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
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?

How do you revise your design? [Game Designers of North Carolina Podcast - Ep 3]

I'm very lucky to be a part of the Game Designers of North Carolina collective. We're all tabletop game designers organized by Matt Wolfe to playtest each other's games and help each other get published.We see each other iterating game design pretty rapidly, making small refinements or major changes between versions.

In our guild's podcast, Matt Wolfe invited Graham Russell and me to talk about iterating a design. We cover quite a bit about:
  • How to know how much to change between revisions.
  • How to know when a game is done.
  • When to shelve a project you know won't get finished.
  • Recognizing a potentially fun game earlier in the process.
 Good stuff! Check it out!

(Image source)

Spooky! Trickster: Monsters and Trickster: Supers are available for playtesting!

Happy October, everyone! I'm happy to announce Trickster: Monsters and Trickster: Supers are now available for playtesting! All playtesters are welcome, but I'm looking for a mix of experienced Trickster players and totally new players. Please share your feedback before October 31 2015, email gobi81 at gmail dot com or on twitter @DanielSolis.

The theme for Trickster: Monsters is "Haunted Houses," which is sort of a pun. All of the effects in this set can trigger a second time if your target opponent has this character in their House already. This makes your initial choice of card during the setup particularly dangerous because you're making yourself a target.

--> Download Trickster: Monsters PnP PDF here.

The theme for Trickster: Supers is "Power," which is fitting! It's sort of the reverse of Monsters, because each effect in this set can trigger a second time if you have the hero in your House already. In this set, having cards in your house is a source of strength. This is meant to emulate superheroes getting beaten up a bit before recovering with renewed purpose.

--> Download Trickster: Supers PnP PDF here.

Thanks so much! I hope you enjoy these two new spins on the Trickster game family!
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.