Monday, November 20, 2017

YANGI: Dice Drafting Rondel game idea

Dice Drafting Rondel

You guessed it, I've had Yet Another New Game Idea (TM). This time it's a dice drafting rondel game. I found a note on my desk at work that I wrote a few weeks ago, and I had some time, so I thought about it a bit and pretty quickly sketched out a mechanical idea. Like I've mentioned before, from this point I'd probably need a theme that fits before I could make much more progress.

Imagine a Rondel with black spaces, gray spaces, and white spaces on it.

* Black spaces show specific basic resource icons which allow you to collect basic resources, as well as a higher level resource icons.
* Gray spaces show conversion icons which allow you to trade resources around, and next to each gray space there'd be a building tile with an ability and a resource cost.
* White spaces show coin icons which allow you to collect coins, and next to each white space there'd be a contract card with some requirement and some reward.

Each player has a pawn on the rondel, or maybe there's a single shared pawn -- I suppose either way would work.

I could imagine this rondel being printed on a board, or I can imagine it being assembled from tiles, such that the order of the spaces is not the same every game.

During setup, you'd roll 3 dice into a pool, 1 Black, 1 Gray, and 1 White.

On your turn:
  1. Choose one of the three dice, and move your pawn clockwise on the rondel to the next space of the color matching the chosen die (you could pay some cost in coins to skip that one and move to the 2nd such space, etc).
  2. Resolve that space according to the number of pips on the chosen die:
    1. Black: Either:
      1. Collect PIP of the resource shown, or 
      2. Exchange PIP of the resource shown into the higher level resource shown.
    2. Gray: Either:
      1. For each pip on the die, either make the specific conversion shown, or collect 1 coin (maybe exchanges of advanced resources cost 2 pips), or
      2. Purchase the building tile here by paying the printed resource cost, plus PIP coins (or additional resources?).
    3. White: Either
      1. Place up to PIP of your resources onto your contract cards, in an effort to complete them, or
      2. Pay PIP coins to take the contract card here.
  3. Re-roll the chosen die back into the pool for the next player.
[edited to make the actions interesting for both high and low rolls]

So you draft a die to collect, convert, or spend resources, and you care about the color for the type of action, and the pip value for the value of the action.

Thoughts on this? Any theme that might be a particularly good fit?

[edited to add this theme idea]

Here's a theme idea that may be a bit unusual:
You're an aspiring actor, seeking fame (and fortune?)... but you have to start somewhere. You wander around doing small jobs (voiceover work, perhaps?) to gain experience (collect resources), and maybe parlay some of that into some decent gigs (advanced resources). With enough experience and a couple of bucks you can take classes (build buildings) which give you an edge in certain aspects. Ultimately you're trying to land roles in TV and Movies (contract cards) to earn fame.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Exploring variable player powers

Variable Player Powers

Something that seems to have gone over well with the TMG audience, and with a lot of gamers in general, is variable player powers. Often, unique abilities can lend a sense of replayability to a game by giving the player a different feel, or a nudge toward a different strategic path or goal.

But these powers can be a double edged sword, with the potential for a player to feel pigeonholed into a particular strategy or play style as dictated by their player power, or the possibility (even just the perception) of some powers being significantly stronger or weaker than others.

To be honest, I've historically prefered a game where players start out on equal footing, and quickly differentiate their position through game play. I've always liked it when, based on early choices, you develop your own unique player profile for the game. And I especially like it when you can set yourself up with a different player profile the next time you play (replayability!). However, I'm coming around. I get the impression more and more that variable player powers are worth adding to many types of games.

I've just signed a few new games that will be coming out in the next year or two, and I want to add player powers to two of them.

The evolution of player powers at TMG

In order to inform my thinking on variable player powers, it may be useful to look at the TMG games that have utilized them. Here they are, in pseudo-chronological order:

The first TMG original game that had player powers was Ground Floor, from 2012. Designer David Short included Specialty tiles that gave your business a little nudge in one direction or another. They upgraded one of the 6 starting spaces on your player board -- something you could normally do on your own for a cost. With the Specialty tiles, everyone starts with a different space upgraded. This doesn't make a huge impact on the game, but it does make you a little better at one aspect or another, and therefore better suited to utilize that aspect. Presumably a player with an advantage in a certain area would play in a way that takes advantage of that advantage.

When Kings of Air and Steam came along in 2013, we tried something new. We used 2-sided player boards (A/B), where the A-sides were identical, with each player starting on equal footing. We called that the "Basic" game. In the "Normal" game, each of the 7 possible player characters had a unique board with subtle differences in different aspects, as well as 2 special abilities to choose from, and a specific initiative order. It was a lot of fun to come up with, test, and balance the 14 various abilities, and we used the player board differences and initiative sequence (turn order) to adjust for abilities that were too strong or too weak until we felt we'd gotten a fairly well balanced game.

Another TMG game to get variable player powers around that time was Dungeon Roll, and while the other games were complete games without these powers, in Dungeon Roll, the powers play a much larger role in the game. Each hero in Dungeon Roll has a Specialty and an Ultimate ability, one or both of which gets better when the hero gains enough experience to level up. Dungeon Roll shipped with 8 heroes (9 if you count the kickstarter Guild Leader promo), and has since gotten two boosters of 8 more heroes each, as well as the holiday themed Winter Heroes pack, and the Time Traveler promo hero. Kind of like Dominion and Bridge rely heavily on having a new situation each hand (new kingdom cards, or a new shuffle and deal), Dungeon Roll relies on using different heroes to make the experience interesting. However, many of the heroes can offer at least a handful of games before they get boring, and with 30 heroes so far, there's a decent amount of game there. Without the different hero powers, I think the game would get old pretty quickly.

Bomb Squad is a cooperative game from 2013, and designers David Short and Dan Keltner used player powers similar to what you'd see in Pandemic, and to much the same effect. In my opinion, the base game play of Bomb Squad is so solid and fun that the player powers aren't really necessary to play the game over and over, but their effects do add to the experience. Since the game is cooperative, the player powers don't need to be as balanced against each other, they just need to be useful and fun twists on game play to let players feel like they've got an extra, unique way to help the team.

Belfort, released in 2011, never had player powers. But when the Expansion Expansion came out in 2013, it added assistants that you could draft each round, which approximated a player power in that game. Not really the same as a standard variable player power, but worth mentioning the approximation.

My deck learning card game Eminent Domain was also released in 2011 without variable player powers. For many players, the best part of the Escalation expansion from 2014 was the Scenario cards, which altered your starting deck and gave you some technology to start with. They were so well received that I added 5 Base Game scenarios as a promo in Microcosm, and a handful more came in the Exotica expansion. They haven't come to fruition yet, but I talked on my blog about another possible promo item: Emperor Avatars (described here). Emperor Avatars would be a set of two player powers that you would draft before starting the game.

Steam Works, in 2015, was the next big game to have player powers. This time we repeated the A-side/B-side player board idea from Kings of Air and Steam, but rather than having the A-sides being identical, they were unique. The B-sides had even more diverse or crazy abilities.

2015 also brought us Harbour, by Scott Almes. The base game of Harbour is a solid, compact worker placement game with an interesting market mechanism, but like Dungeon Roll, the real attraction for players (I think) comes from the host of player characters in the box. Since Harbour we've set a couple of games in the same universe (with more to come), and one of the things I've tried to do with each of those is maintain that format by providing diverse and colorful player characters with fun abilities.

2015's Dungeon of Fortune is basically a card game version of the press-your-luck dungeon crawl that was Dungeon Roll. Different mechanics, but the same theme and setting. As such, it made sense to add player powers to that game as well, and we tried to model them after some of the heroes in Dungeon Roll.

I wasn't involved in Andy's Bottlecap Vikings (also from 2015), but I know that he added variable player powers in the form of different upgrade powers on your player board in that game.

Variable player powers in today's TMG titles

This year (2017) has brought us a handful of TMG titles with player powers. In Exodus Fleet (which I didn't work on) you choose one of two factions, and that lets you start with a slightly different starting ship, and a unique card or two which could give you a nudge down a different strategic path. I don't think the differences are so substantial that you'd feel forced to pursue a particular strategy though.

I had a big hand in their development of the rest of the 2017 titles, including the variable player powers:

Chimera Station follows the Kings of Air and Steam tack of A-side (identical) and B-side (unique) player boards. That game originally didn't have player powers, and I decided they could be a good thing to add. In Chimera Station, you modify your workers by adding 4 different types of components to them: Brains, Claws, Leaves, and Tentacles. It also happens to be a 4 player game. So for unique player powers, each faction/player is kind of "good at" one of the components. This may be a little heavy handed, pushing you fairly hard toward using a bunch of the type of component that you're "good at." However, you have several workers, and it's still worth getting other components than the one you're "good at," so I think it works out.

When we signed Harvest, the game was simply about growing crops. It didn't have any characters or payer powers. But I decided to set it in the Gullsbottom universe, like Harbour before it. So naturally, it made sense to add player powers like we had in Harbour. At first I thought it would be good to take some of the actual Harbour characters, and see if we could interpret their abilities to make sense in the context of this game. However, we instead made new characters for this game. Designer Trey Chambers, taking a cue from The Voyages of Marco Polo, thought it would be good if the player powers in Harvest were more than just a tweak here, or a nod to a specific strategy there, so his first draft of the player powers were very powerful, very unique, and very diverse! We embraced that strategy for this game, and came up with a set of 8 characters with crazy powers. Mixing that with the A-side/B-side format, I wanted to have the common side be something basic, but I decided this time to make the A-sides playable along with the B-sides. So the basic character, Wil Plantsomdill, has a well rounded spread of starting resources, no particular abilities, but gets 15 points added to his score at the end of the game. This way, you can deal 2 player boards to each player, and they can choose between one character, the other, or Wil, and if I've done my job, the game will be fair.

I was working on Pioneer Days at the same time I was working on Harvest, and I decided to try the same thing with the player powers in that game. Originally there were none, and I decided to add some. Like Kings of Air and Steam or Chimera Station I wanted a basic side and a unique side, and like Harvest, I wanted it to be comparable to the unique side. What I decided to do was to take the designers' proposed standard player power (before we had unique ones), and make it the standard power. It's straightforward, and recommended for first time players, but it's not just vanilla like Wil Plantsomdill is. We called this the Standard Pioneer, and put it on the A-side of each player board. Then on the B-side of each board is one of the unique powers. Again, you can deal 2 player boards to each player, and they have 3 options to choose between: the 2 unique characters, or the Standard Pioneer, and whichever they choose should be competitive.

We have two upcoming titles that have been announced so far for 2018:
Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done is my next title, and in that game you get a knight faction tile with an ability in it. Most of the abilities have to do with controlling the distribution of your action tokens around your action wheel, which was their purpose. These aren't big effects, but they help you work with the rondel mechanism to pursue your chosen strategy.

I wasn't involved in Downfall at all, but that has player powers too. I think they're pretty low impact though, you get a Leader unit, which is like an upgraded regular unit, and you get a special card which is more powerful than normal. It's a card drafting game, so if you pass your special card and another player uses it, then you get a small owner's bonus while they get the better than usual effect.

Let's think about these games and how they use player powers, and consider what we can learn from them. This will help me design and test player powers for the two new games I mentioned earlier.

Good vs poor player powers

I think the kinds of things that make good player powers are things that either:
  • Give you some sort of starting advantage, then you don't have to worry about them again. These are straightforward and good for new players or those prone to being overwhelmed, however they're not ideal since they don't necessarily affect the way you play.
  • Give you static end game goals, such as bonus points for certain things, which give you a nudge toward a long term plan. These help drive your choices, but really they just weigh some choices more than others because you want to do things to increase your end game bonus.
  • Give you reasons to make choices you wouldn't otherwise make. This is probably the most ideal kind of power, provided it's balanced, but there's a danger of feeling like you're not even playing the same game if the incentive is to do something TOO different than normal.
  • Give the you agency to control something you couldn't otherwise.
  • Give you an incremental bonus when you do certain types of things, as long as you set them up correctly.
I think the kinds of things that make poor player powers are things that:
  • Introduce additional decision points which other players have to wait for, especially during maintenance phases. This can break up the flow of the game, or create timing issues
  • Are easily forgotten. If an ability is so seldom used, or so easy to forget you have it, then what is it really doing for you?
  • Occur based on chance, such that you might not get an opportunity to use your power, or such that a power could be significantly more or less valuable each game just due to randomness.
  • Slow down the game or are hard to keep track of.
  • Are directly interactive in a negative way (this is OK in some games, but in most games I work on it's probably not OK).
Are these lists exhaustive? I doubt it. If you have types of powers you'd like to add to either the "good" or "poor" list above, please mention it in the comments!

What do you think? What makes a good player power? What are some examples of successful powers in games, and what are examples of powers that are unsuccessful?

Latest and Greatest EmDice (Eminent Domain: Chaos Theory) prototype files

For those following along, or those who are interested in following along, I thought I would post the latest and greatest prototype files for EmDice. Some years ago people printed and played the game. For those people, you'd only really need to do two things to update your copy:

  1. Print the new tech board, 
  2. Mark the dice to change the Produce and Trade sides to Produce/Trade and Politics.

The planets and resource/fighter tokens remain the same.

And if you would like to play with 5 players, you will need to create 7 more dice and 12 more resource/fighter tokens.

Eminent Domain: Chaos Theory prototype files (v2.1)
Fighter/Resource/Influence Tokens

And for those interested, but not enough to download files, I'll paste the up-to-date (as of November 2017) rules here:

Chaos Theory: the Eminent Domain dice game
V2.1 11/14/17

35 Role dice (6/player + 1/player for Oversight Committee)
36 Planet tiles (12 of each Advanced, Fertile, Metallic)
+/- 60 Fighter / Resource / Influence tokens
1 Draw bag
1 Tech board
25 Tech markers (5 in each player color)


  1. Set the tech board in the center of the table.
  2. Place 1 die per player near the Oversight Committee tech space.
  3. Shuffle all planet tiles in the draw bag. Draw 5 planet tiles and place them FACE UP above the Survey slots on the Tech board.
  4. Each player takes 6 dice and rolls them into their empire.
  5. Each player takes 1 start planet at random and places it FACE DOWN in their Empire. Return unused start planets to the box.
  6. Each player takes the tech markers that match their start planet border.
  7. Determine a Start player via any method you choose.

Game Turn
Players take turns choosing roles in order to Survey new planets, Settle or Attack them, Produce and Trade resources, and do Research. On your turn, do the following:

1. Choose a Role. 
There are 6 roles to choose from (Survey, Warfare, Colonize, Produce, Trade, Research). You may freely choose any role.

2. Boost the Role.
You may use any number of your active dice with symbols matching the role symbol to boost the chosen role. Place any used dice into your Used pile.

Roles may also be boosted with role icons on face-up planets or techs you own. You also get a leader bonus of +1 role symbol (+2 Role Symbols for Survey, or -1 Warfare cost for Warfare if you choose to attack).

3. Resolve the Role.
Carry out the effect of the role (see below for the effects of each role). Each opponent in turn order may choose to Follow or Dissent. Any dice used by a player to follow are placed in that player's Used pile.

  • Follow: An opponent choosing to Follow a role may use any number of their own active dice with icons matching the chosen role (as well as icons on face-up planets or techs owned by that player) to carry out the effect of the role for themselves. All dice used are placed in that player's Used pile.
  • Dissent: An opponent choosing to Dissent a role may re-roll any number of their active dice that all share the same symbol. This need not be the symbol of the chosen role! IN ADDITION, for each "Re-roll +1" ability that player has, they may re-roll 1 additional die, no matter what symbol it shows. This additional die MAY come from the active dice, or the Used pile!

Remember, whenever a die is used, it is placed in the Used pile!

Game End
Play continues until the last Fighter/Resource/Influence token is taken from the supply, or when there are not enough planets to fully restock the Survey display at the end of a Survey role. When the game is over, count the Influence and determine a winner:

  • Count 2 Influence for each face-up planet (+1 Influence bonus as indicated on some planets), 
  • 1 Influence for each resource traded during the game, 
  • 1 Influence for each Level 3 Technology (as printed on board), 
  • 2 Influence for each Level 4 Technology (as printed on board), and 
  • 3 Influence for each Level 5 Technology (as printed on board) 

The player with the most Influence is the winner!

Survey (Leader bonus: 2 Survey icons)
Above the Tech board there is a display of face up planet tiles that cost 2/3/4/5/6 Survey symbols to take, with the rest of the planet tiles in a draw bag. Choose any of those planets you can afford, then slide the rest of the planets down. Do not draw a planet from the bag (or stack) to fill the missing slot yet! Restock the planets at the end of the role, after each player has followed or dissented.

Warfare (Leader bonus: 1 Warfare icon or -1 Warfare cost)
Collect 1 Fighter for each Warfare icon OR Attack a planet instead, at a discount of 1 Fighter.
When you Attack a planet, discard a number of Fighters equal to the Warfare cost and Flip the planet.
NOTE: Unlike the card game, in this game, you CAN Attack a planet when following! But of course, you do't get the leader bonus discount.

Colonize (Leader bonus: 1 Colonize icon)
Spend as many Colonize icons as the Colonize cost of a face down planet in your empire to Settle that planet.
NOTE: Unlike the card game, in this game, you CAN Settle a planet when following!

Produce (Leader bonus: 1 Produce icon)
Produce 1 resource for each Produce icon. You must store these resources on planets in your Empire. Each planet can store 1 resource. You may not produce more resources than you have planets to store them on (no sneaky triggering the game end when you cannot hold the resources!).

Trade (Leader bonus: 1 Trade icon)
Trade 1 resource for each Trade icon. When trading a resource, move a resource token from a planet in your empire into your score pile. Each of these tokens will be worth 1 Influence point at the end of the game.

Research (Leader bonus: 1 Research icon)
Pay the appropriate cost and satisfy the planet prerequisite to advance your Technology marker on one of the Technology tracks on the Tech Reference Board. There are 4 tracks on the Tech board: Advanced, Fertile, Metallic, and Diverse. The spaces in each track indicate the number of Research icons and planets required.

Each Technology confers a bonus of some kind, as indicated on the Technology board.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Eminent Domain Origins and Eminent Domain: Chaos Theory -- progress!

I've been devoting the last few weeks of Friday playtests to Eminent Domain origins (the Terra Prime reboot) and Eminent Domain: Chaos Theory (the title I'm leaning towards for EmDice). I think it's been going well overall, and I feel like progress is being made. Here's about where I'm at with each of those:

Eminent Domain Origins

In addition to making changes to Terra Prime that I've been wanting to make for years, I'm also hoping to improve and update the overall experience Here's how the recent changes have played out so far...
  • Add one "any module" slot to the command ship.
I tried this, and have had mixed feelings about it. In the next play I will remove the extra module slot, and instead turn one of the Weapon/Shield slots into a Weapon/Shield/Cargo slot.
  • Add 1 "any resource" hold to the command ship.
I have been liking this change, and I think I will likely keep it.
  • Allow "Offload Colony Marker" at any time as a free action (describe this under "Load Colony Marker" and remove "Offload" as an action altogether)
This is absolutely a change I am keeping, as it makes sense, it removes an action from the action list, and frankly I've wanted to do it ever since the game came out.
  • Use expansion setup: space hexes face up from the outset, with face down Exploration tiles on top.
I do like this change, but I'm struggling with a related aspect (see next).
  • Set direction on tiles, so there's no possibility of illegal placements or configurations.
This is something I'm not too sure about. In the last test, I tried ignoring the "no 2 adjacent sectors may contain planets" rule and simply set the tiles out completely randomly. This had the effect of parts of the board with colony locations quite close together, while they were more spread out in other parts of the board. However, I also added 2 additional paths out of Terra Prime, which effectively shrinks the board a little bit.

In some ways, I think the completely random setup is beneficial, though it also means I might need to add resource tokens, because there could be more colonies in the game.

In other ways, I'm not sure it's ideal. I never liked the idea of having colonies in every space along a path, I liked that they had to be spread out a little bit (kinda like the settlements in Catan). But I'm not sure I have a good reason for that. However, the problem I'm running into now has to do with scoring for colonies...

Originally, I tied the scoring of colonies to 2 things... the type (color) of the colonized planet, and the distance from that colony and Terra Prime. I added extra points if there were asteroids in the sector, because you had to "brave" them to colonize there (though honestly that was a little fiddly and unnecessary). The idea was to make placement of the tiles more interesting, and to make colony choices (which color?) more interesting. That was also the reason for the "no 2 adjacent..." rule -- to make the planets group up together so you have to choose between them.

I think that scoring scheme was a mistake. The higher value planets are already found farther away from Terra Prime, and you already want to choose them (you'd seldom choose a blue planet over a red one, even if the red one wasn't worth 3 more points). What I wish I had done is reward the amount of total stuff in the sector (in addition to distance from Terra Prime). However, just scoring 1 point per icon in the sector (which would be the simplest way to count it) might not really be enough.

One solution is to dictate the orientation of the tiles, and then simply print numbers in the sectors (I could increase the numbers as the sectors get farther away from Terra Prime). This could replace the distance calculation as well -- you would just add up the numbers in the sector and that would be your score. However, there are some issues with that as well.

I'm currently debating whether it's better to have to count distance and add that to some value based on what's in the sector, or to simply add values printed in the sectors (which would mean a bit more work to re-design the tiles, and the unfortunate aesthetic of having to print numbers in the sectors).
  • Re-examine distribution of hazards on exploration tiles (I haven't done this yet).
Still not sure about this. If I do it, I suspect I could change some of the alien clusters to "1 Warship + 2 Scouts" for example.
  • Clarify reward sequence (all simultaneous, so you CAN keep goods gotten as rewards for colonizing).
This is a done deal for sure!
  • Change Weapon module cost (a simple $20 each. Or even just $10?)
I've been playing with $10 weapons, which seems OK so far. I might nerf alien scoring (1vp/alien killed instead of 2), especially if I end up reducing the colony scoring a little bit.
  • Consider changing the Shield action (people have trouble with "Do one, the other, or both: Buy a shield module for $10, charge shields for $10"). Maybe recharging shields should be free?
So far I've been using the original shield rules (1 action: optionally buy 1 shield module, then optionally pay to charge all shields).
  • Change Delivery Optimizer to "+1 LP when you complete a demand tile. At game end: 1vp per demand tile collected."
This seems OK, but it's hard to tell because it's rarely used. I might like to force a heavy delivery strategy to find out.
  • Start with energy on your built-in shield?
I have been doing this, and it seems OK so far.

On a similar note, I've been having colonies immediately produce as soon as they're created, so there's less wasting actions waiting for the new colony to produce. I've also tried ignoring the "no planet adjacent to Terra Prime" rule as well, all of this hopefully just speeds up the game a little bit.

In an effort to further streamline the action list, I will try ignoring the limit on Exploring, and just have that be wrapped into the Move action, and wrapping the Pacify and Attack actions into one. If I remove the Explore limit, then it might mean I ought to allow exploring out of a wormhole (I'd rather not do that), which leads to exploring 2 tiles at once (or that).

Finally, the Afterburner module (pay 1 Energy for 2 actions this turn) seemed WAY too good. I think it was probably a little too good before, but it didn't seem that bad because to power it efficiently you had to fill your module slots with shields, which limited the number of weapons you could have, making Afterburners pretty good for non-alien-fighting strategies, but alien hunters might still want regular weapons. Or else you could go with 2 shield modules, 1 Ion Cannon (pay 1 energy for 2 weapons this action), and some Afterburners if you wanted to kill a few aliens along the way.

But with the additional module slot, you could pretty easily get 3-4 shield modules and 2 Afterburners, and do 7 actions per turn, only needing to spend one of those actions every 3-4 turns to refuel. That felt like too much, even if the player who did it didn't score very well (I think it took him too long to set up and start abusing that).

So losing the extra module slot might make the Afterburner OK again, but I might try another version. We talked about this... 

Pay 1 energy: After each -> spent on a move action for the rest of this turn, you may immediately take an additional move action.
I'm not 100% sure that's any fewer actions really, but it means you have to spend those extra actions moving (and you only get them if you move), which means the Afterburner is good for zipping around the board, but not for doing a ton of other stuff. I'll try that out next playtest, but I might go back to the previous rule, as long as I remove the additional module slot.

Eminent Domain: Chaos Theory

I'm trying out "Eminent Domain: Chaos Theory" as a title for EmDice. So far it's my favorite of anything that's come up or that I've thought of. I'm open to suggestions for better titles!

With the recent changes (summarized below), I think the game has improved. Maybe the tech board could use a little more tweaking, and maybe the planets should be worth a little bit more (3vp instead of 2? 2vp apiece plus a bonus for most of each type?), but I think the game is in pretty good shape -- even better than t was before. Here are some of the new tweaks I've made recently:

  • Added a 5th player's worth of dice. This required 12 more fighter/resource tokens for the pool (I don't know if that number is exactly correct or not), and a rule that probably should have been there anyway: If there are not enough planets to refill the Planet row at the end of a Survey role, the game end is triggered.
  • Combined Produce and Trade icons onto the same die face. In retrospect this seems so obvious that I'm ashamed I hadn't already done it! For the same reasons I did it in the card game.
  • Added a Politics icon for the 6th side of the die. You may discard a Politics icon at any time to change another active die to any face.
  • Reduced the cost of most of the technology, except for the 3rd and 4th techs in the Advanced tree (which by definition have the benefit of an extra research icon from Improved Research), and the 3rd and 4th techs in the Diverse tree (which seem very powerful, and have the same planet requirement as the previous levels in that tree). The idea being that the higher level techs in the non-advanced trees should be easy enough to get without needing Improved Research, because you only have that if you are on the Advanced tree.
  • Swapped some other techs around so that the other trees (non-Advanced ones) are more useful/powerful. So far this has led to more diverse play, which is a good thing.

In the last test and again in the next test I'm going to try no planet requirement for the 1st tech upgrade. That way you can research on turn 1 (rather than your only options being Survey, Colonize, or Warfare), and there's precedent in the EmDo expansions with things like the Fleet, Mining, and Political Influence tiles that don't require planets.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Terra Prime updates for Eminent Domain Origins

IT's finally time! Last week I played a 2p game of Terra Prime to teach one of my playtesters, yesterday I started making tweaks to my copy of TP (the one with my prototype expansion in the box), and tomorrow I will play some more games with these changes to see how I like them, and identify what else ought to change for the re-implementation as Eminent Domain Origins.

I've started noting rules changes in the rulebook too. Here are the tweaks I've implemented so far (and will try tomorrow):

  • Add one "any module" slot to the command ship.
  • Add 1 "any resource" hold to the command ship.
  • Allow "Offload Colony Marker" at any time as a free action (describe this under "Load Colony Marker" and remove "Offload" as an action altogether)
  • Use expansion setup: space hexes face up from the outset, with face down Exploration tiles on top.
  • Set direction on tiles, so there's no possibility of illegal placements or configurations.
  • Re-examine distribution of hazards on exploration tiles (I haven't done this yet).
  • Clarify reward sequence (all simultaneous, so you CAN keep goods gotten as rewards for colonizing).
  • Change Weapon module cost (a simple $20 each. Or even just $10?)
  • Consider changing the Shield action (people have trouble with "Do one, the other, or both: Buy a shield module for $10, charge shields for $10"). Maybe recharging shields should be free?
  • Change Delivery Optimizer to "+1 LP when you complete a demand tile. At game end: 1vp per demand tile collected."
  • Start with energy on your built-in shield?
Players have suggested that they would like to be able to better customize their command ships, so I don't see any problem with adding 1 module slot that can hold any type of module. 

While I think I know why I did it, I feel it's annoying to have to buy a Cargo Hold in order to carry Yellium ("Silicon") at all, or to afford many of the upgrades. While that did keep some of the upgrades in the midgame, I will try giving players a 1-door cargo hold that holds anything in addition to the color-specific starting holds.

I've long regretted that offloading a colony marker was listed as an action,, required you to be at a colony, and gave a point to the opponent if it was their colony. I'm happy to cut that from the list of actions and just say that once loaded, you can offload a colony marker any time you want, without using an action. Thematically, the colony markers are equipped with low-power engines and autopilot to fly them back to Terra Prime, so if you find you don't need it, rather than jettisoning cryogenically frozen people into space, you can just send them back home.

I've never liked the complexity in the weapons costs. Each weapon you get is more useful than the last, so I made the costs escalate accordingly. However, that's more complicated than necessary, and basically means you'll never buy a 3rd weapon (you don't really need that many anyway)... there's no reason the cost shouldn't be more simple. I'm debating between making it a straight $10 and $20, not sure which way to go. Maybe just $10 would be fine, you could sort of use them as shields -- if you get hit without energy, you can lose weapons and get them back fairly easily for just $10 or 1 Brownium ("Crystal").

I'll see how these changes go tomorrow, and I'll look for more places to streamline the game.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Casual Q&A post #4

About a month and a half ago I did another installment of my Casual Q&A series. I got a few more questions in the comments on that one, so here they are now.

I welcome more questions, the more I get, the more often I'll do posts like these!

Michael Brown asks:

"How did you submit your first game to a publisher?"

Good question... in my case I feel like I sidestepped the system a little bit with my published designs.

Before TMG started, I did try pitching games a couple of times. After basically winning a contest, I asked a representative of Days of Wonder if I could submit All For One, even though their policy was that they didn't accept outside submissions. He told me to send a 1-sheet description of the game, which I did. In the end they told me that since they do so few games, they don't like to revisit themes, and they already had a game based on The Three Musketeers.

The next real pitch would have been Jay Tummelson at a Protospiel event at Gamestorm in 2007 or something like that. I pitched Wizard's Tower (too abstract), and Terra Prime (didn't interest him). I expected the response on Wizard's Tower, but I was legitimately surprised that Terra Prime didn't excite him AT ALL, because I felt like it was right in line with a lot of the titles Rio Grande put out.

It wasn't MY game, so I didn't want to use up my pitch time on it, but later that weekend Jay did see a few minutes of a game of Homesteaders, and he was very interested. He took the prototype home with him, and handed it off to his 3rd party developers, who told me they "recommended it." However, just about then Dominion happened, so I think Homesteaders got shelved for a few years, until I asked for it back when Michael wanted to launch TMG.

The only other time I really submitted a game was Exhibit, with a European publisher I met with at Essen. They liked the game, and took home a prototype. They were interested in publishing it and even offered a contract. However, some outside, largely unrelated factor came up, and as a result they decided they didn't want to move forward (and I don't blame them). They told me there were no hard feelings, and that I should feel free to submit games to them in the future, but it was a bummer to have that process curtailed.

Zedior asks:
"I feel like we (as in budding designers) get a lot of "get it to the table fast" advice, but I personally have a lot of problem going from the idea stage to a prototype. It's partly about the "ideas can't fail" mindset (which is often addressed), but mostly because an idea for a clever mechanism or two still needs a theme, and a dozen more other small things before it is prototypeable. Could you talk about that part of the design process, for you? How do you go from "I want deck-building to represent learning" to have a version with enough stuff to be playable?"

I agree, getting from idea to prototype is one of the big hurdles for me as well. It can be tough, especially if the game requires a bunch of diverse content.

Sometimes I just (eventually) get myself hyped up and at my computer, and I just start laying out cards or something. Sometimes doing that, the whole presentation will change from my initial idea as I see what it actually looks like.

Other times (and I suspect other designers) create content by making a spreadsheet. I did this with my most recent project (Automatown), mostly because I wanted to try datamerge as a way to cut down on work for myself.

A trick you can use, and I think this was one of Matthew Dunstan's nuggets of wisdom that I posted recently, is to create just 1/4 of what you need, print 4 copies each, and start testing with that.

For Eminent Domain it was kind of easy, I only needed 6 different cards to play. However, the tech deck and planet deck were a little harder. I tend to go for symmetry, so for example I started the planet deck with a planet that provided each role symbol. Each type of planet was supposed to be good at 2 different things, so I made metallic planets that had a Survey symbol (x3), a warfare symbol (x3), Hand Size +1 (x2), and nothing but extra points (x1). Similar format for Advanced and Fertile planets.

I tend to make elements that affect each part of the game. Like in Terra Prime, you mostly find and colonize planets, pick-up and deliver resources, and fight aliens. So there are techs that let you move easier, carry more cargo/colonies, fight aliens better, and reward you for delivering more, as well as one that just lets you do more stuff.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Recent testing: EmDice

Looking through my blog, it appears that it's been a full 4 years or more, I think, since I have played my Eminent Domain dice game, affectionately titled EmDice, though I could use a better before going to print.


I had considered the game "basically done," and figured it would eventually get the green light from TMG to go into production. I even got some manufacturing quotes, including one as recently as January of this year. Now that my big projects are finally done out of my hands (Pioneer Days and Harvest debuting at EssenCrusaders and Oblivion in production), it's about time to prioritize what to work on, and revisit some of these older titles to see if they're up to par.

So for the first time in ages (it was not trivial to actually find the prototype!), I got EmDice to the table. One player surprised me by saying that he liked it better than the card game!

One thing that sometimes bugged me about the game was that when re-rolling dice when dissenting, because you don't have good options or don't like your hand, you could easily end up with an equally bad hand over and over again. I guess that's how dice games work, but the thought crossed my hand that perhaps when dissenting you should be able to EITHER re-roll all dice of 1 face (as currently is the rule), OR choose any 1 of your active dice,, and change the face to what you want. My players didn't think that was necessary, perhaps it could be a tech ability or something, but maybe it's not needed as a basic rule.

NOTE: Try some power as "When dissenting, instead of re-rolling dice, you may change 1 active die to any face."

I made 2 more observations while playing...

Warfare leader bonus
In EmDo, the leader bonus for Warfare is that you get an additional Warfare symbol, and you get the option of attacking a planet instead of collecting fighters. Other players generally cannot attack when following Warfare, only as an action, or when they are leading the role. In the dice game, there aren't actions, so you ARE allowed to attack when following, which I think is the right call. It follows then that the leader bonus should be 1 warfare icon OR -1 Warfare cost. You still have to choose to either collect Fighters OR attack, but as the leader, when you attack you get a discount.

A way to represent that a little more concisely is to say that the leader bonus for Warfare is actually just "+1 Fighter" (not a Warfare symbol or a discount). That's effectively the same in the case you're collecting fighters, and it's about the same in the case you're spending fighters to attack as well. The only real downside is if you want to attack, need the "discount," and there's exactly 1 fighter in the supply, and you don't want the game to end (you're about to spend Fighters after all). But maybe that's so rare I shouldn't worry about it. Russell also suggested it might be more clear to keep the delineation of either getting fighters, or spending them. This more concise bonus allows you to get 1 Fighter then attack at the same time, which is potentially less clear cut for some players.

NOTE: Try Warfare leader bonus: "+1 Fighter"

Combine Produce and Trade
Something that ended up being a big breakthrough in EmDo was realizing that Produce and Trade was a terribly swingy and risky strategy when those two actions were each on their own card. The game became much better when they were combined into 1 card. It occurred to me as we played the other day that I had put Produce and Trade icons on their own die faces, causing the same problem here as it did in the card game!

The problem wasn't quite as pronounced in EmDice as it was in the card game, probably due to the Dissent rule allowing you to re-roll unneeded die faces. But it was still there, and frankly I was embarrassed I had gone that route!

The obvious solution is to combine Produce and Trade icons onto the same die face. In the card game, this left me with 5 basic card types, but there are 6 faces to each die, so I would need to fill 1 more die face. My first thought was to add a 2nd Survey symbol to each die, since that's pretty important. But why not borrow from the base game yet again, by adding a Politics icon to the die?

That makes sense, the die faces would then be Survey, Warfare, Colonize, Produce/Trade, Research, Politics. But what would Politics do? In the card game, Politics cards in your starting deck were sort of Pseudo-wild. You removed them from the game, replacing them with the role card of your choice. Making the politics icon COMPLETELY wild seemed way too strong, but maybe pseudo-wild would be ok. My first thought was "2 POL = any 1 icon", making POL icons bad unless you have them in pairs, then they're good. But that's probably too harsh - often times you'd have only 1, and it would be useless. I had also thought of allowing all POL icons to be re-rolled during a dissent, in addition to whatever you chose, but that's just adding more rules as band aids.

My next thought seemed better - discard a Politics die to change another active die to whatever you want. Maybe this addresses the concern I had at the beginning of this post as well.

Dave had a concern that it would remove much of the interaction in the game -- looking around the table to see what people are capable of. If you happen to have 3 POL icons, then you could follow any role you want! Of course, you could only do it for a maximum of 3, and you'd be completely out of dice after that. So I might try it, but with an eye toward Dave's concern, to see if it degrades the game at all.

Other thoughts on what Politics could do...

  • Agendas: a set of cards, deal 3 out during setup. They have actions on them, and on your turn you spend Politics icons to do that action. This could add variety to the game,a s the cards could be different from game to game.
  • Another version of pseudo-wild: "You can always spend X POL icons as X-1 of anything else."
  • Add a politics role, in which you spend Politics icons similar to how you spend Survey icons, buying Clout tokens from a display (mirror the Survey/Planet display, but with Clout tokens). This adds another track, and another bag of tokens though, which isn't ideal.

Of those, I think I'll start with "Discard POL to change another active die."

NOTE: Try combining Produce and Trade into 1 die face, and add Politics die face.
NOTE: Try Politics: Discard this die to change another of your active dice to any face.

So, while I thought EmDice was "basically done," it turns out I can see a few tweaks worth making. I think I will update my prototype and get it to the table again next week, maybe I can finish it up and get it into production before it slides back onto the shelf!

Recent testing: Alter Ego

After bringing Alter Ego back to the table after 2 full years, I wanted to keep it in rotation, lest it find its way back to the shelf for another couple of years. So we played a 4 player game of it last Friday, and I incorporated 3 changes since the last playtest:

  • I nerfed the Teamwork tokens -- they didn't give us an additional fight icon anymore
  • I changed the penalty system to the one I described in my previous post (linked above) -- for every 2 penalty tokens, you lose 1 icon. The only way to remove penalty tokens is through one of the few equipment that does that.
  • I included the new insight I had recently about a 2 civilian "safety net" -- instead of losing immediately when you're out of a civilian color that you need, you take one of the black tokens. Black civ tokens never get returned to the supply. This way you have to lose 3 times that way in order to actually lose the game.

That last one was great, I could tell immediately that it was a perfect solution to that particular problem.

The penalty system was interesting, and Dave thought it was certainly an improvement over the previous version. I'd like to see it in action a little more before I weigh in on whether I'm happy with it.

The nerfed Teamwork tokens were a bit of a problem, I think. With the costs the way they are now (henchmen basically cost 2-5 icons), it's quite difficult to defeat the expensive henchmen without teamwork, and since their costs are specific, it's still difficult. The additional icon of your choice that the TW token used to give you helped a lot with that, but it also kind of made defeating the cheaper henchmen sort of trivial. Also, it seemed weird to say "I'm spending this TW token so you'll fight on my team, but I don't actually need any of your icons, I just need the one from the TW token."

So what probably has to happen is that I need to re-cost the henchmen, possibly with a max cost of 4 icons (or possibly not). Also, I think the henchmen costs need to be more heavily in one icon or another, like AAABB, rather than ABCDE, so that you can reasonably build your deck toward defeating them!

In other news, it's come up so often that I probably need to re-order the turn sequence so that the Family phase is AFTER the fight phase. Maybe I an incorporate it into the Recoup phase, slightly simplifying the overall turn:

  1. Job phase: Collect money (penalty for not playing Job cards)
  2. Patrol phase: Bring henchmen into play (penalty for not playing Community cards)
  3. Fight phase: Spend icons to fight henchmen
  4. Family phase: Discard display, draw cards (penalty for not playing Family cards), choose card from stacks, fill display from hand, discard remaining cards.
In this new scheme, I suppose it makes the most sense to play any Events in addition to your regular 5-card display, and then discard them when you use them during the following Fight phase (or maybe leave them in play until you use them, so if you didn't need it that turn, it'll still be there the next turn).

One other thing that came up was the idea of having a simple board. Suppose there were 5 locations, each bearing one of the 5 fight icons. Then suppose the Henchmen costs were reduced by 1, but cost the icon of the location they're at in addition to their printed cost. This would give the henchmen a sort of variable cost, and could maybe add some potentially interesting board play to the game. I don't know if that's really necessary, but it could potentially add to the theme.

Recent testing: Deities & Demigods

It's been about 3 months since anything has happened with Deities & Demigods. The last changes I made were adding Hera cards to determine start player each round (instead of the Olympus track), and on Matthew's suggestion I added 1 Demeter card to the Olympus deck -- when Demeter comes up, each player individually chooses any deity to either show devotion to or to activate. I also created a whole bunch of player powers to try out, but before using those, I really felt I needed people who knew the game.

So a couple of weeks ago I decided to teach my new group of regular playtesters the game (without player powers). The first time we played, we used Demeter, and I'm a little unsure about that card. It does add some interesting dynamics to the game, but it also makes the game a lot longer, and it allows all players to get a LOT more done, to the point where I fear it feels too much like everyone can do everything. One solution could be to make things cost more (quests harder to achieve, etc). Another is to just not have Demeter (I've played dozens of games without him, and the game seemed fine), though that does miss out on the interesting aspects of adding him. He could be a sort of promo card (a single card that makes a significant difference in the game).

The following week, we played again - this time without Demeter. I still feel like he added interesting things, but I'm not sure I really missed him either.

A bigger problem is that I worry buildings are too strong (and therefore Hephaestus is too important), at least relative to the other deities. One reason might be because the Favor of Hephaestus rewards you for building, and buildings are worth points. By contrast, Hermes favor rewards you for having high devotion, which is decidedly NOT worth points, and therefore ought to be worth a lot more (maybe 0/2/4 instead of 0/1/2 for example). Ares rewards you for spreading out, which is worth a little bit of points, but it also encourages you to not fight for majorities, which is a little weird. I was thinking I should amplify the Ares scoring card to something like "double your endgame city points" or else "3/2/1vp for majority/tied/present in each city." That latter would be the same as it is now if you put 1 guy in each city, a little more if that 1 guy earns you majority or ties for it. The former would help whether you spread your guys out, or pile onto a couple of cities. It actually favors piling onto 2 cities and getting 1st, but that leaves points for other players in other cities too, so maybe it's OK.

A couple of new buildings I tried might be a little out of control - for example one that says "double the number of favor tokens you have." Most of the buildings are worth 4 points or so, maybe a little more if you do a good job (collecting 5 Gardens of Babylon for example makes them worth 5 points each). There's not much upper limit on the score for a building that doubles your favor tokens. If you happen to have 13 of them when the building comes up, then you get a HUGE benefit, in some ways due to luck of the draw. I'm also not sure I want to be the player who feels like he has to take that building for little or no benefit to stop another player from getting such a boon.

I had been thinking that game was about done, but maybe it could still use a few tweaks, and that's before even trying the player powers. And I still would like to one day try the Hades module!

TL;DR: Things to try in future plays...
* Double reward for Hermes favor
* Increase reward for Ares favor (double city vp? 3/2/1vp for 1st/tied/present in each city?)
* Don't use Demeter, see if it's really necessry
* Watch out for certain buildings that are potentially worth too much
* Consider reducing the benefit of some of the artifacts - maybe they don't need so much benefit. They should be worth about the same as 3 gold or 2 troop movement, I think. Which probably just means not having the icon in the corner at all.

Recent testing: TMG submissions, Deities & Demigods, AlterEgo, and the revival of EmDice!

I haven't been posting too much lately - I managed 4 posts in August, but it's been almost a month of silence since!

Part of that is me being a bit busy, another part is me being lazy, and a third part is that much of what I've been doing on the game design front has been evaluating submissions I brought home from GenCon. I am usually very open and transparent in my blog, but until we officially sign a game, I don't feel it's right to talk about them in public.

That said, I brought home quite a few prototypes from GenCon, and I had a few previous submissions that I received updates for, and things like that. I've been pretty happy with all of them so far! Whether we sign them or not will have to do with manufacturing quotes (which I've requested), and I'd like to play them all with more different people to get a better idea of how well they'd be received.

Without giving anything away, here's some teaser information:

Submission from Speed Dating event:
I liked this dice drafting game game when we saw it at GenCon (obviously, since I brought it home with me). It reminded me a little of Pioneer Days, and I thought it could do with an old west re-theme anyway. There was one aspect that seemed more work than necessary, so I tried implementing it in a different way, and my playtesters all thought it played much more smoothly that way. If we do pick this one up, I am currently thinking of making it a "sequel" to Pioneer Days -- in PD you're heading out west, and this game deals with building up a town once you get there.

Submission from designer we know:
We've met with this particular designer a few times, and I've played a few of his submissions. Of those, we've only published one so far, but this new submission might just be the 2nd! The first time I played it with 2 of my testers, they both loved it and said I should publish it immediately. Then I played again with 5 players, and that went over well too (and I managed to win when I thought I would be nowhere close :) ). The theme on this one is awfully similar to one of the games we've already done, and it superficially resembles an existing, well known published game that just got a reprint. It's nothing like that game except in a superficial way, but it will likely draw the comparison. I'm not sure if I care though, and I can't really think of a great re-theme opportunity (the existing theme fits well). So if we pick it up, then we might just not worry about the comparisons.

Submission #1 from before where we'd asked for a change:
There's a game I have played a few iterations of so far. The core mechanism of the game is great, and works well, but the first time I played it the supporting stuff just wasn't there yet at all. I gave the designers some notes, and said that if they were to address the things I mentioned, I'd be happy to re-evaluate.

We met with them at Origins, and played an updated version of the game, but while they did start to address my concerns, they didn't address them as fully as I wanted to see, so I gave them some more notes, and suggested that if that was the direction they wanted to go, then I'd be happy to see what they had at GenCon. It's kind of convenient the timing of Origins and GenCon for this type of exchange :).

We met with them again at GenCon, and they're new version was MUCH closer to what I was looking for, so I took the prototype home with me to examine it further. I played a couple of times at GenCon, and another couple of times after I got home, and while the game is definitely a lot closer to what I had envisioned, and I do think we'll sign it eventually, I sent notes one last time. I expect to sign the game after taking the new version at BGGcon in November, assuming the designers latest changes work out as well as we all expect they will.

Submission #2 from before where we'd asked for a change:
We had a submission that is kind of a roll & write version of one of TMG's existing titles. The original version of the submission seemed too much to us like just the board game, but also with dice. It didn't take advantage of the roll & write format (namely: minimalism and portability).

I corresponded with the designer a bit as he updated the game, and at GenCon we played an updated version that seemed to be a much better use of that format, and still evoked the source game well. Andy brought the prototype home to Utah with him, but I got files from the designer and made my own copy, and after a handful of games (and some commentary from Andy), I made some tweaks to the record sheet, and I think it's probably in pretty good shape. We're waiting on some quote info before we decide whether to sign it or not.

Submission from before Origins and GenCon:
I have one submission that I had originally seen a GenCon several years ago, and was interested in, but another company had it for a while. More recently I heard that the designers got it back, and since I had been interested in it before, I had them submit the game to us. I liked the main mechanism, and I thought it could be fun to set the game in the Harbour universe and give players unique characters to use (like we did with Harbour and Harvest). Unfortunately, initial reaction from players wasn't as enthusiastic as I'd expected, but I'd still like to play some more before making any decisions on it. However, Essen is coming up, and I don't want to hold this game hostage so to speak, so I told the designers to go ahead and show the game around at Essen, and if they don't find another publisher interested, then I'd continue to evaluate the game.

Submission I've known about for a year, and finally got:
A couple of years ago at Essen, I was talking to a designer friend about Crusaders, and other mancala-rondel ideas. Some of that inspired an idea for him, and he emailed me asking if I minded his using that mechanism in a game (of course not, why would I mind?). Some time later (about a year ago) I learned that he had successfully created a game based on that mechanism, and I played a prototype of it and thought it worked pretty well. But they said they weren't done yet...

Finally, a few weeks ago, they sent me the files and I made a copy of the prototype! I have enjoyed it so far. It's very tight, and seems a little short with 2 players (though the right length, just seems so quick!). I look forward to trying it with a few more folks to test the reaction to the game.

That's about it for the TMG submissions. As I got through all of those with my playtesters, I haven't had a lot of time to work on my own games, but I DID get a few of them to the table recently:

Deities & Demigods:
A couple of weeks ago I decided to teach Deities & Demigods to my new group of regular playtesters, so that they could get acquainted with the game before trying to test player powers. I'll go into specifics of that in a separate blog post.

Alter Ego:
After bringing Alter Ego back to the table after 2 full years, I wanted to keep it in rotation, lest it find its way back to the shelf for another couple of years. So we played a 4 player game of it last Friday. I'll make a separate blog post with more details of the playtest.

Looking through my blog, it appears that it's been a full 4 years or more, I think, since I have played my Eminent Domain dice game (affectionately titled EmDice, though I could use a better before going to print).


I had considered the game "basically done," and figured it would eventually get the green light from TMG to go into production. I even got some manufacturing quotes, including one as recently as January of this year. Now that my big projects are finally done out of my hands (Pioneer Days and Harvest debuting at Essen, Crusaders and Oblivion in production), it's about time to prioritize what to work on, and revisit some of these older titles to see if they're up to par.

So for the first time in ages (it was not trivial to actually find the prototype!), I got EmDice to the table. I'll post separately about how that went, but one player surprised me by saying that he liked it better than the card game!


So that's what I've been up to lately. How about you?

Thursday, August 31, 2017

GenCon report

Last week I returned from GenCon 50, my annual pilgrimage to Indianapolis, which started about 7 years ago when TMG was a fledgling publisher.

I fondly remember our improbable endcap booth... here's an excerpt from my blog post after he fact:

Michael, Erin and I went to Gen Con a few weeks ago. I have never been, I've always thought of it as more of a commercial event. I don't like he idea of going to (and paying for) a gaming convention and then having to pay extra to play in events, or simply to get into the Open Gaming room! However, this year I didn't attend the con in the capacity I normally attend game cons - We attended as Tasty Minstrel Games. We had a booth, and brought 6 different games to sell, including Eminent DomainBelfortMartian DiceTrain of ThoughtJab: Realtime Boxing, and Homesteaders 2nd Edition. Our booth was rather busy all 4 days of the con, and we did many, many demos. Looking up and down our booth at all 6 of our offerings I noted that, while no game is for everybody... within their target demographic, each of our games is really very good. They are the highest quality game, and the art and production (now that we've moved to Panda) are also the highest quality. I felt proud to stand behind each and every one of them! Even Martian Dice, which is the type of game that generally doesn't interest me at all, is really very good for what it is - I heard people saying it was better than Zombie Dice (a similar quick filler).

One of the best feelings was when someone who had bought EmDo or Belfort the day before would stop by and tell us how much fun it was or how much they liked it when they played it that evening! Another high point for me was when 2 different people stopped by our booth with a copy of Terra Prime asking me to sign it, and telling me how much they like the game! We also had a number of EmDo Kickstarter supporters stop by tell us they were anxious to get their copy of the game.

That was 2011. Fast forward to 2017, the 50th anniversary of the convention, and the first time in history that they sold out badges. First, the 4-day badges sold out. Then, in the weeks leading up to the convention, even the 1-day badges started selling out. For a long time now GenCon attendees have had trouble getting hotel rooms in the byzantine lottery system they use, but now it seems tickets to the show themselves will start to be a hot commodity as well.

To be honest though, I didn't feel like the dealer room was any more crowded than usual. I didn't spend much time outside the dealer room, but the halls and the little food court area nearby didn't feel more crowded to me either. I've long since sworn off trying to go to a group outing at a restaurant at mealtime, but the Noodles place, and the food court at the nearby mall, both had short lines when I went (which was often at normal mealtime). Only Steak & Shake seemed to be slow, but I think that's not unusual for them anyway -- as Michael said, GenCon seems to take them by surprise every year!

This year TMG has utilized the services of Envoy, who provides demo staff to help in the booth. That's been pretty great, though it's possible we underestimated the number of staff needed for GenCon. I spent a little time in the booth, giving demos of Okey Dokey and Joraku, two new small box imports from Michael's trips to Tokyo Game Market.

Most years at GenCon, Andy and I end up with meetings with designers, back-to-back-to-back every 30 minutes. This time our schedule was a little more relaxed. I'm not sure if that's because we did a better job of pre-screening, if we scheduled in 1 hour blocks instead of 30 minutes, or if fewer designers tried to schedule appointments with us. I got smart and as soon as Andy had set up our page, I scheduled up the 12:00 hour each day for lunch :)

Even still, we did end up with a fair number of meetings with designers, and listened to a fair number of pitches. Some were not for us, some were submissions we'd already seen and had made suggestions for changes. Some were even from the two Designer Speed Dating events (one Thursday night and one Saturday night). I've been pretty down on Publisher Speed Dating lately. I like the idea of the event, but the signal to noise ratio has been so low for me that I was starting to feel like it was a waste of time. However, Andy and I have economized the effort by splitting up and each sitting through 1/2 of the pitches, then if we see anything we think the other should check out, we revisit that pitch. It seemed to me that the average level of designs in these particular speed dating events were higher than usual, and indeed, we asked several of the designers if they'd like to meet with us and show us more about their game. One we even took home with us!

In fact, we brought home a number of prototypes to evaluate -- 6 or 7 I think. That's a huge number, usually it's 1 or 2. Of the four I took home with me, one was from speed dating, one was from a designer we knew, and two were games we'd seen before and had asked for change before resubmitting. Another submission we played in our hotel Sunday night, and a few others Andy took back to Utah with him.

I got a chance to play 3 of those last weekend, and one was very well received by the players. It may be one of the rare "accept and publish as-is" types of submissions!

This year, Andy and I were able to take some of our meetings in our booth, which was very nice. I hope we can find a way to make that a standard. A few years ago we actually had a demo room, which was great -- I'd love to gt back to that!

So that was basically GenCon. I got to see some industry friends -- my brother-in-law volunteered with my friend Sara over at Renegade, and my friends over at Iello traded me a copy of Bunny Kingdom (which Michelle and I are enjoying so far, but I think we'll both like it better with more than 2 players). I got one of my prototypes played (but only 1), and I played a couple of other prototypes after hours by the blue noodle (unofficial unpub area). I played a couple of published games (Photosynthesis and Jump Drive) there with some of my game designer friends as well.

And then, just like that... 5 days, 20 hours of sleep, 3 trips each to the Noodle place and Steak & Shake, and 1 dead car battery later, I was back home. Sadly, I won't be attending Essen this year, but I will return in the future. Which means my convention trips for the rest of the year will be RinCon at the end of September (Friday only, then I'm off to a wedding in California), Sasquatch at the beginning of November, and BGGcon around Thanksgiving time. See you there!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Two upcoming TMG titles: Harvest and Pioneer Days

Two of the games I did a lot of development work on are finally coming out!


At Essen in October, TMG will be debuting Harvest, by Trey Chambers:

Harvest is a compact worker placement game set in the lighthearted fantasy world of Harbour. Take on the role of one of the denizens of Gullsbottom, and put together the best harvest of the season!

A game of Harvest lasts just 5 rounds. In each round you will:
  1. Reveal new cards with new worker spaces for the round.
  2. Draft an initiative card, which will give you your turn order for the round, as well as some bonus resources or action. The earlier turn order you get, the less of a bonus will come with it.
  3. Place 2 farmers on actions, resolving each immediately.
In addition to the initiative bonus and two actions for the turn, your character card will confer an additional power or option to take advantage of. So even with only 2 worker pawns and 5 rounds of play, you can get quite a bit done!

Over the course of the game you will obtain and plant seeds, tend your fields, and harvest crops to make room for more planting. You will also build helpful structures for more abilities or bonus scoring.

I really enjoy Harvest, and I could see it being a big hit due to the fun and interesting decisions packed into the simplicity and compactness of the game.


Also coming this year from TMG is Pioneer Days, by Matthew Dunstan and Chris Marling. I've been working on Pioneer Days for quite some time, and I'm glad to finally see it getting printed!

In Pioneer Days, you take on the role of a pioneer heading out west along the Oregon trail, collecting cattle and townsfolk, panning for gold, and dealing with different disasters that befall you on your journey. I was intrigued by this game from the start due to its clever dice drafting mechanism, as well as the way it really evokes the old Oregon Trail computer game.

Each round in Pioneer Days you'll roll some dice -- 1 more than the number of players in the game. On your turn, you'll choose one die and do one of three things with it: take income, take a townsfolk, or take an action. After each player has chosen a die, the remaining one indicates a disaster based on its color. That disaster track is advanced, and when it reaches the end, the disaster strikes, and each player must contend with the disaster as best they can!

I've put a lot of work into these games myself, and I know the designers have as well. If games from TMG, or these designers, or with me as a developer excite you, then keep your eyes peeled for Harvest and Pioneer Days -- coming soon to a FLGS near you!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Alter Ego insight

On the up-side, I have found someone willing to print and play a couple of my games. He's an amateur designer himself, and so far he's played a handful of Automatown, and also 2 games of Alter Ego (one 2p with his wife, and another 4p with his co-workers).

I had said I was worried the game may be too easy, but so far he hasn't seen that to be the case, he's lost both times. So maybe I'm overthinking that aspect. Maybe it's easy for me due to familiarity or something.

One thing that happened in his 4p game, and I've seen this happen before as well, is that they felt like they were doing fine... only 1 yellow hostage had been taken (leaving 4 remaining), when in 1 round, 5 more yellow hostages were taken, and they lost.

I don't know how common that would be, or how easily it could be avoided (perhaps they didn't have any choice in the matter, or perhaps those of them that did felt safe choosing a henchman who takes a yellow hostage, since the only way they could lose is if they ALL chose that AND one was an Alarmist, who takes 2 hostages). What I do know is that it's not fun to feel like you're in control or safe, then instantly be told "sorry, you lose" -- even if you COULD have avoided it.

So that's a problem that needs fixing, for sure. But how? Perhaps that happening needs to count as 1 strike against you, and it takes 2-3 strikes to actually lose the game?

Maybe what I need is a 4th type of Civilian token (black or whatever), of which there are only 2. When you must take a blue/red/yellow hostage and there are none left, take a black one instead. When black hostages are rescued, remove them from the game rather than returning them to the supply. THEN if you cannot take a hostage, the game is over.

Think that would help the situation? If that makes things too easy, I could ratchet up the difficulty elsewhere.

Just wanted to get this idea down so I don't forget! Now, off to GenCon...

Monday, August 14, 2017

Automatown rules post

A game of assembling automa armies
by Seth Jaffee
2-4 players, 45-60 minutes, ages 14+
V3.0 8-3-17


1 Start player marker
4 Reference cards – 1 per player
21 Worker spot cards (poker size)
30 Blueprint cards (1/2 poker size)
1 Basic action card
36 Worker pawns
140 resource cubes:
   20 white
   10 each in pink, natural, light blue, and gray
   10 each in red, yellow, blue, and black
   10 each in clear red, clear yellow, clear blue, and clear black


  1. Shuffle the blueprint cards to create a deck. Place the deck near the turn order card, then deal out 3 blueprint cards face up in a line to the right of the deck. This is the supply of blueprints available.
  2. From the blueprint deck, deal 1 blueprint card to each player. You may look at your blueprints whenever you like, but don’t show your opponents.
  3. Shuffle the worker spot cards to create a deck. Place this deck below the blueprint deck, then deal N+1 worker spot cards face up in a line to the right of the deck, where N is the number of players in the game. These are the available worker actions.
  4. Place the basic action card to the left of the worker deck. This card is available every round.
  5. Randomly determine a start player and give that player the start player marker. This marker will pass clockwise at the end of each round.
  6. Sort the resource cubes by type and place them within reach of all players.
  7. Give each player a reference card and 3 worker pawns. Place the rest of the pawns in a supply pile within reach of all players. Return unused reference cards to the box.

You are ready to begin!

Gameplay Overview

You are a criminal mastermind, determined to take over the city, and then the world! To achieve this goal you will build an army of automata to do your bidding. As you complete robots, you will put them to work building more of your army. The first player to amass a force strong enough to take over the city will be victorious!

Turn Order

The game is played in a series of rounds. In each round, players take turns collecting, upgrading, and exchanging resources until they have used all of their workers and have passed. After all players have passed, the round ends, and you’ll have a chance to spend your resources building new automata.

A Game Turn

Placement Phase: Send automata to collect, upgrade, swap, and trade resources

On your turn, you will place 1 or more automata onto a worker spot card, your reference card, or the basic action card and resolve its effect immediately.

  • Worker spot cards have 3 tiers, and when sending your automata to a card, you must use the lowest unoccupied tier. [NEW: No you don't!] The first tier requires 1 worker pawn, the 2nd tier requires 2 worker pawns, and the 3rd tier requires 3 worker pawns. When sending workers here, resolve the effect of the tier immediately. Each tier on a worker card has a similar effect, but gets stronger at the higher tiers.
  • Reference cards also have 3 tiers. The first tier requires 1 worker pawn, the 2nd tier requires 2 worker pawns, and the 3rd tier requires 3 worker pawns. When sending workers here, take one of the available blueprint cards into your hand and replace it from the deck so that there are always 3 blueprints available.
  • The basic action card does not have tiers, and is not limited – any number of worker pawns may be placed here. Unlike other worker cards, you only ever place 1 worker pawn at a time on the basic action card. When placing here, immediately take one of the available rewards of your choice: 1 white cube, 1 swap, or 1 upgrade.

When placing automata, you may also use the abilities of your built blueprint cards, at most 1 card per automata placed. Turn the card sideways to indicate it’s been used.

When you are out of workers to place, you must pass. When all players have passed, the round is over.

Build Phase: Spend resources to build automata

All players may play the build phase simultaneously. Each blueprint card has a resource cost on it. You may discard those resources and place the blueprint face up in front of you. This represents an automata you have built. It counts as strength toward your score, gives you an ability to use and allows you to use more worker pawns in future rounds.

Note that the cost always includes 1 cube in each of 4 types of low/medium/high quality:
Pink/Red/Clear Red: Head

Natural/Yellow/Clear Yellow: Arms

Light Blue/Blue/Clear Blue: Torso
Gray/Black/Clear Black: Feet
White = scrap

For example, a red cube represents a medium quality head component.

Each card can instead be built using 4 white cubes. In this case, place the blueprint card face down in front of you. This represents a basic automata which provides 1 worker, 1 strength, and no abilities.

Note that for any given color, you may “overpay” by using a better quality resource of that color. For example, a “pink” cost indicates a low quality head piece. This cost may be paid with a pink resource, or a red resource (medium quality), or a clear red resource (high quality).

On the same note, a black resource may be used to pay a cost requiring black, gray, or white, but not clear black, and not yellow.

This also means that the “4 white” cost on the back side of the blueprint cards can be paid with ANY 4 cubes.

You may build as many automa from your hand as you can afford during the build phase.

[NEW: Try allowing builds whenever you want, so doing it during a round would get you a new worker pawn immediately!]

Reset Phase: Reset the game for the next round
Do the following to prepare for the next round:
  1. Remove all worker pawns from the worker cards and return them to the supply.
  2. Discard the rightmost worker card, slide the rest to the right 1 space, and deal a new card from the deck in the last space. In a 4 player game, instead discard the last 2 cards and replace them.
  3. Count the number of workers on your blueprint cards in play and take that number of worker pawns from the supply -- plus 3.
  4. Count the strength of each player’s army. If anyone has reached 15 or more strength, then the next round will be the last.

Game End and Scoring

At the end of each round, count the strength of each player’s army. When a player has 15 or more strength, the game will end at the end of the following round. At that time, count your strength again.

The player with the highest total strength wins! In the case of a tie, the victory is shared.

[NEW: Maybe end immediately, if you can build whenever?]

Guy from Raytheon (v1.0)
Tony Ewing (v1.0, V2.0)
John Haremza (v1.1)
Michael Brown (v1.1, 2.0, 3.0)
John Heder (v2.0)
Becky Pusch (v2.0)
Staci (v3.0)
Jordan (v3.0)