Friday, December 28, 2012

Les Miserables Report Card

Spoiler warning, if it's possible to spoil a 150-year-old book or a 30-year-old musical.

Pretension warning: I never write like this or talk about movies this way.  Beware my crude attempts at artsiness.

My Les Mis Movie report card, more or less in order of appearance:

Hugh Jackman: B- (thought he would be better; ok singing, acting consisted of staring slightly to the left of the camera)

Russel Crowe: C+ (but better than I thought; mediocre singing, good acting, especially towards the end)

Anne Hathaway: A (better singing voice than I expected; suitably tragic.  You should get your hair back in the afterlife.)

Little Cosette: A (good voice, good acting, ringer for imagined child version of  Amanda Seyfried)

Sasha Baron Cohen: B- (he did fine, I suppose, but I hate the character; I did laugh at a few of his jokes)

Helena Bonham Carter: C+ (like i said, I hate these characters.  WTH with the John Lennon glasses?)

Samantha Barks: A+ (when she first came on, I remember thinking, "wow, the first one who can really sing" - head and shoulders above the others.  But I'm a sucker for Eponine, too.)

Gavroche kid: A (I normally dislike this character and am almost happy when he buys the ferme, but this guy was surprisingly affecting and sang well)

Amanda Seyfried: A- (better singing voice than I expected, although seemed to be singing in a different style from the others.  I've always wished the character had more guts and more to do than merely obey her dad and moon about over Marius)

Eddie Redmayne: B (Marius is such a lightweight character; he did OK, but I thought he blew it on Empty Chairs)

Aaron Tveit: B+ (Pretty inspiring, noble death, sang pretty well, but goofy hair, even for 19th century France)

Tom Hooper: B (Could we ever get a scene that's not mostly a face-on shot of somebody singing?)

Overall: A- (really enjoyed it; would have been better with a stronger JVJ)

It was really interesting to see the show as a movie rather than a musical.  I caught parts of the story and character motivations that I'd missed in multiple versions of the stage production.  Jean Valjean's progression from desperate thug to flawed man trying to do right while saving his skin to placing others truly before himself.was far more clear here than in the stage productions I've seen.  Also, the focus was totally different - you're focused on each character and can see facial expressions and reactions - the acting becomes as important as the singing, which I found surprising.

Unexpected punch in the gut: Javert pinning the medal on Gavroche in the row of dead revolutionaries.  My daughter said that was counter to Javert's character from the musical; I agree, but I found it a welcome change; it very nicely bridged the gap between Jean Valjean showing him mercy and his suicide, especially after his admission that he grew up poor on the streets. I thought it was very well done by Crowe.

Unexpected non-punch in the gut: Empty Chairs and Empty Tables - This song leaves me crying in my beer even when Brianna plays it night after night while washing dishes.  It was sung kind of wimpily, and I think it needs a stronger interpretation.  Also, the destroyed bar wasn't the same for me as imagining him in the same bar intact but with his friends gone.

Awesome scene:  Defeated revolutionary pushes through armed soldiers to stand with (and be shot with) his leader.  Totally badass.

Scene that was way awesomer in the movie than they could ever do on stage:: Revolutionaries kidnap funeral procession.  Also badass.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Planetside 2, SOE, and fraudsters...

I played a little bit of Planetside 2 over the past week.  It's an interesting hybrid of MMO (but without quests) and FPS deathmatch (but with strategic points), and because it's free to play, it's got a bunch of enticing content and powerups that you can't really afford without playing forever or shelling out some cash.  I really enjoyed Tribes Ascend when I played it a few months ago, and this feels a little bit like that, but with slower, less frenetic gameplay, a different, more complex equipment system (though Tribes has lots of options) and longer protracted battles.  And no jetpacks.  I think Tribes is a better FPS, and there's no beating the jetpack play, but the strategic elements of Planetside (terrain control, the potential for coordinated vehicle/infantry/air assaults) are pretty cool.

With the end of my semester coming up, I thought it might be fun to play some more once grades are in.  So, I tried buying a month pass.  As a shareware author, I very much think I should support the games I like, so I threw some money at Tribes also.  But in this case, I entered my information, but my card was declined when I tried for the payment.  I tried entering again, and it didn't even let me enter the information.  I had to call the credit card company to get my card returned to service.

So, what does this mean?  They instantly assume every transaction with Sony Online Entertainment is fraud?  I, a guy who buys video games pretty regularly, couldn't even pay for it.  That's got to reflect badly on the nature of users of online games, particularly Sony customers, and on the state of credit card fraud. I know, one datapoint and all, but it was definitely a surprise.  I wouldn't want to be Sony in this case.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Transatlantic Yoggity

Yoggity is off on its way to Bochum, Germany for the Hippodice competition.  The game cost me $20; shipping was $30, and the entry fee was 10 Euros ($15 after Paypal fees).  Entering these contests isn't cheap, even though it sort of seems like it is when you get started. Of course, the Hippodice fee is very reasonable for the hassle they go through hosting the contest, and the rest is just my costs.

Regardless, I'm happy to do it; Hippodice gives useful feedback, which I haven't found to be the case for many of the contests I've entered, and I really like the way they have the contest set up.  Looking over Yoggity again, I was very grateful for Jason Greeno's terrific artwork - I think the game is great, too, but his art and design really makes it much more fun.

Probably won't hear anything until next year - but I'm glad to have the opportunity.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Yoggity makes the cut at Hippodice 2012-13!

I just found out yesterday that the folks at Hippodice have requested Yoggity for their second round.  That means I have to get a physical copy to Germany, which is a challenge, but it should be fun to see what they say.  They got 150+ entries; I'm not sure how many made this cut, but I assume it's no more than 50 or so, maybe 20-30, because they have to play them all.  Pretty neat.

Kickstarter a no-go for stores?

Via Tom Vasel at GameSalute, Gary Ray at Black Diamond Games has put up a pair of posts (here and here), where he says he's not going to support Kickstarter projects for his retail game store any more.  He says they just don't sell, at all, so that seems like a reasonable business proposition.

It's also a different criticism than Kickstarter game projects usually face.  Normally, the knock on them is that they are incompletely tested and of lower average quality than traditionally published "mainstream" games.  In this case, Ray suggests the problem is that Kickstarter just works too well.  Everybody who would buy a small indie game has done so already on Kickstarter, and often has received special funder awards and bonuses.  Nobody goes looking to a game store for such a project.

I think there's a distinction between true indie projects, that is, one-off titles where the creator funds just one game through Kickstarter, compared to companies that use Kickstarter to generate interest and funds for new projects (e.g. Tasty Minstrel and GameSalute).  My guess is that companies still have pretty significant testing and development filters in place, and their games are likely to be (on average) of higher quality than the one-offs.  However, Ray's point is that it just doesn't matter - because neither of them sell - and his stated policy is now that he won't stock any game that says "KickStarter" on the box.
That's an interesting policy, for a couple of reasons:

  1. It seems like a broad stereotype; some Kickstarter games can and do have broad appeal, and probably do sell to markets beyond the Kickstarter/game enthusiast audience.  But I've done enough work in my shareware business and with large organizations to know that sometimes you need a general rule because the simplicity far outweighs the marginal benefit of making exceptions.  That might be the case here, and Ray is in a better position to know it than I am.
  2. It sounds like it would be pretty dumb to put "Kickstarter" anywhere on a box.  That really rings true for me.  Anybody who funded your game on Kickstarter already knows it was funded there, and for anybody who doesn't, it's either neutral or negative.  In Ray's case, it's negative because he won't buy it. In other peoples' cases, it's negative because there's a perception, right or wrong, that Kickstarter games are inferior to traditionally-published games.  So, there's no upside to indicating that on the packaging.  Unless maybe the fact that your game made it through a successful campaign some how says it's quality?  I doubt that influences many people.
So, is leaving it off dishonest?  Not really.  People who read reviews and do their legwork (and this probably includes most store owners like Ray) will know that it's a Kickstarter game, but they'll also likely know whether it's a good game or a good fit to their tastes.  Casual browsers will buy it or not for the same reasons they do all other games - does the art look good?  Is the box copy convincing? Does it look cool?  So, I think leaving off the Kickstarter is probably just good business sense.  

Also, other companies don't tell you the source of their funding, which could be more cockamamie than Kickstarter.  I've seen published games that totally suck that seem to be entirely self-funded, and they don't have that on the label.

Interesting stuff to ponder, anyway - the game market does seem to be splitting between the traditional route (which is growing and expanding on its own) and the Kickstarter route (which is growing and expanding tremendously).  I'm not sure where game stores fit in, but I know I love going to them, and I'll often buy something.  I'd hate to lose that in a sea of Kickstarter projects, even though I've bought and enjoyed several Kickstarter games already.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Great software design and visualization - Space Sniffer

OK, this isn't game related, but I just found a really great disk profiler.  I realized last night that my SSD is filling up on my main Windows computer, and I was trying to delete things to make more room, but I couldn't find much to delete that made a difference.

Today, I figured, there must be some kind of software tool that shows you how your drive is laid out, and I did a search for something.  I found Space Sniffer.  It quickly scans a whole drive and maps it out for you. On the diagram at right, the beige areas are folders and the blue areas are individual files.  Each zone is sized according to its size on the disk, and the hierarchical structure is maintained.  Each folder is clickable, and then the program displays the folder's contents in the same way, so you can descend fractally down into your data.  The authors say the visualization technique was developed by a professor named Ben Shneiderman, who apparently also invented the highlighted textual link.  I will honor his work by linking to him:  Ben Shneiderman

Really neat program, and free.  Of course, I still didn't find too much to delete - the whole left-most rectangle is games I still play, and the other stuff all seemed important.  You'd understand if you saw my basement.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hippodice entered!

I've entered two games in the Hippodice competition this fall - Horde and Yoggity.  We'll see how I do - I've made the second round once but never their top 10.  I gather it's very competitive.

A user named Yort over at BGDF looked at my stuff and commented that it might be more polished than they were looking for.  I got that impression when they looked at Diggity a couple years ago - one of the reviewers said, essentially, "why are we looking at this?  we're only supposed to look at prototypes."  Of course, it was a game prototype at the time, just printed up nicely via TheGameCrafter, and well within the Hippodice rules which indicate less than 100 total copies.

We'll see how I do - these competitions are always a little unpredictable, but I really respect Hippodice for its organization and standards.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Ludum Dare 24 results

Voting results are in from the 24th Ludum Dare competition.  The theme was Evolution, and I made a puzzle game in which little critters gain traits.  I've got it hosted here at; the competition page with all the comments and feedack is here at LudumDare.

How did I do?  Pretty well, I think; much better than last time.  Here are the numeric ratings and rankings:

The #44 overall is really neat; there were 1006 entries, and I have a lot of top 100 or top 50 ratings in various categories.  I'm not sure why I'm so much worse with the theme, since I actually thought my adherence to the theme was better this time than last, where it was my highest ranking (#71).

Anyway, a good experience, and very encouraging results.  I think I'll try to develop the game further and get it up on Kongregate or somewhere.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Bad game design

From The Whitest Kids U'Know.  I think a few of my early designs might have shared this flaw.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring

Picture by Tony Mastrangeli,
DarkJedi on
The kids and I just played a game I'd had lying around the house for a long time - Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.  We've only played once, so I guess I shouldn't call this a full review, but the game follows a mostly predetermined plotline, so it would be essentially the same every time.  It's an odd game, with some interesting parts, but it really failed as any kind of rewarding strategic experience.

The good:

  • The modular board - fun to put together; fun to reveal different tracks and people as it goes.
  • The structural parts - the ramp spaces up the mountain are very neat
  • The group storytelling - it really recreates the movie pretty well, with major plot points thrown and enacted by the players
  • The pieces - the rings and the scoring racks are cool; the cards are very attractive, and the pawns with full-color pictures and art are really neat
The bad:

  • Choice - There's very little meaningful choice for the players.  You can pick a different character to activate each turn, and this tells different parts of the story, but all the parts will happen eventually, and there are way more characters than there need to be.  They have different statistics, and they can pick up items along the way, but these hardly ever matter much.  If you face a challenge that you have trouble with, you just keep rolling until you win, or you bring around another character with higher statistics.
  • No replay value - the game will turn out the same virtually every time you play it.  There's an elaborate set of 70+ events, but they happen in mostly the same order, and they don't interact much at all except to move people around the board.  None change the overall course of the game, which is destined to follow the movie's story.  There can be trivial differences in path or scoring based on die rolls, but the game will vary hardly at all from one play to the next.
  • Rules - the rules are very short, and they don't really explain all of how the game works.  We figured it out, but there were some events right off the bat that used terms (e.g. ring bearer) that were not defined, and there were other times when we weren't sure how to use various pieces and had to figure it out from cards.  We still don't know how to resolve Nazgul attacks.
  • Scoring - the scoring is a good vs. evil rating that you gain from events on your turn.  Most of the good or evil that you earn comes automatically from drawing an event or is randomly generated via die roll.  It is very difficult to gain very much evil score.  By the end of the game, you will have exceeded the scoring scale in the good direction, and this triggers a crude balancing mechanism - you lose 1-6 points when you come to the end of the track.  So, the player whose score gets reset last, or who rolls highest when losing points, will lose the game pretty much every time.  This is all essentially random, and takes an hour or more of play to get to.
So, relatively good production values and neat pieces for a game that's really not very good. I enjoyed playing with my kids this once, but it was such a trivial experience that I can't imagine doing it again.  The Lord of the Rings Adventure Game is so much better, and I hear Reiner Knizia's similarly-themed game is good too.  I'd recommend either of those over this one.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Ludum Dare 24

I took part in the 24th Ludum Dare competition last weekend and produced a computer game in 48 hours (well, more like 15 hours - I had to sleep, eat, celebrate my birthday, and perform in two improv comedy shows at the Idiot Box).  The theme (revealed Friday night at 9pm) was Evolution.

I've now rated around 40 of the other games, and there's a huge variety of ideas, themes, game styles, and choices, and also skill levels at putting games together.  I've gotten some nice comments from mine; like a lot of my stuff, art isn't the strong part (especially with only 48 hours to work), but the gameplay is pretty fun.  Give it a try if you like; it's at:

The Ludum Dare page for my game is here.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

BGDF Contest for August - Grow Up!

I'm waiting for the results of this month's BGDF Game Design Showdown, with the theme of Grow Up!  I haven't entered much in recent months; the restrictions and themes haven't really fit my interests for a while, and I've been working on my novel and other projects.  But this month, the restriction was to include a theme of growth over time and to include game pieces which grew in function as the game progressed, which was interesting to me.

These restrictions were actually pretty tough for me, and although I think I met the requirements in a technical sense, I didn't do so in a particularly inspired way. Reading through the entries, I see that other folks had some trouble with this too.  I'll be curious to see how it comes out.

I made a prototype of my game and tried it out with friends and family; seems to work pretty well, and I was able to tweak and balance it some after testing.  I was inspired enough by this to go ask on DeviantArt for somebody to make some art up for the game.  After re-theming the game towards space/sci fi, I offered up $100 for images for the various buildings and cards I need.  I've got some leads; I hope they pan out.  I hope to work it up on in not too long, and if more testing is promising, maybe I'll enter it in Hippodice this fall.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Picture worth 1000 words

FatherGeek's kids playing Diggity
I have to say, one of the neatest parts of the modern world is the ubiquity of pictures.  Nearly everybody has a camera; nearly everybody has the ability to share photos.  This hit home when reading the FatherGeek review of Diggity which featured a picture of his two young kids playing my game.  Regardless of what the review said (and it was positive), the part that was totally awesome was seeing some folks I've never met enjoying the game.

Yay, 21st century... :-)

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Good post on principles of game design

Here's a post from with some great principles of game design.  The beginning of the article goes into a historically-sourced explanation/defense of modern games, which is interesting, but not the most salient point for me.

What did ring true was later on, when the author (I couldn't find a name) laid out seven principles of good game design, which I quote here:

  1. Don't knock players out. 
  2. Don't make it easy for the leader to increase their lead. 
  3. Make catching up to the leader relatively easy. 
  4. Avoid kingmaking. 
  5. Give players important decisions to make. 
  6. Give players difficult decisions to make. 
  7. Give players something to think about constantly.
A game that does all of these things at once would be a good game indeed.  The article points out at some length, correctly, that while decisions should be important and difficult, this does not mean they should be complex, and they should especially not be iterative, such that there's a branching tree of possibilities that you need to track down.  The author suggests that randomness is a good solution for this; I think that's generally true, but you need still to obey rule #5.  If there's too much randomness, then the decisions become unimportant, and luck reigns.

Anyway, good things to keep in mind.  Maybe we designers should make a motivational poster with something like this on it to hang over our workbenches.

Friday, August 3, 2012

FatherGeek reviews Diggity

A terrific review of Diggity by FatherGeek!

FatherGeek looks at games from a family perspective, so that's why there's the multi-generational aspect to the review.  I was really thrilled by the detailed discussion of strategy that he got into.  I've always thought the game was pretty deep for having such simple rules, and FatherGeek's testers really seemed to pick up on that part of it.  I'm also really glad they had fun with it!

Friday, June 22, 2012


I've submitted a few games to GameSalute, and they've given me some positive feedback.  I had a great talk with Dan Yarrington today; I'm really hoping I can work with them to get my games out to a wider audience.  They seem like a really great organization for independent designers; very much like a traditional publisher in some ways (very useful ways, like playtesting, manufacturing, distribution, graphic design, etc.) but also cognizant of the modern indie game realities of Kickstarter and group funding, and willing to let designers retain input and some design control through the design and production process.  Apparently growing like gangbusters, too.

Really exciting - I hope we can make it work for some of my designs.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Books vs. games

I've just finished writing the first draft of a novel - a project I've been working on off and on for seven years. Now that it's done, I've been doing what I should be doing, namely having people read it and give me feedback, and of course, doing what I should not yet be wasting time doing, namely looking into publishing options. I was struck by the similarity between the process for books and the process for games.

 For both, you have two basic options - try to get a traditional publisher to put it out, or try publishing yourself.

 The big problems with the traditional route, for both books and games, are:

  • Only a tiny fraction of games/novels get published 
  • Whether you get published or not, the path there is fraught with rejection, expense, and heartache 
  • It takes forever 

The big problems with the self-publishing route are:

  • You have to invest in printing up your book/game up front
  • You may never, ever attract an audience, so your print run and the money that you put into it will be wasted
  • Your work will be perceived as (and may well be) lesser quality than the published route, which comes with editing, consultation, and revision built in.

In both industries, there are new, inexpensive options for print-on-demand, which is awesome.  With games, there's The Game Crafter, SuperiorPOD, and others.  With books, there's Lulu, CreateSpace, and many more.  These options offer a chance to sell your books or games one at a time, so there's no big investment up front - that's a huge sea change from even ten years ago.  Unfortunately, they're also somewhat expensive, so there's not much room for a profit margin going this way.

There are two big differences, though:

  1. With books, there are now e-readers like the Kindle and Nook.  The customer already has these things.  That's great for authors, because you can send them a digital file at essentially no cost to yourself, so even at a low price, you get a good return per book.  It's good for readers, because they can get books for very low prices (after they've shelled out for the reader, that is) if they're willing to buy from indie authors and risk the chance that the book is crappy.
  2. With games, there's Kickstarter, which has become a big new funding mechanism for games.  Actually, it's really more of a pre-sale mechanism, which gets the game designer or publisher the money they need up front.  That means there's no risk of financial ruin for the designer/publisher, because they already have the money.  The risk is distributed amongst many customers, who have less money at stake and risk only that the game will suck.
So, what's the lesson here?  Two things.

First, it would be awesome if there were some kind of widely-used standardized e-game platform (like the Kindle or Nook) that you could have people buy and then distribute games to.  I know, in a lot of ways this is just a software problem - almost everybody who buys games has a computer or iPad or xBox or something, and there are boardgame implementations for all of these.  But most of those platforms aren't ideal for boardgames, and the coding is nearly all one-off, customized.  If you had a standardized platform that could handle typical game-related mechanics (large board, cards, dice, tokens, etc.), you could design a game, implement it for the platform, and distribute it to everybody who has one, for a low cost.  There are attempts to do this online - boardgame simulators, places like SpielByWeb and - but these are still web-based, and not usually something a family would sit around and do together.  There have been some efforts to do something like this (e.g. but I'm not familiar with any that have succeeded to the point of having dedicated hardware and a real boardgame feel.

Second, it would be cool to use Kickstarter for novels. A number of book projects are in fact funded via Kickstarter, but the ones I've seen usually books with very high production costs, like books of photos, or comic books, or that kind of thing.  There is a fiction section on Kickstarter, too, though, and it has some novels listed.  As a novel writer, if you knew you had sales lined up for a book, and you had the money in hand from your Kickstarter campaign, you could use that funding to support yourself while you worked on the book, allowing you to dedicate more time to it and finish faster.  You'd also cut out the commissions you have to pay, either to a traditional publisher or to Amazon and Barnes and Noble for distributing e-books.  Given that e-books are on the rise, and that printing books is pretty cheap, I think  Kickstarter is probably far less important to getting a book published than it has been to getting a game published.

Just spitballing here, but it's been an interesting thing to consider.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Kickstarter for retailers

An interesting post on Kickstarter from Tao, the guy (?) running the game store Starlit Citadel, a Canadian hobby game store in Vancouver.  He describes some of the difficulties game stores have in supporting Kickstarter campaigns.  Even though he'd like to carry some of the more popular or interesting Kickstarter projects, he can't make it work financially without a fairly generous retailer package.

The only way I think it might work is if he gets a pretty good bulk discount for retailers, and then is able to keep the game in stock for longer than the game is available via Kickstarter.  But that's tricky, and maybe not realistic; I bet most Kickstarter publishers produce more than they distribute via Kickstarter, and then he's competing with direct sales (and the much better margins) with the publisher, who's got more room to discount.

I don't think his doomsday scenario will happen (all games funded via preorders through Kickstarter, which would mean that game stores essentially die).  Kickstarter folks are generally not expert in distribution (although some are) and aren't in it to sustain a long-term business (Tasty Minstrel would be a counterexample, but they're not typical).

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Diggity site update - new art!

I've got the Diggity site updated including the newer art for the game.  Woo.

Diggity Review

The web is ephemeral, and that isn't always great if you're trying to build a following for a game.  I've been trying to find a nice review of Diggity that came out a couple years ago.  It was by JT at  It's no longer at the address it used to be, so I'm posting it here to preserve it.  The original is still at the Wayback Machine (now Internet Archive) here:

Diggity Review by JT of
Rating: 5/5

Diggity is a ridiculously simple game about mining. It's good for 2 to 5 players, and each game takes about 30-45 minutes if you have 2 players, though you could easily add house rules to make it shorter or longer.

The premise of the game is that each player is a miner, and you're all working the same mine to see who finds the gold first. Along the way you're trying to make patterns out of the symbols on the cards, and those patterns let you build "tools" that allow you steal other people's gold. The tools start a bidding war, which allows each player to try to outbid another player for the gold that was just discovered. I might have a shovel, which allows me to steal the gold from the player who discovered it, but then someone else might have a pulley, and still someone else has a cart. You keep playing tools until someone comes up with the ultimate trump card, a shed, or until you get to the highest tool you have.

That's really all there is to playing the game. You build out a mine, you collect tools and gold. Then you build a new mine, collect more tools and gold. However, the interactions with getting the mine pieces to fit together, while still trying to make patterns to build tools puts this game right at the top of the list of games I want to play. Because it's so easy to steal gold, you really need to be strategic about putting out pieces that give you tools so that no one wants to bid against you. This dynamic really adds a lot of strategy and viscous fun.

The rules are well written, and just as importantly, well structured. The artwork is clean, simple, and pretty. And the game is fun. It's hard to ask for more than that.

Though we don't allow games for children under 12 on The Game Crafter for legal reasons, this could easily be played by children, and would probably be a good lesson for them in building patterns out of shapes. Don't let that pull you away from the game though, as this game is easily just as fun with only adults playing it.

UPDATE: JT pointed out that the review is still present at the bottom of the Diggity listing on their site, but he said it's OK to keep the review here too. Thanks JT!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Diggity video review

The folks over at The Gamer's Table have been doing video reviews of games for some time, and this year they invited submissions of independent game designs for review in their "Indy" series.  The Game Crafter offered to pay for the shipping if any of their authors/designers wanted to pay for a game to send, so I took them up on it. The result is here:

The review of Diggity starts at 4:50, and the final wrap-up (where they rate it) is at 13:35.  An interesting experience; they seemed to like the game and "get" it, particularly the two guys on the sides (Chris and Craig).  The middle guy (Ken) gave it a significantly lower rating than the others, which was interesting - he didn't really say why, and I couldn't pick it up from the rest of the show, but it must not have clicked as well for him.

A lesson for other designers - they really pilloried the other game in the review because of one omission in the rules (play one card per turn).  It's important to have other people read your stuff, and to specify everything, even the stuff that seems obvious.

My thanks to the TGT guys for their review, and to The Game Crafter for facilitating it.

Friday, May 18, 2012


Looking like an interesting roundup at the monthly Game Design Showdown at the Board Game Designer's Forum.  People took the "spring" thing in a lot of different ways, mostly literal (a spring-loaded piece of equipment).  We'll see how I do on Sunday...

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Ludum Dare results

So, here are my results from the judging for the Ludum Dare competition for my game, Teeming.
The rankings (at left) I think are out of 1,111, so I was top half in all categories, top 1/3 in many of them.  

#71 Theme 3.82
#220 Innovation  3.38
#265 Overall 3.25
#325 Fun 3.00
#394 Graphics 2.95
#410 Mood 2.71
#453 Humor 2.18
#455  Audio 2.43
Coolness 100%

The worst one for me was Audio, and that makes sense - the game has only simple sound effects and no music track. Mood is supposed to be how immersive your game was, but I'm not sure people all used the same standards there. Likewise for Humor, which is hard to gauge.  I'm happy to be up there in the Overall and Innovation categories, and apparently I hit the theme (Tiny World) pretty well.  Graphics will likely always be a problem for me, lacking as I am as an artist.

The last item, Coolness, refers to how many games I rated - I rated (or tried to rate) over 100 games, so I get that one by default (or by dint of hard ratings work). A rank list another guy made shows that I did the 104th most ratings (the average participant made 35 or so).

I'll need to look at the rankings in more detail if they publish more of them.  I don't know how they handle it, but if it's just raw numbers, I'd guess that there are some games near the top of these categories that have relatively few rankings.  Maybe that's not an issue with so many people rating so many games, but you never know.  It would be cool to do a graph of rank vs. ratings received, although there are other factors in play determining how many ratings you get on your game (e.g. you get rated more often if you rate more yourself).

A fun experience; I'm happy with how I did, but I think I could do better. I'll definitely try again next time.

Two cool things

Two things coming up in the next 6 hours -
  1. The judging for the 23rd Ludum Dare competition will close. Mine (Teeming) was one of 1402 entries (1,111 in the solo 48-hour competition) with the theme of Tiny World (I went with microorganisms in a petri dish). I've never done this before, so I don't know exactly what to expect, but I did judge 102 other entries over the past 3 weeks, so I've probably seen a representative sample. I hope I make the top 50%, but we'll see. There are some really good ones out there. There were a couple that I saw that were obviously way better than mine, but they were in the Jam segment (72 hours, multiple people designing, relaxed rules on preexisting content)
  2. My entry for the BGDF monthly Game Design Showdown should go live. This month had a couple of cool restrictions - one was that you had to use asking permission (from Mother May I - Mother's Day plus May), and the other was that you had to use springs in some way. We'll see how many entries there are and how I do - I feel pretty good about my entry this month, but that has historically not been any kind of indicator as to how I do (maybe even negatively correlated).
Game on...

Monday, April 23, 2012

Teeming - Ludum Dare Entry

I figured I'd try my hand at the Ludum Dare game competition, which I learned about earlier this year. The goal is to produce an entire game from scratch, in 48 hours, solo. I think I did pretty well for a first try; give it a try if you'd like.  The theme for this time was "Tiny World," which led me to make a game about life in a petri dish.  It's been interesting looking at the other entries (all 1111 of them) and seeing what people did.  Huge variety in interpretations, game formats, and programming ability.

Thanks to my Mom for putting up with me coding for most of a weekend while I visit her in New Mexico. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sound effects

For any of you game programmers out there, here's a sound effects generator called SFXR that is very simple but cool - I often start making sounds with raw noise and alter them significantly in GoldWave, but this does a lot of that work for you with a simple interface.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pitching advice

Some good-sounding advice from Corey Young here, guest writing at Hyperbole Games.  I've never tried to pitch a game to a publisher at a convention, but this seems like a sound set of guidelines for doing so, and if Corey can be believed, it may actually work.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Kickstarter dangers

Great post over at BGG by a Nathan McNair, an aspiring Kickstarter self-publisher at Pandasaurus Games, who points out that even with Kickstarter, the economics of publishing don't work until you're at a huge number of units.  He says he's $2000 in the hole from his publishing effort before even starting Kickstarter.  I'm probably around $1,200.

A big chunk of that is the filing fee plus two years of LLC fees ($450); not sure I'd recommend that for everybody starting out, but I think it was the right move for me to protect my other assets.

Another big chunk is web hosting (probably around $200); I saved by pre-paying for this site for several years, but I had to put up the cash at the start.

The rest is mostly printing up demo/test copies of my games; I've spent probably $300-$400 on that for many different items plus shipping.  Beyond that, some incidentals like toner and paper; I've also bought a bunch of glass stones, dice, and pawns and such for testing copies.

As income, I have very little.  I have a relatively low number of low-margin sales from for my games published there, and I have one larger multi-unit sale of Diggity to a friend who bought a number of copies as holiday gifts.  I probably netted $40 on that.

So, even if I did a Kickstarter campaign, unless I hit it out of the park, I'd never get back those sunk expenses. Kickstarter does two things well:

  1. allows you to raise capital if you don't have enough to self-fund a print run 
  2. allows you to eliminate the middle-man costs of distributors and stores
The first is extremely important if you don't have money to burn; your game doesn't happen without it.

The second is a big deal; you go from getting about 25% of the sales price through distribution to 90% of the sales price (after Kickstarter fees).  However, as I've commented on before, unless you're making more than 3000 copies, the math doesn't work anyway - your cost of production is going to be $5-10 even for a small game without moving parts; add shipping and art into that, and you're easily up to $15-20 per game just to get them made.  You're not going to run a Kickstarter campaign selling a simple game for more than $20 or $25 - you're just not competitive with commercial games then - and Kickstarter buyers usually expect shipping to be included in their price.  That's another $5 per game at least.

So, roughly speaking, you don't make money on Kickstarter until you hit a really high sales figure.  Even saying it's 2000 copies, at $25 a pop that means you've got to interest 2000 people and raise $50,000, in a game they've never seen.  A very tall order.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

New Projects On

I have added two of my recent projects to the Plankton Games website - see:


Neither of these is published yet, but I wanted to get some info up on the site.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

New Diggity Art

Got my new version of Diggity, with art from Joshua Bennett, up on  The new art looks slick (see it here); my old art is here.

Friday, March 2, 2012 is a game design website run by John Moller. I heard of it through coverage of a convention of sorts they run for unpublished game designers called Unpub, which just had its second iteration in January (unfortunately, I only heard of it in February, or I might have tried to go).  The two main Unpub events have been in Dover, Delaware, but they're starting to spawn Mini-Unpubs at various locations around the country; there's a schedule of events (and a slick way to add them to your Google Calendar) on the site.

John has just announced a new site for unpublished games called Unpub.Net, which is a place to list unpublished games.  It seems to be sort of a hybrid between a designer community site and a consolidator for unpublished designs, where you can list your games, and then publishers could come browse designs and see if any are to their liking.

It's a neat idea; I'm not sure that publishers (who I understand get hundreds of submissions and pitches directly already) will go here to search through the site, but it could still a good way to get some exposure, and the community aspect could be really useful - a way to get commentary, reviews, and playtesters, and to hear about the in-person Unpub events, which I think would be a great way to test out a design.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Even more Kickstarter analysis

A good, thoughtful article on Kickstarter funding (actually, the second half of a longer good thoughtful article - read Part I too) from Chris Norwood over at GamerChris.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Rules writing tips

Some good advice here from a reviewer - somebody who likely reads a good many more rules documents than your typical game designer.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Game Design Notebook - Horde - Step 2: Revision and Prototype

In my last post, I mentioned my newest game project, tentatively called Horde.  The original submission was for a contest entry at BGDF and was constrained by the contest restrictions and the 200-word limit on entries.  Once the contest was over, free from those restrictions, I liked the idea enough to create a prototype and try it out.  The original idea had used small figures of different colors; I shifted that to cards, and created a deck of cards with six "suits" - typical fantasy stuff: fire, water, sun, moon, forest, royal - and five monster types - troll, ooze, golem, dragon, skeleton.  I doubled each of these, for sixty total cards, which would be more than enough for people to pick a couple of them on each of 11 turns (5 monsters + 6 suits = 11) and have enough.
Art for cards

But, as I was making these up and doing some rudimentary art, I thought of some ways to make the game more interesting, by having special additional monsters that allowed for special plays or special scoring.  That added a bunch more cards, and because those cards are generally more powerful than the regular ones, I needed new rules to balance out these cards.  The mechanism I tried initially was this: whenever somebody chooses a special card, everybody else gets another one.  More on that in my next post in this series.

I wanted to make the prototype at least look nice, so I collected some art for it, shown at right.  The art that I used came from four sources:

  1. stuff I made myself - generally crude or bad, although some of them were OK
  2. stuff I already had access to - I commissioned some art for a previous game, Zombie Ball, so I had art for skeletons and vampires already in place.
  3. online clip-art - I didn't want to use clip-art that was licensed or of unclear origin, so I went with royalty-free open-use stuff.  There's a pretty extensive clip art library at which purports to be all  royalty free.  There's another one at which is even more clearly royalty free.  Clker includes nearly everything at, so you can get more options at clker.
  4. art from expired-copyright books - for this, I used Google Books and searched for books from prior to 1923 - anything in those is in the public domain.
I include examples of each of these below.  The result is not publication-worthy, but it looks good enough.
    I got the background textures for the cards from a variety of sources, but a great one that I use a lot is Mayang's Free Texture Library ( - this has high-res texture images of all kinds of things.

    Once I had art, it was easy to go ahead and order a prototype from - and because I was curious, I even went ahead and got one of their medium boxes, which is cool - I'll discuss that later too.  

    I did the ooze using PowerPoint
    and some GIMP effects
    The final prototype
    A knight from a fairy tale book,
    once colorized, became my Elvenking
    Clip art borrowed from

    Game Design Notebook - Horde - Step 1: Contest entry

    So, I entered a game in the newly-shrunken monthly BGDF design showdown in January.  I got second in the voting. I'll put up a few posts about it here, the first being my entry there.

    The restrictions for the contest were (1) that players had to make permanent rules as they go (inspired by New Year's Resolutions) and (2) that things have to come in pairs.  These aren't that important, but they did lead me to a game design I like a lot.  The new word limit for entries was 200 words.  In case you were wondering, it's very difficult to make a robust game whose rules fit in 200 words; none of the other entries described a full game.  Here's my entry:

    2-6 players
    Build the highest-scoring horde of monsters
    10 Rule cards – 5 colors, 5 monsters (red, yellow, blue, black, white; ogre, dragon, knight, goblin, ooze) 
    50 monster tokens - pairs of monsters (2 each of five colors and five types)
    Scoring board – 10 score spaces (0, 1, 1, 2, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 10) 
    Shuffle the rule cards and place them and all other components between players (rules face down).
    Each turn, a player first draws a rule card and places it on the board on any open scoring space. This establishes (resolves?) the scoring for the monster or color shown. Next, the player chooses one, two, or three monsters from the common pool. None of the monsters can match (same color or same monster). The other players then each take the same number of monsters from the pool. These monsters also may not match each other. Players unable to take the full number legally must take fewer.
    Game ends after ten turns (all rules played). For each rule card, the player with the most of that color or monster type gets the point value shown for that rule on the board.

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012

    Chicken Caesar

    Image from the Game Salute site. SBBQR? 
    Here's a game-production Kickstarter campaign for a game about recreating the Roman empire in a chicken community. I am really curious how the game got going - was it just a title first, or did they build the game and then theme it based on the title, or did it just arise organically?  The name is a terrifically funny fit to the theme of the game, and the fact that the theme is so improbable and unusual just makes it funnier.  The art and graphic design looks really good, too - simple, clear, and totally evoking a chicken-themed Roman milieu (whatever that is).

    So, they've got a great name and theme, but what about the details?  They've used the Springboard service from Game Salute, a service about which I'm curious.  There is precious little detail amidst the pretty pictures and hype on the Game Salute site, but what it appears to be is a program where independent game designers can get assistance with publication, including playtesting, advice on game design, publication, and launching a Kickstarter campaign, in addition to a "Seal of Quality" thing.  Of course, these seals are only as useful as their reputation; I'm familiar with some of the games they list on their site, and the ones I know are good games with strong production values.

    I'm going to investigate further; if the Game Salute service is relatively inexpensive, it could be great; if they want a huge chunk of the game's budget, then it would be hard to see how it can work with  the already tenuous profit margins on games unless they also can give a big marketing boost.

    The only data I've got on that is indirect - the minimum level to buy a game of Chicken Caesar is $40, which seems to include postage.  That's pretty expensive for a game you can't look at a real copy of before buying, but it's consistent with what I know of printing costs for small print runs (at their $20,000 funding goal, $40 means 500 games).

    Tuesday, February 7, 2012


    Mini cards (2.5"x1.75") now available at - this is a big deal; those could be super-useful for not only cards, but also currency, markers, tokens, abilities, etc.  They're far cheaper per card than the regular size at about nine cents a card (if you can get your game into sets of 32).  Very cool - this is one I've been waiting for.

    UPDATE: The pricing for these cards isn't actually cheaper than the bigger cards, which is weird.  I was wrong.  I suppose that the cutting and handling are more difficult for these, but they're definitely saving on printing and ink, so I'm not sure what the economics are.

    Monday, February 6, 2012

    BGG Ratings

    BGG Ratings counts as of 2007, by BGG member Joe Grundy
    My last post, which discussed BGG ratings of a few games, got me wondering what the actual distribution of ratings is.  Google led me to a partial answer - the image at right, referenced in the posting by Joe Grundy on BGG here.  This is ratings actually given by individual users, while I was really looking for the composite ratings given each game.  I'll keep looking.

    Kickstarter and publishing

    The folks at the Opinionated Gamer visit several past themes on the value of Kickstarter to designers, publishers, and players.  It was interesting to me that most of these folks, who are designers, enthusiasts, and players themselves, were lukewarm on the idea of Kickstarter, and several said the equivalent of 'I'd never fund something there, of course.'  It makes me wonder who does.

    One of the authors who did buy, Ted Alspach, said he'd been unimpressed with most of the games he'd gotten and specifically called out a couple of them, Carnival and Creatures, as disappointing. I explored on  Creatures looked kind of like a card-only version of one of my designs, Galapagos, but with fewer body parts, and it only got a 5.8 on BGG's scale, which is a pretty low score for BGG.  Carnival, at a slightly-higher 6.3, looked interesting, but some reviewers (like Ted) said the gameplay was rough and sometimes boring.

    Most of these guys agreed with the gist of what I and others have said here before, which is that Kickstarter is:

    1. all good for publishers - their risk and investment is reduced
    2. mostly all good for designers - there are more possible routes to publication, risk is reduced, and self-publishing is far easier, but there may be a temptation to rush to publish an inadequately-tested project.  N.B. I see this in myself, totally, in spades.
    3. a mixed bag for customers/players - they get access to more variety of games, and may see designs that wouldn't get made any other way, but they have to invest before seeing the game and seeing it reviewed, so their money is at risk
    The opinionated gamers wanted to add another perspective to this, which is "good for the industry" - I'm not sure anybody can really figure that one out, because you'd have to define what "good" meant.  Lots of little incompletely designed or tested games clamoring for attention and money sounds bad, but lots more people engaged in design, publishing, and investing in the industry sounds really good.

    What are some takeaways?  Here are mine, from a various parts of the post:

    • Graphic design sells Kickstarter projects
    • Post your rules with your Kickstarter project so that people can see how the game plays
    • There's significant fear on the part of Kickstarter funders that the game projects won't get made and their money will be lost, although that is rare to unheard-of so far.  Sounds like this might be worth addressing in the video or promotional materials for a Kickstarter project.
    • These guys (admittedly a small sample of game enthusiasts) often buy based on a designer's reputation or past products, and are suspicious of unknown or unpublished designers.  This kind of attitude (while probably helpful to them) is a barrier I'll have to overcome, although it's the same old Catch-22 that exists in all kinds of endeavors - we only publish published authors, or we only hire people with experience. 
    • Kickstarter has reduced the number of design submissions to traditional publishers
    • As I suspected, self-publishers with basements full of unsold games are a real (and sad) thing, and there's apparently a lonely Hall of Failure somewhere at Essen populated by them.

    Saturday, February 4, 2012

    Reviewers willing to take on independent games

    The Gamer's Table, a boardgame review site, has started what is to become a series on independent games.  For their first episode, they took a look at Xavier Lardy's Haunted.  From the review, I found it a little tricky to figure out how the game worked, but they seemed to like it after some initial confusion about the rules.

    More importantly to me, though, this might be a way to get some exposure for independent games - they seem to have pretty good production values on the videos, and the hosts seem to have played the game and taken the time to think about it.  I've seen more detail in other video reviews (e.g. Tom Vasel's videos through the Dice Tower), but these might be a good way to get some exposure for a new release, even if it's a self-published or print-on-demand one like mine at

    The first episode of The Gamer's Table seems to have about 7,400 views at the time I'm writing this; some from the more recent season have more like 400-500, so it's not a huge audience, but presumably it's a dedicated one seeking out this kind of content.  Tom Vasel's seem to have more like 2,000-3,000, but these are games that probably start with a wider audience already by being published.  Might be worth submitting my stuff.

    UPDATE: They're actually up to five episodes on independent games. I watched the fifth episode just now, and the explanation of the game was more detailed and easier to follow.  Neat stuff.

    Wednesday, February 1, 2012

    Guiding design principles

    This is a good article, with lots of advice I should take to heart but don't always.

    Tuesday, January 24, 2012

    Risky math

    Risk battles, thoroughly quantified.  Takeaway:  Even for evenly matched armies, the attacker gets more likely to win the more each side has.

    Thursday, January 12, 2012

    Big cards from TGC

    New jumbo card template
    (from TGC site) announces a new big card size (they call them Jumbo cards).  At 3.5" by 5.5", they're about the size of a photograph. My mind jumped to Dixit - the only game that I came up with quickly that uses super-big cards. In Dixit's case, I think it's for two reasons; one, because the cards are the focus for all players simultaneously, so everybody needs to be able to see them, and two, to show off the beautiful artwork by Marie Cardouat.

    Neat-o Dixit art
    (from a review by
    Tiffany Smith
    on BGG)
    I'm always happy to see new options there, but I can't immediately figure out how I'd use this. Still, it could be fun, and now that it's there, I'm sure I can make my way toward it in future designs.  What I'd really like to see is mini-cards, but of course those are much harder to make in a print-on-demand format. The cutting doesn't get any more precise when you shrink the cards, so you have more and more of the card edge needed for a safety buffer.