Simple Tips for Artists to Get Hired by Me


Since working on the Firefly RPG and a number of other projects, I've been searching for a lot of artists lately. In that search, I've come across some common obstacles that make my job a bit difficult. Bear in mind: My job is giving artists jobs, so any help I can get in that quest from the artists themselves is very much appreciated. Here are some tips from me to all artists out there.

What I'm Looking For
  • Consistency is most important for my line of work. I'm usually hiring a single artist to make a whole series of images, so keeping a consistent style is paramount.
  • Breadth and diversity is a byproduct of that first point. I like to see that you've depicted different subjects, diverse people, all with a consistent style that tells me you could deliver on art direction.
  • No cheesecake, please. If the first thing I see in your portfolio is a bunch of boudoir pin-ups, I'm moving on. Even if you can do more than that, putting cheesecake up front and center tells me you want to be hired for that.
  • Strong fundamentals. This goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: I need an artist who knows proportions, anatomy, perspective, shading, etc. It doesn't  just mean photorealism, though. I've seen plenty of Pixar animation with better senses of proportion than the most detailed superhero comics.

Where I'm Looking

  • Pinterest is probably the best organized and presented source for art on the web. Unfortunately, it also often strips away any artist credit or citation unless you dig a little deeper.
  • Behance is much more professionally focused, with a broad audience covering graphic design, logos, to illustration proper.
  • Dribbble has a similarly broad range, which is great for my purposes, but I sometimes see overlap between here and Behance, so I tend to search on one or the other, rarely both.
  • DeviantArt is still around, despite its weird interface, awkward search function, and sometimes non-existent means of contacting an artist outside the DeviantArt ecosystem. Which brings me to the next subject.
  • Tumblr has been extremely popular with artists the past few years, but the chain of citation is extremely difficult to track down in that format.
  • Your site (Keep it Simple!) Obviously, this would be the ideal place to find your work, yet too often artists (and photographers especially) make sites so hard to navigate. Any measures that make it harder for someone to hot-link your art also make it hard for me to share your work with my bosses for their consideration in hiring you. So, please, no Flash sites, no weird slideshows, and pinterest compatible images are a huge plus.

How I Can Reach You
  • Signature. It would be great if you could include your name on your image somewhere. Just a clear, easy to read signature is a great start.
  • Footers are even better, since you can add your email address or a website. Granted, some unscrupulous people will just crop you art to remove that citation, so you might try...
  • Watermarks. These are controversial since so many paranoid people go overboard with them, covering up the art they're meant to protect in the first place. So take it easy, alright?
  • Complete Profile wherever you feature your art, including an email address at the very least. Twitter or tumblr would be excellent, too. If you're concerned about spam or trolls, set up a separate account for professional inquiries.
  • No forms or site-specific inboxes, please. Some artists have special forms for any professional inquiries, which is fine, but makes me less certain that they're actually reaching the artist. DeviantArt and other portfolio sites often also have their own private message features, but they're even more suspicious.

I know being a working artist is really tough. Adding one more to-do to your workflow is a pain, but hopefully some of these tips help make it easier for you to get hired.

Escapist Expo 2013! Durham, NC! Oct 4-6, 2013!

I'll be moderating and appearing on several panels at next week's Escapist Expo. The Expo had its inaugural event last year and was by all accounts a stunning success.

Durham and the surrounding Triangle community have the largest group of gamers I've ever seen, but they're usually dispersed into smaller enclaves near their local game stores or home groups. The Escapist Expo offers a central hub for all the area gamers to play in one place. Video games, RPGs, tabletop, Humans vs. Zombies, all sorts of games. It's awesome.

Here are the panels I'll be on this year.

It's a Hit! Now What? Dealing With Unexpected Success
You've made something and people like it and want more. Or your preorder went well - much better than you expected - and you find yourself facing a bigger print run and a bigger shipping effort than you'd planned for. Success can be a tricky thing - the bigger you succeed, the harder you have to work, and sometimes there are pitfalls. Join us and talk about the "now what?" phase.

Participants: Fred Hicks, Rob Donoghue, Steve Segedy, Daniel Solis
Location: DCC Meeting Room 2
Date: Sat, Oct 5, 2013 9:00 AM

Hosting a Weekly Game Night
We love games, and we want to play them on a regular basis. But for adult geeks with families, careers, and other obligations, the basic logistics of sustaining a weekly game session can be quite challenging. Join a panel of game night veterans to discuss how to manage locations and game collections, schedules and conflicts, pets, children, and other lovable distractions, and even personalities. Our game nights have been going strong for over five years, and yours is about to get started.

Participants: Natania Barron, Michael Harrison, Jim Van Verth, Daniel Solis, Chris Kirkman, Dave Kirby
Location: DCC Meeting Room 2
Date: Sat, Oct 5, 2013 1:30 PM

How to Run a Small Gaming Business
Have you ever wondered what results when gaming and business meet? Panelists Jennifer Bedell (Atomic Empire), Fred Hicks and Rob Donoghue (Evil Hat Games), Chris Kirkman (Dice Hate Me Games), Steve Segedy (Bully Pulpit) share the trials and joys of running a small game company. Moderator Daniel Solis (Smart Play Games) guides a broad discussion covering everything from funding, to production, to retail and beyond.

Participants: Jennifer Bedell, Fred Hicks, Rob Donoghue, Chris Kirkman, Steve Segedy, Daniel Solis
Location: DCC Meeting Rooms 3-4
Date: Sat, Oct 5, 2013 4:30 PM

My Dearest Failure: Games That Didn't Work and Why
In the immortal words of Jake the Dog, "Sucking at something is the first step to becoming sorta good at something". The path to design success will be littered with the corpses of bad ideas, bad implementations, and unidentifiable smells that you'd rather not talk about. Today we're going to shine a light on those failures and talk about how embracing them will help you make the game you want.

Participants: Fred Hicks, Rob Donoghue, Steve Segedy, Daniel Solis
Location: DCC Meeting Room 2
Date: Sun, Oct 6, 2013 12:00 PM

In addition, my wife and I will have a booth at the Expo all weekend where we'll be selling meeple accessories, Writer's Dice, and a the few copies of Koi Pond I have in stock. Also, I have one print copy of Happy Birthday, Robot! in stock that I'll sell to whoever comes first. So swing by, say hi, and let's game at the Escapist Expo!

Belle of the Ball Kickstarter: 308% Funded!

Hello everybody! A personal note from me here, to all of you.

Wow, what a party it's been, eh? Surprises right until the very end. In the very last hours, we waltzed right past every initially projected number: Over 1500 backers and over triple-funded! That's a lot of party favors!

Thank you so, so much to all of you for spreading the word about Belle of the Ball! Everyone who tweeted, posted, shared, printed-and-played helped immensely. You believed in the vision for a different kind of card game and you'll soon see the results of that vision.

I'd also like to personally thank Chris for running a tip-top campaign and supporting development of Belle of the Ball from its very early stages. He actively encouraged me to make a game with this theme and kept me at it for over a year! Thanks, Chris!

Alright, everyone! Let's keep partying for now, because tomorrow Dice Hate Me has a lot of work to do! Thank you!

Feather, A Balancing Card Game

Weighing Of Your Heart

One of the trickiest parts of teaching Koi Pond is the whole idea that you're trying to keep your koi in your pond and koi in your house "balanced" with each other. So I thought I'd give a simpler card game a try, using a similar "balancing" mechanic but with a more literal metaphor.

Each player has an imaginary set of scales in front of them. Each player is trying to accumulate the most cards, while keeping their scales balanced. You can play with a standard set of playing cards, plus the two jokers.

Shuffle the deck and deal a hand of five cards to each player. Each player takes turns.

On your turn
Play a card from your hand onto one of any player's scales. Each player's scale is color-coded, with red cards on their left and black cards on their right. So, you may only play red cards on the red scale or black cards on the black scale.
  • Aces are ranked 1. Jokers, Jacks, Queens, Kings are ranked 0.
  • When playing cards ranked A-10, there is no further effect.
  • When playing a Jack, you may discard the lowest card from that scale.
  • When playing a Queen, you may discard the highest card from that scale.
  • When playing a King, you may move one card from that scale to another.
  • When playing a Joker, you may ignore color restrictions for that scale from then on.
Then draw one card from the deck.

When the deck runs out, the game ends. Discard any remaining cards in hand.

Total the sums of ranks on each of your scales and determine the difference between the two. That difference is your penalty.

Your score is 1 point per card in your entire collection, minus your penalty.

The player with most points wins!

There are so e serious bugs in these rules as written, but there is a seed of something useful here. See the comments below for some revised, streamlined victory conditions. I'm also considering a retheme featuring Vikings on either side of a rowboat. Lowest ranked Vikings are scrawny dudes while the highest ranked Vikings are big burly men. The left and right piles represent either side of the boat.

Interesting Game Mechanic: Action Replacement

Red Meeple

This week, an odd little mechanic has bitten my brain hard and refuses to let go until I've got it firmly written down for posterity. Not sure where this idea will go, since it doesn't really have a theme associated with it yet, so here it is in the abstract.

Action Replacement
There are limited number of actions for you to do on your turn. In order to take one of those actions, you must replace that action with a new one, which will probably be even more useful than the one you replaced.

Here's a visual example, using some cards as the form factor, which I think would be particularly interesting for their versatility.

First, the play area begins with a set of four basic cards, each allowing you to acquire a specific type of resource.
  • In order to use one of these actions, you must "pay" a card from your hand and set it on top of the chosen action-card.
  • Then you may draw a new card from the deck at the end of your turn.
  • If you ever cause a stack to exceed four cards, you must take that stack and replace it with your new card.
Collected cards score points equal to their stars, but some cards also have other endgame scoring bonuses or penalties.

The actual wording of the card you pay doesn't matter for now. Only the card that was already face-up matters. In this case, you get 1 of the resource represented by the squiggly lines. At the end of your turn, your chosen action is replaced with your paid card, thus making a new action available to players on their next turn.

In this case, it allows a player to get 1 of the resource represented by a triangle. If that player were to pay with a green card, she would also get 1 of the resource represented by #.

On the next player's turn, he wants to get 1 of the resource represented by @, so he pays a card to do so. He replaces his chosen action with his paid card, thus making a new action available.

In this case, the new action allows a player to get 2 of the resources represented by #. If the stack of cards were three or higher, that player would also be able to draw an extra card at the end of her turn. Some cards might also refer to adjacent spaces, augmenting their potency based on those conditions, such as "If a red card is visible..."

Next turn, you want to get 1 resource represented by the triangle. The new action has an unusual effect:

Using this action allows a player to get a whopping 4 of the resource represented by # and allows her to collect this stack early. However, the endgame effect is that this card will cost its owner 1 point per # in her collection. So before the end of the game, she wants to find an outlet for # or get rid of this card from her collection.

Your opponent avoids temptation and decides to use the basic action that allows him to get 1 of the resource represented by #.

Instead of getting resources, the new action allows you to convert "@" resources to points. If an extra card is paid to do this, the exchange rate is doubled.

And that's all I've got so far. Lots of crazy emergent permutations based on a simple mechanic, but no theme as yet. I'll mull that over, but for now I'm just glad to get this out of my head for a minute. :)

Belle of the Ball Media Roundup

Wow, it's been an amazing campaign for Belle of the Ball so far. We just passed $50,000 in funding! Incredible! Throughout the past month, Chris Kirkman and I have been lucky enough to be interviewed on several podcasts and websites. If you've had trouble keeping up, here's a complete roundup.

  • Going Last: OMG! The DoubleClicks! AAHH!! *cough* ... Why, yes, enjoy this entirely serious discussion with Angela and Aubrey of the DoubleClicks (and Justin the Bard).
  • Indie Talks: Ben Gerber catches me when I'm loopy tired and gets a bit of my casual silliness.

  • BoardGameNews: Chris demos Belle of the Ball for BoardGameGeek's very own Eric Martin, live at Gen Con!
  • Master Plan: Ryan Macklin interviews me on his brand new Master Plan series.

Words, Words, Words
  • Stonemaier: Jamey Stegmaier interviewed Chris and I about our experiences together, developing Belle over many years.
  • Father Geek: Cyrus Kirby has a positively glowing review for Belle, after playing it with parents, kids, and his gamer group.
  • Games Are Evil: The very funny Tiffany Ralph interviewed me in her trademark style. I hope I managed to keep up with her sharp wit!
  • Game Designer Chronicles: Roger Hicks dives deep into my gaming history, reaching all the way back to my love for Pente.
  • How Lou Sees It: Landon Squire sat us down to talk about favorite parties, inspiration, and our long-term plans.

And that's all the media for today. I'm pretty sure I forgot something in that list. It's been quite a month!

Gems and Driftwood: Comparing Designer Games to Folk Games


I learned two card games last night, both from Asia, featuring a deck of suits and ranks, but that's pretty much where the similarity ends.

Parade designed by Naoki Homma and is a very clever combination of line-drafting and evasion-type trick-taking. The game features a simple deck of cards in six suits with 11 ranks each.

On your turn, you place a card from your hand at the end of the parade. The rank of the card you play represents the number of consecutive cards in the parade you may ignore, but after that point you must collect any cards of equal rank, lesser rank, or the same suit.

If you collect the most of a suit at the end of the game, you can turn those cards face-down. Score points equal to your rank, plus 1 point per face-down card. Player with fewest points wins.

It's easy to learn and interesting tactics emerge within a few turns.

Tichu supposedly a folk game from China translated and popularized in Europe sometime between 1970 and 1990. If that all sounds a bit murky, it's because tracking down the lineage of Tichu is a bit difficult. BGG lists Urs Hostettler as the designer, yet all marketing materials for the game say it's played by millions of people in China. According to this thread, it's based on actual popular "climbing game" genre which include games like Mao, Zhen Shangyou, and Big Two. The Westernized version combines elements of the whole genre into a single game.

Regardless of its origins, the game is played thusly: In a standard four-player game, facing players are partners trying to get the best score together. On your turn, you play a single card, pair of identical ranks, three pairs, trio of identical ranks, full house (trio+pair), or five or more cards with a consecutive sequence of ranks. Thereafter, each player may play that same type of set, beating the value of the previously played set; or may pass instead. The game ends when one team has run out of cards or if only one player is left with cards. Score points for specific cards.

Fairly straightforward, right? But there are several idiosyncratic elements, including several special cards with unique values, triggering their own multi-step orders of operations. There are also special sets called "bombs" which will beat any trick, regardless of the current set of the trick. And there are also special bets called "Grand Tichu" and "Tichu" which are their own thing.

I've tried to learn Tichu several times, several ways, but it's only after playing four times in-person at a special teaching event that I almost got it. This got me thinking about the differences between folk games and designer games.

Folk Games
...are like driftwood. They're refined by natural forces of nature over time to become unique, lovely objects of beauty.
  • Usually passed on via oral tradition, thus no single designer credit except the occasional historical anomaly in which one person popularizes the game to mass audiences.
  • Usually very old, though with some unique exceptions in recent history.
  • That combination of age and oral tradition means there are usually numerous localized variations with small tweaks to the basic game, though at times giving the game a totally different name.
  • Generally free or very cheap, playable with ubiquitous components like dice, cards, or a ball (in the case of sports).

Designer Games
...are like gems. They're deliberately crafted by one person or a small collective. Just as beautiful, but by design.
  • Usually passed on by commercial products, in a box or book, sold in a store. These days, often also taught via video tutorials.
  • Usually very new, most having only been designed in the past 100 years. (This also contributes to our ability to identify a single designer in the first place.)
  • Though there may still very well be house rules for a designer game, there is still technically one authoritative arbiter of the game, be it the publisher or the designer.

I'm curious about your thoughts about the difference between designer games and folk games!

Scoundrels of Skullport and the Tragedy of the Commons

Rainforest Flower

The new Scoundrels of Skullport expansion for Lords of Waterdeep has a fascinating resource management mechanic that I'd love to explore a bit further.

The basic game of Lords of Waterdeep is a standard worker placement game: Place a dude on a space, get whatever resource that space says you get. In Skullport, there are spaces from which you get far more resources than you do from the basic spaces, but you must also take a corruption counter in doing so. There are a finite number of corruption counters, placed along a track shown below.

When one space on the track is emptied, that is the new penalty you will incur for each corruption counter you have in your possession by the end of the game. In the example above, each corruption counter is worth -8 points at the end of the game.

There are other action cards which allow you to return a corruption counter to the track and some "good deed" quests allow you to return up to three counters. So really, the game isn't about just avoiding corruption, it's about taking corruption early and then trying to find ways to absolve yourself. Very scoundrel.

In short, this is a Tragedy of the Commons. That's a scenario where a group shares a communal resource, but acting as "rational" individuals pursuing their own well-being, those in the group deplete that communal resource, even if they realize that the resource's depletion will ultimately harm the long-term welfare of the group as a whole. (Whoa, that's a long sentence.)

And that, in turn, got me thinking about Dr. Remedy Grove. I've had two posts so far, but the gist is that it's a resource acquisition game where the resources can become extinct if they're over-used. The theme is that you are a village doctor trying to cure people with by combining particular plants and herbs. In exchange, the villagers will lend you their services, which in turn makes your job a bit easier.

So, imagine a game where all the resource acquisition was done through a Skullport-style corruption track.

These three tracks each represent a different plant. On your turn, you may take all the cubes from one circle in the lowest space of the board. Then you may spend cubes to cure one of your patients. To end your turn, place cube of your choice in your possession back onto the track. (There would be other actions available, like getting patients in the first place, but for now I'm focusing on the resource economy.)

As soon as all three circles in a space are depleted, the penalty for owning each of that resource at the end of the game grows much more severe. On the other hand, you get much greater quantities of that resource. If you recall my previous blog post about triangular numbers, you'll notice that the quantities rise at a linear rate but the penalty rises at a triangular rate.

I imagine a lot of the engine-building of this game would be curing particular villagers who will allow you to sustainably harvest cubes from the track, perhaps taking a certain number instead of a whole set. Or perhaps villagers that allow you to return some cubes to the track instead of simply spending them while curing another patient.

In any case, it's an interesting idea and I'm really eager to see it explored further. Similar themes and mechanics can be found in the Catan: Oil Springs and CO2. Check those out for more ideas.

Tips for Naming Your Game

Name mugs 1, 2, 3, and 4

If you're a game designer, chances are you'll stumble across a word or turn of phrase and think, "Hey, that would make a really cool game!" Heck, that's the whole idea behind Pitch Tag. But there are a few things to ask yourself before you marry yourself to one name in particular.

Is it searchable?
Google your game title plus the words "game," "board game," "card game," and "app." Search Engine Optimization has no legal bearing, but probably has the most practical impact on your day-to-day business as a game designer. You want a title that won't tread on existing identities in the same space. Ideally, a search for your title alone should bring up your game's page, or its Kickstarter page, or its entry on BoardGameGeek. Unique spellings and made-up words are often used to maximize SEO, but there is a risk...

Is it easy to say and spell?
Granted, this is relative to your language, but a lot of business happens on very, very noisy show floors at game conventions. Having a name that is easily enunciated over the roar of the show floor is a real benefit. Generally, you can make a portmanteau, or you can just use a unique phrasing of words. If you go with a portmanteau, make the spelling as intuitive as possible: "SmashUp" and "Zombicide" are good examples. For a unique phrase, try to find two words that normally wouldn't be connected in the same sentence, as this will help with your SEO and stand out in the market: "King of Tokyo" is a nice example, as is "Spirit of the Century."

Is it unique?
In the case of wholly made-up words like "Kaijudo" and "Numenera," the advantage is that there is a very clean slate to work from in terms of marketing, but that also means you need a powerful marketing engine to raise the awareness of that name's pronunciation and spelling. I'd generally advise against making up a whole new word if you're just starting out. Getting people to know about your game is going to be hard enough as it is. Case in point: Rocco Privetera's "Ninja Dice" was once called "Dorobo," Japanese for burglar. Ninja Dice is a way easier name to remember and more clearly communicates the theme to a potential buyer.

Is it copyrighted?
If you're in the U.S., copyright law does not protect your game's name title. Copyright only protects the specific expression in your chosen form. The expression generally means how your connected materials look, including colors, type, art, and overall "trade dress" that marks your product as a unique entity in the marketplace. That may be subject to copyright, usually under the terms of a literary work. Copyright is much more loosey-goosey to establish and enforce. For more details, see the US Copyright website.

Is it trademarked or already in use?
The real deal IP enforcers prefer trademark, which is a very different arena and much more restrictive. Do a quick search of BoardGameGeek and the Trademark database. Though as noted above, names can't be copyrighted, phrases and names can be trademarked. The strength of that trademark depends on how much the owner defends it, but it's often just plain easier to choose a fresh name that doesn't have any pre-existing associations.

And to be honest, your publisher can worry about most of this. They'll provide the expert counsel on marketability, legal standing, and general coolness of a name. You just focus on making the best game you possibly can.

Theme first or mechanics first? It doesn't matter.


Game designers often get asked whether they start with theme or mechanics, but I'm never quite sure what the questioner is hoping to glean about the process of game design. It seems to assume a binary, decoupled state of gameplay. It even seems to be the definitive divide in Euro/American game design. (We can address our very weird tendency to ascribe game design to either America and Europe another time, but that's worth discussing too.)

The truth is, if your game is working as it should, no one should be able tell whether you thought of the theme or the mechanics first.

If you focus too much on theme, the mechanics might be burdened with too much simulationist cruft. The game is inaccessible to all but the tiny demographic who really cares about how accurately you represented that theme. In my case, if I begin with a theme, I also spend a long time in development.

If you focus too much on mechanics, they might be too abstract. Your game might have a lot of depth, but that is only worthwhile if players can see that depth. A theme can help create the metaphors and allegories that make the strategy and tactics much more accessible.

So here's my ideal process, call it a sandwich. It's not right for everybody, and it might not even be right for me in a few years, but for now it's been the most efficient method for me to design fast and iterate rapidly.

1. Find an interesting interaction between people.
Haggling for a deal? Coming to an agreement? Divvying up resources? Bluffing? Getting rid of stuff while avoiding getting new stuff, or vice versa? There is usually a mechanical element implied in this interaction, often a slight twist on an existing mechanic from an existing game.

For example, I thought it would be interesting if players were forced to divvy up a supply of resources into different play spaces, those spaces would then score in different ways and reveal a little bit of information to other players about their long-term goals. You've seen this sort of gameplay in several games, including Guildhall and Biblios.

2. Find a theme that fits the interaction.
You often hear gamers complain about games whose theme feels "tacked on." As if the whole game had been designed and developed with no thematic input at all. To avoid this pitfall, I try to bring in the theme very early on into the design process.

For example, in order to score points, you have to reveal some cards and have matching cards hidden in your hand. Thus, players could see what you may be trying to score, but couldn't be absolutely sure. I saw the interaction between players as being sort of "coy." I couldn't resist the pun of "koi pond," so I pursued that theme.

3. Let the theme suggest secondary mechanics.
So at this point you might say I start with mechanics, and to some extent that is true. It would be more accurate to say I start with a mechanic, singular. But I go no further until I've found the right theme to fit that mechanic, then I filter any further development through that theme.

For example, I decided the game would be about koi ponds, in which players collect, display or release koi fish. What other elements of koi ponds might be interesting gameplay interactions? Perhaps a competition for visitors? Best decor? How about fish breeding? How about the pests that can be a nuisance to a koi pond? From all these questions came the secondary mechanics of Koi Pond: You deploy turtles, cranes and housecats in order to score points from your opponent's collections. You release koi to the river in order to win ribbons. Those river koi eventually flow into a central lake accessible to all players.

Okay, sure, you can call me a mechanics-first designer, but I'm also a mechanics-last designer. I'm thinking about theme and mechanics all the time, at the same time. My ideal is that both are so integrated with each other that the game just makes too much sense for the theme and mechanics to ever be decoupled. They're just supposed to be that way.

Dung & Dragons as a Trick-Taking Euro Farming Game?

Dung and Dragons Vector Background

While I've been exploring the mechanics of trick-taking games lately, I stumbled across this odd notion of using the trick you win to trigger a cascading series of mechanics that you would normally find in a more formal euro strategy game. Usually about farming. (Looking at Agricola here, mainly.)

What if by winning a trick, you also acquired various resources and quests from that trick? It's worth exploring, if for nothing less than just pure giggles. Naturally, when I start thinking about a farming mechanic, my mind drifts back to a theme that has so far eluded a really solid mechanical framework.

Dung & Dragons is about a group of people raising dragons for their valuable poop. See, dragon poop has lots and lots of gold coins in it. (Smaug was absolutely filthy, by the way.) So these ranchers raise dragons, feed them their favorite foods, and literally rake in profits.

Here's a loose outline of how I think it could combine very fast trick-taking tactics with more strategic Euro-style engine building.

Click the diagram above for a better look at the components, but here's the details:

The game is comprised of a deck of Supply cards, Dragon tiles, and Power-Ups.

Supply cards feature three types of icons: The top icons are the egg clusters, representing how soon an egg will hatch. The middle icons are a type of dragon, which will determine which dragon emerges from the egg. And the bottom icons are food bundles you can use to feed other dragons.

Each Dragon tile features a unique dragon you can raise for their poop. Dragons come in three types and three hybrids. Dragon tiles are arranged in their own stacks in descending order, with the #1 card on top.

Power-ups are special equipment, like laxatives. Because poop.

Each player has a hand of supply cards.

Taking turns, each player discards a supply card into one of three piles in play at any time. Whoever causes the total egg clusters in a pile to reach 7 or higher takes the pile.

Whatever has the majority of middle icons in the pile determines your dragon. You may take your dragon from the top of a Hatchery stack or from another player. You may only take a dragon from another player if you have more of the requisite icon than your opponent had to claim that dragon in the first place.

You can feed dragons you already own with the food icons shown on supply cards. Divide them up to your dragons as you wish. Each dragon has a different diet, preferring their own favorite food. The conversion rate for various amounts of food to 1, 2, 3, or 4 poops is shown at the bottom of the card.

For example, Earth Dragon #1 requires 4 grain to make the first poop, 8 to make the second poop, 10 to make the third, and 12 to make the fourth. Different types of dragons get better conversion rates depending on whether they’re hatched later or earlier.

Each poop is a victory point or may be converted to gold. The gold value of each dragon’s poop is shown on its card. Gold can be used to buy laxatives, buy extra food, buy a dragon from an opponent, and other stuff.

When you buy a power-up, you apply it to a dragon of your choice. These are just a loose smattering if ideas so far.
  • Laxatives: Lowers the required food per poop by 1. So a 4/8/10/12 would then be a 3/7/9/12.
  • Treats: Counts as any type of food, but each type of treat can only be used once per dragon. (They like variety.)
  • Coop: Raises the cost of anyone else buying this dragon from you.
  • Moon Statue, Sun Statue, Earth Statue: Counts towards the middle-icon total so you have more control over which types of dragons you hatch.
  • Moon Prize, Sun Prize, Earth Prize: Grants bonus points for each of this type of dragon you have at the end of the game.
  • Scooper: Raises the gold value of each poop from this dragon.
And that's it so far! Kind of a weird idea, but it might work. It's just a lot of balancing to figure out between the various economies and conversion rates.

The Pie Rule is Delicious

French Cranberry-Apple Pie Recipe

Many thanks to @BreadPuncher for pointing me towards this very cool idea from the classic era of board games. The Pie Rule is a method of balancing the first-player advantage present in many abstract games. It goes something like this:

If I'm the first player, I take my first turn. Then you, as the second player, have the choice of one of two actions:

  • You can let my turn stand, in which case the rest of the game proceeds according to normal turn order. OR...
  • You switch positions with me, so that whatever I did in that first turn is now what you did. That makes me the new "second" player, then I must take my new "first" turn.

The idea is that if one player gets to divide pie, the other player is the arbiter of whether the pie is divided fairly. If not, the arbiter can just take that slice instead. Knowing this, the cutter will try to keep her slice within the bounds as fair as she can.

So, can this actually be used more deeply as the central philosophy of a board game? I think I've seen this in a few games so far:

  • Dragon Valley asks you to draw a hand of beneficial cards, then divide them up into two separate offers for your opponent. Your opponent will accept one of the two offers, leaving the remainder for you to keep. So, you're compelled to try to keep the offers as balanced as possible, so you both at least get something you both want.
  • Tokaido features a linear track on which players move forward as many spaces as they like on their turn. The twist: Whoever is in the lead cannot move any further. So, sure, you can jump ahead to get first dibs on something up the road, but you're gonna be stuck there for a long time while everyone else calmly gathers all stuff you skipped over.
  • Coup lets players take whatever action they like in the game. However, another player may ask you to prove you have a card that allows you to take that action. If you don't, then you take a very severe penalty which eventually leads to your elimination. So, you don't want to be too greedy and you don't want to be dishonest... Until you do.
  • Settlers of Catan, Bohnanza, Pit and any other active trading game where players look to make mutually beneficial exchanges. I think this is sort of a tangential example though.

And actually, I think that's it. I'd be curious to see another game use this core mechanic more directly. Would it lead to a lot of kingmaking? In a multiplayer game, would each action be subject to committee approval? That might get a bit mad, but I'd still be curious!

Trickster: A Reverse-Drafting Game? [Prototype A]

Miscellaneous Playing Cards

I like to design games from a deck of playing cards. They're a tried-and-true set of predictable probabilities with well-studied values for various combinations. Why ignore that deep body of knowledge? I figure if the game is nascent enough, it can't hurt to start from a well-established core and develop from there. So, without further ado, Trickster Prototype A, playable with a standard deck of playing cards.

The tricksters of ancient lore are meeting for a legendary competition of guile and deceit.

Designer's Blah Blah Blah
This game is designed as an experiment in "reverse drafting." It's basically the opposite of a game like 7 Wonders or Sushi Go, where players pass around hands of cards, collecting one from the hand at a time. Instead, players in this game are discarding cards to their hands, then passing hands to the next player. This allows for a simultaneous trick-taking game wherein only one trick is visible to each player at a time. The rules of "evasion-type" trick-taking games are otherwise pretty standard, with players trying to have the lowest score at the end of the game.

The goal is to have the lowest score after a series of rounds, one round per player. You score points by being forced to collect cards discarded by the other players, one point per card, with face cards counting as two, three or four points for jack, queen or king. You can shoot the moon, if you collect the most cards of a suit, thereby negating points scored by a particular suit.

  1. Remove jokers from the game.
  2. Deal a complete deck of cards evenly to each player face-up.
  3. If there are any extra cards, remove them from the game.
  4. Organize your cards in an orderly tableau in front of you.

How to Play
Each of the following steps is done by all players simultaneously.
  1. Each player will hold her left hand over her tableau.
  2. On a count of "3, 2, 1," each player will put her left hand down on a card of her choice.
  3. Each player will take her chosen card and add to her right hand.
  4. Each player passes her hand of cards to the player on her right.

Thereafter... You must follow suit. In other words, when you choose a card to add to your hand, it must be the same suit as the cards already in that hand.

Collecting Cards
There are two conditions in which you would be forced to collect cards.
  • If you cannot add a card to your hand because you cannot follow suit.
  • If you cause your hand to exceed a sum of ranks greater than 13. (Face cards do not count towards this sum.)
If any of these situations apply, you must first put the current hand face-down into your secret collection. Then use your chosen card to start a new hand.

End of Round
The round ends when all players have used their last card in their tableau. Players collect whatever cards they have left in their hand and tally their scores.

Score 1 point for each basic card in your collection. Score 2 points for each Jack, 3 for each Queen, 4 for each Queen.

Shoot the Moon: If you collected the most cards of a suit, you can ignore any points earned from that suit this round.

End of Game
When you have played one round per player, the game is over. The player with the lowest total score from all rounds wins!
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.