Monday, December 20, 2010

Better Late then Never: BGG.con 2010 report

It's been a full month, but I have FINALLY gotten around to finishing and posting my BGG.con 2010 convention report geeklist!


Monday, December 06, 2010

New horizons... beautiful new, frozen-brain, iHorizons!

So last night I ran out and bought myself a new toy - I got an iPad! I thought they were cool when they came out, but mostly they seem like the next evolution of the Laptop. I didn't think I'd get one since I'd just gotten a laptop, I didn't really see the point. However, something's changed recently which has given me a reason to own an iPad... if I'm going to design games for them, then it stands to reason that I have one!

I've been hemming and hawing for 3 years (almost 4!) about the possibility of publishing my "two player Toppo with strategy" game - BrainFreeze. I've seen in a retail store a plastic timer with a digital readout and a start/stop button retailing for $10. I figure if that exists, then it should be possible to get a similar timer made, with 2 digital readouts, start/stop and a toggle button, cheap enough to sell with a deck of cards for $20. I haven't looked into that though , as I don't know who to go to for such a device.

I was having this exact conversation at BGG.con a couple weeks ago, but this time the conversation took a more modern turn - I realized that BrainFreeze would fit the iPad format perfectly! It happens that I don't really know who to go to for iPad development either, but I was introduced to a couple different people at the con that do exactly that kind of thing for a living. Mike and I are working with one of them now to implement BrainFreeze on the iPad (and potentially iPhone/iPod touch perhaps)!

So there's my excuse, I ran out last night and picked up a top of the line iPad, got home and installed the first draft of the app. It was awesome to play my game on the iPad, even if just solo practice mode with parts missing!

I'm looking forward to this project being finished (which looks like it will be VERY soon, relative to the April release date of Eminent Domain)! If this works out I'm sure I'll be looking into doing more games on the iPad.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Hot and Fresh, revisited

One of my older designs, formed and mostly finished before I even started to work on Terra Prime, is still one of the favorite game ideas I've ever had. That design is Hot and Fresh, and if you've been following my blog you've probably seen a reference to it now and again. The long and short of the idea is that players are pizza delivery drivers, making deliveries along routes that change over time due to changing traffic lights. There's also a press-your-luck aspect though, because tips (points) diminish the longer you take to make your deliveries. So you're encouraged to break traffic laws and risk getting busted in order to score better!

This idea has been on a shelf because I just never got a prototype together and finished it. This week my friend Steve was in town, and he likes to discuss game ideas with me. The other day we were driving to Red Robin and I took a side street (like I do every day to get to work), and mentioned that that's the kind of thing I wanted people to experience when playing Hot and Fresh - taking side streets because you know that particular light is always backed up...

Steve had an idea that revived Hot and fresh for me - he said it would be neat if players knew shortcuts that other players didn't know. We talked about it a bit, and came up with the idea that while the board would have main streets, the 'neighborhoods' (side streets between main blocks) could be empty grids for tile placement. Tiles placed by players would represent routes known only to that player, so another player would not be able to use that route. Originally I was imagining that the map would be set - after all, every delivery driver would have access to a map or might know the streets... but in retrospect it's probably more accurate that each player knows some streets and not others after all!

So we discussed how that would work into what I already had, and in the process I streamlined the 'traffic laws' which I think will make the game simpler. Originally I had an economic system of 'gas' as well, which was probably too much - not really necessary. Here's the new version:

1 Game board
15 Traffic Light tiles
100 - 125 route tiles (25 per player - should this be for 4 or 5 players?)
30+ Building tiles (extra House tiles, not sure how many)
60 Delivery cards
XX Tip counters
XX Demerit counters
4 (5?) Player pawns (plastic cars?)
40/50 green "safe" cubes (10 per player)
40-50 red "danger" cubes
4 (5?) draw bags

Place the board in the center of the play area.
Give each player the car pawn and route tiles in their color, and a draw bag with 10 green "safe" cubes in it.
Place the tip counters, Demerit counters and red "danger" cubes in supply piles near the board.

Shuffle the Delivery cards and turn a number of them face up depending on how many players are in the game (turn up 1 more card than there are players).
Distribute the 15 Traffic Light tiles to the 15 intersections, each with a randomly chosen orientation.

All players place their Car at the Pizza Shop location on the board. Each player draws 3 Route tiles into their hand. The game is ready to begin.

On your turn, you may spend up to 9 Movement Points. In general, moving your Car 1 space costs 1 movement point.

For a cost of 3 Movement Points you can place a Route tile onto the board and then draw another to replace it. Route tiles go in Neighborhood spaces, not along main roads [addition off the top of my head: Each player has 1/some Traffic tile(s), which is placed on a main road space instead of on a neighborhood space].

Some Obstacles (Stop Signs, Crosswalks, Traffic lights) may increase the Movement Point cost of entering a space on the board. However, instead of paying these additional movement points, you can "break the law" and risk getting caught. For each "infraction" (tile for which you paid less than the full amount) you add some number of red "danger" cubes to your draw bag - that number depends on the offense:
- Crosswalk = 1 "danger" cube
- Stop Sign = 2 "danger" cubes
- One Way Street = 2 "danger" cubes
- Red Light = 3 "danger" cubes

At the end of your turn you must draw 1 cube out of your bag for each of the additional movement points you didn't pay. If you draw any red "danger" cubes, then you have been busted! You get a Demerit token for having gotten a ticket.

Originally I was going to have your orders expire as well, since the ticket makes you late, but that seems like such a harsh penalty that players may never break any laws - and that's no fun! So maybe just the Demerit token is better, and then the effect of the Demerit token needs to be such that you're not too worried about taking one or 2, but then you start to really worry about getting another after that.

When you pick up an Order card from the display, it comes with a number of Tip tokens (indicated on the card). The first thing you do on your turn is to remove 1 Tip token from each order in front of you. Thus, you want to deliver the orders as quickly as possible, because when you deliver an order you claim all remaining Tip counters for your score.

Also, each Order card has a Building tile depicted, and when delivering an order, a player gets to place a building tile of that type. Building tiles act as routes that any player can use, but more importantly they modify people's existing routes... A School adds to the delay value of all adjacent crosswalks (because the crosswalks are more busy near a school than otherwise). A Police Station increases the delay value of adjacent Stop Signs and Traffic Lights. A church also makes Crosswalks worse, but not as much as a school does. And a Shopping Mall affects Stop Signs, Crosswalks,, and Traffic Lights.

So by making deliveries players score points and place buildings.

Whenever an Order is picked up, it will be replaced with a new card from the deck. Order cards also indicate which Traffic Lights advance - each card will have 1 or 2 lights listed, and those lights change (green->yellow, yellow->red, red->green).

Monday, November 29, 2010

Kickstarter campaign a resounding success!

I guess this news is almost a week old by now, but I thought I ought to post about it. Tasty Minstrel (Mike and I) put on a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to publish my latest game, Eminent Domain. It went much better than I ever imagined it would! Within 2 weeks we'd reached our funding goal, and when all was said and done we'd raised $48,378!

I wanted to thank all of my friends, family and fans for supporting Eminent Domain, we obviously wouldn't be enjoying this success without you! I hope to impress everyone come April when the game should be available. :)

Monday, November 08, 2010

Holy crap! 100%+ funded, and 2 weeks to go!

Last night we officially funded Eminent Domain! Our kickstarter campaign hit $20,000 on day 14, just under 1/2 way through our 30 day window! I was skeptical at first that we'd raise that much, then optimistic that we would make it by the end of the 30 days... I never thought we would hit our goal so early! Now Mike and I are debating whether in the end we'll have raised only $30,000, or as much as $50,000! I still say Mike is overly optimistic about his $50,000 prediction, but so far I've really underestimate things!

What have I been wrong about so far?

* Number of $200 Platinum Supporter pledges - I underestimated by a factor of 10... so far.

* Amount of money total that would be pledged - I clearly underestimated that as well.

What's left for me to be wrong about?

* I thought (and still think) that nobody will go for the $2500 "TMG UberFan" pledge.


I'm seriously amazed at how well this fund raising has gone for us, and I can't thank our supporters enough! The reaction to our invitation to print and play the game has been overwhelming as well. Literally - I'm overwhelmed with email requests! At least I've gotten 8 more gigs of free space on DropBox from people joining up to see the files :) Evidently that's the maximum I can get from referrals.

I'll tell you what touches me the most though. It's the positive reviews and comments all over BoardGameGeek, from people I've never met or heard of, who not only pledged money for a copy of the game (or several copies), but have also gone ahead and printed out a copy to play it, and have decided that they love the game!

This is truly better than I ever hoped, especially after the manufacturing issues with Terra Prime and Homesteaders were such a joy-kill. I've actually had several people writing me about Eminent Domain and mentioning how much they love Terra Prime, so either they're just stroking my ego, or TP was better received than I thought!

Thanks guys, for supporting me, my game, and Tasty Minstrel Games. You've got 2 more weeks to get your pre-orders in, and to get ahold of a Limited Edition version of the game, and a copy of the Prestige planets (which I maintain WILL be available in a future expansion, but you can get them NOW if you pledge via Kickstarter).

So, what are you waiting for? Go pledge! :)

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Living on a Prayer

This morning the Eminent Domain kickstarter campaign hit 50% funding!  Oooooooh... we're half way there...


But there's a long way to go, so keep spreading the word! Here are a few notes about pledging, by the way:

1. You can change your pledge at any time, so  if you get someone to go in with you, you can upgrade your $35 pledge to a $60 pledge. Better yet, if you get 1 more taker, then you can make it $90 and get Limited Edition copies!

2. If you are overseas (or in Canada), you should include the $40 (or $20) shipping premium in your pledge (i.e. if you are in the UK and you want 6 copies of Eminent Domain, you should pledge $190, not $150)

There have been a couple questions or concerns, understandably, about the production quality of Eminent Domain based on some bum copies of Terra Prime and Homesteaders. I assure you, the quality of Eminent Domain will be top notch - we plan to use Panda Game Manufacturing, a high quality and well respected manufacturer which we've also used for Train of Thought, Jab, and Belfort. We expect high quality production from here on out!

So pledge with confidence!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Additional Eminent Domain possible expansion thoughts - Fighting with other players!

I'd considered once that maybe Warfare, since it was allegedly 'easier' than the Colonize, could be a sort of Scorched Earth thing - when spending armies to attack a planet, you leave one of them on the resource slot, blocking it up so it cannot produce. Rules-wise this means when you flip a planet via Warfare, it gets -1 resource slot. I decided against this because there aren't a whole lot of resource slots, and I wanted Warfare + Trade/Harvest to be viable.

However, today it occurred to me that there could be a Technology ("Scorched Earth Policy" perhaps) that says "Warfare costs are reduced by 1. When attacking a planet, leave an Army token on it."

The standing rule could be that armies on planets reduce the storage capacity by 1. I tossed around the idea that an army token could reduce capacity, but be worth 1 VP... I didn't like that at first because thematically it should be bad to have scorched earth policy, not good (for scoring).

But then I had another thought. Suppose you were allowed to attack other people's planets. people always want to do this at first, and some complain in games like this and Race for the Galaxy that you cannot attack an opponent. So I thought, what if you could - what if an ATTACK action allowed you to attack YOUR face down planets, or ANY face up planet in play. The "cost" to attack a face up planet would be the VP value of the planet (maybe), and the effect would be to leave an army on it, which as has been discussed, would keep it from producing as many resources. That could be enough right there - your opponent is trading like crazy, maybe you want to go blow up his Silicon silo and reduce the amount of VP he's getting.

With that in mind, it might be neat if the Armies on planets WERE worth 1vp, because then you could attack your own face up planets for a benefit (if you're not planning on harvesting anyway), and it would be a deterrent to attacking other people's planets - you could take away their production capacity, but it would give them a VP. I'm not really sure this is necessary though, just spending your turn hurting someone else and not helping yourself might be a good enough cost (those Armies could have flipped a planet for you). Also, it doesn't hurt your opponent's score if you attack their face up planet, it just hinders their trading ability. Perhaps if you get another army on there the Icon could be disabled or something.

Anyway, I like the way the game works without attacking each other, but I think I might add this in, maybe as an optional rule, for the expansion - that is to say if I test it out and like how it works.

Rule: An army token on a planet card reduces the storage of that planet by 1
Attack: You can attack a face-down planet in YOUR empire, or ANY face-up planet in play. Attacking a face-up planet costs 1 Army per VP that the planet is worth. When you Attack a face-up planet, put an Army token on it.
Tech card: Scorched Earth Policy - Warfare costs are reduced by 1. After Attacking a planet, place an Army token on it from the supply. (Planets have -1 Storage per Army token)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

It's tricky to rock a rhyme, to rock a rhyme that's right on time - it's tricky!

Yesterday a thought came to mind about trick taking games. To start with, I HATE trick taking games. I just don't think they're fun at all, and I'm terrible at predicting how many tricks I will take, which is the measure by which many trick taking games are scored. So if I hate them so much, why give them a moment's thought?

Well, somehow in thinking about 7 Wonders, and reading something (probably on about trick taking, this idea popped into my head:

"What if the cards from the trick you've won went into play in front of you?"

I think I would like a trick taking game better if the trick taking mechanism were merely the way you go about improving your board position and getting an interesting combination of effects. Imagine a trick taking game in which the cards of each suit, in addition to having a numeric value, also had some game effect printed on them. Maybe a character (a Champion?), some Equipment, some Artifacts, and some Events. The Character would go into play and provide the ability to do something later. The Equipment would attach to the Character and be useful, but if you don't have the character in play it would be discarded. The Artifacts would simply go into play and have a static effect. The Events would have an immediate effect and then be discarded. Thus by winning a trick, you would get some cards which would all come into play and/or have their effect. Or perhaps from your trick you choose 1 card to put into play and save the rest for some other purpose (or just discard them).

Of course the game would have to offer something to do with these items once they're in play. Maybe after several rounds of trick taking, you then resolve some battle, or economy, or whatever based on the stuff you have in play. Maybe this is iterative, and the results of this resolution are how you get cards for the next round of trick taking. Maybe it also scores points. Or maybe something that's good at scoring points is bad at getting you more cards, while things that help you get more or better cards are not worth as many points.

A dynamic I've been interested in using in a game (and indeed, was using in the Liar's Auction game I was working on before) is this: In a game with several different categories, having collected something in one category makes you better at collecting more things in that category, but rewards for doing so suffer from diminishing returns, so that for scoring you would rather have things from a variety of categories.

In the Liar's Auction I was using the item you got for winning the Red auction made it easier for you to win more Red auctions, but each time you win a Red auction you get fewer points than the last time. So for scoring you'd rather win 4 different auctions (20vp in this case: 5+5+5+5) than 4 of the same auction (14vp in this case: 5+4+3+2).

This could apply here, where winning a Spades trick could put cards in play that make it easier for you to win future Spades tricks, but the rewards in the game are better if you win a variety of tricks. Perhaps you can only have 1 Champion of each suit in play, so if you want another Champion you have to win a trick of another suit, etc,

Eminent Domain: Expansion thoughts (and Prestige Planets)

I had already been thinking along the lines of something I'd like to try for Eminent Domain. I think the game works nicely and is solid as-is, so I considered these additional thoughts to be a potential expansion item down the road.

I'm a firm believer that an expansion to a game should be more than just more of the same kinds of cards. I think an expansion should offer a new play experience, such that the game with the expansion should feel like a new game, similar to the original, but not just more of the same. Basically, if the Eminent Domain expansion ever happens, it will looks something like this:

The main thrust of the expansion would be Agendas and the Politics role. There would be a Role stack of Politics cards, just like the one you start with in your starting deck, and there would also be a deck of Agendas. The Role for Politics would be to choose one of the (probably 3) available Agendas and bring it into play. Through Boosting and Following, players would be able to somehow vote on whether the Agenda passes and takes effect, or perhaps which of the Agenda's effects take effect. My current inclination is that each Agenda would have multiple possibilities, and based on which icons you Boost/Follow with, you attempt to get the one you want in play. This would be clearer with an example or two:

Example #1
Agenda: Each player gets +1 VP for each planet of one Type - vote on which type:
Colonize/Harvest icons count as votes for Fertile planets,
Trade/Research icons count as votes for Advanced planets,
Survey/Warfare icons count as votes for Metallic planets,

Example #2
Agenda: All Settle costs are increased/decreased by 1
Warfare/Research icons count as votes for increasing the Settle cost
Colonize/Survey icons count as votes for reducing the Settle cost

So based on your strategy (and that of your opponents) you might try to make things better for you or harder on them.

I would round out the expansion with some other stuff too (all of this, of course, is subject to change):
- Extra Action/Role cards to accommodate a 5th player
- New Planet Types:
  - 3 Prestige Planets (available with Kickstarter pre-orders)
  - 6 Utopian Planets (1 with each action icon, 2vp each, ability to harvest ANY resource, and counts as any planet type you already have in your Empire)
- Potentially another (double sided?) Level 2 and/or Level 3 technology card of each type.
- Maybe even cross-color technologies (level 2 tech cards requiring a specific pair of planets in play)
  - Fertile + Metallic
  - Fertile + Advanced
  - Advanced + Metallic
  - Fertile + Advanced + Metallic

I am finding it very interesting thinking about an expansion before the original game is published. I like it, because it allows me to set the framework for the expansion with the base game - it allows me to plan ahead. For example, if adding a 5th player down the road, I'm pretty sure I'll want to add VPs to the supply. As such, I can provide 30 VP tokens in the base game, useful anyway in case the supply runs out and people still collect VPs, and later if I add a 5th player we don't have to manufacture more Victory point tokens - I can just say "use all 30 that came with your game."

Yesterday I finally went through and created one version of these Agenda cards, and John came over to give them a try. First we played a game without the agendas, but with the Prestige Planets (I had not played with them yet) and the Utopian Planets I'd just invented. That went pretty well. I am really happy with the Prestige Planets. I'm fairly happy with the Utopian Planets as well, but I'd like to play with them a little more to make sure they're not TOO good.

Then we played a couple games with the Agendas. The Agendas were weird. John didn't like them, but I think that might have been mostly due to unfamiliarity. I was definitely trying to think of ways to use them, and I did benefit from them. In one game John started with one of the standard openings: Politics for Warfare, Warfare Role. I had gone first, and had chosen not to commit to either Warfare or Colonize in my first turn, and now that John had started Warfare, in my 2nd turn I proposed an Agenda that increased or decreased warfare costs, and I boosted with 2 icons toward Increase. I realized that I hadn't stated what happens in a tie, but I think it's pretty obvious the person who's turn it is should win ties. In order to out-vote me, John would have had to play 3 icons, either Warfare or  Survey, and I knew he'd just spent his Warfare and couldn't have 3 Survey icons, so he wasn't going to be able to outvote me. Thus, attacking planets became more expensive by 1 Army for the rest of the game.

John didn't like this, but again, I think it's mostly because he didn't see it coming and felt lie he couldn't do anything about it. Later I think another Agenda came into play, but I don't recall which or how big an impact it had. I think it was +1vp per Trade Role if you trade at least 1 resource of a specific type, and I won the vote for it to be Food. I had started with a Food producing planet in play.

In our second game with Agendas, I finished an early turn with 3 Survey cards in hand, and was prepared to follow a Survey Role. However, John elected to go for an Agenda which gave +1vp for each planet of a certain type, and he boosted with 2 Harvest icons voting for Fertile - the type of his starting planet. I had started with a Metallic planet, so I followed with my 3 Survey cards, decimating my hand, but ensuring the Agenda would reward Metallic planets. I began doing Warfare, and later John proposed another Agenda, attempting to make Warfare more expensive on me. Again he boosted with 2 icons, and again I outvoted him by following with 3 icons, thereby making Warfare actually less expensive instead of more expensive! I went on to Survey and Attack a number of planets, even Colonizing a couple as well. Probably 3 of my planets were Metallic so I got an additional 3 points from the Agenda and won that game handily.

I kinda liked the Agendas. They need some work, and right now I just have 9 of them - and 1 was just because I had space on the page to print it, I invented one on the spot that removes all Agendas from play, and just needs a minimum total number of icons to be played (any type) - different minimum for each player count. I do think they would be more interesting in a game with more than 2 players.

Finally, John and I went to Hat's Games, where they were having a sort of Halloween party. Pulp Gamer representative Derek Rex was there, and we played a 3 player game of Eminent Domain with him. We didn't use the Agendas, but we left in the Prestige and Utopian planets. This was the most evenly distributed game I've ever seen, as the piles were ALL down to just a few cards left if any when the VP pile was exhausted. While finishing out the round, the Research pile was also used up, and everything else had just a couple of cards left. For a 3 player game it was a very long game (turn wise), but only took an hour. An interesting and fun game!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Eminent Domain Kickstarter Progress

I found out about Kickstarter on July 20th, and have been suggesting that we utilize it to fund Eminent Domain (or some other game) ever since that date. As you know, we have finally started that process, and in the first few days of the Kickstarter campaign I must say that I am VERY surprised and VERY impressed by the progress so far! As I write this, we are about 3.5 days into our 30 day campaign, we've got 85 backers, and we've raised $5,745 toward our $20,000 goal! That's about 28% of the way there already!

Despite the fact that we've not done such a campaign before, and therefore didn't really know what to do or what to expect, I feel like we're doing very well. I also feel like we were a little under-prepared and could have done even better! It may be premature to call the campaign a success already, but we're doing better than I thought we would. I attribute this to a couple of factors:

* We studied previously successful Kickstarter projects and tried to learn from them.
* I crafted rewards specifically for various archetypal consumers that I expected to see.
* Michael has built a network for direct marketing, and has set up several avenues to disseminate information throughout that network.
* We are offering a product that doesn't suck!

It remains to be seen whether we reach all the way to our somewhat lofty funding goal, but I think we cobbled together a fairly strong Kickstart. I have been particularly surprised by the fact that in the first 3 days we're almost sold out of the $200 reward - the ability to name one of the technology cards in the game. I figured we would sell 2, maybe 3 of those over the course of the campaign. But it turns out we've sold 12 of the 15 available already. That means 12 people laid down $200 apiece to support our cause and the opportunity to name a card. They also get a Limited Edition copy of the game (with a special LE cover) and 3 regular copies, each with a set of exclusive Prestige Planet cards which won't be in the regular game (but might be in a future expansion). I'd be very interested to know if the people pledging that $200 amount are doing so primarily because of...

* the fact that they get to name a card,
* the fact that they get a Limited Edition copy of the game
* the fact that they get a total of 4 copies of the game

I would like to know this for the next time (if there is a next time) so I can optimize rewards better for people. I'd also like to know how many of those people would still have pledged if it were $250 instead of $200, or if they only got the LE copy and not 3 other copies of the game, etc.

I'm a little surprised that so many single copies of the game have sold rather than people finding a buddy and going in together for the $60 2-copy bundle - but not really. Many people just shop for themselves.

And finally, I'm a little surprised that we haven't seen groups of people overseas getting together for a 6-game bundle (because otherwise the stupid shipping premiums make it cost too much). but it's early yet - I wouldn't be surprised if we see some of that later in the month.

I doubt anybody will go for the $2500 reward where Mike and I fly out and host their game night, but I wanted to include that because I think it's fun to think about, for me as well as for people who read it and think "that would be cool, but I am not in a position to pay for it." I think it represents our attitude toward our customers, which is that we like them and want them to have fun, and would like to come hang out with them.

Anyway, I'm excited at the progress we've made, and I have reason to believe more orders will be forthcoming. I just hop it's enough to hit our funding goal!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Well folks, it's a go! The Kickstarter fundraising campaign for my latest game, Eminent Domain, has begun! It will run for 30 days.

Check out the Kickstarter page at the link below, but before you order, consider getting together with a group of friends and going for one of the bundles:
* 3 Limited Edition copies at $30 apiece, or
* 6 regular copies at $25 apiece!

I've played this game with a number of you, and I know some of you have printed copies and played yourself. I think it's fair to say that Eminent Domain is a lot of fun. Every time I see my friend John, it's all he wants to play! I can't argue with that...

There's lots of info on the page, and the rules are posted on Tasty Minstrel's website.

Thanks for your time, and any support you want to give - including spreading the word about the Kickstarter campaign!

Here are some links:
Eminent Domain on BGG:
Kickstarter page:
Eminent Domain rules:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Eminent Domain: A 3rd party review!

Tasty Minstrel fan and Eminent Domain playtest volunteer Tom Gurganus has posted a review of Eminent Domain on his blog! Tom has been playing Eminent Domain for some time, and says he enjoys it a lot. I was pleasantly surprised to read his review, and he dos a good job of describing the game.

As Essen winds down, you finish watching all of the videos from the BGG booth, and you're still in the mood to check out new games, can check out Tom's review of Eminent Domain. The rules are available on Tasty Minstrel's website.

Tomorrow we're starting a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to fund production of Eminent Domain, and if that is successful, the game should be out around April!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Eminent Domain: Rules and Kickstart

I have posted the rules for Eminent Domain on Tasty Minstrel's website. Of course they're not all done up nice by an artist yet, but you can read them and get excited about the game... then you can pre-order via starting Monday!


Monday, October 18, 2010

Kickstarting Kickstarter

There's a website called which helps people raise funding for creative projects. I've been wanting to utilize that ever since I saw how well it worked for Clever Mojo Games funding Alien Frontiers. Michael was skeptical, but I have finally convinced him that it's a good idea, so we'll be launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund Eminent Domain.

Michael has made a video explaining why we need the funding:

He also started a thread on BGG about it. On his blog he listed the rewards we're considering, and I'll do the same here. Please leave a comment with your opinion on the rewards! Which are good? What would you like to see that's not listed?

  • Copies of the games (at various quantities).
  • Limited edition cover of the game which would be digitally numbered and signed by the designer and artist.  Either 100 or 250 of these available total.
  • Promotional Eminent Domain T-Shirts – my current favorite ideas are: “I <3 Eminent Domain”, “I <3 ED”, and “Eminent Domain for President”.
  • Tasty Minstrel or Eminent Domain Polo Shirts (nice collared shirt with the logo embroidered on the breast.)
  • Poster of the box art.
  • Name in the rules at various supporter levels, such as bronze, silver, gold, etc.
  • Tasty Minstrel Games sponsored game night.  Expensive and Awesome!
  • Shipping outside of the USA.  This would be to cover additional costs for sending things outside of the USA.
  • Your name on one of the Tech advances.
  • Prints of the original art for Tech cards
In addition, we will also be having some sort of contest for one person to have their name or their likeness on the game box cover.  You will get entries for this, by spreading the word about the project on Kickstarter. Maybe the guy in this concept sketch of the box cover could be you!

We'll be kicking off this kickstarter campaign in a week or so. Thanks for your support, and please leave comments about the rewards!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Eminent Domain facelift and new techs

Because I still like the name Eminent Domain, I thought I'd try one more thing before giving up on it. I have better defined the themeatic aspects of the game, and have changed some terminology so that my original vision of the theme is better represented. Now we'll see if the "name doesn't fit theme" complaints subside at all. I think most of those complaints are stemming from some literal, focused definition of "eminent domain" when really I just want to convey the feeling of 'taking land.'

* Instead of the Colonize role (Colonize/Colony/Settle) there is now Influence (Influence/Incorporate)
* Instead of the Warfare role (Warfare/Attack) there is now Annex

I also added three Level 3 techs and three Level 2 techs - I simply made the "stay-in-play" techs double sided, so I haven't had to add any cards to the game. When you purchase one of those, you choose which of the 2 sides you want to come into play.

Here are the current Level 3 (and stay-in-play Level 2) technologies. I also gave them names:
- (Level 3) Hyperefficiency: Remove any number of cards in hand from the game before choosing a Role.
- (Level 3) Adaptability: Play any 2 matching cards to follow or boost any Role.
- (Level 2) Streamlining: You may remove 1 card in hand from the game before choosing a role
- (Level 2) Mercenaries: You may trade Armies as if they were resources (for 1vp each)
- (Level 3) Dissension: Draw an additional card when not following a role.
- (Level 3) Bureaucracy: You may Incorporate and Annex when following Influence and Annex roles.
- (Level 2) Fertile Ground: [Influence][Harvest][Research] (icons)
- (Level 2) Improved Storage: Each of your planets can store 1 additional resource.
- (Level 3) Productivity: Play an additional card for its action effect during your Action phase.
- (Level 3) Logistics: Play the Action and Role phases of your turn in any order.
- (Level 2) Industrialism: [Survey][Trade][Annex] (icons)
- (Level 2) Abundance: Planets you Incorporate or Annex come into play with resource slots full.

I also made some concept sketches for the box art. My original efforts were just OK, but I think it evolved into something really cool.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Eminent Domain: Name again

My dad suggested perhaps just "Eminence" for the name. Thoughts on that?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Eminent Domain: Naming the Technologies

There are 15 Technology cards that will need names. I'll list them here, and if you can think of anything that sounds accurate, awesome or reasonable, please leave a comment and let me know! Also, if you have modifications that you think would be good, or wording that you think would work better, I'd love to hear it!

Fertile Technology Actions:
F1: Occupy 2 Cities on a planet. If that planet is fully Occupied, Annex it.
(Formerly "Add this card as 2 colonies to a planet. If that planet has enough colonies, Settle it.")

F2: Take any 2 Role cards into hand.

F3: Collect 1 VP for each type of resource Harvested this turn.

F4: Each planet can store 1 additional resource.

F5: Draw an additional card when not following a role.
(This is likely to change)

Advanced Technology Actions:
A1: Draw 2 cards, then remove any number of cards in hand from the game.

A2: Collect 1 additional VP for each type of resource Traded this turn.

A3: Choose 1 type of resource. That resource trades for 2vp this turn instead of 1.

A4: You may trade Armies as if they were resources (for 1vp each).

A5: Remove a card in hand from the game before choosing a role.
(This is likely to change)

Metallic ("Mining") Technology Actions:
M1: Take the top card of the Planet deck and put it into play face down.

M2: After Surveying this turn, Attack a planet.

M3: Attack up to 2 planets.

M4: Planets you Annex (formerly Settle) or Attack come into play with resource slots full.

M5: Play an additional card during your Action phase.

Eminent Domain notes

This is for my own reference:

- Change "Metallic" to "Mining"

- Change "Colonize" and "Settle" to "Annex"
-  Change "Colonize" and "+1 Colony" to "Influence" and "Settle" to "Accede"
-AND PERHAPS- change "Warfare" to "Annex"

- Change "+1 Colony" to "Occupy" (?)

- Label all Level 1 Tech cards "Advanced [Annex/Research/Harvest/Trade/Survey/Warfare]"

- Create names for all Level 2 and Level 3 Tech cards

- Research Action has become "Remove up to 2 cards in hand from the game (may include this card)"

- Advanced Research Action has become "Draw 1 card, then remove up to 3 cards in hand from the game (may include this card)"

- Find replacements for Level 3 Advanced and perhaps Fertile techs. Possibilities include:
  1. "Remove any number of cards in hand from the game before choosing a Role"
  2. "Play any 2 matching cards to Boost or Follow a Role"
  3. "Play the Action phase and the Role phase in any order"
  4. "You may Annex/Attack when following an Annex/Warfare role"

- Consider alternatives for Politics card:
  1. Change Action to "Boost your Role this turn by 1, then remove this card from the game"
  2. Start each player with only 1 Politics card (9 card starting deck)

- Consider what needs to be done to support Eminent Domain as a name, because in addition to my liking it, Michael does too. In other words, represent the theme well.

The players in Eminent Domain are, thematically, like the Emperor in Star Wars - in charge of a space empire, and determined to make it grow and improve. To be clear, in Star Wars, the Emperor had other agendas, so that you lead a space empire is where that similarity is intended to end.

Also, it's not a "space game" so much as a game that is set in space. How do I express that graphically to people?

OR - do I cave in and change the name of the game, perhaps to Manifest Destiny or Manifest Destiny 3012 (which doesn't excite me too much, and in some ways has garnered the same complaints that Eminent Domain did)? If so, how do I express THAT graphically?

What should the box art look like? Also, the tech cards - I guess some of them will depend on the name.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

RinCon 2010 recap

As has been mentioned, last weekend was RinCon 2010 - "Arizona's Gaming Mecca." RinCon started 3 years ago, and about doubled in size last year, but it seemed to me like the main thrust of the con, or the largest demographic of attendee anyway, was the Role Playing crowd. Most of the special guests were RPG authors and things of that nature. There were LARPs and RPGs left and right, people dressed up like gypsies, etc. By contrast, the board gaming seemed pretty weak. Nobody was really in charge of the board games, there were some events that people had signed themselves up to run, but there wasn't really any organization at all. Games were played, but overall it was unspectacular, and many people I talked to thought it would have been a lot more cost effective to stay home and play games with their buddies.

This year I volunteered to be in charge of board games. I ended up taking on a lot more responsibility than I'd expected or wanted to, and while I was supposed to have a runner or someone to help out, I really was on my own the entire weekend. The bad news is that I didn't get to play as many games or participate in all the events I wanted to, but the good news is that as a result the entire board game portion of RinCon was much improved this year! At first I was worried because some of the scheduled games weren't happening because no one showed up, or because there wasn't someone to run them. I may have been overly concerned because 2pm on a Friday is pretty slow at any convention. I set my concerns aside when one of the convention organizers mentioned, in a sort of surprised and impressed way, that a whole lot of board game events were happening.

A lot of events and tournaments went down, and the board game section was fairly full pretty much all the time. There were even some interesting events like a Space Alert tournament (3 teams of 5 playing off of the same audio CD at the same time), and a Duplicate Pandemic event, where 2 teams of 2 players went head to head trying to save the world with a pre-stacked and matching Draw deck and Infection deck.

Some of the things I was really interested in were the Game Design Events I'd dreamed up and planned. I'm happy to report hat all three types of Game Design events were a smashing success! I didn't get to participate in the Gamesmiths sessions like I'd hoped to, because I had to man the Boardgame booth and make sure events were running. However I did manage to get into the Friday session and get Winds of Fate tested. I saw a ton of people participating though, and a large number of games being tested - more than we had signed up. I put David in charge of those sessions and he said they all went really well.

The Pitch your Prototype event was also successful I think, even if only 2 people were there to do it. Myself, Mike Nickoloff (of Sorvent, a sort of game agent), and James Ernest sat on a panel and listened to the pitches for no more than 5 minutes, then gave feedback and advice to help them improve their pitch for when they are actually going to talk to a publisher. One guy had never pitched his game before, but was interested in doing just that - I think we had some good advice for him as to what to say and how much detail to go into. The other guy had a much more succinct pitch, but I think we still had some useful advice for him too.

Finally there was the Game Design Workshop - and I wasn't sure exactly how that would go over. I was a little late to it because Mikey talked me into a game of Eminent Domain, and when I got there, James Ernest and a WHOLE BUNCH of people were sitting around already talking about how you go about designing a game! We talked a little about the process, and afterwards I gave people a "game design kit" with a variety of bits in it - meeples, cubes, discs, roads, index cards, pens, poster board, paper money... the idea was for them to play around with these bits and see what kind of game design they start to come up with. We had a follow-up meeting on Sunday where we talked a little more about game and mechanism design, then 4 people who had come up with a game design shared it with the group and we talked about each one for 15-20 minutes. I was impressed at some of the stuff people came up with - a few really solid starts. One group used every single piece in the bag (and no more), and even playtested their game a few times and made some revisions! The game looked pretty solid as well! Here's a breakdown of the 4 game ideas people came up with:

2 of them were based on the idea of Dinosaur Island - which was sort of the example we came up with as a group in the first session. The intent of the exercise wasn't really to design a Dinosaur Island game, but it worked out anyway. One of the Dino Island games was a roll and move, see what happens sort of affair. the other was a face paced hidden identity thing where you try and move your colored meeples off the island, or move Dinosaurs onto other colored meeples in order to eat them.

The third game was amusingly entitled "The best 4-12 years of your life" and was about the despair and frustration of scheduling college classes. There were 20 classes offered in total, on cards that were shuffled and placed into a schedule for the semester. Each player would choose classes in 4 of the 5 time blocks each round, and it was more difficult to get into classes when someone was already in there. Each higher level class had prerequisites of course, and you would have to take them in order. The player who took all of the appropriate classes first would graduate and win the game. I really liked the sound of this game idea, and could think of lots of different ways to approach it.

Finally, a father-son team made a game about couriers in perhaps Venice - there was a grid of rivers on the board, and players could use Bridges and Ferries to help them move around to pick up items which are in demand and deliver them. It seemed like a really solid game already!

This event went better than I'd hoped it would, and seemed to be very well liked all around! I was very pleased with all of the game design events at the con.

I also got to hang out with James Ernest a bit, which was fun. I did not however get into one of his demos of Lord$ of Vega$ which according to Tom Vasel is the best game of the year. I had been super excited about trying it ever since seeing a demo at Kublacon, and on Saturday night I finally played a game with Thomas and one of the Pulp Gamer guys. Sadly, for the length of the game and value of the decisions in it, I really thought you didn't have enough information to make informed decisions. in short, I can't argue too hard against people who complain of luck in the game. It's not ALL luck, but I do feel like there's too much luck of the draw for the length of the game and the depth it appears to be trying for. Or maybe the depth I was hoping it would be going for.

I think I may have given James the idea that in my mind, games have a specific definition, and that's the narrow scope of games that I like. I do recognize that games like Killer Bunnies and Flux exist, and that people play them to have fun and not to win - I'm just not interested in playing or designing those types of games. In fact, I do kind of think of those as more like a 'fun activity' than a 'game' - in my mind part of the definition of a game is that you can win, and the social contract involved in playing a game is that you're trying to win. I'm not saying that people should try to win rather than try to have fun - I don't think those should be mutually exclusive. On the contrary, I think they should be mutually INclusive - a game SHOULD be fun, or people won't want to play it, and a game should be played to win, by definition.

In any case, James recommended to me a book called Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud. I haven't read the book in full, but that preview I just linked gave me a pretty good idea of what it's about - breaking down the common, narrow "definition" of what a "comic book" is and understanding how much more extensive the medium can be. It seems really interesting and neat and I might just pick up a copy and read it in full. Thanks for the referral, James! (I wonder if he ever reads this blog)

A little love for Terra Prime :)

At RinCon last weekend, a member of the RTEAM Gamers (Bill Andel) ran a game of Terra Prime. I walked by during the game and people seemed to be enjoying it, and afterward I described the expansion for them, and explained how I'd like for that to be published but until more copies of the game sell we can't justify it. they all seemed to like the expansion ideas as well.

I had noticed that Game Daze had a copy of Terra Prime in their booth, as did another vendor who'd come in from L.A. On Sunday I noticed that both of those vendors had sold their copy! One of the guys who was in Bill's game bought the copy from the L.A. guy, who mentioned that I'd sign it if he wanted, so he came and found me and asked for my autograph on the game. He also gave me the best compliment I could have gotten - I forget the words he used. but the general gist was "thanks for making this great game, it's the most fun I've had in a long time!" I later found out that a third copy also sold - one of the other players in that game had gone home and ordered the game online.

So overall, a good convention for Terra Prime! Thanks to Bill for running that game, and for all the players for having a good time and supporting Tasty Minstrel by picking up copies of the game!

Eminent Domain: Politics alternatives?

One thing I'm still a little worried about for Eminent Domain is game length and game end conditions. The last thing I want to happen is for a game to end too quickly and not be very rewarding - and that's very possible in certain cases - mostly it involves newbies or poor play, but frankly, everyone will be a newbie the first time they play, and until you gain some experience, many people will play poorly because they don't know any better.

In particular, I worry that newbies in a 3 player game will drill down to the bottom of the colonize stack way too quickly, ending the game early with low scores all around and a disappointing feeling of not having had time to get anything done. In a 4 player game the game end condition is *2* piles, so the concern is lessened there, but I also worry that if everyone sort of copies each other and takes the same couple of roles over and over, that game could end prematurely as well. Simply adding cards to the piles doesn't really fix the problem - because it adds significantly to the production cost, but more importantly because then when players don't drill the same stack, the game drags on far too long.

I've currently got the following distribution of cards in the stacks:
Colonize: 20
Research: 20
Hearvest/Trade: 16
Survey: 16
Warfare: 16

And it has been working alright. In order to try and ensure that my concerns don't materialize, I would like to find an alternate use for Politics - one that maybe does the same thing the current Politics card does, but doesn't remove cards from the stacks. Here's the current card text for Politics:

Action: Remove this card from the game, then take any 1 Role card into hand.

The idea here is that the Politics card helps you customize your starting deck, by effectively turning into one of the other Role cards of your choice. I like the dynamic there, but would like to find a way to do that without actually removing cards from the stacks, which shortens the game length.

One idea I had was to change the wording to this:
Action: Boost the Role played this turn by 1. When this card would go to the discard pile, remove it from the game instead.

This is exactly the same effect, only you aren't left with a card of that type in your deck. I liked the sound of it at first, but it's a little wonky when you look at the Colonize Role - technically, if the Colonize role is boosted, that would have to be noted somehow. I suppose the politics card could be placed behind a planet as a colony, then when the planet is flipped, the Politics card could be removed from the game at that time - but that's very clunky and counter-intuitive.

Any other ideas? Please post them in the comments! I wouldn't even mind other effects that the Politics card could do, different from the current one.

I have some thoughts floating around for an expansion which would come with a stack of Politics cards, and would add Agendas to the game - the Politics Role would be how the Agendas come into play. Then the Politics card would be in your deck, and later when you draw it you could use it for it's "Action:" effect. I suppose that doesn't matter much for the current problem though.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Eminent Domain - Level 3 technologies

The current level 3 technologies are as follows:

Metallic: Play an additional Action during your action phase
I think this one's cool and appropriately powerful.

Fertile: Draw an additional card when not following
This one isn't bad, though it may be a little boring.

Advanced: Remove 1 card in hand from the game before choosing a role
This one is kind of weak. I'm OK with the Advanced Level 3 tech being the weakest of the three, because it's the easiest to get (all the cards you get en route can have Research icons - and there's the Research-Research tech at level 2)

The following are possible alternatives for the Advanced level 3 tech (and perhaps the Fertile one as well). Leave a comment with your thoughts on these - especially if you've played the game before!

- Remove any number of cards each turn
(often won't be more than 1 or 2 anyway)

- Use any 2 matching cards to boost any role
(makes your deck more efficient once it's filled with crappy or useless cards - this is a sort of alternate way to "rid your deck of bad cards")

- Play the Action phase and the Role phase in any order each turn
(this could be a lot more efficient, timing-wise)

- You may Settle/Attack while Following a Colonize/Warfare role

In related news, I've been testing a slightly improved Research action because the original one (remove 1 card in hand from the game) really didn't do much. You have to add a card to your deck each turn, so removing just 1 doesn't seem like progress. I have been testing an upgraded version of the basic Research action: "Remove up to 2 cards in hand from the game" and it does seem better. This change necessitates an upgraded Tech-Research card (formerly remove up to 2 cards) - I've been trying "Draw 1 card, then remove any number of cards in hand from the game." I guess that's ok, but I wonder if removing ANY number is too good - I figure often it won't be more than 2 cards anyway, but for example tonight I removed 5 cards that way. Is that OK?

the Level 2 Research-Research tech card says "Draw 2 cards then remove any number from the game," and I think that is good enough even with the upgrades to the other cards. That card having 2 Research icons is already quite a boon.

Finally, while most people haven't registered any complaint or comment about the name, at least 2 people have lashed out about "Eminent Domain" as the title of this game. I really like that title, and I think it's thematically appropriate (exception: Warfare doesn't really fit very well). Yet these 2 friends insist that the name does not evoke the right images for the game.
Please leave a comment if you have an opinion on Eminent Domain as a title, or if you have an idea for an alternate title. I do really like the current title, so unless I really like a proposed alternate, or unless a lot of people have strong negative reactions to Eminent Domain, I doubt I will change it. However one proposed alternative, Manifest Destiny, isn't terrible. It was also suggested that a year be added, like Manifest Destiny: 3012 or something. Generally speaking I hate game titles with a year just stuck in there, but I do see how it could help some.

I don't normally say this, but for those who follow my blog, thanks for reading. I hope to see your opinions in the comments!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Sales and popularity of Terra Prime

After an slow start to begin with, owing largely I think to rumors of poor production, and not helped by rumors of "luck" due to the presence of dice in the game, sales of Terra Prime dwindled down to around zero for the month of August, but I'm happy to report that they seem to have picked up a bit in September! At this point only about 1/2 of the 2000 copies printed remain in the PSI warehouse.

More good news, I've started a campaign to get Terra Prime implemented online at, an online portal for many great board games. I drummed up enough support to really impress the webmaster over there, and I think they are willing, even anxious to get to work coding up an online version of Terra Prime! I'm sure it'll be a lot of work to implement the game online, but I also think it's a perfect game for the format. It might take a while as they have to wait for a developer to become available, and then it'll probably take a long time to code the game. but I think it will be worth it! I think it will improve the visibility and popularity of the game, and it might be a good way to get the expansion out there and gauge demand for a print run. I would like to one day do a 2nd edition o the game and include the expansion in it, as well as print a few copies of the expansion by itself for those who are happy with their first edition games and don't want to upgrade.

So while Terra Prime didn't make as big a splash as I'd hoped when it first hit the scene, I think it's coming into it's own over time. Hooray!

Video Review of Homesteaders

Tom Vasel, the worlds most prolific video reviewer of board games, has posted his review of Homesteaders. And he liked it! Go take a look.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

2010 Golden Geek Nominees... Homesteaders!

The 2010 Golden Geek nominees have been posted at, and Homesteaders has been nominated in the Strategy Game category!

So get over there and show your support for Alex Rockwell and Tasty Minstrel Games by voting for Homesteaders! Click "Strategy Games" at the top, and rate Homesteaders a "1" (or as high as you think it deserves), and let's see if it doesn't pull down the award in the Strategy Game category!

Thanks for your support!

More, bigger games to playtest!

Last week I had a Tasty Minstrel Submission Testing night, and I tested a number of smallish card games. Fortunately I did get a chance to play Winds of Fate again that night (even though it actually isn't a "Tasty Minstrel Submission" at this point).

After that WoF test I gave it some thought, and tonight I updated my prototype and got Winds of Fate ready to try again. I updated the Encounter tiles, Reward tiles, and rules, and filed away all the old stuff that's no longer being used. By the way, as long as I'm linking, here is the board as well.

In addition to Winds of Fate, I received a game from Michael Keller called Titans of Industry to try out. I have read the rules already and it certainly has potential to be a game I really enjoy. It remains to be seen whether the game really shines, but I look forward to trying it. If nothing else I really like the name :)

And as if 2 board games wasn't enough, I finally got around to printing out and putting together a copy of a game called Roman Emperors by a BGDF member.
I'm looking forward to the next chance I get to test these games - and I hope I didn't wear out all my playtesters last week! RinCon is coming up, and there will be a lot of prototype testing there, so that's good.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Winds of Fate updates

After a nice (3 hour!) chat with Michael Keller about Winds of Fate (admittedly, much of that was describing the game to him over IM), I've got a pretty good idea of what I'd like to try for the next iteration of Winds of Fate:

The main difference between this new version and the last one is something that's come up in some playtest comments before - rather than set payouts for various bets, there will be a split pot - a specific amount that will be split between all winners of a bet. The problem before was that the betting system sort of encouraged people to do the same thing as everyone else, and that's the opposite of what I wanted. With a split pot, betting on the same thing as someone else may make it more likely to pay off, but the payoff gets lower with each player to make that same bet. Now there's some incentive to bet against other players! I think this should work out nicely.

In case it's not clear what I mean by a 'split pot,' consider the scoring of Notre Dame at the end of each Era: there are a certain number of points (depending on the number of players), and each cube in Notre dame gets an equal share of those points. Note I said 'each cube' not 'each player' - meaning if I have 2 cubes and you each have 1 cube, I get 50% of the pot, and you each get 25%. This is how the payouts for bets will work in the next test of Winds of Fate.

In order to facilitate this, I'm changing the betting system altogether. The betting board was a neat idea, but I think it mostly served as a stepping stone toward a more streamlined mechanism for the betting. I think I've got a better, more succinct way to represent betting without a supplemental board. Although the idea of actually having a roulette style board and making roulette style bets (especially on the side and corners, spanning multiple Encounters) was kinda attractive, I think this new idea will do a better, more streamlined job of accomplishing the goal of the bets in the first place. here's how it'll go:

Each round during the Encounter phase, each player will get the opportunity to "Place a bet." Possibly this will actually be added to the Encounter tile, and then it could be left off a couple of them. In order to do so they will have to have a "bet chip" (is what I've been calling them) - which will now just be a player marker (wooden cube in player color in the prototype). Placing a Bet means taking chip and placing it on one of the paths on the board between 2 Encounter tiles. The only restriction is that you cannot place on a path leading out of the current Encounter tile. Therefore you cannot bet on the CURRENT round's Adventure, but you can bet on the outcome of either of the possible NEXT round's Adventures. So there's still that aspect of betting on a win or loss on an adventure as well as whether you'll get to that adventure at all.

During the Journey phase, Odysseus' boat will move to one of the 2 paths leading out of the space - which one depends on the outcome of the Adventure (as always). Whenever the Boat encounters bet chips, those bets pay off. The payoff will be some number (I'm thinking 6vp) divided evenly between each bet chip present. So a bet chip (which will continue to be worth 2vp if unused) can be worth 0, 1, 2, 3, or 6 vp depending on whether it pays off and how many other players also bet on the same thing.

This will necessitate some modifications to the Reward tiles and some Encounter tiles. I need to remove all instances of "Place Bet" on those. It should prove valuable to collect a bet chip (or 2!) from a reward tile. I will also make the bonus for playing the single highest value of cards be a Bet Chip - which is either 2vp, or possibly as many as 6 if bet well. I think that should provide a good number of bet chips for players who want them. I might distribute some on Encounter tiles as well - maybe an Encounter will be "each player collects 1 Bet Chip" - or more interesting, maybe "Player 1 collects a Bet Chip" or "Player 3 collects a Bet Chip" I could even make a cycle of "Player X collects a bet chip" Encounter tiles :)

Destiny bets will work similarly, there will be some set number of points (I'm thinking 12) to be divided evenly between all Destiny bets. I will probably have to reduce the frequency of destiny actions or else use a larger number as the pot, or else the bets will be near worthless - and I don't want that! I think I'd like the Destiny bet to be on the order of 10 points, higher if you do great, lower if you do poorly.

The Timeline bet may also be a split pot situation, I'm thinking something like 9vp for a correct bet, 6vp for "off-by-1," and maybe 3vp for "off-by-2" (or maybe you need to be closer than off-by-2 to score at all). I'm waffling about whether to just award that to each player individually, or make it a split pot where players share the wealth. If split pot it would probably have to be a higher number, and I also think that if split it should probably be that you get let's say 25/15vp (for correct/off-by-1) divided by the total number of Timeline bets that are paying off... so if I bet on round 8, 2 people bet on round 9, and 2 people bet on round 10, and the game ends on round 9, then I should get 15vp/5=3vp, the 2 players betting on round 9 should get 25/5=5vp, and the 2 people betting on round 10 should get 3vp apiece as well. Hmm... that sounds pretty bad actually, I'll have to work on that. I don't really want someone off-by-1 to get more points than someone who was correct just because someone else was also correct - do I?

Maybe I do - in which case I could award 9/6vp (for right/off-by-1) and split that 9 or 6 with anyone with the same bet as you.

I think I'll also reduce the game end score for Red/Blue card pairs in hand to 1vp per pair (rather than 2vp) just to make sure you can't get a competitive score simply passing each round and hoarding cards! I also need to reduce the number of cards drawn in a 5 player game - we ran out last time! I think I can just have player 5 draw 3 cards just like player 4 does. Or I could reduce player 2, 3 and 4's cards as well in a 5p game. I'd prefer to keep it consistent though.

So that's it - I need to adjust my prototype to fix the reward tiles and Encounter tiles, and I'm ready to test again!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Tasty Minstrel Submission testing

On Friday I had a playtest night, specifically for Tasty Minstrel submissions. I got a surprising number of takers on my invite, and all it cost me was a couple of pizzas and some ice cream sandwiches! I actually had more testers than I knew what to do with.

We played 3 different card games, another card game which plays more like a tile laying board game, and in the end one of my own board games... and afterwords one of the testers (who is a member of the Board Game Designers Forum) stuck around and I tried his deck building prototype as well.

I think it's probably unprofessional of me to talk specifically about the submissions, so I'll keep this report in very general terms (except where it comes to my own game, then I'll say whatever I damn well please!)

Card Game #1: This game reminded me of Portal. I actually thought it was a bit better than Portal, as the cards were more interesting. But I'm of the school that if you're going to play a game like Magic: the Gathering, then you should just play Magic: the Gathering.

Card Game #2: A guy who used to come to my SedjCoProto playtest sessions dropped off 2 card games that we'd played back then, and had been updated per some of our comments and suggestions. We played one - 5 player - and I'd planned on playing the other right after. However, the first one dragged a lot and my players were not interested in playing another similar game, so I had to skip the 2nd game by that designer. Unfortunately the game did drag, suffered from a lot of unclear card interactions, and seemed to have a lot of down time. It did not go over well with the testers, though the theme was pretty good.

Card Game #3: This was a game I'd played before, though it had been updated by the designer. Some of the initial complaints were mostly to do with lack of interaction, so I was curious what the designer had done to remedy that. Of the lot, this is the only game I thought I'd really consider moving forward with, though it still left something to be desired. I think some of the changes were improvements though. I am interested in examining this one further. The basic idea of the game is very novel, and kind of a twist to the Deck Building craze that's sweeping the hobby.

Card/Tile Laying Game: This was a submission from James Ernest, who's trying to find homes for some of his better Cheapass Games. This particular game had a nifty, fairly unique main mechanism for tile placement, which was refreshing, but also had some very swingy random events which players didn't feel too excited about. Reading through the comments on BGG for this game I saw a lot of very positive ones, but most of the positive comments were qualified with the fact that the game was only $5. I don't think the reaction would be as positive toward this game (as-is) if it cost $20 or more, even with nicer components, and that's what we would want to do if adapting a Cheapass game - make a nicer, full version of the game. I don't think we'd want to do this game as-is, and I'm unsure if anything jumps out at me as a good way to adapt or amplify/improve the game to make it something we'd be interested in doing. I kinda think that's too bad, as this is the second time I've had a submission from a big name designer that I've had to turn down. If only James would have submitted Lords of Vegas to us - I haven't played it yet, but I feel like I would have jumped on that right away! :)

Winds of Fate: As I mentioned, we played a 5 player game of Winds of Fate. Actually, I just watched while 5 players played. I didn't mention that it was my own design, and 1 player said "I like the theme, I'm curious what hey did with it" - I liked that they didn't know it was my design, but then my friend John, who did know, blurted out that it was mine :/ Ah well.

This was not only the first play of Winds of Fate with the new Betting Board, but may be the first time WoF has ever been played with 5 players! One thing to note is that with 5 players I ran out of Adventure cards constantly. I had to cannibalize another 2 decks of playing cards in order to just play the game. I also saw more hoarding of cards than I'd like, and an attempt to make an infinite loop based on the geography of the game board. It turns out the rules handle the infinite loop just fine, but if it were to happen (on turn 4 or 5) then feel like that might be a disappointing game. I don't know if I need to worry about redesigning the game based on that, or if it won't come up often enough to matter. I'll have to watch and see.

My biggest concern for WoF might be that the process for resolving the adventure each round seems too fiddly. A bigger complaint however is that there is still an element that 2 players going for the same end condition can overpower a player going for a different game end condition. I think the Betting Board and non-secret Destiny bets has helped this a bit, but now there's more of a feeling of being rewarded for doing the same thing as everybody else, and that's no good! One thought is that if the netting board does what it's supposed to, then maybe a secret goal type of thing could be re-introduced such that players have different incentives again, but that can't really be made fair if there are 3 game end conditions and more than 3 players.

Anyone have any thoughts on this issue?

BGDF Game Design Showdown entry: One of the playtesters, Simon, brought with him his prototype which was originally an entry in the BGDF Game Design Showdown a few months ago. It's a deck building game where you have 2 decks, an action deck (whose cards you use to do stuff, and which refill to 5 each turn) and a Spell deck (more powerful cards that don't refill on their own).

The 2 decks was an interesting spin on Deck Building, and I think Simon has a pretty good start to a game. Hopefully he'll work on it some more.

Alter Ego cards

I made some Alter Ego prototype cards last night. Unfortunately, I can't show them to you because (a) I left them on my home computer, and (b) Blogger doesn't have a good way to attach an image from PDF. I suppose when I get home I could save it as a jpg or something and then post - maybe I'll do that.

I made up 3 city names: Metro City, Gotham, and Arkham (OK, you caught me, I completely stole those names) and chose 3 types of crooks: Thugs, Cat Burglars, and Bank Robbers. I'm pretty sure I even spelled "Burglar" wrong on them, but they're printed now so I don't care. The Thugs menace the Docks, Cat Burglars are the bane of the Suburbs, and Bank Robbers plague Downtown.

Each card has a location ("Metro City Downtown" for example), a type and color (which associates with the location - so a Blue Bank Robber would be on a Metro City Downtown card), and finally a set of die icons showing the number of successes needed to defeat the henchman as well as the minimum roll which constitutes a success. Some henchmen require a 6 or two 5's to defeat them, others require five 3's.

The henchmen range from 6 expected die rolls to 18, and so the higher the required roll, the fewer successes are necessary. Note that a 6 is 'harder to roll' (less likely to come up) than a 5, but while the expected number of rolls to get one 6 vs two 5's is the same (6 rolls), you COULD roll the 6 on a single die while you need AT LEAST TWO rolls to get 2 5's. If there's some way to get modifiers to the die roll, that would make the fewer-hit, higher req'd henchmen more attractive.

Before I can give this game a test drive, I still need to produce player boards with the Alter Ego slots, insignia tokens (I think I'll use wooden discs I got for prototyping), and decide on the exact benefits of the Alter Ego slots.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Deep breath...

The other day I posted a rather harsh reaction to reading on BGN about the release of yet another card game... I've calmed down now. And today the stories I read at BGN were about K2 (a mountain climbing game) and one of those Wine themed games - both genuine board games.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

BGDF's Game Design Showdown

The Board Game Designers Forum has been an invaluable resource for me over the last 7 years. When founder Michael Dougherty decided he couldn't continue to host the site, he asked if I would take over, and now I'm sort of like the president of this game design club. Because BGDF has been so useful for me, I try to maintain it and promote it as a useful resource for others getting into the hobby.

One of the features of BGDF is a monthly game design challenge known as the Game Design Showdown. The challenge involves a theme restriction and/or some mechanical restrictions under which you create a game. You do not need to build a prototype and test the game, just write up a set of rules (800 words or less) and submit it to the moderator of the challenge. After the 1 week submission period is over, the entries are posted anonymously, and a week long voting period begins. Finally, a winner is declared, and then a Critique thread opens up for people to discuss each of the entries.

It's a really fun activity to get the creative juices flowing, and sadly I haven't actually entered any of the recent Showdowns, but there have been a fair amount of entries (and decent ones at that) each month.

This month's showdown is entitled "Yea, Verily!" and the theme restriction is Robin Hood. Check out the showdown, submit an entry, and participate in this month's challenge!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fuck card games!

Yes, I realize my latest creation, Eminent Domain, is a card game, and I'm really happy with how it's turned out and I really enjoy playing it. That aside, I am noticing a LOT of card games coming out these days. I don't know if that many card games came out in the past and I just didn't notice, or if the proportion of games coming out hasn't changed but the total number has increased and therefore there are more card games coming out total, or if more of the games coming out are in fact card games.

I don't particularly care for card games. I like BOARD games! I don't know why exactly, maybe I just like the tactile feeling of moving pieces around the board, maybe I like the nice big painted surface to help organize all the bits of the game. Maybe I have some secret feeling that a board game is more likely to be deeper and more interesting than a card game - either because there's more going on than a deck of cards can provide, or because there's a certain chaos and a certain degree of unwelcome randomness involved in card games. Whatever the case, I just scanned some headlines from BoardGameNews that came across my Bloglines (I know, right? 1995 called, they want their shitty internet technology back) and it seemed like all the new games they listed were card games!

I know, there have been some very nice, good BOARD games coming out lately, and I'm sure there's a crop of great ones to look forward to from Essen, but I just saw those card games and had the initial reaction (see the title of this post). Guess I felt like sharing that.

Please note, not all card games are bad, but if you submit one to Tasty Minstrel Games, it had better really impress me - since I generally think there are too many F'ing card games out there!

More Alter Ego ideas

First off, regarding Henchmen's bad effects... maybe the rule could be something like this:

At the end of your turn, any henchmen in the same AREA as you who hasn't taken at least 1 damage triggers his Bad Effect (as described on the card).

Bad Effects would be things like:
- Lose 1 Community Bond
- Lose 1 Job Bond
- Lose 1 Family Bond
- Lose 1 Hero Bond
- Lose 1 Bond of your choice
- Take 1(X) Civilian Casualty token(s)*

*upon collecting several of these, lose Bonds in some way. Maybe the Casualty tokens have one of the Aspects depicted (and are drawn randomly), and upon getting 2 or 3 of the same aspect, you lose a Bond from that Aspect. This could be the default, and stronger villains could take Bonds directly.

Regarding other stuff:
Let's say there are 3 AREAS on the simple board. In each AREA there are 3 sub-areas, A, B and C, as discussed in a previous post. When it comes time to find out which henchman to face, players could draw a card off of a single, mixed deck of henchmen (maybe pre-sorted such that the first 1/3 are weak henchmen, the next 1/3 are stronger, etc) PLUS 1 card for each bond in their JOB aspect, and choose which Henchman comes into play. The Henchman card would indicate into which AREA they come into play, and the color/type of card would indicate whether it's of type A, B or C.

Note: You could drop henchmen on other players this way, which could potentially cause them some trouble as they might have to run, fight, or suffer consequences of the new Henchman's Bad Effect which they weren't planning on.

As described before, defeating a henchman of type A allows you to put your insignia on the A space in that AREA, and the first player to get their insignia on A, B and C in a particular AREA gets the "Key to the city" or whatever, which confers some kind of bonus**. However, though these effects would be game-useful, winning still comes from 'collecting' 3 Henchmen of the same TYPE, then defeating the associated Arch-Villain for that type.

** Here's a thought on that. Maybe the Key is a token which goes into one of your Alter Ego slots, counts as a Bond (so +1 bond of that type), and means that slot is protected - no further changes are allowed. So you can't lose any more tokens from that slot, and maybe you also cannot choose to neglect that spot anymore either (or maybe you can, but it's protected from Bad Effects anyway).

Your turn could consist of maybe 2 of the following actions:
- Look for trouble (draw Henchmen cards as described above)
- Fight Crime (fight a Henchman card in your current AREA based on your Hero Aspect)
- Move to another AREA
- Maybe you can spend BOTH actions to gain 1 Bond in an Alter Ego slot.

An action could be to move a Bond from 1 Aspect to another (presumably from an AE slot to the Hero slot, but occasionally from one AE slot to another) - but I think it might be neat if you were compelled to do that at the beginning of your turn. Maybe not compelled, but allowed (and often did). The idea being that if you are going to succeed as a crime fighter, you MUST neglect your Alter Ego.

And one last thought that just popped into my head. Henchmen could have various weaknesses which make them easier to defeat... for example perhaps you get to add 1 to your die rolls for each Family bond for a particular henchman, meaning if your family bond is strong, you can more easily defeat that Henchman. Similarly, there could be Henchmen who are weak to people with strong Community bonds and Henchmen who are easier to defeat if you have a strong Job bond. These should probably be the level 2 Henchmen, as the level 1 Henchmen will come out while everyone still has strong bonds everywhere.

That makes 27 level 2 Henchmen, which sounds like a lot, but whatever. I'm also not sure how they should be arranged - should they be in a big stack, and you have to get through all the level 1 Henchmen before getting to level 2? Or should you draw from the level 2 deck once you have defeated a certain number of level 1 Henchmen? What happens to the ones you look at but don't choose? I'll keep thinking about that.

Alter Ego - idea

I just had a thought about Alter Ego, and so I'm chronicling it here lest I forget...

I've already considered that the Henchmen cards could have some penalty if you don't defeat them (or at least do "enough damage") in one turn - that penalty would likely be "lose a bond in such-and-such aspect (where "such-and-such means Hero, Community, Job or Family). One of the Alter Ego aspects could have the benefit of protecting AE aspects from that damage.

Let's say this is the Community slot that has this effect. That means if your Community aspect is at full strength (3 bonds), then your Community, Job, and Family aspects are all protected from that damage. You could incur such damage and be safe from ill effects. Your Hero aspect would still be vulnerable though. If you neglect the Community aspect, then each bond you lose makes one of your AE aspects vulnerable - probably Community first, then Job, then Family 9though the order is debatable and maybe random would be interesting.

This could help drive decisions about which Henchmen to fight based on whether you may incur a penalty or not, and which aspect will be penalized. A player could purposely neglect this aspect, making fights more dangerous (or more costly anyway), in order to preserve the power of their Job and Family aspects.

In other news, I don't know if I'd mentioned this before, but there should probably be a way to ADD bonds to the game. Like you spend your entire turn strengthening your Family aspect rather than fighting crime. You shouldn't be able to do this too often though, or people might just make sure their aspects are full before fighting crime. So how to limit it? Maybe just say you can't do it 2x in a row? or you can do it max 3 times per game? Or only if you have a new AE token to place (and certain Henchmen give you one when you kill them)... something like that perhaps.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Front-All For One Lobotomy (cont.)

As I mentioned last post, for some reason, publishers have not been excited about All For One. In an effort to revamp the game and perhaps create something that a publisher would be more interested in, I'd like to try a simpler, more accessible (read: easier to explain and play) version of All For One. I've got some ideas along these lines, inspired by Queen's recent (and popular) Fresco:

When you get down to it, there are 2 main mechanisms at work in All For One. The rest is details and thematic chrome. The first mechanism is using shared pieces (the 6 characters) in order to affect Story Tracks, which you care about because you have a hidden goal which rewards you for advancing the right Stories. The second main mechanism is the combat system in which players vote for the outcome they want by playing a card from their hand - knowing that that card could instead be a mission they could do for points.

I'm really very happy with the vote-fighting in the game, but the reality is that combat is a peripheral issue in this pickup/deliver/route planning game and in a simpler version of the game, any combat should probably be less rules intensive, or cut altogether. As such, I do not mind trying the game without this combat mechanism - however with a theme of the Three Musketeers, consumers might expect combat to play a big role in the game.

Forgetting combat for the moment, that leaves just the shared pieces mechanism. I'd like to try a version of All For One which concentrated on the route planning involved in completing missions with these shared characters, to earn Favors and advance Story tracks. As the game has a route planning element, the rotating guard mechanism was intended to make the routes in the game dynamic, however (a) that might not be necessary, and (b) if it is, there may be an easier way to do it. Here are some possibilities:

1. No guards in the game. The guards were intended to be 'roadblocks' to get in the way of the characters moving around the board. However, perhaps the characters themselves are roadblocks enough.

2. Static (non-moving) guards. I could see 3 static guards being placed on the board, and whenever a Mission is complete, they move to new locations as indicated by the mission cards. For example, the locations of the required and bonus plot tokens from that mission. Running into a guard would end movement, just like running onto another character. Either the guard stays on the board, or is removed upon a character running into them.

3. Static guards that you can kill. When running into a static guard of the type described above, perhaps you're allowed to discard a card to "fight" (automatically defeat) him. Take the guard piece from he board and save it - score some kind of bonus at the end of the game for having defeated the most guards.

These are some of the things I'd like to consider and try in an effort to simplify the game. Then, some of the more fiddly rules could be included as expansions, like Fresco has. I'm interested to see how this works...

Monday, September 13, 2010

I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal(l for one) lobotamy

I didn't start this blog until 2007, so while my few readers have surely read about All For One, even the most faithful probably don't know the beginnings of the story. 7 and a half years ago I came across a game design about the Three Musketeers on the Board Game Designers Forum which sounded just awesome. The game was called All For One, and the designer's name was David Brain. Since I thought it sounded so cool, David offered to send me a prototype - I expected files to print and use, but lo, in the mail I received a full set of bits! The board was small and paper, and the plot tokens were tiny paper squares, but the player pawns were wooden bits and the cards were printed and sleeved. I was impressed that David would send that kind of a package all the way from London!

Reading through the rules and solo playing the game I had an avalanche of ideas about things I thought should be different in the game, but I had promised to play the game "as-is" before trying any changes. So I gathered some friends and gave the game a try... and it went over like a lead balloon! My friends were not at all impressed with the game, but I knew the core of the game was good. So, having played by the original rules, I made a number of significant changes and convinced my friends to (grudgingly) play again. It was better, but still a long way from anything we would consider truly "good."

After much development by both David and myself, working together via chat room and email, All For One became much more streamlined, and much better. I started bringing it with me to conventions such as BGG.con and KublaCon, entering it in the game design contest at the latter, and finishing 2nd (would have been 1st except for a penalty for being 'late' - it's a long story). Through several different versions, the reception I got at the cons was overwhelmingly positive. The contest judges at KublaCon insisted that the game should be published, and the head judge even expressed interest in showing a copy to a new publisher starting up in Seattle (which you now know as Bucephelous Games). All For One was the first game I tried to submit to a publisher, and I didn't really know how to go about it.

First, I cornered Mark Kaufman from Days of Wonder at KublaCon, just after the results of that contest, and told him I had a game I thought was perfect for Days of Wonder. I knew DoW never takes submissions from just anyone, but I told him about the contest and he said to send a 1-page description of the game! Excited, I did that, but in the end they told me "Since we do so few games each year, we don't like to revisit themes, and we've already done a game loosely based on the Three Musketeers." I was pretty bummed by that news, especially considering that Queens Necklace was only barely themed after the Three Musketeers, and was a card game whereas All For One is a full board game - a completely different genre. At the time I even thought "hey - they could re-use some of the artwork if they wanted!" But alas, that was their decision.

The next thing I did was send the game to New York for a Spielbany session which Zev Schlasinger was attending, and some of my friends from BGDF (Jeff Warrender, Gil hova, and others) were going to play the game with Zev and see if he was interested in it. Zev did play the game, and was not interested - he gave me some feedback though, and said he'd be happy to look at the game again if his comments were addressed. So some time later, after a version change which I thought addressed most of Zev's concerns, I sent the game home with him at BGG.con 2007, hoping he would like the new version and decide to publish it. Sadly, it sat on his shelf for a full year, and when he did finally play the game again, his summary comment was, for lack of better terms, "It's too Euro for a theme that screams Ameritrash." I completely understand his position, it's like the difference between Pirate's Cove and Winds of Plunder. I suspect that when Zev thinks of the Three Musketeers, he imagines a game more like Pirate's Cove, with lots of 'exciting' dice rolling... not a deeper euro-style game like Winds of Plunder. He's welcome to his opinion, but I don't see why a Three Musketeers theme has to imply "ameritrash" or whatever.

Zev was nice enough to ship All For One directly to Jackson Pope in England, who expressed an interest in seeing it. In retrospect though, I wish I'd not bothered to send the game to him, as he didn't have the capitol for a game of that scope, and I would have preferred to have my prototype back. When Jackson had finished with the prototype, since he was in England, it seemed to make sense to have him send the prototype directly to David, so he could compare it with his and make sure we were both using the same game.

Unfortunately, that's the last I heard of the prototype. David has commented a number of times that though he can't seem to find some parts of the game, the nice painted miniatures I used as player pawns are safe and accounted for. However, the more important part of the prototype is the hand changes to the board and cards that represented a lot of development work and balancing!

Sadly, not much has happened with All For One since 2008. Not having a copy of the game, it was difficult to play it further or do any more development on it. I heard that David was working on a spin-off game with similar mechanisms about super heroes - something we'd discussed long ago in the chat room, however I still prefer the Musketeer theme. Frankly I've always been amazed that there isn't already a musketeer themed euro game - the theme is so strong and the story so well known. Well it turns out that not 1 but 2 Musketeer games have come out in the last year - and I just heard there's another Three Musketeers movie coming out next year starring Orlando Bloom and Mila Jovovich.

Neither of the recent/new Musketeer games sounds anything like All For One, and I still think All For One delivers an experience that's unlike other games out there - a mix of euro mechanics with a thick, American style theme. Be that as it may, even as head of development of Tasty Minstrel Games I cannot seem to get All For One published. I know, it sounds weird to me too... but based on some lessons learned from my first outing as a published designer, I have been thinking about the following strategy to make All For One somehow more accessible, or otherwise acceptable to a publisher:

I'll start with an analogy. Are you familiar with Queen Games' recent release, Fresco? It has been fairly well received (average rating of 7.53 at boardgamegeek, currently ranked #167), and is a very nice looking, decent eurogame. In what I can only assume was an attempt for the Spiel des Jahrs award, Queen did something interesting with Fresco - they took a complete, decently interesting game, and then stripped away several chunks of it. They referred to the lobotomized version as the 'base' game, and included those chunks as 3 'expansions' which you could optionally add back in. The first time I played the game, I played with all of the expansions, and found the game fun and enjoyable. The second time I was teaching some new players and thought "why not try just the base game?" - it was alright, but fairly boring and more straightforward than the previous playing. I understand that I'm not in the target market for the 'base game' - I'm among the category of people for whom the expansions were included (rather than cut from the game altogether), and I see why they chose to lobotomize the game the way they did. And it worked! Fresco was on the short list for consideration for the SdJ!

That said, I wonder if All For One doesn't need a lobotomy. I could see removing some of the things that are more fiddly to explain, and leaving a much simpler game, about as complex as Ticket to Ride. For example, the Horse movement could be stricken altogether, and the swordfighting duels. The algorithmic guard movement could be removed, or possibly replaced with a simpler mechanism for placing guard 'roadblocks' such as "place a guard where the card says to whenever a mission is completed." (this could be where the required/bonus tokens for that mission reside, so as not to require further information on the card). These aspects could however be included in the game by way of 'built-in expansion,' bringing the game back up to it's full glory when all of the expansions are used.

The theory is to simplify and focus the game into a light, fun pickup/deliver route planning game without fiddly rules to try and strengthen the theme, but allow players to add some of those rules back in once they're experienced with the game. I particularly like the "voting" swordplay mechanism and would hate to lose it forever.

I'll put some more thought into this lobotomy, and hopefully I'll get a chance to give it a try. Of course I'll post my findings here - hopefully that the simplified 'base' game is easy to learn and fun to play, and hat the add-ons work well as expansion or optional rules.