Saturday, December 31, 2011

Game in progress - Wordy

Wordy in mid-game - bonus points for
anyone who can tell me the last word...
I spent a chunk of December working on a JavaScript-based game.  My wife and I had enjoyed playing Zynga's WordTwist very much, but Zynga canceled that game earlier this year.  So, I decided to recreate it, or something like it. This is not a very original concept - Word Whomp is basically the same thing, and there are numerous others - but still a fun way to exercise one's mental muscles, and I learned some cool stuff about JavaScript and browser-based games.

I'm still working on it, but give it a try if you want.  I haven't done much interface work - e.g., no instructions!  But it works.  We've played a bunch of games of it already.  To play, type any words you can make out of the letters provided, and try to get them all in the time limit.

I built it using a little PHP and a lot of JavaScript with a bunch of help from the CraftyJS game library, which I'd recommend to anybody.  The dictionary I used was a subset of  Kevin Atkinson's SCOWL project which was super-useful - I didn't want to use the whole Scrabble dictionary with all the really obscure words, but I wanted it to be mostly complete, and SCOWL let me decide what level of obscurity I was comfortable with.  I'm still editing my list as I discover words it doesn't have (or words that it does have that it shouldn't!).

Anyway, give it a try, and let me know what you think!  The game is here:

Helpful post on the bidding and manufacturing process

There's a post from Mike Lee at Panda Game Manufacturing over at the Tasty Minstrel Games blog which goes through the steps of getting a game manufactured in China (or elsewhere overseas, I suppose).  A very helpful post covering the whole process, a process I've only taken a couple steps into.

One of the quotes I got for manufacturing Diggity was from Panda, and they were competitive; their products are high quality, at least the couple of them I've seen (e.g. Pandemic, Train of Thought).  I'd definitely recommend them.

Friday, December 9, 2011

TheGameCrafter offers hexes and square cards

TGC Hex card template is now offering hex cards and square cards. The hexes are 3.5" the short way, 3.75" diagonal, and the squares are 3.5" on a side.  They're printed 12 to a page (regular poker cards are 18 to a page), and a page of printed cardstock in whatever form you choose is $2.29 at TGC, so if you make your deck divisible by 12, that's 19 cents a card - pretty great.

This is a really cool new feature - I love it when they add new printed options.  This one is especially good because it allows for map-building games (although the tiles are the standard thick glossy cardstock, so not too thick).  I don't think either of these will fit too well in the new tuckbox or printed small box options TGC offers, but they'd go in the big all-purpose 10"x10" boxes they use.

Here are links to the particular description pages with templates for designers:
Hexes here
Squares here

Friday, December 2, 2011

How not to handle Kickstarter

Chris Norwood over at GamerChris has a detailed takedown of a project he recently supported via Kickstarter.  The details are in his post, but it sounds like the company in question made two bad decisions - first, they sold copies of the game to random convention attendees before sending them to their Kickstarter supporters, and second, they included materials that were supposedly "exclusive" to Kickstarter supporters in every game of their initial 5,000 game print run.

The game got funded, and a 5,000 print run is terrific, especially if it sells out, but I'm betting their next Kickstarter project (running now) might not draw too much support from those who, like Chris, feel justifiably betrayed.  Part of the fun of supporting something on Kickstarter is being in at the beginning and feeling like you're doing something special; Chris' post is a great warning that the perks, though usually minor, are still really important to those who've done you the great favor of supporting you.  He's got some good advice for others who go this route, too.  Something to keep in mind if I try a Kickstarter-funded project in the future.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

More printed boxes at TGC. medium box (from TGC site) adds another box size.  This is a bit bigger (and heftier) than their tuckboxes, and is apparently fully customizable like the tuckboxes.  The foam insert is an interesting touch.  At first sight, it seemed a little cheesy to me, but I haven't seen one in real life, and the more I think about it, the more I think it might work well.  I'm just used to cardboard or plastic inserts rather than foam.  The design seems pretty flexible, but it also doesn't allow a ton of stuff to fit in the box - each of the four bays can hold 68 cards or a small stash of plastic bits.  The box can't hold any of their printed boards other than the 4x4 mini-board size, but it does allow the custom 1.25" token chips with stickers, which are a super-flexible option for many games.

This is maybe more attractive than their full-size box for small games with only cards and bits (no boards).  At $4, it would be a significant fraction of the cost of a game, I'd bet, but it could also look pretty sharp if you print all over the box.  The closure might not stand up to repeated use, but games don't get opened all that much, and I shouldn't judge it before I see it in person.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

More on SuperiorPOD's new service

In an earlier post today, I mentioned SuperiorPOD's new distribution service, and I said I couldn't find much detail on what extra parts they offer.  Well, further research has revealed this page which has a good summary of the other stuff they offer.

The bottom line: more printed products and components and generally cheaper than's current offerings, especially for game boxes, but still a fairly maddeningly opaque site with hard-to-find templates, details, and pricing.  If you're willing to write and ask, it looks like you can eventually work out what you need, but some folks in the forum above indicate a pretty slow set-up process (extending to months). I'd rather have it readily available and clear, like TGC does.  As of now, it looks like you can't have both things (good prices, more extensive printed component offerings, and possible game store distribution of SuperiorPOD vs. straightforward, easy-to-use interface, easy storefront site, and numerous plastic parts of TGC).

Distribution service

From a new e-mail I got this morning - SuperiorPOD is trying to bridge the gap between print-on-demand, direct sales (which TheGameCrafter and SuperiorPOD itself provide) and getting games into actual retail stores.  The service they've set up is here - Adventure Game Source.  It looks like what they're doing is creating a wholesale style distribution service, similar to what traditionally published games use, that retail stores can order from.  They also claim to have printing capabilities for lots of different parts and packaging.

Key things I don't know yet:

  • How does the MSRP for a game get set?  Given that they're offering a 45% discount off this price for distributors, and that print-on-demand costs are generally far higher than printing a whole bunch of a game at once, this could be tricky.
  • How hard is it to get listed through the service?  They only have an e-mail address to send your stuff too, and that makes it look like they need to look over your game and approve it for their model.  I'm not sure how hard it is to be accepted to the program. 
One thing that has always frustrated me with SuperiorPOD's site is that, even though they seem to have some pretty neat publication options and a lot of flexibility, their site is difficult to navigate, and key pricing or design information is hard or impossible to find.

So, I don't really know what to make of this. I got some copies of my games from them a while ago, and the quality was excellent, although the timing and communication left a lot to be desired.  The merge and then un-merge with TheGameCrafter has left these two companies as rivals.  From my point of view TGC has some advantages - clear, relatively easy-to-use website, consistent service, clear lines of communication, and lots and lots of standard game parts - but cedes ground to SuperiorPOD in other areas, like cost, variety of printed parts and packaging, and now this distribution option.

I see that Andreas Propst has moved Elemental Clash to this service, so he must have found an advantage there.  Maybe I'll see what they can do with Diggity.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

More navel-gazing about Kickstarter

In response to this post, reader Wordman says the following:

Grant's critique rings hollow to me. Not because his analysis is wrong, but because... well... consider this...

You live in a world that has games, but Kickstarter doesn't exist. A magic man appears and says "if you open this magic box, the world will transformed into a place that has many, many more games for you to choose from. Many of them might be worse than games you have now. A few of them, though, will probably be awesome." Do you open the box?

I would. I don't see the downside. I guess Grant's concern is that some people somewhere might be duped into buying a bad game. Or, perhaps that I, with my powers to choose for myself, might spend my money un-optimally on a game that wouldn't have had the opportunity to take my money if I hadn't opened the box. Why is that Grant's problem? I'd rather have the choice.
A good hypothetical.  I didn't mean to indicate that I thought Kickstarter shouldn't exist, or that it was bad for boardgame designers - on the contrary, I think it's terrific that it exists, and it's great that people are having success using it to produce games.  One of the biggest barriers to entry to the board game market is the huge up-front investment required for game production, as I've discussed frequently (e.g. here).  Kickstarter and similar crowd-funding places smooth out that barrier.

My problem with it, and I don't really have much of one, is that it nearly completely shifts the burden of the process from the designer to the consumer.  The model for traditional publishing normally like either of these:

Design a game --> Invest a bunch of money --> Produce and sell game --> Recoup money

Design a game --> Invest a bunch of money --> Produce game, sell hardly any --> Become poor and bitter

Obviously, the second part of that chain is the barrier, and the potential costs are borne by the designer or publisher.  With Kickstarter, the designer benefits by not having to risk lots of money, shifting that burden directly to the customer.  However, if the game isn't good, the bitterness is still present, but shifted to his/her funders.  So, it's win-win for the designer/publisher, but a mixed bag for the funder.  But for both parties, there is a dilution of both risk and of bitterness there, which is good - I'm less bummed having dropped $20 on a bad Kickstarter game than I am having blown $10,000 to get a game printed that nobody buys.

I think Grant's major complaint is not that Kickstarter is bad, but that because it's win-win for the designer, there's a much weaker filter for the projects in question.  That means the average quality of published games will have to go down (perhaps precipitously so on Kickstarter) while the number of published games will go way up.  A little of this is a great thing - Wordman rightly points out that with a bigger pool of games to choose from, more awesome games will be produced rather than sitting in desk drawers and hard drives, and we may see great games that would never have come out.  There's a downside here too, especially if the barrier gets too low - it's like the Internet in general.  Many more people have a chance to speak, but they don't necessarily have something to say.

So, I like Kickstarter, and I think on balance it's great for independent (a fancy word for unpublished) game designers.  There's a downside, too, though, and there's a chance that if a bunch of crappy games all go to the well at the same time or over and over again, it'll dry up.  But so far, it's been better and grown faster than I thought possible, so what do I know?

I do worry that, as sometimes happens at, if most of the projects aren't of very high quality, it will become difficult to find the good ones among the sea of crap.  TGC actually created a very small barrier in a recent update - they require at least one copy of a game to be purchased before it can be published to the shop - and I think it has helped raise the bar a little bit.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Kickstarter for games - a critique

Really interesting critique/rant by Grant Rodiek about using Kickstarter for game projects over here at Exiled Here.  I've been aware of Grant's game, Farmageddon, on for a while, and it sounds like he's done some parallel things (and had parallel thoughts) as he's moved through the independent design/publishing realm.  His ideas on Kickstarter mirror mine - a great opportunity, but one that's becoming very crowded and inconsistently good.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Oceans Elevens

I'm guest-hosting the monthly Game Design Showdown over at Board Game Designers Forum. I required an ocean theme ('cause I'm a marine geologist) and a voting mechanic ('cause it's November). Eight good entries already, and there might be more before the day is through. I miss not entering, but it's fun seeing what people come up with. I was a little worried that I wouldn't attract any entries, but that's not been the case.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Warped pictures

I took some pictures of one of my current projects, Warped, which I entered in TheGameCrafter's vehicle design contest and which I've now sent off to Hippodice's design contest.  I'll see what Hippodice says - I should know within a month or so if it makes it to the playtest round. 

It looks cool, although I don't think I'd ever actually play it on a table with holes in it - too many pieces to fall through.  Pretty neat how much stuff you can get for under $20 - that's a lot of parts.

TGC offering actual gameboards

Example new TGC board.
Image from their post (linked above)
See here.  These look as good as regular gameboards, and I assume the printing and development interface will meet TGC's high standards.  At $10 a pop, they add significantly to the cost of your game, but this is still a killer feature, allowing you to produce nearly any component via TGC.

They're originally 18"x18" and fold twice to 9"x9", which means they'll fit in TheGameCrafter's new standard black boxes.  Pretty cool.  I'm going to see if I can stretch/pad the Yoggity artwork to fit and then get one printed up.  Hopefully it will also work for my product-in-development, Zombie Ball.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Social media presences of questionable value

I set up a Google+ page for Plankton Games.  Not sure what that's worth.  My Facebook Plankton Games page has never been visited by anybody but me, as far as I can tell.  But maybe Google+ will be different - it's tied to the search engine better, presumably.  We'll see.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

More Hex Tiles

Zounds!  It works!  A hex overlay that will sit on top of other art.  Nice.  Now, if I were just a good enough artist to draw a top view of a cemetery arena...

Hex grid in illustrator

A neat step-by-step tutorial for making a hex grid pattern in Illustrator.  I'm working on better art for my Zombie Ball game (and maybe a better title, too), so I need this kind of thing.  I'm going to give it a try, and I'll post the results.

I picked up Illustrator last year both for games and because I often have students who need to use it or something similar, and I figured it would be useful to learn it.  I find it much more difficult than Photoshop, which I picked up mostly right away.  The menus and controls seem much more cryptic (although Photoshop sure has some weird stuff).

Friday, October 28, 2011

Wrong takeaway

From Kickstarter Funding by Days of the Week,
Richard Bliss, Purple Pawn, 10/28/2011
Richard Bliss over at the Purple Pawn posted some graphs of Kickstarter game project funding campaign success.  He implies, I think, that starting your campaign on Sunday might make it more likely to be successful. I think that's a misreading of the data. I think the graph actually reflects merely the frequency of campaign starts per day, not the probability of success per day.  If I'm right, that means most people begin campaigns on Sunday, which makes sense; you work all week and then use the weekend to put your finishing touches on the project, then post it on Sunday. To make the point the article suggests, what you'd actually need is a percent of campaigns that were successful plotted by the day they started.  My guess is that this would be nearly flat.

I think the day-of-week thing is probably nearly irrelevant to project success, since most of the campaigns run several weeks to two months.  If anything, you might actually want to AVOID a Sunday start so as not to be hidden by the deluge of new projects coming out on the weekend.  Wednesday is your friend. Unless of course people only browse projects over the weekend too...

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Design Contests

The contest I entered Warped! in is over, with results here.

Short analysis - I didn't place in the top five, which is all the results they gave.  I was sad, because the game is a lot of fun, is complex, and seems well-balanced, and some of the other entries that placed don't seem like they would be.

Long analysis - I found myself wondering, as I often do upon hearing contest results, why my game didn't do better. I've entered a number of game design competitions, and of these, Hippodice and the Rio Grande competition last fall were the only ones I've gotten feedback from.  Occasionally I get some feedback from the monthly BGDF design showdowns (though not from people who've actually played the game, since the entry is just an 800-word description/rules document with a couple small pictures).

The feedback from Hippodice was very brief, although I was very grateful that they took the time to send it (I'll need to post that here sometime to show what they do).  The feedback from the Rio Grande competition made it clear that the judges had left out a key component (trading) to the game they were playing (Yoggity), a component that changes the game from mostly luck-based to very strategic.

So, what did I learn from this competition?  Hard to say, with no feedback other than not making it.  If I've followed the progress of judging correctly, the final five were the only ones actually created and played by the judges.  The rest (including mine) I assume were judged based on rules, artwork, and presentation.  The standards and system they used for judging the final version wasn't in the original announcement of the contest, so there'd have been no way to tweak the game toward the judging.

I guess what I'm getting at is some advice to myself: don't enter the contests to get feedback about your games.  The only feedback you're likely to get is very simple - you won, or you lost, or maybe, if you're lucky, some placement information.  Who wins and loses depends on how good your game is, certainly, but it also depends on what standards they're using (which you don't always know), how the judges interpret those standards (which you can't know), and a host of other idiosyncratic factors, like whether the judges' taste matches your theme or your art or your complexity level, whether they've just played a bunch of games like yours - all stuff you can't know and can't control.

So, if you're not entering to get feedback (a lesson I need to learn), then why enter?  The only valid reasons I can see are:
  1. A reason to design a game, and a deadline to design it by
  2. The thrill of the competition
  3. A chance to gain free exposure for your game (very unlikely unless you win a prestigious contest)
  4. A prize (seldom offered, but cool when it is)
#1 - a reason to design - is a good benefit for me - I like working on games, and having the restrictions and deadlines for competitions helps me focus.  

I get a lot of #2, the excitement, also, although when the judging is seemingly more random (or maybe just more hidden) that tends to dampen the thrill.  In many of these contests, too, it's very difficult to know what your competitor's games are like, which makes it difficult to evaluate the results - you don't know whether to feel righteously thrashed by superior design or bitter and unappreciated.  That's one of the great things about the BGDF showdowns - you get to see everybody's whole entry, and they're short enough that you can read and understand them all.

#3 (exposure) and #4 (a prize) I haven't won enough to see.  The BGDF showdowns, of which I've won a few, offer no prize and nearly no exposure.  The bigger ones would certainly do more, sometimes even the holy grail of publication, but I've only entered a few of those.

So, I think I have to content myself with practice designing and the excitement of competition, and let the rest of it go.  Obviously, as I've seen, even in a competition, people aren't going to have a chance to get to know your game well, and may not even play it, so it's not really much of a measure of how "good" it is.  But good rules and good graphical presentation are key, because that's something that even the most rushed judges are going to take a look at.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Kickstarter > $1 million

Really interesting article over at the Purple Pawn about success people have had using to fund boardgame startups.  I've covered this here before and interviewed a few successful designers (see other posts with the Kickstarter label), but the total amount of money raised is pretty staggering.  This is becoming a really good way for some people to fund the production of some games.  The question is, are my games (and whoever I'd recruit to Kickstarter) good enough to get some funding there?

Warped in published form...

Got my copy of Warped from, and it looks great, my crummy laptop camera notwithstanding.  Still waiting on the results of their Vehicle Game Design Contest - they've announced results for the artwork and creativity categories there, neither of which I expected my game to win, but we're still waiting on the final winner.

The game plays well; I've played five games now, tweaking various rules, and it's a lot of fun.  It bogs down a teeny bit with four (you have to wait more for your turn), and there's a lot of stuff to remember as you plot out your moves, but I don't think it's too complex. Definitely a game in the more advanced European style.

Zombie Ball takes 2nd

My entry for the October GDS at took second.  The entries are here - mine's #5.  I'm happy about that - the first place game was very creative, and I voted for it.

I've played my game a few times now, and it's super fun.  I'll post revised rules and some other stuff on here soon.  I'm trying to make better art for my gameboards, but I need to work up my Illustrator skills some.  And develop some sense of visual art.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bones and more bones

Ten  entries in the BGDF challenge this month.  The theme and restriction has made several of them seemingly similar within a couple broad categories - including "sort out body parts" and "undead things beat each other up."  It'll be interesting to see how it's judged - the outcomes in this competition always seem a little bit random to me, although the winner is usually a good game.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

BGDF contest for October

Got my entry in, after sitting one out.  This one's requirements are the dead and a Mancala-style choosing mechanism.  We'll see how I do; I haven't made a game like this entry before.  I'm hoping to get to playtest it some more with some friends this week.  I'll report how it goes, and how it does in the contest.

Still trying to figure out what I'll send off to Hippodice this year.  I might try this game, and I might try Warped, my entry in TGC's vehicle contest.  Or, I might resubmit Yoggity with some rules changes I came up with over the summer.  Hmm...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

TGC Vehicle design contest submissions

Vehicle Types
They got 28 submissions over at for their vehicle design contest.  I looked through all of them quickly just to see where I stood.  The most common vehicles used are cars, making up nearly half.  The most common game themes involve racing (not unlikely, given the many cars-based games), trading, and war, with some simulations built in.  It was somewhat difficult to distinguish some of these categories for some games.

Game Types
Most interesting for me was that of the space games, which were 1/4 of the total, most were space trading games of one sort or another, where you are visiting places and gathering goods.  That makes my submission, Warped, seem not nearly so unique, and may make that whole genre tiresome to the judges as they wade through many sets of similar rules.

By my (admittedly idiosyncratic) standards, I'd say roughly half of the entries I categorized as flawed in some significant way and not a threat to win.  This was not usually based on looking at the rules, although I did read through some of them.  The problems included very crude art, very crude or simplistic design, poorly-written or incomplete descriptions, or other reasons.

My easy dismissal of these might be wrong - there could be a gem of gameplay in there, hidden behind bad art, in the same way that visually beautiful games can often suck in terms of gameplay.  About 1/4 of the games had good to great art.  My art isn't the greatest, but it's OK, and the game behind it is fun.  I'm not certain the rules will make it clear how fun it is, and there are some complexities that I'm not sure I got across.  The fact that I'm competing with six other space-trading games is troubling, too.

Well, we'll see how it goes.  As usual, I'm sure I'm over-thinking this.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Boxes and real game boards, printed on demand.

Wow.  SuperiorPOD is now doing full gameboards and printed set-up boxes, they announced on BGDF.  There's a bit of an arms race going on between SuperiorPOD and TheGameCrafter at the moment, but this is a big step forward for SuperiorPOD.  TGC has promised chipboard boards for a while (although I don't know if they're going to be wrapped like SuperiorPOD), but not a fully printed box (TGC currently has a nice black box with the option for a printed sticker on top).
Pictures from here:

This looks like the real deal.  About $4-5 per box, $4-5 per board if they're part of a whole game printed there.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

New space game nearly ready for release

My entry in TheGameCrafter's vehicle design contest is in, and just under the wire.  I haven't gotten a copy yet (although it's ordered), so I haven't published it in the shop, but here's what the page will look like when I do.  I like the game - I've played it a number of times now with friends (thanks, Derek and Bob!), refining it each time, and it's pretty darn fun.  It centers on trading goods between worlds, but it quickly evolves into a race to complete missions and build technologies.

Plus, there's pirates.  What's not to like?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

New CCG POD - the link

Here's a link to the announcement from SuperiorPOD I commented on in my earlier post.

New CCG POD possibilities

The game print-on-demand company SuperiorPOD has announced the ability to create card packs with random frequencies, such as would be required to make a collectible card game (CCG) like Magic or Pokemon.  There are tons of independent designers who have ideas for this kind of game, but it's been very hard to get them made because of the high cost of printing.  Having this capability in a print-on-demand service is great for those folks, and it's been an often-requested and so far unfulfilled wish in the forums at The GameCrafter.

I'm a little dubious that you could get an indy CCG off the ground.  Even with this potential printing solution, it's going to be hard to get enough of an audience that they'll be willing to send lots of money away just for a chance at getting a rare card, especially when there are lots of CCGs already saturating the market.  But I don't know that market well - none of that kind of game ever did much for me.  Card-based combat and the interrelationships of abilities I like, but the idea that you'd do better if you spent more on cards always killed it for me.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Art for space game

Here's a sample play board (one of a 2x2 grid) for my new unnamed space game that I'm submitting for's vehicle game design contest, due in about a week.  In the game, players control ships and trade resources from planet to planet while completing missions and building ship upgrades.

The game board background image is NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day from June 30, 2011, seen here:
It is of Star Factory Messier 17, taken by the European Southern Observatory's VLT survey telescope's OmegaCam.

The planets are textures from that I altered, recolored, and mapped to spheres.

The green grid I created in Adobe Illustrator, with shadows added in GIMP.  The wormhole art is a GIMP plasma rendering with a bunch of effects.  The pirate icon is clip art from the Open Clip Art Library (  The starlanes (blue paths) are a path trace in GIMP with some gradient filling and border effects.  The text and disks around the planets I made in PowerPoint 2007.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Dueling D6's: Combat Odds for 6-sided dice

I've been working on a design recently in which I am thinking of using a pretty standard style of dice-based combat resolution. I first saw it in the game Mystic Wood, then in Talisman, and in a similar pirate-themed game called Sword and Skull.  Each player rolls a die and adds a bonus to it; high roll wins.  I did the math (not hard math) to figure out what a 1-point or 2-point advantage is worth in this scenario. I knew it wouldn't be linear, but I was curious how it looked.  The zone for ties gets smaller as your advantage increases, and a +4 isn't too different from a +5 in terms of results except that you can actually lose a +4 battle a fraction of the time. Anyway, here are the results.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Rules-writing guidelines

Michael Keller over at has some notes from a GenCon seminar by a Hasbro executive named Mike Gray about writing effective and useful rules documents for your game. The notes and tips are interesting and very specific - I wish I'd been able to attend the seminar. Definitely worth a look, and includes a copy of a summary handout from the seminar which is also concise and useful.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Vehicle Design Contest at TheGameCrafter

Described here. The prizes are promotional points on's site, which is interesting - you can get your game entry (or another game) featured there, which is nice, and obviously winning the contest will give you some small notoriety/marketability.

The restrictions are interesting, too - the most restrictive parts are that the game must use their vehicles (although only one type makes it not too bad) and that your game must price out at under $20, which is pretty limiting, since even Diggity (which is only 100 or so cards plus rules, no extra parts) comes in at about $15. If you want a board or other tokens, it could be tricky to hit that limit.  Another "prize" is getting to judge the next contest, which is interesting also and comes with some free games.

There's not much info on what the criteria are, too, which is a bit tricky, although there are some suggestions (artwork, polish).

Deadline is October 1.  Obviously a better fit for people with new vehicle-related ideas who are used to the TGC production system.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Really great playtesting advice from JT at TGC here. I've done most if it for Diggity. I do win nearly every game I play, which isn't good (Wookiee Test), and I'm not sure if all newbies can play fast enough to make it fun (Speed Test). Very useful advice throughout - this should be a must-read for all new designers.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Diggity sighting

Diggity, near the elbow of the guy in
the blue shirt and dashing facial hair.
Diggity made an appearance at Gen Con at's booth, thanks to Matt Worden. Photographic evidence here, on the TGC page of Matt's new game, Dicey Curves.

How's that for link-mongering?

Jump Gate - first thoughts

I've played a couple games of Matt Worden's Jump Gate now (and won zero of them).  It's a different game than I expected, but I've enjoyed it a lot.  Some observations:

  • The game is way more fun to play than I thought it would be from reading the rules the first time.  That's mostly a good thing (far better than the opposite) but it would be better if the fun showed through from the rules.  I worry about that with Diggity some.  For Jump Gate, it seemed like there would be some pretty simple set collection, some different kinds of moves to make, and then not much complexity, but there ends up being a surprisingly non-obvious set of strategic decisions you've got to make to use your relatively scarce turns, and figuring out how to maximize your score is tricky.
  • The theme is neat, and fits the game well, but it's only loosely integrated into the game - what I mean by this is that you could pretty easily switch the whole thing to, say, a carnival theme, where you're picking up sets of stuffed animals and candy, rather than the space ship one.
  • The art is great - very neat design and layout.
  • The manufacturing part seems also to be great.  The rules are in color, the components bagged and good quality, the box really neat.  This was a self-publishing effort by Matt, and he's clearly done well with it.  I'm not sure how many he got made in his print run, but I'd guess these cost him in the neighborhood of $10-15 each minimum, maybe more, for 2000-3000 copies, which makes it hard to sell them at retail through a distributor, which I don't think he's doing given the relatively small set of companies it's offered at.  This is nothing wrong that Matt did - it's just a really hard part of being a small publisher.
I'll save a full review for when I've played it a few more times, but I like it.  My son chose it in particular to bring to show his cousins.

Friday, August 5, 2011


I played Clue with the kids last night.  We didn't have this when I was a kid, so I never played it much growing up - only with friends.  Back then, I thought it was pretty simple, but fun.  Playing as an adult, I realized there's more to it than my 8-year-old self saw.  Where kids mostly just focus on getting the clues noted correctly and puzzled out efficiently, there's this meta-level where you analyze what others are doing with their suggestions, and then a kind of meta-meta level where you watch what other people are noting, especially in response to OTHER people's results, and then a meta-cheating level which I tried to avoid where you can sort of see what part of people's note paper they're marking and determine whether they're noting a weapon, room, or suspect.

There's still a lot of luck.  My daughter (age 14) played well and won, and was doing more fakery and strategy than I thought (is it good when you realize your kids are deceiving you?), but some of her success came from getting the room nailed down very early, which was a function of where she happened to start on the board and what cards she was dealt.  My son (age 12) also did well, and played Colonel Mustard in character as a bombastic blowhard the whole time. What a clown.

The rolling and moving mechanic has always seemed pretty stilted to me, too.  There's likely a better game trapped in there somewhere.  But it was a fun time - gotta love the classics.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Jump Gate

My copy of Jump Gate arrives on Monday, and I'm looking forward to seeing fellow indie designer Matt Worden's award winning game in person.  I ordered a copy of the 2nd edition of the game, so the one he had printed up, not the version, so it should be interesting to see what he was able to accomplish with a reasonably small print run as an independent publisher, something I've been considering for some time now.

Plus, I'm sure the game will be fun to play as well!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Contest at TGC is running a game design contest through their site. Prizes are from their new point system, which you can use to get your games featured on their site. I have no idea what the value of featured status is - whether it translates to more views or more sales - but it's an interesting idea, and I've been entering contests with no prizes for a while now at BGDF and at Hippodice.

Unfortunately for me, the contest focuses on their vehicle parts, which isn't really my thing - I guess I go more for abstract stuff rather than using fiddly miniatures. Of course, I could just use some of the vehicles as pawns or markers, I guess. I'll have to see if I can think anything up.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Zeno Clash review

Ghat has some mommy/daddy issues
I bought a game on Steam over the weekend - Zeno Clash.  It was on sale for $3.75, so I figured I could hardly go wrong.  Heck, I spent that much in quarters on countless arcade games back in the day.  Including this one.  I'm not proud.

The game was built on the Halflife 2 engine, and there were some weird similarities of interface and graphical appearance there, but it was otherwise very, very different.  The game is very, very weird.  The stuff you do is weird (I just finished a level where I shot at rock-throwing eskimo dudes while being rowed along a fanged canal and discussing the nature of crime with a deep-voiced blue-faced ancient sage).  The art is chaotically bizarre, and the plot and dialogue are sort of dream-like - you're doing things that sort of makes sense in context, but you don't know what's going on, and you're just supposed to accept the weird stuff mostly unquestioningly.  There's some backstory where you were moved to kill your hermaphroditic parent organism with a skull bomb for reasons that only slowly become clear.

Usually, this kind of deliberate artsiness turns me off, but it sort of works here. I've been engaged with the story, and even though the art is strange, it's OK.  It's actually the game part that is not working well for me.  It's a first-person shooter, but you don't shoot much - the weapons are kind of powerful, but you lose them whenever you get hit.  Most of the combat is punching and blocking.

This is fun, kind of, especially when you land some good punches, but they keep putting you in battles with multiple opponents, and you only have the standard 120 degree field of view, so you don't know where the other enemies are.  You are trying to fight one guy, and then you get beat on or shot by a guy you can't see.  A radar or something would really help, or maybe less complicated battles.

Compounding this is a lack of save points.  You get to save after most major battles, but sometimes not, and when you get sent way back to re-fight a battle that you only barely won after 12 tries, it really kills the experience.  I am currently stuck in a fight where you have to beat down three to five guys who are brought back to life by a weird dancing drummer, then kill the drummer.  I've done that once, but then you have to (without life refill if you've eaten all the magic berries, which you need to do to survive the first fight) smash a big strong guy (who also has a sidekick) who can only be hurt with a club, which you lose whenever you're struck.

I've tried this series of fights probably 15 times and never even come close.  Some of the earlier fights were like this too.  I don't mind a challenge, but I'd like the option to manage it better - I don't see a way through this.  Maybe there's a difficulty setting - that might do it, but it's not obvious in the interface.

I've noticed that in several computer games I've designed - I get pretty good at them while playing, so I don't have a good sense of how hard other people will find it.

Anyway, even with the issues, it was definitely worth $3.75.  Hard to imagine how that kind of pricing works for the original authors, who must be getting only a tiny cut after Steam and all the other middlemen take their cut.

Monday, July 18, 2011

GDS - Europoly

I've got an entry in the newest BGDF design showdown after sitting the last one out.  We'll see how I do - it's a bit of a challenge, to make a Monopoly game that keeps the mechanics and pieces but is more "euro" and fun.  Of course, if people played original Monopoly like the rules say, they'd have more fun to begin with...

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Game Crafter v 2.0

Some really exciting changes at The Game Crafter described here.  The biggest in my opinion will be the chip-board game boards, the much better profit-sharing, and the box options.  But nearly all of it sounds like a great improvement.  The requirement that a game be purchased at least once before being released should also cut back on the ocean o' crap that print-on-demand services suffer from.  And if they can solve the nagging card-cutting issues, then that should be really great too.

I'll have to see how my games transition - I'm going to have some problems with Yoggity, since the game board is sized at their board size that's being discontinued, but I can probably figure something out.

This sounds really cool.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

End of the Line

Here's a really useful post from Jackson Pope over at Reiver Games, where he details his experience running a small independent publishing company and his strategies, decisions, and problems that led to the company's closing down last year. Sad stuff, and a good cautionary tale for people starting down the road that he did.

Thanks to Jackson for writing about his experiences; I think he might be a little too hard on himself, since he also has the global economic collapse as a backdrop for starting his company, but it's really useful to hear what he did and why, and why it didn't always work out.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Good playtesting advice

Tom Gurganus interviewed Chad Ellis of Your Move Games, and Chad has some really good advice for getting useful playtests and also thinking realistically about how good your designs are.  Very good stuff. The company looks like it was founded in kind of the way I'm trying - some designers wanting to publish but not wanting to put up with all the trouble and crushed dreams of getting published by others.

Read it here.  There's an earlier part of the interview too, but this second part has the more interesting stuff design-wise.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Follow through...

Now that classes and end-of-year reports and such are finished, I've made some progress on the puzzle game project I mentioned back in March.  I've been working with CraftyJS, a pretty neat-o game engine for javascript games.  I'm still in the baby-steps stages of javascript coding and of using Crafty, but I do have something working - see the demo page here.

I'm hoping to turn this into a puzzle game, and I've got the game part mostly thought out, but I'm still working hard on the programming mechanics.  Visually, my quick-and-dirty demo art looks OK, although because I'm using simple rotation of 2D art, the lighting is all wrong on the tiles in the demo.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Great article on design

I agree with nearly everything Matt Thrower says here, although the last point seems specific only to reviewers of games and not to designers. I think I follow most of his design advice, most of the time, but it's great to have an intelligent, well-written take on these concepts and to think them over again.

I particularly agree with his take on randomness - although I do love the elegance of a completely player-determined game, a random element makes for a whole lot of variety, as I've written about before.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Keep hope alive...

I had a neat idea for a simple computer puzzle game in the middle of last week.  Given that it's nearing the end of my semester, I won't have time to implement it for a month or so, but it's great to have that to look forward to.  I'm going to base it on Cairo tessellation, which is a cool pentagon-based geometric pattern rumored to be common in Egyptian streets.

I always struggle to keep the spark of excitement and enthusiasm that comes with a design alive until I can actually do the work.  Sometimes the spark fades away; other times, I come up with a new idea and lose interest in the old one.  The result is a train of half-baked game ideas stretching back into my childhood, and only a few realized projects.  Hopefully I can keep the fires going for this one.

But now I have to grade stuff.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Writing Rules

There's an interesting discussion on what makes rules good over at BGG.  Lots of good ideas and useful observations there for people writing rules for their own games.  Also some differences of opinion - a lot of people seem to like Settlers of Catan's rules, which have an alphabetical section discussing various topics in the middle after the main rules.  I'm not opposed to a glossary or something like that, but the way Catan has it set up, I often find myself trying to remember what term a particular rule is listed under, which means I have to flip around through the alphabetical section to find the rule.  I'd much prefer to have all the rules listed in a structured way, where they relate to the part of the game being discussed, rather than alphabetically.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Below is my entry in the huge February BGDF Game Design Showdown contest. It nearly made the cut for the finals, but not quite. I think it would be pretty fun; over the summer, I think I'll try to put a set together (wouldn't be too hard - just need lots of six-sided dice) and see how it plays.  


(c) 2011 by Dave Dobson / Plankton Games
2-4 players


In the olden days, the Ur-gan clans of the Stonetop Mountains vied with each other under a strict code of mortal combat. To the losers, a decade of defeat, shame, and self-pity. To the winners, ten years of dominion over all the other clans.
You lead one of these clans in a battle to the death! Your warriors are represented by dice - each die is a warrior. When you are out of dice, your clan has lost, and you are out of the game. Will you fail, and lie unsung in a coward's grave, or will you roll to victory? (Get it? Roll? Get it?)


  • 30 white six-sided dice
  • 1 black six-sided die
  • 2 red eight-sided dice
  • 1 green 10-sided die
  • 4 Restoration mini-cards
  • 14 Tide of Battle mini-cards


Be the last player with surviving armies in the game


Each player gets a set of normal warriors (white six-sided dice). The number of starting dice depends on the number of players as follows:
  • 2 players - 15 dice each
  • 3 players - 10 dice each
  • 4 players - 7 dice each
Each player also gets one Restoration card. Shuffle the Tide of Battle cards and place them face down nearby. Roll to see who goes first.

Game Play

Game play consists of two phases, the battle phase and the draw phase

Battle Phase

On each of your turns, you will battle with the opponent to your right. To conduct a battle, you and your opponent each roll all your warriors (your dice). Battles are resolved from the die rolls according to these rules:
  • Each roll of five or higher counts as a hit
  • The number showing on each die is the number of hits needed to defeat and remove that die
  • The player dealing hits may decide which of the opponent's dice the hits affect
For example:
  • Gollum has six dice and rolls: 6 5 4 4 2 1
  • Frodo has seven dice and rolls: 6 6 5 3 2 1 1
Gollum has scored two hits, and he may either take out Frodo's two dice showing 1's or Frodo's one die showing a 2. Normally, it would be better to take out two dice rather than one, but if the die showing 2 is a special die, Gollum might want to get rid of that one. Frodo scores three hits and would probably use them to take out Gollum's two dice showing 2 and 1.

Draw Phase

After the battle is resolved, the player draws one card from the Tide of Battle deck. The player may choose to pay the cost shown on the card (the cost is paid in dice), or he may pass it to the right. The next player has the same choice - pay or pass. If the card makes it back around to the original location, the cost is reduced by one and the process repeats. Eventually the card will be bought, or the cost of the card will drop to zero, at which point it may be taken for free.


If you ever lose all of your dice, you are out of the game immediately, even if you could add more dice by playing a card.


There are two types of cards - Restoration cards and Tide of Battle cards. Restoration cards bring a player's force back up to its starting total. Tide of Battle cards can have many different effects. The following rules apply to these cards:
  • Some cards have permanent effects; others can be played once only and are then discarded.
  • Some cards are played at specific times in a battle or during a player's turn. Other cards can be played at any time as long as the player still has dice.
  • Some cards call for additional dice to be added to a player's army. If those dice are not available when the card is played, they are not added or owed - they are lost. Partial adding is allowed (e.g. if a player is instructed to add five and three are available, he or she gets the three dice).
  • If a player is ever out of warriors, he or she has lost and can play no cards, even if they would restore warriors to the player's army.
  • Tide of Battle cards that are used are discarded. When all of these cards are used, shuffle the discards to restore the Tides of Battle pile.
  • Restoration cards are never re-used once played.

Tide of Battle Cards

Explanations of the Tide of Battle cards are below.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Word from Hippodice

I didn't make the finals - I don't know where I was out of the hundred or so games they took.  A good experience the first time around, though.  Full results are here.  If (A) means Austria, it looks like 11 of the 12 mentioned on the finals page are from at least partially German-speaking countries (the other one is from the U.S.) - it hasn't been so strongly Germanic in the past, if I remember past lists.

Not that that means anything; the German gaming community is huge and diverse, with many great designers.  Just an observation.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Biggest Game Design Showdown ever?

This month's Game Design Showdown over at BGDF is huge - 37 entries! I think the biggest one I've ever seen is twelve or so. I've got one in, so we'll see how it looks compared to the huge field.

Why so many? Probably because there's a publisher interested (Michael Mindes of Tasty Minstrel Games), and the restrictions in the contest are actually his design specifications for a potential publication. Also, because those specifications are mostly just that you use dice with only limited other components, and nearly everybody can think of a design for a dice game.

There's no guarantee that any of the entries would be published, of course, and no guarantee that the winner of the contest would be the one that TM selects, since they'd have different ideas about marketability and design than the contest voters, but maybe that has people interested. I'm not sure the regular voting apparatus (up to six votes, no more than three per game, no voting for your own) are going to be workable here - it's usually a bit mysterious who wins, and usually few people vote. But maybe having so much interest will make for more voting and less quirkiness.

Should be interesting - I'll let you know how I do, and we can see if any of the entries sparks Michael's interest.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Interesting contest

Reader Wordman (a Shadowrun compadre from many years ago in college) directed me to the Thousand Year Game Design Challenge being run by Daniel Solis.  An interesting concept - create a game that will be playable and relevant for a thousand years.

That, of course, means that using cultural memes, metaphors, or current technologies is not a great idea.  To my way of thinking, actual current thousand-year games are mostly dice and boardgames like chess, go, ludo, backgammon, nine men's morris, mancala, etc - simple rules, abstract parts, but enough complexity to keep it interesting.  I guess it wouldn't need to be all boardgames, either - there's evidence of dice from thousands of years ago, and playing cards or the like have been around for a long time, so maybe those would work too.

A fun challenge. Maybe I'll try to put something together.  The deadline is the end of July.  The judges are Solis and his wife, and they seem to be fans of storytelling-style games, although I'm not sure that kind of game would fit this challenge.

They definitely state "unpublished," so given my current fiasco with SaltCON, I'll be careful...

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Publishing hurts, at least for contests

So, word from the Ion Award competition at SaltCON now is that they've thrown Diggity out of the contest because it's published.  Which seems kind of off to me, although I guess it's a gray area.

The contest literature says the contest is for unpublished games.  The eligibility rules, however, say only this in that regard:

2. The game cannot be under consideration by any company at the time of submission or judging. 

That's definitely the case for my game. Nobody's looking at it, and I'd have happily licensed it to any of the publishers at the conference. Their problem is that I've got it up for sale at and listed on my site here. However, I've only sold six copies through TGC, and it hardly seems like that's the same as a commercial print run or "publication" in any accepted sense of the word. I can't imagine they'd care if somebody had come up with a game design, had some printed up, and sold them out of a suitcase at conventions - that's basically no different than what I've done, and actually more aggressive marketing and investment than I've done.

Apparently a sticking point for them was that my rules say that the game is "published by Plankton Games." I guess that was a dumb move on my part, but it seems kind of arbitrary that those four words of text on a document are definitive. The reality remains the same - I have no print run and no company looking over the game yet, and the judges at the competition are representatives of big companies looking for good new games to print and distribute, which mine potentially is, or it wouldn't have made it through the first few rounds.

Hippodice has a much more workable rule for these situations in their competition - they say the game can't have more than 100 copies created. That allows some space for people to create and distribute small print runs while still ensuring that the competitions will be populated by game designers rather than established games from bigger companies.

Very disappointing. To the organizers of competitions, I'd say consider the new reality of print-on-demand and web distribution by individual designers, allow for the fact that these micro-publishing efforts don't somehow make a game "published" in any traditional sense, and whatever your call, make your guidelines very clear on this point. To other designers, I'd say that if you're interested in entering your game in competitions, you should probably not put your game up on a POD site unless you're sure the competitions you want to enter allow for it.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Upcoming stuff

It got quiet around here towards the end of the year as my semester ended and we traveled to see family.  Then the new semester began with a fury.  So, I haven't been posting much, but I do have some good news to report:

  • The new artwork for Diggity is complete as of late last year, and it's neat-o.  I'll put up some samples soon.  I ordered some copies from after tweaking my art uploads. Their printing is always pretty dark (they prefer the term "rich") relative to how the images look on the screen, so I had to lighten it after getting one made up to test it.
  • Diggity was selected as a finalist for the Ion Award at SaltCON, a boardgaming convention in Utah. I tried hard to find a way to get out there for the convention, but it ended up being too hard to get away from teaching and my committee work for those days (plus it would have ended up costing me about $700 - not impossible, but pretty expensive).  The competition organizers are willing to demo Diggity for me, so I've got a copy in the mail, and I'm working on a how-to-play movie for it which I hope will help.
Diggity's also in the running in the large field for the Hippodice competition in Germany.  I'm guessing I'll hear something about that in the coming weeks.