Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Alter Ego - should it be a cooperative game?

A few people have suggested, presumably based on the theme, that Alter Ego might ought to be a cooperative game. A team of superheroes defending the city from arch villains does sound like it would lend itself to the coop genre. I hesitated at first because as yet I have not seen a good way to make a cooperative game, at least one that wasn't Solitaire by Committee. Coop games ARE somewhat popular though, even if they are SbC, and the theme DOES suggest cooperation... Maybe deck building will force each player to be in charge of their own contribution at least a little, as their deck is their own and would differentiate them from other players.

So if I were to revisit Alter Ego as a coop game, what would have to change? Maybe not that much. How does this sound?

First off, there could be a supply of Civilian (CIV) tokens. Villains would take CIV tokens out of the supply, and when that supply runs out, the villains have taken over the city, the game is over, and the players lose. Each turn a player turns up a Villain card, and place a CIV token from the supply onto it. That villain could be said to have taken that CIV token hostage. Upon defeating that villain, the CIV token could go back into the supply.

After the new villain arrives, the player gets to resolve the cards they have in play (from last turn, see previous blog post). It could be the case that villains show fewer symbols, corresponding to the 'cost' to knock a CIV token off of them, and they could take multiple CIV tokens at a time - removing the last CIV token would be how you defeat the villain. Defeating the villain would still give benefits to the player who did it.

Arch Villains
It might still work to say a player must collect enough of an Arch Villain's icons (on villains they'd defeated) in order to go after that Arch Villain. But perhaps rather than 'qualifying' to attack an Arch Villain, there could be a tracking board as well, and when 'enough' henchmen of the proper type are defeated, the Arch Villain of that type arrives. The Arch Villains would be big, bad versions of the regular ones, and would take a larger number of hostages, or maybe permanently remove CIV tokens from the game, or something similarly dastardly and difficult to deal with.

Winning the game could be defeating all (3?) of the Arch Villains before they and their Henchmen overrun the city (by removing all of the CIV tokens from the supply).

For additional flavor, the CIV tokens could be tiles or cards which have various TYPES, and it could matter if too many CIV of a particular type are hostage - making different reasons to go after particular henchmen at different points in the game. Like you've got the cards to defeat this guy, or you like the abilities you'd gain, but THAT guy has the MAYOR hostage, so you need to save him first.

This is still very rough draft-y, so please feel free to chime in with comments! Does this version sound better than a competitive version of the game?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Alter Ego - doubts on structure

I've been concentrating on the idea of needing to neglect your Alter Ego life in order to become stronger as a hero in order to win the game, and I thought that in a deck building game your deck could represent your overall life, and as you swap out AE cards for Hero cards, the composition of your deck is literally changing away from your AE life and toward being a hero. Therefore over time the hands you draw would be more and more concentrated on Hero cards. However, I'm concerned because in my early tests it does not feel like I'm neglecting my Alter Ego aspects. I would like the player to really experience a feeling of having to give up something in order to do the requisite crime fighting.

Perhaps what I need is a more direct, in your face representation of choosing the Hero path over the Alter Ego life. For example, if you had to choose between a "Hero turn" or an "Alter Ego turn." Thunderstone does that, and I don't love the way it works in that game. Another possibility that I've been considering all day is this:

Suppose the game were restructured such that you had your deck, and you had 5 card 'slots' in front of you. In a given turn you would first resolve any cards already in front of you, clearing them out, and then you would play up to 5 new cards into those slots. You would also take a new Hero card and place it in a virtual 6th slot reserved for that purpose.

The idea here is that in the beginning, players would only have Alter Ego cards in their decks, and could pretty much play their entire hand. But before long, players will be able to draw more than 5 cards, and will have to choose a subset of their hand to play each turn. This could more directly make you choose between playing an Alter Ego card or a Hero card. If the AE cards are good/strong enough, then this could be a properly agonizing decision. In this case you wouldn't be removing AE cards from your deck and replacing them with Hero cards, instead you would have to choose each turn which ones to play. The game might flow a little better this way too (thus far it's felt a little klunky to me).

So maybe a turn structure more like this would be good:
1) Turn up a Villain card and place it in the center of the table. For each Community card in your display, you can draw an additional Villain card to choose from. This villain is now available for each player to fight.

2) Resolve all cards in your display. Community cards already explained. Family cards = Draw 1 card (not 2 as before). Job cards allow you to buy or activate Equipment. Hero cards can be placed on a Villain from the center of the table, claiming that Villain as 'yours' and taking it into your play area.

It would still be cool if Villains had some static bad effect that hindered you while they are in your play area so that once you claim a Villain card you really want to defeat it. Perhaps "letting him go" is an option, but it should come with some penalty as well.

3) Having cleared out your board, now you may play up to 5 cards from your hand into your card slots, and choose a Hero card from the stacks to place in a virtual 6th slot.

4) Reset your hand to the your hand limit (probably starting at 4) Or maybe better: discard all cards and draw to your hand limit.

The Villain cards would be about the same as they are now - they would have a 'cost' in hero symbols which needs to be 'paid' in order to defeat them, they might have an Arch Villain icon, meaning they count toward being able to go after that Arch Villain, and they might have some game benefit: Hand Size increase, extra card slot, extra Hero icon (only counts against the Arch Villain), or extra $ icon for use in activating (or buying?) Equipment.

Another tweak might be to say that you're allowed to play an Equipment card ON TOP of a Job card in your display, meaning that you do have to have both the equipment and the $ to activate it, but it doesn't take up an extra slot. If you have a Villain that gives you $ then you can place Equipment by itself and still activate it. Right now all of the Equipment works without $, just stronger effect if you pay to activate it.*

*Note to self: Check out the effect of Equipment when activated - 1 EQ card + 1 Job card should = better effect than 2 other cards!

I think this turn structure might be a little better. Maybe I'll try it out. I think it still leaves room for (and maybe even emphasizes) players building up to become strong enough to take on an Arch Villain. It moves a little away from the original idea of neglecting your Alter Ego, but it does make you directly choose whether to play AE cards or Hero cards, so maybe it'll be good.

Deleterious effects of Villains
I'm not certain what deleterious effects Villains could have, but thematically it makes sense that they attack your Alter Ego in some way - like taking Mary Jane hostage, or threatening a train full of innocent people. Perhaps an acceptable abstraction of that (which could actually matter) is that when they come into play you have to put some number of cards from your deck face down under the Villain, and you don't get them back until you defeat him. You can always get a new Hero card each turn, so you can always defeat the Villain eventually.

I'm not entirely opposed to using some kind of player counters in the game, but I admit the impetus behind that is mostly that I like the idea of each player having a set of tokens with an Alter Ego logo on one side and their own hero's insignia on the other. These could be parodies or similar to the Bat Signal or Superman's 'S' for example.

I'm not sure this is necessary in this game at this time, but perhaps it might be better to use tokens to record damage on Villains rather than leaving the cards on them. Thus players could leave the Villains in the center of the table rather than 'claiming' them, and 2 players might sort of rush to defeat the same Villain - with their Insignias indicating which Hero icons they've played on that Villain so far.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dice Werx and Alter Ego updates

I have been working on three things in the last week or so:

Eminent Domain Expansion: Exotic planets
The FIRST EmDo expansion will be the 9 card set of Prestige and Utopian planets, but that's a mini expansion, the first FULL expansion is what I'm working on now. I've made a first draft prototype, and once I get it where I'm more comfortable I'll offer PnP files to TMG fans to test it out. The expansion adds the following:

* Additional Role Cards to accommodate a 5th player
* Additional Planet Type: Exotic
* Additional Technologies (to go with the Exotic planet type)
* Additional Start Planet tiles: 1 each Advanced, Fertile, and Metallic, and 2 Exotic

I have first draft versions of all this, and have played with the Exotic stuff, but not yet with 5 players. So far it looks promising, though of course there is room for improvement over the first draft!

Dice Werx
It may be favorable to use the word "Dice" in the title for marketing purposes, so I'm probably going to have to rename Eureka! to Dice Werx. Please leave a comment with which spelling you like best, or with a better name for the game (or argument to keep calling it Eureka)... possible spellings:

Dice Works
Dice Werks
Dice Worx
Dice Werx

Anyway, after playing the game a number of times and considering packaging and cost concerns, I have come to some conclusions about what the game will look like:
80 dice in 4 colors (still not sure if they should be standard or custom with icons)
4 two-sided player boards with 3 columns on one side and 4 columns on the other
Additional dice required at the high end of the columns, with more cross pollination of colors.
Some reward for advancing to the 2nd/3rd/4th spaces in ALL columns.

My current thought, and what I'll try in the next incarnation, is to make the Scrap exchange a little worse to begin with, like 4-for-1 rather than 3-for-1, and then when a player advances every column to the 2nd level, their Scrap exchange for all colors will go up to 3-for-1. Advancing everything to the 3rd level will earn you a 2-for-1 Scrap exchange rate for all colors. Advancing everything to the 4th level will earn you a 1-for-1 scrap exchange, which should be pretty darn good, but by the time you get all 3/4 columns to level 4, someone should probably have won already!

Alter Ego deck building game
I made some first draft cards for Alter Ego, and ran through a couple 2 player tests with Mike. The rules are very skeletal, but I think I was able to see a few things that for sure needed to change, and how to change them. Since then I tweaked all of the Equipment cards and re-printed them. I have a pretty good idea what I need to do with the Villain cards as well. A few notes for my own benefit that probably won't make sense to anyone else:
* The Arch Villains need to require more of their specific icons (which appear on the regular villains) - or else those icons need to be more sparse on the villain cards.
* The Villain cards need to give fewer benefits (like additional hero symbols), and/or the hero symbols they give should only apply toward the Arch Villain, not additional interim villains.
* In order for the game not to crash, there needs to be a way to add Alter Ego (AE) cards back to your deck. I'm thinking that instead of fighting crime (and trading in an AE card for a hero card) a player could NOT fight crime and instead add an AE card BACK to their deck. It was suggested (thanks Andy) that in that case a Villain should come out - the top one from the deck perhaps, or maybe there should be a supply of the most basic bad guy, who gives you no benefit whatsoever, but who must be defeated before you can attack an Arch Villain. Thematically, as you spend more time with your family (and not patrolling the streets), the crime rate goes up.
* I am still concerned with the low level of interaction in the game, but for the scope of the game maybe it's acceptable to not have any player interaction.
* I'm a little concerned about the turn structure as well, I want the game to have a nice, simple flow to it.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Deckbuilding Discourse

What with Eminent Domain coming out soon, and a rash of other deck building games popping up left and right, I've been doing a lot of thinking about the Deck Building mechanism. What is so interesting about it?

I think the single most interesting thing about deck building is that the iterative small scale decisions you make throughout the game have a direct relationship with your late game position. Every card you add to or remove from your deck has a lasting impact on the game for you. Which means that you need to consider long term ramifications of short term decisions, making even somewhat trivial choices more interesting.

What does this mean in terms of designing a deck building game? It means that for one thing, the end game goal should be clearly stated from the outset, so you have some way to reasonably know what cards you'll want in your deck later on. How do some of the existing, well known deck building games do this, and are they successful?

Dominion does this by allowing you to determine what you want your endgame plan to be. How will you attempt to win? Do you want to draw 8+ Gold and buy a province each turn? Do you want to be drawing your entire deck every turn to buy multiple Victory cards? You can look at the set of Kingdom cards and make that determination, and every card you choose to put into your deck can either work directly to that end, or might be a step toward a deck that will create that endgame situation for you.

Thunderstone does NOT really do this, which is why I do not like Thunderstone as much as I like Dominion. In a game of Thunderstone there are 3 different Monster types, and each one might have it's weakness, but due to the nature of the "hallway," it's not feasible to really specialize in any given monster type. You pretty much want to make a deck that produces more and more power, and it doesn't matter much what kind or how much more, just more = better.

Ascension also does not do this at all. The center row, similar to the hallway in Thunderstone, makes it impossible to really plan ahead on what you might need. The best you can do is specialize in one of the 2 currency types and hope that there will be good options for you when it's your turn. Ascension does offer you the ability to sort of build combos in your deck, by going after, say, Machina Constructs, or Lifebound cards... but considering you can't tell when those cards will come up, you don't really get to build those synergies on purpose. Every card in Ascension is worth points, and mostly at about the same efficiency. I've had a lot of success at that game simply buying pretty much whatever I could afford - I almost don't care what it is. Given a choice, a card that says "draw a card" on it is better than one that doesn't. I don't have any long term plan which I want my cards to fit into.

So how does my game stack up? I'm not going to preach from my soapbox that my own creation is perfect, but I will say that I am pleased with how it turned out. One of the design goals of Eminent Domain was to provide a late game goal which players need to take into account when choosing their role each turn in order to have a strong endgame. In EmDo cards enter your deck as a side effect of taking actions, which is in itself very different than other deck building games. But with reference to the topic at hand, your strategy in EmDo will influence your role choices so that late in the game you will be able to have big, useful turns. For example, if your plan is to research out some level 3 technology in the late game, you can't neglect research and then all of a sudden score a 5 point Tech card. you'll have to take the Research role or otherwise collect research symbols in your Empire in order to score well off of research.

The next deck building game I'm working on, Alter Ego, will also provide a clear end game goal. The Arch Villains you must defeat in order to win will be face up from the beginning, so that you know what you need to go for and which intermediate villains you need to pursue in order to get there.

I really think this is a key element in deck building games, and I think despite their popularity and sales levels, many of the Dominion clones and other new deck building games out there are failing at this aspect.

What do you mean "failing?" You just said they were popular and are selling well!"

Yeah, that's true - it's hard to argue with success. And more power to them! I'm not saying they're not enjoyable, but it's kind of a shame because I think most of the deck building games out there could probably be better than they are. It's like they're missing the point, but since deck building is hot right now, it doesn't even matter. A good theme and the deck building mechanism will only carry you so far, I predict that before long people will get bored and the hype will die down, and the only deck building games that will remain will be the ones that do more than merely put cards into your deck. I don't know how long it'll be before that really comes to pass, but I hope that Eminent Domain will be one of those games when it does!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Alter Ego deck building - what a difference a day makes

OK, that title is unnecessarily dramatic, and probably misleading. I just mean that it has been 1 day, and this morning I did get a chance to attempt a dry run of an approximation of Alter Ego, using an Eminent Domain prototype! Andy Van Zandt is here at GAMA and he tried it with me. The prototype was limiting in a few ways, and I didn't have all aspects covered by the rules yet, but it actually went pretty well! I was able to fix one or two things on the fly, and it gave me a good idea about which parts were working which weren't. One major-ish thing I changed was to swap the order of Training and drawing cards- making the card draw the first thing you do on your turn.

Another thing that I didn't change on the fly, but that I think might need changing, is whether you have to discard your hand at the end of your turn. At first I figured people would just be playing their entire hand every turn, and so you'd draw a new hand for next turn. In practice of course there are times when you'd want to build up a certain type of card in your hand. So should you be allowed to hold cards from turn to turn? Or does the Alter Ego card mechanic sort of want you to rely on the composition of your deck?

There were a few other details, but overall a successful first run I think, at least enough to warrant continued work on it. Just so I don't forget, I'll jot down some notes about it here. This might not make much sense to you, so feel free to skip it:

* I thought the Patrol action would have to say "draw 1+N villains, keep 1 to attack" 1+N because otherwise you could have a situation where a player removes all Patrol cards from their deck, and then cannot Patrol at all. That is really not necessary, I'd rather have wimpy guys of each suit which give you partial (1/2 or 1/3) credit toward beating a specific Arch Villain.
* I played with the villains all just increasing your hand size by one. I think the abilities from defeated villains could be more varied than that.
* I need to think some more about exactly how Equipment should work.
Edit: Maybe some equipment should have ACTIVATION cost as well, so that neglecting your Job aspect really does hurt, even after you've used it to get some better cards into your deck!
* There needs to be some semblance of interaction, and I think being able to swoop in and finish off an opponent's partially defeated villain may be the way to accomplish that.
Edit: Then again, Ascension and Dominion don't have much if any interaction... maybe it can be solitaire and still sell well! Leave interaction for an expansion!

Alter Ego - new form factor

The other night Mike and I were at dinner discussing what it might take to come up with another deck building game, one on par with Ascension (with regard to scope). We brainstormed some themes, and one that sounded promising was superheroes. At first we were talking about each player's starting deck representing a hero and a sidekick, with one or two of several abilities (which would work like the icons in Eminent Domain). The "kingdom" cards would be Hero cards you would get by "training" - they would add icons to your deck. Then you would fight Villains, like you fight monsters in Thunderstone. They would have various costs to defeat, comprised of those ability symbols. Once beaten, maybe TMG's Villains would go in front of you and give you some static effect, like the planets in EmDo.

Then we thought another way to do it would be to have a sort of Legion of heroes, rather than 1 per player. Say there were 5 abilities, there could be 10 heroes, each with 2 of the abilities on them. This would be your starting deck (one card for each hero). You would add cards to your deck such as Sidekick cards, or training cards, or equipment cards, in order to make you strong enough in the various icons to defeat the villains. Mike was very enamored with this idea, and maybe it could be made to work, but I wasn't feeling it.

Thinking about heroes I of course remembered Alter Ego. It occurred to me that the thoughts I'd had about the format of the game were really actually PERFECT for a deck building game... If you start with a deck full of Community, Job, and Family cards, and have to literally lose them to get Hero cards in order to fight Villains!

I think that could work really well, and here's how I see it going down:
Players start with a deck of maybe 6 or 8 each of Family, Job, and Community cards, and possibly a couple of Hero cards (or possibly not). The turn order would follow this outline:
1. Train - remove any one Alter Ego card in hand from the game and replace it with a Hero card.
2. Support - play any number of Family cards and draw two cards for each.
3. Equip - play any number of Job cards to purchase one equipment card into your deck. Equipment cards could be like EmDo's Tech cards or Dominion's Kingdom cards (different selection each game).
4. Patrol - play any number of Community cards. For each one, draw a card off the Villain deck. Then choose a Villain to fight. This could be one of the drawn cards, or one of the standard wimpy villains, or one for the Arch Villains available for the game. Defeating an Arch Villain is how you win the game. In order to qualify to take on an Arch Villain though, maybe you have to defeat several of that Villain's henchmen (villains of that type or 'suit'). I also think if would be cool if you NEEDED to defeat villains to even have a feasible shot at besting an Arch Villain. As such, I think the villains you defeat should come into play in front of you and give you a static ability, like planets in EmDo.

The basic idea here is that you must weaken your deck in one or more of the three basic areas in order to make progress toward winning. I hope to try this idea out, and I think I can do so using an EmDo prototype. Maybe I'll do that while I'm here in Vegas.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Creative Writing - Steampunk

I'm working on a project that I'm finding very fun. That project is a little different than things I've done, but not so different from things I've considered in the past. 2 of my favorite classes in college (and this was something of a surprise at the time) were writing classes - one was the dumb-ass class you have to take if you don't pass the Upper Division Writing Proficiency Exam, and the other was a Creative Writing class I took in my last semester for something to do alongside the single required class I had to take. My current project is a creative writing one.

What's that, Seth? ANOTHER project? Aren't you an engineer, a board game designer, a board game developer, helping your friend with a board game publishing business, and still playing frisbee a couple times a week (plus traveling to tournaments)? Well, this one is related - I'm writing a background story for an upcoming Tasty Minstrel release, and I'm having a really good time doing it!

It's not set in stone yet, but it's highly likely we've found a game to release for Essen/BGG.con 2012, and I wanted to apply a Steampunk theme to it. Steampunk, for those unfamiliar, is really not a theme so much as a setting - generally speaking it's like "retro sci-fi." Often alternative history, with today's advances powered by Victorian era technology. Like a steam powered rocket ship for example, or a clockwork robot. Based on the time frame, and because they are cool, you often see dirigibles, pilots with goggles, and mechanics with over-sized wrenches. Here are some pictures showing the typical Steampunk look:

(Taken from Google Image Search)

I like the idea of the genre in general, and I thought it would be a good fit/excuse to explain some of the mechanisms of this game. Like most Science Fiction, it gives a plausible excuse for anachronistic technology in a realistic setting. In the Fantasy genre just about anything can be justified via magic. While I have no problem with that, I kinda like how Sci Fi and Steampunk attempt to describe things in a way that could actually happen in our world.

In short, the game in question is about using your Airship to pick up goods from factories and drop them off at your depots, then using virtual trains to ship the goods along rail lines to cities that want them. This 2-stage delivery process, and how you orchestrate your Airship movement, is something I found fun and interesting, but thematically it didn't make a lot of sense. It's been fun writing a story that justifies the game action:

The game takes place at the beginning of the second industrial revolution in the US, about the same time frame as Railroad Tycoon - as rail barons were laying track across the eastern U.S. - only in the game world, the British won the war of 1812, so instead of the "United States of America," it's "British Colonial America," and the style of Victorian England spread throughout the country. Airships were used (like in real life), but they were not fast enough nor maneuverable enough to replace trains for the shipping industry. Our story begins with an inventor named Samuel Diamond, and his invention, the Diamond Engine. It's an engine which can increase the speed and mobility of an airship. Though it works, the design is imperfect, and if not handled carefully the engine can overheat, potentially causing catastrophic failure (like, the airship exploding), so laws quickly disallowed the use of the Diamond Engine in cities. The engines became somewhat widely used on the underground Airship Race circuit, but due to their sketchy nature they had not been used for commercial purposes until years later.

Which brings us back to the second industrial revolution and the Railroad Tycoon -esque track building. As a handful of rail barons laid rail across the country, cities sprang up along the tracks, and for them to thrive they were going to need industry to supply them. One baron was ambitious, and while the rest laid infrastructure, Lawrence Golding (I would like to find a better name for this guy) sought out an Airship outfitted with a Diamond Engine and began using it to deliver goods. Because he couldn't enter the cities with his airship, Golding built depots along the rail lines, dropped the goods off there, and used trains on the existing lines to deliver the goods. This turned out to work very well, and while his competitors tried to follow suit, Golding had already dominated the shipping industry. The Golding Empire was strong and prosperous, but eventually Lawrence grew old and died, leaving his company to his eldest son. Caring little for the family business, decided to make a quick buck by dissolving the company and selling it off part by part. This is where the players come in - each player is one of 12 characters (6 pairs) who is trying to make a name for themselves now that the Golding Empire has fallen.

I've also enjoyed writing back stories for the characters...
 * Golding's other son and his business partner, who didn't want to see the company crumble, so their trying to salvage it.
* A retired Airship racing champion and his mechanic, who have taken up this opportunity to put their Airship piloting skills to good use.
* A rival shipping magnate who has always been in Golding's shadow, and now wants to claim their "rightful" throne as the Kings of Air and Steam.
* A pair of Mafiosos. Even the Mafia couldn't touch Golding's empire, but now that it's fallen they want in on the lucrative shipping business.
[Edit: I think these guys might be too directly interactive for this game, so they will be a promotional item if anything. They are replaced by an inventor and his (her?) clockwork assistant ISAAC (Intelligent Steam-Automated Airship Captain)]
* A shady gambler and his partner, a con man, looking for a decent payday, and this opportunity promises to pay off.
* A brother and sister who's father was a rail baron, trying to augment their rail line business with an airship and a chunk of Golding's empire.

Some of these back-stories are better developed than others, and some are better than others to begin with, but I've enjoyed coming up with each one. The player boards will depict 1 of the characters on one side and their partner/teammate on the other. Each team will have a specific airship, and some have slightly different than average stats. Each team will also have a movement deck for their airship, which contains a standard set of cards plus a special card that is unique to their team. And finally, each character has a special ability which will give them some benefit in some aspect of the game. I think the variety of these abilities and differences from character to character will add a lot of fun and replay value to the game, as well as adding to the theme.

That's about it so far. If you know a legitimate Steampunk author who might like to help with this story, please let me know. Also, if you know a graphic novelist who might like to translate this story into a graphic novel, let me know that too - I'd be interested to see how much that would cost.

And finally, all of this story is nice, but I think this game will really shine if the artwork stands out. Does anybody know a great artist that works in the style of the pictures above (especially the second one, with the little robot guy), and who might be interested in illustrating a board game, please let me know that too!

Hope you enjoyed this different-than-usual blog post!

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The Dice Game Cometh

Mike, enamored with the success of Zombie Dice for Steve Jackson Games, thought Tasty Minstrel might ought to look for a simple dice game. In his mind it would be packaged like Fluxx, would sit on the counter by the register at game stores, and with a Pirate or Zombie theme people would buy the crap out of it. With that image in mind, Mike posted on the Board Game Designers Forum that he was actively looking for such a game, and I thought I'd make that the theme of this months' Game Design Showdown. With the knowledge that a publisher will be looking at the dice games, people came out of the woodwork to submit a record high - 38 entries! I haven't read them all yet, but they have been posted for voting.

I started thinking of my own dice game as well. I didn't enter the GDS, partly because I don't think it's kosher to enter and also run the contest, and partly because I haven't finished my idea yet. I was thinking about how some other good dice games work, like Yspahan, and some more recent titles Macao and Troyes - I like the idea of rolling a large number of dice in a common pool and then having players draft subsets of dice out of that to make sets.

I also like tech trees, and player boards where you advance your "technology level" like in Goa or Ted Alspach's new Perpetual-Motion Machine.

ASIDE: I kinda like that part of PMM, but the rest of it left something to be desired. In short, you draw cards from a face down deck and a display of 4 face up cards. You can upgrade how many cards you draw from each, how many cards you can hold in our hand, by collecting particular sets (poker hands) and then turning them in to add cubes to your board. In addition to upgrading your abilities, adding cubes to the board is how you actually win - the first player to place all of their cubes on their board is the winner. The problems I have with that are that especially in the midgame when you've upgraded your card drawing, you pretty much draw all (2-3) of the face up cards and several face down cards at a time. This means there's no point in planning what you might draw at all, because none of the cards you want will be there when your turn rolls around (this might not be entirely true for 2 players, but for 3 and 4 it sure is). It's also kind of annoying to shuffle the deck as often as you need to, and the deck itself is not very exciting. It's a 52 card poker deck. the suits are custom, but there are 4 of them, and the cards are A-K... you could play the game with a regular deck of playing cards bought at the dollar store. I would have enjoyed it more if the theme of PMM were more identifiable. Instead of poker hands, why can't the cards have gears and levers (machine parts), and the sets necessary are various combinations of those? I understand that in reality, Ted had a bunch of extra decks from a prior game, Rapscallion, lying around so he decided to make a game to use them up - that makes sense, but it doesn't mean I wouldn't have liked it better if the theme were addressed more.

So I thought, why not make a dice game where you put together machines - Doodads, Whatzits, Thingamajigs, and Whirligigs for example. And the way you do that is by building sets of machine parts (Gears, Pulleys, Spindles, Motors, Belts, and Switches perhaps) - which appear on the faces of the dice? After rolling a large pool of these custom dice, players would take turns drafting out dice or groups of dice that combine to make the next piece pictured on their playing board - which is like a tech upgrade chart. As you ascend various columns, you could gain powers or abilities (like in PMM or Goa), with the goal of completing your Doodad or Whirligig first - or completing the most Widgets over the course of the game, or something.

Then I had a better idea. I recently played Factory Fun, and in that game players each flip up a tile, then in real time they assess the tiles and grab one - once grabbed you must place it on your board and connect it up properly or suffer the consequences by paying points to discard it. So you want to rush a little to get the best tiles, but you also have to make sure you can use the tiles you get. I wondered whether it wouldn't be more fun to do my dice game like that. Instead of taking turns drafting dice, players could grab dice in a free-for-all, and once grabbed, the die would have to be placed on your board before you could take any more. this could introduce some frantic tension and interaction as you need to figure out what piece you need, find it, and grab it before someone else, and further, you don't need just 1 piece, but a set of several.

So here's my current rules draft:


A fast and furious dice game of invention and innovation for 2-X tinkerers.


XX Custom six-sided dice (Gear/Pulley/Spindle/Motor/Belt/Lever)
  Y each in 5 colors (Red, Blue, Green, Yellow, White)
X Player boards
9-ish markers per player

Each player board shows several Upgrade Tracks as well as progress tracks for inventions. Each track space is labeled with some combination of die faces. Sometimes only the color of the die will matter, sometimes only the symbol on the face, sometimes both and sometimes neither. One track will exist for each color of die in the game, and there will be a track for each type of invention as well as some other tracks that tend to give you better abilities.

Round Structure

1. Roll Dice
    Each player notes the number of dice of each color that they contribute, and takes that number from the supply. All of these dice are rolled together.

2. Draft Sets
    Players grab dice to complete sets on their player board. The following rules apply:
    2a. Only 1 hand can be used to grab dice
    2b. Only 1 die can be taken at a time
    2c. Once a die is touched, it must be taken and placed on your board before another die can be taken
    2d. Dice may only be placed in the lowest possible space in each column.

    2e. Once placed, a die on your board may never be moved.

3. Resolve Round
    After all dice have been drafted and placed, players advance markers on their player board for each column that qualifies.

4. Discard / Store Dice
    Dice on unfinished spaces on your board are discarded EXCEPT for the number allowed to be carried over from turn to turn (see player board).

Any thoughts on this?