Category Archives: My Games

On this page you’ll find information for the games I have designed or those that are in the works.

Grand Con 2016 Recap

Grand Con Logo Revised.pngI had the privilege of being a guest at Grand Con 2016. I was invited to attend, run demos of Scoville, give a seminar about The Story of Scoville, and attend the VIP dinner where there was a special surprise.

Grand Con is a gaming convention in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It has been growing each year and had an expected attendance of about 2,000 people this year. They are out-growing their facility because there is so much awesomeness!

Attenders could visit the vendor hall, with a nice selection of vendors and products. For gaming vendors there was Tasty Minstrel Games, Floodgate Games, Kids Table Board Gaming, Green Couch Games, Calliope Games, Action Phase Games, and a few more that I don’t remember. For a full list visit the vendor page.There were also some RPG booths, a couple local game store booths, and a few other things as well. It was a nice vendor hall that I will expect to be even grander next year.

Attenders also had access to the Grand Con game library. This one isn’t as large as the Gen Con game library, but I would say that the quality of games in the Grand Con library was better since they weren’t overloaded with a bunch of out-dated inventory. There was a great selection of about 400 games, many of which were brand new. The gaming library room was almost always full.

Another nice thing was that Grand Con had many events and a nice event catalog for the attenders. They had brought in a bunch of game designers and ran charity “Play with the Designer” events. The gamers really seemed to like these events. Proceeds went to the De Vos Children’s Hopsital.

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Craft Beer I Enjoyed

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Some awesome artwork on the Bell’s Eccentric Cafe menu.

You can’t really go to Grand Rapids and not enjoy craft beer (unless beer isn’t your thing). So we made sure to work in a few different breweries along the way. On the way to Grand Rapids we stopped at Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo. We enjoyed some flights of beer in their beer garden and soaked up a little sun in the beautiful weather. My favorite beers from Bell’s were the Roundhouse India Red Ale and the Special Double Cream Stout.

After we left Bell’s we headed to Grand Rapids and ate dinner outside at Founders Brewing. They have an amazing indoor/outdoor area to accompany their excellent beer. Since I had tried 8 different kinds at Bell’s I was feeling a little beered out. I opted for a low abv beer called CTRL ALT Delete. When I “Untappd” it I earned a special badge that I had been working towards. I earned “Legendary” status for having 500 unique beer check-ins.

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That was a fun milestone to hit and I’m glad that it happened in “Beer City.” During our trip we also visited Brewery Vivant, which was probably awesome but I was struggling from a duel with some bad sushi, so I didn’t partake. It was located in this awesome old church and everyone liked the beers they got.

The other brewery that my friend Jeremy and his wife visited was The Mitten, which is in an old firehouse. He mentioned that the beer was pretty good overall.

It was nice to be able to fit the “Barley” with the “Boards” and make it a complete trip.

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Games I Played

One of the best parts of a game convention for me is that I can usually learn and play new games that I don’t own. My wife and I attended with another couple. So we took advantage of free time and the game library and learned and played the following games:

Port Royal: We played this in our hotel room and we love this game.

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The marble holder where explosions occur!

Potion ExplosionMy friends and I had tried to demo this at Gen Con but the demo copy was always occupied. So we grabbed the library copy and played it and really enjoyed it. The decisions were more interesting than I expected and my friend ended up buying a copy at one of the vendors.

Fauna: This game is kind of like an animal specific version of Wits and Wagers. Players have to guess things like where animals live, the weight, the length, or the height of the animal. We liked it and thought our kids would like it. It was easy to learn and play.

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A look at the box and main board of Coal Baron.

Coal BaronI had wanted to play this one for a long time. Jeremy and I got it out. I had already read the rules so we were able to get started pretty quickly. I really enjoyed this game. The artwork is great, the gameplay is fun and interesting, and it all worked well. The only complaint I had was the paper money. They really missed the mark with the paper money as they could easily have used cardboard coins like most of the game industry. Overall this was my favorite “new to me” game of the convention and I’m glad I finally was able to play it.

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The unnecessary but cool looking ships of North Wind.

North Wind: We sort of enjoyed this Klaus Teuber game since it has some fun decisions. The downside is that you can literally go the entire game without ever being able to complete an objective. This is simply based on the luck of the draw from the tiles you reveal. The other downside for us was the constant shuffling of a tile pile after each player took their turn.

Gold West: I had played the prototype with the designer a couple years ago and I really enjoyed it. I am sad that it has taken me this long to play the final product. I think this game has some fun and interesting choices. The gameplay is pretty simple though the main mechanic can be a bit tricky to figure out how best to use it. I love the theme. The artwork was excellent as well. I recommend checking it out. If I hadn’t played it before the con this may have ousted Coal Baron for my favorite game.

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A nice look at the game board for Gold West.

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The Cacao  board near the end of the game.

Cacao: This wasn’t in the library. Jeremy bought a copy from a vendor and we cracked it open. It is a tile laying game where played collect and sell cocoa pods. Players also utilize the temples for scoring, take advantage of the lakes, and earn sun tiles for bonus overlaying abilities. We collectively enjoyed the game quite a bit. While I was off on a Scoville demo, the other three played it a second time. So it was well liked.

Vikings on Board: Jeremy and I had considered purchasing this at Gen Con. The rules are pretty simple but the gameplay is total chaos. We stopped playing because we didn’t like that you had seemingly little control over what you could accomplish. It was definitely too much of a “take-that” game for the four of us.

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The Vikings on board the board for Vikings on Board.

Going, Going, Gone!I had played this at BGG Con 2013 with Mr. Buonocore and company. At that time of night it was an excellent experience. So we cracked it open here and enjoyed it as well. My wife was great at dumping all her cubes into one single cup, which she would win, and then have very few cubes left. She won one auction 12 to nothing. She won another 7 to nothing. She didn’t win the game. Jeremy managed to get a set of 7 instruments for a big score of 44. We liked it and I’ll definitely play it again.

Train of ThoughtWe got this older TMG game to the table since we wanted a shorter game. In Train of Thought you try to get the other players to guess your secret word by using a pre-determined word in your clue. When (if) they guess, you get a new secret word and have to use the guessed word in the clue. Your round continues with your train of thought until the timer runs out. Some of the words were really tough to connect, but as we went on we got better at it.

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Scoville Experience

It was a privilege and honor to join the Grand Con team to run a few charity “Play With The Designer” Scoville events. At each of these events I was able to award the winner a copy of Scoville. It is always so much fun to play with people who are new to the game or with people who have played it and are passionate about it. I got a good mix of both during the convention. During one event the guy who took second place went to the TMG booth in the vendor hall, bought a copy of Scoville and Scoville: Labs and brought the back to me to have him sign them. That sort of stuff is really what makes game design worth it to me.

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A Scoville conga line!

Overall people who played seemed to really enjoy the game. One couple had me sign one of their recipe cards, which I was happy to do.

The other cool event was a seminar called, “The Story of Scoville.” For this seminar I was joined by the Scoville artist, Josh Cappel, and the TMG representative at Grand Con, Daniel Hadlock. We covered the whole story from my end of coming up with the design, to Josh’s artistic picture of the process, to Daniel’s “behind the scenes” manufacturing and distributing stuff. It was a lot of fun to do. One of the people was a younger guy who is interested in game design. It was a great opportunity to share with him some of the things I have learned along the way about game design.

The other really awesome thing was the VIP dinner on Saturday night. Each of the VIPs and the guests had a special banquet dinner with each other. I had an excellent steak and baked potato and some local craft beer. But the highlight of that party for me was the special cakes that Grand Con had made for the event. It speaks for itself:

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A Scoville (right) and Scoville Labs (left) cake to celebrate the convention!

The whole cake was edible. The hand and trophy were made with rice krispies. The top layer was a bananas foster cake. The bottom layer was a spicy chocolate cake. And the labs flask was a cookies and cream cake. It was a little sad when they started to get cut up and served to people. I couldn’t believe how awesome the cakes were and it was so exciting to be a part of that.

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Overall I’d like to thank Marc Specter and Brian Lenz and all the Grand Con team for putting on an excellent show and for inviting me to be a part of it. I also want to thank those people who participated in all the charity events. Your generosity was excellent. It was great to see good friends and make new ones. The board gaming community is always awesome and it’s so fun to be a part of it!

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Is Impossible Impossible?

Impossible is a new game design I have been working on. It is a race game where players are racing to recognize and build hex-based designs of impossible geometry reminiscent of the work of M.C. Escher.

You can learn of the design in my previous article: Hex-tile Prototype: Impossible.

Impossible Shape TileBasically players will be grabbing hex-tiles from the pile and trying to create the 2D representation of the impossible shape. The first player to complete the image places their meeple on the highest scoring spot. The next player to finish claims the next spot. And so on.

The game continues over a pre-determined number of rounds. Each round has a different impossible shape. After all rounds are completed the total points are added to decide the winner.

Mechanically this game works. It is mechanically simple, easy to learn and understand, can be set up and taught in 3 minutes. These are all great things for a game design.

So What’s Wrong?

I am a very visual person. I can recognize visual patterns. I can visualize 2D and 3D geometry quite well.

I’m beginning to feel as though I’m the only one in the world who can play this game.

In the past two weeks I’ve solo tested this and playtested it with three other people. Small sample group for sure. But those people are very intelligent people. I’ll test this further, but my inclination is that this game may just be impossible for some percentage of people to play.

Spatial Ability

According to a paper titled, Visual Spatial Skills (2003) , out of Penn State University, spatial ability is defined thusly:

Spatial ability is the over-arching concept that generally refers to skill in representing, transforming, generating, and recalling symbolic, nonlinguistic information. Spatial ability consists of mental rotation, spatial perception, and spatial visualization.

In the case of Impossible this is most definitely relevant. So what percentage of the population has spatial ability in their skill set?

This is from the Wikipedia page on Visual Thinking:

Research by child development theorist Linda Kreger Silverman suggests that less than 30% of the population strongly uses visual/spatial thinking, another 45% uses both visual/spatial thinking and thinking in the form of words, and 25% thinks exclusively in words. According to Kreger Silverman, of the 30% of the general population who use visual/spatial thinking, only a small percentage would use this style over and above all other forms of thinking, and can be said to be ‘true’ “picture thinkers”.

I’m starting to believe that I’m one of these so-called “picture thinkers.”

So it seems that 30% of the population strongly uses visual/spatial thinking. And a small subset of those use visual/spatial over all other forms.

Is visual/spatial required to be able to play Impossible?

My answer is, “yes.”

Marketability of Impossible

As a game designer I want to make games that are accessible to a large audience. The larger the anticipated audience is, the more likely the game is to signed by a publisher, and subsequently the more likely it is to succeed.

With 70% of the population not considered to be visual/spatial thinkers, that eliminates a huge percent of the potential audience for a game. I don’t think a publisher would be interested in a game that cannot be played by 70% of the population.

So at this point Impossible will earn a spot in my drawer of shame, where all my designs go to die when I decide to stop working on them.

I believe Impossible is a fun, quick, and interesting game that utilizes 3D geometry in 2D space. I think the artwork could make it look visually stunning. I believe it would fit at a good price point for a general audience.

Perhaps the best avenue for Impossible would be as an app for your phone or tablet. This would be quite easy to implement and then could be targeted specifically to people who would find it enjoyable. Who knows what the future holds for Impossible.

Hex-tile Prototype: Impossible

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“Escher Waterfall”. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Escher_Waterfall.jpg#/media/File:Escher_Waterfall.jpg

For a long time I have wanted to design a game around the 3D world of M.C. Escher. My dad had a picture of the Escher waterfall hanging in his office. I was always captivated by the impossibility and reality of the image: Impossible because it could not exist in a real 3D world, Real because it DOES exist in the 2D world of the paper.

Putting 3D objects into a 2D world allows for some awesome things to happen. You are aware of this if you have played the app Monument Valley, which I recommend.

I have been working on several concepts for a 3D-2D game based on impossible geometry like that of the Escher waterfall. I have made two different prototypes. One is terrible and is really difficult to turn into a game. The other I have been able to turn into a game and I’m ready to playtest it. Today I’m covering the latter.

Impossible

Impossible is a real-time game of puzzle building and tile laying. It works similarly to Galaxy Trucker in that players will be grabbing tiles from a common pile. These tiles will then be added to their growing assembly. The objective is to create the face up Impossible Shape as quickly as possible to earn the most points for that shape.

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An impossible shape in 3D, but very possible in 2D.

The game is a set number of rounds. In each round a new Impossible Shape tile is drawn. All players will be racing to complete this shape.

When someone says, “Go!,” players will begin taking tiles and building their shape. When they complete the shape they can place a meeple of their color onto the shapes tile to claim the highest remaining points for that shape.

Once all players have completed the shape the round is over. The tile is placed to the side for endgame scoring. Players put all their pieces back into the pile. A new Impossible Shape tile is drawn and the next round begins.

Components

The total list of components for the game includes:

  • A bunch of hexagonal tiles
  • A smaller bunch of rhombus tiles (I’ll explain why in a moment)
  • The “Impossible Shape” tiles
  • Rulebook

It’s a relatively simple design with a succinct components list that should make it relatively risk-free and publisher friendly.

Why Rhombuses?

Because players can create the impossible shapes in different ways it leads to the need for many different designs on the hexagonal tiles. A simpler solution was to have “correction tiles,” which in this case are rhombuses.

Here is an example based on the image above. In the example a player is working on the left half of the image above. In their haste they grabbed the wrong tile for the upper corner. But instead of wasting precious time searching for the correct tile they realize that they can place an orange/purple rhombus over the wrong part of the tile. This allows them to have an accurate representation of the impossible shape.

Impossible Rhombus Example

The player uses a correction tile to make the shape correct.

The downside of the correction tiles is that each one is worth -1 points. So players should try to avoid them.

How to Win

Below is an example of an Impossible Shape tile. The first person to complete it will receive 7 points at the end of the game. The second player will receive 4 and the third will receive 2.

Impossible Shape Tile.png

After a number of rounds agreed upon at the start of the game, all the points will be tallied and the winner will be determined.

Overall Impossible is a fast paced real-time game where you are racing against your opponents to build impossible shapes. Do you have the mind it takes to figure out the shapes and grab the right hex tiles? I’m pretty excited for this game and I’m looking forward to seeing where it ends up.

Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think about the design.

Scoville: Labs Now on Kickstarter!

The first expansion for Scoville is now live on Kickstarter! For $20 you can get the expansion. For $60 you can get the game and the expansion! But hurry, this campaign is only for 10 days and ends on August 21st!

The following information is from the Kickstarter campaign page

What’s In The Box?

Scoville Labs is an expansion for Scoville. [the base game is required for play.]  In the box you will find:

  • 6 Player Labs for private pepper research.
  • 9 Market Orders.
  • 9 Recipes.
  • Pepper Multiplier tokens.
  • 6 More “Plant 1 Extra Pepper” tokens.
  • 5 Phantom Peppers.
  • 5 each Green, Orange, and Purple Peppers.
  • 5 each Black, Brown, and White Peppers.
  • 1 Rule Book

And there are stretch goals, so when the project receives enough funding then we’ll get more awesome stuff in the box! Go check out the campaign to learn more about the stretch goals.

What Makes It Special?

The laboratory workbench for the blue player.

The laboratory workbench for the blue player.

Scoville: Labs is great because it gives players something they lacked in the base game: Control. Now that the competitors in the Scoville Chili Festival are allowed to do their own research they’ve all installed their own lab. The lab allows a player to plant and cross-breed peppers outside of the influence of other players. Now they can have more control over some of the peppers they will receive, and when they will receive them.

Using the 3 x 3 pepper lab players may plant a pepper in one of the pots each round. In subsequent rounds whenever a new pepper is planted it will immediately cross breed with the peppers directly adjacent to it. No one can mess with your lab, which means you have control over what you want to harvest from your lab.

I really like how the simple 3 x 3 personal lab can modify the game in such a fun and exciting way. I’m looking forward to seeing what you all think of it.

Plus, the expansion comes with more of those awesome peppers! So go check it out today! I’d love your support.

Impossible!

No, the title doesn’t refer to your shock that there’s actually a new blog post on Boards & Barley. Instead it refers to a new abstract game design of mine.

Waterfall (1961). Photo Credit: mcescher.com.

When I was a child I found a small print of M.C. Escher’s Waterfall Lithograph in my dad’s at-home office. At first I thought it was kind of neat but after a few minutes I realized how truly awesome the artwork was. There is an impossibility in the physical concepts of a waterfall flowing uphill. But yet this artwork makes it actually appear possible.

M.C. Escher has long been an inspiration of mine. I love trying to wrap my mind around the 2D artwork that portrays 3D impossibilities.

So I decided to make an abstract tile placement game around that concept. It is based on an impossibility that occurs in the waterfall lithograph. That impossibility is known as the Penrose Triangle. While I’m not using it exactly, I am using the fundamental idea of the Penrose triangle. I’ll show you below.

But first, because I have an illness where I must create a logo for any game design I am working on, here is the prototype logo:

Impossible Logo V2 - White Background

The game is currently still in the concept phase. I have been trying to work out some “Euro-y” type scoring conditions but I’ll have to playtest it before I decide if they should be public goals or private goals, or a combination of both.

Here is an example scoring condition:

Nodelink-3 Scoring Condition

If players build a nodelink matching these colors then they will earn the points shown on the card. The first player to build such a nodelink would earn the 4 points while the second player would earn 4 points.

I currently have a bunch of different scoring conditions based on the nodes that will be built during the game. I’m looking forward to playtesting it and figuring out some of the balance about these cards.

The basic gameplay is simple. It’s sort of a mix between Carcassonne and Qwirkle. Players will play 1 tile anywhere that it fits onto the board. Nodes will be built up this way. Once a node is completed, it’s color is determined by whichever color is of a majority at the node.

There will also be one-time use bonuses that allow players to play more than one tile at a time. These should allow for players to make awesome moves in the game and have rewarding moments. My hope is that it also allows for some “take-that” type action where you can mess with something that other players are working on.

That’s the current status of Impossible. I will be bringing the prototype to Gen Con and I’m hoping to get it in front of some people. Thanks for reading and let me know if you have any questions.

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