Ixalan – is it MTG Jumping the Shark?


This is an article that may seem out of place on a website initially meant as an episodic journal of my failings as an amateur game designer—especially since I’ve been in ghost-mode for the past six months, and after a series of failed promises and half-hearted attempts at revitalization, my plan is pretty much just to blog now whenever I feel like I have something I really want to talk to the world about—but I think this article has it’s place in a journal on game design nonetheless.

I promise, no other sentence in this post will be that long.

A high resolution image of the newest Standard set for Magic the Gathering was spoiled well ahead of spoiler season leaving many excited, upset, confused, or downright ambivalent. Personally, I was excited because my wife does a fair bit in selling the Magic cards our family seems to collect. So, getting a head start on what’s coming helps her to know what might be worth holding onto and what’s worth punting now.

I was excited, I think I mentioned that, “was excited.” I suppose I forgot to add some kind of marker of emphasis on that word was, but it’s there, in tone if not in markup. Elated might even had been a better term at one point. I love spoiler season, and to have it three months ahead of time. This was going to be like getting to open my Christmas presents on Halloween. Yes, I realize that’s less than three months but there are no good holidays in September and I love Halloween. It turned out I was more right than I expected. I got much more than I expected, mostly it was a let down, and there is entirely too much Red and Green going on here.

Pirates and Dinosaurs in an Aztec world. Yes, Ixalan’s new theme is old news by now, but I still can’t stop thinking about how bad it actually is. I mean, it’s bad right? It’s not just me? Or is it? Am I the only one with the soul crushing spirit of Ebanezer Scrooge or this guy?

©Deep-Fried-Flinch @ deviantart.com

Looking back at the success of HeroScape, which ironically was redesigned and reskinned as Magic: The Board Game and flopped miserably, and we see a huge success with a sizeable cult following. People loved that world of mixed up times. I know it will be a delight for our friends who believe that dinosaurs and people once roamed the earth together.

Which brings me to my first question. Is this the Magic team trying to pander to Creationists? While a world of magic and demons and such things is generally frowned upon in the world of the religious right, I can’t help but think the thing more palatable if  Wizards of the Coast finally came out with a set recognizing the truth. Jack Sparrow road a Stegosaurus.

If not, is it that they’re out of ideas? Did they just put index cards on a board and throw darts? Are they using a random world generator?

World building is so important to game design, I just think this world is a mish-mash of disparate things and I can’t help but think it will hurt the mythos of the game. It’s probably just me though.


Bullet with Butterfly Wings

Hot Damn it’s time to talk about board games. What have I been playing? Scythe, we’ve played several games of it multiplayer, and it’s just as good solo as I remember it.

I’m writing rules for a solo variant of a game. So, I’ve been occupied with that as well. That’s still hush hush at this point, but I’ll let you know how it pans out when I can.

Parade has rocked our socks off. We just got Arboretum, and while it’s a fun game in it’s own right, it is nowhere near as fun as Parade.

My wife and I smashed GenCon 2015 we picked up just because we really liked the skill checks. It’s a game called “Space Movers.” I love the hell out of it, but I think I would be better off playing that solo, because the rest of my gaming group doesn’t enjoy it near as much.

Gencon this year was a great time. I got to meet Vlaada Chavtil  at the CGE room. We learned T’zolkin and Space Alert, which we had previously learned, but never got stuck well in our heads.

We experienced the auction room for the first time this year. It’s was crazy and a whole lot of fun. I can’t wait to sit there for 8 hours don’t nothing but bidding on weird stuff. In one lot we purchased an XL shirt that read, “Clerics: The Life of the Party.” Yeah we’re dorks.

I’ve been getting back to work, although some things are taking more time than I they would. I’m working on three games and a variant. Somethings going to need to shutdown for a while and I have a feeling it’s my new game, which is a shame because I love it.

I take medieval European history and put it through my own unique filter. This was a time when our lands abutted. We fought continually for control of more lands, making alliances with the forces of other nobility. Alliances, Negotiation, Battles, Siege, Famine all in one game that plays in around 45-60 minutes. I’ve got some interestng ideas I want to implement, if I can get the base game running smoothly.

Any lessons for today? I don’t know. Maybe, take care of yourself first. Then take care of the world. Because if you aren’t taking care of yourself, how much can you help the world.

I love the breakdown in this song.




Insecurity Theater Introduces: A Kickstarter Campaigner

Editor’s Note: I’d like to introduce our first ever guest writer this week. His name is Brandon Rollins. He is a designer, and fledgling publisher hailing out of Chattanooga, TN. If you’re ever in town, make sure to go check out the Aquariums.

You can bet that Brandon won’t be there right now, because the Kickstarter for War Co. has just five days left. Check out the Kickstarter page, check out the lore of the War Co. website, and, if you think it would be a good fit for your gamig group, back it. He’s created a world around this game that immerses you in its lore before you’ve even played it.

So, let’s start the show.

It all began with me hunched over my laptop, on the toilet Continue reading “Insecurity Theater Introduces: A Kickstarter Campaigner”


SEMI-Commercial…and now we return to our regularly scheduled program.

Sorry about the noise in here, it’s just the TV’s been going off and on and… What? No TV. No noise. No Zombie invasion?!? Well that would seem to imply that I’m insane. Hmm…meh.

It was early September. We had come back from our very first GenCon enthused, despite my insecurities. I was adding new side effects to the game because that’s what people felt it needed. Then, for no apparent reason, I just stopped. My wife was confused about my feelings towards both games. I expected Kaiju to be the star of the show, but despite decent reviews it was a lot rougher than I thought. Side Effects was just a light side project but it had stolen the show. I felt embarrassed to have even made a party game.

image 7

I was corresponding with Dirk Knemeyer, host of the Game Design Round Table and owner of Artana, about publishing and questions I had for the show. I had mentioned that one of my games was really successful in playtesting at GenCon but I didn’t want to put it out because I didn’t want my first game to be a party game.

It wasn’t until I received his reply that I realized how pretentiously I was behaving. It wasn’t that he was trying to make me feel bad about being a snob, but I was too embarrassed to reply after reading his email. Was I too good for party games?

We have a bevy of party games which I love, but secretly I’ve always thought, These aren’t real games they’re just fun activities. I might as well enjoy myself. Playing party games always felt like eating ice cream and pop corn at 2:30 in the morning watching a Netflix marathon of Matlock.

I also had a reasonable excuse to abandon the project. Gil Hova from Formal Ferret was getting ready to run a Kickstarter for his game Bad Medicine. Which, when pitched to me, sounded like the exact same game I was going for. I backed it. It’s not the same game. The games aren’t even in the same damn sport.

2 Cool Cats discussing Relations in Pulp Fiction

It’s not likely that Side Effects May Include is going to end up a gamer’s party game. It does one thing really well; it makes people laugh. One playtester who played laughed so hard he couldn’t breathe. Another playtester thought she was going to pee herself. And one came back with her man the next playtest. We became friends and they’ve brought the game to GenCon ever year since. Why would anyone put that on a shelf?

Side Effects May Include focuses on what board gaming is about for a great many people, especially newer gamers and Pearites. It focuses completely on having a good time with your friends or potential friends. Players are scientists working for Big Pharama and they are trying to make a drug that works without rapid hair loss, loose stool, and death.

The little swirl in the corner was the logo of my now defunct board game publishing co. Tidal Games.

So the game plays on. I’ll revise the old cards to remove things which complicated the game. I have a few things to add to some of the cards as a suprise for my 2 dedicated Side Effects fans out there. Also, I have a list of about 300 cards and growing(my original offering of 148 was nowhere near enough), so I’m going to finish this project up and start trying to sell it to every publisher who might be into party games of this ilk.

Sometimes you have to step away from a project and see it from someone else’s eyes. Sometimes you have to look at it objectively. Sometimes you just need a swift kick in the ass to get motivated. Anyone else need one? I’ve been working on my drop kick.

Die Die My Darling

I’ve feel like I’ve reached the limits of my knowledge. I sometimes doubt the wisdom I’ve inherited from my forefailures. It was fun for awhile—writing in such a self deprecating way—but I want to write about my design work in a living world, now, and not as party of some anonymous board game eulogy. It’s impossible to look forward when you’re always looking back. That said, we’re going to take a look back at two games that I refuse to give up on, and how I’m moving them forward.

Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 10.00.53 PM.png

I recently read a great blog post from Micheal over at Gravitas Board Games, in which they discuss rebooting their current project, Fusion. In particular, it was about killing their darlings. Michael is a really nice guy, and we had a brief discussion about the topic. The idea stirred something in me. Naturally, I did what any writer worth their salt would do, and stole the idea. I started to think about the darlings I’ve killed, and those which’ve yet to be killed.

Continue reading “Die Die My Darling”

Lonely Variants Club

I’m sure many people despise the word, variant. It seeps through their pores and floats into their mouths where it ends up causing a great deal of stomach discomfort. I am not one of those people. If you are, this post probably isn’t for you. Unless… you like solo gaming. Continue reading “Lonely Variants Club”

Adventures in Thought and Design

This week we have a ménage à trois of games for you. It’s a really exciting and really polyamorous article. So let’s get down with the get down.

uae-imports-exports-reexportsThe first of these lovely ladies is the rather dully named Import/Export. She has my heart for being the first, and lowest scoring, entry of mine in the BGDF Game Design Showdown.

Next we have Architetro, which is by far the shortest member of the household but makes up for it in spunk. Smash together tetrominoes and architecture on a timeline. What’s not to love?

Finally, in the lovely night gown with the horses and cows captioned above them—I’m a little unstable in the mornings and I’m not in the mood—is the game from the Design Showdowns that meant the most to me personally. It left A Lasting Mark.

1024px-cardthisisthelifeWait. Where do I fit in all this hot polyamorous love action? Girls? Oh, I see… Look, if it’s the video cam… Not that? I can put the latex suit back in the car… But… Okay, that’s fine. No, that’s just fine. I didn’t want anything to do with your sick, twisted, freewheeling lifestyle anyways. And that, boys and girls is why Ronald Reagan created AIDs. 2 years in office and… BAM! And that is how free love died. He still couldn’t erase black people and homosexuuuuaalls.

But I digress. The Game Design Showdown is a bit of a misnomer. This is something that I realized after A Lasting Mark. You’re not really designing a game at all. What you’re doing is delivering a pitch for a game idea. This is a great thing to be able to do. It’s an absolute necessity as a game designer and well worth some practice. But as I found myself “designing” these games I realized that nothing I was doing in the design was anything more than any Jane or Joe on the street does. I was just thinking about something.

thought-experimentGame designers like to refer to this as thought experiment. While this can be useful in the very early process of the design, you haven’t really designed anything yet.

First, I think it’s important to understand what the process of design is in it’s simplest form, because one of the things that people find difficult lies in the fact that there are  two different but easily confused definitions of design. First we have the proper definition within the context of an architect, or a fashion designer, even a game designer:

1. to create, fashion, execute, or construct according to plan.

Then we have the definition which is confusing everyone:

2. to conceive and plan out in the mind.

Does everyone see what’s going on here? Because I didn’t.

One of my personal heroes.

Yes, a game designer often conceives and/or plans in their mind, but that’s not game design. Game design is putting those plans on the table and seeing how they work in the really real world. It’s assembling the parts and testing them until they are refined.

If all you have are some mechanics, a theme, and a dream, you aren’t designing a game yet. You have just performed a thought experiment. Once you have built and tested the design you have begun the process of game design.

So were any of my lovely lasses up there actual designs? As a matter of fact, yes. Every single one of them. They’re all unfinished designs, granted, but there has existed physical copies of these games. Import/Export was a Sheriff of Nottingham style game using a standard deck of cards and some envelopes. I played with my family and they really enjoyed the dynamics. It got shelved for things I was more interested in at the time.

IMG_0071Architetro never made it to the Game Design Showdown but was conceived and documented there. It’s a game about frantically building something using tetrominoes. The fun factor was meant to be high. It’s something I would definitely like to continue work on in the future. She’s a keeper.

As far as A Lasting Mark, I hope this game stands someday as my magnum opus, even if I’m a total failure as a game designer and it is only a 6.9 on BGG. At least, I can say, “It was the best game I ever made.” I’ve built prototypes, but I know nothing that I’ve created so far has done what I want the game to do. It’s a Eurogame where players play entire Chiefdoms trying to survive, prosper, and stave off colonialism as they are forced further and further away from their homelands. In other words, it’s the opposite of pretty much every Euro game ever (hyperbole).

We’re going to try something a little different and I hope at least one of you decides to take me up on this.

This is your very first homework assignment. It isn’t mandatory and won’t be graded. I want everyone who reads this who has any interest in designing something, to take your thought experiment to the scary part, the hard part, the part which requires blood, sweat, and years. Move forward to the design.


You’re one of us now.

My First Winner – Everything Zen?

827913_1315611876591_fullI look bashful right now. It’s the type of look that one would get if one were to be suddenly kissed one’s forehead by a charming and lovely young woman named Snow White and one’s name was Bashful. Someone just congratulated me on a contest win. But this isn’t the first time. My first time? Well… it was special.

My first was a small completely unexpected win. It wasn’t the grand prize; I didn’t receive a ribbon or money (That’s not entirely true, I received some Geek Gold (or GG to the uninitiated) which has an exchange rate of something like 30:1 with the US Dollar). And I’m pretty sure I donated more GG to the contest than I got back in prize money.

Buried on
Buried on the 18th page of the forum thread are the winners of the contest. It was a great experience throughout. There were a few awesome people who really stepped up to ensure that the contest kept running through a great deal of adversity.

I tied for 1st place in the Best Abstract Game of the 2015 2-Player Print and Play Game Contest. Now, you might understand while I’m a tad awkward talking about it. It’s like being the flautist tied for 1st place in the best classical duet category of a high school talent show.

That’s not to take away from the contest. The contest is great, but there were only 10 entries in the category I won. I tied for first.

The game in question is called Sixteen Stone. It’s played on a small grid. It combines the pushing mechanism of Abalone with a tweak on the capturing mechanism of Go. That description is a lot to ask of 16 stones and a 5×5 grid but it delivers fairly well. It’s got a User Rating of 9 on BGG. Granted it has only 1 rating, but it wasn’t me.

How can you obtain this wonderful abstract game?  The print and play files for Sixteen Stone right here at no cost to you. Note that the components aren’t really necessary. Grab 8 of something in one color and 8 of something in another color, draw a 5×5 grid on a piece of paper and you have a copy of Sixteen Stone. Congratulations!

The rulebook, which you will probably need to download, is some of my best graphic design work in a manual. I didn’t end up winning anything for that. Partially because Todd Sanders’ graphic design work is always amazing and mine will nearly always look amateurish in comparison. But also because the graphic design on the game board and the stone tokens isn’t great.

So, wait

This post isn’t about you screwing up? What the hell! Why did I even come here. This was supposed to make me feel good about myself because of how utterly incompetent you are.

Sorry folks, not today. Come back another time or read the archives. I’m sure I’ll you’ll discover another story of misery and woe. But I’ve been designing incessantly. I eat, breathe, and sleep game design. I design while on the toilet… And now, I’ve gone several steps past the chalk line of decency. So, we’ll just step back over here and start the next paragraph, shall we?

What I did and what I set out to do: I designed a quick playing abstract game over a period of 3-4 weeks using minimal components; I created an abstract game that is an interesting puzzle; I playtested and iterated like a mad man; By jove, I finished it.

That’s pretty good for an amateur. So, yes I’m bashful, but inside there’s a tiny white man attempting to do the whip and nay nay as shown to him by his middle school children.

Sixteen Stone will be released into the public domain soon. I think it is the type of game that should be freely available. I will also be creating a Tabletopia module for the game and maybe even a Vassal module if I’m feeling frisky

SSLieDownA bit of blog business: My design posts are rapidly approaching the now, and while I’ve been cranking them out lately, eventually we’ll be talking about the now, and not the one that just happened.

The now is kind of scary and a little bit difficult. Maybe we can have that discussion next week over a nice cup of tea. You look travel-worn. Why don’t you have a good lie down somewhere.

Yet Another Unfinished Project: MOS 657

Omaha Beach Blood

I was really excited when I came up with this one. I wanted to make a game that was in a war setting but focused on the military aidsman (medics) during World War II.

I intended it to be a pickup and deliver game but it was only on a certain setion of Omaha beach. The board was long and the object ended up being to get through the channel at the end of the beach and save as many troops as you can while getting there.

Every time a unit moves they run the risk of dying. There is no combat, it’s all just are they dead, greviously injured, wounded, or active. Counting saved lifes was tricky and I wrote in a rule that wounded patients could be treated and turned into active units the next turn.

MOS657 LogoThe AI simply picked a hex at random for the lines that your units had reach and rolled to see where the shell hits that round. So there was plenty for the medics to do, but all of it seemed rather dull. There was no pick up and deliver (unless you count getting casualties out of the ocean before they drown).

I Can’t tell you how many hours I spent pouring over information about D-Day and where the points of omahadefensesstruggle were. I went through reports used for citation. I collected maps of the different beaches broken down into subsections. It was really pretty amazing we didn’t cock up the whole thing, honestly.

But no matter how interesting the subject, the game simply wasn’t that interesting. I could have worked tirelessly iterating on the idea but I had already moved on. It just wasn’t going to be the thing I wanted it to be. This year a game came out that captured everything I wanted to say about war with a deck of cards and a few tokens. The game can be an extremely difficult, frantic co-op. The game is The Grizzled (Les Poilu
s in the original French).

pic2595195If you haven’t played The Grizzled, do yourself a favor. The game is being manufactured by Cool Mini or Not. Suprisingly enough, there are no minis in the game (cool or otherwise). Still, its one of the cheapest games you’
ll buy this year, and we’ve gotten more playtime out of it than any other Game in 2015.

Honestly, I’m not down on myself about MOS 657. There was some interest in the Solitaire Print and Play 2015 Contest so I’m sorry to those people that I couldn’t deliver.

A lot of game ideas turn out to be nothing. If you can’t handle that you probably shouldn’t seek this lifestyle. No matter how good an idea is in your head, if you can’t translate it into functioning game mechanics then it’s crap.

I’ve even done some experimenting with a solo variant but I’ve got a lot on my plate right now with my health and another project. It’s a project that might even turn me into a professional designer (meaning I have a designer credit in a published game). That’s huge because I’ll have to change the subtitle of the website. So for now at least, the solo variant of the Grizzled will have to wait. MOS 657 is being put to rest.

Status: Aboned

Game Design #42: Botanik

It was my first week as a senior in high school. I moved to Indiana my junior year and found a place somewhere in the middle of the pecking order. My English Composition teacher gave us an assignment: Describe, from one of your parents’ perspective, their idea of the good old days. So I did.

I described the good old days from my father’s perspective. How, in the good old days when he was young, he got the shit beaten out of him every day, twice a day: once for the things he was going to do and once for the things he’d probably done. I described how his very devout mother and his bible-banging step-father would punish their children for the sins of humanity. Or maybe just to get their rocks off.

timewarpI liked pushing teacher’s boundaries in high school. I insisted that they call me Mr. Boyd, since I was to refer to them by their surname, and they did. It was kind of a joke, really. I got along well with all of my teachers (except maybe for my senior English Composition teacher). I also got my whole junior History class to do the Time Warp. It’s just a jump to the left…

I got an F on that paper. Not because it wasn’t good. It was damn good, actually. It is really one of only a handful of assignments I can remember in school and it is the one I’m most proud of. I got an F on that paper because I used the word shit. That’s it.

But the point I’m trying to make isn’t about being flunked on the best piece of writing I did in high school. Or about shocking people. My point is about why that paper was the best.

It was the constraint she had given us.

If she had just told us to write a 500 word paper about anything, I would have written something passable and she would have given it a passing grade. Instead I wrote something that pissed her off. If your writing makes someone feel that intensely… that’s something.

Botanik Card BackIt wasn’t until Botanik that I realized how much constraints can do for you. It was my entry into the 18 Card Microgame Contest in 2014 put on by Odd Hackwelder. The challenge was to make a game that used only 18 cards, nothing else. You could use those cards in anyway you chose, but it all had to fit on the cards. That included the rules.

When I first saw this I thought it was nuts. Then I thought it was genius. Then I thought it was nuts and genius. Then I grabbed a deck of cards and started playing around.

That massive constraint set me off. I wanted to do something people hadn’t done before. My big idea was to have the game clean up after itself. It was just as crazy as the competition and I loved it.

I came up with a way of stacking cards in which players matched colored dots. Players wanted to cover up their opponents color while keeping their own color uncovered. I had no theme but I had mechanics.

Master GardenerMy partner came up with the theme. It was a perfect fit and I called it Master Gardener.

I started my WIP thread and then I started playing. It was fun, it was light, it took about 5 minutes to play and that’s pretty much it. I came up with some really ugly designs that I’m really not proud of, but for the sake of posterity I’m going to show them to you. Layout Sample

There they are. See? Are you happy now.

The way the cards stacked made the game a pretty neat puzzle. It was all about trying to find the best spot to play one of your cards. You always wanted to be matching on your opponents flowers so they had fewer showing.

Several people thought the idea was really cool. One of those people volunteered to do the graphic design. He came up with some beautiful abstract flowers. botanik-sample cardThey inspired me so much that Master Gardener wasn’t good enough anymore. I searched and pondered until I came up with Botanik. It’s German for botanic. Classy.

This was the first time anyone volunteered to help me with a game and I felt honored. I felt like I had done something right for a change. I want to thank Dennis Bennett from BGG (he goes by dennisthebadger) for being so supportive of this project and volunteering his time and work to make the game look beautiful.

The game didn’t win any awards. I’ve seen several projects in a similar vein since. It looks as if they’re doing what I wanted to do and doing it better. But if you’re looking for a game that cleans up after itself, you could do worse than Botanik.

Status: Complete

Gary Boyd is a game designer and blogger. He was also voted Most Likely To Do His Own Thing in high school. No joke.