Hostage (pause) Negotiator! A Conversation with … AJ Porfirio of Van Ryder Games

It’s a tense situation. A terrorist has taken control of the opera. Hundreds of people are held under the threat of being blown to bits. The police have surrounded the complex and are trying to figure out how free the hostages. They wait desperately for the one person who can save those people. Enter the Hostage Negotiator!


Tom: Hi AJ. We talked not too long ago about what Van Ryder Games is up to but I wanted to bring you back on to focus on Hostage Negotiator. So remind everyone what HN is about.

AJ: The game puts you in the role of a Hostage Negotiator that needs to negotiate with a Hostage Taker (or Abductor as we call it) to successfully save the hostages. The game is for solitaire play and plays in under half an hour. It really simulates that tension filled situation quite nicely.

Tom: I’ve played an early prototype. Man, you are right. This game really delivers the tension. I like that a lot. Where did the concept come from?

AJ: From my crazy brain. I was brainstorming underutilized themes and Hostage Negotiation came to mind. I couldn’t believe there wasn’t anything out there and then I realized how sensitive the subject is and that who would want to play as a Hostage Taker? But as a solitaire game no one has to, so it fit perfectly.


Tom: I spoke about the early pnp of the game. About a year ago. It was really fun and pretty well baked at that time. What’s changed since then?

AJ: Mostly balance tweeks, but I’m not sure if Pivotal events existed then or the additional abductors. And of course the artwork has all been updated since then.

Tom: Nope. Those are new. I can’t wait to see what they add.  What kind of feedback have you gotten so far?

AJ: The reception has been really great. People just seem to really enjoy the game. I am very excited and confident that Hostage Negotiator will take the solitaire gaming community by storm.

Tom: The game looks pretty slick. Who is the artist? Who is the graphic designer?

AJ: Kristi Kirisberg did all of the artwork including the brilliant cover. She also did most of the graphic design, but my friend Chase Williams has also done some as well.

Tom: How’s the Kickstarter campaign going? Where do we stand right now?

hn6AJ: We just passed $15k which means we’ll get meeple hostages so that is pretty exciting. There is still 20 days or so left so there is still time to take that even further!

(Update: The KS is currently at $27,000+!!!! Amazing!)

Tom: I like the ‘Instant Rewards’ idea. That is sweet. Where that come from?

AJ: Well that was something I thought up. You know I was thinking that as a backer it can sometime feel like a project dangles the proverbial carrot so to speak. Wouldn’t it hn8be cool to get some extras without having to badger my friends on twitter or Facebook to back the game? So I thought let’s just do it, let’s just give them something more just for being there. And so the instant reward was born.

Tom: Talk about the rewards a bit.

AJ: Mostly it is just the game at each level, but there are bulk levels and there are levels to add other Van Ryder Games products. Also there are 4 Abductor packs that can be added on that wiigd1ill expand Hostage Negotiator even more!


(Update #2: Every game will now come with the Negotiator pack!)

Tom: I recommend both Tessen and If I’m Going Down…. Both are very fun games. The Comments section of the KS is very active. What’s going on there?

AJ: Just friends talking. We are all really excited about the project and game, so we share with one another. Backers have been really responsive and engaged which has been great!

Tom: Who will be producing HN?

AJ: Quality Playing Cards. They did a great job on Tessen and I really like what they do with small box games, so it is a natural fit for them to manufacture Hostage Negotiator.

Tom: When is your hoped for delivery date estimate?

AJ: Well I’ve put February 2015 on the KS delivery estimate. So hopefully we can meet or beat that.

Tom: Anything to tease?

AJ: Not at this time.

Update #3 – I forgot to let AJ talk about the Abductor packs. These are add-on expansions for Hostage Negotiator. What is an Abductor pack? At set intervals following the official release of the game, we will release Abductor packs that will serve to add more variety to the game and provide new challenges. Abductor packs will contain a new Abductor with his/her own Demands and other game content such as new Terror Cards or other surprises. Each Abductor pack will add 15 (or so) cards to your Hostage Negotiator experience. These packs are Add-Ons that are purchased separately for $5 each or $15 for the set. They do not come in the base game. AND the MONEY BACK GUARANTEE. hn9 You can find out more about that on the KS campaign site.

Thanks AJ. It was great talking to you again.

I have to say this game really delivers. There are few games that build real tension. This one does it. I very highly recommend Hostage Negotiator. Do yourself a favor and back it. You only have a few days left. Go there right NOW!

I’ll leave you with the explanation of the title of the interview. I always hear the Priceline theme song/tagline and put in the game title.   Hostage (pause) Negotiator!


A Look Inside – A Conversation with … Chris James of Casual Games Revolution

I’m talking to Chris James this time. Chris is the head honcho of Casual Games Revolution and Stratus Games. CGR publishes Casual Games Insider, a gaming magazine that is aimed right at bridging the gap between hardcore gamers and ‘family’ gamers.

Casual Game Revolution blue

Tom: Hi Chris. It’s been quite a while since we last talked. What have you been up to in the interim?

Chris: It certainly has been awhile. My wife, Melanie, and I now have two little girls, which always keep us on our toes. In addition, we recently moved from Tucson, Arizona, to Payson – a nice mountain town that has a much milder climate than the desert of southern Arizona. What’s more, we have started a side business (mainly Melanie’s) that we are doing in parallel with Stratus Games. Needless to say, we have been very busy as of late.

Tom: Let’s talk some more about Casual Game Insider. First, why start a games magazine?

Chris: It all started after we had been marketing our products in the game industry for several years and we realized that there is a disconnect between typical “family” games (marketed in the toy industry) and “gamer” games (marketed in the hobby game industry). As casual gamers, we have always appreciated the sweet spot in the middle, but this is really a gray area in terms of marketing. In general, you either have to market to kids or hardcore gamers – but where are all of the people in the middle? It seemed that there was no good way to reach these people, but we knew they were out there. We set out to reach this audience (those who are casual gamers like us) and we felt that the industry as a whole could benefit from it. So, 8_issuesCasual Game Insider was born.

Tom: Before we get too far into this, what is a casual game?

Chris: A casual game is relatively quick (< 1 hour), easy to learn (< 10 minutes), and offers some light strategic thought, dexterity, or social interaction. A casual game is not a game of pure luck, nor is it a game of heavy strategy or high complexity. The ideal casual game is one that can be picked up relatively easily by nearly anyone from older children to adults.

Good examples of casual games are games like Tsuro, Forbidden Island, Ticket to Ride, King of Tokyo, Get Bit!, or the recent Spiel des Jahres winner, Camel Up. We have a whole page dedicated to casual games that we recommend – the list continues to grow as we evaluate and review games in our magazine and on our blog.

king of tokyo Forbidden desert ttr Tom: That is a great resource by the way. How has Casual Game Insider been doing?

Chris: It has been doing well. We continually get amazing feedback from our readers, which is great to receive. Casual gamers like us who stumble upon on our magazine definitely understand and love what we are doing, and even experienced gamers can appreciate most of our informative content, as well. Our sponsors love to have an advertising platform which allows their casual games to shine, without being surrounding by toys or more hardcore fare.

Tom: It’s a beautiful magazine. Who is doing the graphic design, layout, etc.?

Chris: Thank you! I started out designing the magazine myself for the first 6 issues. I then passed the baton to Gregg Lewis, who has continued to design the magazine with a similar look and feel but has also improved upon it in many ways. Each article is a unique work of art, and I am always pleased to see how they turn out.

Tom: You cover a wide range of games and subjects. I particularly enjoyed the article by the soldier who talked about gaming with his colleague while deployed. That was great. How do you get such material?

Chris: We have a great network of authors who have shared their articles with us, and we simply would not exist without them. We certainly have our own editorial ideas that we cover ourselves or recruit authors to write about. But articles like the military article that you mentioned we could never have thought of or written about ourselves. We’re just so glad that we can offer a voice to people who have great knowledge and experiences to share with the world.ks_image2

Tom: How has the response from your advertisers been? Are they seeing sales from CGI?

Chris: We have heard publishers say they’re getting a response, and we are seeing repeat advertisers, which is always a good sign. In fact, 3 of the 4 gold sponsors this year (cover advertisers) had been working with us previously, as well as several others. On the other hand, not every ad is effective in every situation – a poor game isn’t going to turn around overnight just because there is an ad in our magazine (or any magazine). Thousands of people may see that ad and pass on it. That is just the nature of print advertising, and we are simply the messengers. An ad can be a good part of a complete marketing strategy, but it shouldn’t be the only part.

Tom: You are currently Kickstarting the next ‘season’ of CGI with hopes of going to ‘hard copies’ on magazine stands. I’d love to see this in B&N but it seems like a very daunting endeavor. Why?

Chris: We are already producing hard copies that go out to over 2,100 game stores and our subscribers who opt for the print version. Getting onto newsstands is the next logical step that we hope will accomplish two purposes: 1) reach more casual gamers like us, and 2) provide an even more effective platform for our advertisers. We are constantly trying to serve our advertisers by increasing our distribution and gathering more attentive readers.

The ability to get in Barnes & Noble and similar stores became a reality when we were accepted by a major magazine distributor, and it would be difficult to pass up such an opportunity. That being said, there certainly is risk, as retailers can return up to 100% of the magazines by ripping the cover (rendering it unsellable). It is really a terrible practice, in my opinion, but based on a realistic return rate and the added potential for us and our sponsors, we are confident that it will be worth a try. Aside from some design changes on our end, most of the logistics will be handled by our printer and our distributor.

Tom: Let’s switch gears and talk about Stratus Games. It’s been on a hiatus of sorts while you got CGI rolling. How have things been with the game company?

Chris: Unfortunately, Stratus Games and CGI are mutually exclusive in many ways. We simply don’t have the manpower to focus fully on both, and CGI is currently our priority. As such, we are beginning to clear out our game inventory and rebrand Stratus Games as a design studio rather than a full game publisher. We are hoping to partner with some of the many great folks we have come to know over the years to license our upcoming game designs. By the way, any retailers reading can contact me for some really good deals on our games. We certainly want our games to go into good hands.Stratus Games

Tom: That’s an interesting and I’m sure well thought out decision. I’m glad you are getting back to some designing. I think Eruption is a super game. I should repost my review of that by the way. What’s next in the queue?

Chris: Thank you! We put a lot of work into it and we are certainly pleased with how it came out. We are almost finished polishing Ballistic, a casual naval battle game that has some awesome new mechanics for simultaneous play. Anyone who wants to test a print-and-play version of the game can contact me. We have a ton of other really great ideas to work on, if we can ever find the time.

Tom: I assume you will be at GenCon. What are your plans there?

Chris: I hope to roam the show and cover the best new casual games coming out, as well as mingle with our advertisers and sponsors.

Tom: I’m sure there will be plenty to cover. We seem to be in a gaming renaissance. Any other cons this year or next?

Chris:  I attended ASTRA for the first time earlier this year to scope out the casual games there, and I was pleasantly surprised. We also plan to cover Essen later in the fall. Any other future plans are not solidified at this point.

Tom: Any last words?

Chris: Thanks for the interview, Tom! I always appreciate the opportunity and I look forward to speaking with you again in the future.chris_james

It was nice to catch up with Chris. Casual Game Insider is a very good magazine with lots of quick reviews and in depth articles on gaming. You should check out the Kickstarter here. HOT OFF THE PRESSES! CGI will be carried by Barnes & Noble! Congrats Chris.

By The Way, there’s a BIG Game Giveaway over at the CGR website right here.  You should go there now.



The Fastest Yardmaster – A Conversation with David Short

David Short is my guest this time. We had an interesting time talking. I hope you enjoy the interview.

Tom: David, you are best known for Ground Floor from TMG. Catch us up on it.

David: Ground Floor released a little over a year ago. Since then, it has been played around the world, garnered praise from a variety of reviewers, used as “research” in business school, and grasped a high-ranking on BGG. More importantly, it appears to have brought enjoyment to people that have placed  it on their table, which was the whole point. And that makes me proud. Currently, I’m working on an expansion for it called Middle Management. It adds a new employee called Manager, new improvements, new specialties and a new building to interact with on the board.

Tom: I played a prototype version of Ground Floor and thought it was pretty good. Very thinky. Tell us about the game. How does the game work?

David: Ground Floor is a worker placement game about starting your own business. In this instance though, the “workers” that you’re placing aren’t workers at all, but actually time that you’re allocating to your business. You may spend time working at your home office, or spend time conducting business with others around the city. The key to the game is budgeting your allotted time while trying to acquire the two main currencies: money and information. Most actions in the game cost a mixture of all three: time, money and information. Of course, this must be done while adjusting your company to the volatile economic climate. It ebbs and flows just like real life. For this reason, it’s one of the rare worker placement games where more “workers” is not always the best path to victory. For example, you wouldn’t want to expand during a depression, but rather wait till a boom in the economy to price your product high and rake in the profits. Knowing when to hire and expand, versus streamline and consolidate, is part of the fun.

The player interaction is tight, because the effectiveness of most actions relies heavily upon the moves of the other players. Reacting to the other players’ businesses and the economy leads to success. Additionally, the replayability is high, due to the varied economy and the individual specialty each player starts with in the game.

Tom: GF got good press and has a rank of 7.29 on BGG. That’s quite nice. But while the game is a good strategy game, there is some criticism that it tends to be dry. Would you address that?

David: Sure. Comments regarding the game being “dry” are usually directed to the theme – and theme is entirely subjective. Players gravitate to all kinds of themes. Who would have guessed farming would be big?! It’s odd. But it’s also why this board gaming hobby is great, because there is something for everyone.

Many people love Ground Floor’s theme, because it’s unique and it provides an opportunity for them to fantasize about quitting their job and starting their own business. Who doesn’t dream about telling off their boss and going after something on their own?

As far as the mechanisms being “dry”, I’m not sure what to say. I just don’t see it. I come from a deep love for games like Hansa Teutonica, Caylus, and Steam. There’s no sword fighting, spell casting or bomb explosions in those. Just brain burning decisions with high player interaction. I find that stuff very compelling and exciting.

Tom: It’s a very good game. And you are correct. Hansa Teutonica is a fun game without explosions. Ground Floor was pretty successful on Kickstarter and one of the rewards was Skyline. Tell us about that game.

David: Ground Floor’s kickstarter was a fun ride. Part of that success was due to including my dice game, Skyline, as a stretch goal. Skyline is a family game about constructing skyscrapers. Players roll dice that have sections of buildings on them. The dice stack up to create buildings in three sizes: low-rise, mid-rise and high-rise. The key to the game is that you have more control than the typical push-your-luck dice game, due to the ability to choose which dice you start each turn with. There are three types of buildings and three types of dice for each building. Do you play it safe or risk going big? It is currently available to play for free online with a superb implementation at Come play me.

Tom: I heard that you have a new game Planes. Tell us about it.

David: Planes is a game for 2-4 players about attempting to push your way through a crowded airport to reach your plane before takeoff. It utilizes a twisted iteration of the mancala mechanism, mixed with multi-use card combos and variable boards. It will debut at Essen later this year from AEG, and will join Trains in their Destination Fun line of games.

planes1Tom: Do you have a favorite design element/mechanic?

David: Worker Placement is definitely my favorite large mechanism. I love it in games like Caylus, Stone Age and Tzolk’in. As far as specific smaller mechanisms, I’m a big fan of Rudiger Dorn’s chaining mechanism (as found in Goa), and Alan Moon’s pie cutting mechanism (as found in San Marco). One day I will make a game using pie cutting.

Tom: I agree. The chaining mechanic in Goa is fantastic. Such a good, under-rated game. I’ve not played San Marco yet.

David: San Marco is good. I used to like it a lot, but my recent plays of it have shown me that I’ve moved on a little in my tastes. Its cutthroat actions and die rolling really don’t appeal to me anymore.

Tom: Theme or Mechanic. Which comes first for you?How do you marry mechanics and theme? Give an example if you don’t mind.

David: I used to be all about theme first. But lately, I’m finding a balance between the two. My early games like Ground Floor, Skyline and Cluny Monks (unpublished), started with a theme and were driven by that theme. My last few games like Cypher, Planes and Bomb Squad, started with a challenge that led to a foundation, and then a theme was applied to that. However, even in those situations, the theme drove the project. I never move past early concepts without having a theme to lean on. I find it crucial. My background is in architecture – I wouldn’t design a building without knowing its site, its surroundings, its views and its intended use. I approach game design the same way. I can’t move forward merely on mechanisms alone.

Tom: Do you have a design philosophy?

David: I’ve never really thought about it. I like clean, streamlined games that allow specialization. But I don’t think that’s a philosophy.

Tom: What are your design goals?

David: The main goal, the one that drives me, is to have my games provide enjoyment for people from all backgrounds of life. I want my games to hit the table. If it sells a lot of copies, but stays on the shelf, that’s missing the mark.

Tom: Lewis Pulsipher, over on his blog – , stated that “We’re obviously moving towards simpler and shorter games.” Would you agree or disagree with this? Why?

David: I would agree. With the influx of micro games and copious gateway games, I believe this trend is here to stay. I think the reason for it is due to the continued board game revolution. Board games are being played by more and more people, in broader demographics, which inevitably means more people are being freshly introduced to the hobby. These newcomers often only have small windows of time and little prior experience with modern board games. This is why micro games and gateway games are perfect. Micro games are especially great, since I can carry them around with me just in case an opportunity arises. If the hobby continues to expand, which I believe it will, I see no end in sight for this trend of simpler and shorter games.

Tom: Kickstarter – we’re several years in now. Is it hurting or helping gaming?

David: I’m pretty torn on this issue. I’ve backed several products and some of my games have had campaigns on Kickstarter. I really like the service it provides, how it can bring attention to hidden gems, and I have enjoyed the outcome of many projects. However, some side effects have begun to surface that concern me. I’m not going to get into details here, my answer would be far too lengthy. That being said, overall I’m a fan and I think it’s good for board games, because it brings exposure and content to the hobby.

Tom: You have two exciting somethings to talk about – Yardmaster Express AND Bomb Squad. Give us the download on them.

David: Currently I have my drafting micro game, Yardmaster Express, up on Kickstarter. It’s fully funded and progressing toward unlocking its 7th stretch goal. Later on this summer, August 1st specifically, my co-op game Bomb Squad will launch on Kickstarter. Very exciting.

YMSx1Tom: Yardmaster Express is from Crash Games and will probably be confused with Yardmaster. What is the difference?

David: I was the lead devleoper on Yardmaster. My love for it inspired my design for Yardmaster Express. They share the same theme and art palette, but are different games. The original is a set collection game, while my Yardmaster Express (YmEx) is a drafting game. In YmEx, there is a communal hand of cards that get passed around the players. Each turn, you add a card to the hand and then draft a card to add to your train. The key is balancing the need to progress your own train, while also trying to deny your opponents good cards that they need. It plays in under 10 minutes and is very accessible to all demographics.

Tom: That sounds really neat. Now talk about Bomb Squad. That’s from Tasty Minstrel right?

David: Yes, Bomb Squad is being published by TMG and they will have it up on Kickstarter in August. Bomb Squad is a real-time cooperative game that uses the popular mechanism found in Hanabi. Players are a bomb squad team called in to save hostages and disarm bombs. Each player has a hand of cards, but must be given intel during the game in order to know what to do with them. There’s a timer for the bombs and the team must complete their mission before everything goes boom! We are very excited for everyone to see it.squad1

Tom: What’s your favorite unpublished game right now or maybe who is your favorite game designer at the moment?

David: My favorite unpublished game right now is Pandemic: The Cure. It’s the dice game based on Pandemic and will be coming out later this year. I played it at BGG.con last year and it was a blast. I honestly wonder if I’ll ever play the board game again once The Cure comes out.

My favorite game designer is Antoine Bauza. I love several things about his designs. First, I like how it’s difficult to pin down what kind of designer he is. He dabbles in several mechanisms, themes and demographics. Very versatile. Second, his designs are always streamlined. So clean. Both of these characteristics are elements that I strive for in my designs.

Tom: What are you currently playing the most?

David: I’m spoiled in that I regularly have opportunities to play games. I know that not everyone does and I’m thankful that I do. My wife is very supportive of my hobby, and I’m surrounded by great friends and a good gaming community.

Currently, I’m infatuated with games like Russian Railroads, Keyflower and Trains. Additionallrr1y, games like Dominion, Skyline and Ticket to Ride continue to see time on my table, because my wife loves them (can’t argue with that).

Tom: Russian Railroads is a very fun game. Worker placement bonanza. Very similar to The Manhattan Project which I enjoy a lot. What game surprised you and how?

David: I’ll answer this from both a positive and a negative perspective.

A game that I had high expectations for, but was surprised by its mediocrity, was Pantheon. Pantheon is designed by Bernd Brunnhofer (the same designer as my favorite game, Stone Age, and another game I like, St. Petersburg). On the pedigree of those games, plus the usual research I did, I had high expectations. Unfortunately, the game did not provide the quality of decision space I enjoy, and unfortunately it fell really flat. I did not see that coming.

On the other hand, a game that I had little interest in after researching it, but was pleasantly surprised after playing, was Augustus. Many people, myself included, dismissed it for being based on the brainless bingo. While it is based on bingo, it supplements that foundation with some clever push-your-luck interaction and sweet card-combos. I highly recommend it as a light gateway game.

Tom: Augustus is a good game and you are right. It is an excellent gateway game. Do you see any trends in the gaming industry that you would like to bring up? Microgames? More POD? Anything?

David: I already commented on the recent popularity of micro games. The only other trend that comes to mind is the growth of the board game cafe. I love the concept behind these wonderful mashups of culture. Mixing the leisure activity of sitting and drinking a beverage, with the leisure activity of playing a board game, is a recipe for a good time. It’s a great combo that I hope continues to succeed. We need one in Tucson!

Tom: What was the last good movie you saw?

David: Captain Philips was fairly entertaining, but I’ll have to go all the way back to Inception for a movie that really impressed me. I love how following the storyline takes effort and attention to detail, but the movie rewards you for staying on the ride.

Tom: How can people contact you?  Are there any links you would like folks to visit?

David: You can find me at the following links:


BGG: DShortDesign

Twitter: DShortDesign

G+: DShortDesign

Blog: Short Thoughts & Sketches

Tom: Any final words?

David: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate the chance to share with everyone.

Thanks to David for taking time to talk with me. Please visit the Yardmaster Express Kickstarter.

Please your comments below or send me an email.

Thanks for visiting!


Scott Almes Does It Again – A Quick Review of Harbour



Scott Almes has another game on Kickstarter. Yep that is right. Another one. That’s like 15 this year. This one is from Tasty Minstrel Games. It’s called Harbour.
In Harbour, players are entrepreneurs constructing buildings on the harbour of their city. These buildings produce goods which are sold to make money. Money is used to build more buildings. Rinse repeat until one player has built four buildings. That triggers the end of the game. The players add up the points from their buildings. High score wins. That’s the simple explanation.
Harbour is a small worker placement game. Players have one worker that is moved to various buildings each turn. Those buildings have abilities such as gain one good, build an extra building, and many other abilities. Players use these abilities to make goods to sell, build more buildings, or break the rules in some way. The ‘beauty’, if you will, of the game lies in the market.
The market controls the price of the goods. And the money players earn for selling the goods. And money is what is needed to build. Prices fluctuate constantly based on what is being sold. See when something is sold its value decreases immediately. It is moved down the market board to the lowest value and everything else is moved up. So planning is this game. One minute your fish are worth $5. Then someone sells fish and those 6 fish you were planning on selling on your turn are worth only $2, wrecking your plans.
Tasty Minstrel Games is marketing Harbour as a microgame. It’s a deck of standard sized building and character cards, some cubes or tokens, and a couple of small player boards. Does that qualify it as a microgame? I’m not getting into that. It suffices to say that it is a small game. While I’m on components I’ll talk about the art. It’s fantastic. Artist Rob Lundy’s whimsical style is definitely adds to the value of the game.

So at its heart Harbour is a fairly strategic worker placement game that has a small footprint, is easy to learn, and is a quick, fairly satisfying filler.

Thanks to Tasty Minstrel Games for providing a preview copy of Harbour.


The Market Board