sessions. Doing both at once was a real drainer. Phew! Next time, I'm going to need one person to help tag team various duties.

Cut it down an hour: We were scheduled from 1-8, but the last hour was pretty quiet. Not much of a Saturday night crowd at Atomic, apparently. If we go from 1-7, that still leaves an hour of "overtime" play to wrap up lingering sessions and gives designers more time to grab dinner before the long drive home.

Atomic Empire is a great location: The game room is one of the biggest on the east coast. It's the only game store I've been to with local craft beer on tap. Brilliant! The staff is ultra-helpful and very eager to host another Unpub in the near future. For some, this was the first time visiting Atomic and they were all very impressed.



During the event, I ran around to each designer to record Vine videos of their game pitches. Vine has a 6sec limit so it's an ideal constraint to keep your pitch short and snappy.

Duck Blind
Fog of War
Roman Conquest
Havok & Hijinks
Cows vs. Chickens

Many thanks to all the designers, attendees, Car Trunk Entertainment and Atomic Empire!

A Wagering Game Where Wagering Controls the Odds and the Payout [In the Lab]

Poker hand and Chips

After listening to James Earnest and Jason Morningstar talk about randomness in game design, I got to thinking about a peculiar mechanic. Imagine a wagering game in which the more you wagered, the less likely the odds of winning, but the greater the payout if you do win. You control (or at least partly control) the risk, though.

Each player has a supply of cards that are identical except for their suit. Each player has her own suit. Cards are numbered in ascending numerical rank. Suits are never shuffled or mixed, so one player is always Hearts, another is Clubs, and so on. Each card also lists a bonus effect.

The Wager
At the start of the turn, each player places face-down in front of them up to three cards from their supply. This is a player's wager. When all players have wagered their cards, reveal them.

The Prestige
Shuffle the remaining cards into a single deck. Draw three cards from the deck and reveal them to all players. This is the prestige.

The Score
If any of the cards from the prestige are your suit, you earn points equal to the rank of all your wagered cards.

The Effects
Each wagered card has a special effect. Players take turns resolving any special effects on wagered cards. Only one effect may be resolved per turn until all effects have been resolved. Then players discard all their wagered cards.

End of Round
Sort out all players cards from the deck and return them to their owners. Wagered cards remain discarded, however. Thus a new round begins with each players' supply of cards diminished by whatever wagers they've made in past rounds.

End of Game
The game ends when any player has only two or fewer cards left in their set. The players score bonus points for treasures (see below) and the player with the most points wins.


So that's the idea. I'd like to brainstorm various effects and figuring out how to wrap these into some kind of theme.

In particular, I'd be cautious about any royal, fantasy or pirate themes so as to avoid comparisons to Love Letter, Chronicle, or Libertalia. Granted, the gameplay is different from all these games, but they're also all ranked-character-cards-with-effects.

Let's get brainstorming!

A List of Conditions
  • If this is lower/higher rank than any card in the prestige.
  • If this matches the rank/suit of a card in the prestige.
  • If this does *not* match the rank/suit of a card in the prestige.
  • If you're the only player to wager this rank.
  • If another player wagered this rank.
  • If you did/did not score points from the prestige.

A List of Effects
  • Earn X bonus points, and your opponents earn Y bonus points.
  • Keep this card to face-up to your side as a Treasure. (Earn more bonus points at endgame.)
  • Earn X bonus points per opponent's Treasure.
  • All players must discard one Treasure.
  • You may keep one of your unresolved wagered card as Treasure. Do not resolve its effect.
  • Draw a discarded card back into your supply. (Don't show it to the other players.)
  • The player with the lowest ranking wager must discard a card at random from his set.
  • Resolve another player's wagered effect as if this were that card.
  • Resolve another of *your* wagered effects as if this were that card.

The game could be just fine without conditions. I worry about analysis paralysis here. These conditions do give further incentive to control the odds of the prestige in various ways: "If I wager Card A, I shouldn't wager Card B, because that will decrease the chances of Card A being resolved."

I'm not sure if that's as interesting or fun as simply saying: "I resolve Card A, which gives me treasure."

Unpub Mini at Atomic Empire was great!

Unpub Mini Atomic Empire

Unpub Mini at Atomic Empire was a rousing success!  Thanks for attending the Unpub Mini yesterday. Here are some numbers!

Based on an averaged hourly headcount of playtesters, we had roughly 25 players across all the tables throughout the event. We collected 86 feedback forms from the event. At the end of the day, staffers said that this was wildly successful and that it's rare to find an event that would fill half the store for the entire day.

I'm digitizing feedback forms today, so designers should expect them early this week. Meanwhile, here are some high-res pictures from the event.

Check out the tweets from the #unpubminiatomicempire and #unpubatomicempire hash tags for more pics and video from the event. You can also see several 6sec video pitches on Vine from my Twitter feed.

Coupling Money and Victory Points in Mansa Musa

Money Queen

So plenty of games make earning the most money your winning condition. Plenty of games make earning victory points your winning condition. Some games combine the two into one unit of currency. Others include both money and VP, but each focuses on short-term and long-term goals, often at odds with each other.

In Mansa Musa, I was initially thinking of doing the latter, money being what gives you mobility across the map but not in itself leading to victory. Instead, I'm kind of doing this wobbly halfway thing that is inspired by Jaipur's bonus tokens. Imagine a set of currency as follows:

There are $1 bills, $3 bills, $6 bills. Each individual bill has a victory point value assigned to it on the back. In play, each denomination is shuffled and sorted into its own stacks as the general supply. You only ever see the money side of each bill. You only ever look at the VP side of the bills at the very end of the game. Say for example there are nine bills in each denomination, the bills' hidden VP values would be as follows.

$1      $3      $6
1p      4p      8p
1p      4p      8p
1p      4p      9p
1p      5p      9p
2p      5p      9p
2p      5p    10p
2p      6p    10p
3p      6p    10p
3p      6p    10p

In other words, four of the $1 bills are worth 1p, three are worth 2p, and so on. As you earn money, you also earn victory points, but it's never entirely clear how many points you've earned. Collecting lots of money is still clearly a good goal though.

The tension comes when you upgrade to a higher denomination or decide to keep lower denominations. Higher denominations offer much higher point values, but also make your short-term assets less liquid. Suddenly, making change for a $6 actually has tactical importance. You could accidentally be trading 10 VP for 6.

I think balancing this mechanic with some other methods of publicly visible point acquisition will make Mansa Musa a very interesting experience for economic gamers. Now, the perennial question: Has this peculiar money-and-victory-point mechanic been done before?
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.