Koi Pond is the Hot Seller on DriveThruCards!

KOI POND on DriveThruCards

I'm happy to announce that DriveThruCards is officially launching today and KOI POND is already the top seller. DriveThruCards is a print-on-demand store devoted exclusively to card games and that's it. DTC's just-the-cards focus means they can provide the best-quality print-on-demand cards you've ever handled. You'll really be surprised at how nice they are.

KOI POND is a fast, brainy, casual strategy game. Collect colorful koi fish and place them in your pond or your house. Keep your pond and house totals as equal as you can, because you only score points for the lower total! What’s more, your pond is public, but your house is secret. To win, you have to be... coy!

What's it like?
This is a quiet, fast filler game best paired with warm drinks amongst friends. Mix the elegant presentation of Coloretto with the fun decision-making of Biblios. Mix in clever scoring and garnish with lovely sumi-e inspired artwork.


2-4 Players | 20 Minutes | Ages 10+


This game uses DriveThruCard's thickest, highest quality, Premium card stock. They feel great!

60 Koi cards in red, blue, yellow or white, plus hybrids.

12 Cat, Turtle, Crane cards, one of each in each color.

12 Ribbon cards, three of each in each color.

4 Reference cards for ease of play.

1 Start Player card.

Buy it today!

Point-Based Hack of the Resistance

The Resistance

Here's a wacky idea for adding a twist to your Resistance game. I've no idea if its broken, but I suppose we'll find out!

  • First, grab some poker chips and pool them in the middle of the table. These represent points earned by individual players.
  • Then, write a number on each of the team assignment cards, numbered from one to five. These the point values for each team assignment, representing the I port since of that member's role in the mission.

Play as normal, with the following changes.

  • The leader must assign the "1" team card first, followed by the "2" team card, then the "3" team card, and so on.
  • If the mission is APPROVED, team members immediately earn their team card's noted points. So a team member with the "3" card would earn 3 points if the mission was approved. Regardless of whether that mission is successful, those players keep their earned points.
  • At the end of the game, players reveal their roles and tally their accumulated points. In addition, the Red or Blue teams earn points equal to the numbered rounds they've each won. The first round is worth 1 point, the second round is worth 2 points, and so on. The team with the most points wins!

I haven't play tested this yet, but I suspect it would give Blue a little bit of an advantage to compensate for the well-documented difficulty. There are simply more Blue players in the total pool, so they have all the more chance of earning points, regardless of the mission's success.

I also suspect this would make even more meaningful choices when the leader assigns team members. Now you're not just looking at who is in the team, but which specific card they were assigned. 

Furthermore, the incentive to end the game before the fourth or fifth rounds is even more intense if you want to secure an early lead. If you want to catch up, then you actually want the game to last until those early rounds to secure a late victory.

If you try this out at home, give me a head's up! I'd love to see how it works.

Pitch Tag 2013 Begins

Pitch-Tag---Header Large

It's been over a year since Fred Hicks and I have played Pitch Tag. If you haven't seen this before, one player will will tag the other with an absurd title, to which the other player must respond with a reasonable game pitch for that title. Then that player tags back with her own absurd title. This goes back and forth until everybody plotz. Here's the ongoing thread!

Your turn:

"We villagers are sick of adventurers walking into our homes uninvited and breaking all our pots. Here, go to this shed where we've kept all our throwaway pots. Have at it, hero."

This game is a tile-removal/mine-sweeper game with a few twists. There is a grid of face-down tile stacks, each stack containing two tiles. Each tile's face depicts treasure, hearts and other goodies. It also has a small monster icon with a number.

In play, you can flip two tiles, either the top tile of two separate stacks or all tiles in one stack. Whenever you flip the bottom tile of a stack, sum the Monster stats. If your hearts are greater than the monster sum, you earn the winnings from both tiles. If not, you can ask for help from another player or players until your total hearts are greater than the monster sum, but you must negotiate and share the winnings with the other players. If no one comes to your aide, you earn nothing.

Your turn:


This is both game and commentary.

Players are self-publishers who are trying to make good on the promise of self-publishing as the avenue to better revenues than traditional publishing. They're in a race against the game, an automated deck that represents the earnings of an author who's been published by one of the big six/five/whatever. The traditional author deck acts as a timer: every now and again, a new book comes up out of it, and begins earning royalties for the traditional author. Players employ a variety of cards (strategies) from their own hands to try to out-earn the traditional author using new-school publication and marketing methods -- ebooks, print on demand, social media, etc -- while still writing enough words each turn to create new works.

At the end of the day, the winners are those who produce enough revenue in eight quarters to pay for their cost of living over that time. More than one player can win, more than one player can lose. Even the game's automated traditional publishing author can lose -- not every book in his deck is a surefire hit.

Your turn:


The Eye of Akhen is said to grant its bearer's wishes for an unknown amount of time, then disappear again without a trace.

This is a deck-building game similar to Ascension, but with a legacy mechanic built into the endgame. You gather your meager resources to build a reliable crew of detectives, archeologists, and regular ol' muscle. (Equivalent to Ascension's heroes and constructs.) Together you can visit exotic locations, following the clues that will bring you ever close to the eye's whereabouts. (Equivalent to Ascension's monsters.)

Each Crew card has a special wish they want granted, below that is a special effect and a checkbox. Each Location card has a special effect and several checkboxes as well. All cards have stars and Ankh symbols in various quantities. The winner is whoever earns the most stars. The winner may fill in as many checkboxes on her deck as she has Ankhs.

As each game is played, the crew get their wishes granted. Most of these wishes involve bringing closure to the various crew member's lives. Generally stuff like "Win a million dollars" or "Get back at my old boss." The Location checkboxes are a little more abstract, representing the growth of that city as a more valuable information source.

Your Turn:


This is a do-it-yourself dexterity game that scores a bit like Zombie Dice. It requires a five small floating objects, called "fish", and a ladle, which you fill most of the way with water.

Players are cats. They are trying to get the fish without getting wet. They HATE getting wet.

Each player takes a turn holding the ladle with one hand, and trying to extract fish with a minimum of dampness with the other (no tools!). If water sloshes out of the ladle, your turn is over and you score no points. If you dip your hand into the water, your turn is over and you score no points. Each fish you extract without spilling water or submerging your hand scores a point. You may choose to end your turn and score your points at any time, or once you've extracted all fish.

First player to ten points wins, tho everyone gets a chance to finish their last turn.

Your turn:


When they're not guarding tombs and devouring heroes, the slimy, horned and bestial residents of your local dungeon have other ways to pass the time.

This is a party game that mashes up Apples to Apples, Dixit and Charades. Each player is given a handful of descriptions like "When a magic missile hits your thorax" or "An attack of opportunity against your spleen." Each turn, each player gives one card to this turn's performer.

The performer shuffles them a bit, then looks at them all face-up so everyone can see them. The performer will perform (through sounds and gestures) one of the events in the lineup. Each non-performing player secretly votes on which card she believes the performer is enacting.

Once votes are cast, the performer reveals which event he was enacting. If less than all players voted correctly, the performer and each correctly voting player earns 1pt. If all or no players voted correctly, no one earns points.

Your Turn:


Everybody's got ideas of how a fight's supposed to be fought. Right ideas? Well, that remains to be seen. Thing is, there's only one guy here who's actually swinging the sword -- and everyone else is seeing fit to tell him how to do it.

Back Seat Sword is a kind of fantasy-genre reskin mash-up of Robo Rally and Jared Sorensen's Parseley system.

The board is a map filled with monsters and treasure and traps. There's one Swordsman placed onto that map, which everyone must collectively control, without communicating to one another about what move they're going to have the Swordsman make.

Each player has a small handful of cards containing various moves they can have the Swordsman take. Move forward one or two or three, turn right, turn left, attack, etc. Each round has a different player owning the "first move". All players choose one move to have the Swordsman make, and put that card in front of them, face down. The player with the first move reveals his card first, and the Swordsman takes that move; then reveal-and-move passes clockwise until all face-down cards are revealed and played out. When the round ends, board actions take place (new treasures, monsters, traps, according to an event deck).

If the Swordsman moves onto a treasure as part of your play, you get that treasure as gold.

If the Swordsman attacks while adjacent to a monster, you claim that monster as experience.

Before you reveal your card on your turn in a round, if you wish to change your chosen action instead to another action you did NOT put face down, you may -- but you have to pay the cost (gold or experience) in order to use the card you actually want, as indicated on that card. Thus it's often most desirable to put face down a high-cost card, and retain the option of purchasing a switch to a lower-cost card.

If the Swordsman moves onto a trap -- or tries to move onto or *through* a monster -- you lose gold or experience as specified. If you don't have it to lose, the Swordsman loses a hit point.

When the Swordsman moves onto a trap, the trap gets used up and removed from the board, and the Swordsman is placed into the space where the trap was. If the Swordsman tries to move onto or through a monster, his movement is halted. Walls halt movement, but don't do anything bad to the Swordsman.

When the Swordsman runs out of hit points, endgame is triggered, the round plays out, and scores are tallied. Gold and experience tally up in some sort of non-linear fashion: maybe there are suits and you score bonuses for building sets of the same suit.

Your Turn:


Rival teams of astro-archeologists plumb the depths of a long-dead civilization, looking for valuable pieces of alien technology.

This is a press-your-luck trading game. Each player begins with one crew members. Each player selects one card per crew member from his hand and places it face down. All cards are revealed simultaneously. The number on the cards are compared and arranged in sequential order, the highest number faces the most danger from a random encounter, followed by second-place, and third-place. If any crew member is overwhelmed, he is taken out of the running for this turn.

Any remaining crew members get first dibs on this turn's rewards, again starting with the highest number and proceeding down.

After each turn, players may trade freely with each other perhaps piecing together a valuable device or selling off junk for straight credits, which in turn can be spent on modifiers, crew members, and special powers.

Your Turn:


In the world of Crow Funding, how much you can eat depends on how well you perch!

Worker placement game. The board is a park or similar field, dotted with trees and other perches. Each player has a number of crow meeples that they place around the board.

The board's divided up into various kinds of areas, each of which has a different deck of cards associated with it; each deck produces different behaviors for those areas. The farmer's field regularly dispenses grain in varying amounts, for example, while the city park has particular times of the day when folks stroll through, dropping breadcrumbs and other bits of food, so its deck is more feast-or-famine. Other areas with other deck-behaviors exist as well.

Each area has one or more perches (trees, telephone poles, etc). Some perches are better than others; some perches only pay out when a particular symbol shows up on the card revealed for the area. (A crow occupying the ground will only get dropped crumbs, while a crow operating from a high perch might be able to snatch a whole sandwich right out of a pedestrian's hand, etc.) When the payout event is triggered after each player has placed their crows for the turn, the card or cards are revealed for each area, and the payouts are resolved in a numbered order of perch priority.

Your Turn:


This is a competitive card game wherein each player plays cards featuring objects of various sizes, strangeness and danger. Each object is a unique combination of these three attributes. The goal of the game is to get the biggest, strangest, most dangerous collection of objects up your nose. Each card you play builds up your tableau, representing your nose. You must play cards face-down to increase the size of your nostrils before you can play objects of a certain size. Players can play offensive Pepper cards to try to make another player sneeze out cards from his tableau. When one player's nose is full, each other player gets one last turn. The winner is whoever has the lowest summed rating in their nose. (Knizia style.)

Your Turn:


A bluffing card game just a little bit inspired by Cockroach Poker. You're all a bunch of selfish pandas trying to get the best bamboo shoots to eat. Players have a very limited hand size (3); one of the players has 4 cards in his hand, and that's the player whose turn it is to pass one of his cards.

He can pass a good bamboo card or a bad bamboo card to any other player, saying "bamboo for you!" That player may either accept the card (and thus become the passing player), or refuse it.

If the player refuses it, the card is flipped over, revealing good bamboo or bad bamboo. If it's good bamboo it's kept in front of the refusing player. If it's bad bamboo it's put in front of the passing player.

Regardless, if the game does not end after the refusal (see below), the refusing player then draws a card from the remaining deck (and thus has 4 cards in her hand), and then starts a new turn as the passing player.

Play continues until one of two things happens:
• One player gets three cards in front of him. If this happens, that player outright loses, and cannot score.
• The total number of cards in front of all players is equal to two times the number of players in the game.

Each player still in the game (which is everyone but the person who has three cards in front of him, if any) reveals her hand of three cards, scoring the values as indicated on those cards (good bamboo is positive, bad bamboo is negative).

Highest point total indicates the most delicious meal was had by that panda -- the winner!

Your turn:


This game is loosely based on Sid Sackson's Sleuth. The players are supervillains competing to build a machine that can annoy an otherwise impervious superhero. Each supervillain wants to claim the glory for himself, so will spy on colleagues to get an edge.

Each card in the deck represents a unique combination of "energy wave (four types)," "frequency (three types)," and "amplitude (three types)." One card kept face-down while the remaining cards are dealt to the rest of the group. The face-down card is the hero's weakness.

On a turn, the active player may ask one opponent to state how many cards of a particular wave, frequency, or amplitude he has in his hand. The active player (and everyone else) takes notes in whatever manner they see fit.

After a certain point, one player will be confident enough to announce her guess and may do so, but if she's wrong, she's out of the game. Play continues until there is a correct guess.

Your Turn:


This is a little like Zombie Dice.

You've got a bunch of custom dice, some mice meeples, and a scoring system tracker (maybe a small board with a track on it that you run one of your mice meeples around). You've also got a bag that all the dice go into, that you can't see into.

Dice represent cheeses, and are colored white, "american" yellow, cheddar orange, and blue (or "bleu"). Each color die has a different pip distribution on its sides, but the same total number of pips on each die (I *think* five total). The more vivid the color, the more lopsided the distribution: white has five sides with one pip on each; bleu has one side with five pips on it. Yellow probably has three sides with 2 pips; orange has one side with 2 pips and one side with 3 pips. Which distributions go with which dice may vary after playtesting.

Each die has a cat on one of its sides. Every side that doesn't have a cat or pips is blank.

You use your mice meeples to track your "hit points". You lose a mouse whenever you roll a cat. If you run out of mice, you can no longer go on a "cheese run" (see below) yourself, but you may still be passed dice (also below). How many meeples a player gets will need playtesting -- might be a sliding scale, with more players meaning fewer meeples per player.

At the start of a round, any dice left out on the board (if any) are swept and put back into the bag. Then the bag is shaken and dice equal to twice the number of players are put out in the middle of the scoring board (quantity may need testing). These represent the "morsels" that you can try to claim.

Each round, each player who still has mice meeples in front of him goes on a "cheese run". When making your run, you may select one or more dice from the morsels, up to the number of mice you still have (so if you have three mice, you may select up to three dice), and roll them. Score points for each pip you get on the roll; lose a mouse for each cat you roll. Dice that roll pips or cats are taken out of play and are NOT put back in the bag (they go back in the game box).

Any *blanks* you are passed to the left. *That* player rolls them, scoring pips and losing mice to cats and passing, and so on, until there are no dice left to pass around, or the dice come back to the person whose cheese run it is. Leftover dice at that point are placed back into the morsel pile in the center of the board, and the next player does their cheese run.

Once everyone has done a cheese run, the round ends. Players recover one lost mouse at the end of the round, so even a player who has run out of all his mice starts the next round with one mouse. The player with the least number of mice in front of him is the first player to start the next round.

Play continues until the dice supply runs dry, and highest score wins.

Your Turn:


You're auditioning for the band, but you gotta find the right guitar and quick! In this game, players bid on cards that depict the bodies and necks of various guitars. You also bid on song requests to make a set list.. Mixing and matching the different components lets you play different song requests better or faster. For example, if you have a heavy metal song, you want to get a big sharp Axe. A country song? Get the acoustic guitar. A hipster love ballad? Get the ukulele. The musician who completes the most songs and has best audience applause wins!

Your Turn:


It's a miniatures battle game made kid-friendly with a crossover into the Mister Potato Head line, by Hasbro. You've got a big, modular plastic castle playset and two small skirmish-sized armies (maybe six or ten each) of small plastic Mr Potato Heads. One side's MPHes are red potatoes; others are brown potatoes.

Castle playset comes complete with sword-carrying arms and armor (helm, really) plug-ins, as well as some "advanced" pieces that you can upgrade your MPHes into by achieving certain objectives during play (claim the Staff of Power, and you can exchange the Helmet for the Wizard Hat on one of your dudes). Simple rock-paper-scissors resolution gets colored by some additional options depending on what your dude has plugged in (sword, spear, helmet, shield, magic).

When you win (score a hit) on a target, it loses parts of what's plugged in (think Mechaton), opening up the vast potential of Monty Python and the Holy Grail references by players. You can start play in battlefield mode (both armies outside the castle, wrestling for control) or siege mode (one army inside the castle, the other army trying to get inside). Second playset may be combined to give a bigger battlefield and castle vs castle action.

Your turn:

Exploring the Math in 9 Lives

Cat and Calculator - Top View

Last week I posted a simple casino-style game called 9 Lives. I noticed some peculiar math behind the mechanics. I bet this is one of those things mathfolk already know intuitively, but coming at it in long-hand on my notebook over a cup of coffee is still worthwhile.

To review, the game involves playing pairs of cards, each showing a digit, either 0 through 9. Added together, the highest pair is the winner for that turn. The winner earns points equal to the 'ones' digit of their play. So if you played a 12 and won, you'd win 2 points. (Tied players both score.)

So I wrote out the different pairs of digits that would make each sum, from 0 through 18. I also compared that to the value of each sum. This produced the following chart. (Click to enlarge.)

There is only one way to make 0, 1, 17, or 18. Two ways to make a 2, 3, 15, or 16. Three ways to make a 4, 5, 13, or 14. Four ways to make a 6, 7, 11, or 12. Five ways to make  8, 9, or 10.

This makes scoring strategy very peculiar indeed. From 0-9 it's easier to make a winning pair and you get more points for each pair up to 9.

Then you fall off a cliff drop at 10. Above 10, value and difficulty have an inverse relationship. It gets harder to make pairs 10-18, the points earned start again from 0, only reaching 8 at a maximum. Is that a bug or a feature? All I can say for now is that it's a prisoner's dilemma.

Everyone knows optimal play is 9. It's the easiest pair to make and worth the most points in the game. You could pursue that, even if it means sharing the top spot with another player. Or you could go for a higher pair, even if it means you will score fewer points. At least that way, only you will score points. But why ever play 10? It beats anything from 0-9, but scores the winner nothing. Spite?

It also makes me wonder if I should add some deeper auction element, to offer some long-term set-building. Of course, that's my usual go-to solution, but it's a place to start.

The highest player earns first dibs from amongst all the cards in play this turn. She collects one and adds it to a private tableau. She is followed by the next highest player, and so on, until each player has collected one card. The remainder are shuffled back to the bottom of the deck. At the end of the game, bonus points are scored for variety and for sets-of-a-kind.

So you still have a consistent, evergreen reason to pursue a high pair above 9. Plus, even if you don't get first pick at the auction, you can at least get some points as compensation.

Koi Pond Card Quality Preview

Printed Cards KOI POND

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

I just got proofs from DriveThruCards for the Koi Pod cards. They look and feel excellent! The colors are brightly saturated. The cards are nice and thick. The UV coating makes the whole thing the best POD cards I've seen to date. I dare say they nearly rival the card quality of an offset printer.

On top of that, the service has been very patient with me as I figure out this new line of business. I'm trying to ensure cards are formatted to take best advantage of the flexibility and limitations of the POD process. DriveThruCards' staff has been very informative in that regard.

Right, enough of that. Here's a Vine to demonstrate the card thickness. It's good stuff!

As far as I know, Koi Pond will be available for sale next week, but the product listing is will be live here. Currently only the rulebook is available for preview.

Meanwhile, if you've played Koi Pond and would like to share some praise for the game, I'm happy to quote you on the product page!

9 Lives: A Game for up to 9 Players. Maybe. [In the Lab]

This will be one of those loose ideas that likely has a bunch of inherent bugs right off the top, but it's too big for Twitter so I'll note it down here for future reference. The basic idea is inspired by 7 Wonders' unique niche as a game with enough depth for gamers to enjoy it, but accommodates group sizes that would normally fall into the domain of party games. It's rare to find that combination.

Of course I wanted to make one.

I thought about other mechanics and games that might fit this unique niche of group size but adequate depth. Auctions (Felix), voting (The Resistance), card drafting (7 Wonders), simultaneous action selection (Race for the Galaxy), trading (Bohnanza) all help facilitate fun, rich play with large groups. In researching further, I found a write-up on Baccarat, which I must admit I've never looked at much. It has two interesting features. (Interesting to me anyway.)

  • Baccarat can take up to 9 players, crowding around a casino table.
  • Hands are valued according to the "ones" digit of the sum of their cards. A hand of 2 and 3 is worth 5, but a 6 and 7 is worth 3 (the "ones" digit of the total is 13). Thus the highest value of a hand is 9.

Nine... Nine... Maybe this hypothetical game could be a reference to a cat's "9 lives." A loose theme, to be sure, but perhaps enough to inform the artwork and make it appealing to a broader audience. I can see a deck of cards being ranked 1 through 9, each featuring one through nine 1950s mod-style cat illustrations within or around a large numeral. I'm imagining specifically Ale Giorgini's art style, seen above. Anyway, here are my extremely loose notes on how this game would actually play.

Art by Jane Foster


The deck is comprised of nine suits themed around things cats like, such as mice, fish, yarnballs, etc. Each suit has cards ranking from 1 to 9, featuring one to nine cats. In addition, there are also nine Dog cards ranked "zero", without suits. So 90 cards in the deck total.

To set up, each player is dealt a dog card. Then each player is dealt six more cards from the rest of the deck. This is her starting hand. Each player chooses two cards to set aside into her sideboard.

Each turn proceeds in two phases. In the first phase, each player plays one card face down in front of herself until all players have made their choices. Then all players reveal their choices at the same time. In the second phase, this is done once more, again choosing one card and revealing it at the same time. This results in a pair of face-up cards in front of each player. The turn will result in either a BUST or a SCORE on the following conditions.

If there are one, three, five, seven or nine dogs revealed, the turn is a bust and no points are scored and the turn is over. If there are two, four, six, or eight dogs, they cancel each other out and are ignored and you may proceed to scoring.

Note the following, depending on the size of the group.
  • 2-3 players: Anyone who played the highest sum. (1st place)
  • 4-6 players: Anyone who played the highest (1st place) and second-highest (2nd place) sums.
  • 7-9 players: Anyone who played the highest (1st place), second-highest (2nd place), and third-highest (3rd place) sums.
Any 1st place players earn points equal to the "ones" digit of their paired sum. For example, if you were in first place with a sum of 13, you would score 3 points.

Any 2nd place players earn one point less than the 1st place player, to a minimum of 1 point.

Any 3rd place players earn one point less than the 2nd place players, to a minimum of 1 point.

Shuffle any played cards and place them in the bottom of the deck. Keep remaining cards in-hand. Each player replenishes her hand from her sideboard or from the deck. All sideboards are replenished from the deck. Play continues for an agreed-upon number of turns.

The player with the most points at the end of the game wins.

A few interesting notes on this whole notion.

  • Playing a high pair gives you better chance for victory, but doesn't necessarily net you the most points.
  • The best possible pair is 18, which is the highest pair and earns the most points.
  • The average pair's sum will be 9.5, but only just barely passing that mark doesn't earn the best points. You're best option is to either vastly surpass that point or bide your time with a throwaway pair.

All this is hypothetical until it gets tested though. I'll add that to the pile of untested game ideas I've got sitting around the house.

Art Preview of Koi Pond: A Coy Card Game


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

This week, I got a very good reason to hurry up and get the Koi Pond cards finalized ASAP. So the past two days have been very busy, implementing playtest-requested updates that have built up over the past couple months' testing. The game should be available for sale later this month!


  • Frames: I revised the face's backgrounds to not be full-bleed anymore. Each suit has a distinct corner decoration and background pattern. It's subtle, but I figured it couldn't hurt to have one more distinguishing mark for each suit to aid recognition.
  • Ambidextrous Layout: I've also placed suits and ranks on the left upper corner and the right upper corner instead of placing them on alternate corners. This makes it easier for people who prefer to fan their cards left or right. I was going to put suits and ranks on all corners, but it became really cluttered.
  • Increased Contrast: The frames also create the best contrast for easy recognition of suits and ranks. They were perfectly readable on the paper texture of earlier prototypes, but nothing beats black-on-white for immediate pop.
  • Color-Perception Assist: I got some notes from color-blind playtesters that while it was clear enough which two suits were represented in a hybrid, it was still difficult to recognize that it was a hybrid at a glance. So I've added an outer ring to hybrid suits.
  • Housecats, Cranes and Turtles: The most oft-requested revision was to add icona to the cranes, turtles and housecats so make it's clear from where they scored points and that they must be in your pond in order to score points at all. I've added small iconographic reminders of these facts to their respective cards.
  • Player Aides: The deck will also come with a thorough set of reference cards outlining the basic rules, how to score, the direction of scoring in each round, and how hybrids are considered when scoring. Four cards in all, the backs of which have a diagram of the play area clearly depicting the arrangement of your pond and river.
  • Ribbons: The game quite clearly notes how much one, two or three ribbons of a suit are worth. This is probably the most distinctly euro-influenced visual element. Hey, they know what they're doing.

I hope you'll enjoy Koi Pond when it's finally available later this month! It's a lovely, meditative game with subtle interaction and eye-catching art. It's also a nice, low-conflict introduction to new Knizia-style scoring for your friends and family.

A Reliably Interesting Choice in Game Design: Chaos vs. Order

Eruption lightning

In this panel James Ernest describes what he calls the "crazy train," a risky option always available to the player when the more predictable path seems less enticing. The key word here is option. The crazy train shouldn't be mandatory.

Chaos & Order in Deadwood

James shares an anecdote from the development of Deadwood Studios. Not getting too deep into the rules, but there was once an option to take a difficult tactical path with a high reward, but it required a very high roll in order to complete. So on your turn, you'd roll and maybe you'd get lucky. Unfortunately, if you rolled poorly, you effectively wasted that turn while everyone else moves ahead with their own strategies. In essence, you were stuck on the crazy train.

In the newer edition, you have the option to "rehearse," meaning that you do not roll. Instead you build up a cumulative +1 bonus to your next roll. So you could just rehearse five times until you get a guaranteed success. Or you could just rehearse three times and take your (newly improved) chances. Either way, you get a choice in the matter.

A choice between chaos (in that case, an unmodified d6 roll) and order (a safe, predictable +1 bonus). You can spot variations of this choice in many games. For example, in Ticket to Ride, you may draw two cards, either from the face-up tableau (order) or from the face-down deck (chaos).

Relative Value of Chaos & Order

The value of the orderly or chaotic option is very situational, depending on the current game-state, an individual strategy, and any penalties for taking the wrong path. In my Princess Bride game currently in the lab, the dealer draws one card per player, plus two. (So five cards in a three-player game.)

The dealer then puts two cards face-down and the rest face-up in the center of the table. Each other player gets to draw one card from this tableau for her own collection, then the dealer must draw two from the remaining three cards.

Most of these cards have important resources you're trying to collect, but some also have one, two or three poisons. If you collect over three poisoned cards over the course of play, there are some penalties of varying severity.

Furthermore, the cards collected also determine the drafting order for the next turn and who will be the new dealer, further tempting each player to take a little poison in order to get better position. Thus, the whole game is built on an order vs. chaos choice, the twist is that a player is crafting that choice each turn for the rest of the group.

There is an orderly choice: "I could take one of the visible poisoned cards right now, because there could be far worse poisons in the hidden cards." And there is a chaotic choice: "I would rather not take any poison, and the dealer may have presented the poison card up front as a bluff so he could collect a hidden unpoisoned card when it's his turn to draw."

Choosing whether to be the dealer presents its own dilemma: Order: "I could always go for the first-pick in turn order, which means I'll never be dealer. I'll always get my choice of card, but I'll collect cards at much slower pace." Chaos: "If I'm the dealer, I'll get two cards, but I have less control over my selection. Which cards do I keep hidden, in order to confuse and tempt the other players while I get my own preferred pair of cards?"

Chaos & Order Everywhere?

This isn't to say that all games should have this choice in their core. There are plenty of fun perfect-information games without any chaotic choices (euro games tend to fall in this category). There are also very chaotic games without any orderly choices to be found (simple dice games and party games).

But... If you're ever struggling with where to go with your next game design and you're out of ideas, try adding a choice between order and chaos somewhere in there.

Using Theme to Inform Mechanics in Noodle Roll

Chef Gordon, noodle pulling #2, wavy!

Last week I posted Noodle Roll, which had a lot of clever thematic elements like creating "strands" of identical dice results or employing sous-chefs to compensate for sub-optimal rolls. Where that theme fell down was in the big group board.

Exciting. What the heck is this supposed to be anyway? Mechanically speaking, the board featured columns and rows of spaces in which you were to place cubes. Pairs of horizontally adjacent cubes in the same color-coded area granted you a 10pt bonus. One area had three columns, enough room for two pairs. The middle area had only two columns, room for one pair. The last area had only one column, meaning there was no room for any pairs.

When I came up with this board, I didn't really bother thinking about a thematic reason for its layout at the time. I just liked the clever adjacency mechanic. I hand-waved that these areas represented restaurants with broad or specialized menus. You played workers at a noodle factory delivering shipments of noodles to those restaurants. Yeah, it's about as exciting as it sounds.

This is a problem I have. I take the game's perspective too high up. This tends to make very abstract, impenetrable themes that only die-hard Euro gamers would find interesting (maybe). What's worse is that in the case of Noodle Roll, it didn't even explain the adjacency bonus very well. Time for a revision.

So, in continuing discussions Lyndsay Peters and jcdietrich, it made more sense for the game to focus on one restaurant that served many different noodle dishes, like Noodles & Co. The group board is now a floor plan of that restaurant. Instead of columns and rows, the floorplan is divided into three-seat round tables with place settings for noodles 1, 2, and 3; two-seat booths with place settings for noodles 3 and 4; and one-seat counters with place settings for noodle 5.

Now placing a cube represents serving a diner in the restaurant. The "adjacency bonus" comes from serving the same table multiple times. Now it makes more sense why players would compete to fill those table's orders fast. The adjacency bonus is a tip. With this new board, the "6" could represent the manager, who isn't as efficient as the actual wait staff but can serve any table at any time.

This board could easily have modular effects for each table as well. There are numerous things to do at a restaurant that my evoke some cool mechanical effects.

  • What is the mechanical effect of refilling a diner's water glass? It must be some modest benefit that doesn't interfere with other players, but is always available. Maybe turn order?
  • What is the mechanical effect of appetizers? Maybe it's a type of cube that you can play first, followed by an entree cube, then a dessert cube, but only in that order?
  • What is the mechanical effect of taking dishwashing duties? Maybe it's an ability to ignore one roll, as if starting from a clean slate?

Anyway, this already feels like it's going in a better direction. It's always nice to take some cues from the theme to make the game more accessible and strategically interesting, without making it simulation for simulation's sake.

Noodle Roll - A Dice Game about Making Noodles

making noodles...

Earlier this week I described how Lyndsay Peters and I got to talking about a little dice game inspired by my misinterpretation of a key rule in Martian Dice. After discussing several different themes, we settled on noodle-making. Here's the full game as it stands now. We're calling it Noodle Roll.

Players take turns rolling dice several times, keeping sets ("strands") of three or more identical faces, and scoring based on the face value of those sets, plus any bonuses. As play continues, the board’s columns get filled. When two columns are filled, the game ends.

The game supports 2-4 players.

The group shares a supply of 13 standard six-sided dice.

Each player has a supply of cubes in her own color.

Each player gets three Sous-Chefs cards. I imagine a different sous-chef on each card. The face shows the sous-chef standing at attention, ready to take orders. The back shows the sous-chef hard at work making a noodle dish. I'd love it to resemble Jason Deamer's concept art from Ratatouille. One can dream.

The active player gets a player board that looks like this.

The whole group shares a board that looks like this:


First, refresh one Sous-Chef. If none are spent (as would be the case in the first turn) then proceed as follows.

Roll all of the dice.

Now, you must keep one set ("Strand") of three or more identical faces. If there are more than one set available, you must choose only one to keep. Keep this set on the player board in the area designated for your "first strand."

Next, you may roll any remaining dice in pursuit of a second set or you may end your turn. If you do roll again, you may keep another set whose face is equal to or greater than the first set you kept.

  • If you get no legal sets, you may spend one Sous-Chef to combine any pair of faces to produce another face, thereby potentially making a legal set. So if you rolled a 5/5, you could spend one Sous-Chef to combine a 2 and a 3, to make a complete trio of 5/5/5.
  • If you get no legal sets, you may spend one Sous-Chef to simply reroll all of those dice.
  • If you’ve spent all your Sous-Chefs, you cannot continue rolling. You may keep whatever sets have resulted from your last roll.

When you spend Sous-Chefs, turn over their card face-down to indicate that they are occupied following your orders.

Once a set is kept, no more dice may be added to it. If on a later roll you get a set whose face is identical to a set you've already kept, you must keep those sets separate from each other. For example, if you kept a set of 1/1/1, you could keep a second set of 1/1/1 from another roll in the same turn, but those two sets would be separate from each other. They are not cumulative.

Then you can deliver your noodles to the restaurants who demand them, represented by the group board. The colored areas represent restaurants who demand certain types of noodles. On the far left, the restaurant takes noodles 1, 2, or 3. The middle restaurant takes noodles 3 or 4. The restaurant on the far right only takes noodle 5. Noodle 6 is special, as we'll explain below.

  • Deliver Noodles: Put one of your cubes on the lowest unoccupied space of the column that corresponds to the face of your sets. For example, if you get a set of 5/5/5, you would put a cube on the lowest empty space of the “5” column. If you get a set of 3/3/3, you may place your cube in either of the "3" columns of your choice. If you score two identical sets, place the first cube in the lowest unoccupied space, then the second cube on the space above that.
  • Free Cubes: In a set of 6/6/6, you earn a cube that you may place in any column of your choice. Yes, this means you could theoretically spend a Sous-Chef to make a set of sixes in order to get that free cube that would be placed in the 1 column, for example.
  • Score Points: Score a number of points for each set equal to its face value. So a set of 5/5/5 grants you 5 points. Any dice beyond the initial trio in a set scores 1pt per extra die. So a set of 2/2/2/2/2/2 scores you 5 points (2pts for the trio, then 1pt each for the extra three dice). Note: Do NOT score sets of sixes. They are only used to get free cubes.

Pass all dice and the player board to the player to your left. Any Sous-Chefs you've spent remain so until the start of your next turn, at which point one will be refreshed.

The game ends when two columns have reached or crossed a certain height, as noted by the line corresponding to the size of the player group. For example, in a two player game, the game would end when two columns have reached or exceeded three cubes in height.

Score 10pts for each pair of your horizontally adjacent cubes on the board, but only if they’re in the same restaurant, as indicated by the colored backgrounds. Thus, the "5" column has no endgame bonus. Columns 3 and 4 can have an endgame bonus. Columns 1, 2, and 3 allow rows of three adjacent cubes, thus effectively being two pairs, thus two bonuses.

In the example above, the row of three white cubes in the yellow restaurant earn a total bonus of 20pts, because they are considered two pairs of horizontally adjacent cubes. The row of black cubes in the pink restaurant earn 10pts. The single black cube in the blue restaurant earns no bonus.

So, pursuing low-value sets in the short-term can yield big bonuses if you can make pairs on the board. Pursuing the highest value sets yields no endgame bonus at all, but they are the easiest to create with the assistance of Sous-Chefs.

Schrödinger's Cabernet: Imperfect Information in Auction Games

Felix, The Car in the Sack - Scatola

Played Felix The Cat In The Sack last night once again and I remain just as enamored with this clever take on hidden information in an auction.

In the game, each player has an identical hand of cats with point values ranging from the negatives to positives, plus some dogs. During setup, one random card is removed from each player's hand. Each turn, players offer one card face-down from their hand for auction then place bids on the lot. One card is revealed to start the round of bidding. Each time a player passes, she takes a small compensatory reward and reveals one more card. The little dog removes the lowest cat in the lot. The big dog removes the highest cat in the lot. Two or more dogs remove each other from the lot.

The thing I love is how information gradually gets revealed while also raising the stakes. In time you may realize you've overbid on a real stinker of a lot. If you put down a high-value cat in the lot, you may also find yourself simply bidding more than that cat is worth, simply to keep another player from taking it. Very much a dollar auction experience, all with cute cats and doggies.

The auction genre is one I haven't yet cracked, but not for lack of trying. You may recall last year I was tinkering with a wine collection auction game. That had some issues with card-counting and somewhat complicated role-selection mechanics shoe-horned in. If I were to take that game and refine it with Felix's mechanics, it may look something like this.

Schrödinger's Cabernet

Players are wine collectors putting their own bottles up for auction. Some bottles are fraudulent counterfeits, but this is only confirmed once the bottle is open.

Stuff Needed
  • Cards: Bottles are represented by cards. The face shows a bottle and its actual value. The back shows a potential value range. Each player starts with an identical hand of cards, minus one randomly removed from play.
  • Claim Markers: One unique marker for each player. Perhaps a cork?
  • Bidding Chips: Each player starts with fifteen.

Round Start

Oldest player starts, turns continue clockwise around the table.

Each player places one card face-down in the middle of the table forming the lot for auction. Based on the back of the cards, players know the potential value of the lot, but can’t be absolutely sure.

Then each player takes turns placing bids, trying to win the whole lot.

The first player to state "Pass," removes herself from the auction and instead puts a claim marker on the highest bid on the table.

The next player to pass puts a claim marker on the second highest unclaimed bid.
Bidding continues until all but one player has passed.

This remaining player does not earn anyone else's bid. Instead, she wins the lot and sets it aside in her collection. Players do not yet know the true value of their collections.

All other players collect the bids to which they've laid claim.

To earn some quick cash, a player may "open a bottle" at any time and reveal one card from her collection to all players. She earns that card's value in chips. That card is then removed from the game.

The new round begins with a new lot up for auction.


The game ends when the last lot has been auctioned off. Then players reveal their collections. Total the value of each player's collection plus each chip. The player with the highest total wins.

Kakerlakenpoker + The Resistance


I had an opportunity to play Kakerlakenpoker ("Roach Poker") recently at PAX East. It's a very clever bluffing game featuring a deck of eight different vermin, eight cards of each. In the setup, you deal the complete deck evenly as possible to the whole group of players.

On your turn, you pass a card face down to another player of your choice and state the identity if that card. You may lie about this. Then that player has two options:

  • Pass: Pass this card to another player, stating its identity. Again. That player may lie when doing so and she doesn't even have to look at the card before passing it. This passing continues until only one player has not been passed this card. Then, this last player has no choice but to proceed to the "Call a Bluff" option.
  • Call a Bluff: When you are passed a card, you can agree or disagree with the last stated identity of that card. For example, I pass you a card while stating, "This is a roach." You could say, "Yes, this is a roach." Or "No way, that is not a roach." Then you reveal the card. If you're right, I take it back and lay it face-up in front of me. If you're wrong, you take the card and lay it face-up in front of you.

The game ends when one player has taken three cards of the same type. There are no points or even any victory conditions, there is simply one loser and the game ends.

I was very impressed with how much social interaction came out of such a simple rule set and cards. I tend to design these games with minimal interaction, abstract mechanics and sometimes opaque victory conditions. It was refreshing to see another perspective on the bluffing genre.

Naturally, I got to thinking about how to hack it for team play and hidden agendas. Here are some loose thoughts.
  • Players are spies for rival factions, trying to plant different types of surveillance "bugs" in enemy hands. Microphones, GPS trackers, etc. However, the world of espionage is so paranoid that you can't be sure who is working for whom.
  • Each player's allegiance is dealt secretly during the setup, so no one knows who anyone is spying for, at least at first. There is no preparatory phase wherein players find out which team each other is on at first.
  • The goal is to force any spy from the opposing team to get three bugs and/or pass secret documents to spies on your own team.* In order to succeed at the goal, you must identify the other spies' allegiance.
  • When a card gets passed, note who originally dealt that card. When the bug finally reaches a target, the bluffing rule continues as noted above, with one addition.
  • If the target failed the bluff, he must reveal his identity to the original dealer.
  • If the target succeeds at the bluff, the original dealer must reveal her identity to the target.

So as the web of identity gradually gets unraveled, players can start kind of planning in public. "I don't know who else at this table is in the blue team, but I'm just saying, THAT guy is red team. Go get 'im!"

Of course, the way cards bounce around the table complicates matters quite a bit. You may try to indirectly plant a bug on an opposing spy and instead end up bugging one of your own team. Oh noes!

* I removed the secret documents idea for now because it was adding some unnecessary complications to what is a relatively simple game.
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.