Monday, January 29, 2018

Getting into the game

Yesterday I met David and Hoss at the game store and I got the opportunity to play one of my favorite games: Shipyard, by Vladamir Suchy. David was new to the game, so we needed to go through the rules. They took a while to get through, but if you're familiar with that type of game, you'll understand that you kind of need to know everything before you can reasonably do anything.

Complicated rules vs a complicated game

The rules of Shipyard aren't really complicated to tell you the truth -- you choose an action that isn't the one you did last turn, and isn't blocked by another player, and you resolve it. Optionally, you can buy a bonus action as well. There are a few details like the fact that you can do the bonus action and the main action in any order, and that you slide some tiles around (which indicate the actions) and you get income for taking an action that's "behind" other players' pawns, and of course there are details about how each of the actions resolves.

I have run into the same issue in the past teaching another favorite: Tzolk'in: the Mayan Calendar, by Simone Luciani and Daniele Tascini. The rules to that game are simple as well: either place workers (paying money), or remove them (resolving their actions). There are details such as the increasing cost for each worker you place in one turn, the fact that after a round, the wheels will advance, moving your worker to a different (usually stronger) action, the one-time power you have to move the wheel 2 spaces, and of course there are details about how each of the actions resolves.

The more you know...

In both of those games there are a large(ish) number of different actions or effects that can result, and technically you need to sort of know what each of them is so you know whether or not you want to perform them. But in both Shipyard and Tzolk'in the actions are grouped:

The first wheel in Tzolk'in provides food or wood. The farther along you are, the more food or wood you can get. The next wheel provides resources. The farther along you are, the more/better resources you get. The third wheel allows you to advance technology and build stuff. The farther along you are, the more or better you get to do that. Etc.

I've universally heard from players that Tzolk'in is "so complicated" because there are so many different action spaces. Maybe I've learned to sort the information in a useful way, but to me it doesn't seem very complicated at all. Obviously that's not true of all players!

In Shipyard, the actions are similarly grouped onto several different areas, and for the most part they all resolve the same way. If you want rail cars, ship parts, or canal tiles, then you simply buy them for $0/$1/$2 as shown on the board. The rest of the actions are on rondels of their own... If you take the green action, you advance the green rondel, you can pay to advance it more, then you take the item shown. If you take the brown action, you advance the brown rondel, you can pay to advance it more, then you take the item shown. If you take the employee action, you advance the employee rondel, you can pay to advance it more, then you take one of the employees there. Yes, there's 1 rondel where you can't pay to advance it, and which requires a little more description. And yes, there are a couple of details regarding the employees (you can't have both copies, some cost an extra $1 as shown on the tile, and the 3 Level II ones have a prerequisite of the matching Level I), but for the most part the information is compartmentalized.
A few turns into Shipyard, I asked David how he was enjoying the game. He said at that point he 'got it' and was enjoying it, but that he almost bailed on the game after the long rules explanation! He hadn't wanted to play after the teach, and only went ahead because he felt like we'd invested that time. And this is a guy who's played a fair number of games -- he's one of my regular playtesters!

Getting into the game

There are tips and tricks to teaching a game. Certain ways to organize and present the information so that it makes sense. Paul Grogan (of Gaming Rules! fame) has adopted a potentially controversial stance for demoing a game at conventions (and perhaps he does it when teaching at home as well) -- he ONLY tells people what they need to know RIGHT THEN, and nothing more. This is a neat idea, one I've toyed with myself at times, though I've encountered a fair bit of resistance when trying to teach that way. Many players don't want to choose an action without knowing the consequences, even if it's a learning game. I myself have a pet peeve for when a game asks me as a player to make a choice without giving me enough information to decide which option is better for me, and this forces that dynamic on all players as they learn, with the logic being "see what happens, and when you play for real you'll be better informed." Also, when playing a deep game with your friends, having a new player play this way kind of sours the experience for the experienced players, so to play this way every time would be kind of a bummer for the teacher.

This novel approach can work, but I think it works better on modern games than it does on some of the more complicated games from a decade ago. Newer games seem to limit options in the early game, or give you a player power that nudges you (sometimes very strongly) toward one option over another. Many older games are more like a sandbox, with clear strategies that exist and emerge through game play, but myriad options in the early game, with no direction except your own forward planning. All those options can lead to a lot of strategy space, and a lot of depth, but at the cost of some accessibility. To an extent it requires the player to understand what they're in for, lest they be overwhelmed.

This sandbox nature is something I'm finding to be "old fashioned" about a lot of really good euro-style games. Personally, I enjoy the freedom of strategy and the depth provided by these types of games, but with the rate at which new players are coming into the hobby, and the rate at which publishers are churning out new games, we need to start finding ways to get people actually playing the games without requiring lengthy rules explanations. We've already seen a few attempts at minimizing rules, or removing them altogether:

Jamey Stegmaier's legacy euro-style game Charterstone was originally intended to have no rulebook. In the end he found that he needed at least a bare bones rulebook to express the core mechanisms in the game, and while I haven't played it, I suspect additional rules may be added to that book via sticker (as Pandemic Legacy did) as you play through the campaign.

Friedmann Friese's ambitious Fast Forward series (Fear, Flee, and Fortress) come without a rulebook at all. They're just stacks of cards which you're supposed to tear open, set on the table, peel the top card off and read it, following directions as they're given. This is a pretty neat experiment. I've played two of those games, and while the cooperative Flee seems like a decent group puzzle, the competitive Fortress seemed a bit lacking for my taste (I'm not really the target audience). But more importantly, I felt like there were some problems with the "no rules" format -- we came across a few timing or rules questions when things weren't crystal clear on the cards (and there's not a ton of space on the cards for rules text), and when that happens, there's nowhere to look for answers. Also, with the amount and intricacy of some of the rules given on cards, it seemed like a hard sell to call it "accessible" to a complete non-gamer.

Easing players into the game

What we need is for sandbox-y games with strategic depth that players can get into with minimal up-front rules explanation. Games that can be taught using The Grogan Method, if you will, without feeling like you're making choices at random and seeing what happens. Can this be done without losing the depth these games have? I think that's the job.

The question is... how?

Post script: Reviving old games

I see a lot of reprints of older games coming out lately. Classic eurogames from 10+ years ago, sometimes with updated art, but seldom with updated rules. When I think about the possibility of reviving an old favorite like Shipyard, I wonder if it would really go over well enough in today's market. Sure, hardcore gamers that know they like that kind of thing, or are willing to sit through a long rules teach in order to explore the mechanisms on offer, won't have any problem. But will people new to the hobby be willing to put so much effort into learning the game? Or will they instead opt for something simpler to learn?

Are there any adjustments that can be made to games like Shipyard and Tzolk'in that will allow players to get into the game a bit easier? Can those be made without losing what makes those games so good in the first place? I'd love to hear your thoughts or answers in the comments below!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Behind the Scenes of Boardgaming: The Pre-Press Process

I was reading an old thread on BGG where the topic of pre-press came up. It reminded me that most people who play games, those that aren't "in the biz," are not aware of the process games go through before they land on the store shelves, or in your online shopping cart. One of the most common, yet least well known steps is the pre-press process.

Pre-press is a process you go through with the manufacturer before going to print (just like it sounds). In that process, the manufacturer analyzes your files and alerts you to any errors they find (RGB instead of CMYK colors for example, or insufficient bleed or spacing between elements on your punchboard), and makes sure the files you gave them match the contract specs.

From there they make a digital, or "soft" proof, which you review to make sure things look right. This is a VERY important step, as it's the first, and cheapest, way to avoid a stupid mistake such as working off of an old file (with incorrect info), or there are somehow accidentally too many card backs, so the backs and fronts don't line up properly. This last one may sound super specific, and that is because it has happened to me twice now. Once was an expensive problem to fix, because the cards were printed that way, and I didn't notice until I got physical copies in my hand. More recently it happened again, but this time I noticed it in the soft proof.

With the digital proofs approved, the manufacturer moves on to create a "hard proof" or "production proof." This looks like an actual copy of the game, but it's not really. It used to be they'd send two things: a "white box proof," with all the correct materials but nothing printed, and a "color proof," with stuff printed but not on the right materials. Nowadays some manufacturers combine that into a single step, where they send you a box that looks pretty much like the real deal, except the punchboards are laser cut instead of punched (they don't want to create the die until they know it's correct), and a few other small details.

All of these steps comprise "pre-press." Once the hard proof is approved, the manufacturer creates the dies and goes to print for real, printing, cutting, and assembling thousands of copies of your game. Any mistakes that slipped through at this point are now written in stone. Well, written in cardboard anyway :)

Eminent Domain Origins -- Starting Resource draft?

I mentioned in my last post that I was considering replacing the stage I rewards (which serve to differentiate player profiles) with a starting resource draft. What I hope to achieve by that is...

  1. Give players more variety in their game starts
  2. Give players more agency when it comes to their early game strategic direction
  3. Maintain an aspect of turn order compensation

Currently, players start with some credits, and that's it. The earlier you are in turn order at the start of the game, the fewer credits you start with, to make up for the advantage of having first dibs on the early game colony options. Other than that difference in starting money, all players have always started out on equal footing. However, the stage I reward tiles give players a different module, which serves to differentiate them once they've colonized something (and really, your first actions should always be to colonize something ASAP). This new idea would replace that random method of player differentiation with one where you'd get some say in how you'd like to play the game.

The scheme I've gone with for the starting resource cards is to make a few at each of three tiers, then to deal 2 cards from the appropriate tier to each player, based on their turn order (1st, 2nd-3rd, and 4th-5th):

  • Tier 1: 1st player (3 cards)
    1. 20 Credits
    2. 10 Credits and 1 Energy
    3. 1 Weapon module
  • Tier 2: 2nd-3rd player (6 cards)
    1. 30 Credits
    2. 20 Credits and 1 Energy
    3. 1 Brownium and 1 Weapon module
    4. 1 Shield module and 3 Energy
    5. 1 Cargo Hold module
    6. 1 Cryo Chamber module
  • Tier 3: 4th-5th player (6 cards)
    1. 40 Credits
    2. 2 Brownium and 1 Weapon module
    3. 1 Brownium and 1 Shield module and 3 Energy
    4. 1 Brownium and 1 Cargo Hold module
    5. 1 Brownium and 1 Cryo Chamber module
    6. 1 Afterburner module
My thought is that you basically start with 20/30/40 credits worth of stuff, and I'm counting an action as 10 credits. So for example, as player 1, you might have to choose between a Weapon module (costs 10 and an action at a green colony), and 20 credits (which you could use to buy shields, or a cargo module).

With respect to the three goals stated above:
1. Give players more variety in their game starts
    Each game you will get to choose between two different starting positions, and that choice will be different game-to-game, and based on your turn order position.

2. Give players more agency when it comes to their early game strategic direction
    Compared to the original game, where your differentiation came at random, this scheme will allow players to choose their strategic path (at least between two head starts). And I tried to make the options somewhat versatile, so they don't necessarily lock you into a specific, scripted strategic path.

3. Maintain an aspect of turn order compensation
    The card are in three tiers, offering more compensation to later turn order players. I think the fact that players 2 and 3 get the same level of compensation, and players 4 and 5 get the same level, is probably fine, as the difference between 1st and 2nd is probably bigger than the difference between 2nd and 3rd, etc.

So far I've tried this twice, and I think it's OK. What I haven't tried yet is removing the stage I reward tiles. The combination is kinda lame, as your random reward tile may or may not synergize with your chosen starting resources. Removing the stage I tiles will shorten the game a little bit, and with all the recent changes to jump start it, I think cutting a couple of rounds off the game wouldn't hurt.

Eminent Domain Origins progress

It's been a while since I last posted about Eminent Domain Origins, my Terra Prime reboot in the EmDo universe, so I'll begin by revisiting the changes discussed in that post and offer my current thinking on them. Then I'll mention the latest modifications, and how those went in yesterday's playtests.

New modifications discussed 10/27/17:

  • Add one "any module" slot to the command ship.
After trying this a few times, I ended up removing it, and I prefer the game without it. The expansion (being included in EDO) added an Extra Module Slot tech, which is pretty cheap and allows players to get extra slots if they want them.
  • Add 1 "any resource" hold to the command ship.
I have continued to like this, and decided to keep it. With this extra slot, players are not required to purchase a cargo hold in order to carry 1 Yellow cube, or 2 Blue/2 Green cubes, which means they are able to go for various technologies without having to buy a cargo hold first.

I also updated the cost and effect of a few technologies.
  • Set direction on tiles, so there's no possibility of illegal placements or configurations.
I have been using completely random orientation for space hexes, and I've come to like it just fine. The map is more different game-to-game, which is probably a good thing. 
  • Re-examine distribution of hazards on exploration tiles (I haven't done this yet).
I still haven't done this, and I still might. I have more to add to this now, see below...
  • Change Weapon module cost (a simple $20 each. Or even just $10?)
I've kept the $10 weapon cost, and I've been fine with it. I also did nerf alien scoring down to 1vp/alien killed instead of 2, which seems fine, but I wonder if alien hunting is no longer as strong a strategy as it used to be. Maybe that's OK, as it used to be fairly strong!
  • 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?
After some hemming and hawing, I think the best thing to do is just keep the Buy Shields rule the same... in one action you may optionally (1) Buy 1 shield module for $10, then optionally (2) charge all of your shields for $10.
  • Change Delivery Optimizer to "+1 LP when you complete a demand tile. At game end: 1vp per demand tile collected."
I have continued to use this, and I think it's fine. If you buy it before completing any demand tiles, then it's the same as it ever was. If you buy it after you've completed some tiles, then it's a little bit better than it was.
  • Start with energy on your built-in shield?
I have been doing this, and it seems OK so far. I have a new idea that will make this point moot, see below...
  • Colonies immediately produce as soon as they're created, so there's less wasting actions waiting for the new colony to produce. 
I have enjoyed this, but I have a new idea that will make it moot, see below...
  • Ignore the "no planet adjacent to Terra Prime" rule as well, all of this hopefully just speeds up the game a little bit.
I have been doing this, and I think it's fine. I am planning on keeping this rule (that is to say, removing the restriction).

  • Ignore the limit on Exploring, and just have that be wrapped into the Move action 
I've been fine with this. I've decided to embrace just about anything that removes stalling and waiting from the game.
  • Wrap the Pacify and Attack actions into one. 
Yeah, this can be 1 action, dealing with aliens. You can shoot them, or you can "Pacify" them (might change that to Befriend or something). I reduced the cost of Pacifying aliens to "1 cube per icon," rather than "1 cube per icon plus 1." Perhaps for that reason, I've seen more pacifying of aliens lately, and it's kind of neat - you give them a brown and a green, and maybe they give you a yellow and an energy (on the reward tile) -- it's like a trade.
  • 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).
I have allowed this, and so far it seems to be fine. Again, I think it just sort of speeds up the game.

  • 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... but with the additional module slot (see above), 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.
I'm currently of the opinion that without that extra module slot, the 1 Energy = 2 Actions Afterburner is probably OK.

Now I'll discuss some of the more recent changes:

  • Hyperdrive: Cost changed to Yellow+Blue+Brown, points removed, effect changed to: "After each (->) spent on a move action, you may immediately take an additional move action."

Now that there's no "explore" limit, it doesn't make sense to allow it 2x/turn. I COULD just have this be a thruster that doesn't take up a module slot, but in an effort to be more interesting, I thought I'd try this effect. It lets you move after moving, which is like saying your move actions move you 2 spaces (worded that way to avoid rules issues, for example Alien attacks). This will therefore help you zoom across the board, which could be good for a delivery strategy, or a colony strategy that wants to get to and from the red zone quickly, or maybe even an alien hunter.

  • Cloaking Device: Cost increased to Yellow+Green+Brown. 

Cloaking device has always been a very strong tech, and so it should cost a little more. Also, this way the costs are more evenly distributed. hyperdrive costs Y/Br/Blue, cloaking device costs Y/Br/Green. And cloaking device is better for an alien hunter, so using green makes sense, while hyperdrive may be better for a delivery strat, so using blue makes sense there.

  • Wormhole: 1 move action will move you into a wormhole and out of ANY wormhole (used to be 2 actions)

In an effort to make the wormhole rules less confusing, I'm trying this change. This way you're never in a sort of limbo space "inside" the wormholes, so you won't ever try to short range scan something from inside the wormhole (which a player did, and I realized doesn't make sense). I've tried this twice now, and as a result, the wormholes seem to do a much better job at what they were supposed to do... shrink the board in the late game! There are currently 3 wormholes in the green zone, 2 in the yellow zone, and 1 in the red zone, but I might change that a little bit. I might add another in the red zone, and I might go back down to 2 in the green zone, or even just 1, but make it always in the same place (see below).

  • Add free resources to the blank green zone exploration tiles

It was pointed out that exploring a tile and finding it blank is super boring, but I couldn't think of anything else to put on the blank green exploration tiles. I don't want the green zone to be dangerous, so no aliens or stray asteroids. It would be lame to find a sunstar ("Treat this tile as if it were blank") there on turn one. I already have some wormholes... so the only thing I can think of is a free resource. I tried it with a free brown whenever you explored a blank tile, which was kinda interesting because it maybe speeds up your ability to get tech, especially if nobody builds a mine.

Later I had a different idea which I might try that would make this a moot point. What if the green zone just didn't have exploration tiles at all? And what if there was always 1 wormhole, in the center green tile (the only one that's 2 moves from Terra Prime instead of just 1)? It could make some thematic sense, that the Terran Federation set up their first space station just outside a wormhole -- maybe that's how they got there. This would remove the need for exploration tiles on the green zone, and would make blank exploration tiles irrelevant. And that wormhole placement MIGHT make for more interesting games than when a wormhole occurs 1 space from Terra Prime (not sure).

  • Nix production, just spend an action to get a resource.

One thing that's been a bit of a hassle with Terra Prime is clutter on the board, and it's always been easy to forget to produce on your colonies at the start of your turn. I've never worried about that, as it's easy to tell if a colony should have a resource or not, but I've never loved having to figure that out (and it happened all the time). So what if you din't have to produce goods and place them on the board? What if you could just always get a resource as an action? That would remove one of the interactions I liked in the game -- competition to pick up certain resources, but the assurance that YOUR resources would always be there for you. However, I don't know if that interaction is really such a big deal, and having to stall or out when someone takes the resource you were going to get seemed like a feel-bad moment. As my playtester kept putting it yesterday, "being able to do things is better than not being able to do things." So I thought I'd give this a try. So as not to be degenerate though, I thought it should be limited to once per turn per colony, so you can't sit there and fill up on cubes so easily.

In the first playtest yesterday I tried this, and it worked pretty well. It felt a lot like the regular game, the only real difference being you never got screwed out of a resource, and I didn't miss that dynamic.

I wondered if the arbitrary 1x/turn limit was really necessary -- after all, you're already a little bit restricted on what you can carry. So in the 2nd playtest I tried removing that limit, even though I suspected it would cause a problem. Sure enough, I didn't like the result. Without the limit, there's less reason to visit someone else's planet to get resources, and with the Matter Converter tech it got a little ridiculous -- you could just go to the closest planet, pick up 57 resources, then come back and deliver them all for money and points.

So, even though I don't like arbitrary limits and I'm trying to remove rules, I think the 1x/turn/colony limit is necessary. This rule still allows me to chop off the production phase, which needs to be awkwardly explained before anybody has any colonies, and it gets rid of the "should this colony have a resource?" questions entirely. It also makes obsolete the idea of producing a resource immediately upon colonizing (which is just one more step in the fairly lengthy colonize process).

  • Define Sunstar exactly

I think the simplest rule for sunstars is "treat this space hex as if it ere blank." In fact, it may be good to have a few blank space hexes (with a sunstar icon on back), and when you reveal a sunstar, you simply replace the hex with a blank one.

This has an unintended consequence (though one I'm OK with) of removing asteroids from being in the way. There's one rule clarification that's probably necessary... what happens if you explore into a sector with an asteroid field, and find a sunstar on the tile with the asteroid field? Do you roll for the asteroids? I think the answer would be no - you'd move in, flip the tile, replace it with a blank one, and then see if you roll for asteroids. I think that makes the most sense.

The other alternative would be move in, roll for asteroids, then explore the tile... either way would work, but I just want the rule to be clear and consistent.

  • Draft starting resources

At the beginning of the game, it's possible the first players have an advantage over later turn players. That's why the later turn players got more money to start with. I've been increasing that compensation lately, such that players start with 10/20/30/40/50 based on their turn order. In related news, I had started players with their built-in shield charged with energy, just because people seemed to want that.

Adding 2 more paths out of Terra Prime helped the turn order thing a little, but it occurred to me that I could try something new: I could make starting resource cards for players to choose from. I like how that works in Chimera Station, where you draft starting resource cards in reverse turn order. I was going to try using that here, but in the end, this is what I tried:

I made 3 P1 cards, 6 P2-3 cards, and 6 P4-5 cards. For each player, I dealt 2 cards for their position, and let them choose between them. The P1 cards are worth about 10-20 credits, the P2-3 cards are worth 30-40 credits, and the P4-5 cards are worth about 40-50 credits.

I kinda liked this, and more importantly, I think players would see this as more interesting, more variety in the game. Originally the game achieved this by having the first N reward tiles (1 per player) give you some module which would set you apart from other players, differentiating the player profiles. Since everyone's early game should really be "establish a colony ASAP," this meant everyone would have a nudge in one direction or another. Of course, it'd be at random, not chosen.

Adding these starting resource cards are neat, but now I'm sort of double dipping on that mechanism. You might choose a starting resource card based on how you want to approach the game this time, then after dropping your first colony you might get something that works well with that, or something that doesn't. I don't love that, so I might just take out those first stage rewards altogether.

  • Ion Cannon useful all turn

I've noticed a few times that when using an ion cannon (spending an energy for 2 weapons), sometimes you don't defeat the aliens, and then your next attack is super weak unless you spend MORE energy. I don't like that, so I think the ion cannon should continue to work until the end of the turn.

This would be consistent with the afterburner, I think. You'd activate the module by placing an energy on it, while active, it does its thing. At the end of your turn, you'd clear off any energy on your afterburner or ion cannon. I think this will make the ion cannon a lot more useful, a player with enough actions could potentially use a single ion cannon activation to fight several alien clusters!

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

2017 year in review

A lot of stuff has happened in 2017 in general, some of it good, much of it bad. In my own life, the good stuff includes getting married in March, and now expecting a little boy next May, so I guess that's big news. But as this is my game design blog, I suppose now would be a good time to take a moment and reflect on my experiences in 2017 on the games front.

I didn't keep specific notes or anything, so I'll just go through my calendar and blog posts and see what that reminds me of:


I started off the year wrapping up development on Eminent Domain: Oblivion, and coordinating art with Brian Patterson for the tech card illustrations and Ariel Seoane for the graphic design. A few people have grumbled online about how they don't like the look of the new tech illustrations, but as I have said in a couple of different threads already:

The main artists we had used for previous EmDo expansions were no longer available, and I wanted a consistent look within this set. Brian Patterson did all of the illustrations, and yes, he has a sort of cartoony style.
Many of the previous cards are a little bit cartoony, and there's a mix of styles from 5 or 6 different artists in them, so I don't think there will be much of a problem adding these new tech cards into the mix.
And as for the cartoony-ness of them, I kind of wanted that -- to an extent, Oblivion is a parody of government, and most of the time government could best be described as "cartoony."

I think Brian did a great job with these illustrations, I like that the expansion art is internally consistent, and I don't think there'll be any problems incorporating this set into the base game (or playing it with previous sets) based on that, but YMMV.
Also in January, Eminent Domain was featured in a Reddit forum called Game Of The Week, Redux. And I posted about a game idea sparked by an episode of The Game Designers of North Carolina podcast -- however, that game idea hasn't gone anywhere, and I don't expect it will. However, as I describe in the comments on that post, it did spark another game design idea which I think MAY actually go somewhere.

In addition, I was wrapping up rules edits for Harvest, and coordinating with Sergi on Pioneer Days art. I was pushing hard to get all three of those into production in time for a potential GenCon release, and failing that, at least an Essen/BGGcon release.

Outside of gaming, it looks like I flew to Dallas for a friend's divorce trial, a stark contrast to the time I spent on my own wedding preparations that month.


After January, I took stock of The List, a sort of compilation of games I've got at the idea stage, design stage, and published titles. I posted an update to kick off February.

Other posts in my design blog this month included:

  • That game idea I mentioned above, which grew from the ideas that came to mind listening to that podcast.
  • A sort-of formal definition of "Deck Learning," the term I've coined to describe Eminent Domain, which I feel is a significantly different type of deck building than games like Dominion, Ascension, etc.
  • A request for Q's for a Casual Q&A, like those Reddit AMA's, but in a more laid back format. Only 1 person asked any questions in the comments.
  • A summary of the beginnings of a new game about Joan of Arc, a design which I'd been tinkering with since Essen. It's intended to be a sort of sequel to Orleans, and spoilers: it did go somewhere, but now I've sort of backburnered it.

Not much else notable happened this month. It looks like I recorded a podcast episode with Isaac Shalev, though I don't think it aired until September.


I skipped SaltCon last year because it was 1 week before my wedding, which is a bummer, because that is a nice, relaxed convention which gives me a chance to hang out and catch up with my TMG cohorts. For the previous couple of years, Michelle came with me, we stayed at Michael's house, and we enjoyed the convention. I hope we can return in the future.

I think of March as the sort of deadline to get files to the printer in time for GenCon, so I furiously tried to finish Oblivion, Harvest, and Pioneer Days to give them their best shot at that.

I continued to think about that Worker Learning game idea, and had a "Eureka" / "Duh" moment about it, and I made a prototype for that Joan of Arc idea I'd posted about in February.


In April I had some promising playtests of the early versions of Joan of Arc: Maid of Orleans, and I updated my prototype accordingly.

I also went to Paris on my honeymoon, and unfortunately got a bit sick there. I did however get my new wife to play a game of Joan of Arc with me at a game cafe though!


I kicked off May by joining Lance to record Episode #3 of the TMG podcast.

Blog posts this month included:

I finished up the month with a trip to Birmingham with Andy, Aaron, and Daniel for UK Games Expo - a neat show, only mildly disturbed due to some terrorist activity nearby the week before.


I began the convention season in England at UK Games Expo, and continued in Columbus at Origins, where Andy and I had a number of meetings with designers to listen to game pitches. Not much interested me there, though we did see 2 things which we ended up signing later in the year.

My own design efforts were focused mostly on Deities & Demigods, which I hadn't tested since January, but which I revived at UK Games Expo and concentrated on throughout June, with a little bit of Joan of Arc thrown in for good measure.


I spent the first 2 weeks of July vacationing in Dallas and then Seattle. I managed to play a few games... Werewords and Wordsy went well at Michelle's family reunion in Dallas, and I introduced some of my Seattle friends to a new favorite: Barenpark. I also showed off a full art prototype of Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done, which finally hit Kickstarter in July!

As could have been suspected, there was a slight backlash to the theme of Crusaders, but to be honest, it wasn't all that much. While the material holds potentially controversial subject matter, I think that game really sidesteps it -- it's not about the Crusades themselves, it's about the so-called "crusading orders," such as the Knights Templar. It's also not really intended to be historically accurate, though it is based on stuff the Templars did.

In July I updated The List again, since a lot had changed in the first half of 2017.


A lot of stuff seemed to happen in August...

  • Crusaders finished funding with 4,162 backers pledging a total of $330,691 of support, mostly for the Deluxified version of the game. That's not TMG's BIGGEST kickstarter project, but it's close, and it makes the $48k we raised for Eminent Domain 6 years ago look like child's play.
  • I worked with a sculptor on knight and building sculpts for the Deluxified version of Crusaders.
  • I also worked with Ariel to get the art and graphic design for the upcoming Homesteaders expansion ready to go.
  • I checked production proofs for Eminent Domain: Oblivion, and found (and corrected) an error with the card backs.
  • And of course, I attended GenCon with TMG, where Andy and I met with a bunch more designers to listen to their game pitches, and attended 2 nights worth of Publisher Speed Dating.

Most of the Publisher Speed Dating events I've attended have been a bit of a bust for me. Out of 400+ pitches, I'd only been interested in a few games, and of those, even fewer turned into TMG products. This year at GenCon, the signal to noise ratio seemed a lot higher for some reason -- just lucky I guess. There were several games I was interested in, and upon closer examination we took several of them home with us, and ended up signing more than one!

In addition to all of that, I started a new game design (Automatown rules), I revived an old game design (Alter Ego) and enlisted a design hobbyist to do some blind PnP testing of it, I re-posted some nuggets of design wisdom from Matthew Dunstan (with his permission) from a Twitter thread, and I revisited the Casual Q&A idea again.


September was similarly busy. This month I...

The big ticket item here is probably getting more organized with playtesting. I have been meaning to do that forever, and now I can much more easily track what gets played and when, and by whom.

I ended September by attending RinCon (Brian had a great geeklist from RinCon this year, and I didn't so I'll just link his), for once as an attendee rather than an organizer. I took on the responsibility of running the convention because I wanted it to happen, and it was very relaxing to finally just sit around and play games rather than answer questions and put out fires. Unfortunately, this reward was short lived, because I had to fly to California for a wedding on Saturday morning, so I was only able to enjoy RinCon for 1 day.


By comparison to the last couple of months, October sounds fairly uneventful:

I skipped Essen this year -- TMG usually sends 4 people, and this year we had a booth, and so wanted to send someone new to help run it, so I stayed home to make space. It's too bad, because two of the games I put a lot of work into, Harvest and Pioneer Days, made their debut at Essen. I hope to return in the future.

Instead of flying to Germany, I finally started updating Terra Prime for a new life as a prequel to Eminent Domain (it will be called Eminent Domain Origins), and I kept working on the Eminent Domain dice game ("Eminent Domain: Chaos Theory"?). I worked almost exclusively on those two games in the month of October.


November was a big month for conventions for me. I kicked it off with a trip to Seattle for Sasquatch, and followed that up with my annual trip to Dallas for BGGcon. Michelle came with me to both of those this year, and we took a day trip from BGGcon to Rockwall for Michelle's 3 year old niece's birthday party.

I wrote a post examining variable player powers, since I'm currently working on adding them to two different TMG games, and I started testing those, while continuing to test Eminent Domain Origins and Eminent Domain: Chaos Theory.

I had another new game idea as well, but this one is not as exciting or interesting as some, so it'll probably just sit in the toolbox, waiting to be combined with something else down the road.


I rounded out the year playing a lot fewer games than I normally do, but I did get a lot of testing done of the upcoming TMG game Embark (one of the summer pick ups) with player powers, and I worked with an illustrator and a graphic designer to get that game put together for submission to the manufacturer. I'll be wrapping that up in the next couple of weeks.


I'm starting off the new year with 1 game project finishing art, two more about to start, two games in production, and two just waiting to be sent to the manufacturer. If things go well, I should see all of the following games (each of which I've had a heavy hand in) on store shelves by the end of the year:
As for my designs, once these are all out of the way, I hope to return to Alter Ego, Deities & Demigods, Joan of Arc, and maybe Automatown.

And of course, I'll be doing development on another couple of TMG games.