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

Dicestorm

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.  


Dicestorm

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

Introduction

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?)

Components

  • 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

Object

Be the last player with surviving armies in the game

Setup

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.

Losing

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.

Cards

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 TheGameCrafter.com 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 TheGameCrafter.com 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.

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

Fits

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

Agricola!

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 TheGameCrafter.com'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 TheSpiel.net'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

Hippodice

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


Story:

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.

Parts:

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

Setup:

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.

Turns:

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.

Victory:

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 TheGameCrafter.com 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 TheGameCrafter.com).  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.