My first YouTube video … What’s up for next week

Hello and Welcome,

I started a YouTube channel and thought I might put it to some use. My first video is a preview of what’s coming up next week. I hinted at it a bit in my last article, but here’s a video so you can look at my beautiful face.

As a bit of housekeeping, I plan for my release schedule to be Tuesdays and Thursdays. There will be sporadic nonsense such as this thrown in every now and again but I wanted to let everyone know so that if they don’t like subscribing or doing rss feeds they can come and visit when they like.

Please do subscribe if you can, leave comments, like me on Facebook, and/or tweet to me. I’d love to hear that people are enjoying the content.


Thank you so much for reading,



Game Design #3: Code Mage VI – The Main Event

This is part 3 of a series. To start at the beginning follow the white rabbit.

The last thing I needed before my big playtest was more prototypes, a lot more.
Big Mistake #6: Spending hundreds of dollars on prototypes that were obsolete 2 days after they were printed

I would advise not wasting gallons of toner printing out cards like these:

Card Face Revisited BackgroundCode Mage Card Back

Make your prototypes cheap. Don’t print in color when you can print in black and white. Don’t reprint something when you can cross it out and write over it. Save your money for more important things like: food, rent, and the medication that prevents you from seizing up like the tin woodsman in a rain storm.

Working prototypes should: be functional, clearly convey all necessary information, and facilitate players enjoyment of your game. But if a game needs art and graphic design to make it enjoyable, it’s probably not a very good game to begin with.

Big Mistake #7: Not knowing why I was playtesting

That’s not entirely true. I knew why I was playtesting. It was to show off what I had created.

Big Mistake #8: Not being able to view my project objectively

I was too close. At this point every …

Big Mistake #9: Interrupting myself mid-sentence

At this point …

Big Mistake #10: Being overly critical of myself and my work1618588_10202745587748201_667083672_n

AT THIS POINT everyone should have a good understanding of how clueless I was. I made big mistakes and took unnecessary risks, but  I learned from those mistakes and the experience was invaluable. It’s time to start pointing out some things I got right.

Big Win #1: We have come here to chew bubble gum and playtest games. And we’re all out of bubblegum.

Most importantly, this is where I becomes we.. Since I started designing games my partner has been willing to play with whatever I put in front of her (phrasing). Now, she was taking an active role in the company

We scheduled our playtest event with our FLGS 30 days ahead. We set up table tents, posted and distributed flyers, and had a sign-up sheet near the register. Comic Quest gave us 6 tables on a Friday night. We worked together, the stars aligned, and more than 30 people showed up to playtest our game.1549327_10202745573147836_1717488875_n

There were 12 prototypes and we kept them running for 4 hours. We spent the entire time answering questions. How does flying work? What does this mean? Where do I put this? Is this supposed to be like this? Who ate all the pepperoni? Why’s my seat wet? 

We received 22 surveys back. The feedback was mostly quite positive. People rated the game highly. But watching them play I knew what they were writing down didn’t align with what they were actually thinking.

Some things were clunky and some were just broken. Parts of the game would need to be redesigned or removed. It would require another round of prototypes, playtesting, and pizza. I would again spend months spinning my wheels. So again I found myself having to let go because I lacked the experience to do more.

Oh why did I just spend the last hour of my life playing this stupid game?!?But what a send off. We rocked that event. Together my partner and I put together a playtesting party. We received more feedback then we could have at a year’s worth of game nights. My partner was the voice our company needed. She could speak about our games without fear of criticism.

The Post Game Wrap Up

This weeks recommendation is a bit of light reading. The Kobold Guid to Board Game Design, by Mike Selinker, is a series of essays written by influential game designers. It is well structured and offers keen insights into game design and the board game industry.

That’s it for Code Mage, at least for now. While working on it I learned a great deal about: business, working with artists, teamwork, graphic design, business, prototyping, and playtesting. Money well spent? Yeah, I suppose so. Unfortunately, I still had one more costly lesson to learn.

eyeStatus: Shelved
October 2013-March 2014

Next week, giant monsters devour the city and my savings

Game Design #3 – Code Mage Part V

This is part 2 of a series. To start at the beginning follow the white rabbit.

Development of Code Mage started in October of 2013 and I went insane sometime around the New Year. The Kickstarter was going live in June and the game would be out the first quarter of 2014. I needed a business plan.

Big Mistake #1: I just started a business, yo!

Logo Clear with TextI never actually wrote a business plan or a plan of any kind. It turns out it’s easy to start a business; you can do it without leaving your home. It’s also cheap. I felt like an entrepreneur.

I needed to get a game out to establish the brand. But there were some obstacles.

There was this whole playtesting thing. My family had played the game at least a dozen times. It was ready to go. But I couldn’t put it on Kickstarteruntil I had testimonials from real playtesters.

What I could do is get the art ready.

©Copyright 2014 Odysseus StamoglouBig Mistake #2: I just bought this art from these guys.

I looked up art agreements, typed up something in lawyerese—party of the 1st, party of the 2nd, etc.—and started looking for artists. I contacted artists on BGG, devianart, and several freelance farms.

I needed: promotional art, card art, board art, and box art. I’d do the graphic design because with at least 50 unique art assets, this wasn’t going to be cheap. There was no way one artist could get this done in the time frame I was looking at. The process was taking too long.

The guy I contracted to do the majority of the card art had started to develop the world through his art. He had a vision. But there were also some pieces I just picked up by other artists because I thought they fit the world I’d envisioned. The style was quite a bit different but I thought that might be okay. I mean Magic cards have different styles of art, right? Of course, the guy who did the promotional art also had his own style which was considerably different from all the others.

My work as art director was, shall we say,  subpar.

Big Mistake #3: OMG I’z gotz websitz!!!!!!!

Banner 2 - Final with LogoI didn’t mention the website?

Right, so I’d also be designing and maintaining a website. No problem. I’d made a website before. It might have been 10 years prior and consisted wholly of the words: “Hello World,” but WordPress was easy enough to figure out.

Big Mistake #4: Communication

Something I didn’t feel confident about was my ability to communicate with other sentient beings. Someone had to actually talk to people and tell them about the game. It certainly wasn’t going to be me. I needed to be on social media and let the world know about my game. But it would have to wait; I had too much else to do.

9aY6jBmJ copyBig Mistake #5: Not being Stan Lee

One reason I had so much else to do was that I had decided to release a comic book with the game. It would feature a character who is forced to fight in the grid as an evil Code Mage’s avatar. it was basically the storyline from Tron if Mickie Rourke’s character from Sin City played the part of Kevin Flynn.

So I was also speaking to comic book artists. I’d found a couple who seemed interested in collaborating. But I must have oozed desperation because what I really wanted was someone to pass the whole comic book thing off to.

I had to get back to this game that was getting in the way of my business.

it was time to playtest the hell out of this thing.

Parky Interlude 001

I sincerely hope people have enjoyed my story thus far and will continue to enjoy it. If you are just tuning in, we will resume our regularly scheduled programming about board games and game design momentarily. I just wanted to pause for a moment and write about a few things not related to my epic game design fails.

I’d like to write about my Parkinson’s for a moment. Because even if you know someone with Parkinson’s, or know someone who’s dad has Parkinson’s, or you’ve seen Michael J. Fox on television, their story, their symptoms, are different than mine. That is because Parkinson’s is what is commonly referred to as a boutique illness.

Doesn’t that sound lovely?

Hello, Madame. How can I be of service today?

Oh yes, thank you. A friend told me about this illness. It’s very exclusive isn’t it?

Ahh but of course, every customer we serve walks away with something unique.  We provide a speciality service to each of our customers. We cater to their… how you say… needs. For you, I think maybe the … bradykinesia, brain fog, anxiety, depression, and the constipation for starters. 

Oh, you’re too kind.. 

And since you are a new customer we will throw in the insomnia at no extra charge. 

This is a big part of my story. It’s sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but it’s always my life.

Over the past 6 months I’ve felt as if most of the time my thoughts were swimming through gelatin and that my brain had become a vat of gelatin. I’m not sure that’s getting any better. Actually, within the past few months it’s been much worse.

But I have these moments of pure, golden, delicious lucidity where the world becomes a just and beautiful place.

So I’ll write when I find those moments. I’ll design when I find those moments. I’ll live when I find those moments.

On with the show.

Game Design #3 – Code Mage Part IV

The next part of my story is where I really start making some bad worse decisions. I will be sure to point them out as we go along but this one may stretch over more than one post. So, to summarize the biggest mistakes briefly, this is point at which I: started a company, paid for a website, hired artists, recruited my partner as my social media expert and PR guru, and tried to do a crossover comic book. Had I been slightly more delusional, this is when I would have also started my Kickstarter.

Of course it would have been a mistake. But I feel privileged to know that a lot of people would’ve funded this project just because they care about me. But do you know what people don’t care about?

Games that can be played on a chess board.

Code MageAnd that brings us to Code Mage, which is a game you might come up with if you’d just watched: Tron, the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Spartacus, and Searching for Bobby Fischer back to back. And in case you’re wondering, yes I did.

In Code Mage you take on the role of a wizard in a cyberspace world known as the Simulacrum. You have an avatar-construct which you pit in battle against the avatar of another wizard in an arena known as the grid(chessboard). If your avatar is killed or pushed off the grid you lose the game.

At first your avatar is bare. But soon you’re able to equip your avatar with mods like: claws, piston fists, laser eyes, armor, shields, rocket launchers, and steel whip legs. All the things a girl needs on a night out.

In addition to your Avatar, you also have these large cubes(dice) that alter the board state. These cubes can be moved around the grid and manipulated. They can also take damage and be destroyed.

Finally, you have spells and threads which allow you to further impact the game with your wizardry. Spells are generally more expensive and require game time to activate. Threads are generally cheap and are played immediately. All of this is paid for with resources which you gain at the beginning of each round.

The primary mechanism which all of these objects revolve around is a dice system that I came up with while working on Das Schloß. While the system is quite clever it forces players to refer to charts for everything from how successfully you cast your spells to where you do damage. Basically, I recreated Battletech with wizards.

My goal was to essentialize a skirmish level miniatures game and make it playable in 30-60 minutes. This should’ve been my mission statement. It mentioned nothing about a chessboard or convoluted charts or tracking damage with a wet erase marker. And it sure doesn’t mention making it a collectible card game.

We’ll get back to that.

I played through my initial prototype several times before bringing it to my playtesters(family). Always do this. No one else wants to play something that doesn’t work. It will keep your friends and family from getting burned out playing your half-baked games.

It had potential so I played it with my son and he thought it was great. And then I played it with my partner and she thought it was great. I was ecstatic. No more lackluster encouragement from the family. No more chucks on the shoulder. I was happy and they were happy.Code Mage Game Boards

I made a real game.

The other designs were just warm-ups. It was just a matter of ironing out a few rough spots in the mechanics, investing in enough art to get this thing on Kickstarter, and my reputation as a game designer was assured.

You know, this was all meant to be a bit tongue in cheek but talking about this game has me a bit excited about the world and the ideas. My son asked me a month or two ago: “Could we work on Code Mage together? I really liked that game.”

Oh my, would you look at the time. The next entry will be about my first ever open playtesting event at my friendly local game store(FLGS).

Status: To Be Determined

Game Design #2 – Das Schloß (The Castle)

The Castle - Cover Art

On the heels of my first project was Das Schloß or The Castle. The game is based on Kafka’s unfinished novel of the same name. No, I’m not kidding; I tried to design a board game based on a novel by Franz Kafka.

Das Schloß was my submission (see work in progress thread here) for the 2013 Solitaire Print and Play Contest. Up to this point my only experience with solo gaming was Arkham Horror, and it was much as the title describes. So I had little to no experience with solo gaming let alone solo game design. Spoiler Alert: I didn’t win.

What I did have was a concept. I was going to play on the double meaning of the word schloß, which can mean both castle and lock. For the record, I still think this is a good approach and would like to go back and play with it at some point.

The premise for the game is that you are the protagonist K and have just arrived in the village. Every location is locked except for the Bridge Inn at the near end of the board. As you meet with new characters, you can move to new locations and unlock them. Ultimately, you are trying to unlock enough locations to climb high enough up the bureaucratic ladder to meet with Klamm. If you meet with Klamm, you win the game.

It sounds simple enough, right? Then why did I spend 200 hours toiling over what now amounts to a couple gigabytes worth of files in my Dropbox?

Because I kept forgetting what the description was. I got lost in: this mechanic vs. that and, where this character goes and, whether it was all thematic. Then I jumped off the deep end into graphic design.

Sample Card from the Castle

This project taught me a lot about graphic design, it made me want to learn even more, and it brought me to the realization that design is design. From the Louvre to a Coke bottle, from Google to Galaxy Trucker, there are certain properties which carry through in nearly every great piece of design. So if I become a better graphic designer, can I use that knowledge to become a better game designer and vice versa?

That’s what I’m banking on.

I watch Project Runway. I’ve seen every episode even the post show interviews. Some of the best fashion designers who’ve appeared on that show have been architects and graphic designers.

Granted, my work here wasn’t anything spectacular or even good, really. The card designs are overwrought and unprintable. But everything is legible. I only used one font instead of ten. I was learning graphic design and game design at the same time. And no one had to back my Kickstarter to make it happen.

I’m still quite proud of the cover art. Granted, I’m no artist, but I do think it captures something about Das Schloß. And I worked tirelessly tweaking the typography to make the E’s look like keys.

Mechanically this game was dead on arrival. As much as I tried to force this masterwork of literature work down the narrow pipe of game mechanisms I’d welded together, I just couldn’t make it work. So, the game was never finished. Just as Kafka would have wanted it.

I was going to call this one abandoned, but do you know what? I might just come back to this at some point; I guess I have a little something of K about me.

Status: Shelved

September 2013 November 2013

Isn't this dreadful.

Game Design #1 – Sphere of Influence

I first logged into Board Game Geek in June of 2012 and by February of 2013 I had come up with an idea for a game. The idea was so brilliant I had to share it with the world.

In the game players took on the role of revolutionaries staging an uprising in a grid based card game that I would describe as Pixel Tactics meets Arkham Horror. All I needed now was a game. Let’s see we’ve got:

  • A couple of card driven mechanics
  • A theme, lightly pasted
  • The ability to write letters and numbers on scraps of paper and put them in card sleeves

And that’s it. The first iteration of my very first game was done.

It was absolute rubbish. It was so bad that I threw it all away and started over.

I worked on the theme and the mechanics for another couple of weeks and the game transformed into something I called Sphere of Influence. A game of global politics and conflict, it appealed to me in a way that the initial prototype didn’t.

I played it all over and over in my mind. I had a spreadsheet full of cards that I merged into a template in Open Office. I was ready. So I printed out the second iteration.

The game play was… not great, not even good, really. I was disappointed, but I felt optimistic that with a few more iterations those problems would just work themselves out.

Isn't this dreadful.Fixing It Again?

I spent the next few months working on graphic design. I focused on making the cards looks really cool (or at least what I thought looked really cool at the time).

After spending about $50 in toner I had a set of cards that we could really play the game with. The cards looked great(snicker). There were unreadable fonts and sci-fi brushes galore.

This iteration would play so much better than the last one because everything had been fixed in my mind.

My partner and I sat down to play the game. I went over the revised rules with her and after some hesitation she was ready to play. The game play was only slightly better than the last iteration.

When to Fold ‘Em

I spent the next few months trying desperately to make it work. When I was done I ended up with little more than a glorified hour long game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Development continued until September of 2013 when I found design contests at BGG.

What I Learned

  • Game design is hard work.
  • Know when a design is bad and be able to move on.
  • Iteration is key to the design process.
  • Fix things on paper not in your mind.

What I Wish I’d Learned

  • Take notes during game play in a special design notebook.
  • Don’t waste toner on fancy cards that will be in the trash the next day.
  • How to find the fun in a game.
  • I needed to play more games.

Further Reading

If you’re interested in reading my thoughts on the game at the time you can look back at this thread on BGG. I look back at what I thought I knew and have to laugh.

This week’s recommendation for serious reading will be The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses by Jesse Schell. I wish I would have read this book before I started designing games. It is easy to read and it opens your eyes to so many different ways of viewing games.

The Wrap Up

Sphere of Influence was abandoned in September of 2013. The remains are kept in storage in the vault, should they ever prove useful to future generations.

Sphere of Influence: Status – Abandonded

February 2013 – September 2013

Up Next

Our plucky hero faces the psychological brutality of Franz Kafka’s The Castle. Can he withstand the endless nightmare bureaucracy of the castle and the relentless torture at the hands of the Villagers. Tune in next time to find out. 

The Introduction



I’m Gary and I’m an amateur tabletop game designer. That means I have never been paid for a game. If I had sold just one copy of just one game, I would refer to myself as a professional.

I’m 34 years old and I have 3 amazing children and a wonderful partner. I started designing games as a hobby in 2013 although my passion for the hobby goes back to when I first picked up a copy of Space Hulk at the age of 12. I have Grim Dark coursing through my veins. I also have Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease. That last bit is not something that I share with everyone. So, if you’re reading this you should feel special.

I hope to record my failures and successes as a game designer over the past 2 years here for you to point and laugh at. We all fail. And if any of my failures can be insightful, inspirational, or just put a smile on someone’s face, I am glad to share them. Someone once said something like: failure teaches us a great deal more than success. If that’s the case, I should know a hell of a lot by now.

The plan is to have a chronological evaluation of all the games that I’ve worked on: how well they played, how hard I worked, and where it all went wrong. If we look at my design history it is full of projects that are half-finished, underdeveloped, and abandoned.

But in the rough there are some gems and I plan to show those to you as well.

I also might talk about Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease a little bit because it’s a big part of my life and I think it has an impact on me as a designer. And I might just have some general geek related interludes along the way.

Thank you for making it this far. I hope you stick around and keep reading.