Saturday, July 31, 2010

Another good Diggity review

Endymian (Ian Stedman), who's also a proud new father, reviewed Diggity over at The Gamer's University, cross-posted to  Quite a positive reivew; he seemed to like it all except the art, which I'm working on now.  I'm glad his group enjoyed it!

Friday, July 30, 2010

More on the CE mark

Wow, there are a lot of skeezy CE Mark firms, eager to collect fees.  I've been wading through it some, and it sounds like my company can self-certify my product.  What this seems to mean is that Plankton Games declares its product safe officially (there's a form for this) and then it assumes all liability for the product, and then it can use the mark.  This is a good source; I'm looking for others.
Disclaimer: I'm NOT an expert - please do your own research. 

Thursday, July 29, 2010

CE mark for European market?

As I'm getting closer to printing, I'm worrying more about what's on the outside of the box.  I've posted before on ISBN/EAN issues, but now I'm looking at the CPSIA regulations for the American market and the CE mark for Europe. I think I can avoid most of the CPSIA regulations by designating ages 12 and up for Diggity (and the game probably warrants that rating, although younger kids who are good with games can play - my 11-year old does).  The CE stuff is new to me - looks like the testing regulations are trickier, and I may have to do it in Europe.

Anybody have experience with these, or some resources they could point me to?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

BGDF contest - entry in!

Got my entry in for the BGDF contest this month.  I spent about four hours on it this afternoon, plus another one last night before bed.  Fun stuff, but it's really hard to get a good set of rules in under 800 words.

We'll see how I do - I didn't print it out and playtest it this time, but I don't think most folks do, so hopefully I've managed to imagine most of the potential problems and avoid them.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Polyhedral dice are just way cool. I knew this when I was 13 or so, and the knowledge persisted until maybe 26-27, but when I started teaching and had kids, I got away from my childhood D&D roots. In the last year or so, I've been playing some again, and I'm going to start a new campaign with my group in the next couple of weeks. In preparation for that, I decided, on a lark, to buy the Chessex Pound-O-Dice, and opening it today was really fun - all the different colors, shapes, styles, etc. Some are pretty hideous, some are cool, but it's still really neat to be holding this many at once. It awakened something I haven't really felt since 1983 or so.

If you were ever a D&D nerd back in the day, I'd recommend this product - at about $18, it's an easy rush.

Monday, July 26, 2010

BGDF July contest

The new BGDF Design Showdown for July is up, and it's much less restrictive than previous ones.  You need to have some theme related to summertime, and you need to have "time as a resource."  I'm not sure what that last bit means, but I'll try.  I noodled over a good idea last night before falling asleep, and I sketched it out on paper while waiting for my daughter's band concert tonight - hopefully it'll work.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Yoggity photos!

Here are some images showing the new artwork for my game Yoggity.  The art is by Jason Greeno (at - he did a really great job.  The copy of the game here was produced by the new post-merge with SuperiorPOD.  It's the only one in existence, and it's been to New Mexico and back in my suitcase, so it's not 100% pristine,  It's a little glary because I took the pictures at 1:00 pm - couldn't get a good one from directly above because the sun was so high. The game isn't yet for sale - it's my entry into the Rio Grande game competition, so I haven't published it yet.  Depending on how the competition goes it might be available around December 2010 or maybe next year.  Anyway, enjoy, and click on the images if you'd like to see them bigger.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Even more contests

The forces behind Protospiel have announced a game design contest.  It's described here.  While this is exciting, and Diggity might be eligible if I don't publish it beforehand, the prize doesn't seem like it's worth the trouble.

If you win, you get your game "published."  I put this in quotes, because:
  1. The print run is pretty small (500 copies)
  2. You don't actually get paid for the game, since all proceeds go to the publisher, other than 24 free copies to you.
The free copies aren't nothing, but they're not much.  You could try selling them yourself, but you'd be competing with the actual publishers of your game, which might limit your ability to sell them.

Furthermore, in order to enter, you need to pay $5 and submit three copies of your game that you don't get back.  Assuming you'll spend some money producing the copies, you're actually out something like $50-$60 to enter after printing and shipping (assuming you use something like to produce your copies).  All for a shot (and possibly a small one) at a net 21 copies (24 minus 3) of your game and no cash reward.

Still, winning is fun, and winning could lead to publication elsewhere, or reputation-building.  I'm just not sure the return-over-investment makes it worth it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Slow progress

I sought my first quotes for Diggity back in December, although those were more exploratory than definite.  I got an artist signed on in May, and I've been collecting printing quotes for many months now.  I don't have the art yet (hopefully soon), but I've got (at last) some good printing options that I think I'm nearly ready to run with.  I'd like to get this process moving along faster, but it seems like it's stuck in molasses - whenever I have a good chunk of time, I'm waiting on folks; whenever it's time for me to do something, I have a million other things going on.

I guess this week I'll be working on some of the dull but necessary parts - founding an LLC, setting up a separate bank account, checking into a business license, maybe pulling the trigger on an ISBN/EAN.  Not the glamorous part, but required.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Nothing new under the sun

I just saw a picture of some folks playing a mining card game that looked a bit like Diggity, and after some research, I realized it is called - Saboteur.  I've read the rules, and the game is really nothing like mine, other than the mechanic of using cards to build a map and the thematic elements.  It involves secret roles and bluffing, and the play looks totally different - more like the traitor/werewolf style games that are so popular these days.

But it's a bummer to have something look similar - I'd rather have mine be completely unique, but of course that's not possible.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Getting games to distributors

James at recommends Impressions Advertising ( as both a stepping stone to distributors and a fulfillment service.  I'll have to look into it more closely when I get nearer to having a product, but it looks like it could well be worth it.  I've looked around for fees, and they appear to charge a $250 setup fee plus 18% of net revenue from distributors.

That sounds like a big chunk, but remember that you're getting 50% of retail from distributors, so 18% of that 50% is really only 9% of the purchase price, so you're really getting 41% from them.  If that makes any sense.

If I'm able to get my game produced for $3-4, and the MSRP is $16-20, then I'd get 41% from Impressions, or in the neighborhood of $6.50 to $8.00 a game.  With advertising, setup, and other costs, that's enough to break even if I can sell out my print run, although not enough to make much money doing this.  If they've got a reasonable record getting stuff placed with distributors, then it could well be worth it.  Especially if they've got connections in other countries.

Monday, July 19, 2010

TGC + SuperiorPOD: Official Announcement

They've announced it officially; SuperiorPOD and TheGameCrafter have joined forces, with the web side managed by TGC and the production side mostly by SuperiorPOD.

Of course, readers of this blog knew this back on July 6.  Quite the intrepid neo-journalist I have become, right?  Trust Plankton Games Journal for all your trivial insidery game-self-publishing news tidbits of interest to tiny audiences.

Hopefully, this will mean more options for game production and better bulk discounts for micro print runs.

Fun - the key ingredient.

A great post by Brett over at on one of the big pitfalls with game design.  The resulting game has to be fun, regardless of how cool or innovative the rest of your stuff is.  Fun is even more important than all that.  I was reminded of this while playing LCR with a group of friends recently.  From a design perspective, the game is, well, totally lame.  You roll dice and move chips around, and it's all totally luck-based and meaningless.  But it was fun.

The other thing I'd add is, what you think will make it fun is often not what makes it fun, and when you play your game, you shouldn't ignore what people are enjoying.  This happened to me with Cult - the thing people like the most is not the carefully designed game structure, the multiple strategies you can pursue, or the variety of special action cards.  The thing they like is the titles and realms, which are just silly, and don't actually impact the game much at all.  But if they can be "Flurb, Blood-Spattered Pain Warden, God of the Small Intestine," they love it, much more than anything I actually did in terms of design.  People even switch one meaningless title to get to a funnier meaningless title, all the time, even though it has precisely zero impact on the game, and yet they laugh hard while doing it.

What's the lesson here?  Brett's gotten to most of it, but I think you also need to think of the game not just in strategic terms, but also in social terms.  LCR is fun because you play it with other people, and the outcome is unknown, and there's not a ton of thinking - it taps into the core strengths of gambling, and allows you to be social while you play.  Cult is apparently fun (at least to some players) because some of the cards are funny, not because of the game itself.

Follow the fun.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Getting into stores

This is a little ways down the road, but I found myself at our local Hobby Lobby, and I got to talking with the manager there.  I asked him how they get the games they carry (which included a lot of games similar to those I'd be competing with).  He said they are ordered mostly by the national office in Nebraska, but that they sometimes took products from local folks if they thought they'd be able to sell them.

Fluxx was there, at a $16.00 price - that's maybe the closest to what my game will be, since Fluxx is cards only and includes 100 cards.  I think I can make this work at a $16 MSRP, so hopefully that'll work.

Lots of the games had the European CE mark, which I've now figured out what is.  I have to figure out if I can qualify for that, and what it means.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Promotional copies

An interesting thread over at BGDF about places to advertise your game, with a list of five on-line boardgame reviewers.  I think it will likely be worth sending out some promo copies to people if they actually come through with a review or commentary.  And it would be better, of course, if it is positive.  The promos are relatively inexpensive - if I get my printing costs down to $3-4 per game, and I can ship for maybe $4, then I could send out 10-12 promotional copies for under $100 - those are some workable numbers, but I'd have to limit it to sites with an appreciable readership, of which there are few.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Another indie publisher

I've run across a guy, Johnny Wahl, who's farther along than I am self-publishing his own game, called Conquer the Kings. It's a chess variant that supports up to four players on a new board, with piece placement up to the players. Looks like an interesting game, although I'm not enough of a chess player to know how it would go.

More interesting to me is the production and marketing. He's gone pretty high-end with the board and box, printed in the U.S., and he's ordered standard chess pieces from China. The artwork is neat. He's got pictures of the production run, which is really interesting. It looks like (from one of his picture captions) his initial print run was 500 games, and I bet they cost him a lot with those numbers and parts - probably at least $15 a copy, maybe more, which would make the game very difficult to sell through distributors at his $34.95 retail price. But chess is a huge market, and he might find enough folks to buy up those 500 directly without having to go through distribution.

The website and publishing project comes across very much as a labor of love, which is neat. He's living the dream, as I hope to do, although I'd like to do so in a way that has at least a chance of financial success. Wahl has also got an interesting post up on his testimonials page - basically a kindly-worded rejection letter from John McCallion, boardgames editor for Games magazine. That piqued my interest, because Matt Worden (of recently got a mention from John for his game Jump Gate, sold through, but with far better artwork and game design than other games available at TGC.

I wonder if I can get my games reviewed in Games? Sounds like great publicity, and it sounds from both of these tidbits that Mr. McCallion actually does take the time to look at the things he gets sent, even if they're not in professional packaging or available in retail stores. Intriguing.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Another contest

Trask over at reports on a new contest sponsored by Blue Panther LLC.  I haven't been able to find the press release or any other information at Blue Panther's website, but from what Living Dice reports, they're looking for multi-component games that are short (30 minutes or less) and make use of some of the different components Blue Panther can produce (mostly custom dice and wood products, but also cards).

The winner gets published; the runner-up gets a game prototype realized by Blue Panther.  They don't say what the terms are (e.g. royalty, number produced, etc.) for the winner - maybe that will come in a future posting.  The contest has a relatively short time horizon - entries due by August 10, winners announced by August 31.

I'm not sure if Blue Panther pre-prints a large run of their games, or whether they do something closer to print-on-demand with their products.  It looks like they're pretty well set up to do POD, although the cards might be tricky to do that way, since there's generally such an economy of scale with printing.

Interesting stuff - I'll look for more info.

Update:  Here's Blue Panther's original announcement.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tasty Minstrel

Michael Mindes over at Tasty Minstrel games posted an interesting defense of a decision to sell one of TM's products, Terra Prime, at half-price through a game enthusiast site called Tanga.  I hadn't heard of Tanga before, but I've looked into it just a little bit, and it sounds like an interesting idea - kind of a Home Shopping Network for games and related stuff along with a community component.

I'd suspected that Terra Prime wasn't doing as well as Tasty Minstrel's other release, Homesteaders, because Michael has started giving out only Terra Prime, not Homesteaders, for his free game Friday giveaway.  He confirms this in his post, indicating he's still sitting on 800-1000 units in inventory with very slow sales.  I'm not sure how many he ordered to start, or what his cost structure looks like.  I know he used Xinghui for manufacturing, which produced cheap but apparently flawed products, and for a game like that to make economic sense, he'd have to have made at least a couple thousand of them.  The print run was 2,000 for Homesteaders, so it's probably the same for Terra Prime, although I can't find where Michael's mentioned the figure specifically.

This was both disheartening and inspiring. Disheartening in that he seems to be living one of my worst fears with this, which is having a significant portion of his product currently unsold and selling very slowly.  Inspiring in that he actually has moved maybe 1000 or more copies, half of those through distribution, within half a year.  That's pretty great, although it would be better were it to continue.

I'm guessing he doesn't suffer as big a markup through Tanga as through retail, although I haven't found anything with their terms yet.  Regardless, at some point, it's going to be worth it to move/liquidate some stock and recoup some of the investment, and the exposure from Tanga may (as Michael guesses) move sales elsewhere as more games get out in the hands of players.

Food for thought, and thanks to Michael for being willing to discuss his business openly.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Gentoo Rules

This was my entry (the winning entry) for the June BGDF game design showdown. The contest required a deck building component and also a slippery slope component, where a player who was ahead might tend to stay ahead.
(c) 2010 by Dave Dobson

A game of penguin procreation

  • 12 Nesting Stone tokens 
  • 20 Penguin tokens 
  • 90 Gentoo cards 
  • 20 Fish tokens

Hatch as many new penguins as you can.

1.    Place six Snow cards in a Player Pile in front of each player. Any extra Snow cards will not be used.
2.    Shuffle the rest of the Gentoo cards. Flip the top four face up in the center of the table. These are the Choice Cards.
3.    Place the rest of the cards face down in a stack in the center of the table. This is the Draw Pile.
4.    Place the Penguin Tokens next to the Draw Pile.
5.    Each player flips their top three cards and places them in a row. These are the player’s Cards In Play. They will all be Snow cards at the start.
6.    Give each player three Nesting Stones.
7.    Give each player five Fish Tokens. These are used to pay for Choice Cards.
8.    The player who has been closest to the South Pole goes first.
Game Play:
Each player’s turn has two phases:
Phase I: Common Area
1.    Draw – flip the top card from the Draw Pile and add it to the Choice Cards in the center of the table. There should now be five cards there. If you run out of cards in the Draw Pile, shuffle the Discard Pile and use it as the new Draw Pile.
2.    Choose – You may choose one of the Choice Cards to add to your hand. Take the Choice Card and add it to your Used Pile next to her Cards in Play. You may not use this card this turn, but it will come into play later when the Used Pile is shuffled and turned into the Player Pile. Some cards have a cost shown as fish icons on the card. If so, you must pay the required number of fish tokens to choose the card. Eggs - The player may only choose an Egg Card if he or she has the required number of Nesting Stones indicated on the card.
3.    Discard – If there are more than four Choice Cards showing, pick one to discard. Move it to the Discard Pile.
Phase II: Personal Area
1.    Flip – flip the top card of your Player Pile and add it to your Cards in Play. If you have no more cards in your Player Pile, shuffle your Used pile to use as your new Player Pile. When you do this, restore your fish tokens back up to five tokens.
2.    Play – you may play any one of your Cards in Play. Choose a Card in Play, places it on the Discard Pile, and follows the instructions on the card. Hatching an Egg – you may hatch an egg only when you have both an Egg card and a Hatch card showing in your Cards in Play. Turn both of them in and collect a Penguin token. When you hatch an egg, you must give one of your nesting stones to another player. If you have no nesting stones, you can still hatch your egg.
3.    Move to Used – If you cannot or choose not to play a card, then if you have more than three Cards in Play, choose one of them and move it to the Used pile.
After these two phases, play proceeds to the next player.

Winning the Game:
The first player to collect five penguin tokens wins the game.

·         Snow – Cannot be played. You may move it to your Used pile if you have more than three Cards in Play.
·         Egg – combine with Hatch to produce a penguin. Each Egg shows the nesting stones (3, 4, or 5) required to collect.
·         Skua (1 fish) – discard any Egg currently visible on the table (Cards in Play, Choice Cards, or atop a player’s Used Pile).
·         Stone Thief (1 fish) – take a Nesting Stone from any other player.
·         Good Nesting Site (1 fish) – reduces the number of nesting stones required to take an Egg by one. Discard when Egg is collected. Does not count as your played card. Limit one per Egg.
·         Hatch (1 fish) – Use to collect a penguin. Requires an Egg in play.
·         Leopard Seal (2 fish) – force another player to lose one penguin token.
·         Vicious Peck (1 fish) – blocks a Stone Thief card; you play this card out-of-turn to keep from losing your stone.
·         Confusing Blizzard – Reverse direction of play
·         Gone Fishing – The next player loses a turn
·         Thaw – if you have a Snow card in play, melt it. Discard both the Thaw and the Snow cards.

Monday, July 12, 2010

June BGDF Challenge Results

Looks like my entry, Gentoo, narrowly won the June BGDF design competition. Woohoo! This is the third month I've participated, and I've enjoyed it each time. This was certainly the biggest field of competitors - 11 entries and lots of good ideas.

This is my first entry that I actually printed out and playtested, which was fun. It worked pretty well after some iterations and rule changes. I think the requirements of the contest hurt the game a little bit, since I was required to include some elements that I'd otherwise avoid.
I'll get the rules up soon and comment some more.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

RPG map-making on the fly and on the cheap

I made this map for an upcoming RPG session.  I like how it came out - I'm no artist, but I was able to use some terrain generation stuff in the GIMP graphics software to do a bunch of it.  I used a shaded version of actual terrain as an overlay for the mountainous bits, and I think it looks OK, even though it doesn't exactly match the outline of the island.

Anyway, pretty good for a few hours' work.  I may post a how-to later if anyone's interested.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


James at reports a bad experience with Xinghui games here and here.  They were the very low China #1 price on my earlier summary of game production quotes, and from other reports they've been quite low on nearly all bids, but the products are reported to be shoddy and low quality, so it looks like in this case you may get what you (don't) pay for.

Friday, July 9, 2010

TGC Sticker issues

One of the coolest things does is let you print stickers that you can then affix to their 1.25" tokens.  I've been using those for Yoggity.  My new set has a slight glitch, though - if you can see in the picture there, the art is just a percent or two bigger than the spread between the stickers, which means that the registration isn't exact, and the stickers shift a little from the top to the bottom of the page.

I used their templates and suggested safe zones, so all my art is on the sticker, but it's still a little dorky looking.  There's a close up of one on the top vs. one on the bottom below.  It looks worse for the paint buckets than for these pieces.

Not a big deal. I've reported it to TGC in their forums, so we'll see what comes of that.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


I've learned of a new site,, that looks like an effort to bring together designers, artists, and others to help games get designed, completed, tested, and produced.  They make their money by charging a small subscription fee to designers.  They say they'll actually publish some of the games submitted on the site, which would be cool - I bet the economics don't work for that until/unless they grow really big, but it's an interesting idea.  I haven't looked too deeply into it, but I'll look more later.

They just put up a blog post that markets them as a way to prevent idea theft - interesting, since most serious designers have moved past that particular fear so common in newbies.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

TGC outsourcing to SuperiorPOD?

So, some customers at TGC have been getting shipping notifications from a Jeff Valent with regard to their orders.  See here. That would seem to explain the TGC "move" and all that - my guess is they've either merged with or outsourced their printing to SuperiorPOD, which is run by Jeff Valent and is located in New York.

I don't think that's necessarily a cause for concern; I've gotten good products from both companies, as I described here. My order was extremely delayed (and communication very limited) with SuperiorPOD, so I wasn't too happy with that, but that could have been a one-time thing, or TGC may help them fix it.  TGC's web interface and web site (and I think business model) is way, way better and easier to use than SuperiorPOD's was, and their customer service has been great for me.  They seem to have retained their employees through the transition, too, so that's good.

Interesting, though - I wonder why TGC chose to keep this secret?

Yoggity Quick Peek

Here's a quick peek at the new Yoggity components fresh out of the box.  My crappy webcam doesn't do them justice, but they look great.  More later.

Monday, July 5, 2010

BGDF design contest thoughts

Just finished reading and critiquing the BGDF entries for June.  Some good ones there.  And some not-so-good.

I've been enjoying this a lot.  This is my third time participating, and I've looked at some of the previous months too. The contest is an interesting mix; the entries seem to come in a few basic archetypes.  Here are some examples:

  • Complete and Clever - a couple games each month manage to be both fully described and really clever - those are the ones that are the most fun to read.
  • A Million Pieces and a Sliderule - a lot of the designs are just fabulously, needlessly complex, with eight kinds of resources, six different decks of cards, a board, and rules that require counting all these pieces and producing amortizations to determine income.  OK, not that bad, but some are close.
  • Just Add The Actual Game - The desinger lays out a set of game mechanics in broad strokes, invokes a huge imaginary deck of cards or pieces each with individualized parameters, costs, and special powers, and then never tells you what any of those cards or pieces actually do or say.
  • Huh? - often the rules are internally inconsistent, refer to parts not in evidence, or directly contradictory.  Or, they just don't make sense, like the words don't make sentences that you can understand.

Some of this comes from the very low 800-word limit from the rules - I've hit it nearly every time and had to cut out what I thought was vital stuff.  It's great practice for streamlining rules, but I think maybe 1000 words would let you define the concept just a little better.

I would have thought that there would be more entries that were near-direct copies of existing games or mechanics, but that's not actually so common - the contestants seem to think (probably rightly so) that voters will place a special emphasis on originality.  Even if they can't write comprehensible rules, they avoid a direct rip-off of an existing mechanic, which is interesting.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

TGC now printing more stuff in color

I got my new version of Yoggity with the art from Jason Greeno ( from, and it looks pretty great.  Something I didn't know - they are now printing rules in color (looks like color laser printing), and they're including two stickers, both in color, one stuck to the outside of the box and one inside.

I think the colors on this run seem less dark, too - my older stuff from them has always come out darker than the images I submit.

This is the first game (of about 12) that I've ordered alone, and it came with the shipping stuff and priority mail tape all over it - not ideal, but the game components look really good.  They use an outer box if you order more than one thing at a time, so your game boxes stay more pristine.

Pictures of the new version soon.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Eleven entries!

The June BGDF design showdown received 11 entries!  I'm not sure why it was so popular this time - maybe because some versions of the theme (deck building) could lead to a CCG-style game, and I hear those are popular.  This leads to two concerns - one is that I'll have stiff competition; the other is that I now have to do a critique of ten other games to assign my votes!  That could take a while.

Friday, July 2, 2010

New Facebook game - LuckyTrain

The company my brother works for just released their first product, a Facebook-based social game called LuckyTrain.  It's a pretty clever thing - not a single-player quest game like all of the MafiaWars clones and their ilk.  They've got some interesting ways to use the social networking built into Facebook.  I'll be interested to see how it does; I've been in on the beta testing, and I enjoyed it.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Dixit wins

Looks like Dixit won the prestigious Spiel des Jahres prize at Essen. I reviewed it here.  I certainly wouldn't have thought of it as a best game from a design point of view. The game works well; the concept is intriguing, and it's fun.  I wonder what criteria they were going on. Measured from some angles (graphic design, quirkiness), the game is clearly exemplary.  The art is just really, really cool, and you get to think in a fun, metaphorical way while playing. From a game design perspective, it's very much like Dictionary or Apples to Apples, although with a few twists. There's not much there, although it's fun.  I think Apples to Apples and Dictionary might have more replay value, although it depends on the audience.

Anyway, a good game.