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 mobile.gizmet.com 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.

I just wanted to let everyone know that I have just recently created a blog specifically for my company Sky Castle Games. I will be posting stuff that directly concerns print runs, expansions, and anything else I want there. I’m not going to stop posting here. In fact, I have decided to push myself to post much more often.

Sep 112008

Argghhhh!!! Hurricane Ike is causing Texas A&M University to shut down this weekend! Protocon takes place on campus and is canceled! I’ve been preparing my games for months now for the design contest, and now they’ve got nowhere to be shown. The convention is not even going to be rescheduled!


John, Dan, and I met last night for play testing. John brought some very cool spinners and tops made from sculpty clay. The tops are kind of a cone shaped hat that sits on top of a base that is placed in the center of a circle. The circle is then divided up into sections and each section is given a number. The spinner tops represent crew members that can be assigned to Spaceship systems (such as thrusters, weapons, shields, etc…). Some of the tops have one dot to indicate a result, and some have an arc on them increase the chance of landing on two results that are then added together. There will also be tops that have multiple dots on them. One of the very cool things about this is that when a ship is damaged a damage marker is placed on the system that blocks out a particular result. Dan voiced a concern that the spinner tops, and systems when all boiled down still act like dice. My initial concern was just that I did not really like the idea of just looking a spinner with a bunch of numbers on them, but would rather have the sections have icons that represented different results or actions. This is still very early in its development, but I really look forward to seeing the game that John builds up around these mechanics.  


Next we played Dan’s game Venture Fourth in which players are attempting to fulfill their characters personal goals. All of the many different Characters in the game want to do something different. And when they get to do what the want, they go up a level which earns you victory points. The game is a very nice take on the adventure genre. You don’t just score points for killing things, only if that is one of the goals of a character in your party.


The game took about an hour to play, which was about 15 minutes longer than Dan would have liked. I agreed with Dan that there was a point near the very end of the game that it could have ended a little earlier. I was getting a little frustrated that all of the spots to play cards to get a coin were getting filled up before I could to get to them. I know there is already a solution for these issues percolating in Dan’s head.


This is one of the first games that Dan showed me when we first started having game design meetings over 2 years ago. The game has radically changed in mechanics but I think Dan has kept the spirit of the game that he wanted to create intact. All of the hard work that Dan has put into the game really shows.  


The last game of the night was my game Ascending Empires. I got to playtest it last Friday night at Great Hall Games with Jen, Jake, and Jeff. From that test I made quite a few changes that really seemed to pay off in our test last night. In the earlier versions of the game the Landing and Launching of Starships was a separate action. I switched over to a movement points system in which now you can spend a point to land, launch, or flick a starship. This I think improved the flow  of movement a little. However, having a higher movement rate now seems a little more powerful than before. I also took out the restriction of only being able to recruit one troop to planet. That is just one less rule to remember, and this did not seem to change the overall game play much at all.


In previous playtests we have seen a tendency for players to just stay on their planets and build stuff, and only put Starships in space when they need more planets to build stuff on. Dan and I had done some brainstorming last week and come up with all sorts of mechanics that would encourage players to have more ships in space. One mechanic we talked about was a token that player could claim when they were the only player with ships in space. At the beginning of that players turn he gains a victory point if he had this token. I think that might have worked but it felt very forced. Yesterday it hit me that one little rule might fix the problem. The rule is: A planet may not recruit, build, or develop technology while enemy ships are in orbit of the planet. This is called blockading. We played with this rule last night and suddenly we all had ships out in space. Blockades were used several times during the game, but just the threat of being blockaded was enough to always keep some ships ready for combat.

 At the end of the game it looked as if John was running away with the victory but we were all surprised to find out that the scores were John-25, Me-24, and Dan-23. I felt very satisfied with the game. I still need to tweak the tech trees just a little but I’m very happy that the changes I made did not break the game.

The reviews of Gizmet games keep rolling in! This time, it’s our old friend Yehuda, with a thorough and fair, but overall positive review of Honeypot. Thanks!

Also, to everyone who’s ordered in the last week or so: we’re running low on Taktika stock, but Ian is busy producing some more, so we’ll get those orders out as soon as possible. I’m out of town this week, as well, so I won’t be able to get things packaged and sent off to the post office until Monday, at the earliest. Thank you all for your patience with our one-man mailing operation!

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!

Okay, here’s the full rundown on what I did at BGG.Con 2007, also cross-posted from my blog. The short version: played a lot of games, promoted and sold Honeypot a bunch, and generally had a blast with a whole bunch of fine folks. And now, buckle up – here comes the long version.

Thursday 11/15/2007

I woke up at the unholy hour of 5:30am to finish packing and get myself together for the trip up to Dallas. This is my first BGG.Con, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but after hauling way too much crap around on the flight up to Indianapolis for GenCon, I was determined to err on the side of packing too little. I only brought a small clump of clothes and toiletries, my small bag to carry notebooks, schwag, and games in, a medium-sized box of Honeypot games to sell, and a big box of games for the math trade. I didn’t actually bring any of my own games to play, since I figured there’d be more than enough to lay hands on once we got there. Boy, was I right.

I got myself over to Nukes’ house around 7am, just before Drey, and before too long we were on the road. Huge props to Nukes for driving there and back – that would have been one hell of a bus ride. We arrived around 11am or so, found Mischa and our other peeps, got our room situations straightened out, stowed our junk upstairs, registered, and hit the floor rolling. Everyone got some kind of free game as a door prize, and I was lucky enough to show up early and snag Mission: Red Planet. I haven’t played it yet, but I’ve heard good things, and it looks pretty decent.

First thing, I sat down with some of the boys who were just finishing up a game in progress (I don’t remember which), and played a filler game of Honeypot with Peter while we waited to get in on the next one. First up was The Circle. This game has excellent art direction, and that’s about the best thing I can say about it. Took forever to untangle the rules, set everything up, and finally get started, and then the first several turns took another forever to grind reluctantly up to speed. By the time we figured out what we were doing and had a sense of how the game worked, we realized that it was pretty crap, and bailed. This was extra sad for us, because we could see the potential in the game, but it just wasn’t there for us. Not an auspicious start to the gaming, but everything was up from there.

After a brief interlude in which we ate some tasty greek delivery, someone brought out Saturn, a gorgeous dexterity game from the Theta line. Basically, you have these three rings around the center sphere that balance along various axes, and you have to place differently-sized balls in slots on the rings, without making them all tip over. It seems easy, but it was mildly challenging, and the scoring system was simple and elegant, and all the players were fairly engrossed the entire time. I’d definitely pick this up if I could find it cheaply, but it’s one of those rare games that will probably wind up costing more than it’s worth.

We cleared the big plastic planet off the table and set up Ruse and Bruise. Fast to learn, fast to set up, and fast to get started, this was a tight little card game that was simple, but still had a good bit of complexity to it. You have a deck of twenty cards or so that represent members of your court or something along those lines. You play these under a bunch of treasure cards that you want to claim – each treasure is worth a different number of points, and each requires a certain number of cards to be played under it before the round is over. When all the slots are full up, you count the total number of points that you’ve played under a treasure to see who gets it – aha, but many of the cards have special powers, which affect the outcome greatly. It’s easy for a cunning play that you’ve set up to be shattered by the wrong card played by a crafty opponent. It was one of those games with just the right amount of chaos to make things really fun – lots of banter and laughing, and quite often, someone would reach for the rules to check something out, and everyone would almost cheer, because we knew they were up to something. I’d like to pick this one up very soon.

The group broke up and some of us reconvened in another part of the gaming hall, and tucked right in to our next game, Patrician. Much more sedate than our last game, but still quite good. Basically, you play cards to either build two stories on one of two towers in one of the cities, or build one city and do a special action. The cards tell you where you’re allowed to build, and where you pick up your next build card, so although it doesn’t feel like there’s much choice at times, you can still shoulder your way in the direction that you’d like to go by basically choosing where you’ll be sent next. Some of the cards also have faces on them, which are worth points at the end of the game if you can collect sets of three of them. The game ended relatively quickly, scoring happened, someone won, we were all happy with it. Not world-rocking, but still fun.

Next up was Burg Appenzell, a sweet German game about mice trying to collect cheese in a castle with sliding floors. I loved this game – the bits and pieces are all very well done, the construction of the castle out of the box is awesome, and even the little mouse pieces look and feel perfect. The gameplay is kind of light, but still quite engaging – it’s kind of a cross between The Amazing Labyrinth and Stay Alive. You get three actions per turn, which include moving your mouse, sliding a row of floor tiles, or removing roof pieces to reveal a section of floor that you can enter. The floor tiles are either blank, contain a piece of cheese (which you can collect if two of your mice are on the same kind of cheese), or have a hole in them that you can fall through, losing your mouse. The game is over when someone collects three different kinds of cheese, or someone loses all but one of their mice. Lots of fun. There should be an English version out there somewhere (called Castle Roquefort or something), and it’s another game that’s high up on the wish list.

Wicked Witches Way was next. It had a cool box, and some custom dice with neat symbols on it. Other than that, meh. There’s some speed/memory stuff in there, a little card play, and some moving your little witch pieces back and forth on the race track. It didn’t really grab anyone, so we put it up after a handful of turns. We could totally do better with what was in there, but we repressed our re-designer instincts, and pressed on.

More building! Die Saulen von Venedig – or The Columns of Venice – was on the table next. In this game, you get to simultaneously lay down cards that tell you what occupation you’ll be playing in the current turn – you can grab columns or city pieces, sink columns into the water, build city on top of columns that are there, grab points off of someone else’s occupation card, beg or steal someone else’s occupation, or even blow up a piece of city that’s already there, and benefit when someone builds on the empty posts. Cards played are passed to the next player when the round changes, so everyone gets a chance to play everything, even if they get an initially crappy hand. Points are accumulated during the game for building and laying posts cleverly, and play ends when you run out of columns to build on. It ran about an hour or so, which was just about right – I enjoyed playing, and I’d definitely play again if it came up.

We broke for dinner at a wings’n’beer place across town – and by that, I mean “drove through the barren waste of the Dallas outlands until we hit a clump of neon and grease where we could get something that resembles food”. But, hot wings, cold Shiner, and a table full of geeks geeking out in a non-con setting. Good times. After, it was back to the Westin for more gaming – we assembled a group of ten or so to throw down with a game of Die Kutschfahrt zur Teufelsburg, or Coachride To Devil’s Castle. This game is always awesome, and I’ve never played a round of Kutschfahrt that wasn’t followed by the players talking about it for some time afterwards. Basically, it’s Werewolf on steroids – there are two factions, each of which needs a certain set of items to win, but nobody knows who’s on which side, or who has what. Each player has their secret affiliation and occupation cards (your “junk”) and a bunch of item cards (your “stuff”) – occupations and items give you different abilities in the combat or trading portion of the game. Each player in turn either challenges another player to a duel, or offers one of their items in trade. Combat is resolved relatively simply, with the other players supporting one of the duelists, after which the winner gets to look at the losers “junk”, or their “stuff”. Through strategic fisticuffs and wily trading, players slowly learn who is on their side, and attempt to gather their items to declare victory. If you declare wrong, your side loses. It’s an intense, exciting game, even though it doesn’t appear to have much going on when you look at the surface of the play. Kutschfahrt really requires a group of eight players who are down with the intrigue to really shine, but I will virtually never pass up a chance to play, if presented with the opportunity.

(I liked the game so much that I ordered ten copies from a German game company to sell/trade/distribute, in hopes of seeding some more play out there. Since then, a few American retailers have picked it up, but it can still be tricky to find. If you’re having trouble getting your hands on a copy, let me know, and I’ll see what I can do about hooking you up with some Coachride.)

After Die Kutschfahrt, we wound down over Fire, another very pretty game by the same folks who did Saturn. Very, very nice to look at, but not super enthralling with the play. It’s basically a slant on Jenga, only with round pieces of different sizes stacked in a U-shaped wooden support piece. The hour was late at this point, and interest was waning – pieces were drawn, pictures were taken, bits fell down and were re-built, people wandered off, and the evening ended.

Ah, yes. At several points during the day, I stood at the Pirate Billiards table in the main common area with various folks as we waited for people to assemble for food, or debated about what we would play next, or just loitered aimlessly. “Piratenbillard” is a game where you whack a canvas-bottomed board from below with these long mallets, and try to bounce your little balls from one end of the table to the other. You can capture other players’ balls, or destroy them with the cannonball or pirate ball or whatever it’s called. There’s some way to score points, but nobody really ever paid attention to that (except in one exceptional game, where we actually got it totally together), and we mostly just had fun trying to get the little colored balls to go somewhere near where we wanted them to go. I may have mentioned elsewhere that I might have a go at building one of these. Yay, fun.

That’s a lot of games, and it’s only the first day. Plenty more to come, directly.

This weeks challenge focuses around matchbox cars (or any other toy car). The main components for the game should be cars. There can be other components as well (Cards, tokens, money, whatever), but they should all work to complement the use of the cars as the focal point of the game. The game can be anything, but should be thematic. Happy Designing!

I won the design challenge this week with this entry below. It is basically an abstract game with beads. I was suprised at how well it played right off the bat with only a few tweaks to my original design. We played this one first, and Ian voted me the winner before we even got a chance to play his design! Marc emailed in an entry, but we were unable to play it since it was just two of us and the game required three. Without further ado…

Bead Game v0.1 by Dan Manfredini (C) 2007


Players try to get rid of their bead chains.


Per player:

  • 3 red beads
  • 3 black beads
  • 3 clear beads
  • 3 green beads
  • 3 orange beads
  • 3 white beads


  1. Each player randomly arranges two beads of each color into a long chain such that one end is toward the center of the table and the other end points toward the player.
  2. Each player takes one bead of each color into his hand.
  3. Randomly determine a starting player.

Playing the Game

Beginning with the starting player, and going clockwise, each player will get a turn until the game ends. The active player must take one of the following actions:

  • Play a bead.
  • Draw a bead.
  • Split a chain.

Play a Bead

The active player takes one bead from his hand and discards it to the center of the table, forming a pile with the other discarded beads. The active player then chooses outside or inside. If the player choose outside, then all beads matching the discarded bead’s color on the outside (nearest the edge of the table) of any chains must be discarded to the center of the table. Similarly, if the player chooses inside, then the same holds true for the insides (nearest the center of the table) of all chains.

If this action causes any another player’s chain to disappear, then the active player take that player’s discarded bead into his hand. Note: The active player never takes a discarded bead from his own chain.

Draw a Bead

The active player may take one bead from the pile at the center of the table and place it in his hand.

Split a Chain

The active player takes one bead from his hand and discards it to the center of the table, forming a pile with the other discarded beads. The active player then chooses one of his chains and divide it in to two sections. The division must be on either side of a bead matching the discarded bead’s color. The new sections can be of any length, but must retain their order and orientation. They should be placed side by side.

End of Game

The first player to have no chains remaining is the winner. In case of a tie, the player with the most beads in his hand is the winner. In case of a further tie, whoever ended the game is the winner.

Last night, Mischa, Ian, and I met at my place for some good old-fashioned playtesting. One of the first things we did was go over my rulebook for Salvage. Admittedly, it was not a polished as I would have liked it, but I tried to make sure it was as rules complete as I could make it. Writing a rule book is not as easy as it might seem. It needs to be tested just like the game itself to make sure that everything has been covered.

Both guys gave some good suggestions on layout and wording. One big problem was the lack of card layout and procedural examples. I did have examples, but not enough and not in the needed areas. As they say, you can never have enough examples.

Besides examples, I included a glossary for all of the cards in the game (there’s not that many). It serves as a mini-FAQ and a dumping ground for any notes I have about a particular card. I like it because it’s not in the way when you’re trying to learn the game, but it is there when you have a question about a particular card.

I made a change to one card that required quite a lot of explanation in the glossary. The concept is simple once you know it, but it is a real pain to write it down succinctly and clearly. Imagine trying to explain the word “most” to people who had no concept of numbers being greater than or less than others. To me, that’s what it feels like. I tried my best, but after reading it, Mischa was definitely disturbed by it because it seems like a big clunky addition to the game. I strongly feel that it is not a difficult concept, and I just need to find a better way to explain it. After we played, he agreed that it was a simple concept, and he suggested adding a thematic explanation to make it easier to swallow, ala Star Trek via Futurama:

Fry: Well, usually on the show, someone would come up with a complicated plan, then explain it with a simple analogy.

Leela: Hmm. If we can re-route engine power through the primary weapons and reconfigure them to Melllvar’s frequency, that should overload his electro-quantum structure.

Bender: Like putting too much air in a balloon!

Fry: Of course! It’s so simple!

It’s as simple as that!