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”

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”

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.
creative-commons-public-domain

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.

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.

Game Designs #9 & #10: Dosed and Pharma

This blog post is only briefly about these game designs at there is very little worth mentioning. It’s really about my issues and I’ve got more than the New York Times.  More specifically, it’s about my issues as a designer. The biggest one is that I never finish anyth…

After I designed my party game about pharmaceuticals, I thought: why stop there? Why not do a whole series of games about pharmaceuticals. So I came up with a microgame and Euro, neither of which made it very far in development.

pill-bottleMy idea for the microgame was called Dosed. It was a bunch of colored circular disks and I thought it could come in one of those orange pill bottles. I eventually came up with a game that works (this year) but it’s a bit short and not near enough fun at this point to warrant pursuing. The theme of passing around pills is a bit problematic anyways.

The other one I’m still really interested in. I want to make a Euro game which is a scathing commentary on the drug industry. I also want to fairly accurately represent the drug development process.

These projects were both overshadowed by the projects of the day. I was getting ready for my first GenCon. I had a half finished Kaiju game and a drug induced party game to think about; there wasn’t much time. And when I got back, I moved on fairly quickly to the next thing. Not finishing things has been a reoccurring theme in my life.

gytCGguWhen I was 12 years old I started my first novel. It was mostly just mimicry of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the few other science fiction novels I had read, but I was really excited about it. Until I wasn’t.

My dad bought me a junked out Corvette to work on when I was 15. If I fixed it up I could have a sweet ride when I was 16. I got as far as powder coating the frame. I could have finished it. But I didn’t.

Fast forward to my dreams of being a computer programmer, mostly dreams of being a professional hacker. I wrote a lot of scripts in Linux. I started at university to be a computer scientist. But as with the education I never wrote any programs worth mentioning. I have 3 novels in rough draft (all of which are really pretty dreadful).

When I was 20 I joined the Army. 6 months later I was released with an entry level separation after sustaining injuries that put me on crutches for several months. I’m not sure I’ve ever finished a thing in my life.

I mention these things not to disparage myself as a human being or as a  writer, a programmer, or game designer, but to make myself face the fact. I’m someone who has, in the past, not finished things.

I’m also someone who, in the future, will finish things. I will do so because I want to be a great game designer and in order to be a great game designer you have to finish your designs.

Kaiju is in a finished state and I’m pretty proud of that. But it’s not enough as a game designer to finish the game, is it? You have to get it into someone’s hands.

Finding a way to become more methodical in my iteration process will help me finish my projects. So my goal for the next 2 months is to come up with a structured design, playtesting, and iteration system to follow along with a methodical system of communicating with publishers about my designs and finding ways to get them into the hands of said publishers. These systems should be somewhat mutable but lend me a framework with which to design, develop, and sell my games. That means on December 16, I will be reporting about said framework.

There’s not much to say about designs #9 and #10 because there’s just so little there. Had I had some kind of system maybe Pharma (my Big Pharma Euro) would be in a factory somewhere in China waiting to be shipped. Maybe not.

Currently, I’m working on a game for the 18 card microgame contest at BGG. My entry is what I call a microConSim. It’s meant to take the COIN system and Battleline system, mate them with Love Letter and see what comes out of it. GMT, lock up your daughters.

The Great Micro GameThe Great Game Card3It’s called the Great micro Game and it’s about the conflict over Central Asia in the 19th century between the British and Russian Empires. It’s going rather well. If you want to check it out, here is the WIP thread. I’ve gotten a really positive response from the design community there and from the 1 Player Guild, both of which are great communities.

This game will be finished because there is a deadline and maybe that’s what I really need. So my deadline for finishing Cold War is July 1st, 2016. That way I have time to arrange some meetings with publishers before I leave for GenCon.

Status: Abandoned

Game Design #8: Side Effects May Include…

Drug Card Back
Drugs are bad, mmmkay…

Do you ever wonder if you’re taking drugs just to counteract other drugs?

That question and my own very personal experience with it were the game’s impetus. I was going to design a game that people can just laugh and have a good time with.

I started development at the beginning of July of 2014 and had a prototype for GenCon. This game has some of my favorite graphic design work so you get lots of pictures today.

The primary mechanic comes from a game known by many names, among others: Ranter-Go-Round, Chase the Ace, and Bohemian Poker. In our house though, it was always Screw Your Neighbor. I loved the game because my mom always paid my way in, and I got to say the word screw.

Side Effect36It goes like this.

Players are dealt a single card. They must decide whether to keep their card or pass it. The dealer decides whether to take a card from the deck or keep her card. The person with the lowest card loses. Generally there are a set number of bets and the last person with money in front of her takes the pot.

Condition Cards24
It’s funny because that’s what I have.

Now my game.

Each round a Condition is drawn and players “manufacture” drugs for the condition. The dealer sits out and decides which drug wins. She deals one card to each player. Then the game plays like Screw Your Neighbor but the cards aren’t revealed just yet. Players collect 5 side effects and then pass them to the judge in envelopes along with their drug card. The judge reads them; hilarity ensues.

I tried to add more game to it with special powers but it was more fun without them.
I tried to add more game to it with special powers but it was more fun without them.

image 7And you know what? It really did! Everyone who played at GenCon laughed. And I’m not  talking giggles. I’m talking belly rollers.

One playtester came back with her partner to play again. Amanda and Vece you are awesome and I’m sorry we missed each other at GenCon this year.

This one always got at least a few laughs.
This one always got at least a few laughs.

So, this is a success story, right? Oh, clever reader, you know me well. These are the Exploits and Misadventure of an Amateur Designer. So what happened this time, Billy?

Just after GenCon I learned that Gil Hova was working on a party game with the same theme. Gil was an absolute professional about the whole thing when it came up on Twitter. He even went so far as to offer to drop work on his project.

I decided that the game was going to go to Kickstarter. But I never launched and Gil eventually released his game, Bad Medicine. It just arrived in the mail.

When I got home from GenCon I was really excited. Then I spent all of an hour coming up with new Side Effects before I lost steam.Side Effect35

Once Gil announced that he was going forward with his Kickstarter I put the game up on BGG. And as usual, here is my consolation prize. Side Effects May Include… is my first game to be entered into the BGG game database. The files are available to anyone for download.

I had a discussion months later in which I stated that I didn’t want my first game to be a party game. It took me some time to realize I had lost sight of my goal. I want to be published. I want this site to be Exploits and Misadventures of a Professional Game Designer.

I don’t care if my first game is Jersey Shore: The Board Game as long as my name’s on the box.

image 4

Game Design #6: Shogun Must Die!

I was playtesting a new game tonight and became so frustrated that in the middle of it I asked everyone to stop.

Cold War - Game BoardI did it again; what the hell Billy? I did it again. How many times can a man make the same mistake. Sweet baby Jesus! I just spent hours making a full color board and tiles for new mechanisms that were completely untested.

WTF Billy?

Up until that point the design process was going really well. I’d cobbled together a prototype out of 5 different games and some scrap paper. I’d playtested with 2 different people who both felt it was a really solid design. I was excited, but there were some adjustments that I wanted to make.

I wanted it to be a board game.

As we picked up for the night, my son found one of the cubes we were playing with was marked with an N and he remembered this game…

Shogun Must Die! is the first real board game I designed. I want to design board games. So why does everything I design end up being a card game? I have nothing against card games, but I set out to make a board game and I ended up with another card game.

SMD-GameboardI designed Shogun Must Die! as my first ever entry into a BGG 24 Hour Game Design Contest way back in April of last year. My son had thrown up at school that day which meant he couldn’t go to school the next day. That meant I’d have to stay home too.

I probably spent a total of 16 hours on the game. I made my convalescing son play the game with me a dozen or so times.

It is a hidden movement game where each player has several colored cubes. One player is the Shogun and one player is the Ninja. The Shogun has 12 red cubes, one of which is marked with an S. He places the red cubes in the center of the board on the purple “huts.” He also has several yellow, guard cubes which allow him to hunt the Ninja.

The Ninja has several black cubes and one marked with an N. Players take turns moving their cubes, the ninja may add cubes and take cubes away trying to obfuscate her actual movements. If the Ninja is killed the Shogun wins, if the Shogun is killed the Ninja wins.

The game isn’t great, but I finished it in less than 24 hours. It was my first attempt at hidden movement, and I went about it in a pretty interesting way. If I were to ever attempt a hidden movement game again, I might start by looking back at this.

Something I said in the thread for the April contest really resonates with me right now:

I really had a lot of fun designing this game and it really made me feel good about how far I could take something in such a short period of time (as I have projects that I’ve been working on for months that aren’t this far along). I really feel like it pushed me.

COeCuJUWsAAFOQbThat’s the way I feel with this new game. I Frankenstein’ed a prototype together and worked at it for hours. When I was done I had a really fun game.

Then I proceeded to screw it up.

Adding things doesn’t make a game better for me. It almost always makes it worse. It’s the process of taking away that generally makes my games better. I’m writing this down with the sincere hope that I can get this lesson through my thick skull.

It’s often said that there are two ways to go about game design. One is to start with a slab of stone and chisel away at it until you get the statue you’re looking for. The other is to start with a lump of clay and mold and shape the thing until you get the sculpture you want.

One way isn’t inherently better than the other, but I’d like to be a sculptor.

Shogun Must Die!
Status: Complete

Game Design #4: Kaiju: Deck Destruction – Dragodan vs. Jormungand

All Cards45My goal since day one has been to get a game published, but I have no desire to be that publisher.

I don’t want to have to work with artists, graphic designers, manufacturers, shipping companies, or distributors to get my game onto store shelves. I  want to design games people enjoy playing; that’s it.

By the time GenCon 2014 rolled around, this opinion was starting to solidify. I had scheduled 2 meetings with publishers. My partner was doing all she could to promote our company and the games we were working on. We felt ready.All Cards60

Unfortunately, I had to go up 2 days before my partner to meet with a publisher before the convention. I felt alone and scared. I’d just showed up in a strange city full of strange people and I had to go meet a stranger who could offer to publish my game. And I had to sell it to him.

I met the publisher and his staff at their hotel. As I walked into the hotel I could feel that deals
were already being made. They had me setup in a conference room and then explain the game. We chatted a bit as I finished setting up. They could tell I was nervous and were very kind. Because of that I was able to explain the game with a minimum of stumbling.

All Cards19The game started and people seemed excited. There were these powers they could use and there were all these buildings they could destroy and they could attack each other.

And then the publisher died 10 minutes into the game.

From there it was a 45 minute grind, and each minute was torture. It was an edge case. The result of insufficient playtesting. I needed to do more work. They provided me with constructive criticism and were generous and supportive, but I was heartbroken.

I was supposed to meet another publisher the next day and we had committed to playtest events throughout the con. I didn’t want to show the game to anyone. I was defeated. The game wasn’t ready. I was too embarrassed to even look at it. Then my partner showed up and rescued me.

photo 2My partner sensed that I was screwed up and offered to run the playtests before I could think to ask. I cancelled the meeting with the second publisher. I knew after the first meeting the game wasn’t ready. But the playtests were exactly what we needed.

Most people genuinely seemed to enjoy playing the game. We received a lot of positive feedback. But there was still that feeling that it wasn’t right. I started questioning myself. Why wasn’t enjoyment enough for me? What did I need to see to make me say: this game is good enough to keep going.

photo 1Whatever it was, I didn’t get it at GenCon.

When we got back home I dismantled the game. I broke it down to parts and started over. It has now gone through so many changes, I can’t even call them iterations.

I tried a more conventional deckbuilding game. I tried a worker placement game called Kaiju: Giant Monster Movie. That showed some promise. Shortly after that it became a programmed movement game. I was desperate to make anything work, but ultimately I put it aside in frustration.

It took me awhile to find out what I really wanted. I wanted players to feel like they were giant monsters attacking each other and destroying a city. It filled my waking thoughts and kept me up at nights. I wanted player’s to have an experience. Kaiju was the first time I really thought about the player’s experience.

IMG_0265I’ve put a lot of projects to the side. It’s easy to put things to the side. It’s more difficult to pick them up again, but I did. And I have transformed Kaiju: Deck Deconstruction into something I’m proud of.

I’m also proud of myself for meeting with a publisher, and I look forward to meeting with many more in the future.

Hopefully some time in the next couple of weeks I’ll be able to post a video demo of Kaiju: Deck Destruction. I hope you’ll watch and see what’s become of my monster.

Recommended readings will become separate blog posts from now on. It will give me the opportunity to talk a little more about them.

Thanks for reading.

Status: Active
February, 2014 – Present