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.

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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”

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 #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