Save 25% or more off all Smart Play Games until July 30th!

Woot! It's the annual Xmas in July sale over at the DriveThru network, including all Smart Play Games on DriveThruCards. Head over there now to get 25% or more on every single card game on my storefront! If you've been holding out for the past few months, now is the time to get off the fence. These are the BEST deals you're going to get all year.

Don't wait! The sale only lasts until July 30th. Go go go!

Playtests are go for Trickster: Starship and Trickster: Symbiosis!

Yay! Trickster: Starship and Trickster: Symbiosis are now ready for outside playtests! If you can play these new Trickster sets in the next four weeks or so, please email gobi81 at gmail dot com. For further details on Trickster, check out the tutorial video below.

Trickster: Starship
The theme of this set is pioneers and discovery, with art by Brian Patterson. Most of these heroes affect the visible information in the game. This set also adds a new rule, the Boldly Bonus, which only applies to heroes from this set: Boldly Bonus: If you lead with any of these heroes, you may resolve their effect twice. (The second resolution is optional.)

Trickster: Symbiosis
The theme for this set is growth and balance. Many heroes let you thoughtfully cultivate your House and manage your majorities. This set features heroes from Steven Sanders’ biopunk Symbosis universe. Find more about it here:

If you want to playtest these sets, please email gobi81 at gmail dot com! Thank you!

Game Design Round Table Interview

This week I'm on the Game Design Round Table podcast mainly to ask advice of the prestigious hosts. The topics range from international licensing, to crowdfunding, to generally how to make a living as a game designer. I ramble a bit, as is my habit, but hopefully there are a few cogent points scattered amidst my mad ravings. Please enjoy!

Game Design Round Table Episode 129
  • 0:00:26 – Daniel’s background
  • 0:07:01 – Card counts
  • 0:11:10 – Sharing ideas
  • 0:15:27 – Playtesting
  • 0:18:31 – Kigi
  • 0:22:04 – Publishers in different regions
  • 0:33:39 – International legal matters
  • 0:39:49 – Royalties and crowdfunding
  • 0:53:58 – Upcoming projects
Subscribe and review the show on iTunes as well! Please support high quality game design discussion like this show. Thanks!

One Thing to Avoid in Game Design

When game designer Paul Peterson was interviewed for the upcoming Titans Series of games from Calliope Games, there was one segment at 1:55 that really caught my attention (emphasis mine):
"A couple years ago I was teaching people how to play Guillotine and I hadn't played in a while. The first thing I did was say, 'The first thing you gonna do when you open your game is you look through this deck and you take this card.' I pulled out the Callous Guards card and threw it over my shoulder. Everybody laughed. I said, 'That's the biggest mistake I ever made as a game designer in my life.'"
Oof. Those are strong words.

What's the big deal?

For context, the game Guillotine is all about collecting the heads of French nobles during the revolution. There is only one guillotine, with a line of nobles waiting for their grim fate. On your turn, you play action cards to change the order of the line, then take the Noble card from the front of the line. Your goal is to collect the most valuable set of Noble cards by the end of the game.

So what the heck does the Callous Guards card do that's so bad? "Action cards that alter the line may not be played." It stops the entire heartbeat of the game. While it's in play, no one can change the order of the line, which is what the vast majority of action cards can do. It means no one has any meaningful choices or substantial degree of interaction with the game-state while the Callous Guards are active.

Peterson later tweets: That card taught me the best lesson. "Don't stop players from playing the game."

Callous Guards in Other Games

You see some of this same frustration when Magic players face a fiercely constructed blue deck. Blue is notorious for restricting players possible actions or compelling them to follow a narrow avenue of strategic play.

In this GDC talk, Eric Dodds describes an early version of Hearthstone in which you discard cards from your hand as mana cost to play other cards. They eventually abandoned this plan because it just didn't feel good to have a card you carefully chose to put in your deck, only to have to waste it as fuel for another card. Players want to play those cards.

But the most classic example is probably any mechanism that forces players to "skip a turn." That most loathed of mechanics, perhaps second only to roll-and-move. I really only see this mechanic in very new designs from inexperienced designers. It's a big heavy sledgehammer that's very easy to swing, but rarely actually builds anything from the wreckage.

When do Callous Guards work?

All that said, I'm never one to completely rule out a game mechanism from my toolbox just because it's unpopular. I started thinking about examples where this sort of thing may actually be useful. These are edge cases, of course, but maybe it will inspire something in your future designs.

  • Voluntary Passing/Folding: In games where playing the game can be risky, it's entirely sensible to skip your own turn voluntarily. As long as it's not mandated by another player's choice, then you can sit back for a little bit with a smug smirk while the rest of the table dukes it out in increasingly costly conflicts.
  • Narrower Scope: Callous Guards really grinds the game to a halt because so many of the action cards relate to changing the order of the line. If those cards were a smaller subset of the whole deck, it might not have had such a severe impact. If you're making your own Callous Guards, find a small subset of actions that they can affect in your game.
  • Expensive, but not Impossible: Instead of outright banning certain actions, your Callous Guards may simply make those actions more expensive. Perhaps they must pay you a bribe to pass through one of your territories or building a certain advancement costs extra resources.

That's just for starters. What do you think? Are "Callous Guard" mechanics more trouble than they're worth or can they be implemented with some refinements? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Brian Patterson's art for Trickster: Starship

The second release for Trickster is still in development, but it will be a pair of Sci-Fi themed sets. Today, I wanted to show off Brian Patterson's new art for Trickster: Starship. This set is centered on the ragtag crew of the starship Emphasis. It's a loving mashup of the goofiest parts of Star Trek, Guardians of the Galaxy, Firefly, and Farscape.

Trickster Starship - The Captain

Trickster Starship - The Diplomat

Trickster Starship - The Engineer

Trickster Starship - The First Officer

Trickster Starship - The Medic

Trickster Starship - The Security Chief

Trickster Starship - The Pilot

Brian really knocked it out of the park! I'm eager to share more about Trickster: Starship as it develops!

Sketching a 3x3 Tactical Tug-of-War microgame

This summer I'm trying to get into the habit of running 5k each weekday morning, then sketching some ideas over breakfast. The running is the easy part to keep up, but the sketching has been a little more difficult. But today I've got a little notion that popped while I was stewing over Battleline, Pixel Tactics, and Gwent.

I'm imagining this as an 18-card microgame with a pick-and-pass drafting setup. With only 18 cards for two players, I think it would be easy to memorize each card, thus making "advanced" play much more accessible to newcomers.

There are three ropes, represented by three columns with a flag at the center of each. The goal is to win at least two out of three flags. Each player has their own 3x3 field in which to play one card per space. Each player simultaneously chooses the space into which they will play by placing a card face-down in that space. Then each player simultaneously reveals their card. Whoever has the highest total strength in a column at the end of the game will win that column's flag.

A standard unit has a strength noted on the top left and a suit on the top right. When you play cards to the field, they're always oriented so these stats are on the top of the card from your perspective. Many units also have adjacency bonuses. In this case, this guy gives +1 to the unit on his left, +4 to the unit to the right, and +2 to the unit behind.

This Ogre's strength is based on how many Hearts are in this same column. It has a heart itself, so it's at least worth 2 strength to start.

This wizard gives a +3 bonus to the two cards ahead of him. Note that if he is placed in the middle or front row, he'd actually be giving this bonus to enemy units.

Though there are only three columns, I wonder about allowing players to play along the periphery. The strength of that outside unit wouldn't contribute to winning a flag, but its adjacency bonus may still be valuable for the row or column. Perhaps it's a cheering crowd?

Anyhoo, that's all I had over breakfast. Maybe it'll turn into something cool?

How to Play Trickster - Tutorial Video Series

Yay! I'm so happy and proud to present the Trickster tutorial series. I hope you dig this method of releasing producing and releasing video tutorials for the series. Share, like, and subscribe!


  Buy it here
  Read the Rules PDF
  Rate and Review on BoardGameGeek

  Buy it here
  Read the Rules PDF
  Rate and Review on BoardGameGeek

Find more games from Smart Play Games at DriveThruCards

"Morocco Sting" Kevin MacLeod ( Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

"Meatball Parade" Kevin MacLeod ( Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

Production Notes
Each Trickster set is a standalone game, but with the option to mix-and-match heroes from different sets, so it was a challenge to figure out how to best present the rules. Do I make a completely standalone video for each set, even if it meant repeating the entirety of the rules each time? That seemed inconvenient.

I decided instead to make use of the tools available on YouTube to turn the whole thing into a playlist. The first video goes over the evergreen basics of the game then links to shorter videos that detail the hero effects from each individual set. I hope this strikes the right balance between drawing in newcomers, but still scaling for each new set that gets added to the series.

When I first started producing this video, I was going to use a more traditional real-camera, real-hands setup but I found it very restrictive. I needed to show things in HD at a nice pace with few noticeable seams between edits. So I took a crash course in Adobe Premiere and to learn the basics of animation and audio editing. Having experience with iMovie, Flash, and other Adobe products, I found the transition pretty easy! These came together in about a week and future videos should be easier now that I've established a template.

Many many thanks to the volunteers who looked at early versions of these videos privately. I couldn't have made these as tightly edited and informative without your input. Thanks! Now I wonder about making more animated graphic tutorial videos for board games. I couldn't compete with some of the skilled teachers out there who work on-camera, but I could definitely see it becoming a fun little hobby.

I hope you enjoy these videos! Please share, like, subscribe, and comment!
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.