Do: Fate of the Flying Temple playtest on G+ Hangouts!

Mark Diaz Truman has been designing the Fate Accelerated version of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple we're calling Do: Fate of the Flying Temple. This is a much more accessible RPG format for tabletop gamers, built on the very popular Accelerated version of the Fate Core engine. Mark was kind enough to host a playtest on Indie+ for some Do fans!

The storyline in this game is set some time after a pilgrimage, when the pilgrims return to the temple to find it has disappeared! In its place is a single dragon egg that is just about to hatch. It's up to the pilgrims to find out what happened to the temple, how their impressionable baby dragon is involved, all while still helping people and getting into trouble.

Here are the pilgrims:

Pilgrim Festive Blanket (Aaron)
   Avatar: Welcoming and open
   Banner: You gotta fight for your right to par-tay!
   Dragon: Helpful instincts
    Good (+3): Flashy
    Fair (+2): Forceful, Clever
    Average (+1): Careful, Quick
    Mediocre (+0): Sneaky
    Party Guy -- +2 to Quickly Overcome when trying to find people.
Fate Points: 2
Stress: [ ] [ ] [x]

Pilgrim Leaden Chain (Paul)
   Avatar: “That’s Three Times You Promised”
   Banner: Inertia of Thought
   Dragon: Being of Elemental Fire
    Good (+3): Careful
    Fair (+2): Forceful, Sneaky
    Average (+1): Clever, Flashy
    Mediocre (+0):  Quick
    Methodical Planning -- I get +2 to Carefully create an advantage when I have time to notice all the small details.
Fate Points: 1
Stress: [x] [x] [ ]

Pilgrim Feisty Dragon (Todd)
   Avatar: A scrappy ex-fighter that jumps to into danger to save others.
   Banner: Always ready to go and seldoms looks before he leaps.
   Dragon: Telepathic Link
    Good (+3): Forceful
    Fair (+2): Flashy, Quick
    Average (+1):  Careful, Clever
    Mediocre (+0): Sneaky
Fate Points: 2

Our Aspects
Temple Aspect: The Flying Temple is Missing!
Letter Aspect: Juku and Ishita Are Going to Collide
Scene Aspects:
  Swirling Field of Debris [x]
  Nearby Planets [x]
  Beautiful, Scaled Egg [x]
  The Egg Unwritten [x] [x]
  We’re Going to Be Okay [x]
  Corridor of Debris B[x]
  It’s Just a Cloak [x]

How to play Nine Lives Card Game [Video Tutorial]

If you've been wondering how to play Nine Lives Card Game, watch this tutorial video just for you! It goes over the basics of set up, bidding, trading, and scoring, along with some tips towards the end to optimize your score. (Watch out for those scratches!)

Buy Nine Lives Card Game on DriveThruCards

Review it on BoardGameGeek

(Music: Ehma - Pizzicato)

What's in the lab for Koi Pond?

Duke Gardens 2013 Heyo! While things are super busy over here, I thought you'd like to see the card list for Koi Pond: Moon Village, what's shaping up to be a very big expansion for the game.

  • 4-Koi (2 each in Red, Yellow, Blue or White): These cards count as four koi in their color.
  • 5-Koi (2 each in Red, Yellow, Blue or White): This cards count as five koi in their color.
  • Rainbow Koi (4): These koi count as one of any color.
  • Apprentice (4): Play into your pond, score 1 pt for each 1-koi your opponent has in their pond.
  • Monk (4): Play into your pond, score 1 pt for each 2-koi your opponent has in their pond.
  • Abbot (4): Play into your pond, score 1 pt for each 1-koi your opponent has in their pond.
  • Shrine (1 each in Red, Yellow, Blue or White): Place in House, River or Pond to double the number of koi of that color in that space.

Given the spiritual nature of these characters, I might need to call this expansion Moon Temple. We'll see. I feel weird having two "temple" games in my catalog.

You might recall I once tinkered with adding a fifth suit to the game, but I found it too cumbersome to make backwards-compatible with the rest of the game. Instead, I'll list that as a separate product, which is as yet unnamed. These may include:

  • All colors of the fifth suit, including the 4s and 5s noted above.
  • New hybrids and shrines that include the fifth suit.
  • Pairs: Cards that count as two different suits (as opposed to hybrids that count as only either).

Some mini-expansions I've been thinking about as small bundles:

  • Thieves: Upon revealing a thief in your pond, you may take one card from an opponent's pond or river and place it in your pond or river. Each thief in your pond gives you an increasing penalty, though. (-1, -3, -6, -9, 15)
  • Villagers: Each villager has a particular desire to see certain koi and will award you points if you meet their demand. For example, "4 points if you have three red koi in your pond." Keep villagers in your pond from until the end of the game, even after scoring. So they may score multiple times
  • Ribbons: There are tons of new ribbons that could be added to the game. I've talked about them here, but I'll list them again for convenience.
    • Win a round scoring koi in all four suits.
    • Win a round without using a cat, crane or turtle.
    •  Win a round scoring koi of only one suit.
    •  Win a round scoring only scoring with a cat, crane or turtle.
    •  Win a round with the most Koi of X suit in your house.
    •  Win a round without drawing cards from the lake.

And so forth. Lots to do!

Nine Lives is Alive!


I'm very happy to announce that Nine Lives Card Game is now available on DriveThruCards. This is a very fun trading and bidding game for up to 5 players, aged 8 and up. Each player is trying to rescue as many cats as possible, especially those of a rare breed, all while also trying to be the least scratched player at the end of the game. Look for a video tutorial in coming days, but it's super easy to learn.

Production Update on Belle of the Ball

Hello, ladies and gentlemen! Apologies if it's seemed quiet on the Belle of the Ball front these days. These are the quiet months between funding and actual manufacture where there's really not much news to share. But there is one milestone coming up that you'll be happy to hear:

After about a month's worth of final polishing for the county powers, I'm prepping the very final production files for the game! That means final card designs, final rulebook layout, final final final. Yep, it's a fun and exciting time where we have to double-check everything twice over, just to make sure no typos sneak in under our radar, like the mention of "bribes" in those early county cards.

Once the files are ready, it'll still be some months for the game to be proofed, printed, packed, shipped on the slow boat from China, go through customs, get to warehouses, then finally distribution to your doorstep. We all appreciate your patience and support! Thank you!

Organic Sumi-e Tree Themed Card Placement Game

Elm Tree Illustration

I've always liked the idea of wabi-sabi in card game design, but never had the guts to actually release a game that was that organic. After the positive response to the faux sumi-e art in Koi Pond, I knew I'd have to do it again in a new game and this seemed a nice pairing of aesthetic and design goals. So I got to tinkering with some loose ideas.

Mainly orbiting around the idea of a card-laying game in the spirit of Carcassonne, but not strictly limited to a hard grid. You've seen a similar mechanic in James Ernest's Agora/Camden, but I'm not sure if it's been used much elsewhere. So I made a quick prototype.

Each card shows a branch of a tree. The final art will show the branch entering the card from one edge, splitting and terminating into two, three or four smaller branches that do not extend off the edge of the card. The end that goes off the edge indicates the point of origin, which may have one, two, or three dots to indicate the weight of the limb.

On each card are also flowers, leaves, dragonflies, pollen and cherries. At least for now, these were just the first things I thought of and were easy to distinguish as icons.

Lastly, cards are double-sided because I just wanted to get as much variability out of the deck as I could.

Each player starts the game with one card face up in front of herself, indicating her tree. Each player also begins with one card in her hand.

On your turn, you may play a card onto any player's tree, extending an existing branch. In doing so, note the connected cards all the way down to the trunk of the tree. If these cards have matching features, score 1 pt per match. Then draw another card to end your turn.

If you placed a card that causes this limb to have more than three dots, remove cards going down the limb until the third dot is removed. If this causes other cards to be separated from the tree, they are removed as well.

At the end of the game, the player with the largest tree (most cards) gets 1 pt per card in her tree.

I'm trying to think of a title for this game. I was hoping for "tree" in Japanese, but it's too close to "Tsuro." Perhaps Sakura (Cherry Blossom)?

My Game Design To-Do List: Set sail or get off the dock.

It's a crazy-busy time here in the lab. Aside from the stack of freelance projects on my plate, a number of game-related projects are building up and I'm having some trouble prioritizing. Here's a list of what I have so far:
  • Nine Lives: (Due this month) Done, just waiting for proofs to arrive so I can review and approve, then it will be ready to sell.
  • Koi Pond: Moon Village: (Due December) The first proper expansion for Koi Pond will include several new cards that I'd like to get a give a few more rounds of playtesting. I must also do the art for those cards, which is a bit time-consuming in itself.
Beyond that, I have a variety of options and obligations. I would like to keep releasing card games through 2014 but I have two other things on my mind.

First is UnPub4 in January, for which I've not yet declared which games I will be testing yet. Ideally they'll be games that I can have ready for sale around March, either to pitch to publishers or have for sale on DriveThruCards. At the same time, Dice Hate Me will be running a contest to design 54-card games!

So I'm trying to decide which two games I will test at UnPub4, which games will be ready for DriveThruCards on January-March, and which game I will submit to the 54-card contest. My options are as follows:
  • Train Town: Despite not winning the Korean board game contest, I think it has potential. It needs new art, which I'll probably have to do myself. Again, the art is the time-consuming part of it and still depends on if/how I retheme the game. In theory, I could have it ready for sale in January or February.
  • Expedition: The loose game idea I posted earlier this week was well-received when I proposed it to Dice Hate Me, so I'm inclined to pursue it for further development for that contest. For the time being, I'm using a loose scifi theme about colonizing an alien water planet. It's rapidly spinning out to being too complex, so I might just keep it simple for now and add further secondary mechanics later.
  • Cheeky Panda: Inspired by Dead Man's Draw, I tested this game on Monday and it was quickly honed down into a light, take-that, interactive game of theft and trading. It needs art, but the quick pace makes me think it's a good candidate for UnPub4. In my experience, I get the best feedback out of a playtest event when I can iterate rapidly.
  • Trickster: This one is still very nascent, but will probably be the easiest to prototype. It's built on a trick-taking mechanic, with a mythical trickster theme. When you play your cards into the trick, you play two at a time. One face-up, one face-down. You're never quite sure if you actually want to win the trick.
  • Misspelled: I haven't talked about this much, but it's a retheme of Stupor Market, my old word-based party game. Players are young wizards learning how to pronounce the words of a spell. My solution to Stupor Market's problem of needing a dry-erase board? Card drafting, each card has a silly-sounding syllable.
  • Monsoon Market: Speaking of drafting games, MM has been in my lab for way too long at this point. Again, art is the biggest delay and I also need to tweak some of the auction mechanics. But geez, I was talking about this game after the last UnPub event. Time to set sail or get off the dock.
Okay, talking this through makes things a little clearer:

UnPub 4: I should focus on games that are harder to self-produce, since I'd likely need a publisher's support to get art done at the very least. A kid-friendly game also helps, since the event is held at a school. That means Monsoon Market, Train Town, or Cheeky Panda, most likely

DriveThruCards: I should focus on games I can produce myself and are relatively simple to develop, which will likely be Cheeky Panda, Trickster, or Misspelled.

54-Card Contest: The time crunch means I gotta keep things simple. Retheme some cards for Expedition, maybe add some player powers, but otherwise keep the core mechanic as a focus.

Carcassonne: Roadbuilders

Roadbuilders is a small variant on Carcassonne playable with the basic set or any of the expansions. It makes completing roads worth points even if you do not have a meeple on the road. Use this for some added flexibility when you're out of meeples and need to sneak in just a few extra points.

Whenever you place a tile that completes a road, look for any tiles on that road that also have city segments on them. For each pennant on those cities, score 2 points. You can score these points even if those cities are not yet complete.

In the example above, the road highlighted in blue is adjacent to two cities bearing pennants. All totaled, there are four pennants on those cities, so the player who completes that road would score 8 points.

Also in the example above, the road highlighted in orange is adjacent to two cities with a total of three pennants, whoever completes that road scores 6 points.

I have a new portfolio site!

Hey folks! I have a new site specifically to showcase my graphic design and book layout. It's I've been sending out applications to a few freelance projects that have risen in recent weeks and figured it was about time to get all this stuff in one place. Holy cow, it's weird seeing my old ad projects mixed with my gaming stuff. I'll be adding more work in coming days, but for now it's feeling pretty dang comprehensive.

Expedition-Themed Price-Drafting Card Game

Everest and Lhotse, from Pang La

Dice Hate Me games will soon be launching a contest for 54-card games. The winner will be published in a collection of 54-card games later next year.

At the moment, I'm pursuing an expedition-themed price-drafting card game for my submission. Players are explorers in some hostile environment that gets exponentially harder and more rewarding the farther you go. Think the South Pole, Mt. Everest, the Mariana Trench, the Moon, that sort of thing.

So first, everyone begins with 10 points. (Consider these dollars, if you prefer.) To start your turn, reveal cards from the top of the deck until all three suits appear or five cards appear. Each suit represents different pieces of equipment needed on the journey.

Next, set your own price for that bundle of equipment, for example "This bundle costs 4 points." Then each subsequent player has an opportunity to buy that bundle for that price, paying you those points. If it comes back to you, then you must pay the points to the bank.

Set that bundle beside your ongoing tableau, but do not merge them together yet. This represents you still asking donors to help fund your excursion. (If this was a mountaineering theme, I'd set up the tableau vertically as shown below.)

Instead of buying/selling a bundle, you may instead LAUNCH your expedition with whatever gear you have ready. In doing so, you must add cards to the tableau in the following manner:
  1. Add one card to the first level.
  2. Add one card to the first level, then second level.
  3. Add one card to the first level, then second level, then third level.
  4. Add one card to the first level, then second level, then third level, then fourth level.
And so on, continuing to add cards in this manner until you have used all cards in your bundle. Then you score points!

Look for matching suits and/or ranks in a level and score 1 point per matching suit, multiplied by its level. So a pair at first level earns 2 points, a pair at second level earns 4 points, a pair at third level earns 6 points, and so on.

After launching an expedition, your bundle of equipment is empty and you must solicit funding from other donors once again.

Continue playing until the deck runs out. Whoever has the most points wins!

Pre-Order the Firefly RPG!

Hello, browncoats! The Firefly RPG is now available for pre-order. Here are the deets straight from MWP:

FIREFLY puts you right in the middle of the action of the wildly popular television series, outrunning Alliance cruisers and trading bullets with fearsome bounty hunters, folk who want what you have or want to put out the light of hope that you represent. This game uses a freewheelin’ version of the award-winning Cortex Plus System to bring the ‘Verse to life at your table or online, including extensive rules and guidelines for creating a crew and resolving dramatic action. Also included are ship plans, system charts, an episode guide and more.

Writers: Monica Valentinelli, Mark Diaz Truman, Brendan Conway, Jack Norris and Dean Gilbert
Additional Contributions: Margaret Weis, Rob Weiland, PK Sullivan, Dave Chalker, Cam Banks, Phil Menard and Tony Lee
Developers: Monica Valentinelli and Mark Diaz Truman
Editors: Amanda Valentine, Sally Christensen and Alex Perry
Art: Crystal Ben, Kurt Komoda, Marie Bergeron, James Nelson, Christopher West and Ben Mund
Design: Daniel Solis
MWP 7020 - ISBN: 978-1-936685-32-5
Hardcover - Color - 360 Pages

Projected in Stores: February 18, 2014

Order from us or a Preferred Retailers and you receive the PDF for Free - once it's live!
And did you know there are already several brand new quickstart PDF adventures available? Check out the Firefly: Echoes of War line on DriveThruRPG.

SkillShare Update: How to Make a 3x3 Card Sheet in InDesign DataMerge

Let's say you already know how to use InDesign's DataMerge function to create a whole deck of cards from a single spreadsheet. You already know that's way better than making each card one-by-one, but has one obvious drawback if you want to make a print-and-play prototype. It only makes one card per page!

What you want is 3x3 card sheets sized just right for a home printer, plus die cuts to aid in trimming. But you don't want to make a whole document with individually placed flat card images. That would be just silly, considering the trouble you went to make the basic deck as variable and automatic as possible.

You need the Multiple Record option of DataMerge, which duplicates an individual card layout nine times on a standard letter size sheet of paper, while still maintaining your original variable data elements. There are some tricky things to troubleshoot during this process, like accounting for the bleeds you've set up in the original layout that might interfere with the multiple record layout.

I've added a new video to my Card Design SkillShare course that covers this useful took and some little bugs that might pop up in the process. For just $25, you get over two and a half hours of video tutorials covering the basics of card design all the way up to professional production tools. Check it out here:

Design Your Own Print-Ready Cards for Table Top Games

Early Thoughts on Pecos Bill's Tornado Rodeo

Pecos Bill

I'm gradually getting into the groove of designing and developing several card games at once, so long as they're relatively simple mechanics with some interesting endgame scoring mechanisms. At the moment, I've still got this idea for a reverse-drafting game that emulates a tornado in the middle of the table, picking up debris and dropping it onto each player.

At first the idea seemed way too gruesome for my catalog, but I think I can soften it by adding a cartoonish Old West theme centered around the Pecos Bill folktale. Each player is a tornado wrangler, trying to tame tornadoes in the open plains. Collect the cows, pigs, chickens and other farm animals from the tornado, but watch out for cacti, rattlesnakes and scorpions!

Tornado Cards
I'm imagining a deck of cards that feature several cartoony animals tossed about in the whipping winds of a tornado. Along the bottom of each card is a contract, showing a specific combination of animals for which you will earn bonus points at the end of the game.

Each player begins with a tableau of cards in front of them. Everyone takes turns at the same time. On your turn, you may do one of the following:
  • Add one card from the tableau to your hand, then pass it to the right. OR
  • If your hand has at least three cards, collect your current hand of cards and set it face-down in a score pile.
If the player to your left collected cards, you'll start with an empty hand and must do the first action noted above.

Endgame and Scoring
The game ends when one player's tableau is empty. Scores are based on the following:
  • Majority of Cows: X per cow
  • Majority of Pigs: Y per pig
  • Majority of Chickens: Z per chicken
  • Fewest Scorpions: Y per scorpion
  • Fewest Cacti: Z per Cactus
Also score bonus points for any contracts in your score pile that are satisfied.

Next Steps
I'll need to find an artist keen on drawing tornado-tossed farm animals. Hm!

Rulebooks in POD Card Games

The tricky thing about publishing through DriveThruCards lately is the absence of a printed rulebook. There are numerous other options, like the link to the rulebook in PDF format on DriveThruCards' site or making it available for download on BGG. This has the advantage of being a "live" set of rules, which can be updated as questions arise.

The average buyer still expects rules with purchase, though. So that means formatting a set of rules that fit on several 2.5" x 3.5" cards, numbered so you can keep them in order while learning the rules. The downside is that once it's in print, it'll be rough PR move to change the deck and explain to previous buyers why their old cards are are faulty.

So, just like in traditional publishing, you gotta look over your rules a lot! Here are the rules for Nine Lives, version 1.0, after extensive review from very industrious Twitter followers. Many thanks to all the people who helped out looking over the rules to make sure it was clear as possible!

Download: 1.9 Meg PDF

As a bit of compromise, I do include a disclaimer on the first page of rules that the rules might be updated later, including a link and QR code to my site. Hopefully this covers all my bases, between a "live" digital document and a static printed document.

Final Tweaks to Nine Lives Card Game


Wahoo! This week's playtests of Nine Lives went very well. I was fortunate to play, tweak, play again, tweak, and play again in rapid succession with several groups of 2-5 players.

I can tell when I'm close to done on a game when ties become a problem. It's much easier to adjust a game that is too tightly balanced. In this case, I removed a few scoring methods from the last iteration so it was just the following:
  • If you have the most cards of a breed, score 1, 3, 5, 9, 15 points for one, two, three, four, or five cards, respectively.
  • If you have the fewest scratches total, score 1 point per scratch in your possession.*
  • Score 1 pt per rare breed in your possession.
The exception was if two players tied for majority of breed or minority of scratches. In those exceptions, neither player would score. This resulted in tied first-place finishers.

Allowing all players to score majority/minority, even if tied, made the victories much more decisive. Odd, but it seemed to prove itself again and again with final scores within 10 points of each other but rarely tying, and never tying for first-place.

Aside from that tweak, I'm going to swap the placements of the numbers and breed/scratch icons. The number and power are only important when the card comes into play, but otherwise you're staggering your cards according to their suit and scratch so it's more important to keep track of that in the long term.

Oh, and I've got a cover card! Look for more soon!

Regime Card Game: Early Thoughts

Since releasing Suspense: the Card Game, I've been considering a loosely expanded idea for another deduction game that works for more players and has more opportunities for interaction and catch-up. I was thinking about the current mini-trend of vaguely geo-political Hunger Games themed games like Resistance and Coup.

So, this is Regime, in which you are trying to influence the secretive Leader, the true political power behind-the-scenes in a shadowy, unstable body politic. Lure constituents into your bloc so you're in the Leader's good graces by the end of the game.

The Deck
The deck is comprised of 30 cards, divided into five factions (suit). Within each faction, three are considered low-rank (no border around the suit), two are considered mid-rank (circle around the suit), and one is considered high-rank (circle and rays around the suit).

Deal 6 cards to each player. (5 cards if playing with six players.) The first player chooses one card from his hand to put face-down in the middle of the table, establishing a Leader that determines the victory condition at the end of the game.

Turns begin with the first player taking first turn. On a turn, play a card from your hand face-up in front of you. When you play a card, you may also use the ability on that card, noted by the diagram on top of the card.
  • Trade 1 card between your hand and your bloc.
  • Trade 1 card between your hand and an opponent's bloc. 
  • Trade 1 card between your bloc and an opponent's bloc.
  • Trade 1 card between your bloc and an opponent's hand (random).
  • Trade 1 card between your bloc and the Leader.
  • Trade 1 card between your hand and the Leader.
The game ends when the 1st player has only one card in hand. (Everyone else has two remaining in hand.) Leader is revealed, then players score.

You score points by having bloc members that match Rank and/or Faction of the Leader. For each bloc member that shares an attribute with the leader, score the stars on that bloc member. If your card is a double-match, it scores twice.

Just like Suspense, it's critical to deduce the "secret card" in the middle of the table in order to score points. You could get lucky and collect a bunch of low-rank bloc members, which is certainly most likely to score, but also scores the least. This makes the game a bit less cut-throat than Suspense, which is very much an all-or-nothing game with a tiny escape valve. Here, deducing the secret card is still important, but you have a bit more leeway since you have two categories in which you may score. You also have plenty of opportunity to manipulate the victory conditions or other players' sets. I'm eager to test this out as a future release in early 2014. We'll see how it turns out!

Crystal Ben's Cover for the Firefly RPG

Yay! I can finally show this to you! This a 3d mockup of the Firefly RPG corebook cover, featuring art by Crystal Ben. Crystal was a total pro during the whole process. Here's the backstory of how this cover came to be.

Trust me, we went through a lot of options in considering the cover image. When we first got started, I looked at all the past licensed comics, posters, merchandise, etc. I found lots of repurposed publicity shots, which didn't give a sense of the action, drama or humor of the series. I also found a lot of montages that tried to cram in all nine cast members, again to the detriment of communicating the spirit of the series.

Thankfully, we had a green light to get original art for the corebook. I thought if we got original art, it ought to depict a new scene that wasn't available from screenshots or 8x10s. I decided we should just focus on a small subset of the main cast who would be most analogous to an "adventuring party:" Zoe, Jayne and Mal.

Crystal sketched a LOT, indeed including a few montage ideas. In the end, we still zeroed in the idea of making an action scene, right at a tense point where a GM would ask "What do you do?" The next step was figuring out how to best compose this action scene while still reading clearly enough for a proper cover. We had one shot to communicate a whole scenario, imply back story, suggest consequence, and, oh yeah, actually help sell the book.

EXT. Pile of stolen Alliance cargo.

MAL, ZOE and JAYNE standing guard while SERENITY arrives for pickup. They're ambushed! It was a setup! The trio has no time to duck for cover, just enough to draw and stand their ground.

We even had a late version of the art with multiple laser sights trained on all three of our heroes. A teeny bit too grim.

If you know my game design ethos against violent themes, you may be surprised I directed a cover with three armed characters. We have variant sketches with fewer guns and a less tense scene. Mal was holding a communicator to call in an air rescue. Ultimately, we deferred to the license, which does have lots of gun stuff. I drew the line at the heroes actually firing though.

Final takeaway: Crystal Ben is amazing and it was a pleasure to collaborate on this project. There's lots more to come!
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.