Under The Microscope – Another Look At No Thanks!

Under The Microscope is probably my favorite filler game – No Thanks!

Designed by Thorston Gimmler
Published in English by Z-Man Games

No Thanks! is a card game in which players pay a chip not to take a card from the middle of the play area. Each card has a certain amount of points on it. By taking the cards from the middle players add points to their ‘hand’. The idea of the game is to have the fewest points at the end of the game. So you must pay to keep your point total low.

The game consists of 33 cards numbered 3 through 35 and 55 playing chips. That’s it.
Oh, and a rules sheet.

Deal 11 chips to each player. Shuffle the cards. Deal 24 cards face down to the middle of the play area. The remaining cards are not used this round and are placed back in the box.

Methods:  So How Do You Play No Thanks!?
The first player turns over the top card of the deck. He has the option to either take that card or pay a chip not to take it. If he chooses not to take it, he places a chip next to the card and play moves to the next player. This player has the same options – take the card AND the chip or pay a chip not to take it. Play continues until someone decides to take the card. This player takes the card and all the accumulated chips. He then flips another card from the deck face up. He now has the same options – take it or pay. Taken cards are placed in front of the player. Taken chips are added to that player’s pool. One twist to play is that consecutive sequences of cards score only the lowest card in the sequence. Also if a player has no chips he must take the card in play. Play continues until all cards are taken. Players then calculate their final score by adding up the points on the single cards and then adding the points from the lowest card in each sequence. Then they subtract a point for each chip they still have.

Results & Discussion – What I Think Of No Thanks!
As I said, this is my favorite filler game.  It is a very fun and surprising game. The rules are so simple yet the strategy involved with keeping your point total low, trying to get sequences, and keeping some chips makes for hard decisions. I like this. The fact that you do not use all the cards ensures that you can’t card count as you never know which cards are in the deck and which are in the box out of play. This is a good mechanic. There is a ‘ take that’ element in the game that is fun. You can drive play around to the guy who has no chips left, forcing him to take the card in play. You can take a card to keep it from someone who needs it for a sequence. You can take a card just to keep the next players from getting needed chips. All of these tactics come into play to add fun.  My group was very surprised by this quick filler.  It is a confrontational game and can be vicious.  But it is all in fun.  I’ve never seen this game fail with any group.
It has unseen strategy and tons of fun.  No Thanks! home on the web is here.  It’s BGG site is here.

Microscope Rating:

Under The Microscope – Rat-A-Tat Cat

This time Rat-A-Tat Cat is under the microscope.

Designed by Ann and Monty Stambler
Published by Gamewright

This is a quick family game that reinforces addition and subtraction where the lowest score wins.

What You Get:
A deck of 54 cards made up of cat and rat cards with various point values or powers
A rules sheet
All in a tuck box

How Do You Play:
Shuffle all the cards. Deal four cards face down to each player. Do not look at the faces. Place the remainder of the deck in the middle of the play area as the draw pile. Turn over the top card of the draw pile to start the discard pile.
Without looking at your cards, put them in a face down row. So now each player has a row of four face down cards in front of him.
Each player now looks at the outer two cards in his row only. Note the point values and remember them. This is important later in the game.
Now the first player takes his turn by:
– drawing the top card on the discard pile and using it to replace one of the cards in his row. The replaced card is then discarded.
– draw the top card from the draw pile. You have options in using this card. You may
-replace one card in your row
-use the power if it is a power card
-discard it
Play continues until one player thinks he has the lowest score and can win. He then taps on the table and says ‘rat-a-tat cat’. Everyone else has one more turn then all cards are revealed. Power cards are replaced from the discard pile. Each player then adds up his points. This completes one round. If playing multiple rounds, shuffle the cards, pick a new dealer, and begin again.
Power Cards
There are three types of power cards in the game. Swap cards allow you to swap any one of your cards with one from another player’s row, without looking at either card. Draw 2 cards allow you to take two more turns. On the first of these you must draw a card from the discard pile. You can use this card but you forfeit the second turn. Otherwise discard this card and draw another one from the discard pile. Use this one or discard it. The second turn is now over. The last power card is the Peek card. It allows you to look at any one of your cards. When power cards are drawn, you must show it to the other players to use it. Power cards are discarded once used.
At the end of the game, the person with the lowest score wins.

What I Think:
This is a pretty fun little game. It can drag if you don’t set a round limit. It encourages children’s adding and subtracting skills in a stealthy kind of way. It is a good game for families with younger children.  It’s home on the web is here and the BGG site is here.

Microscope Rating:

A Conversation With…Sen-Foong Lim and Jay Cormier, designers of Train of Thought

This time on Go Forth And Game I’m joined by Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim, The Bamboozle Brothers. They are the designers of Train of Thought from Tasty Minstrel Games. It is a pleasure having you both on Go Forth And Game. Tell us a bit about yourselves.

My name is Sen-Foong Lim – a happily married father of two awesome boys. I’m a Scorpio who is addicted to boardgames, making music (check out Pronobozo , Phantohms, and DJ DeepSix for some of my work), and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. When not designing games, jamming on the one, or choking someone out, I’m a mild-mannered pediatric occupational therapist. I work at a children’s treatment centre in London, Ontario, helping kids who have difficulties with mobility and/or communication figure out how to use technology to accomplish their goals.

And I’m Jay Cormier – a happily single of one. I’m a performer (check out www.bertolt.ca for a character and show I invented and have performed in for over 14 years now!), and an aspiring comic book writer. Professionally I design training programs for a large international company. It’s kind of like designing games for the workforce!

Tom: I’ve checked out Pronobozo. Wow, you are not only a talented game designer but a talented musician as well. And a dad of two. Where do you get the time?!! And Jay, man, the Bertolt thing is awesome and must be a ton of fun. I’m impressed with you both so far. But what is this Bamboozle Brothers thing?

Sen: Bamboozle Brothers is the name that Jay and I go by. We never really use it formally, but now that we’ve been blogging more and more, we’re pointing people to a site bearing that name.

Jay: When our first game was about to be printed we had the option of using Bamboozle Brothers or our real names. How could we turn down the opportunity to see our names on a game box though?

Sen: We’d likely use that moniker if we were to self-publish anything. Who knows – we may start putting the logo on our games, to start the branding machine a-rolling!

Tom: Branding is an interesting idea. And I’ve visited the Bamboozle Bros. website. You have some interesting games there. I particularly am interested in Scene of the Crime, though all of them look fun. How did you hook up with Tasty Minstrel?

Jay: I met Seth and Michael at the GAMA trade show in Vegas. It was my second time attending the event in the hopes of making contacts and getting our games in front of publishers. Mission accomplished!

While I was there, I noticed a couple of people setting up a prototype of a game and I asked if they needed another player – and they said yes. I sat down and started playing Homesteaders with them. We chatted about why I was there and I showed them some Sales Sheets that we made up for each of the games we were showing. They expressed interest in a strategy game of ours called Belfort. It wasn’t until ¾ of the way through playing did I realize that I was talking to the publishers and not some other designers.

When we finished up Homesteaders, we all played a full game of Belfort, then another full game the next night – after which they expressed interest in publishing it!

It wasn’t until later in the development of Belfort did we show them Train of Thought! Due to the complexity of the art needed for Belfort, Train of Thought actually beat Belfort to market.

Tom: That is such a cool story. Homesteaders – I like the game a lot. Train of Thought – where did the idea come from?

Sen: Jay and I write a lot on a web-based forum that we use to work on our games. One section is called “Brain Farts” and we use that to come up with new ideas – we’ve actually challenged ourselves to post 1 new idea a day for the past few years. “Train of Thought” was born from one of those ideas, actually. I’m a very divergent thinker and tend to ramble on and on and on and … where were we?

Oh yeah! I wrote on the forum that I thought of one thing while trying to think about another thing and stated that it was a train of thought. I figured that was a good name and proceeded to make up the rules for a game to fit it!

But the game was really similar to other word games like “Password” until it hit us that the limiting factor for clue giving wasn’t just the number of words a player could use in his clue, but that the clue had to contain one of the words that the other players had just used as an unsuccessful guess.

This makes the game play out like a train going from station to station on the way to a final stop – at least it plays out like that in my head.

Tom: So you came up with the name and that led to the game. Interesting. Tell us about your current projects.

Sen: Other than marketing and publicizing for Train of Thought, our recent efforts have been focused on our second release – Belfort. The art files from Josh Cappel have just been sent to Panda Games Manufacturing, so we’ll hopefully see the game on shelves in late Q2 2011 or early Q3 2011. In the meantime, we’ll be working on the promotional videos, designer diaries, and other projects to generate pre-release buzz.

We’ve got a few games being reviewed by publishers currently. Z-man is looking at Akrotiri – a pickup-and-deliver game in which players are searching for the gateways to Atlantis. Gamewright is considering Jam Slam – a ear-eye-hand co-ordination game for kids of all ages. We’re also about to ship off a few titles to Asmodee including Lost For Words – a quick word-finding game with simultaneous play – and Junkyard – a strategic stacking game.

Jay: We have a ton of games in various states, but we’ve most recently worked on a party game called Cloonatics, a combative fantasy card game called RuneMasters, and a lighter card game called Lions Share.

Sen: Personally, I’d like to make more children’s games (being a dad and all).

Jay: And, of course, more medium- to heavy-weight “serious” games.

Tom: I’m excited about Belfort. I like what I’ve seen of it so far. Akrotiri sounds like my cup of tea. Atlantis, pick up and deliver, I’m there. RuneMasters also sounds interesting. I would welcome some more children’s’ games. I think that is a market that is under valued and targeted.  And of course ‘serious’ games. What is the hardest part of designing a game?

Sen: Hands down, it’s writing the rules. It takes a lot of effort to get a set of rules that not only enforces all the rules of the game, but does it in a readable manner. Even harder is ensuring that they are written! Using a lot of pictures and examples of everything is important, as we all have played games with terrible rules and we don’t want to be a part of that!

We’re not pros at writing rules yet. For example, in Train of Thought, we’ve been getting some feedback from players on BGG that the “Spirit Of The Game” section of the rules leave too much open for interpretation. That section was mostly penned by the developer, Seth Jaffee, but both Jay and I stand behind it as it makes for more fun and less competition when done right. Too much rules lawyering and the game bogs down. Too few and those that know the rules and play by them feel cheated.

Honestly, my advice to anyone who feels that the “Spirit of the Game” section makes the game “wishy washy” is to speak up and teach people the proper way to play – it won’t make the game any less fun to play for the people who didn’t know the correct way and it’ll make the game more fun for people who do.

So, yeah, writing rules seems to be the thorn in our collective side. We’re part of a Canadian game designer’s guild of sorts called the Games Artisans of Canada (GAC) and I’m sure that 9 out of 10 of our members would agree – writing rules is a) tough, b) no fun at all, and c) utterly necessary

Tom: I wasn’t expecting that answer. So the actual putting the words on paper is the hardest. Interesting. The ‘spirit of the game’ section is a neat idea. I interviewed Seth recently and I also playtested Eminent Domain and watched the rules evolve. So I know he is good with that type of thing. And being a part of a collective like GAC has to be a help. What is the hardest part of playtesting a game?

Sen: When it comes to finding people to playtest our games, we’ve been blessed. Through our relationship with the GAC, we’ve got access to some pretty intelligent people, such as Sean Ross and Graeme Jahns, who know how to analyze games and give feedback beyond “It’s not fun, but I can’t tell you why it isn’t…” Jay and I both have our own playtesting groups as well, many of whom are friends from back in the day when we met at McMaster University in Hamilton, ON. While a lot of them aren’t as serious about gaming as the GAC team, they are still able to provide us with a lot of insightful feedback – some of it even more valuable as they represent the majority of the market we are targeting with some of our games (like Train of Thought).

So finding playtesters isn’t that difficult – it’s getting in enough “blind” playtest sessions (i.e. ones without help/interference/interpretation from one of the creators) that seems very difficult for us to do. That’s the primary area of our game development pathway that I’d really like to work on improving – getting more blind testing done and creating a good method to collect feedback.

Jay: We often will get a bunch of feedback from players after a playtest session. My desire to please everyone all the time tends to make me want to change everything. It’s key for us to remember though that we can’t please everyone all the time. While we’re very humble during playtests and listen to any and all ideas, we now make a concerted effort to apply only the feedback that ensures the core vision of the game remains intact.

Tom: I’ve heard from others that blind playtesting is difficult. Obtaining quality feedback in a form you can actually use is a feat too. But it sounds like you have the right attitude and mindset.

Sen: Players who are open to changes on the fly, players who can give constructive feedback, and players who are genuinely interested in bettering the games we make are just some of the things we look for when we ask people to playtest. We don’t want people who will just blow sunshine up our butts – we want people who will help us make the best possible games.

Playtesters don’t even have to be ubergamers that get every strategic nuance after a single play. In fact, too many of that type of player can skew your view of a game. We play with a mix of ages, genders, skill levels, and interests. I find that some of the best feedback comes from playtesters who don’t actually like the type of game they’re playing but are open and honest enough to provide meaningful feedback.

Jay: I think we’ve done a good job in not overusing our playtesters. When we request our friends’ time to playtest they know it’s really needed. Not only that, but due in part to how open we are to listening and accepting feedback, everyone seems to really enjoy trying to find solutions to known issues in a particular design. Sometimes brainstorming how to fix a problem in a game can be more fun than playing games!

Tom: Brainstorming is fun. I have enjoyed playtesting. And I volunteer to playtest for you out in the future if you need. Now to our next question: What makes a good game?

Sen: To me, a good game should:
• Be easy to teach – As the person who usually buys the games in my local group, if the rules suck or the game is too confusing to teach, it’ll sadly never get played as I will invariably fall back on something I know more intimately when push comes to shove.
• Play in a reasonable amount of time – There’s not a lot of time in the day with 2 kids, a day job, game design, and being a competitive martial artists. I gave up RPGs because I couldn’t dedicate weekly 7 hour sessions to gaming. I also don’t think many of the gamers I play with could handle the same game for 3 hours.
• Have multiple paths to victory – Strategy games with one clear way to win are actually not very strategic…
• Have as many players involved at once, interacting as much as possible – The less downtime, the better. The less multi-player solitaire, the better.
• A theme that I can immerse myself in, if warranted – I like to play in game worlds I find interesting. I guess that comes from my RPG days. Theme can also be a limiting factor – My oldest son loves games, but I’m sure his mother wouldn’t want me playing “Mansions of Madness” with him…yet.
• Support a wide range of players (age, number, skill level) – My gaming partners range from 6 and 7-year-old kids in a 2 player game to 7-8 players with grandparents involved. A game that can handle all that and in-between is a winner in my book. Scalability is a big plus.
• Have many meaningful decisions made throughout the game that impact on the end result vs. chance. If I lose a game because of a die roll, I am frustrated in a bad way. If I lose a game because of a poor decision on my part, I am frustrated in a good way.

Lastly, the experience of playing a game should live on after the last card is drawn. If there is no post-mortem analysis of the game you just played – not necessarily out loud – then there may not have been enough strategic or tactical decisions, immersion/involvement/engagement, or player interaction.

If a game is good, you should want to play it again immediately with the thought that you could possibly do better – even if you won.

Tom: That is an excellent answer. It is point for point what I look for in a game. I stink at teaching games so I like ones that are easy to teach. Multiple paths to victory is a must. For me, hard decisions is also something that I really like in a game. As a developer, what do you look for in a game?

Sen: I look for games that satisfy a few criteria

a) Is there enough that is novel about the game mechanics that it fills a hole in my collection?

Right now, I don’t have a deck building game in my collection – I’m looking at Thunderstone, maybe Nightfall to fill that niche. I really want to learn more about this kind of mechanic as well. I’m also very interested in using dice in new ways, so I may look at Troyes and Roll Through the Ages to see how they’ve used dice.

b) Are the rules well written? How long will the game take to teach others? To play?

I am always looking for new ways to present rules to players – for research purposes, of course. I look at how the rules are presented in ways that facilitate teaching – how are examples presented, how are icons used, how are appendices used, etc.

I also look at the board and other components to see how the graphic designers may have made playing easier – how are the cards designed for ease of use, how are icons used, how are player aides laid out, etc.

I want to figure out how games are designed such that time is shaved off each player’s turn without sacrificing the greater game itself.

c) Is the game part of a growing system / have expansions / collectible?

I’m a sucker for anything with expansions etc. so I try really hard to stay away from CCGs especially. I sold all of my MtG cards to a guy in Italy for $10,000 US. True story.

I want to see how other designers have made their game such that it is complete in and of itself, but can support add-ons, if so desired.

Jay: When I’m looking for a game to buy, I usually am interested because of hype online. Then the theme has to be of interest to me. I’m pretty interested in many themes, but some just don’t work for me – like space games, for some reason. Then I check out who designed it. Acquiring over 200 games (and playing many more!) gives one an insight into who designed which ones.

Tom: I don’t have a deck building game yet either. Nightfall is high on the list. And Eminent Domain is arriving soon. I like games rules that have good, clear examples of play with examples of how NOT to play also. Making play easier is a good and needed goal. Next question: Who’s work in the industry do you admire the most?

Sen: Tough question. I guess if I have to pick one, it’d have to be Reiner Knizia – the man can make a game out of anything. He is utterly prolific. Sure, not everything’s a breakthrough, but when he’s on…he’s on! I think back to his games most often when creating our own. When I find myself in the design doldrums, I ask myself “What Would Reiner Do?”

Jay: have my favourites: Kramer, Knizia, Teuber and will look at any game they design!

Tom: Of your games, which is your favorite?

Sen: While it’s not even close to being done, I think Rune Masters has the potential to be something really special. But the one game I am dying to figure out is Scene of the Crime – it’s one of the first games we ever made and it has some really cool aspects in that it’s a logic/deduction game that requires no use of memorizing or tracking things like most similar games do. We’ve just never got it solidified. Maybe we’ll have some time in the near future.

Jay: My favourite game of ours is a game called Akrotiri that is currently under consideration with Z-Man Games. I am a sucker for tile placement games and we came up with something really new and special. Without giving too much away, we found a way to have players search for hidden temples based on map cards that they have – but in each game, the temples are located in different places. It’s really my kind of game!

A close second has to be Belfort. This one is coming out later this year from Tasty Minstrel Games and the art was done by Josh Cappel – and he truly has outdone himself here! Wait until you see some of the art he’s done for Belfort! Belfort is a worker placement, resource management and area majority game – three mechanics I really enjoy! I couldn’t be happier with our final product on this one.

Tom: How many versions of Train of Thought and Belfort did you go through before the finalized versions?

SEN: Train of Thought has pretty much remained true to the initial vision. A few additions and subtractions were made, but it didn’t change how the game was played, essentially.

Belfort, on the other hand, had a lot of changes. It started out, in all honesty, as a 24-card game that used paperclips to track resources. And the next day, there was a board (which has always been pentagonal, for some reason). And the next day, we added more cards. And then tokens, and then warriors. And then orcs. And then we took out the orcs. Which meant the warriors had no job to do. So they were fired. But then we thought about the buildings needing some more “jazzing up”, so we brought in the gnomes. Ha! At one point, there wasn’t even any gold in the game – it was all just wood and stone and metal! So, parents – if you want your son or daughter to be assured a job in a medieval fantasy game, tell them to be an elf or a dwarf. Don’t let your children grow up to be warriors, apparently!

JAY: We keep pretty much every single iteration of graphic file we’ve used in Belfort. I bet we’re up above the 62nd iteration!

Tom: What changes to each game did you make as a result of playtesting?

JAY: For Train of Thought , we originally played in teams with a stealing mechanic. While our playtesters enjoyed the competitive play, they liked it better when we changed it such that everyone was always involved. You wouldn’t need any other components to play the team version, so maybe we’ll release the old rules as a variant. We also used to have these ‘derail’ tokens that were used kind of like ‘mulligans’ when you needed to go back one spot, or change your destination word because you just couldn’t figure out how to get there. We took those out because none of our playtesters ever really used them. But, I suppose you could play with pennies or tokens if you wished to provide a bit of leeway for children playing against their parents, for example. One of the balances we did with playtesters was figuring out the best amount of time. 1 minute was too short for people to sometimes even get one train completed, while 3 minutes made each turn drag out a bit too long.

SEN: Belfort’s biggest change came when one of our playtesters asked “Why isn’t their any gold in this game?” Originally, we wanted the game to be about converting, trading, and using the raw goods but playtesters felt it took too much time and effort to always have to do transactions in their heads. So we added gold. Which lead to the taxation system that’s in place as a “leader balancer”. Having gold as a resource allowed us to do a lot of other things that made a lot more sense like paying gold to hire your workers vs. trading wood back to the elf village to take one of their sons to the city to work. Why would the elves need more wood?

Tom: Talk about the art and artists on each game a bit. I’d like to give them some spotlight.

SEN: Can I have a few pages here? I cannot stop talking about both Gavan Brown (Train of Thought) and Josh Cappel (Belfort). Both are Canadian and members of the Game Artisans of Canada (a group that Jay and I belong to). Both are game designers (Gavan’s first release, JAB, is coming out very soon; Josh’s Wasabi came out via Z-man and was well-received). And both are AWESOME to work with!

JAY: Gavan’s design of the box and logo have taken a lot into consideration. Everything from colour selection to the layout was done in a way that would attract people to look at the box. Take a look at the side of the box. He redesigned the logo so it would read out properly if the box is put on its side on a game store shelf. But what if the game is on a store shelf, spine out, but standing up? Gavan made the Conductor oriented so it would be upright in this scenario. Brilliant!

SEN: Gavan’s addition of the Conductor character to Train of Thought gave a nice, accessible, face to a game that originally didn’t have much personality. It actually changed how we wrote the rules for the game. I’m fairly technical (read: boring) when I write, so the rules as they were written, at first, did not fit at all with the graphics Gavan had come up with. So we changed the wording of the rules to suit the family friendly artwork. I am literally over the moon with how nice of a total package Gavan provided – Look! There’s even an ISBN code on the box so that Train of Thought can be sold in book stores straight away. That was Gavan’s recommendation, not our request!

JAY: Similarly, Josh was a very welcome addition to Team Belfort. His sense ofhumour pervades the game, now, injecting it with quirky anachronisms and “easter eggs” that you’ll have to look for when the game is released! His ability to both give and receive feedback is probably his greatest asset – it made working with him very enjoyable. Josh is actually credited as more than just the graphic designer on the back of the rules as he provided a lot of help with reworking the rules and clarifying the wording.

SEN: Oh yeah, and he also created a new race for the game – the blue Goons! Look for them guarding important places and enforcing the rules of the King throughout the castle. And, perhaps, look for them in a future expansion or totally new game set in the world of Belfort…

JAY: It is safe to say that both artists breathed life into paper and plastic bits to make the games more than what they originally were. Both artists are brilliant at what they do and we recommend them wholeheartedly to anyone who wants not just a pleasing graphic design, but to work with an artist who understands game design and game sales from a first hand perspective. The value both Gavan and Josh added to our games is truly immeasurable.

SEN: Please check out Josh’s work at http://www.joshuacappel.com. Some of the games he’s worked on include Terra Prime (designed by Tasty Minstrel’s head developer, Seth Jaffe), Wasabi (Josh’s own design), and the forthcoming Belfort. I hear he’s working on something involving dinosaurs or pirates or something…

JAY: And Gavan can be contacted through http://www.roxley.com – his artwork can be seen on Boardgame Geek for the games like JAB (Designed by Gavan himself), Undermining (Designed by fellow Artisan, Matt Tolman) and, of course, Train of Thought. Gavan has just finished Eminent Domain, so *definitely* check that one out – another fine Tasty Minstrel Games product!

Tom: What are you currently playing?

Sen-Foong:BattleLore and Runebound with my son, nephew, and friend’s 12-year old son. I just bought the Space Alert expansion and am eager to try that out – it just takes the right group of gamers to play that one though. Train of Thought makes frequent appearances at Sunday dinner with my in-laws and get togethers with my cousins. Like I said above, I don’t own a deck-building game yet but I just put a copy of Nightfall on hold. We’ll see how that one stacks up against Dominion.

Jay: I still haven’t burnt out on Dominion – love that game! Recently I’ve played London, Tikal 2, Saint Petersburg, Modern Art, Botswana and Poison. I prefer medium weight games that can be played in 1.5 hours or so. My favourite games would be: Tikal, Entdecker, Domaine, El Grande and Dominion.

Tom: Dominion hates me. I don’t know why but I stink at that game. I picked up London recently and really like it. It going to take a couple more plays to ‘get it’ but there is some depth and hard choices in the game. I recently played El Grande for the first time and I really enjoyed it. Ok, what’s the coolest part of being a game designer?

Sen-Foong: Working with skilled graphic designers who breathe an incredible amount of life into a bunch of numbers, dice, and cards. I’m not a horrible artist, but the creativity and skill that Gavan Brown and Josh Cappel (two fellow GAC members, I might add) have shown on Train of Thought and Belfort, respectively, is nothing short of awesome.

Jay: For me the coolest part was being at BGG.con last November and showing people how to play Train of Thought. Then, if they bought one, having people ask me to sign their copy. It’s definitely a weird feeling. “Hey, you know I’m just a guy, right?” But I get it – and I’d be excited to meet another designer too! Regardless – that was pretty darned cool.

Tom: Last question: Are there any links or sites you want to direct us to?

Sen-Foong: You can follow our blog at http://www.bamboozlebrothers.com where we write about our games and how we got them published in something like 27 or so easy steps.

Jay: And check out http://www.tastyminstrelgames.comfor information on our current release – Train of Thought – and our upcoming release – Belfort.

Tom: Well guys it has been my pleasure having you on Go Forth And Game. I enjoyed learning more about you and your games.

Thanks for visiting Go Forth And Game and join me again for more interviews and reviews.

(photos were sourced from BGG)

Under The Microscope – 10 Days In Asia

10 Days In Asia
Designed by Alan R. Moon & Aaron Weissblum
Published by Out Of The Box

This is a game of connecting countries in Asia to build a 10 day trip through those countries. It mixed fun and geography to produce a fun family game.

What You Get:
A game board with a map of Asia with each country in one of five different colors
57 country tiles – each tile depicts a country on the board in a corresponding color
21 transportation tile consisting of 5 railroad tiles, ten airplane tiles (two of each color), seven ship tiles (four for the Indian Ocean and three for the Pacific Ocean)
4 sets of wooden tile holders marked for the 10 days
A four page rules booklet

How Do You Play:
Set up is pretty easy. The game board goes in the middle of the play area. Each player gets a set of tile holders. With all tiles face down, shuffle or mix them. Players then choose tiles to fill their tile holders. Players may put a tile in any open slot. Continue this until all players have ten tiles. Players may not move or reposition a tile once it is placed in their holder except to discard it. This is covered later. The rest of the tiles are stacked into a draw pile. The top three tiles are turned over and placed face up beside the draw pile to form the discard piles. The first player now begins his turn. On a turn a player may do two things: draw a tile and place a tile. The player may draw the top tile from the draw deck OR one tile from one of the three discard piles. If he can use it, he discards one of his tiles and replaces it with the drawn one. If he cannot use it, he discards it. Players continue in this fashion until one has completed a ten day journey through Asia. But what is a ten day journey? A ten day journey is when there is a connection from the country at Day 1 to Day 2, Day 2 to Day 3, Day 3 to Day 4, etc. until Day 10 is reached. How are countries connected? They are connected if they are adjacent, are linked by train or ocean, or through an airplane. Airplanes are a special case. Air connections are made by placing a same colored airplane between two countries whose colors match each other and the airplane. Rail connections are made in the same way between any two countries so long as they are on the same railroad line. Ship connections are made between two countries that touch the same ocean. The ship tile goes between them. Adjacent countries are travelled between by foot and go side by side in the holder. There are some special structures on the map – bridges and ferries. Bridges connect two countries and are solid black. Ferries are dotted lines and also connect two countries. Countries connected by either of these are considered adjacent.
The winner is the one who completes his 10 day journey first.

What I Think:
This game is fun. It makes you think ahead and plan. It frustrates you when you can’t pick up the one tile you desperately need. Or when the player ahead of you picks it up. It teaches geography well. The names of the countries and their capitols are listed on the tiles as well as the shape of the country. My kids are learning country geographic relations and how to strategize to get where they want at the right time. We own all five 10 Days games and enjoy each of them.

Microscope Ratings (out of 5):

A Conversation with…Seth Jaffee of Tasty Minstrel Games

I’m very pleased to talk to Seth Jaffee, head of game development at Tasty Minstrel Games and designer of Terra Prime and the upcoming Eminent Domain.

Welcome Seth.  Tell us a bit about yourself.

What do you want to know? My name is Seth Jaffee – I am a Structural Engineer, Game Designer, and Game Developer. In my spare time I go to Game conventions, play games, and also play Ultimate Frisbee. Games and Frisbee have been my biggest hobbies for a decade and a half, and about 8 years ago I started getting into game design. I spend a lot of time on the Board Game Designers Forum (www.BGDF.com) and BoardGameGeek (www.BoardGameGeek.com) – where I was “Geek of the Week” a few years ago (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/151433). That thread might make a good answer to this question!
Tell us about Tasty Minstrel. How did you and Michael Mindes get together?

I actually met Michael when he was 5 years old. In 6th grade I was in school with his older brother Jacob. I would go to their house to play Nintendo and eat pizza all the time. Jacob and I were friends for years, and when Mike grew up it turned out that he and I had more common interests, and we started to do stuff together – specifically we played Magic: the Gathering. So we’ve been friends for almost 25 years.When Mike decided he wanted to start a game publishing company, I was skeptical at first. I’m kind of a pessimist, and I didn’t think it would go over very well – it was a big risk after all. Of course when he moved forward with it I wanted him to succeed so I was willing to help any way I could. I had some game designs that I’d done, and I knew of some other good games other people had designed as well. It would be my job to find games that are worth publishing, and developing them. The good news is that that pretty well summed up my dream job! 

That is a great story.  Wow.  And that is a dream job.  Tell us about Terra Prime and Eminent Domain.

Terra Prime was not my first game design by any means, but it was one of the first ones I’d ever ‘finished’ and of course the first one I got published. I had actually set aside another design (about breaking traffic laws to deliver pizza) when I began working on Terra Prime, and for some reason, despite some setbacks, I kept working on Terra Prime until it got to the point I was happy with it. I always considered Terra Prime to be my “flagship game” because it was the best of my prototypes and the first game I designed all by myself that I though was worth being published. 

I think Eminent Domain has surpassed that now, I think it’s an even better game than Terra Prime. There are many ways to define “better” in a phrase like “this is a better game than that one,” it’s very subjective. I don’t know if Eminent Domain is really a higher quality game, or if it’s more interesting, or if it’s more accessible… but I’m very pleased with how it turned out, I am excited for its release, and I think it will be more generally liked than Terra Prime was. There’s already more buzz about EmDo than about TP, so I guess by default Eminent Domain has become my new Flagship title! 🙂

I like both games though I think EmDo is my favorite.  I can’t wait for it to come out.  TP is fun.  I need to play it more. Tell us about your current projects.
As I’m sure every designer does, I have a list of games and ideas in various stages of the design process. The ones that are most likely to be published anytime soon are…* A simultaneous action dice game called Dice Werx, where players grab dice (parts) needed to build whatzits, doodads, and thingamajigs (played the first draft a bit, making changes for second draft)
* Another deck building game called Alter Ego, where you are a Batman style crime fighter, but in order to fight crime you must neglect some aspect of your alter ego life – either your family, your job, or your community – and doing so makes you weaker in some aspect of the game (just beginning early playtests)
* An expansion for Eminent Domain (currently playtesting)
Each of those sounds neat.  Dice games seem to be surging right now.  There is an idea out there called ‘rich dice’ – where there are different colors or types of dice in a roll and you work off of combos and single die to get different results.  An example would be you have two red and a blue d6.   You roll a red 5, red 3, and a blue 2.  You can choose to use the two reds to get one action.  Or a red and a blue to get another actions.  The numbers may indicate the strength of the roll which would play into your action in some way.  It is a different way to use dice that I’m incorporating into a design or two of my own.  You’re lead game developer for TMG.  Tell us about that.

As Head of Development for Tasty Minstrel Games I’ve also been working on development for upcoming TMG releases. 2 games that are done already which I worked on are Belfort (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/50750/belfort), by Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim, which just went to print and should arrive alongside Eminent Domain for summer 2011 release, and Ground Floor (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/38765/ground-floor), by David Short, which should be ready for Essen or BGG.con later this year. The next big game I’m working on is currently referred to as Kings of Air and Steam, by Scott Almes, which we plan to release next year. It’s kind of like a cross between Railroad Tycoon and Roborally, and I’m enjoying it a lot.
I’m excited about Belfort.  I have an interview in the hopper with Jay and Sen-Foong that should drop soon.  What a great time for Tasty Minstrel to get two more really good games out this year!  Kings of Air and Steam sounds right up my alley. From what you’ve posted so far, it’s a steampunk theme.   I’ve been a fan of steampunk in rpgs for a while and it seems to be the next ‘zombies’ in terms of popular themes.  I look forward to more news about it.

That’s about it – never mind the back list of game ideas that has been building up since 2003! Sometimes I write about The List in my game design blog (sedjtroll.blogspot.com).
What is the hardest part of designing a game?

The hardest part for me is two-fold… creating the prototype is often problematic, from how it should look to physically creating the game, and getting it tested. It’s very difficult to get people to play prototypes, especially ones that are new and untested and might well suck! Those are the worst kind, because the few people you CAN cajole into playing a prototype could easily stop volunteering if you make them dredge through something that doesn’t work!  Oh, I guess I just answered that… finding people willing to test the game is very difficult. I envy people like Reiner Knizia, who have multiple teams of people who meet every week for the sole purpose of testing his designs!

Prototyping.  I have seen that with a game I’m working on.  What goes on the cards and where.  How many cards do you go with.  What does the board look like.  Throwing things away is really hard.  I’ve heard it called subtractive design.  Whittling down the design to only what is needed.  That’s hard. I can understand that.  Playtesting isn’t easy and often is not ‘fun’.  But it is neat to see games in their fledgling state and helping them grow.  Dr. Knizia certainly has a unique situation.  But is it actually helping him?  Have we seen anything unique from him in the last few years?  Back to playtesting.

I sometimes attend designer meetups, but those aren’t a whole lot better – it’s great to have people play and discuss a game, but the problem there is that they each have games of their own, and everybody wants to test their own games. I’m actually headed to Albany, NY, for one of those meetups next month.
This idea in rpg design is called gamestorming.  I haven’t experienced it yet but could probably use the feedback I’d get. What are some aspects of a good player?

I guess there’s some question of what one considers “good” in a player (and maybe that’s what you’re actually asking me here). When playtesting a game, a “good player” is simply a player who will play the game like it were any other game. They’ll learn the rules and make moves they think might lead to winning. It doesn’t matter if they make good plays or bad ones, so long as they are playing the game. I think that’s often more useful than a player who will purposely do something that won’t make them win, just to see if it will crash the entire game. That’s my job, not the players’. I also don’t think it’s helpful during a playtest to stop the game every 5 minutes to discuss what rules SHOULD be rather than play the game how it was explained or written. Commentary on changing rules is best made after the fact most of the time.
I totally agree with this.

As for playing games (not playtesting designs), “good player” has a different meaning altogether. I would say a “good player” is the type who is often successful at identifying strategies that are likely to work, and moves that will create an advantage and lead to a game win. This can mean quickly or properly evaluating the value of one choice over another, or more accurately predicting the consequences of choices made by themselves or other players. Another possible definition of “good player” is “good sport” – a player who plays to win, offers a good challenge, but is respectful and polite as well. I think “good sport” and “Good player” aren’t exactly the same thing, but there’s probably a lot of overlap.
This is an interesting answer.  I think you have hit on something with it.  Most people have gone with the ‘good sport’ definition when asked.  It is valid.  I agree with you that there is overlap with what you have stated as a good player and the good sport player.  But I’m pleased that you have identified aspects of good players from a strategy view.  I like this. What makes a good game? As a developer, what do you look for in a game?

I’m finding that the answer to this question depends a lot on the target audience, and it’s not as simple as I used to think! I think a “good game” offers interesting choices and is engaging for the duration of the game. I used to refer to something I called a “Work-per-unit-fun” ratio. If a games work/fun ratio was too high, then even though it might have fun aspects, I don’t feel like playing it because it’s just too much work. Twilight Imperium is like that for me – I like the idea of the game, and there are fun parts, but the physical work and time involved in playing more than counterbalances the things I like. So I guess I would say that a good game has an appropriate or favorable work/fun ratio.

What I’m learning from the publisher’s point of view is that not everyone is as tolerant or accepting of complicated rules or learning curves as I am. A game that *I* think is good will likely have a learning curve such that you cannot fully experience the game in a single play. Nowadays it seems that a lot of people won’t give a game more than a single play though. There are so many games out there that they’d rather just get a taste for a game and then move on to the next one. I fear that because of this, many games are coming out that, well, CAN be fully explored in the span of a single play or two, and since this is not the type of game I generally enjoy, I think that’s kind of a shame. I hope that Tasty Minstrel can provide games that are both enjoyable enough on first play that players will feel compelled to play again, and also interesting enough that they can stand the test of time and hold up to repeat plays. That’s the kind of thing I look for in a game.

I’ve heard the work-to-fun ratio before.  I think that is used a lot.  I agree that a game can be fun but the work of the game, either in set up or length of play, can be a barrier.  Descent is one of these games.  It take forever to set up and then is at least 3 hours commitment.  I like the game a lot but it doesn’t see the table much because of these things.
You’re correct that ‘good’ is relative.  I agree that those of us who are ‘gamers’ probably have different criteria from a casual gamer.
Your point about people just ‘tasting’ games in so very true.  I really do not like this.  Most games need to played multiple times to get them.  Personally I think I need at least three plays before I understand most Euro type games.  I agree with you that there are probably many good, underplayed or unappreciated games.  And that there are games coming out that, as you say, can be explored fully in a single play or two. I think too that this number is rising because there are more games being published and those games that require more plays are diluted out or not as available.  GamerChris had a big discussion about this and reviews on his blog recently (gamerchris.com).  You should check it out.
Who’s work in the industry do you admire the most?

That’s a really good question, and I’m not sure I have an answer for it. I suspect you’re referring to published designers here, but I may give an unconventional answer here. Jay Tummelson comes to mind – not only did he help bring a lot of euro style games to the US, I like some of the things he’s said about the Spiel Des Jahres award, and how the tangible benefit of many, many sales helped increase the overall quality of games in general, and how he followed that up by sponsoring game design contests here in the states, committing to publishing the winner of the contest. I also admire some of the unpublished, amateur designers I’ve met on the Board Game Designers Forum – even without having been published (and in some ways maybe BECAUSE they haven’t been published) I really respect the effort and thought they put into their designs and commentary.
Jay is a fantastic, unexpected answer.  Very appropriate.  And thank you for reminding us about all he has done and is doing for our hobby.  He’s not only bringing us great games from Europe but ensuring that we see some excellent domestically designed games.
BGDF is a fantstic idea.  Having a community of like minded people to talk to and challenge you is necessary I believe.  Good games aren’t designed in a vacuum.
Of your games, which is your favorite?
Right now, Eminent Domain is definitely my favorite of my own designs.
What are you currently playing?

Lately I’ve been playing prototypes of all the games I mentioned above. In addition, I’ve been playing London, by Martin Wallace, which I picked up recently knowing nothing about it. Thanks to a particular friend who’s game night I go to every week, I’ve also been playing The Resistance lately, but I’m not enjoying it (nor Werewolf) as much as I once did. I keep looking at my shelf and wondering why it’s been so long since I’ve played some of my favorite games, like Puerto Rico, Railroad Tycoon, Goa, and stuff like that!

I’ve recently played Puerto Rico for the first time and really like the game.  I can see why it is rated so very high.  It is elegant.  I played Goa a few months back.  It too is a fantastic game.  I can’t wait for the reprint. What’s the coolest part of being a game designer?

It’s obviously the fame, fortune, and women… You wouldn’t believe how “I design games” will make a person swoon!

Seriously, I think the coolest part is really that I just enjoy doing it! I like the sense of accomplishment when an idea I had comes to fruition. When I sit down with an untested prototype and get someone to play it, and it works the way I wanted it to – that’s a pretty fun feeling. The absolute BEST part though is when other people, completely unsolicited, talk about how much they enjoyed playing a game that I created. When I went to BGG.con last November to find that before I even got there, people were already teaching and playing print and play copies of Eminent Domain (and liking it), that was really cool.

What an awesome answer. I’ve had a bit of that with some rpg work that I’ve done.  (http://www.bullypulpitgames.com/downloads/). I can’t wait until I get to experience that with one of my board game designs.  Let’s backtrack a bit. Tell us about the Board Game Designers Forum.  How valuable has BGDF been for you?
The Board Game Designers Forum is a website for aspiring designers to talk about their designs, ideas, game design in general, and to comment on each others games. I stumbled into it around 2003, soon after it was founded by Michael Dougherty. I really enjoyed the threads, and in particular something called the Game Design Workshop which was a chance for a designer to put one of their unfinished games in the spotlight for a week, and get a bunch of feedback from other members of the community. I spent a lot of time commenting on other people’s games in the workshop, participating in the forum threads, and chatting with other community members in the chat room. Over time I posted less, but always returned to BGDF chat, I met a number of people I consider good friends in there. A little while ago, Michael decided he wouldn’t be able to continue to run the site, and he asked me if I’d take it over – of course I said yes. Without BGDF I don’t think I’d be the designer I am today! I posted there recently saying that I have some plans to fix up the site and that I’d like it to be “the premier forum for amateur game designers” – one of the members replied that it already is. Still, I’d like to improve it some, and I still plan on doing so eventually (hopefully soon).

As you can probably tell, BGDF has been very valuable to me. My first published game, Terra Prime, was developed largely in the forums and chat rooms of that site. I found Josh Cappel, Ariel Seoane, and Gavan Brown – artists we’ve used for Terra Prime, Homesteaders, Belfort, Train of Thought, and Eminent Domain (and more to come) – right there at BGDF. As a small ‘thank you’ to the BGDF community I included a BGDF logo on the back of the Terra Prime and Eminent Domain boxes.

I would agree that BGDF is the premier site for amateur board/card game designers.  I am glad it is there and that people find it useful.  I really need to be more active.  In fact I have a question/request for help that I should post. Have any BGDF members games been published? How ‘successful’ has BGDF been?

Yes, several have. I believe there’s an old (out of date) thread in the BGDF archives about that (http://archive.bgdf.com/tiki-index.php?page=BGDF+Success+Stories&highlight=success%20stories). Since then there have been more, Terra Prime for instance. Nobelmen, by Dwight Sullivan, won the Hippodice contest in 2009 – a game I had the pleasure of playing (and contributing comments on) before he submitted it. Last I heard it had been picked up by a publisher as well.

I like to think BGDF has been VERY successful in that it offers designers the chance to talk about their games. I’m not sure “number of published members” is really a good metric by which to measure BGDF’s success. I do think for designers looking to be published, BGDF can’t hurt, and in fact is a very useful resource. Obviously simply joining the forum won’t magically get your game published, but I think there’s a lot of useful information and willing designers ready to help people interested in getting their game published.

I think BGDF’s strength is the community that it builds and as an extension, the resources it offers. I’m a member of BGDF, though not too active. There is a lot of excellent advice and links there. What is the most common question asked? What advice has been the most useful to the members?

I think the “most useful advice” will be different from member to member. Some people are looking for advice on self publishing, others on submitting to publishers, and others still on various aspects of design, or prototyping. There’s a variety of types of information available, and which is the best advice for you is going to depend on what stage you’re in in development and what your goals for the design are.

I’m not sure what the most common question asked is – again, there are many questions about many different things on there. People often ask about NDAs and patents/copyrights, and while everybody’s careful to preface their response with “I’m not a lawyer, but…” the consensus (and my personal opinion) is basically that stealing a game design in the hobby industry is just as much work as NOT stealing one. Ideas are a dime a dozen, it’s the development work that’s important. So I am not afraid to post about my designs on BGDF or my blog. In fact I see public posts like that as something I could point to if at some point there were some kind of dispute over whether Someone stole an idea from me or whether I stole an idea from someone. I believe that ideas and creativity foster in community and stagnate in isolation. If one of my ideas inspires another designer and they build a different game based on something I was considering for one of my games, more power to them!

“the consensus (and my personal opinion) is basically that stealing a game design in the hobby industry is just as much work as NOT stealing one. Ideas are a dime a dozen, it’s the development work that’s important.”  This is so true.  I agree with all you say here.  And need to act on it.   Are there any links or sites you want to direct us to?

Here are some designers’ blogs that I think are interesting:
Jay Cormier’s From Inspiration to Publication (http://inspirationtopublication.wordpress.com/)
Gil Hova’s Fail Better (http://ingredientx.wordpress.com/)
Michael Keller’s Game Designer Wannabe (http://www.gamedesignerwannabe.com/)
Scott Slomiany’s Meeplespeak (http://meeplespeak.blogspot.com/)
Matt Worden Games (http://www.mwgames.com/)
Brettspiel (http://www.brettspiel.co.uk/)
And for those with predilection toward 18XX games and how they work, JC Lawrence’s Other Wise (http://kanga.nu/~claw/blog/)
Thanks Seth.  This is one of the best interviews I’ve had on Go Forth And Game.  It has caused me to think about what do I mean when I say ‘a good player’ or ‘a good game.’  And I was inspired to post on BGDF.  I really appreciate your time with this.  I look forward to Eminent Domain, Belfort, and many more great games from you and from Tasty Minstrel Games.

A Taste Of Fiasco – Durham Style

I just got back from A Taste of Fiasco, an afternoon of Fiasco with Jason Morningstar, the game’s designer, and Steve Segedy, Bully Pulpit Games web guru. My game was with David, Shane, and Scott. We chose the ‘Manna Hotel’ playset. Manna Hotel is set in Manna, Kansas, population 1200. I played Miles Morgan, an ex-con with a score to settle with Scott’s character, Steve Biscuit, my ex-lawyer. David played my ex-con buddy and kind of flunky. Shane was Kurt, a guy with a system for wining at Bingo! In the end, Kurt went to jail for shooting Steve (which he didn’t do). Steve didn’t shoot me or Kurt. I payed Steve off what I owned him and to keep him from shooting me. Steve got a bunch of money and stitched up. Harry, David’s guy, and Miles ended up in Vegas, rich as kings working Kurt’s system. It was a good, fun game.
I wasn’t able to get in another game today though Jason was kind enough to invite me to dinner and gaming later. I appreciate the invitation Jason. I’ll take a rain check.
I got reacquainted with Shane and Amy with whom I had gamed before. And with Graham from the Hypermind group.
It was a nice day of gaming in a nice environment. Cudos to SciFi Genre for having us.