Monday, January 07, 2019

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: The Case For Aliens (repost)

Yesterday I re-watched Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, because I hadn't seen it in a while, and it's just come to Netflix, so I figured "how bad could it be?" Perhaps related, the other day I re-watched another movie that didn't live up to it's potential after 20 years of waiting, The Last Jedi. Needless to say, neither of these movies were hat I had hoped they would be, but I don't like to whine and complain that someone else created something and it wasn't what I wanted. Instead, I'll just sigh and lament that whoever is doing these reboots of iconic movies from my youth doesn't have the same point of view as I do about them.

But I digress... back when the movie came out and I watched Indy on the big screen for the first time in decades, I had written something about it (elsewhere) that I think holds true. I'll re-post that here, edited a bit to clean it up and make sure it makes sense:

The first time I saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, when the movie came out, I kept thinking "... Aliens? Really!?!" 

Then I watched the movie again with my father, and between thinking about it for a week and watching it a second time, I liked it a whole lot better. Much like Star Wars: Episode 1, I was fairly disappointed in some of the silliness (like the blatant racial stereotypes, and Jar Jar's antics), but upon reflection I realized it was Not That Bad. Of course with a franchise like Star Wars (or Indiana Jones for that matter) - why would anyone want to settle for Not That Bad?

I still think it's clear that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull hasn't come close to Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Last Crusade, and I already liked it better than The Temple of Doom, but I definitely enjoyed KotCS more the second time around. Here's what I realized that improved the movie for me...

The Indiana Jones movies that were really good involved Indiana revealing some of the more famous, important, mysterious secrets one could conceive in Archeology - finds of biblical proportions: the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail. Obviously those have been used up, so what famous archaeological mystery remains for Indy to discover? Well, there are several things off the top of my head (which I assert is where the basic idea should come from, so it's recognizable to everyone)... Stonehenge, Easter Island, Egyptian Pyramids, Aztec/Mayan ruins, and maybe Atlantis. All of those are sometimes surrounded by rumors of aliens, and of them, the Mayan ruins come stock with legends of a city of gold. A city of gold seems highly appropriate for Indiana Jones to go after, and the alien bent not only makes sense, but fits perfectly with the pattern of IJ movies - a fantastical explanation of the real life mystery, and a spectacular, paranormal climax to the movie.

I was initially (and still am) disappointed in the process Jones took finding Akator. He did do some figuring and a (very) little research, he followed a clue to Peru, and another to the tomb of the conquistador explorer, sort of followed a clue to find the city of gold, and all the while had a back and forth fight with a ceaseless opponent. However, it seemed like this movie rushed that process compared to Raiders and Last Crusade, and the back and forth with the Russians seemed a lot less epic. In Raiders Indy and Marion were captured, escaped, captured again, rescued, etc. In the Last Crusade there was a constant struggle between Jones and the Nazis in which they key to the movie - information about the grail- was being passed back and forth. In KotCS, the entirety of the conflict was a game of keep away.

While that complaint sums up much of what was disappointing about the movie, it does not speak ill of the basic premise, which is that Indiana Jones uncovers one of the great archaeological mysteries of the world, which turns out to be that aliens were responsible for the hyper-advanced culture of ancient Mayans. They called them "Interdimensional Beings" instead of the perfectly plausible aliens from another planet which could very well exist and keep the mystery in the realm of reality - frankly I'm sorry they chose to go that route. I'm also not sure what was up with abnormally large and aggressive ants, or monkeys which attack Russians for no apparent reason. I'm not sure whether I can abide the whole idea of psychic warfare, but its not such a stretch that I couldn't live with it - after all, the Russians need some reason to be after the lost city of gold, and just money doesn't seem that exciting.

So see the movie, it's honest to god Indiana Jones. Though the character was so cool to begin with, I don't know that he needed to survive a ground zero nuclear explosion, or all of a sudden have ridden with Pancho Villa (incidentally when he was barely older than he was at the beginning of The Last Crusade). Really, it's not as bad as you might think at first.

And by all means, if you dislike the film, don't dislike it because of the aliens!

Edit: that Poncho Villa comment I have heard refers to things that happened in the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, which I never got around to watching.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Board game inspired by Craps - revisited

Some time ago (almost 9 years??!) I started thinking about a board game using the casino game Craps as a main mechanism. I have mentioned before that I like the idea of a game based on a core mechanism that is itself another, simpler game. So it makes sense that I could see using casino games to drive a bigger game.

When I posted about the game based on Craps, I posited a theme and some basic mechanics, but it wasn't a finished game. Over the years I've remembered this idea, and thought it would be fun to revisit that some day.

Well, recently I started thinking about the idea a little harder. One main problem with a game based on a gambling game is that if it's just a theme on top of craps, then you're just gambling. There's not much agency, and the result is all luck. Gambling can be fun, but not because you're engaging the other players in a battle of wits (or a contest of decision making) -- various forms of Poker excluded -- but because you stand to win or lose actual money. The higher the stakes, the more emotionally invested you are in the outcome.

But in a board game, there's no money on the line. People play board games for very different reasons than they play casino games. Therefore, I believe there has to be something more to the game than simply the gambling mechanics of Craps (or any other casino game). Thinking about it some more, the bigger the effect of the gambling mechanism in the game, the more luck-based the game will be. Any game will have a certain tolerance for luck, depending on the genre and audience, an all-luck game could be just fine. But the games I like to play, and therefore the games I like to make, are ones where luck plays a much smaller role in the outcome.

So, how do you at once utilize the mechanics of gambling games and minimize the role of luck? Well, that's the question I've been asking myself. I haven't got a definitive answer, but so far I've had the following thoughts on the topic:

* In an effort to keep the board game from just being the gambling game on which it's based, there needs to be more to what you do than simply place bets as you would in the casino. Perhaps a good way to proceed is to entangle the gambling choices with other in-game choices. For example, my game based on Craps sounds a lot like a worker placement game -- perhaps the worker spots could resolve to give you game actions, such as collecting, transforming, or cashing in resources, while also acting as bets on a craps table. Thus you may want to go to a space for it's in-game effect, or you may want to go there because at the moment, the gambling odds are in your favor.

* As I mentioned above, if the gambling mechanism is too consequential, then the game may be too much like just gambling. Therefore perhaps the effect of the gambling mechanism should be relegated to a secondary status, a bonus that's not as significant as the basic in-game effect. On the other hand, why base a game on a particular mechanism just to relegate that mechanism to the background?

* In my game based on Craps, about doing projects, I could use the Craps mechanism as I had described in my previous post, but as I said back then, I need something else for you to do with your managers (and laborers). Perhaps you could use them to collect resources with which to finish projects faster, or earn more points for projects. Like when the "complete project" card comes up, you get your payout, and additional benefits for the resources you've collected and spent on that project. Or when the "cancel project" card comes up, you get something for having partially completed the project with resources you have collected (insulating you from losses incurred by crapping out).

A friend of mine is working on a board game based on another casino game (Faro). I'm not too familiar with that one, but I think much of the same logic applies. I intend to get on a skype call with him one of these days so we can chat about ways to implement these gambling mechanisms in the types of euro-style games we like.

Deck Learning Rails - revisited

About 3 years ago I started working on a game that used the deck learning ideas from Eminent Domain, but in a different game. I based that design on one of my favorite games, Railroad Tycoon (AKA Railways of the World).

I built a prototype and took it to BGGcon with me back in 2014, and I got a chance to try it out there. To be honest, I didn't like how it felt. However, I do think the structure is fine -- using deck learning to drive a game about building and operating rail networks, and possibly replacing player interaction via role selection with interaction on the board. It might be the case that role selection is the best fit for deck learning, because it has the inherent possibility of wanting cards in your deck to take advantage of the things your opponent is doing, but I'd like to think the engine could work alright without role selection, so long as the interaction is there somewhere. I keep waffling back and forth on this.

Recently I've been revisiting this game idea, because I feel like it should work. I took a step back (easy to do after 3 years), and looked at the parts I didn't care for the last time around, and brought some fresh ideas into the mix. Here's what I would like to try:

Brand new Research (R&D) scheme

In Eminent Domain, one of the complaints some players have is that there are so many technology cards, it's hard to get into the game. For other players (like myself) this is more of a feature than a bug, but the point is well taken, especially in today's "cult-of-the-new," 1,000+ new games a year climate.

An idea I had which may address that concern is to remove the tech cards from the game altogether, and replace them. I'll see if I can describe this well:

Imagine a rondel, or ring of spaces with various techs printed on them. Each player would have a pawn on that ring. When you do a Research action, you'd move your pawn 1 space clockwise on the tech ring, changing what special ability you have access to. Maybe some of them have an immediate effect as well, but mostly they'd be like permanent techs from EmDo (in play), but temporary because they'd only apply while your pawn was on them.

When you do a research ROLE (boosted), you'd move your pawn farther around the tech ring (1 space per icon played). When you get to the starting space again, you'd get to add a 2nd pawn to the ring, so you could start having 2 abilities at once.

So if you don't concentrate on Research, you could slowly advance your pawn to the tech you want using research actions, or following research roles. And if you DO concentrate on it, then you can lap the tech ring once or twice, and end up with multiple abilities

New City/Board format

I also thought about modifying the city/board system like this:
This version of the game is train themed, so instead of planets like in EmDo, we have cities on cards. I could see a few different ways to do this:

  1. Personal tableau, which is a horizontal line of city cards. When you get a new one, you have to add it to one end or the other. Like RftG windfall worlds, cities come populated with a cube (the card probably tells you what color the city produces, and what color the city demands). Delivery actions allow you to move cubes from one city to the next, eventually getting to the right color city that demands that cube (and scoring it). delivery ROLES of course let you move multiple steps at once.
  2. Personal tableau, which is an implied grid of city cards. The supply that you draft cards from has cards at N/S/E/W, and if you take the N one, it has to go N of one of your existing cards. Otherwise similar to above.
  3. Shared tableau, each player has a train piece on a shared grid of city cards. You get rewarded for adding cities to the tableau, and you can deliver cubes to other cities in the tableau by moving your train piece (delivery action). Of course a delivery ROLE (boosted) would let you move farther. you can take cubes with you as you move, and if you deliver them to a city that wants them, then you score. I guess this could also work without train pieces on the board, just moving cubes from wherever to wherever -- I thought a train piece might add a geographical component (you could tell if a cube was "safe" if nobody else's train was near it).

I like the idea of the N/S/E/W city card supply, but removing Survey, Warfare, and Colonize reduces the roles in the game from 6 in EmDo (S/W/C/P/T/R) to just 3 (Produce, Deliver, R&D).
What else could be done in this format?

What about stocks..?

Stocks are a natural fit for train games, and to be honest, I don't like that aspect most of the time. I'm not a fan of the 18XX style games, which are primarily stock manipulation games, where the board play (building rail lines and making deliveries) is merely the manner in which you manipulate stock values. However, Railroad Tycoon represents stocks in a way I don't mind at all -- you simply take them when you need money, and they serve as a penalty (round by round reducing your income, and at the end of the game reducing your score). So maybe there's some way I can include it in a way I don't mind so much. Get ready for some ideas, stream of consciousness style:

Action: Buy or sell 1 share at the current price
ROLE: Buy 1 share of stock for current price, less $1 for each Invest icon played

Stocks could go up in value as they're taken, and be worth points at the end of the game (more points if more are out? Or maybe points based on some other measure of how that color is doing - like how many of that color city is in play at game end)

Stocks could come in maybe 5 colors, and relate to the colors of the city cards. Adding a city card to the board could increase the value of the stock. Making a delivery to a particular city could increase the value of the stock (maybe by simply rewarding you with shares).

Idea: When making a delivery, you get $X (where X is the 'length' of the delivery -- number of icons spent), and with that money, you're allowed to buy stock in that company (1 at a time) if you want (you probably want). So making a big delivery gets you more stock/money.

Idea: When a City is built, you get to choose 1 of 2 different colors of good to put on it (and maybe when you produce as well). Or maybe you choose any color (not the same as the color of the city itself)?
So building a city should help stock value, and creates demand for a certain color good, and creates supply for another type of good. Delivering goods should increase stock value.

Investing in stocks could be useful for game end scoring, and could maybe be useful as a way to get money (get stock from doing a delivery, then sell it to get money to buy a new station (city card) or technology).

Delivering should probably be worth some straight points in addition, so that it's not idiotic to sell your stock (which could be VP at game end). Maybe the stock should start at NEGATIVE vp, so if you're stuck with shares of a color that didn't get used much, then at game end you LOSE points -- so selling that stock would be welcome, or else boosting that color would be welcome.

It would be nice and clean to have a small, limited number of shares of each color, but I worry that they'd run out and there would be weirdness. But like what if they cost 1/3/5/6/7 or something? Maybe when they're out, you can't buy one? And if they're out and you are supposed to get one as a reward, it triggers an event ("dividend"?) where everyone gets 1vp token per share of that color, then puts one share back?

Like maybe you get a share when you add a city to the board, which means you may get VP for it, or sell it for $, and you add a cube to the board that someone can deliver.

Maybe cities should only be able to take 1 delivery (leave the cube there), so that you can't deliver over and over to make the stock skyrocket.

To sum up:

City cards in multiple (5? 8?) colors, coordinating with "rail line" colors.

Stock exists in each color. The more shares of a color are out (owned by players), the higher the value of that color stock (both money-wise in-game, and vp-wise at game end).

2 ways to get City cards into play:
BUILD: add track tokens until there are "enough" (maybe like 4 all the time?)
BUY: pay a $ cost depending on how many shares of that color are out (maybe 2-6) -- early game buying is cheaper, but by late game, building would be cheaper, so starting out building means late game you can maybe be adding enough track to build multiple city cards with 1 big role.

Maybe city cards have a standard build cost, and then have a "kicker" cost for an immediate bonus effect. So you could build a city without too much trouble, but if you concentrate on it and get big Build roles, then you can get either multiple cities worth of builds from a single role, or you can get a city and an immediate benefit. Buying the city wouldn't give that bonus.

Strategic Paths

Here's a summary of the strategic paths I could see being available in this game:
  1. Build a lot: like connecting major lines in RRT, score for some specific configurations of city cards in play -- maybe like the cards from Takenoko
  2. Build+Deliver: take advantage of the free cubes when building a city by placing them near their demand (and/or near your train) and delivering them with Deliver actions or follows
  3. Produce+Deliver: build a little to get a network going, then stop (or let others build, in the shared tableau scheme) and concentrate on producing and delivering. Look for long routes (for more points, and to avoid snipers?) and maybe chains (pick up a black good from a yellow city, deliver to a black city where there's a yellow good to return)
  4. R&D: primarily to support one of the above strategies, but heavy R&D could mean multiple active techs, and potentially points somehow. Maybe you get points for how far along the tech ring your pawn is at the end (so lapping the board and keeping going means giving up points in exchange for more power? Maybe you collect VP tokens if you do that). Maybe the tech ring would have L1 tech first, then L2, then L3, in random order each game (within appropriate tiers)?

Maybe I was on the right track the first time with having 2 ways to add a city, "build" one by piling up track tokens until there's enough, and "Buy" one right out.
And maybe Survey could be like in EmDice, where you see what you're getting -- instead of the N/S/E/W thing? I kinda like the N/S/E/W thing though.

A simpler personal tableau might be good. There's something nice about a single line of city cards.
The more cards you have, the longer your deliveries can be.

For Major Line type of strategies, maybe you should be rewarded for having certain sets of cubes undelivered on your cards. Or maybe that's a tech you can get?

That's about all I have for now. Maybe soon all of these ideas will coalesce into a rule set, then I can update my old prototype and give it a try.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Spam blog comments!

For some reason, one of my recent blog posts (not even a good one, really) has garnered quite a lot of attention lately, but not in a good way.

Since 11/22, there have been 301 spam blog comments on that post (and none on any other post)! That's THREE HUNDRED AND ONE spam comments AND COUNTING -- I have no idea when they will let up.

Fortunately (?), I have comment moderation turned on, so these comments aren't actually being published on that post. However, it means I get about 60 emails a day from the system telling me that some robot has left me a comment.

Amusingly, the vast majority of the spam is highly complimentary, telling me how great my post is, how nice my site looks, or how much I seem to know what I'm talking about on the topic. Then every once in a while there's a negative one, telling me they USED to find useful info n my blog, or saying

"Next time I read a blog, Hopefully it does not disappoint me just as much as this one... I actually thought you'd have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you can fix if you weren't too busy looking for attention."
It's easy to tell when a comment is from a robot. They're all completely generic, never referring to any specific content. The formatting is often wonky, with double periods after a sentence, or random line breaks. They use words like "weblog," and they're always posted by "Anonymous." But none of these spam comments have any links to other sites, or advertisements for watches, drugs, or gambling.

I've gotten many spam comments like this before, often in small bursts, and often on old, irrelevant posts. This is the first time I've gotten such a deluge, and all on the same post. To be honest, I don't really understand the goal of these robo-comments. I guess the point is to trick me into whitelisting the sender, who might then lie in wait for a few weeks before suddenly posting more comments with spam links? I recall spambots doing something similar when I ran the Board Game Designers Forum -- they would create an account, lie dormant for 2 or 3 weeks, then suddenly make a handful of spam posts (before promptly getting banned by me).

It sucks that spam is even a thing, really. It sucks to get spam blog comments, spam emails, and even physical spam in the mail. But what sucks the most is the thought that if they're doing it, it must work. The whole point of spam is that you cast a bazillion hooks, and you only need to catch 1 fish to make it worthwhile.

If only the entire population would just not click, then maybe over time the phenomenon would fade away. But with how easy and inexpensive virtual spam is to produce and send, I think we'll be stuck with it forever. Though I do still wonder how physical spam is really worth the actual cost of printing and sending out all of that mail...


If you leave me a legitimate blog comment, please make sure you're logged in, because if it comes from "Anonymous" then it's probably going straight into the spam bin with the hundreds of other robo-comments!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Essen 2018 demo space

6 years ago, Michael and I attended Essen for the first time. I've been back a few times since (I missed out last year, and maybe one other year since 2012). Over time, TMG has grown and has striven to become a well known publisher, not just in the US, but overseas as well.

In recent Essen outings, we have teamed up and shared space with European partners, affording us a bigger presence, better demo space, and in some cases a small office to share for meetings. This year appears to be TMG's biggest Essen presence yet! This time we're partnering with Game Brewer, with whom we have several co-publications.

Check out these awesome pics of the TMG/Game Brewer space!

This panoramic pic is the demo space, with 15 tables (room for 30 demos, probably). People will be playing TMG and Game Brewer games there non-stop for the next 4 days straight. You can see the giant banners for games like Trade on the Tigris and Ghosts of the Moor (TMG original titles), Gentes (an import we did a deluxe version of), and on the far right you can see a TMG logo suspended above our sales area. On the left you can see giant posters for some of those same games, plus Chimera Station (which I worked on heavily) and other co-publications such as Gugong.

This is the TMG product area being set up, where people will be able to buy our games. I worked heavily on Pioneer Days (in the middle on the bottom 2 shelves), and on Steam Works (upper right shelf, left side, as well as the bottom right shelf, behind that big box). And of course on the right-middle shelf you can see a bunch of my card game, Eminent Domain, and expansions (Escalation, Exotica, and Oblivion).

I can also spot some of our other titles, such as Scoville, Guilds of London, Exodus Fleet, Okey DokeyThief's Market, Zooscape, Balloon Pop, Cthulhu Realms, and the Essen release, Ghosts of the Moor.

Dargon sits atop everything, standing guard :)

At Essen, some of the bigger booth areas have little office spaces, for meetings and to store things. TMG has shared an office space in the past with another company. I believe this year we have this one all to ourselves. The giant posters are for some of our games -- Ghosts of the Moor is a brand new title releasing at Essen by some of the most famous designers in Germany. Jungli-La came out earlier this year, by a well known Asian designer that we've worked with before. Both are light, small box, family friendly games.

This is one of the things that Mike and I have been working towards since we first went to Essen 6 years ago, and in a way for the last 9.5 years since we started publishing games. I started this journey 15 years ago when I first dipped my toes into game design. I am sad to miss out on Essen this year, but I hope to be able to go back soon!

Podcast appearances

I've mentioned before that I enjoy listening to podcasts -- especially game industry and design focused ones. I've even entertained the thought of getting into it myself, though not much became of that for a while. But eventually it led to The Argument Hour with Seth and TC. We've only done two episodes so far, and then my schedule went a little bit awry when my baby was born.

Not too long ago, I hit the podcast circuit to promote TMG's upcoming 10th anniversary, and the accompanying kickstarter for Homesteaders 10th Anniversary Edition and the New Beginnings expansion. And I've been invited on a few other podcasts in the past as well. Here's a list of all of them, mostly so I can find and share them easily. Feel free to have a listen and enjoy them!

On Board Games: The Argument Hour

With Seth and TC

I mentioned that TC and I have done 2 episodes of The Argument Hour:

5/07/18: In the first Argument Hour, TC and I threw down about "the Alpha Player problem," and I explained a distinction I see between 2 types of cooperative games. Afterwards we talked about Kingdomino, how it works, and the types of people who may or may not enjoy it.

6/07/18: In the second Argument Hour, TC and I got into it about different forms of "going back to the well" -- iterating on a design, honing the mechanisms, and standing on the shoulders of giants, vs lazy rehashing, or downright plagiarism. Afterwards we went over The Voyages of Marco Polo.

On 10/5/18 TC and I took a bit of a break when my son Corbin was born, but we just recorded a 3rd episode about the use of mechanics that rely on loss aversion in games, such as loans, and we mentioned a related (?) topic, scoring leftovers at the end of a game. We ran out of time to do a game review, so we skipped it this time. I'm not sure when that one will air, hopefully I'll remember to come back and link it when it does.

On 10/17/18 we recorded another episode about cognitive load, spurred by this blog post by Jeff Warrender. We ran long again, and couldn't really decide on a game to review, so we skipped that segment again. Since I haven't really been playing many games lately, we might just reserve the review segment until we actually have something we'd like to talk about.

The TMG Podcast

With Lance Myxter

I've actually been on The TMG Podcast several times:

5/26/17: On episode 003 I joined Lance to talk about How I got into game design, about several of my early designs, and about what led to founding TMG

6/30/17: On Episode 007 I joined Lance again to talk about the Origins convention, testing out new games, and my latest creation (that was on Kickstarter at the time), Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done.

10/27/17: On my third sit-down with Lance, we discussed Essen 2017 releases in general, and TMG's offerings: Exodus Fleet, Harvest, and Pioneer Days, with a few detours to discuss some of TMG's older games as well.

4/13/18: I was on the podcast one more time ahead of the kickstarter project for Homesteaders 10th Anniversary Edition, as well as the New Beginnings expansion. We talked about the beginnings of TMG, as well as plans for TMG's 10th anniversary, such as the revival of our launch titles, Homesteaders, and my game Terra Prime, which is coming back as Eminent Domain Origins. I also explained Ultimate Frisbee to Lance, who seemed to confuse it with disc golf :)

10/5/18: I came back on the podcast to talk about game development in general, but specifically about Belfort, as the kickstarter for the Belfort reprint (with the Expansion expansion and a brand new expansion) was ongoing.

10/8/18: Tasty Take #1: Since Halloween is coming up. Lance asked me if I like scary movies, and if so, which is my favorite.

10/10/18: Tasty Take #2: I talked about playing Eminent Domain and Dice Forge on

And speaking of TMG's 10th anniversary...

TMG 10th Anniversary Promotion

I got myself invited onto a handful of podcasts to promote the 10th anniversary of TMG, and the launch of the 10th anniversary edition of Homesteaders. Here are those appearances:

Hooked On Geek

With Greg Dixon and Stephanie 

4/23/18: In episode 17 of Hooked on Geek, I talked to Greg Dixon and Meeple Lady about everything from how I got into gaming and the game industry, to my engineering background and how that relates to game design and development, to the few published games I've been able to play lately (Bunny Kingdom, Santa Maria), to TMG's 10th anniversary.

Who, What, Why

With Mike Bonet

4/22/18: Season 19, episode 1 of the Who, What, Why podcast began with me reminiscing about the biggest disappointment of my game design career thus far, a Three Musketeers themed game called All For One that I worked on with the original designer David Brain, and how that game basically launched my career as a game developer, and shaped the process I use to develop games. We talked a little about my game design blog, some of my design articles (such as the one on game end dynamics), and about the upcoming reboot of Terra Prime as Eminent Domain Origins

The Brawling Brothers

With Josh and Brandon

5/1/18: For a short segment in the middle of episode 72, the Brawling Brothers took a break from talking about The Grimm Forest and IPs in board games to talk to me about TMG and the Homesteaders 10th anniversary edition / expansion kickstarter.

The State of Games

With Chris Kirkman, Darrel Louder, and TC Petty 

5/1/18: This was a long one, and we covered a lot of miscellaneous topics, but the meat of the podcast was about special, deluxe, or limited editions of games. Also, TC explains why everyone should just enjoy Avengers: Infinity War rather than be critical about it.

The Good, the Board, and the Ugly

With Joe Sallen and T.C. 

5/2/18: After Joe reviewed Eminent Domain and Oblivion, I explained some of the background thinking behind both the base game and the new expansion. I also told some of my favorite amusing stories about the game, and I described my Eminent Domain Legacy tournament format.

What I'm Playing Now Podcast

With Joe Leuzzi

5/6/18: Joe interviewed me on some more obscure history, including my thoughts on role playing games, the 30+ hour holiday game marathons I used to host, and the first real game I worked on: All For One, and another of my prototypes: Alter Ego. The topic of Ultimate Frisbee came up, and I explained the challenges I see with trying to capture the feel of a sport in a tabletop game. And of course I promoted Homesteaders, New Beginnings, and Terra Prime / Eminent Domain Origins.

Go Forth and Game

With Tom Gurganus 

5/18/18: I talked with Tom a little bit about the upcoming TMG titles I was working on at the time (Embark, Old West Empresario), as well as the history of Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done (and a little about the expansion I was working on at the time). Then we talked about the difference between game design and game development, and due to lack of specificity in the term "developer," I proposed a new term to replace it: "gamegineer." Next, I explained my philosophy that games ought to stand up to competitive play -- not all games are meant to, but all things being equal, a game is only better if it DOES hold up to competitive play. And finally, I offered some tips for pitching to publishers, and ran down a few of the games I'm working on (Alter Ego, Riders of the Pony Express, AutomatownDeities and Demigods, and the next TMG project I'm working on: Back To Earth)

Views From The Outer Rim

With Clive Lovett 

5/21/18: Views from the Outer Rim is less a gaming podcast and more of a Sci-Fi/Fantasy podcast. I knew Clive from back in my BGDF chat days, and he invited me on to talk about my sci-fi themed games. I ended up talking about a wide variety of things on that podcast!

Older podcast appearances

Breaking Into Board Games

With Gil Hova, Ian Zang, and Tony Miller 

12/30/15: Gil, Ian, and Tony asked me about how I broke into the industry, specifically into game development.

Board Games Insider - Interview

With Ignacy Trzewik 

9/21/16: Ignacy interviewed me for a special interview series, and we talked about the difference between new and novel mechanisms, and refined versions of existing ones. I got my first chance to mention Crusaders at the end, which had only just been green lit at the time.

Board Game Design Lab

With Gabe Barrett 

6/28/17: Gabe asked me some questions about ways to take a game from good to great.

Board Game Design Lab - Bonus Round

With Gabe Barrett 

6/30/17: Gabe and I discussed the value of playing games more than once each, both as a player, and as a designer.

On Board Games

With Isaac Shalev 

9/18/17: Isaac and I discussed a proposed entry into the game designer glossary he's putting together: Fragility in games (and the opposite, which would be "robust"). We discussed some older/classic games such as Puerto Rico, Princes of Florence, Container, and A Few Acres of Snow, as well as more contemporary titles such as Hanabi, Pandemic, Dominion, and others. Isaac prompted me to talk about an instance where I, as a developer, removed a source of fragility from Scoville, and we also talked about what we can do as designers to add or avoid fragility in our games.

Let's Level Up

With Rick 

2/2/14: Rick asked me about my creative process, and what TMG had planned for 2014 (and beyond).

A Dash of Science

With Chris Birkinbine 

9/5/17: Chris had me on his not-game-centered podcast to talk about "the science of game design," creating and developing board games.

Wurfel Reviews interview on YouTube

With Alina

10/20/16: Alina prompted me with interview questions (she did her homework!) about the difference between design and development, kickstarter and what games are suitable for it, and my upcoming games.

Meeple Nation

With Ryan, Brent, and Nathan 

4/27/16: The Meeple Nation guys interviewed Michael, Andy, at SaltCon 2016, which began with me talking about my upcoming games: the plan to revamp Terra Prime as Eminent Domain Origins, and my next non-Eminent Domain related game, Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done.

4/28/15: This SaltCon 2015 interview went into detail about Eminent Domain and the at-the-time upcoming expansion, Exotica.

I, Geek podcast

With Mark and Sten 

11/29/15: At BGGcon 2015, I sat down with Mark and Sten to talk everything gaming... from what gateway game got me into the hobby, to inspirations for games I've designed, to a sneak peak at the games I was developing at the time.

Legends of Tabletop on YouTube

With John Haremza

7/28/17: In the summer of 2017, I was on the Legends of Tabletop to talk about my upcoming game, Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done, which was on kickstarter at the time.

Legends of Tabletop on YouTube

With John Haremza on YouTube

11/01/16: [watch again]

Arizona Public Media

11/29/15: A public radio station interviewed Karen Arnold Ewing and I about Rincon 2016, the game convention I started up in 2012. That was the last year I was the convention chair before handing the reins over to Karen and her husband Tony, who have made the convention bigger and better than I ever did!

Written interviews

Go Forth And Game

With Tom Gurganus 

10/11/17: Tom got me talking about publishing Deluxified games, designing games in general, and specifically about upcoming EmDo content.

Go Forth And Game

With Tom Gurganus 

4/1/14: Tom interviewed Michael and I about 5 years of TMG.

Dice Hate Me / Go Forth And Game

With Tom Gurganus 

12/14/11: Tom, in conjunction with Dice Hate Me Games, interviewed me way back in 2011 about design advice, how different parts of Eminent Domain came to pass, what it was like to be on kickstarter (at the time it was less ubiquitous), and what other games I was working on, both for TMG and my own designs.

Go Play Listen

With Chris Marling 

12/19/16: Chris does a series of Q&A interviews called Designer's Dozen, where he'll ask a designer a dozen questions about designers they admire, the best and worst aspects of designing, tips, and other miscellaneous design related stuff. 

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Games are more than a main mechanism!

One of my favorite genres of game is the typical middle weight Euro. You know, those games that generally last about 45-60 minutes, have a clever main mechanism, a few supporting mechanisms, and not much else. Many games like this come out every year, some recent examples are Ulm with its sliding action tile grid, Barenpark with its tetromino placement, and Noria with its action wheel. Some of the games I've worked on recently fall squarely in this category as well, such as Pioneer Days with its dice draft, and my own Crusaders: Thy Will be Done with its Mancala-rondel. I like these games because it's fun to see clever new mechanics, and this genre often gets right to the point, showcasing the central mechanism in a fairly elegant way.

The down side of this genre is that so many games in it lack longevity, they're kind of disposable. Often times you play a middle weight Euro, and you find it pleasant enough. You enjoy it, maybe you play it a second time, but then you move on. The creme of the crop in this genre may stick with you, but many of these games are fairly forgettable. That doesn't mean they weren't good fun when you played them, and it doesn't mean that they're bad games or aren't worth your time, it just means that they didn't stand out among the crowd of new games. Blame it on the Cult of the New if you'd like, but it's a rare game in this category that continues to be played once the hype of its release has died down.

That's the thing about these middle weight Euros... the main mechanism can be very clever, but whether the game shines or not, whether the game is memorable or not, depends on how the supporting mechanisms work. As a designer, once you come up with a fantastic main mechanism, it's easy to get so focused on that hook that the rest of the game falls by the wayside and doesn't live up to its potential.

Nowadays, a new and clever central mechanism could satisfy the Cult of the New, garner positive reviews from board game media influencers in a rush to get their review up first, or even win awards from judges who just play once or twice. But for a game to have real longevity, that's not enough. The supporting mechanisms, and the rest of the game, need to be good and polished as well. So if you're designing a game in this genre, take this to heart... no matter how new, novel or clever your central mechanism is, don't neglect the rest of the game!

Come November, Crusaders will finally be hitting store shelves. I'm confident the Mancala-rondel mechanism is strong. I just hope I've done a good enough job with the rest of the game that it rises to the top of the genre rather than fading into obscurity!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Eminent Domain is online at Board Game Arena!

I'm happy to announce that as of yesterday, my card game, Eminent Domain, is available for online play at! Check it out, it's free to play, and they did a great job with the implementation.

I've been playing a lot of games at BGA over the last couple of months, including:

Eminent Domain
I got early access and did some testing for bugs. The implementation is gorgeous, and the game holds up! They've included the 5 scenarios that came with Eminent Domain: Microcosm, and very soon they might add the 6 from Escalation that only require base game cards to use.

Tzolkin: the Mayan Calendar
An old favorite that I hadn't played in a while. The timing aspect of the placing/retrieving of workers is ingenious. After playing a lot (and watching the top players' games), I'm actually a little disappointed in the game balance, but it's still a very fun game.

Stone Age
A classic worker placement game that I haven't played in a long time.

Russian Railroads Another good worker placement game that I haven't played in a while. It's neat how you score point income rather than just points, so rushing to scoring conditions can really add up! You can also pull of some fun combos with the reward tiles.

Dice Forge
This "dice building" game is a new one for me. I find it well balanced and fun. I like it best head-to-head, and I wish there were more cards to choose from each game (and more variety in what they do), but I hear that might be coming in an expansion.

I own this, but haven't played it in years. Another good one for head-to-head play. I didn't even realize it's by Bruno Cathala!

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Dice drafting + worker placement?

Thinking some more about the new dice drafting idea I had the other day, and discussing it with my friend Steve, some new thoughts have come to light.

Actually, Steve suggested something that I don't think I've seen before... combining dice drafting with worker placement. Suppose the cards you play (perhaps from a public supply) have worker spots on them, and after drafting a die, you place it in a worker spot. You'd have a home spot that said "collect resources according to the die," and then the cards would have other actions on them. Perhaps there's a coin resource, and placing a die costs PIP coins, but the effect is often based on the pip value as well, so a higher pip value means a stronger action, but at a higher cost.

With that in mind, I think I like the format of 2 dice per resource type, plus 2 dice for "build," and I like the idea of a face up public pool of buildings to choose from (like in Lords of Waterdeep).

Just wanted to jot this down so I don't forget!