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2014 Year in Review

You’ve probably been seeing this sorts of articles all over the interwebs. If so, thanks for reading mine as well.

First things first, my wife and I had our third baby this year. That means I didn’t accomplish as much as I wanted. And that’s still the case. I’m lucky to have signed Scoville when I did since we were sort of “between kids.” Since we had our third my homebrewing and board game design endeavors have faded.

But I’m not one to make excuses. Having our third child was our biggest accomplishment of 2014. However, this blog isn’t about babies and being a daddy. It’s about beer and board games. So let’s start with the Barley and see what I actually managed to accomplish…

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Barley Review

My goal for homebrewing in 2014 was 6 batches of beer. In that list was a pumpkin ale, an IPA, and a lagered Oktoberfest. I did none of those.

I ended up brewing three batches, one of which is sitting in a carboy waiting to be bottled. The brews were a brown ale called “Nobody Plays Brown,” a hefeweizen called “You’ve Been Wheated,” and the third is a Belgian dubbel called “Rolling Dubbels.” For each I created a beer label, which was quite fun to do. Here are the labels:

NobodyPlaysBrownLabel051314   

The brown ale and hefeweizen are currently in corny kegs in my basement refrigerator. I have a very generous neighbor who has loaned me a bunch of brewing equipment including the kegging stuff. The dubbel is sitting patiently for me to devote an evening to bottling.

Overall I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t brew more. That’s something I’ll try to remedy.

On the consumption end of brewing I had a pretty successful year. I began using UnTappd and have been able to have a great record of the brews I’ve enjoyed. In 2014 I logged 107 distinct beers. That’s a new brew every 3.4 days… not too shabby.

So despite the lack of homebrewing I’d say that it was a successful beer year. It’s unlikely I’ll be able to log 100+ new unique beers in 2015, but I’ll try my best.

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Boards Review

Obviously the highlight of my 2014 from a board game perspective was the successful Kickstarter campaign that Tasty Minstrel Games ran for my first published design, Scoville. It raised over $106,000! It was amazing to watch all that support come in during the campaign and I cannot thank all you backers enough.

The next highlight was getting to play Scoville with a final production copy at Gen Con. Punching out the little peppers, holding the pepper shaped bits, and planting and harvesting on the nice thick board with my close friends was a great memory.

On the design front, I didn’t sign any games in 2014. But I blame that on the fact that I didn’t really design any games in 2014. The biggest effort was for The Grand Illusion. This is a game where you are a street performer trying to work your way up to having a big time show in a theater where people come to watch you perform a grand illusion. Thematically it was my favorite game to work on. I love the theme of Victorian era magicians competing over audiences. My efforts for The Grand Illusion included making several prototypes, ordering a deck of cards from The Game Crafter, and playtesting it about a half dozen times. The end result was that it felt like it was lacking. So I shelved it.

Otherwise the only other thing of consequence from 2014 was a new design called Ziggurat. This is a resource management game where players are trying to be the best contributors to build the ziggurat. This game has one of those unique elements which sets it apart. It has been played about a dozen times now. While it plays through to the end, plays smoothly, and players are generally positive about it, it too feels lacking. It currently struggles from a “One path to victory” mentality and is devoid of any catch-up mechanisms. To alleviate that I want to add some private scoring conditions as well as allow scoring via different paths. This will make the game more “Euro-y” as well as more enjoyable. I’m hoping that Ziggurat will become my next signed game and I have big plans for it in 2015.

2015: Year of the Ziggurat

2015: Year of the Ziggurat

Unlike beer consumption, which I track with UnTappd, there is no app to track board game plays. Please don’t tell me to use the Board Game Geek site to track my plays as I do not care for that interface. I’ve documented the games I played all year in my Monday Brews articles. However, I do not feel like reading through all of them and trying to figure out how many games I played, let alone how many unique games. It was a lot. But I have one favorite…

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2014 Game of the Year – Five Tribes

When my friend Ben and I were in the exhibit hall at Gen Con we wandered past a demo of Five Tribes by Days of Wonder. We were immediately in awe of its beauty. The game simply looks fantastic. As we stood and watched the demo we quickly realized that this would be a good game, and a game we would like to own. Ben went to the counter and asked if they had any left, which they did not. However, he was told that they would have something like 50 or 100 copies the next morning when the exhibit hall opened.

So Ben got in the hall and in line as early as he could and was fortunate enough to snag a copy. His copy has since been played more than any other game by our gaming group.

The game not only has beautiful artwork, but it also has excellent wooden components. The palace and oasis pieces are particularly nice. Days of Wonder has a really excellent game with this one.

HONORABLE MENTION:

Istanbul: This game is clever and interactive. Players move their merchant around the markets in Istanbul trying to purchase or earn rubies. By making clever use of their assistants they create opportunities to earn those rubies. I love that the game is pretty easy to learn and understand while simultaneously creating interesting and deep decisions.

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Moon Yeti Games

MY Small Logo Dark Blue FontThe final thing of note for this 2014 Year in Review is that three friends and I decided to begin a board game publishing company. We will be Moon Yeti Games and our plans are to publish great games with beautiful art and high quality components.

The highlight of 2014 for Moon Yeti was that we gave away about 100 copies of our first game, Mutiny, at Gen Con. Adam Buckingham designed a 4-card social deduction and back-stabbing game to go on the backs of our business cards. We played it a ton and settled on a design, had them printed, and gave them away at the convention. That was pretty awesome.

Moon Yeti is currently developing a version that goes up to 8 players. We hope to have it for sale through our website over the next few months.

For more information, check out moonyeti.com. Thanks for reading and I wish you a fantastic 2015!

Monday Brews 10-20-14

I had meant to post a game design article last week but failed to find the time to write it. I’ll be posting that tomorrow instead. But today is Monday so it’s time to recap the Boards & Barley I’ve enjoyed over the last week.

The Barley:

BARLEY SPOTLIGHT: No spotlight this week.

The Boards:

BOARDS SPOTLIGHT: Scoville + Unnamed Expansion

I recently designed a small expansion module for Scoville. I plan to design two or three more such modules. But I had the privilege to test it the other night. It was a lot of fun to work on Scoville again. The module adds another layer to the spatial element of the game, which is already awesome. There were a few interesting things that came from it and I’m pleased with how well it worked. A little tweaking and I might have to send it to TMG!

Apparently I’ve been playing some games with my kids!

Designer’s Corner:

This coming weekend I will be attending Protospiel-Madison. I will have the Scoville expansion with me and I am rapidly working toward having another prototype with me as well. It’s not Quantum Orcas, so breath your collective sigh about that.

It’s a version of Armada Galactica that I think could have some potential. I still have a ways to go to get the prototype ready, but I think it could be a fun game.

I’m also excited to see numerous game designers at the convention. It’ll be nice to see what people are working on.

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That’s it for the Monday Brews. What Boards & Barley have you been enjoying? Stay tuned tomorrow for a fresh game design article!

Scoville Review with Ryan Metzler

Ryan Metzler with the Dice Tower recently posted a review video for Scoville! Check it out:

Monday Brews: 8-18-14

It exists! And it’s awesome!

Gen Con 2014 is over and it was awesome! Why? Because I got to hang out with great friends of mine and because I got to hold, unwrap, punch, and play a production copy of Scoville! Special thanks are due to Jeremy, Adam, Ben, Mark and Mike for making Gen Con 2014 a memorable one.

If you are new to this blog, Scoville is my first published game design. It is published by Tasty Minstrel Games and should be available later this year, so put it on your Christmas lists! You can go pre-order it from your favorite local game store or the online game outlets.

So with Gen Con in the books, and with recently quitting on Brooklyn Bridge I feel refreshed and ready to move on to some exciting new designs. I have one that I’m keeping a secret, one that will occasionally mention, and The Grand Illusion, which I am openly designing and blogging about on this site.

But enough about that. Let’s check out the Boards & Barley that I’ve enjoyed over the past two weeks.

The Barley:

An excellent complement to Optimator!

An excellent complement to Optimator!

BARLEY SPOTLIGHT: Spaten Optimator

Why such a standard brew for the spotlight? Because it was enjoyed at the Rathskellar in Indianapolis with my friends. This has become a tradition for us. On Friday night we went to the Rathskellar and enjoyed beer, cigars, and a fantastic live band. Plus, attending the Rathskellar is a great way to escape the geek world of Gen Con for a few hours. We had a great time and I enjoyed a delicious 32 ounce Optimator! The picture on the right shows the appetizers we ordered (Sausage platter, Brat balls, Jalapeno poppers, and Chicken Cordon Bleu rolls).

The Boards:

BOARDS SPOTLIGHT: Scoville

How could it not be Scoville? I love the game even after over 100 plays. I love how a 2p play at Gen Con provided a situation that really tested me. The decisions are so interesting. The play changes from game to game with different players. As the fields grow from round to round there are more and more choices, so the game naturally ramps up. I love this game so much and I was so excited to crack open a new copy and get it to the table. Here are a few pictures to show how it looks. If you like how the peppers look, click on the picture and thumb it up on BoardGameGeek.com.

6 Player Scoville ready to go!

6 Player Scoville ready to go!

The amazing peppers!

The amazing peppers! (Click to go to BGG and thumb the pic!)

6 Player game in progress.

6 Player game in progress.

Here are the games I played prior to Gen Con:

Our Samurai Spirits were crushed in defeat!

Our Samurai Spirits were crushed in defeat!

And here are the games I played at or after Gen Con:

There was nothing on the Gen Con Preview that I felt was a “must-buy” this year but there were a few that I was interested in. The one I was most interested in was Instabul, which I bought.Here is a picture of the modular board:

5 Player game in progress.

5 Player game in progress.

In Istanbul each player also has a small player board of their own. The goal in the game is collect rubies. To do so you will need to manage your resources and money as well as utilize your location placement of your merchant and their assistants. It was an excellent game and well worthy of the Kennerspiel des Jahres award.

Surprise Hit #1: Camel Up

Camel Up was awesome. We played with 7 players at the Z-Man booth and we loved it. It won the Spiel des Jahres and when you play it you can understand why. I picked up a copy because it was fun, interactive, and plays up to 8 players!

Surprise Hit #2: Samurai Spirit

I am not normally a fan of cooperative games but this one had so much awesomeness that I can’t wait to play it again. It was a struggle. We lost badly. In fact, the first time we attempted the game we died after the first (of 3) rounds. There are some very interesting choices and some really cool combinations that can be done in the game. It was a lot of fun.

And here is a picture of my Gen Con 2014 haul. Several of these games came from the math trade, some were freebies. Missing from the picture are the King of Tokyo promo cards and the Tokaido promo cards and Eriku character promo.

I'm looking forward to playing all these!

I’m looking forward to playing all these!

Overall it was a great Gen Con. I’ll be writing another post this week about one specific experience from the convention. It was great to meet so many awesome people, especially those I follow on Twitter that I had never met in real life. I’m already looking ahead to Gen Con 2015 (partially because it is unlikely I’ll attend GrandCon, BGG.con or Origins before then).

Game Design Philosophy

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After killing Brooklyn Bridge I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about who I am as a designer and what I want to design. So I sat down last night and examined the top 50 games on BGG to see what elements they had in common. My goal was to understand which elements are enjoyable to me and to understand how they are incorporated into some of the best games in the world.

What I ended up with was a list of five things that I feel are important to my game designs. Please note that this article discusses the things that I personally feel are important to good game designs. Your opinions will likely vary. I urge you to create a similar list that you can use as a tool to help you make sure your game design is going down a path that is acceptable to you.

I now realize that had I had this list before working on Brooklyn Bridge, it probably would have turned out to be a better game. I may attempt to re-design it now that I have this list to use as a design tool.

My previous design philosophy was simply to make fun games. That’s not a good philosophy because it is extremely difficult to measure or quantify.

What follows are 5 elements or guidelines that I will seek to follow when designing games. For each I will demonstrate how they exist in both the immensely popular Ticket to Ride and the soon-to-be immensely popular Scoville. Using these as a guideline will provide a measurable way to know whether or not what I am designing has the potential to be an enjoyable game.

1: Quick to Teach / Easy to Understand

This DOES NOT mean the game is simple or light.

This DOES mean that it can generally be set up in 5 minutes and taught in about another 5. I don’t want to spend 20 minutes setting up a game and then another 15 trying to teach it to people.

Ticket to Ride Example: TtR (or perhaps T2R to you) can be set up and explained in about 5 minutes total.

Scoville Example: Scoville requires a little more setup than this guideline but it can be taught in 5 minutes for sure.

Other successful games like The Settlers of Catan are relatively simple to set up and teach. Of course there are very successful games that do not quite meet these criteria. There’s nothing wrong with that. Remember, this is MY design philosophy. So the games I will design will likely meet these things.

2: Minimal “Exception” Rules

“Exception” rules are those that require an individual point of emphasis when teaching. The fewer of these types of rules in a game the “Quicker” and “Easier” it is to teach and understand. This guideline ties into the first one. I will not be designing games that have a long list of FAQs or “exception” rules.

Ticket to Ride Example: There are on the order of two exception rules. 1) You can’t draw two locomotives from the face up pile. 2) If there are ever three locomotives in the face up set then you replace all face up cards.

Scoville Example: There are slightly more than than TtR, but they apply during two phases. 1) You can bid zero and ties are broken from previous turn order. 2) Harvesting: No doubling back, No sharing or going through another player.

The idea here is that the rulebook should be streamlined and straight forward. If your game has a bunch of singular exceptions that need to be covered, I recommend putting that information on a player guide for each player. Then when teaching the game you can simply point out that there are some exceptions and that players should reference the guide.

3: Limited Actions or Choices Per Turn

One easy way to add tension in a game is to limit what players can do. Agricola does this with great success. Most Stefan Feld games do this very well. The idea is that while you may not have a lot of different choices to make, there is some tension in trying to choose the optimal choice.  Similarly you may have a lot of options but can only choose 1 or 2 per turn.

Limiting the number of actions or the number of choices a player has on their turn also has two notably positive effects:

  1. Downtime is minimized
  2. Analysis Paralysis is limited

Downtime decreases if a player only has a few options to choose from. Analysis paralysis, or a player’s inability to make a decision, is limited since there are only so many combinations of things to work through.

Ticket to Ride Example: On your turn you only have three options. 1) Draw train cards. 2) Draw Destination Tickets. 3) Play trains to the board. That’s it. It’s so simple. But the depth of the game comes from decisions like, “Should I draw train cards one more time or should I burn a locomotive card this turn?”

Scoville Example: Each round has four phases, each of which are simple. Bid, Plant, Harvest, Fulfill. Each phase is simple enough that you have a limited number of options. Choices include how much to bid, which pepper to plant, how to harvest, and what to fulfill.

This philosophy guideline was greatly influenced by my recent play of Attika. In Attika you have two choices: Draw tiles or build. That limitation is so stupidly simple and yet the game builds up as it moves along and is quite enjoyable. Which leads me to the next guideline.

4: Include a Natural Buildup

The idea here is that the decisions you are making during a game accelerate and either feel more tense or more important or hopefully both. Games do this differently. Some games build up because you have access to better/more resources. Other games build up because the game presents better scoring opportunities or something of the sort.

When a game builds up naturally it turns it into an emotional experience where you are drawn into the game. When you make a decision early in a game you don’t want a bad choice to destroy your chances. But when you make a decision late in the game you want a good choice to be able to greatly help you out.

Ticket to Ride Example: As the map fills up the decisions become more tense. You might begin to worry that a player will fill up a connection that you needed. Or you might worry that there are not enough turns left to complete all your destination tickets.

Scoville Example: As the fields are planted each round there are more/different cross-breeding opportunities. Your decision space opens up. As you get better peppers there is the sometimes tense choice of whether to plant it for the bonus points or save it and fulfill a recipe to prevent someone else from getting it.

Brooklyn Bridge had no build up at all. I think that good games should include some sort of build up or acceleration. If it fits naturally into the game, that’s even better. What I desire from fun games is that as the game builds up and things get more tense and exciting, that I am getting some sort of increased emotions from my gaming experience. Without a build up I feel like my game designs would lack that emotional aspect.

5: Players Should Be Rewarded

Continuing with the “emotion” idea, I feel it is important that players be able to be rewarded for the actions they take during the game. Point salad games, like several Feld games, do this on just about every turn. When every choice you make gives you points there is a natural positive emotion attached to that. On the other hand if the choices you make never reward you then you’ll likely not have a natural positive emotion during the game. There is something to the idea of moving your scoring marker around the board and seeing yourself jump past other players.

Ticket to Ride Example: A positive emotion and rewarding moment in TtR comes each time you complete a route. This is a secret positive emotion but it is present and it feels awesome.

Scoville Example: When players plant a better pepper and earn an award plaque from the Town Mayor there is a positive emotion and rewarding moment. They know that their action just earned them points that no other player will be able to match.

These types of rewards that provoke positive emotions will likely result in players enjoying the game more than an equivalent game that is void of rewards. I want to design games that will provoke positive emotions and one way to do that is by rewarding players.

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I wish I had written this article a long time ago. Having these guidelines in place will allow me to check off whether or not my current designs are meeting the criteria. That should be easy enough to recognize. If they don’t meet the criteria I’ll be able to tell and hopefully it will allow me to come up with design tweaks that turn my designs into awesome games.

What’s your design philosophy? I’d love to hear how yours differs from mine. Feel free to share in the comments. Thanks for reading!

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