Highlights from BGG.con! [Video]

Thanks for being patient with my slow posting schedule the past few weeks. I'd been preparing non-stop for BGGcon this year (and then catching up on all the other freelance work that backed up before then). I wanted to come to this con more prepared with prototypes that might be a better fit for the current market. Seemed to work out!

It was certainly my most hectic and busy con in many years. Seemed like I was always bustling from one impromptu meeting to another the whole time. I arrived with about 7 prototypes and they're all now in someone else's hands. That's no guarantee of publishing, but at least it's a nice start! Always a good sign of a healthy business trip.

The rest of my time was spent trying out fun new games and some old favorites with new friends. Check out the video above for a highlight reel of some of the games that hit the table.

Belle of the Ball Second Edition Coming in December!

Hey all! Quick update from Greater Than Games regarding Belle of the Ball Second Edition.

It's being printed right now! Barring any unforeseen shipping problems, copies of Belle of the Ball Second Edition should be available on the Greater Than Games web store and on Miniature Market in early December. They'll be rolling into stores shortly thereafter. Cutting it a bit close, but GTG is 90% sure we'll make it!

If you're a store owner and want to get Belle back on your shelves ASAP, contact paul@greaterthangames.com for info.

If you own the first edition, here's a quick overview of some changes to the rules and a few bits of card text.

New Tuck Boxes from DriveThruCards!


Tuckboxes are now live for I Can't Even With These Monsters and Curse You, Robin Hood! When you're in the checkout page, just select the third option for the item. It's entirely optional as always, but they look great. Here's a quick tour of their features!


First off, the print quality is great as always. The print is smooth, the colors are vibrant, and the consistency is top notch.


When you take a closer look, you'll notice this seam along the edges of one of the panels. This is because these boxes use no glue in their construction. They're entirely secured with folds and flaps. This has the additional benefit of making the box very rigid and sturdy.


When you open the box, you'll see the deck of cards you ordered without the usual order # card or cellophane band that comes with no-box or plastic box decks.


The rear hinge of the top lid needs a crease here to open properly, which is why I designed the back of my box to be on this panel. I set up the info bar to be just above that crease so it looks more intentional. I also made sure not to put any important text along this crease.


Here's a close-up of the inside of the box, showing one other benefit of this construction. Unlike typical tuckboxes, there's no bottom flap sticking up, pushing against the cards. It makes returning the cards to the box an easy breeze.


This big interior flap is the key to the whole box's construction. That flap sticking into the side a bit creates a gentle pressure against the deck keeping it nice and snug.


And that's a quick overview of the new tuck boxes! I hope you dig them!

Two New Card Games on Sale!

Hello, all! These are the first two card games I'm self-publishing in over a year and I'm mighty proud of them.

Curse You, Robin Hood! is a rowdy pub-style card game where you're merchants in Sherwood Forest trying to get as rich as possible. The only problem is that if you're the richest in a particular type of good, Robin Hood will steal it all from you. Different legendary characters will also join your game, introducing the basics of bluffing and negotiation to new players without getting in the way of gameplay. I really love the art by Molly Ostertag.

» Buy it here: Curse You, Robin Hood!

» Watch the video tutorial here:

I Can't Even With These Monsters is the first game in the I Can't Even series. In these games, there's one major rule: Only the highest odd-numbered score will win the game. Even if four players have 22, 20, 18, and 3 points respectively, the player with 3 points will win. This edition introduces the basic concepts with seven fun monsters illustrated by Charles Andrew Bates.

Buy it here: I Can't Even With These Monsters

Watch the video tutorial here:

SPX 2016 Overview

Howdy folks! I just got back from SPX 2016, the convention focused on independent and small press comics creators. Back in 2014 I briefly mentioned SPX as a great source for artistic talent. Last year I described the parallels between the indie comics and the tabletop game design communities.

This year I'm just exhausted, so here's a link to the pinterest board of artists I met at the hall. Most of these artists said they were available for freelance assignments, so if you're a publisher or art director looking for new talent, check them out!

A brief overview of my exp at the show:
  • Fri: Toured the comics vault at Library of Congress. Saw a lovely Harrison Cady piece. Talked sci-fi movies with new friends. Then hauled boxes around the hall for set up.
  • Sat: Line mgmt duty. Met The Adventure Zine artists. Saw the Ignatz Awards. Danced at (and evacuated from) the SPX prom.
  • Sun: Mostly special duty. Saw @careydraws on Magical Girls panel! Then teardown, lifting, hauling. Alas, too tired to play Magic. Happy tho!
  • Mon: Silver Diner breakfast with smart folks talking about creative life and work.

And now I must sleep a week.

▶️ Highlight Key Words with Custom Tags in InDesign [Card at Work: 15]

Laying out a card game but your team members don't have indesign? Spreadsheets don't keep character formatting either, so that's no help. How can your team call out key words for you to style? Custom tags!

Using a library of customized plain text tags makes it easy to know which words need to be styled a particular way. By setting up a few simple GREP styles in InDesign, those tags will automatically highlight and style those key words like magic. All you have to do is merge the records in DataMerge as usual and InDesign does the rest of the work for you.

Hope you find this useful! Support more videos at patreon.com/danielsolis!

Wireframe Card Designs for Patrons

New goodies for all my patrons! I had a request for some wireframe card designs for different types of games, so here's a test batch for you. These are available in EPS, JPG and an IDML file. Hope you find these useful! If you'd like to see more, please comment on the Patreon post here. Thanks!

Chess Terrain Cards?

This was a silly little product I was mulling a while back. It's too goofy for abstract players and too abstract for goofy players. So, probably just right for my sensibilities. :)

It's deck of cards with 2x3 grid of spaces. Eight cards arranged as shown above would make the middle six rows of a chess board. Each player's home row is implied by the dotted lines. You'd set up a standard chess game and play on this modular board, using the special effects on the spaces shown above.

This is obviously designed for chess, but could easily combo with the transparent card abstract game I posted as well. It's one of those little ideas that's not really marketable at anything but a niche scale, but I probably great for a POD product. It's been a long time since I've released any new product and the longer the hiatus, the more pressure I feel to make the next one really special. Perhaps instead I should just focus on these sorts of silly ideas.

What do you think?

Poker Auction Alpha Prototype

Lately I've been thinking about designing card decks that act as supplements for a standard deck of playing cards you already have at home. The idea is that with one of these supplements and a deck of playing cards, you'd have a deep and extremely portable strategy game in your favorite genre. Auction games, area control games, etc.

First up, a poker auction game. The idea here is that you could play out an auction using poker hands instead of money. I liked the idea that instead of a 1:1 ratio of dollars to bidding power, a poker hand could have an unpredictable bidding power.

To get the alpha on the table as soon as possible, I just cannibalized a first edition of Sushi Go as a placeholder set of set collection cards. I also grabbed a Hocus deck since it had a convenient summary of poker hands. With the Game Designers of North Carolina, we play stormed the following game:

Remove the chopsticks from the Sushi Go deck. Shuffle it together and deal out five lots of three random Sushi Go cards each, lined up in a row. Shuffle the poker deck. Each player begins with a random hand of five poker cards.

One lot goes up for auction at a time, starting from the front of the line. Each player takes turns bidding or passing on it.

Bid: Lay a valid poker set as a bid in front of you. (The lowest bid is "High Card," a single card.) You may instead add a card or cards to your existing bid. These new cards may raise the bid to a better poker set or be a "kicker." In either case, your new bid must be the strongest bid on the table. If it is not, then you must pass.

  • A kicker is a card that is not technically part of a poker set, but will break ties between two poker hands of equal strength. For example, of you bid a High Card of 8, then Matt bids an 8, and Ruth also bids an 8, you can then add a 4 to your bid. If no one else can add a higher card to their bid as a kicker, or make their card a stronger poker set, then you would win the auction.

Pass: Draw a card from the deck. You're now out of the round.

Once all but one player has passed, the player who has the strongest poker set wins the lot. If two or more players have equally strong bids, they cancel each other out and the next strongest bid wins the lot.

When you win a lot, its cards go into your tableau. The winner discards their bid cards. Anyone else returns their bid to their hands.

The hand limit is nine cards total, so at this point you must discard down to nine if necessary.

Then the next lot in line goes up for auction, following the procedures described above. This continues for each of the five lots. After the fifth lot is won, that round is over.

All sets but the Puddings score at the end of the round, if able. If any of your cards score, they must be discarded. If any of your cards do not score, you can keep those cards in your tableau going into the next round.

To begin a new round, deal five new lots for the next round. Players keep all of their poker cards in their hand going into the next round. Play one round per player.

The game ends after one round for each player. The player with the most points wins.

GDofNC recommended that instead of a poker deck the game could use a Pairs deck.

If a Pairs deck, then the auction winner would be whoever plays the largest set of matching cards. If tied, whoever played the lower ranked set wins. That seemed easier than figuring out poker hands. It also makes a nice balance in a Pairs deck as more common cards are powerful as a group, but less powerful individually.

While certainly more accessible, I'm still not sure if a Pairs deck has the versatility of a poker deck though. It also means departing from this little conceit that started this whole idea in the first place. Perhaps that's one darling I should drop right away, but I'd like to give it a shot one more time.

Translating Sports to Tabletop Mechanics [Design]

Men's Pole Vault

It's Olympics season and I've been particularly fascinated with the game design behind the rules and formats for each sport. Here are some quick notes about how they might translate if they were rules for a tabletop game.

Modern Pentathlon has a fencing round where the lowest ranked fencer duels the second-lowest. Whoever wins moves on to duel the next lowest. This continues with the winner of each duel climbing the ranks and the loser being removed from that round and earning points accordingly. I could see a Magic: the Gathering tournament being formatted like this as a casual event.

Miss and Out Cycling has a large group of cyclists on a track doing laps around the course, but the last cyclist to cross the finish line is eliminated from that race. Laps continue in this manner, with more cyclists being eliminated. This is more or less how Get Bit works, replacing individual racers with 5 hit points for each player.

Olympic Diving has 7 scores from judges kept separate from one another, then the highest and lowest two scores are ignored, the remaining scores are multiplied by the difficulty level. It's a bit convoluted, but I could see something like this in an early Euro sort of game.

Volleyball has an interesting combination of racing mechanics and tennis victory. There are some variations, but generally each round of play may only end after a team has X points. Once a team has a point difference of Y points over their opponent, they win the round. This might lead to some extended games at the table, but I'd love to see a 2p abstract formatted like this.

Pole Vault has a classic push-your-luck mechanism. The difficulty is raised (literally) throughout the game, then players must decide to pass or attempt the vault. Three missed attempts eliminates the player. This reminds me a lot of Welcome to the Dungeon, but it might work with any push-your-luck tabletop game.

Cool stuff! Any other Olympics games you think might translate to tabletop mechanisms?

Belle of the Ball - Second Edition Rulebook and Errata Feedback

Hello party people! I'm happy to show you the Belle of the Ball second edition rulebook and some of the card errata. We wanted to get public feedback before going to print, especially from fans and owners of the original edition.

Here's a link to the rulebook for your review.

I'll keep that PDF updated as folks find typos or errors. We're looking for feedback before August 19, 2016 ideally. There's a teeny bit of wiggle room on that deadline, but not much.


In the basic game, start each player with one random Belle card.
Swap step 1 and 2 so players can use a Belle card on the same turn it was acquired. No more waiting a full round to use it.

Remove step 3. Instead, your group scores immediately when it is full, even if it’s not your turn. This might clean up a few of the awkward bits of explanation for new players. Now it’s clear that if it’s on the table, it can be added to. This also is more merciful to players who get a full group before it’s their turn when the game ends.

The rules now state that a county power is used as if it were a Belle card, during step 2 of a players’ turn.

5-player rules are now incorporated into the standard and advanced game modes, not as a separate variant.

What was formerly the 5-player variant is now renamed “Shindig Variant,” highlighting its more chaotic play style.

For detailed errata list and changes to the cards, see the live doc at the link below.


County Cards

CHANGE: Dismiss a Belle card (and its regrets) from the line.
TO: Discard a Belle card from the line. Take its regrets.

CHANGE: After scoring a group, keep one of the guests in your party.
TO: If you scored a group, keep one of those guest cards in your party in that group’s space.



CHANGE: When scoring a group, earn double points from each of these interests: [[ICONS HERE]].
TO: Score 2 points for each of these interests in one of your groups: [[ICONS HERE]]


CHANGE: Dismiss a guest card (and its regrets) from the line.
TO: Discard a guest card from the line. Take its regrets.

CHANGE: When taking a card, you may take one more, following normal rules.
TO: You may take one more card from the same line you took a card this turn, following normal rules.

CHANGE: Use this power as a substitute for spending one regret.
TO: Take a guest card from the top of the deck. Turn it face-down. It is now a regret in your supply.

CHANGE: Move one of your guests to another one of your groups.
TO: Move one of your guest cards to one of your other groups.

CHANGE: Swap a guest in your party for a guest from the line.
TO: Swap a guest card in your party for a guest from the line. (Any regrets in the line remain in place.)

CHANGE: Force a player to score (and dismiss) one of their groups of your choice.
TO: Force a player to score and discard one of their groups of your choice.

Belle Cards

The Belle seems to be Everywhere
CHANGE: Add this card to an opponent’s group.
TO: Discard this card from your hand.

The Belle Welcomes the Lords
ADD TO END: (Lords have “Lord” in their name and have a blue background.)

The Belle Welcomes the Ladies
ADD TO END: (Ladies have “Lady” in their name and have a purple background.)

The Belle Makes Room
CHANGE: This group scores when it has seven cards.
TO: This group is considered full when it has seven cards, not four.

The Belle slips a VIP Pass
DELETE: This counts as your invitation.

The Belle finds a Secret Entrance
DELETE: This counts as your invitation.

The Belle wants a Classy Party
ADD TO END: (Ladies have “Lady” in their name and have a purple background. Lords have “Lord” in their name and have a blue background.)

The Belle Keeps Things Casual
ADD TO END: (Ladies have “Lady” in their name and have a purple background. Lords have “Lord” in their name and have a blue background.)

The Belle is feeling Rushed
ADD TO END: (Full groups are scored at the end of their owners’ turn.)

The Bell says Vive la Difference!
CHANGE: Difference
TO: Différence
ADD TO END: (In other words, score 1 point for each unique icon in this group.)

Trying Some Racing Game Key Terms. Are they clear?

Holiday Snap 2: Tron

After playing Wolfgang Kramer's Top Race the other day, I'm thinking about racing games again. In Top Race, each card moves several colored cars through the track as far forward as possible. Because you're betting on the race results as well as controlling your own car, you're still invested in the outcome even if your car is trailing behind. Controlling opponent's cars is very valuable and fun way to stay engaged throughout the game, which is a common problem in racing games.

I got to thinking about how to capture that same versatility and engagement with a card-driven racing game without the betting element. One way I thought about was using conditional positions instead of specific colors. For example, say I establish these key terms.

  • You: A car or cars you control.
  • Straggler: The car in last place.
  • Leader: The car in first place.
  • Chaser: The car in second-place.
  • Follower: The car immediately behind your car.
  • Pacer: The car immediately ahead of your car.

The cards would list a series of actions that must be resolved in that order. Each action moves the indicated car forward a number of spaces on the track. For example:

You: 3-6
Leader: 1-2

You: 3-4
Straggler: 6

Pacer: 1-2
You: 4
Follower: 1

Leader: 1
You: 2
Chaser: 3

Each action is resolved in order, so you could use a card in some fun power moves.

  • For example, if you played BURST! to put yourself in first-place, then you are the Leader, therefore you could move 1-2 extra spaces.
  • If you play COMEBACK! and you're still in last place, then you could give yourself a huge sprint of +6 spaces forward.
  • If you play PUSH! to put yourself in second-place, then you're the Chaser and can move yourself an extra 3 spaces.

My main concern at this point is that it's too confusing to make up game terms for these positions or if there are already real-world racing terms for these positions. If you're aware of any or have suggestions for more clear alternatives, please share!

Just 24 hours left to back POD-X!

Less than a day left to jump in on the Pod-X kickstarter! Check out the links here for the PnP preview, the rules, and a play overview. Appreciate your support!

Card at Work: 11 - Inserting Optional Line Breaks with DataMerge

It's a new episode of Card at Work, the video series covering the basics of designing cards for tabletop games!

This time we're building on the GREP tricks from the last episode on inline icons and using similar technique to insert optional line breaks within a single cell of a spreadsheet. Using this method, you can drop a line break into a single block of text without needing a manual line break in the InDesign template itself OR using a find-replace after merging the document.

This is my first Card at Work episode in HD resolution. I'm slowly figuring out Adobe Premiere so hopefully these episodes will be even higher quality as time goes on.

P.S. I'll be streaming today live at around noon EST. I'll be working on a new round of layout updates for Chimera Station from Tasty Minstrel Games at http://www.twitch.tv/danielsolis81.

Support more videos at my Patreon!

Coffee & Carcassonne - "That Radical Rock"

It's the second episode of Coffee & Carcassonne! Megan and I usually play Carcassonne over Sunday brunch at home. We hope you enjoy the gameplay and dorky conversation!

Transparent Card 2-Player Abstract

2-player abstracts are really hard to make commercially viable, but that's never kept me from noodling them a bit. This is one idea that I've had on the back burner for a long time while I was focused on card games, but I'm pushing it forward a bit now that Onitama and the Duke are more prominent.

The basic idea is using transparent cards like Gloom or Mystic Vale with an abstract movement UI as seen in Onitama, the Duke, and Tash-Kalar. Each player has identical set of unique pieces. Call them A, B, C, D, and E.

To set up the game, each player draws five cards from the deck. Each player simultaneously secretly picks then reveals a card to assign to each type of piece. In the above example, player 1 picked Elephant and player 2 picked Crab. For this game, A has the traits and powers of Elephant and Crab. Then you do the same for B, C, D, and E.

Then you play the remainder of the game using those movement rules. I'm imagining the game played on a 9x9 board, I can playtest on the lines and vertices of a normal chess board.

The goal of the game is to score three points. If you begin your turn with one of your pieces on your opponent's center space on their home row, you score three points and win the game immediately. Most of the rest of their home row scores 2 points. The corners of the home row scores 1 point. So you could be aggressive and aim for your opponent's heart or do a more controlled overwhelming push.

POD-X: Find the last escape pod!

Button Shy's been teasing the release of POD-X, coming to Kickstarter in July 5 through July 16, 2016. It's their 3-4 player adaptation of my microgame Suspense, using the original "Escape the spaceship" theme I had waaaay back at UnPub 3. I'm super excited to see how it turns out. Hope you dig it too!

In Pod-X, players are trying to escape a fallen spaceship on the last escape pod. One player knows its  location, but is keeping it secret to themselves. What a jerk! All the other players are trying to deduce and bluff their way to the secret location in this quick parlor-style card game.

Fair warning though, this is basically the Dark Souls of deduction microgames. It rewards repeated play and familiarity with the card deck. We hope you'll play again and again, developing your own mini-meta within your group. Look for POD-X next month!

Designing the Job – Part 1: What does a game cost the designer?


Most professional tabletop game designers I've met have a day job. This is just anecdotal, but it seems a full time game designer is VERY rare. I’m more of a pro today than I’ve ever been, but most of my household contribution still comes from an aggregate of freelance projects, Patreon, DriveThruCards, and SkillShare. Only a fraction of comes from traditional game design work. And all of that totaled together is still only about a third of what my wife makes at her normal day job.

When I'm working on any game eventually I have to ask myself the scary question:

“Is this game worth designing?”

Is this game costing me too much money? Is it costing too much time? With this series of short articles, I want to share how I figure out whether a game I'm working on is worth designing and, if so, how much I can expect to earn for my time and expense designing it. First up...

How much money has this game cost already?

The most common expense is material costs. My prototypes repurpose sticker paper or bits scrounged from a scrap store, then I endlessly recycle those materials effectively making the material costs free. If I send a prototype to a publisher and it isn’t returned, I have to note that as an expense as well.

When I intend to license my games, I use stock art, public domain art, remixed vectors, or photos to save on the art budget. All of that will usually be changed by the publisher anyway, so it doesn't make sense to spend too much on it.

If I self-publish, I allow myself a small art budget to get some custom illustrations, which significantly helps sales. Lately I make sure I have rights to include this art as part of a future licensing package to another publisher as well.

If I travel to test Game A, B, and C, then I split up my entire expense of that travel between those three games. (This includes event registration, plane tickets, food, etc.)

Let’s look at a hypothetical example: I’ve spent this much designing NOODLE KNIGHT...
  • Material Costs: $50

  • Shipping Costs: $50

  • Art Expense: $500

  • Travel Expenses: $100

So any option for publishing Game A should earn me at least $700 over its lifetime of sales. This is the unusual case where I do intend to self-publish. If I didn't, then I wouldn't have spent so much on the art budget.

How much TIME has this game cost already?

This is an easy number to quantify, but harder to justify. You can easily track how many hours you spend developing, designing, and playtesting Game A, B, and C. But when you translate that to the most minimum wage income, it’s quickly apparent that being a tabletop game designer does NOT pay a competitive hourly rate compared to other careers.

This is where the passion for the job outweighs the practical considerations. Yes, you could earn more spending those same hours doing a less satisfying job, but that just shifts costs to your emotional well-being. We’re in a fortunate and privileged position that I can decide to take a hit to my wallet rather than my happiness.

Returning to the example:
  • If I've spent 50 hours developing NOODLE KNIGHT, that's about ~$360 at North Carolina minimum wage. If I want to earn at least minimum wage from my game, any publishing option should also earn an additional $360 over its lifetime of sales.

You also have to consider how much additional development time you would be willing to spend if the publisher has changes they want to make to the game. Publishers vary in their development practices. Some take the whole game and test their changes in-house without much additional input from the designer, which is great since the designer has presumably already done the vast majority of design work. Some will want changes, but expect the designer to develop them on their time, which just adds to the up-front costs you'd have to negotiate in your contract.


Now I have a ballpark goal of about $1060 to earn from my game. The more time or money I spend on the game, the more I'd need to earn to just break even. Beyond a certain threshold, I can't expect a retail license or POD sales to reach that number. That's why I need to keep my material costs low and development time efficient, to make any game I'm working on actually worth working on.

Any professionals out there break down their games like this? Is it too fiddly? Do you have another method of accounting? I'd love to hear it!

An Investigative Reporting Push-Your-Luck Game


I've been noodling a push-your-luck game themed around investigative journalism for a while now. At first I was exploring a reverse-auction mechanic, but the push-your-luck aspect of Circus Flohcati, Incan Gold, Dead Man's Draw, and Abyss seemed to make more sense. The idea of "digging" into the deck as a mechaphor of investigation sounded really compelling. I also really love games where the only prep you have to do is shuffling one deck of cards.

Here are the basic ideas I have right now, which haven't entirely gelled yet into a real game, but are close enough to get to the table by next week.

Cards have ranks and suits, noted by the number and large symbol along the top corner. Each suit represents different subjects your reporter is following.

Below the suit is a little arrow pointing at another suit. Lower ranks have more arrows than higher ranks. 1s are "?" and have an arrow pointing to "?"


Shuffle the deck. Deal one card to each player's hand. Discard ten cards to the discard pile face-up.

Each player begins with 0 points, 10 Credibility, and 5 Money.

How to Play

On your turn, you'll dig: Reveal a card from the deck and place it in the center of the play area. Then you must decide whether you'll stop or keep digging.
  • Keep digging: Reveal another card and place it beside the last revealed card. Then decide again whether to keep digging or stop. If you ever reveal two of the same suit, you're caught and must do the penalty action noted by the matched suit.
  • Stop: Take one card from the play area into your hand and do the action noted by that suit. Actions are more powerful the more cards there are in the play area.

At the end of your turn, you may file a report. Lay down a set of cards from your hand in front of you. Reports are either open or closed.
  • Open: Your report connects suits to each other in a linearly. For example, Media connects to Military connects to Government. When you file an open report, score the lowest rank in the report as points.
  • Closed: Your report connects suits in a closed loop. For example, Media connects to Military connects to Governments, which also connects back to Media. When you file a closed report, score the highest rank in the report as points.
When you file, you may discard 1 Money to fill in any missing connections. The next time you do this costs 2 Money. The next time after that costs 3 Money, and so on.

"?" may be used to fill any missing connections for free.

Keep your filed reports separate from one another, face-up so everyone else can see them.

This ends your turn. The next player begins their turn as noted above. Each player must dig at least once on their turn before deciding to stop.


This is just a quick list of possible suits, their actions, and their penalties. Nothing final, just something to test at the table ASAP. In all cases, the "__" in actions is the number of cards in the play area.

Entertainment: Take __ cards from the top of the discard pile. Penalty: Discard __/2 cards from your hand.

Sci-Tech: Look at __x2 cards from the top of the deck and take __ into your hand. Penalty: Discard __/2 cards from your hand.

War: Swap __/2 cards from any opponent's reports for cards your hand. The swapped cards must be the same suit. Penalty: Discard __/2 cards from any of your filed reports.

Business: Gain __x2 Money. Penalty: Discard __ Money.

Politics: Spend __ Money to gain __/2 Credibility. Penalty: Discard __/2 Credibility.

International: Discard up to __/2 cards from your hand to gain that much Credibility. Penalty: Discard __ Money.

Local: Discard up to __/2 cards from your hand, then take that many cards from the top of the deck into your hand. Penalty: Discard __ Money.

Rumor: Add __ cards from your hand to any of your filed reports. Penalty: Discard __/2 Credibility.

I'm sure there are other subjects that would fit in this list and these subjects could have more thematic effects. That's it for now though.

End of Game

When the deck runs out, the game is over.

At the end of the game, you get bonus points for doggedly reporting on the same subjects over and over again. For each suit appearing on more than one of your reports, score the highest rank in that series. In the example above, you reported on War three times, the highest rank of which is 8, so you score 8 points.

Money doesn't affect final scores.

Whoever has the most Credibility doubles their point total.

The player with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.

I like the idea of two competing strategies being equally valid: File fewer reports while relying on your Credibility to carry you through - OR - Spend a bunch of money filing shoddy reports aiming for an insurmountably high score, regardless of your Credibility.

Logo Design Time Lapse Video – Catty B's

Here's a new time-lapse video of a recent logo design for Catty B's, a comedy series from Angela Webber and Lucia Fasano. They were very kind and generous to let me record and share this design process.

Patrons $10+ also get a version of this video with commentary about how I designed this logo and some of the decision process. Hope you all find that useful!

Thanks to Angela, Lucia, and all my patrons for making these videos possible!

Art Preview - Molly Ostertag's Illustrations for "Curse You, Robin Hood!"

Huzzah! Molly Ostertag just wrapped up a new batch of art for Curse You, Robin Hood! These are the legendary characters Robin Hood, the Sheriff, Maid Marian, Will Scarlet, Little John, Friar Tuck, and the Prince. Here are Molly's final pieces with some of the art direction.

I wanted a more ethnically diverse retelling of the Robin Hood myth, set closer to the Iberian peninsula than Britannia. That flipped things around with casting a bit as the Sheriff would end up looking more like Errol Flynn.

Maid Marian was the only prominent female character in the lineup originally, so I asked Molly to model Will Scarlet on a roguish Ruby Rose. Little John was modeled on the Rock.

Friar Tuck was modeled on Kristian Narn's portrayal of Hodor on Game of Thrones. The Prince was modeled on Brad Dourif's portrayal of Grima Wormtongue from Lord of the Rings.

My art direction initially called for the Prince and Sheriff to be flipped here, but Molly's renderings were so distinctive that they seemed more appropriate this way. This is one of those nice cases where being in the driver's seat lets me adjust the game mechanics to suit the excellent art.

For more on Curse You, Robin Hood!
» One-Page Summary 

Find more of Molly Ostertag's art on her website.

BGG Designer Diary: Branching Out from Kigi to Kodama

Woot! BoardGameGeek just posted Branching Out from Kigi to Kodama, my designer diary outlining the history of how Kigi's international licenses eventually led to domestic development for Kodama: the Tree Spirits. Check it out!

Making Art Direction More Inclusive

When I get the wonderful opportunity to art direct for new characters, it's like opening a big awesome toy box. I have to remind myself of some things so I approach this job responsibly. This isn't necessarily a "tips" list, or in any order of priority, it's just what I try to keep in mind. Hopefully it's something you might find useful, too.

An inclusive mindset is a crank, not a switch.
It isn't a one-time flip from ignorance to enlightenment. It's an ongoing process of checking self, looking back on mistakes, and making assertive efforts to do better. I've never been and never will be 100% "woke," but I must keep trying to "wake up." I will make (and have made) mistakes, but that isn't an excuse to stop putting in the effort to be more inclusive. This has real practical impact when I'm working on a project as an art director. As an art director, I have so much freedom to guide artists in certain directions that it's an awful missed opportunity if I don't at least try to push.

» For more, see the Parable of the Polygons.

Question the "default."
You know how Earth is moving around the sun and the sun is moving through the galaxy, but we don't recognize it because we are born into it? That's sort of like the "Default." My beliefs, body, culture, class, or anything else is not the "default." The "default" is just the motion we're born into and assume is the standard forever. In truth, the "default" is the inertia of history, family, and culture. If I stop putting in effort, just trying to remain "neutral," I turn into debris floating along with that inertia, harming people in my path who can't go along with that inertia. It takes ongoing effort just to keep myself standing still, holding what little progress I've made in improving myself. It takes even more effort to actually move against that inertia, to change what is considered "default."

» For more, see the Medieval POC Tumblr.

Accept responsibility.
Sometimes I see questionable art direction justified by "It's what the market wants" or "It's historically accurate." Even granting that, which I do NOT necessarily, it is still an art director and creator's choices that rule the day. A fictional character doesn't have an ethnicity, gender, body, or pose by accident. It's a creator's choice to present a character a certain way. Even in video games with character customization, the creators set the options available. If an option is available, that's a choice. If it isn't available, that's a choice, too. Deferring and defaulting is a choice; one that I'm trying not to make whenever possible.

» For more, see the recent Extra Credits video on character design.

Know the roles and their history.
I have to ask myself who I'm casting as a villain, a hero, the sidekick, the comic relief, the sage mentor, and all of the other standard tropes. Each of those roles has a real-world history behind it, with many examples of under-representation or ugly caricature. If I'm casting a straight white able-bodied man as the "hero," each one of those attributes is the path of least resistance. I must at least try to counter the history of under-representation or over-representation in certain roles. Does that hero have to be a white man? Are you really going to make another albino villain? If there is only one person of color in a cast, can there be two? If there are already two, can there be four? Half the cast? Most of the cast? Whether my client will go along with me, I must at least try to be the annoying force pushing for more inclusion.

» For more on race tropes to be aware of, check out TVtropes.

Character design has gameplay value.
When I cast the characters for Belle of the Ball, illustrated by Jacqui Davis, I knew they'd be divided into various sub-groups which would represent individual counties and factions. It greatly eased gameplay if each sub-group shared certain characteristics like color scheme, occupation, wardrobe, and ethnicity. It would really help gameplay if the characters who shared some game mechanical traits also looked similar to one another, so they could be recognized across a table, upside-down. In the effort to build those visual similarities, I tried to make sure there was a broad spectrum of ethnicity, age, body types, and gender expression. It wasn't just "pandering," there was real gameplay value in organizing the character design this way. Now I'm working on another game where there aren't really any factions as such. Each character is a unique individual and must all be easily distinguished from each other. Towards that end, I'm being much more assertive in seeking unique intersections of these attributes.

» For more, see Subjective Guess Who, an effort to fix the classic game.

Randomization is a start, not an end.
If I'm casting 60 characters, I’ll try to make a bunch of different lists of various attributes like ethnicity, age, gender expression, and so on. Then I randomize all of these variables for the entire cast, thereby (hopefully) breaking any of my own biases about what a "Fighter" should look like. Even with those tools, I have to remember not to defer responsibility. I can’t lean back and say  "The machine made all the men white. Not my fault! Sorry you're offended!" I must check each outcome and see if it falls in line with the “default.” If so, I give it a really strong skeptical look and decide if I need to swap out or replace some attributes. Generally these changes are towards more diverse intersections. If one intersection is over-represented, I’ll try to change those to push for more even distributions.

» For more, see the RandomizeList tool to randomize your own lists.

Art direction is still my own choices, I have to check it against history and be conscious of the inertia at work in my biases. What do you think? Am I missing something huge here? Is there anything you remind yourself of when you're doing art direction? Share your thoughts in the comments. :)

DSGN PNCH - A short series of short graphic design videos

I'm trying out something a little different for this series. I want to break down the big giant scary subject of graphic design into the tiniest possible pinches so they're a little less intimidating. I don't know how long this series will last, I only have a few topics lined up so far:

  • Which colors are best to avoid color-blindness issues?
  • How do I lay out light text on a dark background?
  • What's a good font size?

If you have any other topics you want me to discuss in a <90sec ask="" br="" comments="" in="" please="" thanks="" the="" video="">

Testing Updates to Monsoon Market

I'm in the process of updating Monsoon Market to make it more suitable for publisher pitches. I still enjoy this little game, but a few wrinkles have shown more prominently over the years of feedback and I am taking this opportunity to smooth them out.

Check out the current live rules doc here.

There haven't been any changes to the cards themselves, so if you own a POD copy already you're still good. It's mainly procedural tweaks and streamlining.

  • Bonus Goods are spent, no longer permanent. When you spend a good, you note its expenditure by upgrading the Order to silver.
  • Replenish the Market or Orders display at the end of your turn instead of immediately.
  • You only get Bonus Actions if you fulfill an Order at Gold or Silver accuracy.
  • The game ends immediately when someone achieves the point threshold, but you can adjust that threshold for longer games.

Hope you get a chance to test these changes at home and offer your feedback! Thanks for your support!

đź“ą Watch: How to play Kodama: the Tree Spirits

I'm so honored to see Rodney Smith teach how to play Kodama: the Tree Spirits. He really sets the standard for all other video tutorials for clarity, brevity, and thoroughness. Check out the video embedded above to see Rodney teach the game far better than I could. :D

UnPub6 Feedback for "Curse You, Robin Hood!"

Wow, I'm finally starting to recover from the wild pace of preparing for UnPub. I had two games I was primarily showing, the main one being Curse You, Robin Hood! You can find the full rules for the game on this Google Doc. Overall the response was very good and I made some procedural tweaks after several tests that really streamlined the game significantly.  Check out the scores and responses out of 28 feedback forms. I've bolded some of the more representative comments as well.

(Image Source: Lauren Woolsey)

Was this game predictable?
No 100%
Yes 0%

Will you play this game again?
No 10.71%
Yes 89.29%

Will you buy this game?
(The responses to this question had a lot of "YESNO" responses, so I think there was something wrong with the form. In either case, the results were inconclusive.)

What was one thing you would change?
  • Maybe the option to add the AI with 6+ players
  • nothing comes to mind
  • art
  • Some of the suits look a little similar and get a little confusing at first
  • Nothing in particular
  • Maybe add in some Trump cards that can mess up other players.
  • The game is really easy to learn, but having a quick-reference card for each player that described the order of card-swapping would help a lot.
  • Better instructions or not sure I understood the bartering
  • Find some way to encourage players to arrange deals more. You may want to include a reference card to explain the resolution order
  • Clearer explanation of when I would barter with other players.
  • Nothing
  • N/A
  • Nothing.
  • The exchange system is completely blind. Maybe there could be a way for players to have a card to always go to market.
  • It looks ready.
  • Use characters
  • nothing
  • Rolling scoring option for longer play
  • Not really sure. I found the game to be pretty well balanced
  • This game is well thought out. I would not change anything.
  • Nothing
  • Nothing
  • Something to help me learn the why behind my choices quicker.
  • Nothing!
  • Nothing.
  • Not sure...strategy was hard for me, but I\'m not sure how to make it better
  • change six back to a number
  • Make icons a bit bigger

What was your favorite part of the game?
  • unpredictability
  • card options to play
  • attempting to guess other players possible selections
  • The "solitaire" aspect, ease of learning
  • The art is fantastic, it's a great original idea for a game and a really interesting mechanic. I'm excited to buy it when it's available!
  • The trading and negotiating
  • The fact that there's no downtime!
  • How quick it was
  • the robin hood targeting mechanic is implemented in a very clever way. the forced trades made for surprising results.
  • Fast play. Creativity typing into the Robin Hood theme. Ability to play single to 6 player
  • I love the whole concept.
  • Ability to play up to 6 players. Great for our gaming group!
  • The swapping mechanic.
  • That robin hood always steals from the highest target.
  • You never 100% control which card you will receive at time of card selection. Game allows for different social dynamics to make the game play differently.
  • The bluffing
  • being able to mess with other players
  • Varying random hands (Tuck, etc)
  • Trying to outwit the other players at the table and get the specific card you're looking for in the market
  • This is another game I would love to play with kids because it's easy enough to pick up but also allows for players to try to manipulate the game with what cards you throw into the center.
  • Mexhan (The rest of this form looked pretty broken, so I assume it's some bug?)
  • The additional player card
  • Great art, fun "yes" or "no" moments.
  • That the gameplay made you need to say "Curse You, Robin Hood!"
  • The balance of targets to points.
  • Loved the theme, loved the art, loved the idea
  • never knowing what was coming next
  • Trying to figure out who would wind up with which card

Additional Comments
  • I liked it as is, but could love it with a little more player control though I\'m not sure how to implement it.
  • would buy this today if it were available

Overall pretty good results! We'll see where it goes from here, but I'm pretty happy with letting this game be the fast, wild, rowdy tavern game it wants to be. :)

Game Designers of North Carolina at UnPub!

Come to UnPub in Baltimore this weekend, where you can find me and a bunch of other game designers demoing our latest creations. Details are at the UnPub site. I'm at table 3G, right by the feedback area.

I'll be bringing a lot of prototypes in various states of development, but the big headlines are Koi Pond Second Edition and Curse You, Robin Hood!

Hope to see you there!

Card at Work: 9 - Making a 3x3 Card Sheet

Howdy! Looks like I forgot to post the latest episodes of Card at Work to the ol' blog here. Sorry about that! For new folks, Card at Work is my video series covering the basics of designing cards for tabletop games.

I figured, what could be more appropriate for Episode 9 than to talk about making 3x3 card sheets? :) Check it out at the video above.

The previous episode covered variable front-and-back card designs.

Thanks for watching! I hope you find these videos useful. Support more videos at my Patreon!

Watch Action Phase Games demo Kodama: the Tree Spirits at GAMA [Starts 1:56:55]

Action Phase is at GAMA this year promoting their line of really cool games, including my own Kodama: the Tree Spirits! Check out the recorded Livestream at the link above or click here. Starting at 1:56:55, you can watch Nick Little and Eric Martin from BoardGameGeek talk about the history of the game's development and design. It's really cool!

You can pre-order the base game from Action Phase directly here or the deluxe edition here.

As an added bonus, you can see them enthusiastically discussing Trickster right after that demo!

6 Games I'm bringing to UnPub 6!

Unpub 6 is in just under a month! I'm bringing almost all of my self-published games to pitch and present, but here are 6 games I'd like to highlight in particular. You may have seen my last post on the subject of "sale sheets" or "summary sheets", but I've since expanded this to a whole series of at-a-glance summaries for handing out to publishers.

Curse You, Robin Hood!
You’re a merchant of Sherwood Forest trying to get rich while dodging those thieving Merry Men. Get as much treasure as possible, but not so much that Robin Hood notices you as a target!

Koi Pond
A zenlike, fast-flowing card game. Collect colorful koi fish and keep your pond as balanced as possible.

Monsoon Market
In 1405, a Chinese emissary sails the Indian Ocean, reporting the quality of each market along the way. It’s time to get busy! Earn a reputation for accurate orders or rush off any old goods in bulk. It’s a race to earn the fastest fortune in the Monsoon Market!

A La Kart
Food fighters, hit the road! Bump karts out of your way with Pasta Shells! Blast ahead with a Mushzoom! Baste the track with an Olive Oil Spill! Taste sweet victory while rivals eat your dust!

Tractor Pull (Co-design with Matt Everheart)
It’s time for the Tri-County Triple-Rope Tug-of-War! Lead your team of scrappy vehicles against your rival in three unique arenas! Beware the crooked refs! Pull the most ropes to win the match. Win two out of three matches to become champion!

Light Rail
A new age of rail empire dawns in the near future! Barons vie for ownership of a mega-city’s growing commuter network. Claim routes that connect as many different districts as possible and fulfill lucrative contracts.

You can find PDF versions of all these sheets in this dropbox folder. Hope to see you at UnPub!
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.