General News Roundup: 29 May 2015

It's crazy busy here at Smart Play Games HQ, so I only have a few bullet points before I head back to the quarry. :)
  • Until midnight tonight, Belle of the Ball is available on for just $10!
  • Next month, I'll be releasing a version of Suspense on DriveThruCards featuring the art from the Brazilian FunBox edition.
  • The Chinese edition of Kigi from Joy Pie is 381% funded so far!
  • Trickster is almost ready to go to print, I just need your eyes on the rules doc one more time to find any errors. Please leave comments in the doc. Thank you!

Suzanne features Kigi on Board Game Blender

The most recent episode of Board Game Blender covered "Gaming on the Go." I was happy to see +Suzanne S feature a couple of my games in her segment! Starting at 1:06, you can see her cover a bunch of small games that pack easily in a tight space and can be played with a wide range of players.

Kigi gets the most screen time, which I'm very happy to see. It's great when my lack of boxes is a feature, not a bug, as is the case when you're trying to carry a lot of game in a small package. Thanks so much, Suzanne!

If you want to get your copy of Kigi, visit DriveThruCards!

Trickster – Revised Detective Dishi too powerful or just powerful enough?

As noted yesterday, the Detective's ability to simply draw a card from the deck was really not useful or desirable for a lot of playtesters. I tested out the revised ability last night:

Detective Dishi
Investigate: Look at two cards from an opponent’s hand. Take one into your hand. Give the other to any opponent’s hand.

I may have gone overboard and replaced his undesirable ability with an overly powerful ability. It gives you a one-two punch in that it lets you draft from an opponent's hand *and* lets you take control of the game's speed. For example.... (Names below changed to protect the innocent.)

Last night, Steve took a gamble by investigating Jane, who had only two cards left in her hand. Steve kept one card that gave him majority in Red. He then gave the second card to me, hoping to saddle me with an unwanted suit. This left his Jane with no cards in her hand, which ended the game.

This was a risk because she had two fewer cards to worry about at the end of the game, so she might have won simply because she had fewer cards. A slightly lesser risk was that he gave me a card I would need to fulfill a majority in a suit.

However, in this case, neither risk really panned out. Jane had a few too many singletons in her collection. While I had a few majorities, it wasn't enough to off-set all the cards I collected. He ended up having the winning score.

This is an edge case, so I'll need to playtest some more to make sure it's it overpowered. Honestly, maybe the fact that Steve was able to so deftly take a risk and have it pay off might be a sign that the Detective has a really good ability. I'm happy to hear your input!

Trickster Playtesters! What are your thoughts on these possible revised powers?

Based on input from Trickster playtests I announced the other day, I've proposed some possible revisions to cards in the Fantasy, Tianxia, and Symbiosis decks. Below is the list of possible revisions. None of these are final, but I did want to explain the reason for these changes for further discussion.

Trickster: Fantasy
Sneak: Move a card from your collection to an opponent's collection.
Reason for change: It seemed that the Rogue's current abilities were too versatile and could do with some more focus.

Trickster: Symbiosis
Claim: Move a card from an opponent's collection to your collection.
Reason for change: This card was formerly referred to as the Archaeologist, which may still be a valid name for this revised ability. Her former card-flipping ability was sort of esoteric to explain in a deck that was already pretty out-there in terms of mechanics. Making her a counter-point to the Rogue seemed a nice complement to a more streamlined deck. Card-flipping might make an appearance in another deck where it feels more at home.

Explore: Look at the top two cards of the deck. Take one of those cards into your hand. Return the other card back to the top of the deck.
Reason for change: This card was formerly the Navigator. Her "detour" ability was relatively easy to explain, but tended to cause some stumbles when resolving a round. The turn order got confusing. This new ability was proposed as a way to make the deck a more relevant part of the game, along with the Shuttle as noted below.

Commute: Take the top card of the deck into your hand. Put any card from your hand on top of the deck.
Reason for change: The Scout and Shuttle might become the hub of Symbiosis deck's mechanics tapping into the deck as a resource. In this case, I removed the "shuffle into deck" aspect of the Shuttle's ability and replaced it with a "burying" effect. Whereas the Scout gives you more control of "drafting" from the deck, the Shuttle gives you more control of your hand management and suit majority.

Quarantine: Move a card from an opponent's collection to any opponent's hand.
Reason for change: The Container's previous "swapping" ability didn't really feel like a containment and it didn't involve any other players' game states. I like abilities that affect some other aspect of the game beyond the self, even if it's a relatively neutral aspect like the Exile, Pot, or Deck. In this case, the Container has a much more subtle effect since it's entirely outwardly focused.

Trickster: Tianxia
Detective Dishi
Investigate: Look at two cards from an opponent’s hand. Take one into your hand. Give the other to any opponent’s hand.
Reason for change: Detective Dishi's former ability simply let you draw a card, which is not something most players ever wanted to do. Yes, there is a chance you could get a lucky draw that gives you majority in a suit, but that was too risky to be an interesting choice. More often, Dishi becomes an albatross that players reluctantly play or give away with the Adopt or Flurry ability. Besides that, "investigate" didn't even feel like a thematically correct term! Hopefully this revised ability better fits the theme and is more tempting to play.

Sister Chuntao
Donate: Whoever has the most cards in hand must give a card to another player of your choice.
Reason for change: This is only a small revision to Sister Chuntao's ability. Determining who had most cards and who had fewest took a few extra seconds that just slowed down the game too much.  I kept "most" and now allow you to choose any player as a recipient.

I'd like to get your input on these if possible. Maybe even try testing them out at your next session?

Carden ♥️♣️♦️♠️ A Card-Covering Puzzle Game?

It's been a while since I explored the simple physicality of cards as a play component. The success of Kigi's overlapping mechanic got me thinking about it again. I wanted to make another game that used a similar mechanic, but in a different way.

At the same time, I've always wanted to come up with some puzzle "system" that could be iterated over and over again for new puzzles. I'm thinking of things like Sudoku or Masyu. I've been playing a lot of La Boca and I liked the idea of a real-time team puzzle game that expanded to a large group. I thought I could use overlapping cards as the puzzle component somehow.

Whenever I work on a new game idea, I immediately dig into my longbox of assorted playing cards. I have about 300 standard playing cards from various cheap decks that I use to cobble together my alpha prototypes. So I just grabbed five different cards and started overlapping them, seeing what I could piece together as a game mechanic.

Here's what I came up with:

The premise is that you're planning a garden, based on specific requirements from your client. For now, you can play with a standard deck of playing cards, but I imagine this final game would use a customized deck of cards. The goal of each puzzle is to arrange a pile of cards so that only a certain number of icons are visible. (Yes, that includes icons along the corners.)

A puzzle is presented in this format
27: 5♥️ 6♣️ 2♦️ 8♠️ 1♠️

The bold number before the colon is the minimum total ranks that may be used in the solved puzzle (so you can't just grab the five of hearts, six of spades, etc.). The number before each suit is how many of those icons may be visible in the solved puzzle. It's assumed that you may only use one card of a suit in the puzzle, unless a suit appears twice. In this case, the puzzle requires two Spades cards. On one card, 8 spades should be visible while only one should be visible on the other.

Here's the solution to that Jason Paterson came up with this morning:

As an actual game, I may borrow the scoring mechanic from La Boca for now. Each player is paired with another player to jointly solve the same puzzle from the communal supply of cards. The faster they solve it, the more points they earn. Whoever has the most points wins.

I'm sure playtests will find that I have to adjust the scale of time and point values. For example, if you hit the exact required number of ranks, then you may get double points. Other variations might be something like this:

27: 5♥️♥️ 6♣️ 2♦️ 8♠️♠️

In this case, you must simply have two heart cards and two spades cards, but there is no restriction on how many icons must be visible on the individual cards. (Well, perhaps I'll impose a "1" minimum.)

I'll whip up some more puzzles for a testing in coming weeks to see if it's really something worth pursuing.

Heir to Europa - Now on DriveThruCards!

People of Earth! I just released a new game called HEIR TO EUROPA. Get it here:

It's an exciting new card game with set in a new universe of psychic intrigue and shadowy manipulation. Designer +Nick Ferris combines traditional trick-taking games with some innovative new tactics and subtle strategies. It features eye-catching new art by Marisha Lozada, which you can see above.

Check out more product shots below:

This is my first game from a designer other than myself! It's exciting new ground for me and my publishing model, so I hope you dig it. We're all very proud of how it all turned out. I hope you enjoy it! Once more, you can get your copy here:

This Soup is an Awful Cake: 5 Tips for Taking Playtest Feedback, from Game Design Roundtable

In a recent episode of Game Design Roundtable, Dirk Knemeyer, David Heron, and Rob Daviau discuss the nature of all sorts of feedback from playtesters all the way to post-release reviews. The bits specifically relating to playtest feedback were most interesting to me and I thought I'd list them out here for future reference.
Playtesters are usually really poor at self-reporting.
Matt Leacock asks testers to just record sessions on video, no written reports. He'll just watch the video at 1.5x normal speed and look for moments when players check the rulebook, check their phone, or just check out completely.

If you can't record video, be ready to listen.
Rob Daviau lets playtesters talk it out, even if conversation drifts to solutions that he has no intention of implementing. He just lets playtesters keep talking because they'll inevitably talk around the real problem.

Communicate your design goals. 
Watch out for playtesters who evaluate a game against their own preferences rather than your design goals. "This soup is an awful cake," is not the most useful feedback.

Hit the road. 
Finding local playtesters is difficult, so you have to really stretch what you think of as "local." Be prepared to log some miles to find willing playtesters at game stores in neighboring towns throughout the week or month. (I log my own miles for tax purposes, and I can tell you they really add up.)

Be physically prepared to take feedback. 
Make sure you're in the right mental state to hear playtest feedback, otherwise it might blow up. I can tell you from personal experience that by the end of a long playtest day without much of a break, I can get very catty. Rest, hydrate, eat, pace yourself.

You can listen to the rest of that episode here. It's really good!

Pick a Card, Any Card: Exporting mechanics from Apples to Apples and Cards Against Humanity.

Shut Up Sit Down has a scathing review of Cards Against Humanity that got me thinking about the core mechanics of the game. Setting aside my own feelings on CAH itself, I wonder why the "judge picks from player-submitted selections" conceit hasn't really spread out beyond a narrow category of Mad Libs-style party game originated by Apples to Apples.

There may be a stigma based on its association with other games, similar to how roll-and-move is unfairly maligned only because of a handful of well-known poor implementations. I'm a firm believer in mechanics not having an inherent positive or negative value. They're simply parts of a system that as a whole can be well or poorly constructed. For example, Spiel des Jahres winner Camel Up is essentially a roll-and-move game, redesigned and reimplemented to be an exciting gambling game.

Maybe it's because the mechanic is so tied to its originator that designers are reluctant to explore it further? Surely not. Deckbuilding is just as tightly connected to its originator (Dominion), yet now we've seen deckbuilding embedded in all sorts of other games and genres and themes, all for a wide range of audiences. Card-drafting hasn't spread quite as far, but it's still in games as varied as Sushi Go and Among the Stars, again still being connected to its originators (Fairy Tale/7 Wonders).

I honestly don't have an answer here, but here are a few ways the judge mechanic could be used in other games:

Each player has their own character, like a typical RPG. On your turn, you're offered a number of story-paths to take, not knowing who offered which option to you. This is basically like a choose-your-own adventure setup, but instead of a computer, your branching paths are decided collectively by the whole group. When you choose a path, whoever offered that path to you gets some reward as well, perhaps some resource to help overcome certain challenges on their own turn.

A long time ago, I proposed this mechanic as a tableau-builder, but then Andy Lenox told me about Mundus Novus, in which Bruno Cathala and Serge Lagat really sealed the concept into a nice package: "during the Trade phase, the players trade some of their cards. One of the players, the Trade Master, determines how many resource cards (2, 3 or 4) each player must offer for trade. The player that offers the resources with the highest value becomes the new Trade Master. He chooses one of the resources offered by one of the other players, and adds it to his hand, or exchanges it with a card from the market (three face-up cards that are available for such exchanges). Then, the player that he has taken a card from gets to take a card, and so on, until all the cards have been taken."

The active player must navigate a puck through an obstacle course constructed by the players. Each time the player hits an obstacle, whoever built it earns a reward. Perhaps some forgiveness when they must go through their own obstacle course on their own turn?

I don't know if any of these are great ideas, but there is potential. Where else could you take this mechanic?

Kigi sold out at Tokyo Game Market!

Great news! Kigi made a huge impression at Tokyo Game Market.

Reports from the event said there was a line at the GameField booth and lots of activity around the live demo. They had my video tutorial running the whole time, which is a great idea given the small space available at the Game Market.

Gamefield brought 300 copies to the show, which is very ambitious for a new game. Thankfully it all worked out! I hope this is the beginning of an even more successful life for Kigi overseas. Many thanks to Gamefield!

(Photos from @nasika, @boardgamegeek, @zenxcred. Thanks!)

Updated PnP for Trickster: Fantasy, Trickster: Tianxia, and Trickster: Symbiosis!

I just updated three Trickster decks for open playtesting. These include updated card designs with revamped diagrams that will hopefully be language-neutral enough for international audiences.

For the sake of clarity, I did give each card a key verb so you could say "I'm rescuing this" or "I'm restoring that." I found it makes the game much smoother when players had that kind of in-game vocabulary at a glance.

And here are the PDFs. Feel free to print and play these with your group!

I'm eager to hear your feedback on how each works out for you. If you're feeling daring, try taking heroes from one deck and adding them to another.

Thanks very much!

Why are board game boxes so big?

After posting the deboxing video earlier this week, discussion turned to just why the heck boxes are so often far larger than their contents. Each publisher has their own reasons and their own financial pressures to make every one of their decisions, but here are some common reasons.

Standardization: It's just plain cheaper to pick from a whole line of readymade boxes of a uniform size rather than make a custom box for each game. Plus, a lot of collectors like uniformity in their shelf display, hence concepts like the Bookshelf series.

Expansion: When a publisher signs a game that they think has a strong potential for long-term sales, it makes sense to plan for expansions ahead of time. (Usually this applies to card games specifically, like deckbuilders.) The extra space in the core box is meant to be filled with those future expansions.

Transport: Having a fair bit of air in the game box (and the shipping box surrounding the game box) helps keep the contents safe and undamaged. I don't necessarily buy this rationale myself, but I've heard enough from industry experts that I'll defer to their expertise.

Marketing: I can't find any market research supporting this, but I hear from retailers that big boxes that face out to the store floor at eye level really help the game sell itself. The bigger the face, the more it catches the eye.

Pricing: Board games are not a high-margin business and it's tough to just get a product to sell its first print run. Despite gripes from BGGers about "buying boxes of air," the box size communicates its price point. The smaller the box, the more it seems like a cheap impulse buy. The bigger the box, the more it seems worth spending an extra $10.

Loss Control: Smaller items are easier for a shoplifter to pocket, so some boxes get artificially inflated to make that more awkward to manage. Anything smaller has to go up front by the register or within eyesight of the clerk. Again, this demotes those products to the impulse buy category. I hear this is less of an issue with some publishers and stores, but it's still a concern in any retail environment.

This may be a good time to mention that all of Smart Play Games have optional deckboxes. If you don't want another box cluttering up your shelf, keep things minimal and just order a card deck on its own. Browse the catalog here!
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.