Mar 062008

My first full fledged attempt to design a game started about two years ago. It began when I read a description of a game on some webpage. The game was Light Speed by Cheapass Games. The game sounded awesome. So awesome that on my lunch break that was all I talked about. In my mind I had this image of an epic space game that took place in real time but had elements of strategy and lots of theme. There would be abilities, commanders, and many kinds of space ships that had different capabilities. The description did not talk about these things but I knew that a game this cool would have to have this stuff. I went to my local game store later that night and what I saw hanging up in a little zip lock bag shattered my dream of an epic real-time space battle game. I bought it, took it home, and played it with my wife. It was certainly not the game I wanted it to be. For what it is I think it is a cool little game. Just not the game I had imagined.

The next day at lunch I told my friend all about the true nature Light Speed. That’s when Kendrick suggested that I design the game that I had described to him. What a simple idea, design a game. I knew exactly what I wanted it to be like. I had already tinkered with one other board game design, and I had a growing collection of 3 modern board games in my collection. So how hard could it be? Well that was about two years ago and its still in development. But my game collection is now about 100.

It only took me about 3 days to get the first version of the game ready to play test. I had two very close friends that I had been playing games with for years. So I enlisted them to be my play testers. Our first play test of the game was a lot of fun. At the time I thought it went great. The game had many issues, but it worked. My two friends play tested the game with the same competitiveness reserved for tournament games of Magic where there is money on the line. I later realized that this is not the best way to play test your games.

I had the basic design for the game so I started to develop it. Of course, the more we played the game, the better we got at it. This meant the game got easier so to keep it interesting, I added more elements to the game. After about 200 plays, many revisions and tons of additions to the game I believed it to be done. My friends thought it was awesome! It was a game that required both speed and strategy to play. It was epic. It was thematic. What I failed to realize though, was that I had inadvertently designed a game that only we could play. We thought it was easy to play, and for us it was. We had over 200 games worth of practice. But it was way too much for a beginner to learn. I could teach it well enough but most people thought it had too many things going on at once, so I put the game on hold.

A few weeks ago I decided that I was going to dedicate the next 8 months to working on expansions to my game Taktika. Even with that goal, for some reason all I can think about is working on Galaxy in Flames again. My goal for the rest of this month is to finish developing GIF. Dan and I play tested the newest version of it Tuesday night and I think it went very well. I’m excited about the game again. Maybe I can even finish it this time.

Feb 262008

Tonight we will be able to continue with out weekly design meetings on our regular night and regular time. I’m stoked!


I have been playtesting Stellar Underworld at my local game store and with other gamers here and there. At one of those playings, I had one especially “thorough” playtester who offered more advice than I expected. I knew we were in for a rough game when he questioned my decision to include almost every aspect of the game. Why do we start with two of these? Why not three? Why not have an ability to do this? or that? Now keep in mind, a lot of these comments were before I was even finished explaining the rules. I was getting frustrated pretty quickly, but once the game got going, it settled down a bit. After the game, and after I had a few days to think about his comments, I realized that there were a lot of kernels of truth in what he had to say. The thing that stuck with me the most when he rolled his eyes a lot when I explained certain rules. To be more precise, it was the exceptions to those rules that were the problem. Thats when I realized that my game was full of exceptions.

For example:

  • You can use one henchman to transfer a cube into your warehouse, except for the first one each turn which is free.
  • You can use one henchman to trade a cube with the black market, except for the first one each turn which is free.
  • The starting sector is just like every other sector, except you can only take two cubes from it, it doesn’t replenish, and it starts with two cubes per player.
  • Cubes next to your ship as considered aboard your ship, except when your ship is at a sector where they are considered available for pickup.
  • Abilities can be used any number of times, except for the cantina ability which you can only do once, and certain sector abilities.

There are probably more, but these are the ones that jumped out at me. Exceptions are ok in small numbers, but in larger quantities it makes the game more difficult to follow for new players. My goal now is to weed out some of these exceptions, while retaining their original purpose. So far, I’m having luck at some of them, but others are kind of difficult. It is a three way battle between simplicity, gameplay, and theme. Hopefully, they’ll all be winners, and I know the game will be better for me having taken the time to put this problem under the microscope.

Feb 082008

Lately, our meeting schedule has been in flux, so last night when Ian and Marc came over, it was a nice treat.


Ian discussed his latest scenario for Taktika. It involves a special disk known as the Glyph of Protection. The rules were simple and straight-forward. We recommended that he publish it on the web.


Marc showed us some really neat looking rings that he is using for his game Coalescence. He has painted them in such a way that, depending on the number of players, the rings can be used as different colored player pieces.

Dice Game

Marc showed us a quick two player dice game that he whipped together. It had a hand drawn board that kept track of the score. The players rolled the dice simultaneously, then selected one secretly to withhold. Depending on the dice left over, you could claim a spot in a column on the score chart. The earlier you get into a column, the more points. I think he’s on to something here, and I applaud any new non-yahtzee-like dice games.

Space Port

Space Port has shed its placeholder name and now dons the title Stellar Underworld. It connotes the seedy side of space life and has a unique ring to it. Just be thankful I didn’t put Galaxy or Galactic in the title! We’ve had enough of those words in game titles these past few years.In this latest version, we used new sector cards. The sectors are now split into three distinct groups each with their own deck. This allows players to have access to the sectors of one particular group if they want to use it as a part of their strategy. This was initially done to allow guaranteed access to sectors that desired contraband. Since several other mechanics revolved around contraband (Black Markets, Inspections) I didn’t want players to have to wait for the luck of the draw to utilize it. Besides putting contraband-loving sectors into one group, I also distinguished the groups by tiering their production. Sectors now either produce two, three, or four cubes based on their type. Overall, I think this system work great.

This was Marc’s first game, excluded some earlier proof-of-concept mock up. He said that the game had a daunting feeling to it when he started. Every player is given the same 16 cards, and each can only be used once. He felt that is was a difficult decision to play any particular card since he wasn’t sure how valuable any given card was. Also, the first turn gives you so many options that don’t pay out until later turns. After his actions started getting him some points after a few rounds, he said it started to click for him.

In the end, the score was 10 (Ian), 11 (Dan), 12 (Marc). I was very pleased with the way the game was played. Everyone was into it until the end. I’m stoked!

Jan 102008

Due to scheduling changes, at least for awhile, our game design meetings will be on Thursdays. Tonight I plan on testing Space Port to get it ready for a convention this weekend.

But first, a recap of last meeting…

First Drey, Ian, Marc, and I played Space Port. Actually we didn’t get very far. The whole thing fell apart gameplay-wise so we stopped. It worked fine last time, but I must have tinkered with the wrong gears and apparently made it unplayable. Surprisingly, this turned out to be a good thing. I got a lot of feedback about my train wreck… a lot of good and diverse feedback. This had me theorizing that “great” games cause enthusiastic responses, “ok” games cause silence or apathy, and “bad” games cause productive and creative responses. I think that the last one may be because they know that everything is changeable because nothing really worked, so all suggestions are more likely to be implementable.

Then we played Marc’s new re-theming of his old game Pangaea, called Coalescence. The old theme was about continents merging into land masses. The new theme is about star systems coalescing. He fixed some rules from the last time I saw it where the end game was hard to determine. This was fixed by making most actions irreversible. This worked perfectly and the game wrapped up nicely without any confusion. Both Ian (or was it Drey?) and I had a problem with the new galaxy board design. It was too busy and distracted us from the game. Other than that issue, and the need for a tie breaker rule, the game looks and plays pretty good.

Finally, we played with some hero cards and tactics cards from an expansion to Ian’s Taktika. The hero cards are “always on” abilities. The tactics cards are “one shot” abilities. Overall, the concept worked pretty smoothly, although the actual content of the cards will probably need to be tested and tweaked a lot.

Now for tonight…

I have been solo playing Space Port as a two-player game this week for testing. Tonight, I hope to try it out with more players. Right now, the game allows two to four players. Any more and the game would probably be too crowded. I suppose I could create a different board for more players with more spaces, but that is a problem for the future. A two-player game comes in at about 21 minutes, according to the four times that I timed it. I am going to speculate that four players will take twice that amount. Of course, my timing was based on me playing as two players, so it may be more or less that amount.

Part of my plans this year is to playtest as much as I can at conventions, especially easy-on-the-wallet local ones. This weekend Ian and I will be attending a convention in Round Rock where we plan on playing, playtesting, and selling some of out games. I’m trying to get Space Port to a solid enough state to where I can play it with strangers without having to apologize every minute about a hole in the rules or about a clunky mechanic. I am also printing up another copy of Travelogue to play. I haven’t played it since July when I sent it away to Italy, so I’m curious about my new perspective on the game.

Dec 072007

On Tuesday, it was just me and Ian at the design meeting. We played a several iterations of my new Space Port game. We took it from a bunch of clunky mechanics and turned it into something that was interesting and playable. It still has a lot of work to go, though. Besides that, we also experimented with some new rules for Monkey Lab intended to reduce the chaos in the game. That led us into a discussion about what chaos is, why it exists, and why some games have it and others don’t.We defined chaos as the feeling a player has when he has little to no control over significant changes in the game. This can come into play when your opponents mess with neutral playing pieces, as in Wiz-War, or your playing pieces, as in Wiz-War. In Fluxx this occurs a lot, and you might as well not even pay attention when it isn’t your turn because the game will have changed dramatically by the time yours starts again. Consider yourself lucky in either of these games if your plans haven’t been entirely disintegrated after one round.

Chaos is something that can be amplified when the number of players increase. In a two player game, you have one guy who is always doing his best to slow you down. In a six player game, you have five guys that can all potentially choose to work against you. Even when there are not direct attacks possible in the game, multiple players simply means that the percentage of choices you make in the game is smaller.

Werewolf is the perfect example of demonstrating the chaos/player relationship. In a hundred-player game of Werewolf, the results are very chaotic. Your vote to kill a villager is almost insignificant. The odds that you get what you want are very small. Once the game gets down to a small handful of people, you feel much more in control because there are less people to convince and less opposing arguments to overcome.

RoboRally is another game of chaos. The chaos exhibited here is in the form of unexpected and uncontrollable outcomes. As a player, you do have a lot of control over where you want your robot to end up on the board. However, one unplanned bump from another robot will make the rest of your moves nearly random. Planning for this, players can choose to “take the long way” to the goal and avoid interactions with other players thereby reducing the amount of chaos. So, with RoboRally, players can control the amount of chaos they want to encounter. They are effectively “in control” with their risk management plans.

My game Monkey Lab has a similar problem, except it does not have a strong “risk management” solution to the chaos. Your plans can be messes up no matter what you do. The solutions we came up with allows for players to take actions such that they can avoid chaos in the short term. Chaos will still exist, but players should feel more in control of whether or not they want to subject themselves to it.

Chaos is something I never really though about until now, and I plan on being more aware of it. Chaos can exist, but the key is all about keeping your game under tolerable levels of it.

Last night Ian and Marc showed up at my place, and we did a bit of playing and a lot of design talking. Here are some of the highlights:

Lab Work 

I asked if we could try out Monkey Lab with some suggested rules. There were some clever plays, and a few evil ones.  In the end, I beat Marc by one point. Ian was spinning his wheels working on one cage the whole game, and wound up with only mooched points.

We discussed the merits of the rules changes. The first rule change (a monkey can’t open a cage in a room with the guard in it) didn’t come into play. The second rule change (the guard moves two spaces toward a cage being opened) worked alright. It was noted that the guard usually ended up in a room that was already tapped out of points. I think we were all ambivalent with the moving rule because there were good reasons for having it and good reasons for leaving it out.

Hell and Back 

We also tried out a game Ian and I made a few weeks back about escaping from hell. The game is a kind of set collecting game where you are trying to endure tortures without losing your will to escape. The sets being collected are actually runs of numbers, so collecting a “4-5-6″ would be a valid run that you could cash in to move one step closer to escaping from hell.

In our first version we used a d8 and some stones as a way to track our stats. In order to clean it up, the second version used a personal board for each player with some sliding counters to represent the stats. The funny thing was that the cleaner version was harder to use. It is much easier to glance at your opponent and see he has a pile of stones than it is to look at his board and see where his counters are at long their path.

Ian proposed that the cards utilize color in some way. I was against is because I think there is something novel in games that don’t use a suit. Games like No Thanks! and Category 5 just have that uniqueness about them that separates them from games with color and suit like Lost Cities. I eventually conceded to the “color matters” design, but I pushed that there only be two colors, red and black. The colors will be used as a way of progressing yourself out of hell a bit faster using a Candyland-like mechanic. Both Ian and I are going to try our hands at making a hellscape board that makes use of this mechanic and gives the player incentives to make progress rather than hoarding cards.

 Sci-Fi Party Game

As we were discussing game designs, Marc said that we needed to make a party game. I told him that I had an idea for a social game that is based on the game Zobmondo. Where Zobmondo likes to focus on sick dilemmas like “Would you rather eat a jar of spoiled year-old mayo, or drink out of a spittoon?”, the idea I had would focus on science fiction quandaries. For example, “Should it be legal to marry an intelligent being of another species?”, “Now that we’ve colonized and found oil on Mars, which country has rights to it?”, “If your brain is surgically transferred into your clone, is the clone you for legal purposes such as taxes, debt, and property?” We also discussed putting the game into a format where players would be debating these issues as futuristic presidential candidates. Marc jumped right on this one and is planning on working on it.

Nov 062007

Tuesday night is here again.  Here are some things we may see at our meeting:

Ian has a new game out called Taktika. It is a disc flicking war game that is a lot of fun. The last I heard, he was polishing up the last bit of box art and rules wordings. The game is currently available to be purchased here or at BGG.CON where he will be demoing it. Hopefully tonight we will be seeing the final version.

Drey has just gotten some copies of his game House of Whack in from the printers. This is a twisted house exploring game where anything can happen. He was only able to get a handful early so he would be able to show them off and sell some at BGG.CON. There’s nothing better than unwrapping a fresh new game. Ahhhh!

I’ve got some Monkey Lab testing to do with some new rules. Maybe we can try them out.

Random Design Thought:

In Blue Moon City, if you had to use your starting hand for the entire game, I wonder if the game would eventually come to an end. This is assuming you redraw your discarded cards at the end of your turn instead of drawing new ones. I’m sure it could be done for most hands, but what about for each possible hand of 8 cards? Just something to think about.

Oct 162007

I dusted off the Ubermause prototype and brought it over to design night. I got to meet John finally, who turned out to be interesting and pleasant. I had not really looked at the game in about a year and only had a ream of printed notes with the rules scattered throughout. I was able to convey the basic concept of the game and we played until John had to go. We got a lot of things wrong, mainly because I misinterpreted Drey From the Past’s notes to me, Future Drey.

One of Dan’s strong suits is creating elegant designs. I tend to throw tons of ideas into a design, fill it with all kinds of bells and whistles and options, but I often end up with this unwieldy beast.

Dan had some brilliant ideas to simplify the game and actually increase the fun factor. His idea was to integrate the ship power-ups into the mice themselves. That way players are immediately invested in the value of their crew even before they land on a planet. Also, we talked about making the ships themselves mini-boards, environments for the mice to move around in. For instance, an engineer could normally sit in one of the purple engine slots, increasing the ship’s movement. But if the ship got damaged, the engineer could move to the repair slot to fix it, but then you’d lose the extra speed. I was very excited about this idea as it took away several layers of complexity while adding a new fun element.

I shall mock up the new ships when I get a chance and maybe next playtest we’ll actually get to land on a planet and see the mice in action!

Every Tuesday we have design night at my place and I usually shoot out an email with some agenda details and a call for who is coming. From now on, I figured I’d post this here on the blog instead so everyone can see what we’ve been up to.

One of the things I’d like to discuss this week is the ad we’re placing on The Dice Tower podcast. We’ve all pitched in and written little blurbs for our games, and hopefully we will attract some interest. In addition to that, Marc has updated the gizmet site with pages for our new games. Exciting times! Speaking of Marc, I saw that he had a playtest of his prototype Rocket Yard on Friday night with some rules tweaks, and I’d like to hear how that went. Hopefully Ian will bring his latest version of his prototype for Galaxy in Flames, a real time space combat card game, and maybe he’ll update us about the production of his game, Taktitka. I’ve got my genericly titled game “War Game” ready again to playtest with some hybrid ideas from the first and second versions. I’m not sure what is on the docket for Drey, Mark, or our newest attendee.

On another subject, I guess I forgot to update my story on my last post about the game I’m publishing. Well, first let me say the game is called Chains of Fenrir (formerly called the bead game). Secondly, to wrap up my story on the bag cinch: it worked out just fine since the stones I bought were too big to fall out if closed properly. That was actually the easy problem to fix. The bigger issue came when my stones arrived in the mail. It turned out that the purple stones and the orange stones were near identical on the table and could only be distinguished if held up to a light. I compare it to how a glass of grape soda and cola are hard to tell apart unless they’re backlit. My solution to this problem was to shop locally for some white stones as a replacement. Unfortunately, it was very difficult to find plain white stones. As luck would have it, one of my friends recently bought a ton of stones, and he happened to have a surplus of white stones. He let me have them, and I have enough for a little over a dozen games. I’ll eventually have to buy more, but at least I have some to start off with. If you’d like to check out the game, the rules should be posted on BoardGameGeek shortly. I’ve got some pics of the components up there too. If you’d like to buy the game, we’ve got it all set up for you to do that here.

Let me cast my memory back to Tuesday night where Ian, Dan and I huddled around a collection of gems as we played Dan’s As Yet Unnamed abstract bead game. I had given the rules a once over (easy to understand, just a few clarifications needed) and then we started to play. An elegant game, beautiful in its simplicity, like Othello. Dan wondered if the rules were clear. At the end of the game, I opened my hand to reveal the most gems. Yes, the rules were very clear. ;)

We discussed the fact that it might be hard to pitch a game which is essentially a sheet of rules one could use with spare change or common household objects. Dan said the hook would be cool, customized pieces. Zombies, perhaps. I agreed with his thinking.

Then Ian set up a game he had thought up on the drive over. It was actually more of a marketplace/resource generation mechanic that might be useful as part of a larger game. It involved a wheel of rotating prices. Buying an item made other items cheaper for other players. It had glaring problems, but the concept was cool and I could see it work as part of another game, as Ian suggested.

I had never played Salvage, so Dan brought that out. Marc arrived shortly thereafter and witnessed Ian’s vast Tool farm. I thought Salvage was well put together, but it failed to engage me like the brilliant Monkey Lab. Dan set the bar pretty high with that one. So if it were *monkeys* scrounging around a post-apocalyptic landscape, I’d totally buy into it.

Afterwards we discussed GenCon and Ian held forth about his deep love for Reiner Knizia. He shared a few poems he had written in the designer’s honor and we all kind of had a moment.

Ian brought up the idea of a Flywheel podcast. A monthly program in which we all dissected a game from a designer’s point of view. Rather than reviewing a game, we would deconstruct it, explaining why we loved or hated specific mechanics in the game. The podcast would also be an avenue for advertising our own games and raising awareness of our projects. We all seemed very interested in this idea. Once a month would have a small footprint on our busy schedules. Ian has the equipment, we’re all pretty tech savy, and I’ve actually done podcast work before.

Marc whipped out his Pangaea game and I was soon humbled by Dan and Marc’s wicked deployment of little blocks. Since there are so many games on the market involving settlers roaming about an island, I suggested that the game be re-themed to take place on a microscope slide, a world of amoebas and paramecium. Blank stares. Then I think Ian mentioned dinosaurs. Everyone loves dinosaurs!

At the end of the evening a design challenge was posed: Take your favorite game and transform it into a dungeon crawl. The components and essence of the original game must remain, but game play must involve “kicking in the door, killing the monster, taking its stuff.” Dungeons of Puerto Rico, anyone?