Stack It! New Kickstarter from Tasty Minstrel Games

Stack It!, Tasty Minstrel Games’ newest game, is now active on Kickstarter.
From the Kickstarter page – “Stack It! is a stacking dexterity game easily playable by up to 6 players in around 15 minutes. Players will take turns playing on of the 25 unique wooden pieces, making sure that each piece played touches the piece that was played before it.

Force the next player to knock the stack onto the table to win!”
It sounds fun and you should check out the Kickstarter here.

A Conversation About Durance With Jason Morningstar and Steve Segedy of Bully Pulpit Games

Today I’m talking to Steve Segedy and Jason Morningstar of Bully Pulpit Games. Bully Pulpit has been consistent making exciting, innovative games for the past several years including Grey Ranks and Fiasco. Here we talk about their newest game, Durance.

Jason and Steve

Tom: Durance just Kickstarted to great success. It was fully funded in, what, 18 hours and a final tally at almost $28000. That’s awesome!

Jason: Yes it is!

Tom: First and foremost, give us the lowdown about Bully Pulpit Games. How are you each involved?

Jason: We’re equal partners and good friends. I do a lot of game design and Steve does a lot of editing, print fulfillment, layout, accounting, ordering, customer service, and many more things including game design. It is not an equitable division of labor.

Tom: What Durance is all about?

Jason: It’s a game about power and the limits of control, as filtered through the inhabitants of a failing penal colony. More pragmatically it is a GMless game for 3-5 people, playable in two hour chunks, of variable overall length, with two protagonists per player that are shared by everyone.

Tom: The idea of playing two characters with opposite goals or at least opposing goals is really intriguing. Has it been difficult for players to handle?

Jason: The only time it ever gets slightly problematic is when both characters need to be in the same scene. But character ownership in Durance is lightly held so it just takes a little negotiation to sort that out.

Tom: I think I know where the name/title came from but enlighten us.

Jesse Parrotti’s cover for Durance

Jason: Durance is an old and out of favor word that is a synonym for bondage or imprisonment.

Tom: Where did the idea for Durance come from? What inspired it?

Jason: Game Chef! last year there was “Shakespearean Game Chef” and the ingredients really spoke to me in relation to themes of isolation and brutality. It made me think about the colonization of Australia in the 1790’s. The game grew from that.

Tom: Game Chef is very fertile ground for games. There have been several in the last few years that have come out of it.  So,as a Kickstarter backer I have an ‘in progress’ draft of the game. It seems to be very much about social conflict. This is a reoccurring theme for you, Jason. Why is that?

Jason: That’s an astute observation. The answer, I think, is that I privilege (real) player over (imaginary) character, and the really, really interesting stuff on an interpersonal level is always how we deal with each other as human beings.

Tom: How very true. I appreciate that you are investigating those dealings through games. It is something that is not done well or even addressed in many games.  Also Mood plays a big role in Durance. Which Drives you focus on definitely help set the mood of your game. You talked a lot about hitting the right mood in The Fiasco Companion. Why do you need to keep reminding us how to do mood in a game? Give us a couple of tips on how to maintain mood in a game.

Jason: Mood/tone/atmosphere/vibe is easy to generate – every group does it. But unless you are intentional, you’ll generate the same one all the time. I try to put in little cues to get you to talk about it with your friends, so it is on your mind as you begin to shape the experience of play together. Be intentional, say “let’s make our game tonight melancholy” or “let’s make this very absurd”. It works,a nd it is fun to challenge your own tonal prejudices and comfort zones.

Tom: You’re right. It’s so easy to slide into the same thing each game. And while that can be fun, it’s also fun to do something different. ‘Be intentional’ is great advice. Now, the game has some set characters that are integral parts of the game and are in every game. Where did the name ‘The Dimber Damber’ come from?

Jason: It’s Georgian slang for a criminal boss.It’s a term that was used and was relevant in the 1790’s. I like it because it is such a blatant statement of power – this person can call themselves whatever they want, even something ridiculous, because nobody dares laugh or protest.

Durance’s Notables chart

Tom: Notables – each player having two ‘opposing’ characters is a cool concept. How did you settle on that?

Jason: It stems from the idea that you’re exploring power, really. By creating two characters on opposite sides of the divide (a convict and, essentially, a guard) you can’t get entrenched in one world view as easily. By requiring unequal parity (you can’t create two characters at the same level of power), that same imbalance is further emphasized. You can’t help but see righteous and criminal, high and low.

Tom: As I said earlier, it’s a fantastic concept. I’m really looking forward to trying it out. On to Oaths. They remind me of ‘Compels’ from FATE. I like the idea as it will make for some really neat situations. How did you come up with this?

Jason: To be honest I think it was a Game Chef ingredient. It made sense in context to position it as something you wouldn’t do, a line you wouldn’t cross, because in such a desperate setting having one of those would be entirely reasonable and entirely foolish. Lots of drama.

Tom: Guides is an interesting way to handle the GM role. I like the limited role the guides have.

Jason: Thanks, I borrowed a lot of that from Ben Robbins’ game Microscope.

Tom: The game has dice but they are only used when an answer to a question is not certain. That makes a lot of sense. Talk about how you decided on that.

Jason: I like random things that can surprise you or force the narrative in weird directions, but I always want them firmly in the hands of the players to interpret. This leans heavily on the players to not only interpret, but to adjudicate. Fiasco’s resolution is binary – black die or white die, poor outcome or good outcome. In Durance it is more nuanced. A scene will be resolved, for example, through savagery. What does that mean? There’s no “good/bad” there, no finger pointed (although there is an optional tweak if you want more mechanical guidance). But players have a lot more responsibility in Durance.

Tom: I like that Durance allows the players to decide and make decisions and not be driven by dice and luck. It’s, as you mentioned, a good reoccurring theme in your games.  I like starting or developing scenes with a pointed question. The example in the book is “I wonder if the Governor has the stones to put the Dimber Damber on trial, having sworn never to betray him?” You can just imagine myriad of paths that can come from that. How did you come upon this ‘mechanic’?

Jason: This is directly stolen from Microscope, which is a weird and brilliant game. The first time I played and saw how questions were phrased i thought “must steal that”.

Tom: Man, I really need to play Microscope. I like games that use questions to direct play. Dread, Psi-Run, and there’s another that I can’t remember all use questions in some way to inform the players and GM (if there is one) as to what the player wants from the game.

Jason: A Penny For My Thoughts?

Tom: Yes that one too. I like that mechanic so much that I’m using it in a game I’m working on.  I really like that you include a replay. I think every game should have one. It really shows you how to play, like a paper tutorial.  

Jason: I think they are valuable too. They are hard to put together!

Tom: Art – tell us about your artists. 

Some of Brennan Reese’s interior art

Jason:  We totally lucked out. So Brennen Reece is sort of a ficture ont he Story Games scene i guess, and he’s a really talented artist. He’s doing these sketches that are absolutely haunting, very lovely and terrible, and I think they strongly, strongly set the tone. And Jesse Parrotti is a super talented guy working in a lot of diverse styles, and he liked our concept and just clicked hard, and he’s killing it with the full color pieces. Part of our Kickstarter reward was an additional full color interior spread and it is really great. You get to see a Dimber Damber out for his evening constitutional and it is terrifying.

Tom: Steve, you’ve playtested Durance a lot I’m sure. Who was your favorite Notable to play?

Steve: I had a lot of fun with the Dimber Damber recently— I decided up front that he was a bit of a religious nut, tending to his flock of convicts. I quickly threw together a cosmology and a doctrine to justify his actions as he sent men to their deaths, or worse. It didn’t work out so well for him in the end, oddly enough.

Tom: Now to the Kickstarter. You blew past your goal of $5000 pretty quickly. With Bully Pulpit’s reputation you had to have a good idea that Durance would get a lot of support. Why did you set the goal so low?

Steve: There are some best practices from Kickstarter that suggest you want to set your goal as low as you can while still actually reflecting what you need to do the project. I believe the line was that you want to reach 30% of your goal as quickly as possible, as most projects that do this succeed. We chose $5000 because it was enough to cover our costs for a modest print run, and because it seemed a reasonable gauge of potential interest. While Fiasco is pretty popular, we weren’t entirely sure how well Durance might be received. We expected to exceed the goal, but not so quickly or by so much.

Tom: What else do you want to say about Durance?

Jason: This game is fun, intense and easy to get into. I’m really looking forward to seeing what people do with it. In some ways it is a refinement on the Fiasco aesthetic and in other ways it is a considerable departure. Steve and I both really love it!

Steve: In many ways, Durance has been an experiment for us, in terms of using Kickstarter, gathering creative contributions from backers, contracting lots of art, and trying new product formats. I’m excited to see how it all comes together!

Tom: Now a quick Fiasco question. A couple of recent posts about Fiasco talk about it encouraging character failure. One blogger says, “For one thing, the game goes out of its way to encourage failure. The book goes on and on about it, and people who like the game seem to like it at times merely because it’s a foregoneconclusion that pretty much everybody’s going to die at the end….I think a good story can result from a game of Fiasco, but I don’t think that in order for that to happen, all players must meet with disaster. I think it’s enough that the game sets the characters up to be in conflict with each other from the outset, so it’s not possible for every character to succeed all the time.” I have heard a similar comment or two from people with whom I play. Why do you think Fiasco has this reputation? Why so much focus on failure? Or are people/players/commentors missing the point or creating something that isn’t really there?

Jason: There are several factors at work here. One is that failure is fun, and cathartic, and in direct opposition to 30 years of roleplaying tradition. There’s a large segment who genuinely like to play gonzo crazy disaster sessions, where the whole point is to go big, to flame out in the most spectacular way, and so forth. That is a way to play and bunches of people really enjoy it. So there’s that, no harm no foul, go nuts, play to fail. Looking at the way the game is structured though, it’s clear (and intentional) that failure is a sliding scale you don’t have complete control over, and mechanically a general spread from low numbers to high numbers is statistically likely in the Aftermath. Some will win, some will lose. How you parse those results is up to you, but a table full of total failure isn’t actually very common. Finally, I find that the aftermath is more resonant when you’ve agreed on a tone (see question 6 above) and don’t push super hard. Let stuff happen. If it turns out your guy is the one who is a total dickhead, go there. You’ll probably end up with a high number at the end. If the opposite is true, play the innocent dupe as hard as you can and throw the spotlight onto the others to provide sharp relief. You will probably end up dead, because that’s how the game is structured.

Tom: Yeah, it is structured that way. I’ve experienced both being the jerk who survives (well, almost) and the sacrificial lamb/scapegoat who gets killed somewhere along the way. That character, by the way, ended up with a copper statue in the town square. I notice that you reiterate ‘Be intentional’. That resonates with ‘Be obvious.’, advice from a lot of indie game designers. They go hand in hand I think.

Jason: A good resource for general advice in this vein is Graham Walmsley’s book Play Unsafe.

Tom: I know you usually have several game ideas in the hopper. Can you tell us about a couple?

Jason: Sure, I’m working on an Apocalypse World hack where you play secret police in a totalitarian society, and a children’s RPG about corpse-snatching in the 1880s, and of course my white whale, Medical Hospital. I also recently wrote a larp called The Climb. There’s always something.

Tom: I haven’t played Apocalypse World but that hack sounds fun. I’m a big fan of George Orwell and 1984. I’m intrigued by how totalitarian societies arise and rule. A children’s rpg and corpse-snatching – that doesn’t seem to fit. I’m very interested in this because I have a 10 year old who loves rpgs. Huge Icons fan.

Jason: Kids like gross stuff and dark themes, they can be pretty hardcore. They are exploring these issues on their own anyway. I’ve playtested my game once with a dozen kids, ages 12-14, and they really enjoyed it. They got to murder people and dig up bones and generally be badass criminals, and the game respects their agency to explore those roles a little in a spooky fun way. One girls’ mom hung around, clearly dubious about the whole enterprise, but pretty soon she was really into it too, suggesting ways to acquire fresher corpses by poisoning hospital patients.

Tom: And Medical Hospital’s heart still beats. That’s good to hear. And strangely comforting that it can take you a long time to make a good idea work. I have hope for my game yet.

Man, that was a really great interview. It’s always a blast talking to you both. Durance looks like a real winner to me. And I’m really glad that it has done so well on Kickstarter.  Even though the Kickstarter campaign is complete, you can learn more about Durance by going here.

Thank you Steve and Jason for a fantastic interview. I’m really stoked to play Durance soon. I’m excited about all the cool extras that backers are getting too. Thanks for all the fun.

Thank you readers for joining me for another Conversation. Check back soon for more interviews, reviews, and thoughts as I go forth and discover the interesting and obscure in gaming


All pictures are used with permission of Bully Pulpit Games.

This Week In Gaming 16jul12

Not a lot of gaming to report this week. I wasn’t able to make it to Hypermind for game night because I was at the beach. K and I did get a game of For The Win! in. The big thing is Z learned to play chess. So we’ve played a few games and he has an chess app on his iPod.
From The Internets:
GamerChris was particularly busy this week.
There are new reviews at Dice Hate Me.
Made For Play, the documentary about game manufacturing from The Spiel podcast, posted.
Master Plan has returned. This excellent podcast from Ryan Macklin focuses mainly on rpg design but often addresses general gaming concepts. The newest episode is an interview with Luke Crane about his Mouse Guard rpg and it is fantastic.
The ENnie Awards nominees were announced.
Race To Adventure from Evil Hat funded.
Ace Detective Funded.
Flash Point: Second Story funded.
Several others also made the cut.

That’s enough for now.
Thanks for reading.
Go Forth and Game,
Tom G

The Jones Theory, my two cents, & The Norwood Theory

Ok, so there has been a lot of talk recently about The Jones Theory. The Jones Theory was developed by Cody Jones, formerly of The Game On! podcast. It states, essentially, that if you own several games that are similar, either in game play or ‘feel’, you should only keep the one you like and will play the most. The Dice Tower, The State of Games, Exploring Games with GamerChris, and a few others all covered this subject over the last week or so.
What are my thoughts on this?
GamerChris proposes The Norwood Theory – keep the games you like. I like the Norwood Theory. Why get rid of games you like simply because you have others of the same type that you also like? Ok, you may like one a little bit better than the others. Just rotate for goodness sake. Besides, no two games are exactly alike. I get a different experience from every game. Shoot, I get different experiences FROM THE SAME GAME depending on who I’m playing it with and the general situation at the time.
I’m sure there will be some instances in which I will Jones Theory some game. I see why people like the Jones Theory. Especially if you have 400+ games and need to get rid of some for some reason.
But for me, I’m a Norwood Theory gamer.
Exploring Games

This Week In Gaming – 13jul12

Let’s get right to it.

What I played:
Z has taken to 10 Days In The USA. He has chosen that over the rest all week. We have played it about 4 times. And he didn’t win any of them. Yet he keeps choosing it. That’s the mark of a good game. The oldest daughter even joined us for a game (and subsequently won).
We played Memoir’44 again too.
We also got a play in of my game, Opening Day. In Opening Day, players are duck hunters trying to bag the most ducks. It has a lot of ‘take that’ and some interesting decisions. I’ll talk more about it in an In The Lab post soon.

I played the tutorial for Summoner Wars on my iPad.  It was fun and I’ll probably buy the bundle soon so I can actually play someone.

Gaming News
The biggest thing to me this week was all the talk in the blogosphere about game reviews. I think every game blogger and podcaster was talking about whether getting review copies of games affects the review. I have something to say about this but I think I’ll leave it for another post.
Another issue that was all over the place was The Jones Theory and whether it makes sense. The Jones Theory states that if you have two games that, in Tom Vasel’s words, ‘scratch the same itch’, you do not need them both. Get rid of one. I’ll post on this later too.

The Dice Tower awards were announced. You can find them here.

Days of Wonder announced the return of Mystery of the Abbey.  I’ve not played this one so I’m kind of excited to play this at some time.

Spiel des Jahres winners were announced.  The Spiel des Jahres 2012 winner is Kingdom Builder.  This is no real surprise.  It’s a game that hits all the check marks.  It’s a good game.  I’ve played it a couple of times and like it ok.  But it has some issues.  I hear the Nomads expansion fix this so I’m hoping to play it again soon.  The Kennerspiel winner is Village.  I’ve not played it yet as it is not imported into the USA. Yet.  Tasty Minstrel will be bringing it over soon I hope.  I’m hoping to snag a copy.

Ace Detective funded successfully on Kickstarter.  This one is a card game from Richard Lanius and has a pulp theme and art from Black Mask.  So of course I had to buy it.  It looks great.

That’s about it.  I’m off to work on those posts I talked about and an interview with Bully Pulpit Games’ Steve Segedy and Jason Morningstar!

Go Forth And Game,

Tom G


A Conversation With…Crash Games’ Michael Coe and Patrick Nickell

It’s my pleasure to welcome Patrick Nickell and Michael Coe to Go Forth And Game. Patrick and Michael are the guys behind Crash Games.

Tom: Talk about Crash Game a little bit. How did it come about?

Patrick: Crash Games formed back in September of 2011. At the time I was managing a FLGS in Mesa, Arizona and Michael Coe and his wife came in to see about demoing a game they were working on in my store. I was incredibly busy and didn’t really have the time to work through facilitating their request. We were both going to be at GenCon 2011 so I said we should meet up there. We exchanged cell phone numbers and that was that. That Thursday of GenCon, with 35,000 people wandering around I bumped into Michael and his wife Brittany by total accident and we ended up spending the entire convention together. We really felt this great creative energy so we decided to do something when we both got back to Arizona. We ended up deciding to create a board game company called Crash Games.

The Crash Games Gang

Michael: Crash Games is a passionate board game design, development and publishing company. Crash Games represents a crash of rhinoceros, we move full speed towards our goals and are unstoppable. We are dedicated to providing the highest quality games that will provide opportunity for friends and family to create fun and lasting memories.

Tom: Tell us about your games.

Michael: Our focus in our games is immersive gameplay and superior components. Our interest is to create games of all kinds. With all of us being diverse gamers we benefit from loving all sorts of games; from heavy strategy to press your luck to light party games. People can look forward to seeing an exciting catalog of games from Crash Games.

Patrick: Well currently we have one published game that was successful on Kickstarter called Rise!, it’s a two player abstract strategy game that Michael designed and I helped develop. We currently have our second game, The Lost Dutchman currently funding on Kickstarter, it’s a 2-5 player adventure/discovery game where players take on the role of prospectors trying to find the lost gold mine of Jacob Waltz. The Lost Dutchman is a very popular Arizona Legend.

We are also currently working with Tory Niemann, the designer of the smash hit, Alien Frontiers on publishing his next game called Pay Dirt.

We have some other games at various stages of development as well mainly Lords, Ladies & Lizards as truly versatile adventure game that’s unlike anything I’ve every played.

Tom: Rise! had a pretty successful Kickstarter campaign. I’m sorry I missed out on it. I like a good abstract game. What do you think made Rise! so successful?

Patrick: First and foremost Michael design of Rise! is simply brilliant in my opinion. It has simple components, simple game explanation, simple setup and play yet Rise! has so much versatility and layers upon layers of strategy. I knew it was lightning in a bottle since the first time he showed it to me and I’m beyond thankful to have had a part in bringing it to the board game community.

Patrick in action!

Michael: I’m sorry you missed out on it too; luckily we had enough copies made for you to jump in on it now! *wink* I feel Rise! was successful because of a myriad of reasons. The first and foremost reason, honestly, being our fantastic supporters, they rallied together and spread the word of this great game at the time we most needed it! A big thank you to everyone who backed Rise! Second, solid gameplay, it was tested and balanced with precision over the span of hundreds and hundreds of playtests. Third, a dedicated, genuine and innovative publishing team that wouldn’t sleep until this game was made. I could go on with a lot more reasons but those are the first three reasons that stand out to me.

Tom: Let’s talk about your latest Kickstarter effort, The Legend of The Lost Dutchman. I’ve played it once. It plays like an rpg and I enjoyed it.

Hey! That’s Keith and I playing The Lost Dutchman. I’m on the right, btw.

Patrick: I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed it. Several people have mentioned it has an RPG feel to the characters people play.

Michael: The Lost Dutchman has had tremendous and wonderful effects on people. It’s very rewarding to hear you enjoyed it because that was exactly our goal. It’s a delight to see gamers of all ages enjoy our games and I feel this one has really been a home run!

If you like games that play like an rpg just you wait… Lords, Ladies & Lizards is painted with rpg elements!

Tom: How did you figure out how many ‘Deplete Water’ cards to use?

Michael: We used a formula to nail down a starting number and then play tested it again and again to time the end game trigger. When adjustments were needed we visited the Water Level. This was a more adaptable game component that gave us the control we needed. We also incorporated the treasure map as an end game trigger. This was a very critical component in controlling the length of game play.

Patrick: Whenever you’re working on an end game trigger it can be quite difficult to refine it to work the best that it possibly can. It is a matter of play testing the game over and over and over and over making changes along the way and seeing how those changes play into the overall experience. With the “Water Level Drops” we have a sort of see-saw system. As more “Water Level Drops” are exposed the existing water level goes down. So we had to pay mind to not only the amount of “Water Level Drops” but also the volume of the Water Level. The funny thing is our first dozen plays saw the water level not coming close to dropping quickly at all, then we went to it dropping very quickly in the next dozen plays, then it reverted back to not dropping. The glory of random set up but I feel that the random set up produces a more dramatic experience and gives you great replay ability.

Tom: How do you prototype? How extensive?

Patrick: I prototype with materials I find at home in my game workshop. I’ve turned a room in my house into a game store/workshop and so I’ve got quite a bit of materials to start with. I’m always on the lookout for random good board game bits. In regard to play testing, over the last several years I’ve been fortunate enough to develop a very good network of play testers and rely on them as additional filters. First I always present the game to my wife and my business partner as his wife. We together make up Crash Games. I also have half a dozen various groups here in my home area of Phoenix including several other publishers. I also have a hard-core group of play testers in San Francisco who do a phenomenal job of discovering additional aspects of the game that may have been missed. Our process is to play test quite extensively with all of our groups. We also like to have each game at a major convention for the general public to try out.

Rise! prototype

Michael: Prototyping is very important and we spare no expense. We find the value of a professional prototype to be worth every penny we can afford to put into it. Games are very dynamic and to create a prototype that explores not only the mechanics but the theme and component quality allows play testers to truly wrap their mind around the game and product and provide more accurate feedback.

Tom: I’m very interested in movement mechanism in Dutchman. How did it come about?

Michael: The movement mechanic was part of Patrick Nickell’s original design of The Lost Dutchman and has served as a very fun and intuitive mechanic. Due to some changes in game components we will be altering the movement slightly. This change provides more strategy for players while still maintaining all the elements we loved from the get go.

Card layout for Dutchman. The cards have since been replaced by hex tiles.

Patrick: The movement actually came about in an earlier, different themed game that I talk about in my design diary on Board Game Geek; it was a game I had been working on with my wife. The direction die and movement die seemed natural. However we are at a point where a component change in the game is looking to completely remove the direction die which I feel will give players more freedom and hence more strategic choice.

Tom: What ‘baby’ have you had to throw out?

Michael: As the lead developer for The Lost Dutchman I am not as married to the mechanics and game elements as Patrick, the designer, is. I’m solely interested in refining, balancing and developing mechanics within the spirit of the original design concept. So I’m sure that Patrick feels the pain of baby throwing more than I do. I must compliment Patrick as a game designer; he has very rich and thematic ideas that translate naturally to board game design.

Patrick: In an effort to make the movement more intuitive and fluid and with our new component change I’ve had to throw out the movement restrictions I originally had in the game. It was difficult to do this, especially since I felt some of the restrictions were thematic. It was difficult but I knew it was very necessary to make for a better game.

Tom: Theme or mechanics first?

Michael: Honestly, I cannot choose one over the other. Sometimes I will have an epiphany regarding mechanics and must find ways to work them into my designs and other times I am burning with a theme that I simply cannot leave void and begin designing the mechanics. Game design is an organic process and every designer has a different style. For me, I currently have about 5 or 6 different game designs going on in my head and keeping them organized is tricky. I like to borrow some of my ideas from one design and mix it into another design that is further along in hopes that it will find a store shelf sooner rather than later. I love designing games; it’s my favorite part of what I get to do with Crash Games.

Patrick: For me personally it is theme first. I feel that if you start with a theme the mechanics will be intertwined that much more into the game. I do however have mechanics that I am quite fond of that sit on a proverbial shelf waiting for the right games for them.

Tom: Balance in a game – how do you get it?

Patrick: One of the best parts about having a design and development partner is that we have two very distinct filters that decisions pass through. I feel that Michael is very good at balancing games out and he is the first one to speak up if things are a little unbalanced. We sit down and look at the aspects of a game that is unbalanced and find a way to balance them, then of course comes the inevitable play testing of the attempted re-balance. The tricky part is the effect that one change has on the other parts of the game, that’s where a lot of work can sneak up on you.

Michael: I believe Game balance starts with formulas and is refined from honest and relevant feedback. I cannot stress how important it is that play testers are not agreeable and that they are as brutally honest as possible. When I’m designing games I develop formulas that may seem arbitrary to anyone that is not inside my head (that’s everyone) but they help me make sense of rewards and consequences. Let’s take Rise! for instance, in order for a player place a worker freely (breaking the rule of having to place workers adjacent to other workers) she must sacrifice two of her existing workers. So her decision process is such; “Is it worth it for me to lose not only two workers but the ground they possess? to gain possession of ground in my opponent’s territory?” The formula in Rise! is that you are typically accepting two consequences in order to break one rule. This makes it very important for players to take every action very seriously.

Tom: So you get balance in a game sort of ad hoc/ intuitive and then play with it until it works.

Michael: Yeah, pretty much. Regarding balance, sometimes it’s best to choose an arbitrary starting point that feels right and just play it. When determining how many suits, card types, tiles etc. it works best for me to ask myself “what percent of the game play would I like players to experience this?” In Lords, Ladies & Lizards players will be getting out of their seat to act out medieval concepts. So I asked my self how often do I want this occurring? I really enjoy that element of the game and it has gotten tremendous feed back, but L,L&L has a lot of elements to it so no one thing can be too common. So I decided on the acting element to be about 10-15% of the game. So about 12% of the tiles trigger the acting event. If it isn’t happening enough I increase that number and so forth.

Tom: How do you know when to stop designing? How much is too much?

Patrick: I’m not sure if there is ever a defined stopping point. I once heard a game design is never done, it’s simply published and to some degree I agree with that. There are always changes that can be made but the question I ask myself is “Is this being changed simply for the sake of change or does it better the game?” My design experience is very limited but I can say that there comes a moment when you find the game is playing right and the experience you desire for your players is happening and at that point I try to stop. That is what it comes down to for me, are my players having the experience I want them to?

Michael: I believe that’s a fine line that really determines the greatness of a game. I feel that, that is the true benefit of having strong synergy with your game developers and even sometimes your game publisher. Everyone seems to have their own opinion what games are missing or maybe have too much of. I suppose one could say that art in game designing is knowing when to stop. It’s a talent that must be possessed by everyone involved in bringing a game to market.

Tom: Top two tips for aspiring game designers?

Michael: Two!? Are you kidding me!? I feel so restricted. I’m going outside the lines here. Aspiring game designers, be passionate, be dedicated, be original, be creative, be inventive, be simple but be layered, be honest, be confident, be daring but be careful, be open but be focused and most of all be proud. It is the sparkle in your eye that will sell your game. If you don’t believe in it first no one will.

Patrick: One, have fun. Have fun during the entire process. If you’re not having fun it is going to be very difficult throughout the process and you will most likely give up.

Two, accept all feedback with a smile and thanks but be discerning enough to figure out which feedback needs to stay in your brain and which needs to keep on going right out the other ear.

Tom: What are your current top 5 games?

Michael: Just board games!? Hehe … I love so many kinds of games! My answer reflects no limit to the platform;

1st is Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES Game)

2nd is World of Warcraft (PC Game)

3rd is Lords, Ladies & Lizards (shamelessly my own Board Game)

4th is Chess (Board Game)

5th is Carcassonne (Board Game)

Patrick: This is really difficult to choose because I like a lot of games. These are in no particular order or ranking.

Princes of Florence, Troyes, Rise!, Pay Dirt & Alien Frontiers

Tom: You recently announced that you would be publishing a game by Tory Niemann, of Alien Frontiers fame. It’s called Paydirt. How about some info on that one?

Michael: Pay Dirt is a fantastic euro style board game that’s mechanics are original and thematic. Players must manage a gold mining operation in the frigid climate of modern Alaska. Every turn players will face hardships and machine deterioration as they work hard to convert pay dirt into gold. Players compete with each other for area claim stakes, new machinery and better personnel. All while having to balance the duties of their workers. Do you have all your employees working the pay dirt? Should you spare a few to repair your equipment? How about making it into town to buy and sell? Well you better think fast, the temperature is dropping and soon you won’t be able to process any pay dirt at all!

Hoping for Pay Dirt!

Patrick: People have been chomping at the bit for info on Pay Dirt and we’ve been hard at work play testing the game. I play a lot of games, I own close to 300 and Pay Dirt is in my Top Five. I really enjoy the theme, especially how well the mechanics tie into the theme and are extremely intuitive. I really love the game. That being said I’ll share the basics with the game with you.

Pay Dirt is a resource management, worker placement, auction game for 2-4 players in which players are managing a gold excavation crew in the Alaskan Wilderness. Players start with some basic equipment and workers and throughout the course of the game upgrade their mining outfit with better gear, equipment and personnel to maximize moving pay dirt through their equipment. Players will have to manage the hardships that mining for gold in Alaska dishes out. The window for gold mining during the Alaskan Summer is short and players must pay attention to the temperature, when the temperature drops to zero degrees Celsius water can no longer exist is a liquid form so the game is over and the player with the most gold is the winner.

Tom: So, guys, what else do you have on the way?

Michael: Lords, Ladies & Lizards is a carnival of game genres wrapped with a rich medieval fantasy theme. It incorporates pen&paper RPG with classic board game elements. It features a full card game that can perform as a stand alone as well dice games and party games. The game focuses on two objectives providing players with numerous routes to victory, and minimizing player down time through several group gameplay mechanics.

Here is the synopsis of Lords from our website:

A one of a kind role playing adventure game set in a medieval fantasy world threatened by an all-powerful Dragon. Up to six Players get a chance to create and develop Characters through a complex journey that involves strategy, economics, politics and war! Over the span of many “game” years, players will face personal struggles with jealousy and greed, deceit and rage! They will travel across three continents by land, by sea and by air, clearing the way of treacherous monsters. Players must choose which path to take… the way of the warrior? Or the lavish life of the landlord? They can build wealth and recognition through Theatres and entertainment. Or buy and trade treasures and build kingdoms that will rise and fall! They will be forced into war against one other all for the right to reign supreme! But there will only be one winner and that is the one who defeats the Dragon! The next game for Crash Games is going to be Pay Dirt followed by a Rise! expansion in the works and Lords, Ladies & Lizards. We also have other submissions and more in-house designs we are considering for down the road. Patrick and I will be attending Gen Con and will be demoing Pay Dirt, Rise! Medieval Moats & Mortar and Lords, Ladies & Lizards.

Tom:  Guys, thanks for the interview.  It was super fun talking to you and learning about Crash Games.  I’m excited about The Lost Dutchman and Pay Dirt.  Here’s hoping the Lost Dutchman Kickstarter is successful.  If you are interested in learning more or supporting The Lost Dutchman head on over here.  You only have two weeks.

And keep your eyes on Crash Games.  There are great things on the way.

Thanks for joining me on Go Forth And Game.

Tom G

Photos: Balancing Rocks is from Dakr and used under the Creative Commons License.

Other photos from Crash Games, Dice Hate Me Games, and Clever Mojo Games.

The Past Few Weeks In Gaming – 05jul12

Well, it’s been several weeks since I posted a This Week In Games. There have been some interesting things happening.
Hypermind Game Night – I made it out to Hypermind for Game Night on June 12 and 19 and played some good games.
June 12 – The first game was Thurn & Taxis. I really like this game and did pretty well. Thurn and Taxis has a nice mix of set collection and area control that I enjoy. It’s not a difficult game to grasp but has enough strategy or fore planning to satisfy. The second game was No Thanks!. Always a winner, this game proved to be a real blast. I did ok at first but took a gamble that didn’t play out.  I took the 35 with a ton of chips.  Chris Norwood (GamerChris) was to my left, following me.  He was evil and took the 34 cause I was trying to push it around.   He also took the 32 in a vain hope of getting the 33.  As the game wound down I knew I had no chance of winning.  I was stuck with the 35 and several more cards.  Then the 34 popped up on the last round.  Chris’s eyes lit up with HOPE.  Unfortunately for him, I remembered that he stuck me with the 35 and I decided to return the favor.  I took the 34 with a great “HA!” and laughed as the hope bled away.  He couldn’t believe I did that.  Disbelief.  Shock. Dare I say tears?  It was a classic moment.


Of course I lost by a huge amount.

Next up was Giza.  This was a new one Chris brought with him.  Giza was pretty fun.  It has a neat turn order/special actions mechanism that is neat.  It took me a while to get into the game so I was lagging behind.  But I figured out a weak strategy and aligned with Alton to stay competitive.  In the end Kenny beat us pretty well.  Only real issue we had was that it ran REALLY long.  Something like 140 minutes.  The game was fun and deserves some more plays.

We played a prototype called Kings of Israel.  It’s a cooperative game that feels a lot like Pandemic but with just enough differences to be interesting.  We won pretty handily.  It was fun and didn’t last that long.

July 19

Infiltration was first for the night.  It’s a semi-cooperative game with a cyberpunk theme.  We ‘won’ in that we all got out of the building before being caught.  But it felt kind of hollow.  The game was ok but I don’t think I need to play it again.

Next was Last Will.  I’d heard a lot about Last Will from a couple of podcasts.   In it you have to spend all your money to win.  A bit counter intuitive.  I didn’t really think it was one I would care for but I decided to give it a try.  I was pleasantly surprised by Last Will.  There are some interesting mechanics like depreciation of your properties and comboing cards.  I didn’t do so well.  There is some confusing iconography but I’d like to play it again.

Santiago de Cuba was the next game on the list.  I really liked this one.  Each turn you move around the city, either one free move or you can pay to move more.  You then have the option of taking the action at the spot where you landed.  You collect goods along the way with the hope of shipping them at some point.  It was pretty cutthroat and the scores were pretty close.  I hope I can play it again soon.

That’s it for Hypermind up to now.

Other gaming.

Fourth of July – O, her friends J and H, went to the local fireworks display on Fourth of July night. We sat on grass and played some games while we waited.   We played 10 Days In The USA (I came in third) and Sleeping Queens.

I played some games with the kids over the last few weeks too.  Z and I played Memoir ’44 and I actually won.  We’ve played Catacombs a couple of times.  O and her friend and I played Settlers of Catan last night.

Gameathonapocaloozafestacon 5: Dawn of The Prototypes

Darrell Louder’s Compounded, DHMG’s newest acquisition

I had the next game day at my house.  It was a blast with a bunch of friends and lots of games.   We started at about 1pm and the last guest went home around 12a.m..  Some of the games played were Vegas, Infiltration, Suburbia, Santiago de Cuba, Hive, Catacombs, and a few more.  I called it Dawn of The Prototypes because several were brought for playtesting.  Daniel Solis had Belle of the Ball, his newest card game that will be hitting Kickstarter soon I hope.  I didn’t get to play it but I have played a previous version and it was fun.  Eric Martin brought Suburbia and those that played it seemed to enjoy it.  Chris Norwood had Acute Care and there were a couple of quick plays of it.  And Chris Kirkman of Dice Hate Me Games had their latest Compounded.  I did get to play this one and really enjoyed it.  It’s a set building/collection game with a chemistry theme.  And the theme really shines through.  It has a really cool social aspect that can involve trading, deal making, and back stabbing.  When I get another play in I’ll do a review.

Launch Pad is a fun, quick family game.

I played Lauch Pad with Z.  It was fun and quick and hit that family game niche just right.  We then played Castle Panic, which I traded for with Graham.  I also played a really good game of Ticket To Ride Europe with Daniel, Megan, and Kenny.  I thought I was doing pretty well but was schooled by Daniel.  The last game I played was The Speicherstadt.  Chris and I had been trying to play this one for a long time.  It was worth the wait.  Stefan Feld does not fail.  It was tight, thinky, and nerve-wracking at times.  We all stayed pretty close but Chris pulled it out in the last two rounds.

I introduced a trading aspect to this game day and it was successful.  I know several others went home with new games and I picked up a couple.  As I mentioned I got Castle Panic.  I also picked up Endeavor and a chess/stratego mix that looked interesting.

All in all it was another successful Gameathonapocaloozafestacon.  I’m hoping the Chrises will post on it soon as they took a lot of pictures.

Z had a friend over yesterday and we introduced him to Catacombs.  We didn’t get to finish the game but he enjoyed it enough to get me to promise to have a Junior Game Day soon so he could play a full game.  Catacombs is definitely Z’s favorite game right now.  It’s such a good game for kids and adults to play together.  As with a lot of dexterity games adulthood can actually be a detriment and kids can easily hold their own.

That’s it for now.

Come back soon for an interview with Crash Games’ Patrick Nickell and Michael Coe.

Go Forth And Game,

Tom G

photos from GamerChris, DHM Games, and Stratus Games