Saturday, September 13, 2014

TMG Playtest Day! Kilauea lives, Mini Civ (not to be confused with MicroCiv), and Steam Works

Today I had a great playtesting day! Russell, Talia, and Dave came over for about 7 hours and we played 3 prototypes. Each playtest went well, and I got good commentary and thoughts on each game:


Kilauea is an old design of mine from 2006 that I haven't touched in years. It uses a Mancala mechanism, so I thought I'd revisit it now that Mancala games are popular. Apparently I'm a hipster designer, because I used the Mancala mechanism before it was cool :P

This game went OK in that it seemed like it was worth pursuing, but it was clear that I have some work to do on it. The players had some ideas that could make for a more varied experience (board that's not radially symmetric, spaces which act like satellite villages where you can get more tribesmen onto the board, etc), and I've made some notes on that. I will likely update the game/prototype and try again soon.

Small box civ game

Not to be confused with MicroCiv, the next game we played was a TMG submission that Andy and I found at one of the Designer Speed Dating events. It's a light civ game with a small footprint, maybe about the "size" of Harbour. The game is still rough, and still needs some work, but I think it's very promising!

Steam Works

Steam Works is an upcoming TMG worker placement game by Alex Churchill, a designer from London. It's a steampunky game where your workers are Mechanics (and one Automaton). I realize "Steampunk" as a theme has been done, and it's even been done by TMG... but the thing about Steampunk is that it's just a setting. I mean, Fantasy has been done, but it's not like people are finished playing games in a fantasy setting! Steam Works actually feels like it should be Steampunk themed because you literally build the worker placement spots out of components, and supply them with Clockwork, Steam, or Electrick power.

I really enjoy this game. The core game is awesome, and while a couple of the component tiles need tweaks, it's mostly just the characters/player powers that need balancing at this point. We just got art quotes, and this one will be coming in 2015 for all you TMG big box game fans!

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Strategicon: Gateway 2014

About a week ago I went to Strategicon's Gateway event in Los Angeles, as I've one for the last 10 years or so. This time was a little different, for 2 reasons:

1. I was invited to be Special Guest.

2. I brought a "plus 1".

I wasn't sure what to expect as Special Guest, and as it turned out the convention went pretty much the way it would have otherwise for me. It was nice of them to pay for my hotel room though, and it was nice to be recognized by attendees as the guest :)

The much bigger difference was bringing Michelle with me. I have never brought a significant other to a convention before, and I was very worried it wouldn't go well. When I'd extended the invitation I hadn't considered just how busy I'd be, and that I wouldn't have time to hang out with Michelle. Fortunately, it actually went quite well. Michelle met some of my friends, learned Eminent Domain from one of them, spent some alone time in the room and at the pool, and otherwise seemed to enjoy the convention just fine. What a relief! Because I was busy running Bomb Squad, Gold West, an EmDo: Legacy tournament, and Aquasphere, playing prototypes for TMG consideration, and hoping to play a few games for myself as well as visit with all the friends I've made at those conventions over the last decade.

I managed to play 10 different games on the weekend, some of them more than once:

Dog - Upon arriving at the convention, we ran into my old friends Steph and Chris. I asked them to teach us a game, so they pulled out the partnership game Dog. I'd seen them play this before, it looked like some kind of souped up Sorry... and it kinda was. Not too bad a game, but not the kind of game I really want to play often.

Got it! - Steph and I used to always compete at a few rounds of Got It! - which is like Set, but rather than looking for patterns, you're looking for math equations that resolve to a certain number. I got to play a couple of rounds of this, and it reminded me how much I like the game and how I ought to play it more often. It's tough to find people who really want to play this with me though. I'm glad Steph was up for it because we've always been pretty evenly matched, so it's always a good game!

Hanabi -Andrew and I played a few hands of Hanabi with a young woman who's name escapes me at the moment. We played 4-5 hands trying to get a perfect score (30, including the rainbow suit). Luckily, it only took us a few hands!

Train of Thought - I have been playing Train of Thought a lot lately because Michelle loves it. That just reminds me how much I really love it too.

Five Tribes - I played Five Tribes twice - once with Andrew and Michelle in the middle of the night at Denny's, and once the next day with 4 other players. I had one major concern going into the game: with all the possible combinations of moves on any given turn, I suspected a great deal of AP, or just people taking a long time to figure out what to do on their turn. In fact, I was surprised to hear it was so popular at GenCon, rather than hearing people complain left and right that turns drag on and on... after playing that 4 player game, I can confirm that it's very easy to take a long time on your turns. The game is still pretty cool, and I might play it some more, but I don't see that issue going away - if anything I see it getting worse as players know the game better.

Downfall - I got together with John Clair to play Downfall, an epic, post-apocalyptic game driven by an awesome card draft mechanism which TMG is planning on publishing. It was a 6 payer game and it took about 3 hours, which seems about right. Despite the fact that the big, epic, long games aren't usually my style, I really did enjoy playing Downfall.

Oceanica - I got together with Mark and Christina Major, of the League of Game Makers, to play a prototype which TMG was looking at for publication. I love the theme of that one, and the general structure of the game is sound, but currently I don't think the neat aspects are shining through properly so I returned the game to him with some comments. I hope he will address them and resubmit - I look forward to playing it again.

Unpublished Prototype -After Oceanica I played another prototype of John Clair's that had a really interesting format. Might be tough to produce, but it was certainly neat. I am trying not to talk about other people's prototypes (in case they don't want me to), so I'll leave it at that.

Concordia - On Monday morning I played in a Concordia tournament, which turned out to be just 1 round - the top 3 scores from 2 games claiming 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. I don't know if I really knew I was doing this, but when in a position to trigger the game end, I chose not to - dragging the game out a few more turns. This allowed everyone at my table to score more points... seems a little weird to use that as a strategy, but with that format it makes sense!

Glass Road - After picking up Subway lunch with Andrew, I spent the last hour of the con playing Glass Road. It took a little longer than expected, and I literally had to leave before the game was actually over. I calculated my score to be 19.5, which turned out to be just good enough for 3rd, I think. Not a very good performance, but at least I made my plane!

Let's talk about some published games for a change!

I tend to talk a lot about prototypes (such as Watch It Played, Mech Fight, Alter Ego, and Knights Templar), and upcoming games (such as Exotica, Microcosm, Aquasphere, and the now-on-kickstarter Bomb Squad). I don't talk a whole  lot about published games I've been playing, or even TMG releases once they come out! SO let's take a minute and look at a few games I've gotten to the table recently.

TMG Releases

I recently received a pack of microgame envelopes from TMG, and since they've arrived I've played quite a bit of Burgoo and Coin Age with my new girlfriend Michelle.

Michelle hasn't played a lot of games, and I may be overwhelming her with new titles, but so far she has enjoyed them. She even taught Burgoo to her mother!

Both Coin Age and Burgoo are even better than I remember them - solid little games for their timeframe and footprint. I'm proud to call them both TMG titles!

I have yet to play This Town Ain't Big Enough for the 2-4 of Us, but I suspect I'll get it to the table this weekend. Templar Intrigue isn't really my favorite type of game, but I might give that a try this weekend as well, if the players are up for it.

Scoville isn't out yet, but we had advanced copies at GenCon to demo, and it is gorgeous! I didn't play it, but I taught the game many times, and everyone seemed to enjoy it.

City Hall has just arrived - I see on BGG that backers have started receiving their copies. I've had an advance copy for a while, and have played a couple of times. I taught the game at GenCon as well. I would not mind playing this a bit more.

Captains of Industry isn't out yet, but at GenCon I got a surprise advance copy to look at (didn't get to keep it)... it also looks gorgeous. I'm sensing a pattern here :)

In addition to Coin Age and Burgoo, Michelle has really been enjoying an oldie but a goodie from TMG: Train of Thought. I've played quite a bit of Train of Thought lately, and it reminds me how much I really do like that game!

Non TMG games I've been playing

In an effort to ease Michelle into the hobby game world, I've been trying to go with some simpler to learn games. A month or so ago at the last Rincon fundraiser day I introduced her to Ticket to Ride. Ticket to Ride is a really good gateway game, as it's only got like 3 rules to it, and yet it continues to be a fun and interesting game.

On a similar note, I bought a game at the Strategicon flea market because I thought it would be another easy one to teach... Lost Cities: the Board Game. I have the card game, but I remember liking the board game, and I generally like multiplayer games better than 2 player games anyway. We played this at Michelle's co-worker's house, and it went over fairly well.

That night we also played Tokaido, one of the many great games by Antoine Bauza. I made an awful decision right at the beginning to stop at a village and shop for a souvenir, which was the beginning of the end for me. Michelle managed a win, and she also won Lost Cites - so she had a good night!

Speaking of Strategicon, Michelle came with me, and I talked her into trying Five Tribes with me. This was a more complicated game than Ticket to Ride and Lost cities, but not much more complicated. It didn't help that we learned it at 2 in the morning over Denny's food, but she managed to win that one too :)

I played another game of Five Tribes the next day, and my main concern for the game did show through... with all - of the possible moves you can make, there is a real tendency toward Analysis Paralysis. Maybe that's not true... AP really means you simply can't choose between a couple of options. In this case it wasn't necessarily that you couldn't choose between a few options, it was just that it took forever to go through all the possible options looking for which one would be best.

I also played Concordia at Strategicon. I've played quite a bit of Concordia, and was sorry to see it lose the KSdJ to Istanbul - I think Concordia's a better game.

I guess I haven't been playing a whole lot of published games lately, but I hope to rectify that, as I've received several from Kickstarter and they're just sitting there gathering dust (specifically Zombie 15' and Battle Merchants).

So... what have you been playing? What should I be checking out?

The bombs are live and the clock is ticking!

It's been a long time coming, but Bomb Squad is finally up on Kickstarter!

Bomb Squad is an intense, thematic cooperative game in which players are members of a Bomb Squad, relaying information to each other from different sides of a building so that they can program a diffusal robot to navigate the building, rescue hostages, and disarm bombs.

I got my friends Russell, Mandy, and Tim together and recorded an intro...

And a full runthrough of Training Mission Bravo...

If this looks like your kind of thing, and you'd like to know more, there's lots of video content on the kickstarter page - including videos from Tiffany Ralph (TheOneTAR), Joel Eddy (Drive Thru Review), Forrest Bower (Bower's Game Corner), and a spectacular montage of candid reactions from players after demoing the game at GenCon 2014.

There's also an overview of Bomb Squad from the BGGtv GenCon live stream on, and a forthcoming Rahdo Runthrough as well.

I'm very excited about this one!

Friday, September 05, 2014

Eminent Domain: Exotica -- Back in motion!

With Eminent Domain: Microcosm all wrapped up (until next month, when we'll release a PnP version for players to try while a Kickstarter project is underway), I've finally gotten a chance to start wrapping up Exotica. I have updated my prototype files, and now I'm soliciting illustrations and planning on getting this game ready for a GenCon 2015 release!

Now that I have updated prototype files, who among you would like to print and play with them?

Email seth at tastyminstrelgames dot com with the subject EmDo: Exotica Playtest and I'll send you the PDFs. All I ask is that you play a few games and then respond with any general comments you might have, as well as answer a few specific questions I have.

I look forward to your feedback!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Aquasphere rules posted to BGG! Also, BGG is awesome!

Aquasphere rules posted

Just a quick note to let you know that you can find the web version (low res) of the final rules for Aquasphere (English TMG edition) on BoardGameGeek!

Public Service Announcement

BGG is an invaluable resource for me personally, for TMG, and for the rest of you gamers out there. They host a website CHOCK FULL of content on every game imaginable, they hold an AWESOME convention in Dallas every year (which I haven't missed yet!), and they work tirelessly at (and before) GenCon and Essen to bring LIVE, up to the minute coverage of the events to those sitting at home unable to attend.

BGG is terrific, and it's run by terrific people. You probably already know this, but if you don't, then go check it out. And if you're not already a supporter, consider pitching in - if you care about games enough to follow this blog, then you'll get your money's worth. If not for BGG, I might not be the published designer I am today!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Presenting Eminent Domain: Microcosm

Some of you reading this may actually follow my blog on occasion... and of those, some may have seen some posts I made on my attempt at a microgame, MicroCiv.Well, the news is that I developed MicroCiv, set it in the Eminent Domain universe, got some sweet art and graphic design done by the very talented Ariel Seoane, and long story short (too late...), I present:

Eminent Domain: Microcosm
The galaxy just got a whole lot smaller...

Two mighty empires are about to collide. Play your cards right and become the ultimate ruler of this microcosm!

Eminent Domain: Microcosm is a quick-playing two-player card game which brings you all the thrill of building a space empire in just 15-20 minutes. Each turn you take a card into your hand from the supply, then you either play a card and carry out its instructions, or pick up your discard pile to refill your hand. Each card also has a scoring condition on it, and to win you'll want to maximize those conditions.

As in the grandfather game Eminent Domain, actions you take can be "boosted" by revealing other cards sharing the same icon. Colonize and attack planets, do research, and take advantage of politics to score the most influence by the end of the game!

That's right, apparently all I can do is design Eminent Domain over and over again :)

I will have a final art prototype copy (or two) of Microcosm with me in the TMG Demo Room at GenCon this week, so if you want to check it out, swing by and challenge me to a game!

Friday, August 08, 2014

Aquashere, Bomb Squad, and GenCon!


Last month we ran a Quickstarter project for Stefan Feld's new game: Aquasphere. It was very successful, with 1,464 backers pledging $70,506... that will definitely help Michael decide how many English copies of Aquasphere to bring to market. After helping to edit the rulebook [that link has the latest and greatest version of the rules, btw], I'm excited to get a final copy of the game to play! I like seeing all the anticipation and discussion on BoardGameGeek for this game, and I'm happy Ralph over at Hall Games gave TMG the opportunity to be involved with the project.


GenCon is next week, and I'm SUPER excited about that, but before I get into it let me just get this out there... our next Kickstarter project will launch after we return from GenCon, and it will be for the long awaited (by me) Bomb Squad!

Bomb Squad, by Dan Keltner and David Short, is a cooperative, real time game in which the players act as a team to program a bomb disposal robot to navigate a building, rescue hostages, and disarm bombs.

This game combines elements of my favorite examples of the cooperative genre: Hanabi and Escape: the Curse of the Temple, bringing them together is a way that is fun, exciting, and thematic.

I first played Bomb Squad at a Gamesmiths session in March 2013, and I knew right away that it was my kind of game. Since then I have played many games of Bomb Squad in order to test rules and missions. It has been fun helping Dan and David develop it into the next TMG title.


Last year, GenCon was amazing. We had a fantastic booth (see right), and we had a bunch of college kids helping to run demos of Dungeon Roll, Martian Dice, and other games.

We demoed Dungeon Roll a LOT...
The stack of little treasure chests you see on the left was eaten away almost entirely and then replaced each day.

I made a GIANT Dungeon Roll box which we filled with "treasure" (Dungeon Roll Hero Boosters), to give away to everyone who bought Dungeon Roll at the con. We even wrote "winner" on the back and gave away a few other games as prizes for added fun!

When we ran out of those, Michael used the prop as Dungeon Roll cosplay, wearing it around the dealer room :)

One unfortunate thing we noticed was that our bigger, longer games were not conducive to in-booth demos. They take too long, use up too much real estate, and in the vendor room people aren't really interested in sitting down to a 1-2 hour game. This is one of the big areas where GenCon differs from Essen, I've noticed. It's interesting to see some of the big foreign companies like Asmodee come to GenCon and run it like Essen - with large demo space with tables for teaching and playing full games.

For us that didn't work so well. We decided that the best way to run our booth was to demo the quick, small, inexpensive games, where a large portion of the quick demos turn into sales. We have an idea which we hope will make for a better outlet to demo and teach our bigger, longer games, and this year we're going to give it a shot...

TMG Demo Room at GenCon = Room #137

That's right, we've got our own Demo Room at GenCon in Indianapolis, Indiana from August 14 - 17! Across from the Vendor Hall, room #137 is ours. Those of you who subscribe to TMG's newsletter probably saw the announcement already, we're very excited to have an entire room of tables to display and demo some of the TMG catalog, as well as some upcoming New Hotness.

For those of you going to GenCon, come by room #137 and check out an upcoming TMG game, such as Gold West, Bomb Squad, or Aquasphere, at our New Hotness events (scheduled just about every odd numbered hour), or plan an old favorite such as Belfort, Ground Floor, or Eminent Domain at our TMG Catalog events (scheduled just about every even numbered hour).

Play To Win

The TMG Catalog games are all Play To Win, so every time you play one you earn 1 entry into a drawing to get that very copy of the game! So play early, play often, and maybe watch your soda - you might be taking the demo copy home with you ;)

Teach To Win

In fact, when it comes to teaching these games, we could really use your help! I'm afraid we may end up short-handed, so we've put together a new opportunity for those of you willing and able to teach these games... we're calling it Teach To Win - and it's pretty much what you'd expect: Every time you TEACH one of our games, you get a chance to win a brand, spanking new, in-shrink game! Increase your chances of winning, and help us out at the same time, by sharing the fun and enjoyment of playing games!

Prototypes of upcoming games

We will have some final art prototypes with us for Aquasphere, Gold West, and Bomb Squad, all coming soon. We'll also have non-final art prototypes of some games that are even further down the road, such as Chimera Station, Steam Works, and Eminent Domain: Exotica. Obviously the prototype games aren't Play To Win, since we haven't got any copies to give away yet, but I'd like to include the prototypes in Teach To Win somehow. Maybe you'll win your choice of game from our prize pool.

Actually, as Bomb Squad is about to go on Kickstarter, we WILL have some kind of promotion to encourage people to try it out... I'm not exactly sure what that'll be yet. But you should seriously come try it out no matter what, because it's a really fun game!

I look forward to seeing you at GenCon - come say "hi" in the TMG room (#137!), introduce yourself, and let me know you read my blog. I'd love to meet the people who enjoy reading my random thoughts!

Also, bonus point if you challenge me to a game of Quick Change! :)

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Storytelling games, revisited (a little)

About 2 years ago I posted some thoughts on "role playing games" (more accurately "collaborative storytelling exercises") - specifically my experience with Fiasco, and my observation of Lady Blackbird.

At the time, I enjoyed the concept of Fiasco, but took issue with 2 things:

1) Failure for failure's sake. I feel like that comment/issue got a little overblown in my previous discussion - the bottom line is that I thought people were more excited than necessary about the game allowing and encouraging failure. But it's mostly semantic anyway, and that wasn't my main gripe about the game.

2) Completely reactive storytelling - that was my main gripe. When I think about a story, I think about ideas that are more interconnected and that take more than 1 comment to get across. That's not how Fiasco works - if you go into a scene in Fiasco with an idea that will take any kind of developing, you'll be disappointed. The way to enjoy Fiasco is to have no forethought (indeed, the game is about characters with little or no forethought), no plan, just see what happens and react to it.

That's all well and good, but it wasn't what I wanted from a storytelling game, and after putting thought into what I WOULD want from a storytelling game, I came up with a sort of variant or alternate structure - similar to Fiasco perhaps, but which would give players a bit more control over their own story arc, so their clever ideas don't get sidetracked and overrun by other players' clever ideas.

While Fiasco sets you up to tell a story like those Fiasco movies (Fargo, Burn After Reading, etc), my game would set you up to tell a story more like Pulp Fiction, where there are several distinct story arcs, but they overlap and intersect with each other. Each player would be "in charge" of one of the arcs, which could include more than just a main character (you could have support characters for example), and by alternating what I called "monolog scenes" (maybe a better term is "spotlight scenes") and "Interactive scenes," players would both get a chance to complete some thoughts about what's going on in their story arc, as well as play out interactive scenes with other players which will help shape and drive the overall story.

In the discussion of this idea, several people commented on potential down time - the phrase "monolog scene" seemed to turn people off, as if it meant 1 person would be talking at the rest for a long period of time. I feel like those comments were overly cautious though, as my impression of how those monolog scenes would go is more like "setting the scene" in Fiasco - a couple of paragraphs at most, just a chance for a player to get a word in edgewise without being interrupted by other players. I'd think they'd be short bridges between the interactive scenes, following one player's story arc from their interaction with their left hand neighbor's arc, to their interaction with their right hand neighbor's arc.

Anyway, I'm sure each person has a different idea of what a monologue or "spotlight" scene really is, and each person has their own level of tolerance for listening to someone else's idea before wanting to interject their own. So even if my structure works just the ay I think it will, it's not going to be for everybody.

There was another aspect of my structure that I thought was neat, but it didn't come up in any of the discussions at the time... and that's the set-in-stone-ness of the scenes in the 1st act (once they've played out), toward which you must construct the scenes in the 2nd act. That is to say, in the 2nd act, when the players are re-playing the chronology, they know what's got to happen in the future (they already played those scenes out). So they have some direction... they know they have to get to the diner with the briefcase, for example, but they currently do not have the briefcase. So they have to work that into their narrative.

Last night I was talking to my indie RPG friend, Brian, and he mentioned some new (?) game where the whole premise is that everyone knows the endpoint of the story, and knowing that gives players direction. Unlike Fiasco, which is very open, this type of game gives players a specific end goal that they know they have to work toward. I found that interesting, and it reminded me of my Pulp Fiction game structure, where in act 2, you have exactly that (you know what you have to work toward).

I actually like that in the Pulp Fiction game, you have both aspects - in act 1 you have the openness to create whatever lynchpins you want, then in act 2 those lynchpins provide direction for the scenes to build toward.

The last thing I wanted to talk about was a little more specifically how the Pulp Fiction game would work. Brian pointed out to me that with the openness there's something of a hurdle to get over to get scenes started. That could be one of the challenges in Fiasco, in fact. An interesting thing about these storytelling games is when the characters are thrown a curveball, some stimulus they have to work into the story. I agree with that. Brian was concerned that my Act 1 would suffer that same problem, but I think that's because it wasn't clear that the 'setup' part of the game (analogous to Fiasco), you would be choosing this stimulus in some way. But what way?

My First thought was to borrow the dice draft like in Fiasco, but I don't particularly like that. It's fun to draft from the pool of choices, but rather than feel like "ooh, now I have to work a rabid dog into the story" I just feel like "hey, he got to pick the thing he was interested in, and now I can't pick an "escaped chip" because there are no 5's left (and I thought that would go really well with our current setup), I can only pick "rabid dog" :(" - it's disappointing, and even the fun parts of that setup take a really long time.

I'd prefer to put the elements on cards, and just deal them out as needed, or give players a hand and thy can play one to inject it into the story, or something like that. After talking to Brian it became clear that there will need to be injections of stimulus periodically during the game, especially in Act 1 (in Act 2 you'll be building toward those lynchpins, so it might not be as necessary). So now I'm thinking that when it's time for an interactive scene (i.e. the spotlight scene draws to a close as your arc intersects another players's arc), you draw a card off the deck to see what it is the interactive scene must be about.

So like, my arc brings me to a diner, where I find your character(s)... so what? What are we going to interact over? Draw a card... "Robbery" Oh, so either I o into the diner to rob the place (and you happen to be eating there at the time)... or maybe I enter a diner that you are currently holding up... whichever makes more sense. There's something.

So the setup for this game will probably be deciding which subset of cards (apparently the smart way to do that is to use a standard deck of cards and a chart to cross reference) to use, or just shuffle them all together (possibly separated by type - Location, Action/Activity, Object, Person of note), and defining relationships between the players (like in Fiasco). The thing I like best about Fiasco is probably the web of interrelationships encouraged by the setup, so I don't see a good reason not to emulate that!

One of these days maybe I'll sit down and formalize these rules and try the game, but I'm not sure that'll ever really happen, as I never really play that type of game.