October Sales Report

Suspense Card Samples

As the year winds down and 2014 approaches, I'll post more regular end-of-month sales reports since I plan to release new product every four weeks or so. (You saw the previous big giant year-to-date sales report, yeah?) This month's new product was Suspense: the Card Game, a spooky product befitting the season, I thought. So how'd October turn out?

10-2013 (to Date)
18x Koi Pond: A Coy Card Game
10x Koi Pond: Four Walls (Promo Card 2)
10x Koi Pond: Four Winds (Promo Card 1)
15x Suspense: the Card Game
$371.07 Retail
$121.60 Royalties

Grand Totals To Date
407 Products Sold
$2,701.22 Retail (I did my math wrong here, sorry, it's $2204.03)
$587.13 Royalties Earned* ($488.05)

Product Performance
Koi Pond sales are down to their August/Gen Con levels, which is to be expected. Koi Pond's second-month sales were the highest ever, so I hope Suspense will follow the same performance pattern. Meanwhile, the two Koi Pond promo cards continue to sell as pairs, which might indicate I should bundle these when they're finally done.

Royalty Spike?
The royalties for this month might look like an unusual spike in an end of year bar graph. Indeed sales were good, but also the price for premium card stock dropped in the last two weeks of the month. I hadn't lowered the price of my products, so that meant I got a few cents more profit margin for each product.

I'm realizing the downside of POD for reviews is that it's almost as expensive to send a review copy as it is to just buy a copy myself. In traditional publishing, your cost per unit is much smaller so you can more easily eat the cost in hopes of raising the profile for your game. Not so with POD, where costs are flat rates all the way through. So that being the case, I need to supplement with publicity that I can still control and afford like podcast interviews, continued blog coverage, and maaaaybe some BGG advertising.

Tsuro + Pickup and Deliver Mechanics

I had an odd idea last week and I decided to post some pictures just to think it out loud. Basically, I was imagining a Tsuro-style pathbuilding game in which pawns would pick up goods along their route and deliver them to their final destination tile. There would be no outer border, just a freeform table with lots of room for other tiles.

On your turn, add a tile that extends the path your pawn currently occupies. Above, Orange begins his turn.

Move your pawn along that path until it reaches the end of the path. Along the way, you may gather up to three goods on the intervening tiles, then drop them on your final tile. Above, orange picked up a white, purple and black cube and delivered them to his final tile. You score points for delivering those goods to that location.

Each tile would have its own demand for certain goods, perhaps indexed to the quantity of that good on surrounding tiles? In other words, if there are lots of purples around a tile, it doesn't want much purple.

Symmetry vs. Practicality in Card Games

Tonight I'm testing the first prototype of Nine Lives with significant changes to the deck structure. For background, check out my posts on wabi-sabi card game design vs. symmetrical mandala card game design.

Nine Lives thus far has been a very symmetrical composition featuring nine different cats, each on nine different cards. The cards were sequentially numbered from 1-81, but because of the symmetry, I could organize each cat so it an equal chance of being the highest or lowest card in any random hand. Five out of every nine cards of each cat had 1 to 5 scratch marks on it, in ascending order, capping at the highest sequential number within that cat's sub-set of cards.

In several rounds of playtesting, I made tweaks to the rules but I knew eventually I was going to need to fix some more fundamental problems.
  • For one thing, the deck was unwieldy to shuffle. 81 cards is a feature in any retail game, but the POD market's price tolerance is slim so I gotta find a more efficient size.
  • In terms of gameplay, putting undesirable scratch marks on high cards was an unfortunate choice. Because bids go in ascending order, people who got first bid would inevitably avoid the scratch cards and the poor saps forced to bid with the high card would end up having to collect it.
  • It's hard to count cards with a deck this size, which is itself not necessarily a bad thing in most games. However in this case, I do want players to be able to count cards a bit. A fewer number of cards for each cat would help.

9 Lives Cards9
So I'm making some changes tonight:
  • Cut the deck down to 45 cat cards, with five cards per cat. This makes the cats a little more organic, and certainly makes a small enough deck for publication, but it doesn't divide up well.
  • Ideally, I'd like to make a 60-card deck, since that divides so well for a 2-6 player game, but we'll see how 45 treats us. If I can get reasonable 6-player game from a small deck, I'm all for it.
  • Within each cat's sub-set, set the highest scratches in the middle with progressively fewer scratches the farther out you go.
  • Add powers to only the highest three cards within each cat's subset. (Yes, I'm testing adding powers to the game.) When players bid, any powers on their bids are resolved in descending order, so there would be some incentive to bid high. (Lifting from Libertalia here.)

I'm also designing icons to communicate those powers which are hopefully clear enough. The icons above represent the Alley, the central lane of cards available for collection; the Kennel, an individual player's tableau of cards; the Litterbox, the discard pile; the Hand, well paw.

I'm most iffy on the paw icon, since it breaks the metaphor of the game's theme. That might end up just being a hand in the end, which isn't such a bad thing. It's very possible to stretch a game's metaphor so thin that it no longer serves its role as a play aide.

Right, now I'm rambling. We'll see how tests go!

Card Design Inspiration from Package Design

My game inspiration comes from all sorts of stuff, but most often it comes from stumbling upon a cool image, illustration style, or graphic design. Package design in particular has a lot of similarities to card design. You have to maintain a consistent brand aesthetic across multiple instances, but still create enough diversity within that line to distinguish each individual product.

That's very similar to designing a deck of cards, making sure there are some consistent elements like typography, composition, contrast, art style, etc. But at the same time, each card must be different enough to avoid confusion in actual play. Much like card design, a good package design must double-code to make those differences clear to people with different visual abilities. Can the package/card be distinguished by color-blind buyers/players , for example.

It's all about Iterative Visuals. Start with one baseline, change one or two things, and always only change those one or two things for each iteration. Take a look at some of these packages and imagine what card game you could make featuring these design schemes. Above is one of my favorites: The Newman's Own organic mint line, designed by Terri Gosse and Kelly Pickering.

Designer: Taylor Goad / Source: Lovely Package

Designer: Pearlfisher / Source: Lovely Package

Designer: Caleb Heisey Design / Source: Lovely Package

Designer: One Darnley Road / Source: Lovely Package

Designer: R Design / Source: The Dieline

Designer: Big Fish / Source: The Dieline

Designer: Casey Sullivan / Source: Behance

Designer: Bluemarlin / Source: The Dieline

A Case of Awkward Rules Wording

Happy to report that the this week's playtest of Nine Lives went very well. The new trading and set collection rules are working well, encouraging plenty of decision-making each turn. In the next update, I'm adding some special abilities and I'm stumbling on how to word some of the more complicated ones if they're going to fit neatly onto the cards. They don't necessarily need to fit on the cards, but it would certainly help early learning of the game.

For background on the game's terms, cards in your hand are called your hand (naturally). Cards that are face-up in your possession are called your kennel. Cards in the middle of the table available for capture are called the alley. And the deck is called the deck.

That in itself is a sticky wicket. I could come up with generic terms for kennels and alley, like tableau and pile, but I like integrating thematic terms where they will be the least confusing. I did the same thing with Koi Pond's Pond (tableau), House (hand), Lake (central pile), and River (discard pile). Heck, even the word "deck" fits nicely with that watery theme.

But I'll address that later, for now here are the nine powers I'm trying to word concisely but clearly.

  • Move a card from the alley to your kennel.
  • Move a card from an opponent's kennel to your hand.
  • Discard a card from any kennel.
  • Move a card from your hand to your kennel.
  • Move a card from your kennel to your hand.
  • Move a card from an opponent's kennel to yours. Move two cards from your kennel to theirs.
  • Move a card from an opponent's kennel to yours. Move a card of equal scratches from your kennel to theirs.*
  • Move a card from an opponent's kennel to yours. Move a card of the same cat from your kennel to theirs.*
  • Move a card from an opponent's kennel to yours. Move a card of lower rank from your kennel to theirs.*

The powers with *asterisks are the ones that are too long. And honestly, I'd even consider just changing those powers so they are simpler if it means shorter wording. I posed this problem to Twitter last night and got several suggestions. Here's what I'm considering.

  • Steal: Alley to your kennel
  • Steal: Opponent's kennel to your hand
  • Discard: 1 from any kennel
  • Move: 1 from your hand to your kennel
  • Move: 1 from your kennel to your hand
  • Kennel Swap: Take 1, Give 2 of any card
  • Kennel Swap: Take 1, Give 1 of same scratches
  • Kennel Swap: Take 1, Give 1 of same cat
  • Kennel Swap: Take 1, Give 1 of lower rank

Seeing the powers written up so concisely, I can see how there are some odd outliers. There are four kennel swap powers, but only one Discard power. I might be a little neurotic, but I almost want to try making three Steal powers, three Swap powers, and either three Discard powers or three Move powers. I may explore that later.

Still happy to take suggestions, but this seems like it'll be one of those times when it may just be easier to show these powers as diagrammatic icons with very short gamey phrases.

Watch: How to Run a Small Gaming Business

Here's a video from the panel on running a small gaming business, either as a publisher, designer, or even on the retail frontline, in board games, RPGs and even a little bit into other merchandising. We assembled an Avengers-like panel to discuss their origin stories, how they grew their businesses in incremental steps, and the nature of entrepreneurship in such a small industry. It's a really good panel, folks. Highly recommended.

Suspense: the Card Game, for sale on DriveThruCards!

Hooray! I'm very happy to announce SUSPENSE: The Card Game is for sale on DriveThruCards! It's a tiny game for big brains, full of fast deduction and bluffing. You'll be shocked at how much fun you can get from just thirteen cards.

There is a secret victory condition each round. Sometimes you want the lowest number in play, sometimes you want the highest number in hand... there are thirteen unique victory conditions in total, but only one is the actual condition for a round.

Fortunately, you have some clues in your hand to help your process of elimination. Because one unique condition is noted on each card, you can look at your own hand to deduce what the condition is not. Your goal is to figure out the victory condition and also trying to meet it.

There is a twist: If you're the dealer, you know the secret victory condition! Don't get too cocky, the other players will closely watch your choices for clues! Then again, you could try throwing false leads to get the other players on the wrong trail. You'll have to be really clever to keep everyone in... SUSPENSE!

Watch the video tutorial and get the SUSPENSE: The Card Game at DriveThruCards.com!

Italian Cats? Further Notes on Nine Lives Card Game, Influenced by Scopa

Since the most recent post on Nine Lives, I've had a chance to playtest the game about five times with two different groups comprised of around ten players, aged 9 and up. Naturally, I've found some bugs.

  • Scratches: Presently the penalty for scratches is that only the player with the fewest scratches from a specific cat can score for that cat. In other words, once you had a few cards with no scratches, there was no reason to ever risk getting another card if it even had one scratch. If you did, you would risk allowing another player to undercut you by getting just one no-scratch card.
  • Trading: The trading mechanic itself was a little complicated. Eventually I streamlined it to something more simple: You may take one card for free from the alley, or you may take X by trading in X cards from your tableau.
  • Bidding: It was cool that bidding a card added it to the alley. This made bidding a tense decision, knowing that a card might give you better position but also make that card available to someone else. Unfortunately, this had the side effect of allowing a player to collect a card into their tableau that they bid themselves. Next time I playtest, I want to try that as the only source of cards for the alley. This makes the game a completely fixed economy, allowing each player to know just a portion of what cats will be available this round.
  • Scoring: As noted up top, scratches are the problematic part of scoring. Otherwise, scores seemed to be mostly balanced somewhere between 7 and 13 in a three-player game. More players made scores lower. There was only one game where the winner secured a handful of exclusivity bonuses and beat everyone else by around ten points. Hard to say if that was a bug or simply skillful play.

After playtesting for a while, the group decided to pick up a game of Scopa, the traditional Italian card game. None of us had ever played before, so we learned from the rulebook. As I've mentioned about folk games, they're usually full of weird exceptions and local idiosyncracies without much cultural context.

Sure enough, the game tended to drag, scores were awkward to calculate, and we abandoned it after a few rounds. Later, I learned that the game is better as a four-player partnership game, despite the box saying it could play with up to six. I can see how it would be a bit faster with a smaller group.

But aside from that, I was stunned with the similarities between Scopa and what I was trying to do with Nine Lives. It had the same basic skeleton: Each player has a hand of cards, must trade with a central lane, collect cards into a tableau, then score based on a variety of set collection mechanics.

So, I'm going to test a few things I learned from Scopa in my next playtest of Nine Lives.
  • Trading: You may take one card for free from the alley, or you may take X by trading in X cards from your tableau. This remains the same from my last playtest.
  • Setup: Each player begins with a starting tableau of twice number of players in the game, randomly drawn from the deck. The alley begins empty.
Scoring will be revised in the following way. Note that each of these scoring conditions refers to specific cats, meaning that each score could be earned per cat.
  • Exclusivity Score: If you're the only player with a specific cat, score 1 point from that cat.
  • Majority Score: If you have the most cards of a cat, score 1 point from that cat.
  • Safety Score: If you have the fewest scratches from a cat, score 1 point from that cat.
  • Variety Score: If you have the most different cats across your whole tableau, score 1 point for each cat.
  • Reward Score: At the beginning of the game, draw three cards from the deck and set them to the side. They will not be part of any trades. These cats are especially missed by their owners. If you have even one card from a rare cat, score 1 point from that cat. If you have majority of a rare cat, score 1 point from that cat.
And lastly, a few gamers suggested more interactivity in the game, so I'm going to try out some special actions associated with each cat. When bids are revealed, the actions are resolved in ascending order, then bids are resolved in descending order. (Libertalia style.)

9 Lives Cards9
Fluffingsworth triggers allergies.
Each other player must discard a random card from her hand to the alley. Achoo!

9 Lives Cards8
Chirp loves to pounce on tiny things.
Trade one card from your tableau for a card of higher rank from another tableau.

9 Lives Cards7
Admiral knows who is in charge.
Trade one card from your tableau for a card of lower rank from another tableau.

9 Lives Cards6
Dandy loves to share.
Trade one card from your tableau for a card of the same cat from another tableau.

9 Lives Cards5
Neko got into the catnip again.
Each player takes a random card from the hand to her left.

9 Lives Cards4
Boop needs a playmate.
Trade one card from your tableau for a card of equal scratches from another tableau.

9 Lives Cards3
Loaf is still sleeping.
Flip over a face-up card in any tableau so it is now face-down. (These don't score at the end of the game.)

9 Lives Cards2
Shiny knows how to get a treat.
Score 1 point if this is the only Shiny bid this turn.

9 Lives Cards
Tummy sure does love tummy rubs.
Flip over one face-down card from any tableau so it is now face-up.

These actions are a little hard to remember, so I'd probably have to incorporate them into an icon on the card. Again, testing testing testing required.

Hey Daniel, how's business so far?

Koi pond

It's been ten months since I resigned from my full-time job, just about six months since I started selling Koi Pond as a print-on-demand product. As I covered in detail back in July, I still consider Koi Pond an early success. I thought you'd want to see a more focused listing of earnings and sales since this venture launched.

31x Koi Pond: A Coy Card Game
$288.72 Retail
$69.80 Royalties*

28x Koi Pond: A Coy Card Game
$399.19 Retail
$100.83 Royalties

16x Koi Pond: A Coy Card Game 
$234.30 Retail
$58.17 Royalties

42x Koi Pond: A Coy Card Game 
25x Koi Pond: A Coy Card Game (Retail Version)*
80x Koi Pond: Four Walls (Promo Card 2)*
80x Koi Pond: Four Winds (Promo Card 2)*
$896.68 Retail
$162.88 Royalties

18x Koi Pond: A Coy Card Game 
11x Koi Pond: Four Walls (Promo Card 2)
5x Koi Pond: Four Winds (Promo Card 2)
$260.62 Retail
$68.82 Royalties

35x Koi Pond: A Coy Card Game 
6x Koi Pond: Four Walls (Promo Card 2)
5x Koi Pond: Four Winds (Promo Card 2)
$441.36 Retail
$76.58 Royalties

10-2013 (to Date)
11x Koi Pond: A Coy Card Game 
6x Koi Pond: Four Walls (Promo Card 2)
6x Koi Pond: Four Winds (Promo Card 2)
2x Suspense: the Card Game*
$180.35 Retail
$50.05 Royalties

Grand Totals To Date
407 Products Sold
$2,701.22 Retail
$587.13 Royalties Earned*

* Low or no royalties because the orders were placed by DriveThruCards itself or by me for point-of-sale at conventions. This year I've also reinvested some of my royalties into self-orders for reviewers. Reviewers are busy people though. I think my small game tends to fall to the bottom of the list compared to big boxes with big names.

** I started doing a lot more podcast interviews starting around this time, promoting my card design class on SkillShare and the upcoming Belle of the Ball kickstarter.

† I suspect August was slow because of Gen Con. People saved up (or recovered) their funds. Either way, it was the gorilla of the month. Sales would recover well the following month, perhaps driven by a small amount of buzz?

Going Forward
For the time being, I'm sticking to this model. It's a slow start, but I expected as much. It's less than 1% of my earnings for the year, but that's not a surprise.

Fortunately, I'm still freelancing with several ongoing projects. I still offer a card design class on SkillShare that helps cover some household expenses. Belle of the Ball's kickstarter did very well, so it might earn out sooner than expected. Surprisingly, I'm also still earning royalties from Happy Birthday Robot and Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, which may continue once the Do Fate RPG comes out next year.

No single game is going to carry anyone to fame and riches in this business. Well, maybe Munchkin... and Magic... Okay, maybe a rare fraction of a percent can get lightning in a bottle, but that's no way to run a business. My plan is, and remains, to design and develop several prototype card games simultaneously, release them on a regular schedule for POD publication, and over time the overlapping royalties might become substantial enough that I can focus more of my full time on game design.

That's the dream anyway. We'll see where I stand at the end of the year.

Tianxia on Kickstarter, featuring art by Denise Jones!

Just a quick head's up on a new RPG book I've been laying out the past few months. Tianxia is a Fate Core-based RPG in a fantasy wuxia setting. Denise Jones' art is the real highlight of the project to me. Check it out:

That's just the tip of the magical glowing iceberg. There is tons of Denise Jones' art in the book. It's a real pleasure to lay it out in the book. Fortunately, you'll be able to see it yourself because Tianxia funded within 24 hours! So go back it and get your grubby mitts on this gorgeous book!

An Interesting Idea for a Planet-Building Game


I love the Little Prince board game that came out this year. I was curious about the design history behind its elegant drafting and scoring mechanics. Originally, Antoine Bauza conceived the game with several tiny planets per player, rather than building one planet as a whole. He and Bruno Cathala eventually went a different direction, but I was still curious about that theme.

I thought there might be some potential in a game where you still built planets, but a little faster and using Keyflower's orientation-based ownership. Below is a slide presentation outlining my initial thoughts for the cards and gameplay.

Here's an overview of a typical planet card. Each card shows 1/4 of a planet. The elements available on this planet are noted by the color+shape. (Some might be dual-colored.) Some planets may also have an “X” mark to note hazardous features of this planet that make it less than habitable. Collecting these X’s has progressively worse penalties for the owner.

Some additional information might be communicated by the aura around the planet, but for now I’m assuming it’s not relevant.

At the bottom of each card, there are three or four elemental symbols. If this planet card is in your possession at the end of the game, you need these elements in other cards in your collection with these symbols in order to score 1 point.

This is a typical Sun card. Suns allow you to exchange, or “fuse” two elements to create a different element. The fused elements are paid to two different players of the paying players’ choice.

Sun cards are never collected by a single player, but they may be replaced by new sun cards. Sun cards might also allow the player who placed them to use special abilities, noted at the bottom of the card. Anyone else who wants to use this ability must pay the owner a price of her choice (even for free, if you want to form future alliances).

Planets and suns are constructed by placing four cards together in a pinwheel pattern shown here. The “ownership” of each card is shown by the part of the card sticking out towards each player.

Note: Planet cards are designed so that there is only one orientation in which they may be placed to form a whole planet, while suns are oriented the other direction. Their respective art would be different enough to show the difference, but the orientation tweak makes it impossible to mix them together.

This is an overview of the play space. The play space has room for one sun and a number of planets equal to the number of players. A supply of element cards are kept to the side for storing and trading.

During set up, each player drafts one sun card to start the "system." Thus establishing the available elements and special abilities for each round.

On their turn, players draw one card from a face-down deck and play it to a planet of her choice, in any orientation. You could complete a planet even if that final card card is pointed another player.

A planet is complete when it has four cards, as shown here. When a planet is completed, two things happen: First, each other player gets some elements. Second, whoever completed the planet collects the cards comprising that planet.

In the example above, Player 4 just added a fourth card card, thus completing the planet.

Each other player will collect two of the elements noted on her planet card. In other words, Player 1 will get two yellow, Player 2 will get two blue, and Player 3 will get two red. In addition, each player gets one of the other elements on this planet. So, Player 1 will get one pink, red, and blue. Player 2 will get one yellow, pink, and red. Player 3 will get one blue, yellow and pink.

The player who completes the planet doesn’t earn any elements. Instead she collects the planet cards and adds them to her own collection. So Player 4 collects these four cards. She doesn't need to keep them in their planet-shape, though. They just go into her general collection.

Collected planet cards may be spent as elements, but they’re generally more useful for their scoring condition. For example, Player 4 has 1 point already because she gets one red and one yellow as a part of this deal. Any Xs are point penalties. (I haven't decided yet how bad those penalties will be.)

Also, I haven't figured out an endgame or even an end-of-round condition. For the moment, I was just enamored with the visual of players building planets in this way. There would be a lot of work to do to make sure the economies really worked correctly.

Train Town Prototype E made it to finals! (But didn't win.)

Train Town has had a short, odd little history. I sketched it out at the last minute, untested, and submitted a print-and-play PDF to a Korean Board Game contest on a whim. (In the interim, Julian Murdoch got ambitious and even had an Artscow prototype printed up for his own use, as you can see above.) Against all odds, it made it through to finals! I shipped over Prototype E for the final round of judging. Unfortunately, it didn't make the top 3.

Robin Lees also tested Prototype E with his family as a two-player and three-player game. It seems the biggest challenge of the game was analysis paralysis. Even with a restricted 2x2 grid, players would feel compelled to calculate every possible location. Also, including the Action cards as an endgame condition is a problem since it can cut a 3-player game to down to as little as 3 turns per player. And on production note, the background terrain was a little hard to distinguish for the color-blind. On the bright side, scores are still pretty even despite that short play time. Perhaps too close, I tend to make games that are too evenly balanced, so I may need to address that.

I suspect the next steps of development will be simplifying some of the possible route cards and perhaps even retheming the game to make it a bit more sensical. I've been considering a tour theme, sort of like Family Vacation or Tokaido. It will be relatively easy for me to make an abstracted city map background sort of like this, but with more detail and more clear, wide thoroughfares to indicate the routes.

Or if I'm lucky, hire a map artist to hand-draw something:

Either way, I have two options I'm considering for the next steps of development.

Option 1: Fewer Cards
Cut the card deck down to 54 cards by adding action icons to each route card and removing the separate action deck entirely. Now you may play two cards on your turn, one as an action and one as a route. The only reason I'm thinking about this option is because 54 cards is a nice, easily produced quantity.

Option 2: More Cards
The center of each card would still feature a combination of three unique features, but I think I'll add a supply of "Photo" cards for each feature. When you make a "scoring" path, instead of just scoring points, you collect the corresponding photo desired by the tourists at either end of that path. Each photo is worth 1 point, naturally, but having the most of a photo earns you extra bonus points.

What to do... what to do... Boy, I'm getting analysis paralysis just thinking about where to take this game next.

Suspense: The Card Game on DriveThruCards by Halloween!

I'm really trying to get this tiny little deduction bluffing game ready for a late October release on DriveThruCards. In November, I plan to release Nine Lives. In December, Koi Pond: Moon Village. But for now, here's a preview of the spoooOOooooky Suspense cards!

This is the "cover" card on the top of the deck.

The deck will also include rules cards. I was debating whether to include them in the deck, since it slightly reduces my profits and makes the game more vulnerable to errata. In the end, I compromised by also including a link to this site for up-to-date rules and FAQs.
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.