Showing posts from May, 2014

Venture - A Card Game by James Ernest and Daniel Solis

If you follow the gaming kickstarter scene, you'll remember the massive smash hit James Ernest's Pairs . As a part of fulfilling that campaign, James Ernest is releasing several versions of the Pairs deck, each with new art and a unique variant standalone game that can be played with that deck. I was lucky enough to playtest the variant rules for the Professor Elemental deck seen above. Over the course of a few weekly rigorous playtests, with a rotating band of eager and generous testers, the rules changed quite a bit based on collaborative, iterative, speedy revision.  Eventually the result was the current version of Venture, which was posted on the Cheapass site in late April. It's a fast-paced, raucous game with a bit of bluffing and a lot of player-driven chaos. Deal out the entire deck to all players so they have equal hands, then place any remainders in the center of the table as a "buffet." Choose a card from your hand then everyone reveals the


"If Dungeons & Dragons alignment were designed today, I bet only Chaotic PCs would resolve with dice , while Lawful PCs resolve with resource management ." That's the little tweet yesterday that received a lot of enthusiastic response. Though I don't work in RPGs anymore, I still occasionally have a random ideas for RPG mechanics and that one really just sprang up unfiltered. Several responses suggested a deck of cards as the Neutral resolution, since they're somewhat random but somewhat predictable. I dig it. All you really need is three systems for generating a span of numbers, each with their own range of predictability. I was surprised that no one popped up to say it had been done already. Surely someone's tried this? I mean, why do lawful characters still rely on dice? It should fundamentally feel different to be lawful than to be chaotic, no?

3 Simple Steps of Component-First Design

Watching video reviews for Maharani , Expedition: Northwest Passage , This Town Ain't Big Enough for the 2-4 of Us , I got a bug this morning for some tile-laying. This is a good opportunity for quick unstructured play to knock loose cobwebs in my design process.\ Step 1: Make a few Components For now, I'm still limiting my components to the standard 2.5"x3.5" card format since that is what I can most easily self-publish. This allows a 2.5"x2.5" square with a .5"x2.5" tab on one end. So I made these three cards really quick loosely based on Maharani's use of half-circles to make "columns." Step 2: Play with Components and Ask Questions I started playing around with some simple rules. You can only place squares adjacent to each other if the facing sides are blank or have a circle. If the circle is two colors, what does that mean? If a circle has one color, does that mean something else? If you make a contiguous area wi

Big Micro: The "Living Microgame" Model

Hayato Kisaragi and Seiji Kanai released an interesting experiment in card game publishing last year called Lost Legacy . The game itself is what you might expect from Kanai, the designer of the hit microgame Love Letter . Lost Legacy is a 2-4 player deduction game designed around a deck of sixteen cards, with some slight twists in the endgame that set it apart from Love Letter . Where Love Letter is a standalone game, Lost Legacy is designed with expansions in mind. Each expansion has its own set of sixteen cards which means they can be played as their own game. You can also combine the base game with expansions under certain rules, ultimately making your own custom sixteen card deck to play. In essence, Kisaragi and Kanai have combined the wildly successful "microgame" format with the commercial appeal of Fantasy Flight's "Living Card Game" format. Each set remains a fun and affordable standalone game for casual players, while die hard fans and complet

Revising the Constants and Variables in Monsoon Market

Over the weekend, I revised my Unpub prototype of Monsoon Market the old-fashioned way, by hand. I cut, taped, glued, markered, and sleeved up this mess until it was a tight little package. What I realized from earlier tests is that I was testing too many variables at once. Rarity: I had a weird multi-triangular distribution for resource cards, which pre-supposed rarity for certain resources. Four available at random in a starting market. Demand: A randomized deck of Order cards which could be purchased with specific combinations of resources. Three of which are visible at any time. Supply: Four random resource cards in each player's tableau at the start of the game. I needed to streamline this a bit just so that the random shuffling and revealing of two separate decks provided the grease for the engine. That's a lesson from my recent play of Splendor , which was just nominated for an SdJ. Compounding that randomness with a weird distribution made things just a littl

The Time-to-Point Ratio in Splendor

Yesterday I introduced the Time-to-Point Ratio using Lords of Waterdeep as an example, but the game that really made the concept clear to me was the new game Splendor from designer Marc Andre and publisher Space Cowboys . First, I must just say I love this game. It's an elegant engine-building race to 15 points. Here's a good tutorial of how to play. Usually whoever reaches 15 points wins, though there is a chance of any close stragglers catching up on their last turn. Because there is no hard limit on the number of rounds like in Waterdeep, Splendor is a little trickier to reverse-engineer. Fortunately all the cards have been structured in a very regular cost-to-reward structure, which can be converted to this basic rule of thumb:   Each card requires a number of turns equal to its cost. The whole game is built around breaking that rule, compelling you to build an engine that lets you to buy cards faster, more cheaply, for greater reward, or simply removing them

The Time-to-Point Ratio in Lords of Waterdeep

Lately I've been focusing my game design on rarity. How many apples are available in the game, and how should they be valued? How many points should you get for 1 apple compared to 3? Yada yada yada. So I tinker with my game a bit, planning out how much of resource X is usually required to score Y points. Snore. I've come to realize that's a somewhat shallow level of game design. I like it when the value is conditional based on the game state. Some stuff is in demand more than at other times. Cool. But there is still a deeper mechanical issue to design around. The real question is how long does it take to achieve the necessary condition to score points? The Time-to-Point Ratio This is a handy metric to reverse-engineer existing games and figure out the balance of your game. For example in Lords of Waterdeep, in a single turn you could collect 4 coins, or 2 orange cubes, or 1 white cube, or 1 purple cube. These resources can be redeemed later to complete a quest wh

UnPub Feedback for Monsoon Market

Monsoon Market at UnPub Mini at Atomic Empire was great! Matt and Marcy Wolfe organized it way better than I did last year. (They had a raffle!) There were at least double the designers and double the playtesters. I had about a dozen individual playtesters across ten playtests. It really helps to have a short game at UnPub. Players get a tantalizing taste of gameplay and sometimes want to play a second or third time. That was really good data. Some changes I made based on feedback, which I still need to finalize and clean up with further testing tonight. Make points lower and rounder: In the first few tests, winning scores were in the high 70s. No one wants to do an arithmetic test after a light strategy game, so I'm cutting those down to the high 20s. No Bonuses...: Bonuses work best in slightly longer engine-building games. Because this game can end in as few as five rounds, there wasn't much time to actually score anything for bonuses. ...Only Actions:

Monsoon Market at UnPub May 10 at Atomic Empire in Durham

(Photo: Playtesting Monsoon Market with Alec Nelson, Jon Bolding, and Joanna Bolding) Monsoon Market will be at the upcoming UnPub Mini at Atomic Empire in Durham, NC! I've got the core mechanics pretty much ready to go for the event, I just really need some play-hours to refine the point values and distributions. The basic gameplay is pretty familiar to most trading game fans. You've got several types of goods in your display (your tableau) and in your storage (your hand). There is a central lane of three Order cards, representing boats who have come to port to fulfill orders. There is a central market tableau of goods cards, too. On your turn, you can: Trade any goods cards from your display for an equal number of cards from an opponent's display. Steal one goods card from an opponent's display.* Buy goods cards from the central market. Discard a goods card. Its rank is the number of cards you can take from the market.* Fulfill orders and take Orde

Geeking Out About Card Deck Distributions Again

A few weeks ago, I was geeking out about multi-triangular deck distributions and noted that I was a little bugged that I didn't go through every possible combinatorial permutation of triangular decks ranked 1-4. Well, here it is, and there are some curious findings. Let me back up a bit. This spreadsheet outlines several "triangle" decks, which are typically a deck of cards in which each card is ranked with a number. That number is also how frequent that card is in the deck. So there are one 1, two 2s, three 3s, four 4s in the deck. The top row of numbers is the frequency, the colored rows below that are the ranks. A typical 1-4 triangle deck is noted on the first colored row. The white section to the right is the sum of all ranks. First, multiplying their frequency by their rank, then totalling up all those products into one grand total. Now, why would this be useful? In my case, I wanted to figure out a resource deck for Monsoon Market. I wanted each resource

Koi Pond will be translated and published in China!

omg! My card game KOI POND will be translated and published in China by Joy Pie Game Club! Many thanks to Scott Underwood of the Jank Cast for bringing it to Shanghai. Extra special thanks to David Du for taking an interest in my little fishes. Look for more news to come. China is a huge potential market for tabletop games, so hopefully this will become kind of a big deal! :D

April 2014 Sales Report

Wow, what a whirlwind of a month April was! I released my first dexterity game Ten Pen, a second batch of icons to my Patreon backers, scheduled a handful of Google Helpouts, and hustled hustled hustled. This is the business model I had set forth for myself this year, so it's all going according to plan. I just didn't know how sleepy I'd be by now! So let's look at the sales numbers for my card games on DriveThruCards this month. 4-2014 17x Koi Pond: A Coy Card Game +5 from March 7x Koi Pond: Four Walls (Promo Card 2) +0 from March 508x Koi Pond: Four Winds (Promo Card 1) +504 from March 5x Koi Pond: Moon Temple -6 from March 7x Suspense: the Card Game +4 from March 5x Nine Lives Card Game -4 from March 4x Penny Farthing Catapult -11 from March 6x Regime -9 from March 4x Ten Pen (new!) $606.90 Retail $208.14 Royalties Grand Totals for 2014 (to date) 744 Products Sold $2255.74 Retail $827.18 Royalties April seems to be holdi