After a brief flurry of activity last month, it’s been hard to concentrate on all my little gamey side projects, since I’ve picked up a gig working on Flash games, but I’m still trucking along as the hours or fractions thereof present themselves.

I’ve recruited my friend and fellow improviser Halyn to work on the art for Fluffy Bunny Tea Party! We met today, and I’m totally amazed by the sketches that she put together. I’m really looking forward to working with her on all of the bunnies and desserts and associated artwork for the cards and rule booklet and boxes and whatnot. I’m sending her more technical graphic specs tonight, and we’ve got a production schedule down for a solid BGG.Con launch this year, and I’m totally confident that this is going to be a fantastic little game.

Speaking of cards, I just received a box of a hundred 4″x6″ Six Gun postcards from, and they look amazing. I already liked the design, and seeing them all glossy and up close makes it all that much better. I’ll try to keep a few on hand as I toodle around – if anybody wants one, let me know, and I’ll make sure that you get it.

Work on Game Poems has been pretty slow lately. I’m just not feeling super inspired – I feel like I’ve explored the form a good bit, published a book of games (which still gets me a small check from distributors every few months, which is pretty nice), and although I’m certainly not out of ideas for them, I’m just not really moved to keep up with the weekly-or-so output these days. I’m writing a few special ones for a collection of vampire games that someone on Story Games is putting together, but beyond that, I’m not promising anything.

There are a couple of other projects still on the medium-back burners (Skin Men, and the Cochise RPG), but my energy is going towards getting Fluffy Bunnies out this year, so we’ll see how much writing and playtesting those get. Still keeping my hand in things, but taking it a bit easy right now, yeah?

Apr 262011

I’ve been digging through some old archives, and came across an old, old design of mine for a game called Implosion. The general idea was that it handles up to twenty-four (!!!) players, and can be scaled down to work with factors of twenty-four; so, twelve, eight, six, four, three, or two. The board is twelve concentric rings populated by a series of connected nodes, with the players’ starting nodes on the outer ring, and a single scoring node in the center. Each node can contain a number of units belonging to a player, and the further out the node is, the more it can hold – twelve for the ones on the outside, and only a single unit in the middle. Moving and attacking is very simple, and there are “spawn” nodes in the rings about two thirds and one third the way in to generate new units.

The game was originally designed to be played asynchronously online, over a long period. Say, one turn per hour, one hundred sixty eight turns over the course of a week. As the game goes on, the rings start disappearing from the outside in. The board implodes, one might even say. When a ring vanishes, all the units on those rings vanish as well, until the entire board disappears on the last turn, and the game is over. (Actually, that part isn’t in the original version of the rules, which I’ll post below, but I know that was part of the design from the beginning. Weird.)

Anyway, you can see that this is a relatively primitive game, and it would be ridiculously unwieldy to play on a regular board, and probably still clunky and kind of a drag to test out in an online multi-player setting, as well. But it still feels like it has potential, and I think that with some futzing about and iterating over a few rounds of playtesting, something neat could come out of it. I don’t have anywhere near the bandwidth to do any of that right now, but it struck me well enough to give it a little think again, and maybe set it to simmering on the back burner of my brain…

Here are the rules from the original text file; I’d seriously revise these before attempting to play, but for the sake of posterity, enjoy:


The game is played by 24 players, on a board made of interconnected nodes in twelve concentric circles. Each player begins with twelve units on their starting node on the rim of the Implosion board. Moves are submitted over the course of a turn (maybe an hour, when played online), and are executed in the order received. A move consists of a player transferring one or more units from an occupied node to a node that is connected to it. Nodes are connected to anywhere between three and six other nodes on the board, and units may only move along these connections. If the target node is empty, or contains units owned by the moving player, the units just move into the new node. If there are units belonging to another player in the target node, it is considered an attack – a battle occurs, and the winner’s remaining units are placed in the node. Units owned by more than one player may never occupy the same node without conflict. Units may only be moved once per turn.

When a node containing one player’s units is attacked by units owned by another player, the conflict is resolved by unit-to-unit battle, until only the units belonging to one player remain. The defending units attack first, then the invading units, and continue back and forth as long as both sides have at least one unit remaining. When an attack is made, there is a 50% chance that the attacked units will lose a unit, regardless of the size of the attacking or defending forces. For example, Player A uses three units to attack a node which contains two units belonging to Player B. Player B goes first, and succeeds, so Player A’s attack force is now two units. Player A also makes a successful attack, bringing it down to two units against one unit. Player B’s next attack fails, but Player A’s attack in return succeeds again, clearing out the node. Player A now moves their remaining two units into the node. If another player has submitted an order to move units into the same node after Player A’s move, battle occurs again, this time with Player A playing the defender, and attacking first. Moves are resolved in this manner until all conflicts are resolved, at which point the moves for the next turn may be submitted.

A node’s capacity is determined by its distance from the center of the board. The outermost ring of nodes, the twelfth one out, may contain a maximum of twelve units per node. The nodes in eleventh ring out (second ring in) have a maximum capacity of eleven units, and so on, until the center “ring” is reached, which consists of a single node that may only hold one unit. There are four different kinds of nodes on the Implosion board – normal nodes, starting nodes, spawn nodes, and the center node. Normal nodes have no special qualities, beyond their regular maximium capacity limit. Spawn nodes are distributed around the seventh and tenth rings – if a spawn node is occupied by a player at the beginning of a turn, they receive an additional unit in that node (up to the normal limit for that node’s ring), before movement occurs. Starting nodes are where each player begins the game, and are considered to be spawn nodes, with the additional advantage of creating one new unit per turn even if the node is not occupied by one of the player’s units, unless another player has occupied the node themselves. The center node is the method by which points are scored – if a player occupies the center node with a single unit at the beginning of a turn, they receive a point. Needless to say, this is a very precarious position to hold.

A standard game of Implosion is played for 168 turns, or one week if the turns occur once per hour. A game may end early if there is only one player with units remaining, in which case, they are declared the winner. Otherwise, the player with the largest number of center points wins. Ties are broken by the number of units left at the end of the game, number of spawn points occupied, and, in extreme cases where two or more players have equal numbers of all of those measures, number of inner nodes occupied.

Apr 082011

I just finished laying out the game postcards for Six Gun, a quick little clapping game where you play gunfighters trying to shoot each other quickly. I talked a bit about the design of the physical cards themselves a bit over on unDesign, but I’d like to note a couple of things about the game design here, as well.

As I mentioned over there, it’s based on a childrens’ game called High Noon. The play is really almost identical, except for one or two bits that I changed. First, I added a limit of six bullets to the game; in the original, you can just go on loading and shooting forever. This seems okay at first, but in practice, it leads to any number of degenerate strategies that will make the game just go on and on – the “always hide” thing, the following by one thing, and so on. Which is totally fine for a playground game! Fun!

But my inclinations being what they are, I need to impose some kind of closure on the play, so I added the “six shots to win” rule. That way, if someone is stalling, the other player can rattle off half a dozen bangs and blow the lollygagger away. (You can still sandbag your opponent a little, or both jump right on doing load-bangs, but the “if you both shoot your last bullet simultaneously, you both lose” rule is my band-aid for that.)

The other major change was the addition of a verbal component to the game. This, it turns out, makes it so much harder, for me, anyway. Maybe I’ve got some kind of mouth-brain-hand dumbness, but it really takes a lot of concentration for me to only count down the bullets when I’m loading the gun, instead of shooting it. It’s pretty fun to break down in the middle of a game like this, though – it kind of reminds me of the simple/impossible 1-2-3 clapping warmup from improv – but it’s a good way to build that mental dexterity, and it definitely adds pressure when the you hear the numbers going up like that. Of course, my screwing it up all the time makes it a little harder to playtest, but it’s all part of the fun, in my opinion.

Fortunately for me, playtesting a game that only requires two people and plays in about fifteen seconds is really easy. This is where my design process falls apart most of the time – I usually either can’t get the bodies together to give something a good go-around, or I personally can’t find a gap in my ridiculous schedule to get new designs to the table. So, this was a refreshing little break from the larger stuff, and I think it worked out really well. Grab a partner and give it a shot, and let me know how it goes!

Apr 072011

Recently, my buddy Troy Gilbert hooked me up with an invite to dribbble. Dribbble is basically kind of like a twitter for creatives, with a few extra rules; you get twenty-four “shots” every month, each of which is a small screenshot of something that you’re working on. The maximum image size that you can post is only four hundred by three hundred pixels, so everything there is mainly just some kind of glimpse or peek of the whole thing. This is nice for a couple of reasons – you don’t have to have a whole huge finished piece to post, and you can give a small tease of the greater work, which sometimes is more fun than seeing the entire deal all at once. It also lends itself to a nice kind of graphics simplicity on the site itself, and acts as a nice little creative constraint to work within when you’re creating a shot to post.

Anyway, I created my account on the last day of March, and the way it works, you get all twenty-four shots refreshed when the month rolls over, no matter how many you’ve posted. So, if you use all twenty-four, you get them all back; if you’ve only used one, you just get one more, bringing you back up to twenty-four. (“Drawing back up to your hand limit” is how I described it to someone else. So, since I had only a few hours to post everything that I could lay hands on, I got to work picking a few things that I had on various burners and cutting them to fit.

I wound up playing with some spray-paint graffiti techniques in Photoshop to create a “hello, world” post, and then moved on to the projects in front of me. I’d been drawing a hundred robots for a self-imposed challenge, so I found an interesting corner of my big art pad, and put up a shot of that. I’d also recently taken a couple of photos of some dungeon geomorph cards that I sketched up a while back (that were just sent to trade for a Machine of Death card), so those went up, too. I’m reworking Skin Men to fit in a much smaller format, and I posted a bit of the re-designed shrunk-up map from that, and finally, a piece of the Papair Hockey sheet that I was in the process of laying out.

Then midnight rolled around, and I took a little breather. I’m also getting back into exercising some of my illustration and design chops – which are more like … something clever that’s the opposite of a chop… – so I posted a bit of the Monkey Princess Palace that I’d been working up over at my unDesign blog, and that’s where we sit now. I have a bunch of older art that I could totally cut up and post, but it kind of feels like that’s going against the spirit of the thing. I could post old game boards and prototypes, or card designs or art from the cover of Twenty-Four Game Poems, but those are all done, and I’d like to keep generating new artwork and design bits for my dribbble stream, so maybe I will, and maybe I won’t. I have a bit of free time now to spend working on that kind of thing, so I should take advantage of it, right?

A little while ago, Kristin and I were having a lovely Thai dinner at Madam Mam’s, and we wanted to play a game, but didn’t have anything at hand. Fortunately, I had a small pad of graph paper, so before too long, we had sketched out a little air hockey table, and come up with some simple rules for moving a puck around – one person chooses the direction in which they’re hitting the puck, and the other chooses the distance. Classic “I cut, you choose” type of stuff. The first player to get the puck into the other’s goal area wins, even if it’s on their turn! A nice start.

After a bit of playing around with different variations and tweaking things here and there, we had narrowed the rules down so that you had to pick each one of the eight directions before you could pick the same one again, and pick one of some number of some set of distances before you could repeat those, as well. (With a little bit of tinkering and math, I came up with a series of seven numbers that seems to work out pretty well, and the sets of seven and eight work to mix things up nicely.) So we played a few times, and added a couple of rules to make play a bit smoother – you lost if you moved to a square that had been moved to before, there’s no strict time limit on moving, but try to keep it quick, there’s no overt counting of squares, once you declare a direction, there’s no take-backs, and so on.

So, after that evening, we let that sit for a while, and I had been carrying around the papers that we’d sketched things out on for a while. Eventually, the “write up Papair Hockey rules and design a printable play sheet” item rose to the top of my todo list, and I spent an evening hammering this out. You can download and print a PDF of the rules from that link, or check out this quick little page for it – please do grab it and take a look and play it a bunch and let me know if it works for you!

The current version of the rules and playsheet are a first draft, clearly, so if you find any typos or errors or things that need clarification or anything that would make it easier to play, don’t hesitate to let me know. Have fun!

There I was, innocently reading an entry about double-coding and color blindness over on Daniel Solis’s blog, when it struck me that my game RocketYard (self-published in 2009, very close to two years ago today) almost entirely relies upon the players distinguishing cards of different colors, which represent the different qualities of rocket parts that are used to build the ships in the game! This was my first real shot at doing my own graphic design for game cards, so I thought that I’d revisit it and see what’s what. To me, the styles of the rockets of each quality are distinct enough that, even without the coloring, it shouldn’t be hard for anyone to tell them apart (double coding!), but I was curious to see how they fared for actual color blind people.

So, I put out a call on Twitter and Facebook, asking if I knew anyone with color-blindness could take a look at the card images and let me know how they looked to them. I’m not planning on doing a redesign or another printing of the game any time soon, but I figured it’d be good to know for future reference. I do have another card game coming down the pipe directly, so the lessons from this will hopefully apply to the new art, as well.

After getting a good number of responses, I put together this color sheet of the cards, and sent them out to a few friends:

I got some great feedback, almost immediately, which tells me two very important things. First, it looks like I did the right thing, totally accidentally. I suppose that I stumbled upon the correct hues or values such that the weren’t really a problem for anyone, so, go me. Second, it’s also nice to know that I have a bunch of folks who are willing to step up and help out with a request out of nowhere like this, so, go them!

For the record, here are some of the responses, with the names removed for the sake of propriety:

JW: Looks great. Not even close at all.

BS: Well, I can clearly differentiate them, with my partial Color blindness. Don’t ask me what color the last one is though!

GW: They’re fine! Four different colours, to me.

DP: These look fine. The blue and yellow you’ll have very little problem with.  That type of color-blindness is less common.  The red and green are fine for me and I have a pretty significant red/green color-blindness.  The green is a light enough shade and the red is a dark enough shade that I think it’s fine as long as these are color correct for printing.
Also, I think the designs for each ship are different enough that even were a person completely unable to see the colors, they could easily distinguish one ship piece from the other.

So, that’s one design burden removed from my mind. One more thing to check off on the “don’t worry about this any more!” list…

May 132009

Last night Ian and I had a discussion about tension in games. We wanted to figure out how to add more tension to a game, but first we need to define what exactly tension was. We decided to break it down.

First, we picked out some games that we felt had tension. I brought up Ticket to Ride as a game with a lot of tension. As a player, you are always on egde wondering if you will get the right cards in time or if someone will steal your route. In my book, there is no greater tension than in a five player game of TtR. Another game that has tension is Carcassonne: You can feel it when tie up a lot of meeples in a city or farm all the while unsure of whether you can make it pay off.  Agricola also has tension in that you don’t know if you can feed your family or if someone will take the resources you desperately need.

Second, we tried to find the common factor in all of these games. The first thing we noticed was that the player took a risk. The bigger the risk, the more tension felt. The second thing we noticed is that the longer the risk takes to resolve, the higher the tension. In Ticket to Ride, you make have an LA to New York ticket from the start of the game. You may not complete it until the very last second. In Agricola, your entire plan revolves around getting the grain action, but you have to sit there patiently waiting for the other players to place their farmers.

In summary:

Tension = Risk  x  Time

This seems obvious laid it out like that. Now that we have the formula, we can think about it in terms of our own games. What can we do to ensure that our games have the right amount of tension?

I just sent out a prototype to a publisher this morning. It was kind of expensive shipping it overseas, but it was worth it.  The postal worker explained that if I didn’t use a flat-rate box and I didn’t care when it got there, I could have saved $20. Oh well, I’ll remember that next time.

It is a nice feeling to get a game off of my docket. It frees my time up to work on other games, and gives me a feeling of accomplishment. I feel that it is much better to have a prototype sitting on a publisher’s shelf than on my shelf waiting to be tweaked for the umpteenth time.

This game was the first of three that I will be courting to publishers. They were all sitting on my shelf either done or 98% done.  My plan is to diversify the games with different publishers. Hopefully, this will mean the gears of progress will always be turning somewhere even if I’m not actively doing anything.

Now to start the process with the second game in my queue.

Feb 132009

So, I’ve been slacking on the board game production front lately. I’ve got the cards laid out and an order in to a printer for RocketYard, but I still need to get a final version of the rules sheet and figure out packaging, but if the printing goes well, we should see that in the Gizmet store by the end of April or so. Other than that, and noodling with old designs, I’ve been lax in attending the Flywheel design meetings, and haven’t had the time to work much on anything new on my own.

However! Exciting things are afoot on the interactive electronic inter-tubes side of things. I’ve been playing with iPhone development lately, and have a pretty good list of quick, fun games slated to be trickling out here over the next while or so. The first one is out, and up on the app store – I’ve started a bare-bones sub-site over at and put up a page for the first game, Concentrate. I’ll spare you the details here – just hop on over and take a look when you get the chance.

I’ll be working on that side of things and hopefully updating it more often than I have over here. It’s been pretty fun so far, and I only see it getting better as we go forward with more mobile stuff. Questions, comments, ideas, bug reports, or rants are welcome, naturally. Yay, iPhone.

Dec 102008


Last night Ian, Toby, and I played my prototype for A Loss For Words, a party word game. The game involved getting your teammate to guess your randomly-chosen photo from an array of stock photos using only one word. That one word must start with a letter from a card in your hand. Your team has a deck of each letter, so even the bad letters must be used at some point. You get points (which are bad) for each letter card in your hand, and you can choose to draw cards as you wish. The more options you have in your hand, the more bad points you get.

It played like I imagined, thought I can see room for improvement. Toby gave some important feedback – there is a lot of downtime. That is true, and I need to alleviate it. While one player is being clever in their head, other players are just sitting and waiting.


We also played Stellar Underworld with two new changes:

  • You can ship cubes to any sector, not just your own, but at a cost of twice as many cubes.
  • The black market got an overhaul. Now, the player draws cubes from a bag and swaps them with theirs if they wish. They can assign more henchmen to pull more cubes.

The new shipping freedom was used a lot more than I had imagined, even though it wasn’t really efficient. It has the added benefit of messing up your opponent’s plans, if you choose to. I’m calling this one a keeper!

The new black market also worked well in my opinion.  It has a bit of push your luck to it. Most importantly, it solves the problem that the older version had: Using a market on landing AND launching gave the player no benefit. Now, the player can benefit because they get two shots at pulling the right cubes they need. Before, if you recall, they were fixed cubes.

The final score was 101 (Dan), 100 (Toby), 92 (Ian).