Sunday, October 30, 2011

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.