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April Fool's Version of B&B

April Fool’s Version of B&B

Most of you understood that my “Hexes & Hops” article was an April Fool’s joke. Others mentioned that they actually preferred the green motif. If you missed out on the fun and want to see what it looked like, just click the image to the right.

I had fun writing that article and I hope you enjoyed reading it. Today I’m posting a true version of my favorite things. And I’m using all the same categories from the April Fool’s article.

Let’s get started with my favorite Barley things…

Barley Favorites:

BEER STYLE: Just about anything Belgian

I love Belgian beers, specifically Trappist beers. They have floral notes and beautiful body. And they are easy enough to understand with the names Dubbel, Tripel, Quadrupel, etc. Of those varieties I would say Tripel is my favorite. But be careful because these tend to be on the strong side. Here’s a picture from Wikipedia showing some of the best Trappist beers and their glasses:

For the next Board Game Night???

Honorable Mention: Honey Anything, Scotch Ale, Hefeweizen

BEER ESTABLISHMENTS: Breweries/BrewPubs

If I’m going out for a beer I’m gonna go someplace where they either brew beer or they serve local beer on tap. There are actually two new places being built near me that will be great Beer Establishments. I’m also blessed to have a brewery within 1 mile of my house, another big one 25 minutes away, and several more within the city. Madison, Wisconsin is a great beer town!

So I’m not going to bother going to one of those places with the bucket of Miller Lite. I’m going to a place that offers at least 10 different “good” beers on tap. I recommend this strategy.

BEER: Duvel or Orval

To go along with my favorite beer style, I would say my favorite beer would be either Orval, which is trappist, or Duvel. These are both awesome beers with amazing flavor. Of course Chimay, Rochefort, Westmalle, and La Trappe are great substitutes.

Honorable Mention: Leffe, New Glarus Cabin Fever Honey Bock (local), Lake Louie Warped Speed Scotch Ale (local)

BEER BREWING PHASE: Cracking open the first of a new batch!

I’d be fooling myself if drinking that first new beer wasn’t my favorite part. It’s way better than the boiling, racking, or bottling. Obviously we don’t brew beer so we can have fun brewing. That’s a side benefit. The real reason we brew beer is so that we savor and enjoy fine beer!

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Boards Favorites:

GAME MECHANIC: Worker Placement

I love worker placement games. Some of my favorites are Agricola (which I rarely play), Belfort, and Stone Age. I like the idea that each player has a “crew” to work with and the winner will be the player who best utilized their crew.

If you want to learn more about the Worker Placement mechanic check out iSlayTheDragon’s guide: Take This Job and Place It.

PLAYER STYLE: Fun People

Games are all about fun. So if you are playing and conversing in a manner that is fun and you are fun to be around, then you fit in the category of “Fun People.”

GAME NIGHT HABITS: Contributors

I like it when people bring beverages, snacks, and games to a Board Game Night. It shows you are taking ownership of it. It shows you are there to have a good time. It shows you are part of the group rather than a clinger-on. I also like it when people take charge and read game rules ahead of time or come prepared to teach a game that they enjoy. Be part of it, people!

GAME ART: Merchants & Marauders

This game wins for the board and the player mats. I absolutely love the use of vivid and bright color. I’ll skip the explanations and just show you the art:

This doesn't even do it justice.

This doesn’t even do it justice.

When you’ve got ships out there on the board sailing around then you can really immerse yourself in the Pirate culture!

GAME: Scoville

Alright… call me out on loving my own game. That’s fine. But I wouldn’t have designed it if I didn’t at least like it. And it turns out that I really love Scoville. I’ve played or taught it over 125 times and I’m not sick of it. It is simple, elegant, easy to learn and play, but deep in the interaction and gameplay departments. When it gets produced I hope you’ll check it out.

GAME DESIGN TIPS (Rebuttal of the fake ones):

  1. DO NOT hire an artist for a prototype. Let the game persuade a publisher and then THEY will hire an artist.
  2. DO NOT quit your day job after one successful game. Board game design doesn’t pay the bills.
  3. You should playtest a game no less than 40 times. Preferably closer to 100. Fine tune that thing like it’s a 50s Corvette that still roars like a lion!
  4. Playtest your game enough to find any place where it might be broken and fix those places. Broken games suck and demonstrate that you probably haven’t put enough work into it.
  5. Don’t go hog wild over adding tons of components. Try to keep the component list as streamlined as possible. But if you need to components to make your game great, then go for it!
  6. Don’t sell out a Kickstarter campaign by adding minis. Just make a great game.
  7. Don’t force a long playtest on people. Play long enough to get valuable feedback.
  8. Don’t use spinners. There are almost always better, more fun ways to design random elements of gameplay.
  9. Paper money works, but I prefer chit coins.
  10. Don’t design a CCG. But if you do, make it great!

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There you go. April Fool’s is over and this article should fit much more closely with your Boards & Barley habits. Feel free to chime in with your favorites as well!

Monday Brews 3-10-14

At Protospiel-Milwaukee your dreams can come true! (Photo from protospiel-milwaukee.org)

As we start another week it is great to know that the weather will be warming soon, the grass will reappear, and we will all be able to spend more time outside. The downside is that often means less gaming. The upside is that it means more grilling and drinking beer, which is awesome on a warm summer day. I can almost smell some brats sizzling right now.

Alas, there is still over a foot of snow in my yard and I’m still cold. Fortunately it’s almost “Game Design Season!”

What is Game Design Season? Well, for me it is book-ended by Protospiel-Milwaukee in March and September. But doesn’t game design happen year round? Certainly. I work on game designs throughout the year. But from March to September I am presented with more awesome opportunities like Protospiel and GenCon. It is those opportunities, and the awesome people who attend them, that really make it Game Design Season for me.

So Protospiel-Milwaukee is a couple weeks away and I’m in hurry-up mode trying to get a few games/expansions prototyped and playtested. Designer feedback at those types of conventions is some of the most valuable feedback you can get. I’ll be attending Protospiel-Milwaukee and I hope to see you there.

Now let’s get to the Boards & Barley that I enjoyed last week…

The Barley:

BARLEY SPOTLIGHT: Capital Maibock

Nothing makes it seem more like Spring is right around the corner than enjoying a Maibock! Well, maybe daylight savings or March Madness, but you get the idea. Capital Brewery, in my own city, produces a very enjoyable Maibock.

I had my first Maibock of the year while chatting with a Level 1 friend about game design. I was sharing with him my ideas for Brooklyn Bridge. It was an enjoyable conversation with an enjoyable spring beer… as it was snowing.

  • Capital Amber
  • NEW! Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale: My friends know that I’m not a huge fan of hoppy beers. But they recommended this one to me because it wasn’t too hoppy. I agreed and I quite enjoyed this beer, from a company known for being hop-forward.
  • North Coast Brother Thelonius
  • Fleming’s Scotch Ale (Homebrew)

The Boards:

BOARDS SPOTLIGHT: Tokaido (Antoine Bauza)

So beautiful. I wish I had a poster of this box cover!

So beautiful. I wish I had a poster of this box cover!

I finally had the chance to play Tokaido. While the game isn’t the best game I’ve ever played, I would say that it definitely was enjoyable. The idea of taking a journey through the mountains and trying to maximize your points while others are taking the spots you wanted seems to work really well. The game is simple enough yet presents interesting enough decisions.

But the real “selling point” for me is the artwork. Everything about the game looks good. It has a very clean look with well defined artwork. The cards are beautiful, the money looks great, the board looks nice and the box cover blows me away. I’d play it again just to see all the amazing art one more time.

  • Dungeon Roll x4
  • Crokinole x3
  • Backyard Astronaut: This is not a published game… yet. It is a friend’s design that is awesome and enjoyable. It is a tile based game where you are building a rocket from scraps found in a junkyard. Community scoring conditions guide your decisions in this 2-5 player game. I am looking forward to playing it again at Protospiel-Milwaukee!

Designer’s Corner:

I currently have two active projects that I am trying to get ready for Protospiel-Milwaukee. One of them is the oft-mentioned Brooklyn Bridge and the other is a possible expansion for a different game with which I am associated. I won’t say anything about the latter, but the former is coming along nicely. I almost have a prototype completed and I think I should be able to get in Playtest #1 this week! Hopefully it will work and not seem totally broken.

So if you are going to Protospiel-Milwaukee you’ll be one of the first to see/play either of those projects! I hope you can join me there.

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So those are the Boards & Barley that I enjoyed last week. What did you enjoy? Play or drink anything new that was really awesome?

Decision Space in Game Design

New Belgium Brewery offers a nice decision space! Photo via Flickr user quan ha @2009

Decision Space:

     – the range of options at the decision maker’s disposal

That simple definition is from a paper titled Supporting a Robust Decision Space from the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence. It is a nice definition for what I mean by “decision space.”

Decision space is an important concept for game designers to consider when working on their designs. One of the best things a game can offer is a plethora of interesting decisions. One of the worst things a game can do is limit your decisions or take them away completely. There’s nothing worse in a game when it’s your turn and you only have 1 option. It’s as if you have become a robot just going through the motions.

Today I’m going to cover how game designers should consider Decision Space in their designs. At the forefront of game design is the notion that games are supposed to be fun. With that in mind, let’s cover 3 examples of Decision Space in your game can make it better.

  1. Unlimited Decision Space
  2. Limited Decision Space
  3. Tailored Decision Space

Some times it’s good to offer a lot of choices. Some times it’s good to limit a player’s choices. But the point of this article is that the decision space available to players is an important concept to consider in your game designs.

Unlimited Decision Space

Okay… first off, “Unlimited” is a bit of a misnomer. I do not believe there are any games with a truly infinite decision space. Rather, this is meant to point out situations where the decision space is so large that the players do not feel limited in any way. The world is their oyster, in essence.

Build as you see fit!

One great example of an unlimited decision space is the route-building aspect of the classic game Empire Builder. There is a huge map and you have your special little crayon. You can stare at the board and your cards for a long time while yielding the power of the unlimited. Where should you begin your route? Where should the route go? Should you cross the rivers/mountains or go around? How much track should you lay? There are a lot of decisions you could make about the route you want to build.

How is “Unlimited” Fun?

There is a nice liberty in having an unlimited decision space. Players often enjoy being able to choose freely, to mess up freely, to make an awesome move freely.

Consider utilizing an unlimited decision space in games where you want players to have full control and to be fully accountable for their decisions.

Limited Decision Space

Sometimes it is prudent to limit the decisions a player can make. These situations are common at the start of a game.

Starts “Limited,” ends “Awesome!”

Two great examples are Dominion and Eminent Domain. These are both deckbuilding games. In standard deckbuilding games you start with a very limited hand of cards. One your first few turns you will be limited in what you can do.

Limiting the decision space early in a game can be beneficial to help a player get used to how the game operates.

Another example of “limited” decision space comes from the popular game Ticket to Ride. In the game you have three options on your turn. You can draw more route cards, play trains to the board, or draw train cards. And even the choices within those options are limited. You can only play trains to the board if you have the right cards in your hand. You can only draw train cards from the face up cards or the face down pile.

How is “Limited” Fun?

One of the ways that Limited decision space can be fun is by adding tension to  game. Using Ticket to Ride as the example again, players have tension due to the limitation. Maybe they just need one more green train to claim that big route. But perhaps another player has already built near the green route. Not that first player is hoping that the other player doesn’t take that green connection that they’ve been working on. But because the decisions are limited, the player has a slight feeling of helplessness.

Limiting the options on a player’s turn can also speed up the game. Sometimes (or perhaps often) the Unlimited decision space games tend to get into the Analysis Paralysis (AP) regime. Limited decision space games tend to decrease the amount of AP in games.

Tailored Decision Space

Tailored decision space refers to situations in games where the decisions you previously made will shape the decisions you have available in later turns in the game. Often games with tailoring offer multiple paths to victory where once a path has been chosen it is better to continue following that path than to start working on a different path.

How will you shape the countryside?

Some of the best examples that I can think of are Uwe Rosenberg’s games Le Havre and Ora et Labora.

In Ora et Labora players start with a plot of land that they are looking to develop. Throughout the game players will add buildings to the land that provide new actions. Then on their next turn, those previously placed buildings add to the decision space available for the player.

This is actually a common thing in engine building games. Engine builders are games where you build something and increase your skills/options/capabilities. In most of these games you can build something, that let’s you improve it, and then make it really awesome. All along the way you can either diversify and build a bunch of stuff that might be mediocre. Or you could possibly build one type of thing and make it really awesome.

The card game 7 Wonders also has a “tailored decision space” feel to it. In each of the three stages you can play cards to tailor your wonder in one of several different types of things. By adding resource production you can set yourself up for different types of things. For example, if you produce the manufactured goods (gray cards) then you can usually do pretty well with the science cards (green). So the cards you choose throughout the game will tailor the decision space that makes the most sense as you move your way toward victory.

How is “Tailored” Fun?

I think having a tailored decision space in games allows players to feel like they are really accomplishing good stuff throughout the game. In Scoville the field acts as a tailored decision space. Each round as new peppers are added you are creating new opportunities for breeding peppers. Each new spot opens up the number of decisions you can choose.

Tailored decision space is also a way that you can steer your strategy in a game. By choosing card A it might make card B much more attractive. Then by choosing card B it might make card C more attractive.

Why Should You Care?

As a gamer none of this really matters. Just find a game that you think is fun and play it.

As a designer, it can be worthwhile to consider the way decision space works in your game designs. Are you limiting players? Are you allowing them freedom of choice?

Decision space is an easy thing to neglect when designing a game. Normally we’ll pick a theme or pick a mechanic and start designing. But I wonder how things would go if a designer chose the type of decision space they wanted and then added a theme and mechanic after the fact.

What are your thoughts about decision space in games? Did I get it completely wrong? Does it make sense?

Holiday Gaming Guide

‘Tis the season to be jolly! Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, you can still see that this time of year is special. Winter is nearly here, snow may be on the ground where you live, and the year is about to end. As we scramble to get in as many games as we can before the end of the year we usually find that we get the privilege of gaming with friends or family that don’t normally play games.

So today I present my guide to holiday gaming. Let’s get started with the best introductory games for non-gamers!

Non-Gamer Games…

When gathering together with family for Christmas I usually like to “dumb down” the level of games that I bring along. While I think they would probably enjoy longer, heavier games I find it’s just not worth it to try and teach those types of games. So I like to bring games that are light and accessible, yet still fun to play.

The other day I sent out a tweet and asked what games people like to bring for non-gaming family members. I got a great response:

So let’s run through some of my favorites from those that people mentioned (that I have played before):

  • Have you got your ticket? All Aboard!

    Qwirkle: This is such a simple game but has such excellent tactics. I have the travel version so it’s so easy to bring along!

  • Dixit: It’s like Balderdash without the fiddlyness and with beautiful cards. Can you make up a story? Then try out this game. Plus, it can play up to 12 players so know one will be left out at your Christmas gathering!
  • Ticket to Ride: A classic gateway game renowned for simplicity and accessibility! My non-gaming sister-in-law put it on her Christmas list a few years ago. If you haven’t taught this to your non-gaming family members yet, this is the year!
  • Apples to Apples: It’s simple… play a card that you think the player will choose. While that sounds a little boring, this game is a lot of fun with family members. And it can help you learn about them. So invite your crazy uncle to play so you can learn to avoid what he likes!
  • Farmageddon: This is a fun “take-that” farming game where you scrape by to get any points you can. The theme is funny and the artwork is great. Plus, the price is ideal!
  • The Great Heartland Hauling Co.: For small box games with big strategy this one is a winner. You are a trucker utilizing a pick up and deliver mechanic. It plays quickly and has awesome wooden 18 Wheeler Meeples!
  • Hanabi: It can be infuriating! But it is so much fun. This is a hidden information game where you build fireworks. The info that is hidden are the cards in your own hand. Everyone else can see what you have except you. Work together as a team in this cooperative game to build all the fireworks!
  • Love Letter: About as quick as they come, Love Letter is a card game about winning the princess’ heart. It’s so quick and easy that it would be a crime not to play it with non-gamers.

Any of those games listed above would be good games to play with non-gamers. They are all accessible, relatively light, and all are fun to play. But if you’ve got people who want a little more strategy, here are my mid-tier recommendations for Christmas holiday gaming:

For those wanting more…

Sometimes family will want a slightly heavier game. You may have already piqued their gaming interest with one of the games listed above. So now what? Here are a few games that I think fit the “gateway” mold very well. These are games for people who want to play more and want a little more strategy.

  • How would you build a kingdom?

    Stone Age: I love teaching this game to non-gamers who want a little more. It has excellent strategy. But moreso, there is the idea of trying to do the absolute best with your tribe on every single turn. And the theme is fun.

  • Carcassonne: I would have put this in the upper list, but some people don’t always quite get the placement strategy. Fundamentally it is simple: Take a tile, Place a Tile, Put a meeple on it if you want. But there is a serious amount of fun going on here.
  • Dominion: I have had my fill of this game, but it definitely is a great one for those wanting more strategy and depth. This is the original deck-building game where each turn you can add cards to your personal deck. As the game progresses, the better cards in your deck allow you to do more and better stuff. It’s also pretty easy to teach and learn.
  • Pandemic: While I’m not huge on the cooperative thing in games, this game is greatly loved and adored my many people. You have to work together to stop the viruses from spreading and creating epidemics. The theme is pretty cool and there was recently a newly revised version out. So this might be something for those who want more.
  • Kingdom Builder: I love this game. And I love the variability with the expansions. The concept is simple, but the strategy is deep. Kingdom builder is another fun game where you try to maximize each and every turn. I highly recommend this one.
  • Bohnanza: This is a card game about planting beans. But the strategy here is pretty awesome. When should you harvest? Should you wait one more turn? Should you buy that 3rd bean field? This game involves a lot of fun decisions.

Those are some very good options for mid-tier games that you might want to try with your families. Finally, here are my gamer games that I might try to push on people this Christmas season:

The Big Dogs…

These are games that are deep, strategic, and heavier than what your family of non-gamers might be into. But if you can teach them well and quickly explain the games then they might be worth trying to get to the table.

  • Agricola: The game of farming and family growth.

    Power Grid: This can is a nice heavy game with a ton of strategy and interesting decisions. You are trying to build a power grid and supply power to the most cities. But there is a balance of overentending yourself for money or hanging back and trying to leapfrog for the win. Excellent game.

  • Anything Rosenberg: Agricola, Le Havre, Ora et Labora, Glass Road, Caverna. You can’t go wrong. These are heavy games that allow you to spend a long time sitting down with your family. But these games are intense and challenging. I recommend them.
  • Anything Feld: If you want something slightly less intense, but no less awesome, then check out games by Stefan Feld. Macao, Notre Dame, Trajan, In the Year of the Dragon, The Castles of Burgundy, Rialto, Bruges, Bora Bora. Seriously… this guy is a designer of awesomeness!
  • 7 Wonders: The learning curve is a little too steep for this to have been in the previous lists. But this game is seriously awesome. You are trying to build one of the 7 Wonders and you are trying to make yours the best! A cool card drafing mechanic is the main concept behind the game and it works really well.
  • Lords of Waterdeep: If you’ve got any Dungeons & Dragons people in your family then I recommend trying out this worker placement game with them. It’s a fantastic game that works really well.
  • Empire Builder: A classic. This game involves players drawing routes on the board with crayons. Routes allow your trains to access different cities. This is probably my favorite pick up and deliver game.

There you go. I’ve provided three different game categories for you to push on your families. After the holidays I’ll report back since I’m going to ramp up my efforts this year. And I’ll be looking forward to hearing how it went with you all! So pour yourself some egg nog, eat too much food, and play games with your family!

Sourcing Game Components: Chits

Unpunched chits from Small World.

Today I’m posting the third article in a four part series about where to buy components for your game designs. Last week I posted about Meeples. The previous week I posted about cards. Today is about those obscure little components so nicely referred to as Chits. Here is a list of the four articles in this series:

First, a disclaimer: There is nothing quite like that fresh new board game smell when you pull off the shrink wrap and open a game for the first time. Then you have the awesome moment of getting to punch out the chits and that really makes you feel special. I love that!

Today, however, we are not talking about unpunched chits, but rather blank chits that you can use for prototyping your game design. These include circles, squares, hexes, and more.

As a reminder I want to give credit to the list that inspired me to write these articles. This list is much more exhaustive than mine since I am just highlighting a few of the major suppliers. But here’s the list so you can check it out yourself:

http://spotlightongames.com/list/design/component.html

So today I present a few of the sources that I think are worth checking out…

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SpielMaterial.de

If you are of the European contingent, then I would suggest starting with SpielMaterial.de. They have a very nice assortment of chits that you can purchase. Here is the link:

On their page you can purchase triangles, hexagons, squares, rectangles, diamonds, circles, and more. They seem like an excellent option for purchasing chits.

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Print & Play Productions

672c6-print2band2bplay2bproductionsI have purchase hexagon chits from Print & Play in the past and have been very pleased. I like to buy the blank tiles with white on both sides. You can order them with your own artwork as well, so keep that in mind. Here is their page for “Counters”:

One of the nice things about Print & Play productions is that if you order the hex tiles, you’ll also receive the little rhombuses that were in between the tiles. And those could potentially be useful in a future game design! Available to you are triangles, circles, squares, rectangles, and hexes.

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The Game Crafter

While my go-to source for chits is Print & Play it is necessary to add The Game Crafter into the list as well. If you are ordering cards and meeples from The Game Crafter, then you might as well order some chits too! Here is a link to one of the chits they offer. Below the main area they link to similar items:

They don’t have nearly the variety of SpielMaterial or Print & Play Productions. And you have to deal with the lead-time issue. But it sure is convenient if you can order all of your components from the same source.

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Superior POD

While blank counters are not available, Superior POD (Print On Demand) does offer printed square and hex tiles, but only of limited sizes. Here is the link:

They only offer 2″ hexes, 1″ squares, and 5/8″ squares. So it’s pretty limited, but it appears that they might be mailed to you unpunched, which is sweet.

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So there you go. I know this is a short list, but I think that’s because there just are not very many sources for board game tiles like these. If you know of other sources that have quality components available, please let me know and I’ll add them to this list.

Thanks for checking this out. I hope it helps you as you build your game prototypes!

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