Monthly Archives: October 2013

Thrifting Victory!

I’m not sure how many of you take the time to visit your local thrift store establishments, but every so often I find I enter the doors of the local GoodWill or St. Vincent dePaul’s. Why do I go to those places? I go there to hunt. I go to stalk the ever elusive find. I go to find board games for cheap!

And I’m not alone. A good friend found the game Tsuro for $1.20. We’ve played it at least 7 times. What a find! Each week there is a thread on BoardGameGeek where people list their thrift store finds. I love perusing the list to see what treasure people found. I have never been one to have a good find. Until now.

Farkle Party

My wife and I stopped at GoodWill to look for cheap Halloween costumes for the kids. While she was looking through those racks I headed over to the game section with secret hopes of finding Agricola or something else awesome for cheap. Well, I found Farkle Party, which has six dice cups and 36 dice. For $3.99 I figured it wasn’t a terrible deal for the dice. My plan was to use the dice for game designs in my queue.

The tin was taped shut and I didn’t want to be that weird guy in the store that untapes things to check them before buying. So I bought it. At our next shopping stop I waited in the car while my wife went in. I figured it was as good a time as ever to open the tin and examine my new dice! However, there were no dice! Instead it was full of this:

No Dice!

No Dice!

Jewelry! At first I was really disappointed because I wanted the dice. But then I realized that there might be something of value in it. So I looked through it a little bit and picked out a few things that I thought might have value.

The items I sold.

The items I sold.

Yesterday I took those items into a local jeweler to get them appraised and see if they would be interested in buying them. Here’s the results:

  • Sterling silver items and miscellaneous items: $35
  • Diamond on a brooch: $90
  • Gold on a brooch: $142

So my $3.99 purchase earned me $267! Now that’s a thrifting victory if I’ve ever heard of one! Have you had any thrifting victories?

Newton’s Oatmeal Stout

NewtonOn Boards & Barley I tend to focus on the Boards side of things. But today is a Barley day! Why? Because I just bottled my oatmeal stout and I feel like writing about it.

Most of you probably don’t know this, but there are many scientific discoveries that were made by brewers. In fact, it was a brewery in London during the sewage problems of the 1800s that provided insight into the bacteria problems in the water. The people at the brewery were not getting sick because they only drank beer, which had undergone a boiling process. Those around the brewery were getting sick from the unsanitary water that was plagued by rotten sewage. But enough about that.

Oatmeal Stout

What is a stout beer? Stouts are dark, sometimes bitter beers that are brewed with roasted barley and malt. The barley is often roasted to the point of charring. This provides a “burnt” type of flavor that can often taste like coffee or chocolate. These beers can be all over the map in terms of hoppy-ness. But the main character of a stout beer in the roasted flavor.

An oatmeal stout is a variant of a stout beer that is brewed with steeped oatmeal added to the steeping grains. The addition of the oatmeal gives this variant a sweeter, smoother finish. Also, these have a more mellow character than a standard stout. The roasted character, however, remains in the beer. Some popular oatmeal stouts include Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout and Young’s Oatmeal Stout.

My Beer: Newton’s Oatmeal Stout

Way back on September 11th, in honor of our awesome country, I brewed beer. It was my first time brewing a beer while using the steeping grains. Basically the steeping grains add about 30 minutes to the brewing process. You put a bunch of crushed grains like barley and malt into a sack and soak it in hot water for about 20-30 minutes. Then this becomes the base liquid for the boiling wort.

The sack of steeping grains sits nicely while providing beautiful character to my beer!

The sack of steeping grains sits nicely while providing beautiful character to my beer!

After you’ve steeped the grains, which is rather like steeping a tea pack in hot water, though on a much grander scale, then you can begin to brew the beer. The kits I have used have said to bring a gallon of water up to 170 degrees and use it to rinse the grains. So I simply pour the gallon over the grain sack and catch the water in the boiling kettle.

The wort boils for about 45 minutes, during which time the hops are added. After 45 minutes you’re basically done. You bring the beer down to about 115 degrees and add in enough water to bring it to about 5 gallons. Next you pitch the yeast, which is a fancy way to say you add yeast to the liquid. Then seal it up with an airlock and you’re good to go!

The original or starting gravity of my stout was 1.047. This isn’t a very high gravity, but stout beers aren’t known for being high gravity beers.

After a week in the fermenter I transferred the beer to a glass carboy. I let it ferment and age in the carboy for about three weeks and this past Sunday I bottled it.

Bottling is the worst part of the process. I don’t buy bottles, so I have to de-label them, which is a big pain. Then you’ve got to make sure your 45-50 bottles are clean, so I run them through the dishwasher without detergent. After that I sanitize them using One-Step. In the meantime I transfer the beer back to the plastic fermenter, dissolve bottling sugar, add the dissolved mixture to the beer, and then I proceed to bottle 10 at a time and cap them.

For this batch I ended up with 46 bottles, one of which will remain on my shelf for all time. Doing a little math, if an average 6-pack costs $8.50, which seems on par with my FLBS (Favorite Local Beer Store), then 45 bottles (7.5 6-packs) would cost about $64. The beer brewing kit itself cost about $42. So I am saving $22! That’s a considerable amount. The downside is that I have 7.5 6-packs of the same beer. Is that $22 worth having so much of the same beer? (It is worth it if you can bring it to game nights and drink other people’s beer!)

My Newton’s Oatmeal Stout had a final gravity of 1.015. This means that the beer has an ABV (Alcohol by volume) of 4.2%. Therefore I should be able to slam a bunch of these bad boys and feel little effect.

Why Newton?

I like to name all of my beers after Renaissance men. In my opinion Renaissance men are not necessarily from the Renaissance. Rather, these are people who happen to be experts or masters in many trades. Sir Isaac Newton was definitely a Renaissance man.

I could have chosen a pudgy character who more closely fit the bill of being “stout.” However, Newton seemed to fit the bill of being “stout” due to his contributions to science and his place in history. I suppose I could have saved Newton in case I ever brewed an apple ale, but I don’t think I’ll ever brew an apple ale. So Newton joins my Renaissance fleet that already includes Leon Battista Alberti (Amber Ale) and Benjamin Franklin (Honey Ale).

In a couple of weeks a new Renaissance man will join the team behind the guise of a Scotch Ale. Unfortunately William Wallace is not technically a Renaissance man, so I’ll have to choose a different Scot as the namesake for the beer.


If anyone has questions about brewing or beer styles or anything having to do with zymurgy, please let me know!

Monday Brews: 10-14-13

Welcome back to Boards & Barley! So glad to have you here. Last week I posted an article about using Inkscape to make icons for your game design prototypes. It appears that the article was pretty well received. If there are other things you’d like me to show how to do in Inkscape, just let me know!

Today is Monday, so I present to you the Boards & Barley that I enjoyed in the past week:

The Barley:

Freshly bottled awesomeness!

Freshly bottled awesomeness!

First some news: last night I bottled my third batch of homebrew. It is an Oatmeal Stout and will be named after Sir Isaac Newton. So in a few weeks I’ll be able to enjoy some Newton’s Oatmeal Stout. The picture shows the beautiful bottles of awesomeness. They will be waiting patiently in my basement.

New Glarus Spotted Cow: Yum.

Tyranena Rocky’s Revenge: This is a very good beer that comes from Lake Mills in Wisconsin. The upside is that it reminds me and my friends of the great Beer Run event that the brewery holds each November.

Hinterland Oktoberfest: Not good. This hoity toity beer was not a good Oktoberfest. It did not even taste like an Oktoberfest. Served in 16 ounce bottles at a high cost by a brewery that thinks it’s high end, I expected something better. Disappointed with this one.

New Holland Dragon’s Milk: Wow! Not necessarily a good “wow.” Just Wow. This beer is potent. I’ve been wanting to try it for a while and it lived up to expectations. This beer had a ton of character.

New Belgium 1554 Black Ale: New Belgium has some interesting beer styles that I don’t always enjoy. However, the 1554 Black Ale is definitely one that I do enjoy. I have to wonder, though, if that’s because it makes me think of Euro style games. This beer could have a theme based on the black plague. All it would need is some bored looking dude on the label!

Point Oktoberfest: This is a passable oktoberfest, which is saying quite a bit compared to the Hinterland oktoberfest listed above. It’s not my favorite oktoberfest, but I’d drink it again.

The Boards:

Camel tokens from Yspahan are awesome!

It was another down week for gaming. But this week we’ll be having a game night, so hopefully I get a few more games in this week.

Kingdom Builder: Somehow I sneaked out a win over my wife. With a final score of 84 to 81 it was a closer finish that I was expecting. I was surprised when I saw how close she was.

Yspahan: I got to play Yspahan for the first time this past week. And I snapped this awesome picture. The game is a really cool game design despite the possibility of dice results ruining it. I pulled off a big win and really enjoyed the game.


So those are the Boards & Barley that I enjoyed last week. What did you enjoy?

Design Me: Auction/Bidding

Welcome to another Design Me exercise day on Boards and Barley. As a former competitive athlete I know the importance of practice. As a soccer player it is important to practice with your team so that you can learn how you work together on the field. But it is also important to practice and exercise on your own so you make sure your body is in the best shape possible so that you can be successful when it’s game day!

I feel like exercise and practice are important for the brain as well. That’s why I’ve been writing these Design Me articles. The idea for these articles is to exercise my brain so that I can perform as well as I can when actually designing games with the intent of pitching them some day.

I’ve been using a cool new online tool called Boardgamizer. It is perfect for coming up with a topic for these Design Me articles. The way it works is that it spits out a mechanic or two, a theme, and a victory condition. Then you can take that and see if you can come up with a game design around those things. Here’s the result I got for today:


Such a cool tool for inspiration!

So today we are going to exercise our brain and come up with a bidding/auction game with a holy theme where the goal is to place all your pieces. Piece of cake!

In The Beginning

How would you build the Earth?

The idea behind “In The Beginning” is that you are playing a role in building the earth. There are mountains, rivers, forests, deserts, and other terrain that need to be placed onto the bare Earth. The winner will be the player who can put out all of their pieces first.

The pieces that players must place are sets of different terrain tiles. Each round a set of terrain cards will be available for auctioning. Players will then obtain terrain cards from the auction. These terrain cards can then be played according to a small set of rules, which will then allow that player to place some of the terrain tiles from their supply.

Each player begins with the same number and types of terrain tiles. For example, each player might have 2 desert tiles, 3 forest tiles, 4 river tiles, 5 ocean tiles, and 6 mountain tiles and so on. The desert tiles would be the most difficult to place while the mountain tiles would be the easiest to place.


  • 1 Board showing a bare earth covered in a hex grid
  • 27 Bidding tokens in each player color numbered 1 to 27
  • 1 Blank bidding token in each player color
  • Deck of terrain cards – 20 of each terrain type
  • Hexagonal Terrain Tiles – 20 per player
  • Guide sheets for terrain interactions
  • Rulebook

How To Play:

In each round there will be a number of piles equal to the number of players plus 2 placed next to the board. The number of cards in the piles will vary as the game goes on. During the first three rounds the piles will each have 2 cards. During rounds 4-6 the piles will have three cards. And during rounds 7-9 the piles will have 4 cards.

Players will be bidding on these piles of cards simultaneously by using bidding tokens. Each player has a set of bidding tokens numbered 1 to 27. They may place only one token at each pile face down. Players MUST bid on at least one pile. Players may bid a total of 35 bidding points in any given round. For example, a player may bid on one pile with their “27” token. Then they would only have 8 bidding points left. They could place any combination of bidding tokens totaling 8 points onto remaining bidding piles. All players will place their bids face down. Players may “bluff” by placing their blank token at a bidding pile.

After a round of bidding with the bids revealed.

After a round of bidding with the bids revealed.

Once all bids are placed they are flipped face up. Whichever player has the highest bid at a pile wins those cards. Their bidding token is then discarded for the rest of the game. If a player loses an auction by less than 5 bidding points they can draw a card from the deck. Their bidding tokens are also discarded. If a player loses an auction by more than 5 bidding points they will keep their bidding token but do not get to draw a card.

So in the example image above here are the results:

  • Pile #1: Yellow wins, discards their bidding token and takes the cards. Red loses, but is only 5 away from the winning bid, so Red discards their bidding token and draws a card from the deck. Blue is not within 5 of the winning bid so they keep their bidding token but do not get a card.
  • Pile #2: Red wins, discards their bidding token and takes the cards.
  • Pile #3: Blue wins, discards their bidding token and takes the cards. Yellow loses, but is within 5 away from the winning bid, so Yellow discards their bidding token and draws a card from the deck.
  • Pile #4: Red wins, discards their bidding token and takes the cards. Blue loses, and is not within 5 of the winning bid, so Blue keeps their bidding token but does not draw a card.
  • Pile #5: Blue wins, discards their bidding token and takes the cards.

These bidding piles are important because of the cards that they are offering. Because placement of tiles is what wins the game players will be looking to make combinations of cards that allow them to place as many tiles on each turn as possible. So once players obtain cards they can turn them in, in player order, to place their terrain tiles on the board.

Placing terrain tiles follows a logical order. For example, you wouldn’t put a desert next to a forest. Well, you could, but it would cost you an extra card. At the start of the game one mountain tile is placed as a starting tile on the board. Any other tile can be placed next to Mountain. But after that there are a series of logical rules for placing the other terrain types.

These rules are things like, if you place X terrain by Y terrain then it costs one extra card, or 1 fewer card, or “you must place three”. So there would be a series of these types of rules. So players will want to build the right combinations of sets of cards in their hand so that they can play more terrain tiles than their opponents.

This exercise could turn into a full game design if I put in the effort to create the terrain placement ruleset, which I just might do.

Your Designer Perspective:

So what are your thoughts about this game design? Are there any glaring holes in the design? Is anything obviously broken?

What would you have come up with for the design based on the Boardgamizer criteria? I imagine there are an infinite number of ways to go with those criteria. So make sure you are exercising your game designer mind! And have a great weekend!


Prototype Art: Icons in Inkscape

Inkscape logo of squidy awesomeness!

One of the things that can take your game design from playable to pitchable is iconography. Icons can really help put a nice polish on a game. There are a few benefits that icons can provide for your game design:

  • Ease of viewing/understanding
  • Beautification
  • Language Independence

Those are a few and I’m sure there are more. So today I wanted to present a tutorial similar to my “Cubes in Inkscape” tutorial to help game designers with the creation of icons for their games.

This article will be focused on the software called Inkscape. It is a free Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) software. Don’t worry too much about what that means, just know that it’s awesome. If you don’t have the software I recommend downloading it and using it for your game design art. Note: if you have Photoshop/Illustrator then I would recommend staying with that and skipping the rest of the article.

Also, if you love icons but just can’t figure out how to make your own, then head over to where they have over 1,000 free icons for your use. So let’s get started.

Let’s Get Iconizing!

So “Iconizing” isn’t really a word. But that’s beside the point. The objective for today is to teach you how to make icons that you can use with confidence in your board game designs. We are going to be making a barley icon. But you’ll hopefully be able to use what you learn here today to make any icons you might need for your game design.

Once you’ve downloaded and opened Inkscape you’ll see a plain canvas outlined in front of you. I like to leave it turned on, but you can turn off the “edges” if you visit the document properties under “File.” Here’s what it should look like:


We will be working with the “Create Circles, Ellipses, and Arcs” command for this article.

You’ll often want a web browser open as well. It is often beneficial to do a web search for the item you are looking to iconize. So here’s a snapshot of a web search page for barley:

Using a web search can give you ideas of how to iconize the item.

Using a web search can give you ideas of how to iconize the item.

Barley, you’re about to be iconized!

After I’ve done a web search I like to copy and paste a picture or two into Inkscape as a starting point. In this case I’ll be using the photo on the right as my guide for creating a barley icon. So copy that picture into Inkscape if you want to follow along.

One thing to remember when creating icons is that we want them to be very clear and understandable. Sometimes icons represent things, like resources. Other times they represent actions, like “move an extra space.” We before we create the icon we need to know what we are going for. In the barley example we will simply use the icon to represent a barley resource.

So now that the picture is in Inkscape we can start our tutorial. I like to use a picture so that I can create the correct shape of something in Inkscape by overlaying that shape on the right part of the picture and making the edges line up. I won’t show that today since this image will be for reference only, but it is a useful thing to do. I may write about that in the future.

The icon of a barley begins with one circle…

Go ahead and click on the “Circles, Ellipses, and Arcs” command and click and drag a circle on the page anywhere you like. If you want to change the color, scroll along the color bar at the bottom. If you want to make sure it is a true circle, hold CTRL when dragging. If you hold CTRL and drag at a different angle then it will jump to an ellipse rather than a circle. Once you’ve dragged out the circle and chosen a color you might have something like this:

This circle will be one grain of barley.

This circle will be one grain of barley.

The next thing we want to do is turn our circle into a Path. There are two ways to do this. The first is to go to the PATH toolbar at the top and click “Object to Path.” The second way to do this is to select the item and press SHIFT + CRTL + C.

InkscapeIcons04Then we want to use this command from the left toolbar. It is the “Edit Paths by Node” tool and is pretty awesome for what we want to accomplish today. Click on it and then click on our circle. Then your circle should look like this (note that I have zoomed in on the circle):

The dots around the circle are the nodes that we will edit.

The dots around the circle are the nodes that we will edit.

What we do next is edit our circle by moving the nodes around. Across the top we have different options for editing the nodes. The tools that I utilize most often are these:

  • Insert new nodes into selected segment
  • Make selected nodes corner
  • Make selected nodes smooth

I recommend playing around with each of those commands so that you become familiar with how node editing works.

So let’s take our circle and turn it into a barley grain. First click on the upper node. Then click on “Make selected nodes corner.” Then you can grab the little circles on the lines extending from the node and move them to wherever you like. Here’s what you might end up with:

By editing the nodes we can make the circle look like a barley grain.

By editing the nodes we can make the circle look like a barley grain.

Now go ahead and manipulate the other nodes. I “Cornered” the bottom node and angled up the right side. I moved the bottom node to the right. I moved the top node up and to the left. And I brought in both side nodes. Here’s my result thus far:


Okay. That’s pretty passable for a barley grain. Now we want to make more of them. But instead of following that whole process over and over we are simply going to duplicate this grain. You can duplicate the grain in two ways. The easiest is to simply push CTRL + D. That will make a new copy over the top of the previous version. Then if you click the arrow tool at the top of the left toolbar you can move the new barley grain. Do this about 5 times, line them up, and then you might have something like this (I’ve zoomed out a little):

We are getting there! Who's excited??

We are getting there! Who’s excited??

Okay. It is starting to look alright. Let’s go ahead and duplicate the entire thing and mirror it using the “Flip selected objects horizontally” tool. Then you can rotate the whole selection with the arrow tool. You have to click on the selection so that the arrows on the corner of the selection turn into curved arrows. Then click and hold one of the curved arrows and drag to the angle you want. Note that when dragging, if you hold CTRL it will rotate at discrete angles. This can be really useful. After all of that we should have something like this:

Feel free to enjoy a nice brew while we are iconizing barley!

Feel free to enjoy a nice brew while we are iconizing barley!

Now we’ve got most of the hard work done. You may desire to shrink a few of the barley grains near the top end. If you do, you can simply click on one with the arrow tool, then click and drag one of the corner arrows around the object you are shrinking. Note that when you drag the corner arrows, if you hold CTRL it will maintain the aspect ratio of the object. If you hold CTRL + SHIFT it will maintain the aspect ratio and resize it while also maintaining its position in reference to its reference point (shown by the plus sign, which can be moved). For the sake of the tutorial today we are not going to shrink any of the barley grains.

So far so good. But now we need the stalk. So we are going to use the “Draw Freehand Lines” tool from the left. With the tool chosen you should then set the tool to “Triangle In” at the top toolbar where it says “SHAPE.” Then starting at the bottom of the stalk click once. Then move the cursor to where you want the stalk to end and double click. A triangle line should be made that looks something like this:

We're almost done!

We’re almost done!

You can change the color again by using the color bar along the bottom. And you can manipulate the shape by editing the nodes.

Alright. So I jumped ahead a little bit and did some of the things I’ve already mentioned. I changed the color of the stalk. I make it thicker by adding a “Stroke” to it (See below about adding a “Stroke”). I didn’t like how tall it was so I deleted two of the grains from each side at the top. I shrank two from each side and rotated them slightly. By simplifying all of this I was able to create a better icon for the barley:

It looks more "Icon-y this way.

It looks more “Icon-y this way.

So there you go. You’ve got yourself the tools to edit nodes, manipulate shapes, and make cool icons. Those are the basics and they can get you off the ground running. But if you want to add some awesomeness, then keep reading!

Adding the Awesomeness!

If you aren’t quite content with your icons there are a few things you can do to spruce them up. The first is to add a border around them. Remember above when I mentioned about adding a “Stroke”? Let’s start with that and see what kind of border we can come up with.

First, with the arrow tool selected, click and drag a box around all the components in the icon. They click on the “Group” tool to group them into one picture. Then go ahead and duplicate that new group. You will have two copies of the same icon. We will add a stroke to one and then place it behind the other. With one of the copies chosen, click on “Object > Fill and Stroke.” This will open a sidebar like this:

Now we can add awesomeness!

Now we can add awesomeness!

On the “Stroke paint” tab we want to set a solid color stroke. This is the solid blue square icon. For now just keep the black color that it should default to. Then on the “Stroke style” tab let’s go ahead and set the stroke to a value that makes it look nice. In this example the value was 20. You should have a nice big black border around the entire barley. Once you have the border, click on the “Lower Selection to Bottom (end)” command and it will send this copy of the icon behind the other copy, which has no stroke:

I think it's really starting to be a nice icon!

I think it’s really starting to be a nice icon!

Now we’ve got a really nice border. How else might we add awesomeness? We could add gradients to the grains and the stalk!

If you are content with the icon like that, then by all means leave it that way. I think it looks pretty good and icons like that will certainly help with the presentation of your prototype. But if you want to go another level you can add gradients. So let’s see what happens…

First you’ll want to ungroup that top level copy of the barley. We want to add gradients individually to the grains. With it ungrouped go ahead and click on one of the grains. Let’s choose the lower left grain for this example. Then you can click on the “Create and edit gradients” tool on the left toolbar.

It's about to get wild!

It’s about to get wild!

Then click and drag from one side of the selected grain to the other. You will want to play around with the gradient editor to familiarize yourself with the gradient editing options. The easiest are linear gradients. I recommend you start there. Otherwise a radial gradient could look nice. I’ve used one for the grains (each individually) here (Note that you could have applied a radial gradient after editing the first circle and then duplicated that for each grain of barley):


I might actually use this icon!

I might actually use this icon!

Alright… we have time for one more layer of awesomeness. What could it be other than a drop shadow??? Thankfully I don’t really have to teach you anything here since Inkscape makes it so easy! With the entire icon (both copies) highlighted go to “Filters > Shadows and Glow > Drop Shadow” and it will open a popup window. If you click on “Live Preview” it will show you what the drop shadow will look like.

Now that's what I'm talking about!

Now that’s what I’m talking about!

And there you have it. A nice and simple icon with three points of awesomeness!

Lesson Complete!

Here is my finished icon of barley, with radial gradients on the grains, a linear gradient on the stalk, a nice “Stroke” border, and a decent drop shadow:

Not too shabby!

Not too shabby!

That’s all I’ve got for you today. I hope that this article was able to equip you to add some high quality iconography to your game designs to help take them from playable to pitchable and give you confidence in front of the publishers! Please let me know if you have any questions. I would love to help you out. Thanks for reading!

%d bloggers like this: