5 Things I'm Playtesting in Regime

Regime is one of those games that would really do best with a retail scale production. It needs too many cards to be a profitable POD product, but I didn't realize that when I first published it. It's still on DriveThruCards, and you can buy it right now, but it's pretty much at-cost.

Since BGGcon, I've been taking the advice that I should work on more middleweight games with more components. Regime seems like the best fit for this new evolution. I've been working on updates to the components, which in turn led to some gameplay updates as well. None of these changes are final, they're just things I'm testing.

1. Faster Scoring
So, our game design guild has a rule of thumb for game design we call Vicki's Law: A game shouldn't take longer to score than to play. That seemed to be Regime's main weakness. It doesn't break Vicki's Law, but it is most certainly a misdemeanor.

At BGGcon, there was some talk of modifying the deck so some cards had only one or two suits, but none had three. My local group found that option a bit unappealing. The tension is lost or even somewhat spoiled when you had to trade a card for one that offered even less than your last one. By each card having three suits, each is equally likely of having a mix of three good/bad things.

Instead of modifying the deck, we decided we'd simply not score "Calm" during the scoring phase. The cards either gave you Unrest or Power, but Calm is simply neutral. That cut down the bookkeeping so players could get back to playing the game.

2. Modified Trading
Presently, your two choices during your turn are to "Oust" a faction into the leftmost space of the Popularity Track or to "Trade" a card from your hand by discarding it and drawing a new card blind from the deck.

We wanted players to have a little more choice in the trade action as it felt like you really lucked into a victory or lucked out of a victory by that random draw. So we changed the "Trade" action as follows.

TRADE: Discard a card. Reveal the top card of the deck and draw it into your hand, or discard it and draw the next card from the deck into your hand without revealing it.

This gives you two chances to get a better card into your hand and also reveals a little more information to the rest of the group about which cards are in the deck. If you take the revealed card, everyone knows what you took and what you gave away. If you take a blind card, then at least you've revealed a total of two cards to the group so they can plan accordingly.

3. A New Narrative Arc
The game currently has three phases to the popularity track which bestow either Unrest, Calm, or Power to the various factions. Here's how it is currently:

1: U C C P P P
2: U U C C P P
3: U U U C C P

I initially liked this arc because it made power harder to attain over time and made players panic as more and more of their hand would become persona non grata. However, this also makes catching up much more difficult as whoever is in the lead can rest a little easier knowing that their lead is only going to become more secure over time.

Narratively, it also felt weird that the country is falling further into unrest the longer players are involved. I'd rather players feel like they're making the country more stable over time. We tested reversing the order, but that inadvertently made the third round rather deterministic. As soon as three factions were ousted into the track, the remaining three were already guaranteed to score points.

So instead, we're testing this alternative narrative arc:

1: U U U C C P
2: U U C C P P
3: U C C P P U

The players are still ostensibly making the country more stable, but there's one additional sting as the first and last factions on the track will cause unrest. When three faction chips remain in the general pool, you're still not sure whether they'll be valuable or deadly.

4. More Dangerous Unrest
I still need to test this idea further, but if I'm not scoring Calm anymore then I want Unrest to feel a little more thematic than a mere point bonus as it stands now. One way to do this would be as follows:

"Whoever has most Unrest cannot win. Period."

This makes Unrest very dangerous, feels much more thematic, and removes one extra bit of accounting from the endgame. Sounds like we hit three birds with one stone, but I want to test it more to be sure.

5. New Components
If this is going to go to a retail publisher, it needs some room for chrome or stretch goals.

- Chips for the factions, which would be easier to handle than cards.
- Bifold score track going from 1-30. It might have a space for the deck and the discard pile.
- Two pawns for each player, one representing Power (points) and one representing Unrest.
- A "current turn" marker, so you know who takes the next turn after each scoring phase.

And that's where Regime development stands at the moment! Hope you like where it's going. As I said, none of this is inal. Feel free to test this with your own copy and send feedback. I appreciate it!

"Curse You, Robin Hood!" seeks playtesters!

I'm happy to say that "Curse You, Robin Hood!" is now ready for public playtesting. In the legendary days of Sherwood forest, the regular Joe merchants trying to earn an honest buck keep getting robbed by Robin Hood. They quickly learn that the trick to getting rich in Sherwood is to just not be the richest merchant, otherwise you're the biggest target for the Merry Men.

Find the complete rules here along with a PnP PDF of the 50 cards. This is the next stage of development of Sharewood, the original light tavern card game a bunch of us playstormed at BGGcon this year. (The story behind that is in this post.)

Curse You Robin, Hood! expands from 1 to 6 players, uses a custom the deck, simplifies scoring, adds shooting the moon and multi-round rules. I'm pretty proud of the solo rules as well, since they're not exclusively limited to one-player games. The bots can be added to a group of any size. It's pretty fun! Hope you get a chance to play!

Have fun!

New Patreon Tier: Twitch Streaming Graphic Design and Layout

For the past few weeks, I've been practicing streaming my work on Twitch. You can see some of the archived broadcasts on my profile page here:


I'm still learning the ropes and trying to figure out the technical issues. For now, I'm saving some archived highlights publicly on youtube, as you can see above and on my youtube channel here:


My main issue at the moment is that my archived streams are cutting off upwards of 20 minutes early for some reason. If anyone knows how to fix that, I'd be very grateful. For now I'm recording a local copy of stream. I will save those archived videos to youtube as Unlisted videos. That means only people who have the URL will be able to watch the video.

So that brings me to my well-buried lead: I have a new $10 tier on my Patreon page! I'll post archived twitch streams for $10+ patrons, along with as many files from that stream as I'm able. They'll still be viewable on Twitch for about two weeks after the initial broadcast, but for posterity they'll only be accessible to folks with access.

Upcoming streams include art editing for Do: Fate of the Flying Temple from Evil Hat Productions, RPG book layout for Karthun from Exploding Rogue, various card game prototypes, and much more. I hope you dig it!

Last day to get my card games by Dec. 24!

Hello, last-minute holiday shoppers! Today is the last day to order my games from DriveThruCards in the continental US and be pretty sure they'll reach you by December 24. Stuff those stockings!

Rhombus for the Rest of Us [Isometric Grids in Tabletop]

I just recently finished Monument Valley, the gorgeous and brain-boggling Escher-inspired puzzle game. It's been around for a little bit, but seems to have had a resurgence since it was a free download last week. Naturally, it got me thinking about how we might use rhombuses and isometric grids in a tabletop game.

Looking at some existing examples, Rome: City of Marble makes some clever use of these grids and emergent patterns, but Monument Valley has that lovely interaction with implied perspective that I really wanted to capture on the table. The Rocca line of games from Japan is closer to what I wanted to see, but still feels relatively linear compared to Monument Valley's three-dimensional gameplay.

All of this converged on two different games I've got on my docket:

Tile-Laying: the Tile-Laying Game

This is a co-design with Drew Hicks. We're both members of the Game Designers of North Carolina and we got to talking about an upcoming "meta" contest from Greater Than Games calling for games where the title is also the central mechanic. (These would be follow-ups to their game Deck-Building: the Deck-Building Game.)

Our idea was a tile-laying game about laying tiles. Initially this was laying tiles in a bathroom, and we started with this rough sketch.

I roughed out a mockup of a tile set with some simple rules: On your turn, lay a tile. When a line is complete, whoever has greatest total ranks on that line scores whatever that line of tiles says to score.

It was an absurdly AP-prone brain-burner, but that's how a lot of my games start. Drew cut back this thorny bush into a more svelte bonsai. The new rule was having a simple majority of tiles was what earned you scoring privileges and the only tiles you could score were your own.

We're also retheming it to be some kind of ancient period mosaic-laden plaza, so the scale of the art can allow for us to add a bit more detail to each individual tile. We're adding a row to the top of that grid that will feature mythological deities that bestow scoring bonuses to the line of tiles below them, from the top of the wall, to the bottom edge of the floor.

Isometric Path-Building Pick-Up-and-Deliver Game

This one's still pretty nascent, but I think the visuals are strong enough to really give it legs in the long run. If there's thing I learned from Kigi and Kodama, it's that people like collaborating building pretty patterns that make passersby stop and look for a moment.

First I mocked up a few hex tiles with the rule that they always feature three paths, each a different color, each connecting two sides of a hex with no overlapping entries or exits.

I placed these hex tiles together and threw on a few meeples to imagine what this game would be like with figures like Monument Valley's hero Ida traversing this weird isometric world along those paths.
What happens when you rotate a hex? Suddenly the implied ceiling becomes a floor. New paths also get created as a result. Are there some interactions with the faces of each implied cube?
Why this player would prefer to traverse along a path that is multi-colored. I wonder if the rule is that you can't enter a new tile unless the path changes color? That may be too counter-intuitive unless the idea is that you're picking up different colored cubes from the corresponding paths and delivering them to differently colored segments of the path.

It was about this time that I realized I didn't have to go through the trouble of making hex tiles when I could make the rhomboid faces of those hexes, thereby allowing players to make their own decisions about whether to make it a hex grid or not. This made some interesting gaps in the grid where a tile couldn't legally be placed. Perhaps those are the destinations for the various deliveries you need to make?

Ever since BGGcon, I've really taken to heart the advice to stretch beyond cards a bit. I'm really enjoying this so far! Hope you're digging the journey as well. :)

Watch Kodama: the Tree Spirits Overview from BoardGameGeek.con!

I was very lucky to sit down with Beth from BoardGameGeek at the Action Phase BGG.con booth to do an overview of Kodama: the Tree Spirits. Action Phase says Kodama was a very popular demo at the show with a lot of customer and retailer interest.

You can still pre-order Kodama: the Tree Spirits at the Action Phase Games website here.

On a personal note, I've seen so many of these convention overviews on the BGG youtube channel that it's a little surreal seeing myself on one. I was a little nervous, which you can probably tell, but hopefully it's a clear enough overview of how the game plays. I'm really looking forward to seeing Kodama hit many game tables soon.

Chinese Editions of Koi Pond and Kigi back in stock!

Good news! I have a few more copies of the Chinese edition Koi Pond and Kigi direct from Joy Pie. Order ASAP if you want it at your doorstep before the holidays. These are the actual Chinese editions of both games and are normally unavailable in the US. I got a few complementary designer copies and now I'd like to send them to you! Find them at my Etsy store!


Card at Work: 5 – Designing Poker Cards and Troubleshooting DataMerge

It's time for a new episode of Card at Work, this time covering how to design a deck of playing cards in Adobe InDesign's DataMerge. This mostly follows the same techniques established in the previous episode, but the latter half also covers some troubleshooting you may need to do when you're designing your own deck.

The last episode drew some feedback asking for more supplementary assets to go alongside the video content. I'd love to hear more about what you would like to see, especially as exclusives for patrons. For now, here's an oldie-but-goodie posted back in 2012, but goes along well with this episode.


That contains an InDesign file and support for a simple deck of playing cards using Noun Project icons. Hope that helps get you started on your way!

Stocking Stuffer Sale!

A bunch of DriveThruCards titles are deeply discounted today! This sale is on top of the already deep discounts for my card games like Trickster: Starship and Koi Pond. These make great stocking stuffers and deliver within at most 2 weeks for most locations in the continential US. Plenty of time to wrap them up as a gift! Enjoy!

Double Discs: A Speed Puzzle Game Idea

I've been told in the past that speed puzzle games don't really sell well, but I saw a lot of Dimension and Dr. Eureka being played at BGGcon, so surely there's some room for that category in the market. Here's a quick idea for a speed puzzle game:

You have 16 discs featuring conceptual pairs on either side of each disc: cat/mouse, dry/wet, sun/moon, city/country, plus/minus etc.

Flip a puzzle card. Two teammates must arrange the discs in the correct shape, with the correct sides visible, within the 30-sec time limit. In the example above, you'd score 1 point for for each disc in the correct position with the correct face visible.

Then you swap out teammates La Boca style and tally individual points across several puzzles.

It's a start, but the kind of component-based design I'm going to develop more often as I explore game ideas beyond the chrome ceiling.

BGGcon Recap: Chrome Ceiling, A New Hope, and the Fun Bits!

Alrighty, time for some more long-form thoughts on how BGGcon went for me professionally. I spent most of my time approaching publishers with my prototypes or demoing my self-published games at the main hall with new friends. I had enlightening conversations with several very smart experienced members of the community, including Eric Lang and Kevin Wilson.

I thought going into meetings having just finished a $99,000 kickstarter campaign would be a boost to my credibility, but more people came by talking about my blog, tweets, or my new youtube series. More than once some famous games person came by while I was pitching to a major publisher and say nice things about the game. It was pretty dang awesome.

I got some sobering feedback about the current state of my portfolio, but hopeful advice about the future. Let's start with the sobering stuff first.

The Chrome Ceiling

There was one bit of advice that kept coming up as I worked through each presentation: My games are so optimized for profitable $9 POD sales that there isn't much room to add the bits and "chrome" that would justify at least a $20 retail price tag.

For some background: It takes a lot of work for a publisher to put out any game, regardless of its chrome, but the chrome determines the price consumers are willing to pay for the product. "Chrome" in this case can refer to literal box size, the components, the goodies included as stretch goals, etc.

At retail scales, new components don't add too much manufacturing per unit, but they can command a much higher markup, and thus a more profitable product. On top of all that, a publisher only has a few slots in their yearly schedule to fill with product.

However, I'm faced with a similar choice for my own time. What makes me profit most quickly is these impulse-buy filler games that I can release via POD. There are only so many hours in my day, and my bills still come every month on the clock, so I have to decide which projects are going to be most worthwhile contributions to my household.

So yeah, sobering.


A New Hope

All that sounds very grim, but there is hope! Eric Lang suggested I keep cultivating my small games  and focusing on the international licenses, since I apparently have a first mover advantage in those markets. I could keep trying to get games licensed in emerging markets like Brazil and China, where few domestic publishers even pursue licenses in the first place.

That can support my path toward bigger retail-friendly game design. Eric reminded me this is a very, very long-term path, but at the end of that path is a much more sustainable career. Kevin Wilson said when you get your first big game, everything changes. More than one person expressed enthusiasm for what I might do when I'm cut loose from the constraints of POD card games.

They all said I established a rep for making solid games with good sales in my small market. So, my next step is making a few games that I couldn't do on POD or are less optimal in a POD format. For example, Regime is my most expensive product and makes the slimmest profit margin for me because I try to keep most of my games under $9.99.

I upgraded my prototype by tossing out all of the scoring cards, replacing them with chits I mocked up from sticker paper and cardboard. I also replaced the hard-to-handle faction cards with poker chips and sticker paper. I stopped short of making a board, mainly because I already had a very heavy bag I was lugging around, but it could easily have a board for placing the faction cards and chips.

So next year, I'm going to dig into my catalog and see how I could upgrade old games and develop new games with retail in mind.

The Fun Bits!

To be clear, BGGcon was an amazing fun experience. This professional side of things was only about 50% of my con. The rest of it was...


...so fun!

Sharewood, a game we playstormed at BGGcon

Hello! This post comes to you the day after BGGcon when I'm still bleary-eyed and recovering from a fast-paced four days of pitching and playtesting. It was a wonderful experience and I'm sure lots of folks will have much better documentation of the event than I do.

Instead, I wanted to show you a snapshot of what it was like with such a critical mass of game designers in one place. Emerson Matsuuchi, Chris Rowlands, Adam S., Mark Streed, and I were hanging around the main hall on the last day. I pulled out a deck of cards and openly noodled a few different interactions I've had tumbling around.

In particular, I had idea of being a merchant in Nottingham trying to earn wealth, but not so much that Robin Hood would steal your ill-gotten gains. Sort of the inverse scenario of Sheriff of Nottingham. Here's what we came up with after lots of playstorming and collaboration. I can't claim sole credit for this game, it was definitely a collaboration between all five of us.


In the taverns of Sherwood Forest and Nottingham, the locals play a card game inspired by Robin Hood's legendary bandits who rob from the rich and give to the poor. Players try to earn the most wealth without catching the attention of the thieving Merry Men.

We only tested this with five players, so the rules below assume five players are present. Each round of play lasts about five minutes and we liked to play multiple rounds, tracking our cumulative score.

We remove one suit and the jokers from a standard poker deck.
We shuffle the remaining cards and deal seven cards to each player's hand.
We set aside any undealt cards out of the game.

We play out a six "days" in Sherwood Forest. (The local merchants take Sunday off.)

Each day, we each choose one card from our hand and put it face-down in the center of the play area. The heart of the game is in negotiating with each other and coming to agreements about which cards we agree to put out into the pot. A common deal would be

"I'm playing a 5 this day. Anyone else playing a 5?"
"I can play a 5, sure. You got a deal."

These negotiations are not binding. We may and probably will be bluffing about half the time. Paying attention to the other negotiations is also important, as the other player's side deals will affect you as well.

Once we all put in our cards, we reveal them. Aces are considered 1, Jack is 11, Queen is 12, and King is 13. Then some mandatory trades will occur, listed below:
  • If two players reveal the same rank, they must trade their cards.
  • If three players reveal the same rank, they must trade clockwise with each other.
  • If no one reveals the same highest rank or lowest rank, then the player who revealed the highest individual rank must trade with the player who revealed the lowest rank. (This is Robin Hood stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.)
  • Everyone else keeps the card they played.
Here are some sample turns:

Once trades are resolved, the card we received this day goes into our personal stockpile face-up. (In other words, a public tableau.)

We repeat this process for a total of six days, then we discard the one remaining card from our hand.

Endgame and Victory
At the end of the game, Robin Hood strikes one last time. We determine who has the highest sum of all ranks in each suit. If you have the highest sum, then you must discard those cards from your stockpile. If tied, you must both discard those cards from your stockpiles.

As an optional rule, you may decide if each of your Aces are valued at 1 or 14, thereby giving you a little bit more control of whether you get to keep your cards away from that thieving Hood.

Your final score is highest ranking card you have in each suit added together.

Preview of Dionysia Jones' Art for Do: Fate of the Flying Temple

It's time for another preview of the art coming up in Do: Fate of the Flying Temple, the new Fate-powered RPG set in the Do universe. You saw Jacqui Davis' cover last time, so this time I wanted to show off Dionysia Jones' amazing work on the double-page spreads. Here was my art direction:

The three pilgrims gather in the middle of ancient ruins to discuss what they will do now that the temple has disappeared. They agree that their mission of helping people in need should continue, regardless of the temple’s existence. It’s just the right thing to do. They agree to this new pledge with an all-together handshake as shown in the placeholder art. [1] In the distance, amidst the ruins, we might see the silhouette of the dragon observing this pledge intently. The dragon will be learning from the pilgrims while they go on their adventure, so they must set an example for what will potentially be a very powerful force in the universe to come. Still, each pilgrim approaches this pledge with a light heart, only Marked Ghost showing a sense of sincere solemnity.

Dionysia decided to go with a style inspired by Legend of Korra. Her foreground characters are drawn with fine lines and sharp cel shading while the backgrounds are more richly textured. I think the result is stunning and I can't wait for you to see how the rest of her work turned out. I'm super duper excited!

[1] I provide lots of example art for each piece, including a sample page spread using characters from Korra for this illustration:
I've never had an artist complain about too much visual reference. :)

Card at Work: 4 - Introduction to DataMerge

Hello folks! It's a new episode of Card At Work, my ongoing series of lessons on graphic design in tabletop games, particularly cards.

This episode introduces the basics of using DataMerge to create prototype cards. This lesson covers how to make simple resource cards like you might find in a euro strategy game such as Settlers of Catan.

Please like, share, and subscribe! Support further episodes at http://www.patreon.com/danielsolis

Thank you!

Last day to back Kodama: the Tree Spirits on Kickstarter!


That's all I can say for how amazing the Kodama: the Tree Spirits campaign has been the past 30 days. Hard to believe what began as this weird little idea a few years ago has grown so big. As of this post, we're just over $90,000 and 3000 backers with 14 hours left. This is by far the most successful project I've been a part of and a wonderful way to close out the year.

If you haven't backed yet, please do so! And tell your friends!

Thank you!

Stowaway: A Quick Idea for a Tavern-Style Card Game

Here's a quick idea for a little tavern-style card game where everyone has a hand of cards, but one of which is moving around secretly from hand to hand. I imagined it as a stowaway on a boat sneaking around trying not to get caught.


The Stowaway
A tavern-style card game for large groups, from 5-10 players.

You’re the crew of a pirate ship hiding an innocent stowaway. The Stowaway sneaks from one dark corner of the ship to the next, trying to avoid being caught by the cruel Captain. Eventually the crew will have no choice but to point out where they think is currently harboring the Stowaway.

  • From a standard deck of cards, gather two cards per player, minus one.
  • Take the joker and add it to these cards. The Joker is called the Stowaway.
  • Shuffle the cards (including the Stowaway) and deal two cards to each player’s hand.
  • If you ever hold the Stowaway, you’re called an Accomplice.

Each player simultaneously and secretly passes a card to the player on their left. Repeat this two more times.

Then players discuss where they think the Stowaway is hidden. Players may negotiate and debate as long as they like, but eventually all players must simultaneously count to 3. Then each player must point a finger at who they think is currently harboring the Stowaway. Whoever has the Stowaway must reveal it now.

If you have the Stowaway and fewer than three fingers are pointing at you, you and the Accomplices win.

If three or more fingers are pointing at the player with the Stowaway, anyone pointing at the Stowaway wins. The Accomplice and whoever is harboring the Stowaway loses.


This is the bare seed of an idea. Not even tested yet. I'm sure there are all sorts of bugs and broken strategies inherent in it, but I find it useful to get these loose thoughts down into something "discussable." What do you think?

8 Quotes for Game Designers from BoardGameGeek's Reiner Knizia Interview

W. Eric Martin had a very, very good interview with legendary game designer Reiner Knizia. You can watch the entirety of it above or at the original BoardGameGeek post. I pulled out a handful of quotes that I thought were relevant for designers at all levels of their career.

On understanding the production side of things:
"If you’re going to do good game design, you must understand a lot of things. What can be afforded, what can be put in, how quickly can you do it if you work to a deadline."

On global licensing:
"Once you have put in a lot of energy into creating an IP, creating a game, it is most natural to not only market it in one market, but to market it worldwide."

On starting with small publishers:
"Getting your first game published is always a very wide step. I was lucky that I went with small publishers. If you go with small publishers, they take you seriously and you learn from them. A small publisher cannot afford a flop."

On "failed" designs:
"Most of my ideas die in the first hour… Is this a failure? I don’t call it a failure. It’s an experiment… The problem is in your head, everything works.... It is very important to realize when something doesn’t work. I have two or three designs where I didn’t want to believe it doesn’t work. Then you come into this sunk cost fallacy stuff. These are the real dangers, when you fall in love with your design too much."

On design goals:
"What I want to achieve: Simple games, but then the people bring themselves into it. And you see out of the simplicity, a second level of depth. That keeps you playing."

On how theme and game are conflated:
"I took a game to America, Tutankhamun, I opened it and the publisher said ‘Ah, we already have an Egyptian game, we don’t need that.’ A few weeks later, I show a German publisher, they say “Ah, we already have an Egyptian theme, so we might not take that theme, but let us see the game first.’ At that time I realized what people see as a game are completely different things."

On 'tabletop vs. electronic' dichotomy:
"Board games do not compete with electronic games. That’s far too narrow a view. Games compete with other leisure experiences."
On making relevant games:
"Books and games are, for me, a mirror of our time… If you want to make relevant games, you need to look around and see what happens in the world and then reflect that in the games. Not only from a theme point of view, but from a dynamics point of view."

Sale Sheet Sample: Light Rail

Light Rail - Board Game Sale Sheet - Sell Sheet

I'm going to BoardGameGeekcon for the first time this year and I'm a little nervous! I'm pitching games in a more formal context than I've ever done before. Until now, I've sold three US card games and several international licenses without going through the usual face-to-face pitches and meetings. But it's time to step up a little and do more legwork.

Part of that is making a sale sheet for the games I intend to pitch. Usually sale sheets are sent from a publisher to a distributor as a promotion to get the products out to retailers. In this case, my sheets are one step before that process, going from designer to publisher. Different demands in that case. I followed advice from Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim back in this post from five years ago. I also looked at the Akrotiri sale sheet posted a year later, since I'm a big fan of how that game ended up.

As Jay and Sen recommend, I'll be bringing this sheet and others along with me as a quick pitch tool without having to set up a complete game on the spot. These also make handy leave-behinds with my business cards.

You can download the PDF of Light Rail's sale sheet here. Happy to take feedback!

Designing Victory and Loss in Games ("Can we just call this one a win?")

I'm a member of Game Designers of North Carolina, a local group of tabletop game designers who exchange playtests and insights in the craft of game design. We were playtesting a game where a particular endgame state resulted in a loss for the whole group, as in a co-operative game. Barring that outcome, there would only be one winner at the end of the game as in a traditional competition.

The tricky thing is that each player individually accumulates their own points so even if the "group loss" state occurs, if I have the most points, the game can't stop me from feeling like I won. This brought up a brief and very useful discussion about the essential social contracts surrounding games when players agree to certain game-states as being desirable and worth pursuing. We discussed simply calling the "group loss" state an "endgame" state, which would fundamentally change everyone's strategies and tactics without changing any of the mechanics.

It got me thinking of a few other games that fiddle with the semantics of games without doing too many wildly original mechanics.

Oil Springs of Catan adds a Tragedy of the Commons element to traditional Catan. Oil is an extremely valuable resource, but also strictly limited. One of the endgame states is extracting all of the oil and ruining the environment for everybody, essentially resulting in a group loss. The designers here have already anticipated my earlier concerns. In this case, the player who best managed the environment is the winner, not whoever happens to have the most points at this time.

There's a similar structure to Fram R'yleh, a new Lovecraftian themed trick-taking card game from Japan. The goal of the game is to collect a bunch of mind-shattering Lovecraftian relics while keeping your sanity. The player with the highest sanity score is the winner... but sanity can go into the negative range in this game. If every player's sanity is in the negative at the end of the game, then the player with the lowest sanity is the winner. You may eke out a victory with only 1 point, or steal victory with abysmally low double-digit negative score.

There's a game called Why First? which is a simple racing game where only the player in second place in each round scores points and the player with second-most points at the end of a series of races is the winner. This game might have easily been a bland racing game with a traditional victory condition. Instead, dictating that only second placers can carry over their points is a surprisingly challenging and fun concept to plan around.


In each of these cases, the semantics of "victory" and "loss" are innovative, but clearly understood and agreed upon by all players. Each has strict guidelines about how "points" are accumulated, who may earn them, how many they may earn, and how they are valued at the end of the game. This isn't necessarily an old idea, as there are many traditional card games where you're trying to avoid taking points, for example.

For more on questioning game assumptions, check out this post from 2014 inspired by Rob Daviau.

Do you have any favorite games where "victory" and "loss" are a defined in interesting ways? I'd love to hear about them in the comments!

Card At Work: 3 - Planning your Card Design

Hi folks! I released a new episode of Card at Work this week. This is my ongoing youtube series on graphic design and art direction for cards in tabletop games. This series is supported by patrons like you. Thank you!

In this episode, I discuss the process of planning your card design using basic Constants and Variables. Constants are the things that won't change from card to card, usually structural elements like positions and sizes of art, icons, and text spaces. Variables are the things that change within those constraints, like the actual images and text content.

Featured examples include:

Heir to Europa
Monsoon Market
Kodama: the Tree Spirits
Magic: the Gathering
Zeppelin Attack!
Koi Pond
Solar Senate
Light Rail

Support further releases at http://www.patreon.com/danielsolis
Thank you!

Do: Fate of the Flying Temple - Cover Preview

Check out the cover art Jacqui Davis just finished for Do: Fate of the Flying Temple! It's so pretty!

Fate of the Flying Temple is the new RPG written by Mark Diaz Truman set in the universe of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, first introduced in my story game waaaaay back in the ancient mists of 2011. This updated edition is redesigned for use with Evil Hat's very popular Fate Accelerated system.

I'm on layout and art direction duties this time around, recruiting an A-team of illustrators to handle the art. This is the first of many pieces to come in future months so stay tuned!

Making a Living as a Game Designer, and Other Stuff [Going Last Podcast Interview]

The Going Last podcast is a great, friendly show for tabletop game news and banter. I started listening back when it was hosted by the DoubleClicks, but new hosts Rich and Kenna have done a wonderful job shepherding the podcast into a new era. It's a great breezy listen for your commute.

I was on the show a few months ago to talk about Trickster, Kigi, Heir to Europa, and the general topic of how I'm kinda-sorta making a living as a game designer. It's funny listening to it now because I had to be so coy about Action Phase games, the American publisher who would eventually develop Kigi into the new game Kodama.

The interview is still a fun one and I'm amazed how well Rich and Kenna managed to make me sound. It's almost convincing! I hope you'll enjoy listening to it. :)

P.S. Speaking of Kodama, it is blowing up on Kickstarter. 200% funded on day one. Nearly 300% funded as of this post. Funny how quickly these things come together, eh?

Kodama: the Tree Spirits is live on Kickstarter!

Kodama: the Tree Spirits is now live on Kickstarter! In this game, you and the other players are caretakers of the forest and its inhabitants. You must grow a tree as a new home for Kodama, the tree spirits. Each Kodama has its own preferences, so you'll have to grow carefully and select the right adornments to get it just right!

I'm so pleased with how much Action Phase Games has put into this project already. Watch the video below for an overview:

Here's the rulebook or watch the tutorial below for how to play:

To find out more about how Action Phase and I developed a new game based on Kigi, check out this designer diary on BoardGameGeek.

And, of course, back the project to get your copy! US shipping is free and it's EU-friendly! Thanks so much for your support! 🌱

Cardamom: Perhaps a Silly Idea

This weekend I tweeted about a product that I'd been mulling over for some time, but I just thought might be too silly to even try. I was feeling restless though, so I just quickly sketched out some cards by hand. I figure, what the heck, it can't hurt to blog about it.

Cardamom is an expansion for a standard deck of playing cards. It's a separate specialized deck of cards that act as SmashUp-style bases for which players compete by playing standard playing cards. It's a little bit worker-placement and a little bit area control.


  • Reveal three bases
  • Place them face-up in the center of the play area with plenty of room between them.
  • Keep the base deck nearby face-down.
  • Shuffle a standard deck of playing cards.
  • Deal 5 cards to each player.
  • Keep the card deck nearby face-down.
  • Keep a large supply of chips or paper money nearby. 

How to Play
Players take turns clockwise around the table. Start with the person who last had cardamom.

On your turn, play a card from your hand beside one of the bases. Orient the card so it is clear that you were the one who played it. Unless otherwise noted, you may not play more than one card to a base nor may you place a card on any other player's position around the base.

When you play a card, you may do the action noted on that base. This is optional.

You do NOT draw up to five cards at the end of your turn.

Turns continue until all visible spaces around all the bases have been filled. This ends the round.

Winning Bases
At the end of the round, each base says who will be granted a reward as determined by certain conditions.

New Bases
At the start of a new round, reveal three new bases.

After the base deck runs out, play out the remaining base(s) as a final round. After the final round, whoever has the most money is the winner.

Example Bases

Playing to this base lets you draw a card. At the end of round, 3♠️ earns $2. K♣️ earns $3. ♥️ and ♦️ earn nothing.

Not all rewards are good! Playing to this base earns $1, but at end of round, 10❤️ loses $2.

Some bases don't offer rewards, but offer useful actions like moving cards to other bases.

Here's an odd base: Play 2 cards to it. Highest total numerical rank gets $5. Any pair of matching suit/rank gets $2.

I call this "Cardamom" mainly for the "card" pun, but I could easily design this to look like some classic tea package designs with some lovely vintage spice illustrations. There might be spices on each base and whoever collects sets of bases with certain spice blends can score extra points at the end of the game. What do you think? Is this a silly idea?
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.