Thursday, January 13, 2011

Typing game - Z-Type

This is an interesting game - neat graphics, and fun mechanics. It runs in semi-advanced javascript, so you'll need a newer browser. My only complaint is that it starts too easy and doesn't get harder fast enough, at least for a reasonably fast typist like me. I made it to the 54th wave without much trouble.  I've been looking into HTML5 javascript as a possible platform for some game ideas, and the library this is based (ImpactJS) on looks pretty easy to use.

Friday, December 31, 2010


We got FITS for Christmas too.  I wasn't able to interest anybody last night, so I tried it solo.  Well, solo at first, and then my 5-year-old nephew came over to help me play, which was pretty fun.

The game is basically real-world Tetris - you have pieces composed of squares which you add to a board and slide down to fill a tall, narrow playfield.  Some of the pieces are more complex than Tetris (with five squares), and you can flip them over to change their handedness, unlike Tetris.  You also can't move them sideways as you drop them, so those vain attempts to fill gaps down low on your stack don't fly here.

The game is a little more complex than regular Tetris.  There are four rounds of play.  The first round, you're just trying to build complete rows with no gaps, like in real Tetris.  For the other rounds, you have slightly different goals, usually involving covering up or leaving exposed particular spaces, but it's mostly the same.  The random order of the pieces is interesting, and with multiple players, they each start with a different piece and then have the same sequence, so you're guaranteed to have different layouts but otherwise a similar experience.

The name apparently comes from an acronym for "Fill In The Spaces," which is semi-cheesy.  The German motto is "Das l├╝ckenlose Spielvergn├╝gen," which I think translates to something like "the gap-free game pleasure."  Some things don't translate well, I guess.  The game's physical design is great, though; the pieces and cards are easy to manipulate, and the stands and card inserts are cleverly designed and work well.  Things feel a little bit flimsy, but I'd guess it will all stand up to normal use.

It would be interesting to play with other people rather than on my own, but I'm not sure how different it would be.  This isn't a game, really, in the normal sense.  It's more of a competitive puzzle, and like other competitive puzzles, it works fine on its own, too.  There's really no interaction between players at all, other than table talk, and of course the scoring at the end.

So, interesting, fun, and a little odd, but a good game, I think, and different from others you'll see.  More experience would give me a better feel for it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


I gave my daughter Agricola for Christmas (a Homer gift if ever there was one, although she loves games too).  We've played two games now, both of them the "family" version without the occupations and minor improvements.  It was really fun, and I assume the added complexity of the occupations and minor improvements will make it even neater.

One quibble - the rules didn't seem too well laid out for somebody just learning.  The box is FULL of components, boards, etc., some of them important and always used, others from optional parts of the game, some just for convenience, and some different with no apparent reason (e.g. the backsides of the farm boards which have different art and appear to be for storage of the components).  They aren't well-described (some aren't described ever), so for somebody just opening the box, they're dauntingly complex, way more than I think they should be.  Also, it would be nice to have the family game described separately (and first) so that you could start with that and then move onto the more complex variations, rather than having to delete the more complex parts to get down to the family version.

The first time I looked through the box, I had the same sinking feeling I had with Magic Realm and Titan - that the game would be so complex it would take far to long to learn (and to explain) to get a game ever played.  But, it ends up to be clear and manageable, and it seems to offer a variety of different strategies, with the frustration that you can't quite follow them all in the time given.  The pace gets fast and furious at the end, too.  A good time.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

XKCD and Tic Tac Toe

XKCD has a neat image that lays out ideal Tic Tac Toe strategy.  The image is a little complicated to read at first, but once you figure out the design of his presentation, it's pretty great, both from the game perspective, and also from a visual display of information perspective.

I've had students write ideal tic tac toe players as an exercise in my computer programming classes, and they sometimes struggle more with the strategies than with the programming parts.  This might help, although interestingly, because it's the ideal strategy, it doesn't actually include the decision trees for sub-optimal starts (i.e. where you don't pick a corner as your starting space).

Also interesting is that because Tic Tac Toe is such a symmetric game (i.e., there are only three types of spaces, center, corner, and middle-edge), the image Randall Munro created actually contains some neat visual symmetry, which, along with the fractal nature of his presentation, is cool to look at.  He's a very clever guy, and I love it when he does this kind of thing.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A look at the competition

Here's another game that's made it to Hippodice for 2011.  Looks pretty polished (and very Carcassone-like).  I really like the artwork; fanciful and clear, with neat colors.  No idea how it plays.

Looks like a very professional prototype, with a box, even.  Neat.  I may be outclassed there if the game is as polished as its presentation.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

New BGDF Showdown

A weird topic this month from the game design showdown at BGDF.  They want something that relates to the holidays, plus something that relates to internet spam, plus a dexterity component.

I can't think this will produce any games with any lasting appeal, but I'll try.  Hmm.  Maybe throwing green and red darts at meat substitute and then blogging about it?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

TGC game creators aim for big time

I just got done taking part in Matt Worden's game designer chat on's new chat tool.  Interesting, although I was already pretty familiar with Matt's experience.  I didn't know he'd been so heavily involved in BGDF in earlier days, and it was interesting to learn that his most successful game, Jump Gate, was a Game Design Showdown entry there.

Some other designers on there are trying to figure out how to grow their audience.  One, Eddie from Nightstalker Games, has just released a couple of games and is starting up a blog, too - similar to my strategy (such as it is).  Another, CW Karstens, has tried to work the reviewer circuit, with some success - a mention in's podcast (they discuss his game, Field Hospital, at the 62 minute mark).

But it's still tough garnering publicity.  Matt described sending games out to reviewers, kind of in the dark, but that's led to his Games 100 success.  Maybe there's something there - the boardgame media seems small and fragmented, but maybe that's a viable strategy.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dominant Species

Dominant Species is here - looks like it might compete thematically with my game Galapagos (which may have to be renamed given that there's a new game with that name out now), although the mechanics don't sound the same.  I'm not sure if similar themes mean we've both hit on a neat idea that will be really popular, or whether my creativity and marketability just got diluted by other similar games out there.  Hard to say - I'll have to see what this game is like.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Matt takes the plunge

Matt Worden has taken the indie publication leap of faith with his game, Jump Gate.  It sounds like he's stepping out in a big way, committing 1/3 of his garage and what's probably a good chunk of cash to publish independently.  The numbers make it look like 1,000 copies, which means his cost-per-game is probably too high to make it very profitable through distribution (unless he has a list price higher than I think he will, or costs lower), but with the press he's gotten from the Games award, maybe he can get enough orders direct from retailers or from consumers so that  he won't need distribution sales to be profitable.

Anyway - good luck to him; the "assembly party" he has planned sounds like a lot of fun, and it's neat to see somebody taking the leap.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


One of the two games I entered in the Hippodice competition has made it through the first cut.  Yoggity didn't make the cut from 190 to 50, but they asked to see Diggity for the second round.  Pretty neat.  I'll see how it goes - the final results are in March.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Sailing the LLCs

In response to my post on Visible Hand's incorporation, Reader Daniel writes:

What is this LLC, can you pleas inform us non US people of the two options and how they differ. We have a simular system in Sweden but we have 5 diferent types of companies we can chouse from depending on several difrent factors. So it would be nice to get an insight in how youre system works as well.
OK, big disclaimer - I'm not a lawyer, and I'm mostly feeling my way through this.  So, I'm going to explain my reasoning, but it should not (NOT) be used as any kind of legal or business advice.  I'm probably wrong about big chunks of this. Get your own legal advice.

An LLC is a "Limited Liability Company," which is a common U.S. entity available in nearly all states.  It's a little bit of a legal construction - the idea is that it's an easy way to form a company without a lot of hassle.

The two main advantages for what I'm doing are:

  • Limited liability -  If someone decided to sue my company for some reason, they could sue me through the LLC, but if they won, they couldn't claim my personal assets (house, savings, etc.) in damages.  Suppose there were a horrible case - I publish a game, a child chokes on one of the pieces, or the manufacturer I use uses lead-based paints without telling me or something.  If I get sued, and there's an award of millions of dollars in damages, then the most I can lose is the company and its assets - not my personal belongings, unless I personally misrepresented the company or committed fraud or something like that.  It's my impression that people in Sweden aren't as litigious as Americans, but it's a real concern here.
  • Pass-through taxation - If I actually make money at this, then it's relatively simple with an LLC to pass the income through the company to me without having to pay corporate income taxes.  In other types of corporations, it would be possible that income the company made would be subject to corporate tax, and then the money that was left would be subject to my personal income tax, so it would be double-taxed.

In North Carolina, where I live, the LLC was easy to set up - it was a one-page form and it cost me $125.  There's another annual fee to keep the company operating - $200 per year.  So, pretty big money for a hobby, but small money for an actual company, and the liability protection was worth it for me.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Stock options

Michael Keller over at Game Designer Wannabe has formed his own publishing company and apparently issued stock certificates.  Pretty awesome.  I've got my LLC in place and registered with the state, which was not cheap, and the city now wants me to buy a privilege license, which will be another chunk of money.

As for the ownership of the company, I haven't felt the need to issue stock, since I don't have any other investors or owners, but I guess I might get there someday.  It would be fun, anyway, but probably not worth the legal hassle at this point.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hercules: The Later Years - Rules

The following is my entry for the BGDF design showdown for October.  Enjoy...

Hercules: The Later Years


After his labors, Hercules rested on his laurels. Literally – he had a whole pile of laurels upon which to rest. But over time, his fame faded, and he’s now badly in need of drachmas to support his lavish demigod lifestyle. You are Hercules’ new agent, trying to find him some paying gigs that fit his skillset.


  • 108 cards
  • Starter pawn
  • Game Board
  • 30 coins per player


Give each player 10 coins. Place the other coins in reserve. Place the game board in the center of the table. Shuffle the cards and place them in a pile face down. The player most likely to have been sired by Zeus takes the starter pawn.


Each turn has two phases described below.

Phase I: Card Auction

Draw one card from the deck per player in the game. All but one of these should be placed face up; the last should be face down and hidden from all players. So, if there are four players, turn three cards face up and place the fourth face down. These are the cards up for bid.
The player with the starter pawn bids first by placing as many coins as she wishes on top of one of the cards. Only one bid may be placed at a time, and a player may not refuse to bid. Bidding progresses around the table to the left. Each subsequent player may either bid on an unbid card or add coins to an already-bid card. For example, if Andromeda bids two coins on a Conquer card, and Antigone adds a coin to that card, Antigone’s total bid is three coins, and Andromeda’s bid is no longer valid.
Bidding continues until each card is allocated to a player. Players cannot change their bid amounts or switch cards unless outbid. When outbid, a player may request that her coins be refunded and replaced by the higher bidder.
When bids are resolved, each player must pay the total amount they bid to collect their card. Unused coins are returned to their owners.
Deadbeat Rule: If a player bids more coins than she has, the auction is cancelled and then repeated without the deadbeat player participating. The extra unbid card is discarded.

Phase II: Playing Cards

Beginning with the starting player and moving left, players may play their cards as follows:
Draw Cards: The player discards the draw card and takes the indicated number of new cards.
Object and Action cards: If a player has both an action (Conquer, Capture, Clean Out, Endorse) and an object (Used Chariot Dealership, Temple, Hydra, Politician), she may play them to make Hercules complete a task. The player discards the cards, takes a new coin of her color from the reserve, and places it on the game board at the appropriate spot for the action and the object.
Fees: Each action and object has a value associated with it. To determine the fee paid for the task, multiply the cards. For example, Capture has value 3 and Temple has value 2, so capturing the temple is worth 3x2=6 coins. A player who captures the temple collects a fee of 6 coins. Fees are printed on the board task spaces.
Repeating a task: The first time a task is completed, it requires only one action and one object card. Each subsequent time, the task costs one more of each. For example, the second time someone endorses a politician, it takes two Endorse cards and two Politician cards. The fee remains the same regardless of how often the task is completed. The player’s coin is placed on the board on top of any previous coins. Players may repeat tasks they’ve completed.
Bonus cards: Some action and object cards are marked double or triple. This means that they may count as more than one card when completing a task. The fee paid for the task remains the same. Players may “overpay” for a task.
Players may make as many plays as they wish. When all players have had one chance to play cards, the starter pawn goes to the next player, and a new Card Auction phase begins.


The game ends when there are not enough cards in the deck for a full card auction. At that point, the game is scored as follows:
  • Each task completed – 1 point.
  • Most unspent coins – 2 points.
  • Each chain of coins across the board – 3 points. A chain is any unbroken string of coins which connects opposite sides of the board. The coins in a chain must be adjacent. Each individual coin may only be used in one chain.
The highest scoring player wins. For tiebreakers, use the most unspent coins and then the most unplayed cards.

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    Hippodice preliminary results on Nov. 17

    The Hippodice site says they'll have the preliminary first-round results up on November 17.  Pretty exciting.  The games that make it through this first round (based only on rules, a short description, and some pictures) will go on to the next round, where you send an actual copy of the game in for them to play.  I'm hopeful that my two entries make the cut, but we'll see. I'll have to figure out how to get my two games to them and through customs before Dec. 1, but there's probably a way.

    BGDF October Showdown results

    Looks like I came in a close third of four.  A bit frustrating; this time around I actually designed the game pretty quickly after the contest parameters were announced, and I got a set of my game made by in time to test it out before the contest deadline.  My game is fun - my kids have asked to play it several times since we got it, and I've enjoyed it every time.

    Of course, tastes may vary, but both of the games ahead of me in the competition invoke a bunch of cards that are never shown, so you have no idea if the game will be balanced or how it will play.  The first place game is actually pretty similar to mine; there's a card auction, and you're trying to create tasks by bidding on cards.  The artwork for the few cards shown is top notch, and the game is described pretty well, but it's hard to know how it would actually play out without knowing the card distribution and card types.

    The 2nd place game shows only one card out of the 124 invoked in the rules.  The graphic design here is also good, although the board is mostly covered with little numbers.  I imagine it would be fun, but it's a little hard to know again because you don't see any of the parts.

    I guess I shouldn't get hung up on this - voting for anything is of course a bit hard to predict, and I'm just doing this for fun.  My game is good and works well; I have a few other ideas to make it even better, but it's a good time even in the early version, and it has pretty good replay value.

    I'll put the rules up here.  My artistic ability is a bit too crude for now, but maybe I can work on that part too and even release it.

    Thursday, November 11, 2010

    Ion Award competition

    Here's another competition of which I just recently learned.  Looks like a reasonable deal; you send them a description, they chose a subset of submitted games to test out, and then you get judged by a panel of game publishers.  It costs $10, and you can enter multiple times.

    The plusses would seem to be that you get judges who are within the industry and are actual publishers.  The $10 (plus postage) is cheap for this kind of thing.  Most of the European competitions and the Mensa competition here in the U.S. have pretty steep entry fees - in the case of Mensa, it's $200!  Fine if you're an established company, but pretty harsh on somebody self-funding.

    Anyway, I might send my two finished games in for this - it sounds like fun.  Not sure I could get to Utah on short notice, but it sounds like that's not mandatory.  I really appreciate these conventions being willing to sponsor design contests - it's a neat way to polish your products and maybe get some exposure if you do well.

    Friday, November 5, 2010

    Jump Gate jumps to production

    Matt Worden's Jump Gate, which won the 2010 Game of the Year award from Games Magazine, is moving into a boxed edition (and presumably thus away from  Matt has pictures of the box here.

    The box doesn't seem to have an ISBN, or a CE Mark, but it does have the strict CPSIA-directed age of 12 or higher and a small-parts choking hazard warning.  Maybe that other stuff is coming, although if Matt's selling exclusively from his website, then he probably won't need them.  Not sure of the print run size is big or small, but a box like that is only economical for distribution if you're up around 2000-3000 copies, and that probably takes an investment of at least $10,000 to $15,000.  So, maybe he's doing a smaller print run for self-selling - that would work too, if the Games prize drives enough traffic to him.

    I'd have thought that the award might let him get published by a traditional publisher, say a Rio Grande or Z-Man.  I'm not sure if he pursued those options and they didn't work, or if he just wanted to capitalize on the prize himself more quickly.  Either way, it's exciting to see him go for it with independent publication, and I wish him well.

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010

    October BGDF design showdown

    My entry is in.  An interesting contest assignment this month - the theme is Hercules and his labors, plus you have to use three of a list of common game mechanics together in one game.  I ended up with a fun one, I think.  I test-played it with my family, and it seemed to work pretty well (although I lost to my wife).

    More details on my entry when the voting closes - it has to be secret until then.  Woo.

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010

    Distribution: the challenge

    really interesting post over at the Starlit Citadel detailing why paying middlemen (i.e. distributors) is actually a good deal for retailers rather than ordering direct from manufacturers.  The math is compelling, if depressing.  I think the suggestion for co-op distribution is good; likewise, I think in my case I might be able to get below a $15/unit shipping charge, but I don't think it would help that much - still too much benefit to retailers for placing big, diverse orders at distributors that handle a wide variety of games.

    Monday, November 1, 2010

    New SuperiorPOD products

    SuperiorPOD has unveiled a new web interface and some new products, both of which are improvements.  The old website was a bear to use; you had to download templates and FTP them back, and it was tough to figure out the ordering process and your order status.  It also had a number of clunky web design elements and misspellings, which didn't affect the product but made them seem less serious.  For 18 card decks, the new web site seems to allow you to create your cards within a graphic editor; that's probably a lot easier for most folks to use, although I think I'd rather still make my art in a commercial program on my home computer and transfer it in finished form.  That's still the system for the larger card decks.

    They're also offering custom printed tuck boxes for a variety of deck sizes, from the traditional 54 up to 108 in a side-by-side two-deck format.  That's really neat.  With this improvement, you really have a chance to print up a small print run of a game and sell it individually without making the big investment of large scale printing.

    The drawbacks?  Well, the tuck boxes cost about $0.50 to $1.00 each depending on quantity, and the cards are reasonable but not cheap - they also get discounted in quantity, but you're still going to be paying six to ten cents a card.  So, for Diggity, for example, I could do the 108-card deck and box and get to about $9 a copy ordering six at a time.  That's a price I could probably barely make money at if I were selling them myself over the web or at conventions or whatever, but not something you could go into bigger production with, and the box is a tuckbox rather than a setup box, so it won't look as nice as sturdier packaging.

    I had issues with delays (not quality) with SuperiorPOD when I ordered through them which I've detailed here, and TheGameCrafter recently ended their relationship with SuperiorPOD based on quality concerns, but SuperiorPOD did make me a nice set of quality games.

    They say they've got a faster digital press now, so orders get out within two weeks.  They also say they'll assemble finished copies of your game if you get them printed at the same time you order the boxes.  Shrink wrapped too.  Pretty neat.

    The website is way better now, and the boxes are something TheGameCrafter can't do yet, so they may well be worth a look if you're looking to print good quality card games in small numbers.

    Sunday, October 31, 2010

    Paint by numbers

    Like Yoggity, here's another game, Pastiche, that deals with combining paint colors to make various other colors.  It looks like you're laying tiles next to each other to generate the various colors you need to make masterpiece paintings - a neat idea; I don't know how it plays.  I don't think the games are very similar at all, but it's interesting to see somebody thinking partially along the same lines.  I haven't seen a lot of other games where you combine colors as a part of the gameplay.

    Saturday, October 30, 2010

    Tasty Minstrel Kickstarter fund drive

    Tasty Minstrel games has started a Kickstarter fund drive for its next release, a space-themed card game called Eminent Domain.  Tasty Minstrel is a small company (two games in print, two more on the way) run by two guys, Michael Mindes and Seth Jaffee.

    They've funded their publishing costs out-of-pocket, and I think they're getting close to breaking even.  But it's hard to keep publishing if all you're doing is breaking even.  As a result, they're using Kickstarter to fund their next release.  The fund drive is mostly set up as a pre-order site; for $35, you get a copy of the game shipped to you when it's ready, and they have other more lavish rewards for higher donation values.

    They're looking for $20,000 in funding, which seems like a tall order - that would be nearly 600 games they'd have to pre-sell.  It's also a bit odd for an existing company to be fundraising in this manner; it sort of seems like if you already exist, you shouldn't be hitting up friends and fans for startup cash, but I think the pathetic economics of the game publishing industry might justify it in this case.

    There's nothing wrong with pre-selling, of course; many companies do that, particularly in the console game industry.  It allows the publisher not to have to take as big a bet as they would otherwise, and it allows them to gauge interest in their products. GMT Games does much the same thing with their P500 program, where they don't print a game until it has 500 guaranteed customers.

    We'll see how they do; they've given themselves a month for the $20,000, so it shouldn't take long to find out.

    Friday, October 29, 2010

    Sherwood rules

    The following are the rules for the game I submitted for the September BGDF design showdown.  The restrictions were that it had to have a Robin Hood theme and that it had to have two mini-games.  I didn't place 1st or 2nd, but I have no idea how I did other than that.  Only one guy has posted a critique of the games other than me, and the vote tallies weren't shared, so I have nearly no feedback to go on.  I was pretty excited about the game, and I thought it captured the challenge goals pretty well. Let me know what you think.


    (c) 2010 by Dave Dobson
    For 2-4 players

    Object: You are competing to join Robin Hood’s band of rogues. Robin prepares a contest: be the first to steal 8 shillings worth of loot and return it to the Outlaw Camp, and he’ll accept you into his band.

    • Game Board - contains normal spaces (white circles), Sherriff’s Guard spaces (red circles), and special spaces (Outlaw Camp, Chapel, Castle, Village, Archery Range)
    • 8 Merry Man Tokens per player
    • 16 Movement Tiles in 4 denominations
    • 1 Movement Base circle
    • 4 Movement Tile Markers per player
    • 5 Gambling Tokens per player
    • 2 Cart Markers per player
    • 15 Loot Tokens in 3 denominations
    • 15 Arrow Tokens
    Setup: Place the Loot tokens as follows:
    • Chapel: 2 x 1 shilling, 3 x 2 shilling
    • Castle: 5 x 3 shilling
    • Village: 3 x 1 shilling, 2 x 2 shilling
    Each player starts with 3 Merry Men and 1 Cart in the Outlaw Camp. Place the other resources in reserve off the board. Each player also gets 3 arrow tokens.
    Set up the Movement Minigame to one side. Build a pyramid of four movement tiles numbered 1-4, with the 1-space tile touching the Movement Base Circle as shown in the Movement Minigame image below. Make one pyramid for each player playing.

    Turn Order: The game plays as follows:
    1) Gambling Minigame – each player has five gambling tokens with five different characters on them as shown:[Gambling Minigame image goes here] Each player chooses one character in secret. All players reveal their choices. If your character is not beaten by any other, you get the prize indicated. New carts and men are placed on the Outlaw Camp. Movement Tiles are chosen from the Movement Minigame.
    The Gambling Minigame also determines move order, with the lowest numbered token going first. If there are ties, the player with the least treasure goes first. If there are still ties, the player who moved later in the previous turn goes first. On the very first turn, the player with the longest criminal record goes first.

    2) Movement Minigame – on his or her turn, a player claims one movement tile by playing a movement tile marker on an unclaimed movement tiles. The player may only claim a tile if it is touching the Movement Base Circle OR if it is touching a tile he or she has already claimed. For example, on his first turn, a player can claim a #1 movement tile that touches the Base Circle. On his second turn, he can claim the #2 tile touching the #1 tile, or he could claim a second #1 tile.

    3) Movement – Once all players have made their moves in the Movement Minigame, they may collect movement tiles and make moves. If a player elects to collect his claimed movement tiles, he takes all the movement tiles he has marked. If this leaves any unclaimed movement tiles unconnected to any other tiles, the player to the left of the current player MUST shift these movement tiles so that they either (1) touch the Movement Base Circle or (2) touch two other movement tiles in the Movement Minigame. The tiles can have any orientation provided they obey the placement rules.

    Players spend movement tiles to move pieces. A player may play one movement tile per turn. When a player plays a movement tile, he may move each of his men up to the number of spaces shown on the movement tile. Multiple men may be stacked on the same space.

    Sherriff’s Guard – a player must play an arrow token or discard a man token to enter a red guard space. Similarly, if a player wishes to move a man onto a space with another player’s man, he must play an arrow token or sacrifice a man token.

    Cart Movement – Carts can only move with a man. They move one space less than the move tile played (so they cannot move at all on a 1-space tile).

    When a player plays a movement tile, the player to his left returns the tile to the Movement Minigame in any legal position as above (i.e. touching the Base Circle or touching two other movement tiles).

    When all players have moved, start over with the gambling minigame.
    Treasures: A man entering a space containing loot may collect one loot counter. A man can carry loot worth 1 shilling. He needs a cart to carry loot worth 2 or 3 shillings. Players score loot by bringing it back to the Outlaw Camp. Men and carts cannot carry multiple treasures at once.

    Archery Range: When a man enters the Archery Range, the player collects two arrow tokens. A given man cannot collect more arrows until he visits the Outlaw Camp again.

    Winning: The first player to return a total value of 8 shillings of loot to the outlaw camp wins.

    Thursday, October 28, 2010

    Small-Time Publishing Advice from Ben Clark @ Paper Money

    In the most recent Paper Money podcast, Ben Clark discusses small-time independent publishing, specifically self-publishing.  An interesting bunch of advice; it starts just before the eight minute mark, although the rest of the show is worth a listen too.

    The takeaways - I've tried to separate these into sections, but they're my rough notes as I listened.  I hope they're useful.

    Ben says it's possible to do a very small RPG book run - single copies or tens of copies - but self-assembled boardgames are pretty much impossible.  Even if you have the time to sit on your couch and assemble the pieces, it's not going to be worth it. That day has passed.

    Printing overseas is risky and dangerous, but potentially worth it if you can avoid the risks and go with a good company.

    Plusses for stateside:
    • Same time zone
    • They speak English
    • Shipping costs low
    • Hassles fewer
    • Process goes faster
    • No customs
    • Can sue them if it goes bad
    Plusses for overseas:
    • Cheaper, sometimes way cheaper

    U.S. options - he listed several
    • Carta Mundi USA - Ben says not below 3000 copies; I tried them and got a reply requesting a phone conversation; I responded with my phone info and never got called back.
    • Sierra Packaging - I got a very reasonable quote from them
    • EPI Delano - I made initial contact and filled out their quote form; never got a reply or quote
    • Package Right - I haven't tried them
    • Ludofact USA - I haven't tried them; seems to be a German-centered website
    Obviously, I should try the ones I haven't tried here and try harder to get a quote back from the others.

    Digital press - slow, better for small runs, more expensive - a couple hundred games
    Offset press - more setup, better for big runs, cheaper for big runs - 1000+ games

    Do it yourself vs. turnkey - turnkey solutions are mostly good now; probably totally worth it compared to the hassle and limited quality of do-it-yourself stuff.

    Wednesday, October 27, 2010

    Entries in for Hippodice

    I've got two entries - Diggity and Yoggity - submitted for the 2011 Hippodice Autorenwettbewerb.  They have a first stage which is purely electronic - I've sent a description, rules, and some pictures for each game, and they'll tell me in November whether they want the full games to play.  I'm a little worried about that, since I have to send them to Germany - it might be a little tight there on the timing to get them there by Dec. 1, but I guess I can spring for whatever fast shipping DHL has.  There are customs and such to worry about too - hopefully that won't be a problem.  If I even make it into the general competition, that is!

    No prize for this one other than prestige and a good feeling, but they do a write-up of the top games and circulate them to companies, and it's a pretty well-known competition. Foreigners have done pretty well there, too, unlike some of the other European competitions which seem generally to prefer games in their own language. When I lived in Munich last fall, it seemed like nearly everyone I met spoke English (they start teaching it in 5th grade), so hopefully there won't be much of a language issue. 

    Anyway, pretty exciting.

    Tuesday, October 26, 2010

    Game Review: Race for the Galaxy

    I got a chance to play Race for the Galaxy last week too. It was a lot of fun. It has a pretty steep learning curve, but I was getting it figured out after two games. One of the problems is that it uses a system of icons to describe various aspects of the planets and technologies you run into, and these can get pretty complex. A lot of the world these days seems to be expressed in incomprehensible hieroglyphics, so I guess it's par for the course, but it took me a while just to figure out what all the stuff meant. When you've got several kinds of worlds, four kinds of trade goods, a bunch of descriptors, arrows, hexagons, numbers, plusses and minuses, five turn phases - it gets pretty complex.

    The good part is, under all the complexity (after you've developed your decoding skills), there's a pretty fun game, using a winning theme.  I'm a total sucker for developing space empires - I love doing that, from Master of Orion to Starweb to Spaceward Ho to Starship Catan to Lacuna Expanse.

    The game is primarily a set of cards, with some accompanying tokens for bonuses and scoring. The cards have worlds to conquer or technology to acquire, and each costs different amounts to implement and gives different bonuses and score. The catch is that the cards are also the currency for paying for the new acquisitions, so you have to give up some opportunities to acquire others. These tradeoffs are very interesting, and given that each game gives you different starting worlds and different goals, you'll end up having a different experience (and needing a different strategy) each time through.

    There's also an economy built into the game, with a bunch of different trade goods that you can acquire from different worlds, and then trade for other things (more cards, more points). The neat thing about the game is that you actually can't sustan all the different strategies at once. You'll need to focus on one or two - military power, trade, adding planets, achieving bonuses - and which ones you can focus on depends on the cards you get and the choices you make.

    A key mechanic (and one I gather this game borrowed from others such as San Juan and Puerto Rico) is the phase selection. Each turn has five possible phases, but they won't always happen - you get to pick one phase that you guarantee will happen (and you usually get a bonus in that phase for picking it), but the other players pick their own phases, so you're not likely to get all of the possible phases happening. This ends up being an interesting part of the strategy - sometimes you really want two or three of the phases to happen, but you can only force one, and you have to guess what the other players will pick.

    The player-vs-player aspect is pretty minimal - it's very difficult to mess with other players in any effective way, although you do have some impact on them when you chose what phase you want to have this turn (because they will also then have that phase).

    I got pretty badly beaten both times I played, and I think it would take probably 6-10 more plays before I felt comfortable with all the different parts and strategies. Like I said, a pretty steep learning curve. But even getting thrashed, it was fun. Even though the cards you get and the actions of the other players bring in a fair amount of luck, you have a lot of decisions to make, and they have very strong effects, so it doesn't feel very luck-determined while you're playing. I like this one a lot - lots of meat to it, good balance and variety, and a fun theme.

    Monday, October 25, 2010

    Sunday, October 24, 2010

    Game Review: Dominion

    I finally had a chance to play Dominion last week, so I have an understanding now what the fuss is all about. It's a clever design - enough strategy (and math) to be intriguingly complex, but implemented in an easy-to-understand, simple-to-play way. I enjoyed it, and played 4-5 games with 2 and 3 players over a couple of days. I also watched a group of hard-core devotees play for a bit, and they were certainly passionate about it and having a very good time.

    Parts I like a lot:

    • Scoring points actually diminishes your effectiveness - this is a great mechanism which keeps the game close. It flows very naturally from how the game works, too.
    • Using only some of the special cards means that every game will have different pieces available - this is really great, and makes it very replayable.
    • The cards combine in interesting ways to make occasional super-combo plays, where you can string together a bunch of actions for a neat super power move.
    • The art is neat, and the cards easy to understand and interpret. There are very complex mechanics here, but they run very smoothly and are built on simple principles, which is great design.
    Parts I don't like so much:

    • Because the cards delivered to you each time are random, it can be pretty variable what you get and when, so the big combos that you plan sometimes never materialize, while other times you get more than you need. The defense cards come up at random too, so sometimes your attacks work and sometimes they fail. The end result feels like there's a goodly amount of luck involved, especially when one player hits a few combinations in a row and gets a lot of resources as a result.
    • I didn't play enough to work this all out, but it seems like there are some combinations of cards that are automatically the most powerful you can get. This becomes a balance issue, since the person who gets more of these cards in any given game will win. To the extent that this is determined by knowledge of the cards and careful strategy, that's fine; to the extent that it's determined by luck (i.e., who gets a chance to buy them first), it's less satisfying.
    • Following on from the point above - the random allotment of which cards will be used in any given game, which is neat, also comes at a cost. It means that each game isn't likely to be balanced; some cards will be awesome or lead to good combinations; others will be near-useless. I think on balance this is a good trade off (variety for balance), but it's a little frustrating to have some cards never even worth considering.
    • Having the game end when the good land gets bought out seems limiting. In the games I played, people hardly ever bought any land other than the high-value land, and thus the game was nearly always decided by who'd bought the most of these, and as a result the game ended rather suddenly as people got more gold and bought them all - there wasn't really time for them to have much of a negative impact, since they weren't that common in people's hands. To me, this underlined the luck factor and the super-combo points I mentioned above, and it meant that the lower-value land was near useless. I don't know if a different end condition would be better, but this seemed imperfect to me.
    • There's a lot of shuffling :-).
    Overall, I think it's really neat, and I can see why people are so excited about it. I'd be happy to play it any time, although I don't think I would be one of those folks I watched who play it over and over again exclusively (and semi-obsessively). I think some of its popularity comes from its similarity to the Magic: The Gathering CCG structure - although Dominion isn't a CCG, and that's a real positive for me, it still has the deck building and combo card aspects of Magic that people enjoy. Magic never has done it for me - the cards are interesting enough, but having to buy lots of them to build anything powerful was very annoying to me, and I didn't find the gameplay that compelling. But Dominion fixes a lot of these problems for me, especially the pay-to-play aspect, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

    Saturday, October 23, 2010

    Inevitable no longer evitable

    The Kickstarter-funded project to produce the Inevitable board game has come to fruition - they've taken delivery of several pallets of brand-new games.  Cool pictures here.  Congrats to Jeremy and Jonathan for realizing their dream.

    I have to say, those stacks look bigger than I'd have guessed.  For somebody considering printing a few thousand copies, 500 looks darned large.  Of course, they've got a board and a big box, so their boxes are probably twice or three times the size mine will be, but still...

    Inevitable icon above shamelessly stolen from the Inevitable site.  Did they really file trademark on that?  That's a complicated and lengthy process.

    Friday, October 22, 2010

    Another project funding site

    Reader Dave Conklin of Oak Tree Games writes to suggest as an alternative to for project funding.  He's got his own game, Virtue Cards, listed there for funding with a goal of $5000.  The Virtue Cards product is also available through The Game Crafter.

    IndieGoGo looks like a nearly exact clone of Kickstarter, which is fine.  It seems to be well-established (about 11,000 projects active now; I can't find a similar statistic for Kickstarter).  A major difference is that on Kickstarter, if you fail to meet your goal, you don't get any of the money, while on IndieGoGo, you get to keep it even if you don't meet your goal, although with a bigger cut paid to IndieGoGo.  It's like this:

    Unmet Goal: 
    You Get
    Met Goal:
    You Get
    KickstarterNothing, Zilch, Nada, Squat95% of total pledged
    IndieGoGo91% of total pledged96% of total pledged

    That's a pretty big structural difference to how it works, and obviously IndieGoGo is going to get you some money no matter what.

    My gut feeling is that Kickstarter is a little better established, and that posting there will connect you to more potential funders, but that either site would work.  We'll see how the Virtue Cards project goes.

    Dave's project includes $3,000 to fund production of 200 copies of his game, which seems a little high to me.  For a 52-card deck, even with a nice box, I think you could do a lot better than $15 a copy.  Dave, if you're listening, let me know and I can send you some sites that might be cheaper, or get you more copies for your money., for one.