What would you tell your teenage self about game design?


Next Wednesday I'm speaking at the Wade Edwards Foundation and Learning Lab (WELL) to a group of high schoolers about my career in game design and a bit about my previous career in advertising/marketing. In other words, I have no idea what to tell these kids. This opportunity comes at an interesting time, since I'll be about nine months into my first year without the safety net of a full-time salary and benefits. So here are some loose notes that I might touch on:

A Little Personal History
  • Early Years: I was first exposed to game design while playing with my step dad. I couldn't figure out how to beat him, so instead I made up my own pieces that moved in their own ways. Sometimes changing mid-game, if I saw I was losing. He was very patient.
  • High School: I nearly dropped out of high school in senior year. I was living in a very chaotic situation throughout my childhood and I wanted to escape as quickly as possible. I thought I could get by with a GED and my food service job. Thankfully, a waiter smacked some sense into me before it was too late.  
  • College and Advertising: I stuck through the hard days. I worked through college. I got my degree in graphic design, found an internship at an ad agency thanks to some friends, and stuck with that internship until they hired me. I eventually worked my way up to a director position before this year when I decided to devote more time to my true passion: Game Design.
 What are Board Games Today?
  • Fun, elegant, diverse. Strategy games, dexterity games, co-operative games, with themes ranging from zombies, to trains, to space, to fantasy, to fancy parties. The best are designed  with a modern sense of scale in space and time, never wearing out their welcome before they've stopped being fun.
  • Tabletop: You can see some of the best modern classic games out on the market right now being played on Tabletop. There are plenty more games that are just as fun, but they don't work so well on video.
  • An international industry with thousands of new products, millions of individuals. There is a sustaining creative and financial force coming out of Europe for the past twenty years, but now that has branched off into major players in USA and Asia.
  • Conventions are where the biggest spikes in business happen. Origins is where a lot of business deals get made. Gen Con is where new products are launched. Essen is where the most prestigious awards in game design are bestowed. The PAX conventions are a huge crossover audience between video games and tabletop.
  • Perspective: On that note, despite the huge and growing numbers, the tabletop industry is still dwarfed by video games. It can take tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce a board game. If it sells more than several thousand copies, it's considered a mega-hit. In video games, all those numbers are multiplied tenfold.
 What Games have I Designed?
  • Luchacabra: My earliest board games were posted on a blog I called Luchacabra. It's down now, but designing in public really built up a sense of how to prototype efficiently.
  • Happy Birthday, Robot! was my first published game. It's a storytelling game for kids where each player rolls dice to determine how many words they and the other players can say in a sentence. Each turn, a new sentence is added, and when the game is over you've created a very silly little story about a robot's birthday.
  • Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple was another storytelling game released the following year. This one was inspired a little by Avatar: the Last Airbender, an old French book called the Little Prince, and an anime series called Keno's Journey. Here, players have a little more freedom in what they can add to the story, but the system uses probability as a metaphor for Karma. Each choice affects everyone else's available choices.
  • On to Card Games: After that, I devoted more of my attention to the card game genre. Card games are relatively easy to produce, often have a cheap price point making them a good impulse buy, and if I can't find a publisher, they're easy to self-publish. My first two card games to be sold are Koi Pond and Belle of the Ball. I'm also designing an espionage-themed card game for a mystery publisher and I just sold a Princess Bride-themed card game to GameSalute.

 What you Should Learn to Be a Game Designer
  • Build up your logic. Learn common mistakes of logic that you'll find in daily life to better equip you for escaping scams, grifts, and peer pressure that will come along. It will also make you a better game designer and game player.
  • Learn statistics. You'll always have access to friends that know more math than you, and you'll still bug them for help a lot, but you'll be at a severe handicap unless you learn the essentials of statistics and probability.
  • Study human behavior. The more quickly and accurately you can predict human behavior given a set of parameters, the more efficiently you can design and prototype your game. There's no substitute for observation, though.
  • Learn business. Even if you don't go into the publishing business, you'll still need to know the basics of how to read a contract, how to make a reasonable deal, and how to manage your own time. This is the least fun part for me, personally, but it's essential if you're going to make a living at this.
 Life as an Independent Game Designer
  • My inspiration comes from work. I always stay busy with a freelance graphic design job or a prototype I'm tinkering with at the moment. It's by doing work that I'll eventually come up with a breakthrough or a cool little trick, not by just sitting around waiting for some muse.
  • I've committed to never design a game that has a violent or gory theme. Partly this is for personal reasons, but also it's a simple business decision. Those themes play well with a certain slice of the audience, but will turn off other audiences who might become a brand new vocal community for your product.
  • You can make a living at game design, but it's a very lean living. After all, you can make a living at a lot of things. Game design as a career is tough on the budget, but also much more creatively satisfying. I've no regrets about that transition so far.
  • If you sell your games to a publisher, you get paid in Advances and Royalties. Royalties are a percentage of the sale price the publisher chooses for the game. Advances are sort of a down payment, basically the publisher paying you a certain amount ahead of time. If you're lucky, the total royalties you earn will exceed that advance and you can start getting a regular check from the publisher. If this happens, it can take months.
  • If you sell your own games, you'll probably use Kickstarter. [obligatory Kickstarter explanation here] I currently have a game on Kickstarter now, hosted by my publisher. [Explain Belle of the Ball]
  • I couldn't have had a career in game design unless I had other careers: Graphic design, marketing, writing, etc. And I couldn't have those careers unless I had a broad pool of experience from college and life in general. 

And that's all I've got so far. I'm not sure what else to say or if any of this will be relevant to a group of teenagers. We'll see, I guess!

Trickster: Thoughts on variable trick-taking

So many of my game ideas come from puns. Presently, I'm enamored with the idea of a trick-taking card game that is themed around Trickster mythos. Which trickster, though? Loki? Coyote? Anansi? Kitsune? Heck, all of them?

Well, regardless of theme, the basic idea I've had brewing is a trick-taking game with multi-purpose cards that change the terms of the current trick. I've seen this territory explored in Seiji Kanai's Chronicle, which to my mind is the pre-eminent trick-taking game. My take on it would be a little different, much more casual.

The cards show a unique combination of variables for trick-taking games: Turn order, Who wins, and What they win.

Turn Order
  • Clockwise: Turns pass to the left.
  • Counterclockwise: Turns pass to the right.
  • Choose: Each player choose the next player to take a turn until each player has taken one turn this round.

Winner of the trick:
  • Highest Card
  • Highest Heart
  • Highest Club
  • Highest Spade
  • Highest Diamond
  • Highest Face
  • Lowest Card
  • Lowest Heart
  • Lowest Club
  • Lowest Spade
  • Lowest Diamond
  • Lowest Face

Reward at the end of a round (n tricks):
  • +1 point per Heart
  • +1 point per Club
  • +1 point per Spade
  • +1 point per Diamond
  • +2 points per Face
  • -1 point per Heart
  • -1 point per Club
  • -1 point per Spade
  • -1 point per Diamond
  • -2 points per Face

So the lead card sets the stakes of the current trick. You might say "We're choosing turn order, the winner is the highest diamond, who will win -1 point for each heart in her collection after n tricks." When you win, you set aside the lead card into a scoring stack and the other cards into your collection. The cards in your scoring stack determine your total score, based on cards in your collection.

As for face cards, I imagine they'd be unique characters or mythical features, for example:

  • Loki: At the end of the trick, take the trick, regardless of stakes. "Muhahahaha!"
  • Thor: Immediately discard Loki from the trick. "Loki, thou art a fiend!"
  • Odin: At the end of the trick, discard this card and play another. "My one eye sees all."
  • Bifrost: Immediately discard any number of cards and draw that many from the deck. "for as the As-bridge is all on fire."
In fact, these could just as easily be merged into the standard deck rather than set aside as separate cards. I love overlapping information on cards, but sometimes it gets complicated for the casual player. It would take some playtesting to find the right balance.

Shrodinger's Wine: Revisiting the Counterfeit Wine Theme

Wine Bottles

Several months ago, I posted this little idea for a game about the counterfeit wine market. To recap: There's a big business in wine collecting, for various vintages and vineyards. There is also a big business in forging wine bottles, artificially aging the labels and even faking the corks. The counterfeits are so good that a real bottle and a good fake are worth the same amount until the bottle is opened. Sounds like a game to me!

So yes, I originally had this rather complicated auction mechanic in mind, but I think this could be much simpler. The cards are still double-sided, with the back side showing a value range. For example, $1 – $15. The front of the bottle shows the true value, for example $2.

Cafe Riva White Wine Labels
Thematically, this could be depicted as a front and back wine label.

Each player is dealt a hand of cards. Let's say seven cards for now. Cards are always dealt and held so as to never reveal the true values to the other players. So players vaguely know each other player's true values, but not for certain.

To start a round, each player takes one card from his or her hand and places it face-down in the middle of the table. This represents the lot of wine bottles that is up for auction in this round. Players are competing to get the first choice of bottles from the lot.

Wine Auction

Each player takes turns. On your turn, you may bid or pass.

  • Bid: Reveal one or more cards from your hand face-up, exposing the true value of the card(s). If you've bid in a previous turn this round, your new cards are added to your previous cards for a new total. Your total bid must be higher than the previous bid, otherwise you must pass.
  • Pass: You choose not to bid or not continue bidding this round.

Continue taking turns until all but one player has passed.

Starting with the highest bid and descending, each player taking turns. On your turn, you may take one card from the lot. If you did not bid at all this round, then you may not take any cards, which itself might let you dodge a counterfeit! When you take a card, you can look at it and do one of two things with it.

  • Archive: Put the card face-down in your collection.
  • Sell: Put the card in your hand.

This ends the round. Discard any unclaimed bottles. At the end of a round, deal one card to each player's hand from the deck. Continue playing one round per player. The player with the highest value collection at the end of the game is the winner!

The tension here is that the most valuable bottles are valuable in two orthogonal strategies. Do you put the high value bottle into the lot, thereby weakening your bidding position? Or do you keep it so you get first pick at a potentially less valuable lot?

And even after the auction, there is a bit of double-think as you watch your opponents. Did your opponent just put that bottle into his hand because it's worthless? If so, you should avoid taking that bottle if it comes up for auction. But maybe he kept it because it's very valuable, in which case it could be dangerous to get into a bidding war with him next round.

As with any light, minigame of this sort, a lot will come down to balancing the cards against each other. It'll take some mathy refinements, but I think this is a pretty solid little system.

Huzzah! Belle of the Ball is fully funded!

Huzzah! Belle of the Ball is fully funded! There is still plenty of time left in the campaign to get your copy. Plus, look for more news soon about stretch goals including party-crashing Grifters, advanced scoring variants, and County-themed variable player powers. Thanks so much for your support and please keep spreading the word!

Giving away fancy names to Belle of the Ball backers on Twitter

It's been a fantastic opening weekend for Belle of the Ball's kickstarter campaign. To help spread the word, I've been giving away fancy names to folks on Twitter. Here's all the names so far!

Lady Liminal Lincolnwell! @GeekyLyndsay
Lord Bineas Bindletop @futurewolfie
Lord Jocular Jugglethump! @shouit
Lord Flickery Firehoist! @the_FlyingSheep
Lord Escapehatch Gingerlatch! @reldnahcire
Lady Jauntily Jumpingfax! @athingforjaz
Lord Metalrock Megatocks! @ClayCrucible
Lord Flatherton Fantatub! @krinklechip
Lord Oftherings Monkeyflings! @d20monkey
Lady Lorisnap Lippalap! @PhysicistLisa
Lord Tempusroy Dunditoy! @KingChrono
Lady Pollyfire Tumbleshire! @slamonella
Lord Jokerdeck Cuppingpeck! @ConceptCrucible
Lord Fiberloom Ligerdoom! @Milambus
Lord Oontsoonts Dancedance! @deejayeetee
Lady Marimbaband Cucommand! @mightymur
Lord Gristlebeard Hoppybeer! @theome
Lord Gigglesworth Tacosalad @ShawnPurtell
Lord Logarithmic Bonariffic! @loganbonner
Lord Belatedly Blithery! @imprimis5
Lord Scottswerf Kinglederf! @scottking
Lord Troutblast Salmonfast! @KyleHogendyk
Lord Tombadil Dinnerbill! @DenaghDesign
Lord Owlbeard Towelweird! @ProfBeard
Lord Flartshire Floppytire! @jflartner
Lady Millionbuck Dandyduck! @Mirintala
Lady Jessballoom Yeskaboom! @gemsile123
Lord Hoopingharp Loopingcarp! @TheAuthorM
Lord Timternet Lingertet! @dicefoodlodging
Lady Ionicbond Wishingwand! @irene_ravens
Lord Sodaspray Birdofprey! @_attriel_
Lord Kenderco Sugardough! @demo_ken
Lord Supercrates Megaristotle! (History's Greatest Philosopher.) @Nullzone42
Lord Danderfluff Colatuff! @danco
Lord Dentalack Mantleback! @quaidrayn
Lord Derguder Flerbadur! @frequentbeef
Lord Tumblingday Caloocallay! @wiseturtle
Lord Bobbinstick Benderquick! @RMBLees
Lady Riggledent Tournament! @tournevis
Lord Royalmack Weddingquack! @RyanMacklin
Lord Otterloo Potatostew @MikeRiverso
Lord Octotush Cephalobush! @RDNottingham
Lord Reroll Polyhedron! @mc_ellis
Lady Honeycomb Thunderdome! @NightSkyGames
Lord Golfclap Cabbagegap! @strangeasangels
Lord Domokun Flutterloon! @StarEater
Lord Shembassy Flatterly! @jasonmflow
Lady Hubcap Winterlap! @IneptGamer
Lord Warpcore Troubadour! @JohnduBois
Lord Minmax Shadowfax! @ImYourDM
Lord Triceratops Ticklepops! @TheOtherTracy
Lord Tangletooth Butterlooth! @ATerribleIdea
Lord Kobebeef Coralreef! @dr_hobo_jones
Lord Renderblat Yonderflat! @ham2anv
Lord Ludofisk Tubafrisk! @majcher
Lord Tickertape Partycape! @jpudewell
Lord Bagpiper Tyrannostriper! @vagentzero
Lord Marrakend Polyblend! @Mattwilljackson
Lord Harpsichord Megazord! @muskrat_john

If you only knew the grosser names I've been sidelining to be polite. "Poopsworth Dropaton" and the like.

Let's Start the Party! Belle of the Ball is on Kickstarter!

Belle of the Ball is now live on Kickstarter! This is just the mid-point in a long journey, but it still feels like a relief to finally have the game this close to being published. We still have months of prep and manufacture to do, but you can pre-order your copy of the Fancy Schmancy Card Game right now! Let's get this party started!

Belle of the Ball Kickstarter launches tomorrow!

So the big day is coming tomorrow. It's been about five years since I originally brought up the idea for Belle of the Ball to my wife over coffee one Sunday morning.

Back then, it was going to be a tile placement game. It's only since January of 2012 that I shifted it over to a card game format and began seriously developing it for publication. And it's only since February of 2013 that I had a confirmed publisher for the game.

It's been a long dance, but I'm proud of where Belle has ended up. Jacqui Davis' art really launched the whole world of Ludobel to the stratosphere.

So watch out for the Belle of the Ball kickstarter tomorrow! woot!

Experimenting with Photos as Card Art


Sometimes a game idea just won't shake out of my head until I've actually seen it with my own eyes. You can follow one example of this on the Spheres of Influence tag, which has morphed a bit in terms of mechanics, but generally kept the same premise: Cards representing influential people who influence other people toward their own orientation.

The whole thing has a science fiction flavor laid on top of it, like the galactic senate in Star Wars. But I wanted these cards to have a very different look. I'm much more inspired by Iain M. Banks' Culture novels than anything in movies or TV at the moment. I like the sense of far out post-human interstellar congresses hashing out details of galactic civilization.

The problem is art. I can't spring the dough for a big art budget on my own, and my illustration skills are quite nil. I do know photoshop, though, and I have a big supply of stock art, and I know where to find CC-licensed photography. Maybe I can put something together?

The icons don't mean anything right now, they're just placeholders for proof of concept. I was going for a mix of lenticular printing, holographic projection, and printed currency. I dunno if it works. What do you think?

Koi Pond Promo Cards "Four Winds" and "Four Walls" Now Available!

Good news! Koi Pond sold crazy well at Gen Con last weekend. Bad news: It sold out on day 2!

Well, there is some hope if you missed out on the promo cards from the show. FOUR WINDS and FOUR WALLS are now available on DriveThruCards. Each costs just a buck, but with shipping it would be advantageous to order another full game along with these card.

Might I recommend KOI POND?

Belle of the Ball debuts at Gen Con 2013!

Chris Kirkman from Dice Hate Me Games was at Gen Con 2013 this weekend and he brought along this preview box for Belle of the Ball.

Fortunately he also had the game inside! And boy, did it get played a LOT during the con. I was following the twitter feed from home and wow, so many people were playing the game and having fun. Let's see!

Many thanks to everyone who played Belle of the Ball! Look for it on Kickstarter this week.

Belle of the Ball and Koi Pond at Gen Con 2013

While I'm at home, my Twitter feed is presently 100% Gen Con all the time, but the best moments are when people say they're playing my games! This is the first year I've had a card game for sale and it's been quite lovely to see the response. Here are tweets from the first day of the con!

While the cats are away... [9 Lives]

While everyone is away at Gen Con, here's a little treat for those of you like me who are staying home to catch up on work. These are the card designs in-progress for 9 Lives.

You can see a few tweaks to the rules reflected in this design. Gone are the stars you're trying to earn, in their place are cat-scratches you're trying to evade.

I've also given each cat a proper suit, so you can distinguish them at a glance while fanning your cards. I took that a step further, making the suit a color-coded background pattern reminiscent of anime and manga. I thought Kristina Stipetic's art lent itself well to this cartoony style.

Puppy Pile: A Card Game about Puppies and Treats

Every time I play Reiner Knizia's Poison, I want to hack it into something a little more robust. But then I realize I'd probably be re-inventing Paul Peterson's Smash Up. Surely there is a middle ground somewhere between the two extremes. After all, the Hearts family of evasion trick-taking games is vast and old, so I bet we could come up with something a little gamery while still keeping it approachable. Here's a first attempt at it.

So the big thing with Poison is that you're trying to have the lowest score after a series of rounds. There are three cauldrons into which you're dropping potions and poisons. If you force the sum in a cauldron to exceed 13, you must take the cards currently in the cauldron and replace them with your new card. In the end of the round, you score 1 point per potion in your possession, 2 points per poison. You score no points for a specific type of potion if you possess the most of that potion, so you might try to "shoot the moon" once you're committed to a particular potion.

Smash Up is much more complicated, but the core of it is relatively similar. Instead of cauldrons, there are bases in which you drop minions. When the sum of Minion ranks exceeds the base's Defense rank, then the base is broken and anyone who has minions scores points as determined by that base. There are additional player-based effects by playing certain minions in certain bases, plus the bases themselves have special effects when they're broken. All this adds up to a very approachable, but distinctly gamer-oriented game.

I'm trying to figure out how we can add more depth to Poison without going so far as to make variable player powers. We can add persistent effects from round-to-round, which would make this a bit more strategic though.

A Trick-Taking Game for 2-6 Players
This game is about piles of puppies chomping on dog treats. It has a deck of cards showing puppies in various breeds and quantities. Each card also shows a number of dog treats.

Shuffle the whole deck and deal it all to each player. It's okay if this makes uneven hands. The youngest player takes the first turn in the first round. In each round thereafter, the first player role passes to the left.

On your turn, take a card from your hand and place it in the middle of the table, starting or adding to the puppy pile.
  • If the sum of puppies is thus greater than the sum of treats, you take all the cards that were in the pile and replace it with the card you just played. Keep collected cards face down in front of you.

In the example above, you played 2 Malamutes, which puts the sum of puppies at 7, which is greater than the sum of treats. You take the three cards already in the pile and replace them with the card you just played.

The round ends when all players hands are empty. Any puppies left in the pile are not collected by anyone.

Count how many of each breed you've collected. You score points equal to the fewest of a breed you've taken.

So in the example above, you score 1 point because the lowest quantity of a breed you have is 1 Labrador.

Make a note of the breed(s) you scored this round, because you'll get a breed bonus for collecting that breed in future rounds.

If you score a breed that you've collected in the past, you'll score the following bonus points.

Scored Once Before: Score x2 Points Now
Scored Twice Before: Score x3 Points Now
Scored Four Times Before: Score x4 Points Now
Scored Five Times Before: Score x5 Points Now

The game lasts for one round per player. The player with the most points wins!

Espionage: The Card Game [Prototype G]

This game has been long in-development and kept offline longer than usual, but I think it's finally ready for public playtesting. It's best described as a Gamer's version of Liars' Dice, but with cards instead of dice. It lifts the hot potato elements from Kakerlakenpoker and mashes them all up with a spy theme.


You are a spy tracker. Employed by your secretive organization, it’s your job to monitor the espionage activity across the world. Keep your sources active, as they’re your best tool for deducing which global actors are in play.

This is a game of bluffing and deduction. Be the first player to score three points or to be the last player with active Sources.

Each card in the game depicts a spy who is either a Face, Hacker, or Muscle; working for either Agency, Bureau, or Command; in either New York City, London, or Moscow. There are nine of each attribute throughout the deck.

Each spy is a unique combination of one role, faction and city, for a total of 27 unique spies. The deck also includes  five Mercenaries and four Traitors.

There are also several Source tokens, but these are not mixed into the general deck.

Each player gets a set of Source tokens. Each Source token is double-sided, showing that they’re either ACTIVE or UNDERGROUND. Everyone’s Sources begin with the ACTIVE side up.

2 Players: Six Sources per player.
3 Players: Four Sources per player.
4 Players: Three Sources per player.

Shuffle the cards into a single deck and deal each player a full hand of cards face-down. The number of cards you can keep in your hand is determined by the number of your active sources. If you have five active sources, your hand limit is five cards.

The most honest player makes the first bid of the game. Thereafter whoever lost the last round makes the first bid. If the loser was eliminated the last round, the winner of the bid makes the first bid. Bidding is explained below.

On your turn, you may BID, RAISE, CALL or SPOT.

Then choose another player to take the next turn. Turns do not proceed clockwise. You choose who goes next.

Out loud, guess the minimum number of a role, faction or city you think is in all players’ hands. You may not bid a lower number than has been previously stated, but you may bid the same number while changing the role, faction or city.

For example, if the current bid is “At least five spies are hackers,” you could bid “At least five spies are working for Agency,” or “At least five spies are in Moscow.”

You may increase the number currently being bid. You may also change the role, faction or city being bid.

For example, if the current bid was “At least five spies are in Moscow,” you could raise “At least SIX spies are in Moscow,” or “At least SIX spies are HACKERS!”

If you believe the current bid is incorrect (in other words, that there are fewer than stated number of roles, factions or cities)  you may say “CALL,” at which point all players reveal their entire hands.

Count how many of that role, faction or city are out there. Any Mercenary cards add to this number. Any Traitor cards subtract from this number.

  • If the bid is correct (there are at least that many role, faction or city): One of the Caller’s Sources goes underground.
  • If the bid was incorrect: (there are fewer than that many role, faction or city): One of the bidder’s Sources goes underground.

This ends the round. Whoever lost this bid makes the first bid in the next round. If that player was eliminated, then the winner makes the first bid next round.

If you believe the current bid is exactly correct, you may say “SPOT,” at which point all players reveal their entire hands.

Count how many of that role, faction or city are out there. Any Mercenary cards add to this number. Any Traitor cards subtract from this number.

  • If the Spotter is correct (there are exactly that many role, faction or city): One of the bidder’s Sources goes underground and the Spotter gains 1 point.
  • If the Spotter was incorrect: (there are fewer or more than that many role, faction or city): One of the Spotter’s Sources goes underground and the bidder gains 1 point.

This ends the round. Whoever lost this bid makes the first bid in the next round. If that player was eliminated, then the winner makes the first bid next round.


The player who reaches 3 points or is the last player with active Sources wins!

Where to buy Koi Pond at Gen Con: Booth 1201

Koi Pond Header 2

If you're going to Gen Con, you can find my card game KOI POND for sale at Booth 1201, where DriveThruRPG, White Wolf and Minion Games are sharing a space this year. Here's a map!

If you can make it there early, you can grab a free promo card made just for the occasion: FOUR WINDS. This is the first in a series of one-card promo expansions that didn't quite make the cut into the basic game.

I hear sometimes that Cats, Cranes and Turtles feel more valuable than koi, mainly because they're worth 1:1 for each koi, whereas building up your own koi collections require careful balance and planning, only to get 1 point for every two matched koi.

With FOUR WINDS, you get the full value of each of your koi, but only in one specific suit. Do you pursue the bonus, making your strategy obvious, or do you play it coy? Visit the booth at Gen Con to pick up your card and find out!

Suspense: The Card Game [Prototype F]


The wait is over! After a long period of private playtesting and development (basically since PAX East), here's the next prototype for Suspense: The Card Game. You can download the PDF from the following link:


This is my 13-card brain-burning deduction game where you're trying to figure out the secret victory condition while also trying to meet it. Trade information, bluff your way out of a jam, and overcome the fickle whims of fate!


This little game has gone through many revisions and rethemes over the past few months, but I'm pretty settled on this silly B-movie motif. I hope you dig it, too. I had a lot of fun coming up with those classic era movie taglines.

With just 13 cards, plus a few reference cards, this is a perfect back-pocket game to bring out while you're waiting in line at a convention. Give it a shot and tell me what you think!

Tyc: A New Type of Tic Tac Toe


You've heard me discuss this whole notion of "Gamer's Tic Tac Toe" all last week. Of course, my first impulse was to find some way I could make a commercial product out of this idea. That's just where my head's at this year, since it's kinda how I pay the bills now. But... If this were to be true to its roots, it would be a game that could be played with nothing more than pen and paper.

So, here's a bizarro remix of Tic Tac Toe incorporating area control, set collection, and even a little worker placement, all with nothing more than paper and two writing implements.


This game takes basic Tic Tac Toe and adds several eurogame advancements to make it less predictable. Players take turns drawing A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, or I. The color of the letter indicates who drew that mark. Players guide each other’s moves and constrain their opportunities to score. While there are points to be earned from traditional Tic Tac Toe strategies, the big points come from area control and resource acquisition. In this case, the letters are the “resources.”

A sheet of paper. Draw nine Tic Tac Toe boards shown above.
Each player needs a pen in their own color. Red and blue are good.
Randomly choose the first player.

On your turn, draw A, B, C, D,  E, F, G, H, or I in one of the small cells of one board. The cell in which you draw your mark corresponds to the board in which your opponent must draw her next mark. For example...

If you draw your mark here...

...your opponent must draw her mark on this board.

If your opponent draws her mark here...

...you must draw your mark on this board.

And so on, with one restriction: The same letter may not appear in the same board twice. So, once someone has written “A” on a board, no one may write it again on that same board. It may still be drawn on another board, though.

The game ends when there is a continuous horizontal, vertical or diagonal line of nine marks traversing three boards. Then players score points.

There are FOUR ways to score points: Three-in-a-Row, Line Bonus, Area Majority and Letter Bonus.

During the game, the first player to get a horizontal, vertical or diagonal line of three marks in their color on a board draws a line across those three marks.  So across the whole game, there are nine opportunities to make a first three-in-a-row. Each line is worth 2 points.
 Above, Blue has two lines, scoring a total of 4 points. Red has one line, scoring 2 points.

Line Bonus
Both players score one point for each of their marks on the line that triggers the endgame.

Above: Blue has five marks, and so scores 5 points. Red has four marks, and so scores 4 points.

Area Majority
After the game is over, look at each individual board and see who has the most marks on that board. Whoever has the most marks on a board scores points equal to the EMPTY spaces on that board. If there is a tie for majority on a board, neither player scores it.

Red has the most marks on the top left board, which has has two empty spaces, scoring 2 points.
Red has the most marks on the mid left board, which has has four empty spaces, scoring 4 points.
Red has the most marks on the lower right board, which has has seven empty spaces, scoring 7 points.
Blue has the most marks on the center board, which has has one empty space, scoring 1 point.
Blue has the most marks on the mid right board, which has has three empty spaces, scoring 3 points.
Blue has the most marks on the lower left board, which has has six empty spaces, scoring 6 points.

Letter Bonus
Each player earns points from each letter they’ve used during the game. The more times an individual letter is used, the more points it's worth. See the chart below for reference:

1 : -3 Points   4 : 3 Points    7 : 15 Points
2 : -1 Point    5 : 6 Points    8 : 21 Points
3 : 1 Points    6 : 10 Points   9 : 28 Points

So if you only got one "A", it would be worth -3 points. But if you got five "A'"s, that would be worth 6 points. Each new letter you write is sort of a down payment in the hopes of a greater reward at the end of the game. It’s very unlikely to get more than five or six of a letter, but the upper extremes are listed for the sake of completeness.

In the finished example above, red has the following letters and scores:
A: 5: 6pts | B: 5: 6pts | C: 2: -1pt | D: 3: 1 pt | E: 2: -1pt | F: 2: -1pt

Blue has the following letter and scores:
A: 4: 3pt | B: 4: 3pt | C: 3: 1pt | D: 2: -1pt | E: 2: -1pt | F: 1: -3pt | G: 2: -1pt | H: 1 : -3pts

Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.