Only Hours Left to Back Zeppelin Attack!

Only a few hours left to back Zeppelin Attack!, the brand new deckbuilding game from Evil Hat Productions, set in the Spirit of the Century universe! I worked with Evil Hat for a loooong time laying out these cards and settling in on a card design that effectively communicated all the necessary information with ease. It's one of the most challenging and rewarding layout jobs I've had yet, and I want you to see the results! So go back it! Right now! GO!

What's that? You want to learn how to play? Fine, here's the tutorial video!


Rise & Ruins of Carcassonne

(UPDATE: So I had a feeling that the idea below was a non-starter, but I never let that shut my mouth before so I figured why not post it anyway. But after several tests, sadly, it's not really all that fun, for reasons noted at the bottom of this post. Fortunately, Isaac James has a pretty neat little Barbarians variant he posted in response to this, check it out here.)

Here's a variant for Carcassonne that doesn't require any meeples, just your tiles from the basic set. The theme is that you're building Carcassonne and then thousands of years later exploring the ruins of the city, hoping to be the discover to expose the ancient cities, roads, cloisters, and farms.

Phase 1: Rise
On your turn, draw a tile from the bag and place it on the play area according to normal rules. This is all you do on your turn. This phase ends when all the tiles have been placed according to normal rules.

Between Phases
Once all the tiles have been placed, note how many completed cities, completed roads, and completed cloisters are on the map. Also note the number of completely surrounded farms on the map. Any open-ended farms along the outer edge do not count. These numbers are bonuses associated with each feature at the end of the game.

Phase 2: Ruins
On your turn, collect a tile from the outer edge of the board. If in doing so you break a completed city, road, cloister, or completely surrounded farm, score that city, road, cloister, or farm according to normal scoring rules. Continue until it would be impossible for every player to have an equal number of tiles in their collection.

  • Whoever has the most road segments earns the road bonus.
  • Whoever has the most city segments earns the city bonus.
  • Whoever has the most cloisters earns the cloister bonus.
  • Whoever has the most field segments earns the farm bonus. 
Given the mutual threat and reward for completed features, I wonder if players will actively avoid making any. It's certainly safer to make a completed feature early in phase 1 so it would take longer to reach in phase 2. Very curious.

Card Design Question for Regime: Color, Letter, ____?

Open graphic design question: What's a good replacement for the shapes on these cards that does not imply value or rank, that also fits well with the color icons and the letters?

Some background: Each card represents someone in the turbulent nation of Regime. You're trying to build a cabinet that will gain the most popular support of the nation. Each card is a unique combination of three suits: Color, Shape, and Letter. There are six possible colors, six possible shapes, and six possible letters.

The colors each have a unique icon to aid color-blind players, but also conveniently works as a thematic detail. Each color represents a political party in Regime.

The letters are the initial of six different titles within those political parties: Crown, Archon, Voice, Exalt, Minister, and Sovereign.

The only suit giving me trouble are the shapes. These used to be numbers, but numbers implied values when they're really just another suit. This confused new players when they're first learning the game. Unfortunately, the shapes also get confusing when paired with the unique icons for each color. They don't naturally imply a thematic trait for the character either.

What would be a good alternative? In particular, an alternative that fits within the quasi-political theme of the game?

Regime: Prototype B

I was fortunate this weekend to sneak in a quick playtest of some new rules I wanted to try out for Regime. As you might recall from last week's post, I worried Regime's central mechanism didn't have enough granularity in scoring and it offered too many choices in early turns without much strategic direction.

I still liked the idea of managing your assets being a separate action from managing the values of those assets. (Biblios does this splendidly, as does For Sale, which is also why I avoided auction mechanisms.)

So here are the revised rules. The big change is that the order in which suit cards are eliminated now matters. These do not require any new cards, but it may help to keep some tokens around to represent Unrest, Calm, and Popularity. You can easily keep track of this with a score sheet though.

Revised Theme
You are trying to secure an alliance with the turbulent nation of Regime. The trouble is that their leadership is constantly being ousted and replaced. Your goal is to ally yourself with the most popular factions and avoid the least popular factions. This becomes more difficult as the game continues, as the most popular leaders in one era become the pariahs of the next.

Revised Set Up
Shuffle the 36 unbordered CHARACTER cards. Deal a hand of five cards to each player. The remaining cards are set aside as a face-down deck.

Sort out the black bordered FACTION cards in three rows, one row with letters, one row with numbers, and one row with colors.

The player who has most recently been to another country takes the first turn in the first round.

You may only do one action on your turn, either Trade or Oust.

Remove a character card from your hand face-down into a discard pile. Then draw a new card from the deck into your hand. Your hand limit remains 5 cards. It never reduces or increases. If the draw deck is empty, you may not trade again until the next round.

Here, the player has just discarded a card and is about to draw a new one.

Remove a faction card from the central grid and set it to side of the play area. This begins a row of ousted factions referred to as the Popularity Track. The Popularity track has six spaces. Each space has room for a meld of one color, letter, and rank. An ousted faction card goes to the leftmost unoccupied space of the Popularity Track. In other words, the factions to be ousted first are the least popular.

Here, the player is ousting Red. It goes to the leftmost unoccupied space of the Popularity track.

Popularity Track
Each of these spaces has a unique scoring condition, which will be discussed below. For now, it's important to know how each space should be labelled in each round.

  • R1: UnrestCalm  |  Calm  | Points | Points | Points
  • R2: Unrest | UnrestCalm  |  Calm  | Points | Points
  • R3: Unrest | Unrest | UnrestCalm  |  Calm  | Points

End of the Round
The round ends when all but the last faction card from each row has been assigned. Move those last remaining faction cards to the rightmost space of the Popularity track. Now all players reveal their hands and proceed to scoring.

Example of the end of a round.
Compare the character cards in your hand to the factions in the popularity track. For each "Unrest" faction you have in your hand, score 1 Unrest. For each "Calm" faction you have in your hand, score 1 Calm. For each "Point" faction you have in your hand, score 1 Point.

In the example above, the player first checks the "Unrest" column and compares it to her hand. She has no reds, 2 Voices, no ones, so she earns 2 Unrest.

Next she checks the "Calm" columns and compares them to her hand. She has no Orange, 1 Purple, 1 Minister, no Exalts, 2 threes and 2 fours. So she earns 6 Calm.

Finally, she checks the "Points" columns and compares them to her hand. She has 1 Grey, 1 Green, 2 Blue, 1 Crown, 1 Archon, no Sovereigns, no twos, 1 five, and no sixes. So she earns 6 points this round.

The Revolution
Between each round there is a revolution that topples the most powerful factions of the nation.

After each round, move all of the table cards back to their grid, except the most popular faction cards. Those now begin in the leftmost space of the next round's popularity track.

If the draw deck is empty, shuffle the discards and make a new draw deck. Otherwise, leave it as-is.

Your hand remains the same as well. So be careful, a powerful hand in one round might be very dangerous in the next round.

Blue Sovereign Six was the most popular faction in Round 1.
In Round 2, it begins as the least popular faction.

End of Game
The game ends after three rounds. Now players adjust their scores based on their accumulated Unrest and Calm.

The player with least Unrest gains 5 points. The player with second-least Unrest gains 3 points.

The player with most Calm gains 5 points. The player with second-most Calm gains 3 points.

The player with the most total points wins.

If tied, the tied player with the most Unrest wins. If still tied, the player with the least Calm wins. These tiebreakers reward players who managed to get a winning position despite being handicapped by a lot of Unrest or little Calm.

Penny Farthing Catapult: A Silly Game of Newtonian Physics is on DriveThruCards!

Penny Farthing Catapult is now available on DriveThruCards!
2-4 Players • Ages 10+ • 20 Minutes

You are well-mannered nobles settling grievances in the time-honored tradition: Dueling catapults attached to old-timey bicycles!

Your goal is to launch your wealth at the track and and collect valuable items that you hit. Unfortunately, your catapult is so rickety, it moves backwards the same distance that you launched!

Try to stay out of range of your opponents catapults, because if you’re hit, you lose one of your valuables!

As always, DriveThruCards's card quality is top notch. The prints are sharp and the cardstock is nice and durable.

By the way, did I mention Penny Farthing Catapult was a finalist in Dice Hate Me's 54-Card Game Design Challenge? It's true! Popular at UnPub, too!

Game Assumptions: A Technique for Coming Up with Game Ideas

In Rob Daviau's oft-circulated talk about how he created Risk: Legacy, he discusses his process of coming up with new ideas. He just lists the basic assumptions we have about tabletop games and examines how they might be subverted. I thought Twitter would be a great medium for this exercise. It kind of blew up!

(Check out PipPip)

This is just a small sample of the cool ideas that got sparked yesterday. Also check out Ignacy Trzewiczek's blog post for games that already subvert some of these basic assumptions.

REGIME: Print-and-Play Prototype

I'm getting pretty close to a finished version of REGIME, and it's ready for open playtesting. Download the current REGIME prototype here. Rules are below. This game is designed for 2-5 players, but is best with 3.

You are each diplomats sent to the isolated nation of REGIME. Your goal is to determine who is the true ruler of the country while also building a cabinet of advisers who are aligned with that ruler.

Set Up
Shuffle the 36 unbordered cards and deal them out evenly to each player's hand. (Discard any leftover cards.)

Sort out the black bordered cards in three rows, one row with letters, one row with numbers, and one row with colors.

The player who has most recently been to another country takes the first turn in the first round.

There are two steps to a turn.

First, choose a card from your hand to discard face-down into the discard pile.

Then turn over one of the table cards face-down. You can turn over any card, unless it is the last face-up card in that row. In that case, it cannot be turned over.

This ends your turn. The player to your left then takes their turn. Players continue taking turns until the table cards show only three face-up cards, one in each row.

This is the true ruler of REGIME. Now you know that the true ruler of this country is Red Archon 6.

All players reveal any cards remaining in their hands. Score 1 point for each color, letter, or number in your hand that matches the face-up table cards.

In this example, each of your Reds, Archons, and 6s score 1 pt each. You have three Reds, two Archons, and three 6s, for a total of 8 points!

The game continues until each player has had a chance to be first player. Once that final round is complete, points are totaled and the winner is whoever has the most points.

What REGIME is Missing
While this might be perfectly serviceable as a microgame where you simply tally points across multiple plays, I would rather have some continuing effects across multiple rounds.

I faced a similar problem in Koi Pond last year and Eric Martin suggested a set-majority/set-collection mechanic that would eventually evolve into the Ribbons. Curious if something similar might work here, based on the cards you discard.

Ideally this mechanic would be something that doesn't require a lot of cross-referencing or book-keeping though. For example, it would be cool if discards affected the relative values of each suit, but that might be too much to fiddle with.

As it stands, the game is a simple, fun diversion that makes you shake your fists at your opponent.

FLUXX DRAFT: Turning FLUXX into a Drafting/Area Control Game

Here's a simple hack for the basic FLUXX deck from Looney Labs. This variant is based on the 3rd edition of FLUXX, because it's what we have at home, but you can figure out how to adapt it for the edition and expansions you have on your shelf.

2-4 Players (more with expansions)

Set Up
  • Remove all Rules cards from the deck.
  • Set aside all Action cards except the following:
    • Discard & Draw
    • Draw 2 and use 'em
    • Draw 3, play 2 of them
    • Empty the Trash
    • Everybody gets 1
    • Exchange Keepers
    • Go Fish
    • I Need a Goal
    • Let's Do That Again!
    • Rotate Hands
    • Scramble Keepers
    • Steal a Keeper
    • Take another turn
    • Taxation
    • Trade hands
    • Trash a Keeper
    • Use what you take
  • All Goals and Keepers remain in the deck.
  • Shuffle the Goals, Keepers, and Actions into a single deck.
  • Deal a hand of five cards to each player's hand.
  • Players take their turns simultaneously.
  • Choose and reveal a card from your hand, placing it in your tableau.
  • Goals or Keepers are kept in the tableau.
  • Actions are resolved in alphabetical order, according to the name of the action, then discarded.
  • Then pass your hand of cards to the player on your right.
End of Round
  • The round ends after five turns, or when a player's hand is empty.
  • Discard any cards remaining in any player's hand.
  • Cards in a player's tableau remain in play.
  • Score points, as described below.
Score Points
  • If you have a Goal card and its required Keepers are in play anywhere, score 3 points.
  • If your Keeper is being used for another player's Goal, score 1 point each time it is used.
  • Goals and Keepers can score multiple times during the game.
End of Game
  • The game ends after three rounds or when the deck runs out.
  • Complete the current turn and score your final points.
  • The player with most points wins!
It seems the most obvious strategy would be to diversify your Keepers and Goals so you're not too reliant on other player's to score your points. You want to monopolize some Keepers, especially if you have a matching Goal, but that takes up quite a chunk of your tableau. And as always, the Actions can really disrupt your long-term strategies.

Solving Design Problems by Reducing, Not Adding

Last week I tested an early alpha of Dung and Dragons that incorporated a sort of tug-of-war mechanic in which players lured dragons towards them by a number of different mechanisms. We tried making pulls a free action, but you had to push an equal number of cards towards your opponent. We tried making pulls cost you a card, sometimes a matching card. We tried both mechanisms at the same time.

All resulted in awkward emergent behavior or stalemate situations. Every solution we tried out that night would just add complications and further grit in the gears. You recall my advice on playtest hangovers, and I certainly had a small one going the next morning. Ultimately I realized that I just needed to rip out big chunks of an overly complex system rather than tape it up to justify the complexity. So here's what I'm thinking:

Instead of multiple tug-of-war steps towards getting the various components of your ranch, I figured it should instead be more like a drafting game, but one with some restrictions inspired by an old worker placement idea combined the setup drafting mechanisms from RISK: Legacy. Here's the basic idea:
  • You are building a ranch one stable at a time.
  • A stable is comprised of one dragon, one building, one food source, one handler and one special attribute.
  • There are five decks of cards, each representing different aspects of one of these components of a stable.
  • During setup, shuffle each deck individually then turn them face-up, so one card of each type is visible.

For example, a sample set of cards might say:
  • It's a Greenleaf Serpentine
  • an Old Shed
  • ...eating Ripe Pears
  • ...cared for by Sam the Baker
  • a Scenic Overlook

Now players begin taking turns.
  • On your turn, you can take one card from a stack and add it to your current stable.
    • You may only take one card from each deck, so if you've already taken a dragon, you must choose from another deck.
  • If you do not want to take a top card, you may set it beside the deck, thereby revealing a new top card.
    • You may do this until there are three revealed cards from this deck, at which point you must take the top card, whatever it might be.
  • Players on a future turn may choose from amongst all the revealed cards, or take the top card.

At the end of the round, each player will have a new stable, which awards points based on specific combinations of cards. For example, the Greenleaf Serpentine likes to eat fruit, so it's quite happy with ripe pears and awards you X points.

In the following rounds, new stables are built and the game ends after all players have built five stables. At endgame, you'll earn bonus points based on your ranch across each component. For example, Greenleaf Serpentines are friendly with Redwing Drakes, so you get X points.

In other words, you're drafting a 5x5 grid of cards one column at a time. You score columns in the short term, and rows in the long-term. All scores are based on other card types that are within the same row or column.

If I wanted to get really crazy with this, I'd remove the column restriction entirely. You're drafting your entire 5x5 grid at the same time. As soon as a row or column is complete, you score it at that time. But I tend to make simple-sounding games with a lot of analysis paralysis, so I may keep it restricted to one column at a time after all.

January 2014 Sales Report

Each month, I report the sales numbers from my print-on-demand card games available on DriveThruCards. You can find my past reports in reverse chronological order here. But first, here are the numbers.

19x Koi Pond: A Coy Card Game -23 from Dec
5x Koi Pond: Four Walls (Promo Card 2) -5 from Dec
6x Koi Pond: Four Winds (Promo Card 1) -5 from Dec
11x Suspense: the Card Game +6 from Dec
11x Nine Lives Card Game -1 from Dec
7x Koi Pond: Moon Temple (new!)
$528.89 Retail
$203.81 Royalties

Grand Totals for 2014 (to date)
59 Products Sold
$528.89 Retail
$203.81 Royalties

December was an extraordinarily good month for business. I think a lot of shoppers nabbed Koi Pond as a stocking stuffer, which led to a big spike in sales. I really wanted to get Moon Temple on the store sooner, but a late release with barely a week on sale led to a very modest sales month.

One nice spot is sales for Suspense increased last month. I was demoing it frequently at UnPub a few weeks ago, so that may have paid off.

I hope to get my monthly release schedule on track by putting Penny Farthing Catapult up on the store sooner this month, then perhaps start getting ahead enough to actually release product at the beginning of the month rather than the end. We'll see how that goes!

Tug of War Drafting Mechanism in Dung & Dragons

Shock of shocks, I'm actually working on Dung & Dragons again as a legit, no kidding, actually coming out game some time this spring. ("Dung & Dragons" is just a working title, remember.) Long-time readers know this has been my white whale for ages. Tip: When you start with a theme, but don't have a core play loop in mind yet, settle in for a long meandering series of half-starts and unpolished ideas.

But I've got a really cool mechaphor worked out for the game and I think it'll really do well as a light strategy card game with an interesting drafting mechanism.

You're each dragon ranchers luring wild dragons into your stables, in hopes of harvesting their valuable poop. See, dragons poop gold. Obviously.

For now, let's use standard playing cards as examples and assume you start with a hand of six cards.

On Your Turn...
On your turn, you may do one of the following actions:
  • Pulling a Dragon
  • Build New Stables
  • Feed Dragons
  • Shovel Poop

Pulling a Dragon
To get a dragon, you must lure it to you with its favorite food. This central lane lies between two players (or teams of players). It represents a clutch of baby dragons.

Aren't they adorable?

On your turn, you play a card from your hand matching the suit and/or rank of one or more dragons in the clutch.  Let's say you played a Jack of Hearts. That means the 2 of Hearts or Jack of Clubs matches that card.

Then you may "pull" dragon(s) in one of two ways. You may either:

Example of pulling two dragons.
 You may pull two eligible dragons one card length toward your side each. OR...

Example of pulling one dragon.

You may pull one eligible dragon two card lengths toward your side.

Then your played card is added to the outer end of the clutch, thus becoming available for future turns.

If you start your turn with a dragon two card lengths toward your side, rotate the card sideways. It is now your dragon, occupying one of your stables. Each player's starting ranch only has room for one stable.

Building New Stables
Once a stable is occupied, the current dragon must be released before a new dragon is to be placed there. Otherwise, you need to build new stables ahead of time. Building is a separate action, it must be done instead of any other action.

To build a new stable, discard a number of cards from your hand equal to the number of stables you already own. You may only build one stable at a time.

Feeding Dragons
Once you have a dragon (or more), you can spend your turn feeding it. Feeding is a separate action, it must be done instead of any other action.

You must feed cards of the dragon's preferred suit.

You may feed any or all of your dragons any number of cards from your hand. At certain quantities, a dragon will "level up" and in doing so make Victory Points available for you. But they don't automatically come to you. You have to shovel those points.

Shoveling Poop
Once you've fed a dragon, you must shovel the stables to earn your points. Shoveling is a separate action, it must be done instead of any other action.

At first level, a dragon requires four cards of its preferred suit to produce one victory point. Then it upgrades to second level. (So a "Diamond" dragon requires four diamond cards.)

At second level, a dragon requires three cards of its preferred suit to produce one victory point. Then it upgrades to third level.

At third level, a dragon requires two cards of its preferred suit to produce one victory point. Third level is the maximum age for a dragon.

End of Turn
At the end of your turn, draw two cards from the deck. You always draw two cards from the deck, regardless of your current hand size. Hand size is unlimited.

That's it for now. I need to settle on an endgame mechanic and any bonuses for endgame conditions, like most third-level dragons, or most well-fed dragons, or something like that.

I also want to writeup some Stable cards available for purchase in this manner, each offering unique bonuses and upgrades to their occupants.

Some dragons will also have special bonuses when they reach certain levels, affecting other dragons in your stables.

It would also be nice to have variable player powers.
  • Builder: It costs you one less to build a stable.
  • Feeder: Your dragons level-up with one fewer food.
  • Puller: You may pull up to three dragons by one length, or two by two lengths.
  • Shoveler: You get one extra point from second-level dragons and two extra from third-level dragons.

But for now, this is the simplest, most coherent outline for the game I've had in a long time. No fancy trick-taking mechanics or weird tech trees, just a clever little drafting mechanism.
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.