Um… more Shima?

Ok, so this is cheating, but I’m going to post a bunch of artwork up top even though most of it has already been seen here recently.


I realize the majority of these were posted a few days ago, but there is one new one (top right corner) and it is also an excuse for me to premiere the new font: Nuku Nuku by Vic Fieger. I think I should start to credit the fonts I use, even though they are all free and what not. Plus, this is a really fun font that everyone should have in case they do a stylized, Japan-inspired project.

So the Shima party went well on Saturday: there was sushi and root beer, and someone brought a pie! More importantly, we played through an incredibly slow round of the game while debating rules and mechanics, and we came away with a few great ideas. We’ll be changing tomodachi mechanics (obviously), and we’ll work on making the processes involved in premium goods easier to understand. In addition, we’ll be working on a new barrel mechanic that we will use to fix the fish-storage problem. Currently the rule is “at the end of the season, half of your stored fish expire.” This has been weird and confusing, and the barrel thing will fix it. I’ll leave it at that until I download the pictures from the playtest so I have some pictures to reference in the explanation.

Something that we didn’t discuss, but which came up in conversation with Alex later, is pricing. Right now, each good has a set price, and there is one boat that simply pays double. This is not that interesting, and it means the boats rely entirely on their effects for personality. It also means that products never change value depending on situation. Here’s the solution.

Now each boat accepts only a certain combination of goods, and it sets its own prices for each. This means that the boats in the harbor can dramatically change the potential value of your goods, and it encourages you to diversify. Also, ignore the weird stripes in the wood texture, it’s an Illustrator error that I can’t quite work out. The other big thing to notice here is that it now appears that the boats are at a harbor, not just floating in the water as before. This is because we are changing the boat system entirely, and uh, that’s it. Something else that I can better explain with pictures.

So like the title said, more Shima. I’m kind of distracted right now watching Top Gear, so I’m going to get back to that and stop writing this sloppy post. Until Thursday (I think).

National Game (Re)Design Month!

Well then…

November is upon us, and according to the internet, it’s National Game Design Month. I’m not sure which department of government makes these decisions, but there it is. So to celebrate/participate, I am doing two things. One is that I’m going return to this hobby, which I have mostly shelved since getting an actual adult job (which is itself in game design, hooray!), and second is I’m changing the name of the month from NaGaDeMon to NaGaReDeMon as shown in the post title. Instead of trying to tackle all my games like I did before, I’ve decided to only work on a few over the course of this month, and two of them are my Alex Coulombe collaborations, so that should hopefully help things along.

First project: Shima


So the original game had 8 different “Tomodachi” that you could hire to assist you at your farm. Over the last week, I created a few more. And even though it doesn’t really matter what they are for this post, I’m going to identify them anyway: Kabuki, Priest, Miko, Gaijin (foreigner), Carpenter, Smith, Daimyo, Ronin, and Sumo. Alex and I will be looking to change the way Tomodachi are hired and utilized, and part of that plan is reducing their abilities from 2 per card to 1 per card, and then allowing players to hire two workers. This should add flexibility and hopefully some more strategy. We’re also looking to radically redesign the board, but that’s for another post. Tonight, actually, I’m having a bit of a playtest party, so expect some pictures tomorrow and a more involved Shima update.

Next project: PUNCH


PUNCH is my only non-competition game, and it’s one that I’ve played with many people and received fairly positive reviews for. It’s also been ignored for a long time, and really doesn’t need that much work to fix. A few months ago I solicited some new colors from our resident expert, Morgan, and recolored all the gems to avoid some common confusions that players have had. Now the suits are shape and color, which allows me to update the face cards in a very pleasing way.

The new face cards feature brighter, color-coded artwork, and a new thick outline that seems to make them stand out. The original printing of the game was very dark and the art got lost in the stony background. As of now, this is all I’ve done outside of some minor wording changes on the cards. I’ll be looking to do more work on this soon, but I wouldn’t expect anything for a little while. This next project though…

Third project: Satellite Salvo

Thanks to the introduction of printed pads from The Game Crafter, Satellite Salvo may be able to exist as more than a print-an-play. The three people who purchased the game could tell you that it is outrageously difficult to play as a traditional board game, and that it’s so fiddly and delicate that it’s almost impossible to make it through a full game. While I’ve played Satellite Salvo dozens of time on paper, I’ve only attempted it once as a board game, and we didn’t even make it through the whole thing. Mind you this game takes like twenty minutes to play, so that’s saying something. Right now I’m trying to work out how to do the Arsenal sheet, and of course, re-writing the rules.

So that’s it. There’s always the chance that I totally abandon this effort and don’t post for like a year, but hey, hope springs eternal. I could be posting every few days if this goes according to plan. Until next time, whenever that is…

Deep sadness

We didn’t win. Super sad. The winning game looks awesome though, so I guess slightly less sad. I’m not going to say any more about Terra Neo until it’s published (soon, hopefully).

Here’s what’s been happening in the meantime. Manic Mechanics is plodding along slowly, but I’ve started to work on something I didn’t expect to do: totally new board design. I don’t mean graphic design, I mean actual design. Here are some diagrams about that.


This shows possible track layouts for 12-card boards. The cards themselves would be the Game Crafter’s Jumbo Cards, which measure 3.5′ x 5.5′. I’m going to be cutting some out of paper to test out the sizing pretty soon. Might even do a playtest. Haven’t decided. Either way, this would change a lot in the game, including actual gameplay elements, since many cards reference their “zone.” If the zones get smaller and more numerous, certain vehicles will be gain power while others will lose power. It’s something I have to look at. But the ultimate goal here is to get this game to fit in a smaller box, which will be possible if I use these boards.

Meanwhile, back at Satellite Salvo, a new print-and-play has arrived. I still need to make some tweaks to it, but otherwise it’s pretty much finished.

newPnP1-01The tricky bit here is the folding. By folding the sheet along the two horizontal lines, you get a very cool print-and-play object. The two upper sections stand up like a tent to shield the lower section, which of course is the secret information. All of the rules fit in the middle, so they can be referenced at any time, and the whole thing can fold flat, leaving only the top panel with the Enemy Planet and Arsenal visible. All you need are 5 dice and a pencil.

Well that’s it for now. Not sure what the schedule is in the next week, but my hope is to find some time to get serious about Manic Mechanics. It’s sort of the big project right now, and if I could knock it out I could move on to some other games that are frankly more interesting to me right now. Until then.


I have good news, and I have better news

We’ll start with the good news. Terra Neo arrived in the mail. Alex and I were able to play the first genuine game with a mutual friend, and it went splendidly.


The game looked great, first of all. The only tough part was how big the land tiles were. It meant we couldn’t actually play a radius 4 game on Alex’s table. It also made the temple pieces (small discs) look super tiny. The Halma pawns, though, were as awesome as we thought they would be. The profile is so nice. Anyhow, the game started off normally: with the special first turn sprint.


Look at those land tiles. Beautiful. And maybe a little distracting. I’m not above admitting mistakes. I was the blue cloud guy, Alex was the yellow spirit dude, and our friend Ian decided to be the jolly fat character. Element wise, that meant that while Alex and Ian both had elements that were only native to them, I shared a land type with both players. If you wanted to get really technical, which I often do, this isn’t the balance you would want in a three player game. Unfortunately, due to cost constraints, we couldn’t include the two additional characters needed to achieve perfect balance. Alas.


This is a great mid-game picture. It shows a partially built world with a huge gash of siphoned land. By this point, Ian had built two temples right along that gash, and he smartly picked the Death card as his first upgrade. I went a slightly different route with my upgrades, choosing a few that Alex and I had raised some doubts about. I really wanted to test the cards to make sure that we hadn’t designed any totally useless ones. Spoilers: we didn’t.


So here’s the end. Final score: Alex 12, Ian 17, Me 19. It really was a good game for me, but Ian seriously gave me a run for my money, especially considering I know everything about this game and had a complex strategy from the beginning, and he had never played and chose upgrades fairly quickly. Alex and I like to think that means the game has a very shallow learning curve, not that it’s strategically shallow. All of that being said, I’m about to launch into a somewhat ridiculous analysis of this game, starting with the winning strategy.


So this was my character. The Wealth card allowed me to access double the amount of cards in the “Source,” which is the four shared draw piles at the edge of the table. The Time card gave me the ability to then swap tiles on the field with tiles in the Source, which for me is now twice as flexible. Finally, the Dreams card gave me bonus points for native land left in the Source. If I didn’t have the wealth card, that would mean I only had four chances, but instead I had eight. In fact, that scoring combination got me three points, and ultimately the win. Something to mention is that I was the only player who was fully upgraded, and if Ian had upgraded with almost any other scoring card, he would have beaten me. Alex was, well, doing other stuff. He was trying to use some under-utilized cards as well, but it didn’t work out for him as well.

The next thing I want to talk about is the thematic quality of the ending. Now, this may not appeal to everyone, but for me, a lot of the fun of game is the implication of the final results. We created a world with unique and interesting geography. There are temples placed all over the continent, each dedicated to a different god of this world. The head of the pantheon is the Cloud God, prayed to by wealthy merchants looking to bolster their finances, and by children hoping that their dreams will come true in the future. His obese brother rules the underworld, sending plagues to the lands above to fill his banquet table with fresh souls. Finally, many pray to the Masked God of medicine, despite the fact that he is both arbitrary and unknowable, hiding his emotions and thoughts behind his mask.

See how cool that is? And once you start to think about it that way, even the craziest combinations start to make sense. I mean, you could really think about the Masked God as a genuine ancient deity. It would make sense that in the past, when medicine was a gamble at best, that the god of medicine would not be thought of as consistent or predictable, but rather cruel and arbitrary.

But enough of my weird world-builder over-thinking. The better news is that the Game Crafter has announced the finalists, and Terra Neo is at the top of the list. The top of a list in no particular order, but at the top nonetheless. So to celebrate the better news, I’m going to stop typing and go to bed. Not like there’s much else to say.

Terra Neo: Great game or greatest game?

I’m typing this at about 10 the night that Terra Neo is due. Alex and I are doing final touches and going over the shop page in preparation for the submission. But, while I have a few minutes, I figured I’d starting writing up the second development post for this game. Last time we left our heroes as they exited Prototype Forest and headed towards the Fortress of Final Graphics.


Yeah, the cloud guy got even more awesome, if that’s even possible. This is why I always outsource the creation of soft things. Some people really have the touch, and I am not one of those people. Either way, there are 3 more, equally cool gods in the game, but I can’t show everything now, can I? Next up was the color scheme. As always, we turned to our friend Morgan, whose graphic skills have transformed our games in the past. Let’s see what he did with this one.

And it’s not just that these colors are better. There’s a unity that comes from his approach. For instance, I just chose colors that I needed and I thought looked ok. Morgan reference sanskrit cave paintings to find earthtones and natural pigments that were geographically similar. Let that sink in. While you do, take a look at the thing that I actually did without anyone’s (direct) help.


Unfortunately, there was just too much between the prototype art that the final art to actually go into it. Needless to say, shit got real. The resonance went from awkward outer coloring to an overlaid pattern of circles in 3 different scales. The land types below that became highly graphic representations of geography instead of bad drawings. All in all, really fun stuff. The last thing we did was update the upgrades. I don’t really have a good picture of this process, since it was mostly just a color shift, so instead here’s a few of the cards in a little gallery.

Anyway, I really shouldn’t be writing this when we’re right up against the deadline. But I wanted to officially put this whole process up, and here it is. I will hold off on an official “Publish” announcement until Alex and I have it in our hands, so any more news will have to wait until then. In the meantime, I’m going to take the weekend off from this kind of stuff, and early next week I will start detailing the upcoming rebirth of Reluctant Pirate Games. Hooray!

Well that’s quite enough of that…

So many things. Not really sure where to start. So I’ll just begin with what’s happening right now, drop back into the recent past, then look forward into the next few months. Alright, let’s do this.

Alex Coulombe and I are 95% finished with a new contest game. Since I wasn’t really posting when this contest was announced, I’ll post it now. It’s called the Map Builder Design Challenge, obviously from the Game Crafter. It’s a pretty simple premise: design a game with a dynamic map, either created at the outset of the game (Catan style) or during the game (Carcassone). I hadn’t really produced a solid game in a while, so I decided to ask Alex if he wanted to do another collaboration, since the last one got us into the finals. If I had been posting at the time, I would have laid out the competing ideas we had, and how they evolved, but instead, here’s a picture of us playing a rough version of what would become the final game.


A couple things to note here. 1 is that we are clearly using pieces from Alex’s award-winning game The Rum Run and pieces from the very cool Risk: Metal Gear Solid Edition. 2 is that I am dressed up. Not sure how that’s relevant, but it’s so rare for me that I thought I would mention it. Also, at this point, the game was tentatively being called “Super Little Demi-God.” Luckily, the title changed later. Anyway, I’ll try and explain the basics of the game based on this picture.

Super Little Demi-God was, and I guess still is, a hex-based map-building game. Without going too far into the story, you play as a Demi-God who, along with their siblings, is building a brand new world separate from the world of their godly father. Imagine Hercules and his brothers and sisters seceded from Olympus to make a new world, except instead of the demi-gods being heroic and just, they’re petty and obnoxious. Regardless, the game begins with no world existing, just a center tile (the white token for those following along on the picture). Depending on the number of players (in this case 2), the world has a limited “radius.” You can see that in this instance the world has a radius of 3. This is important because the main action of the game is to place hexagonal land tiles and fill out the world to its maximum size. Unlike other map-building games, though, you are not an all-powerful being who can do whatever they want. You are limited to placing land on spots adjacent to your characters, which in this play-test are two of the characters from MGS Risk. This creates an interesting early world, where each player attempts to build out a little private area, bumping elbows as the areas expand. The little blue and orange dudes in the photo are Temples, which you can also build. These are how you actually win the game. At the time of this play-test, the scoring rules were not fully formed, but basically the more temples you had the better.

So that’s where we were about a month ago. The game was pretty simple. Then things took a turn for the awesome. Here’s a great picture of a public play-test we did at a board-game Meetup in Tribeca.


Pretty cool, right? At this point, the title of the game had changed to “New Pantheon.” I mocked up some land tiles, and we added upgrades. Also, that last sentence was way to casual for such a big leap. Either way, the game surged forward in both sophistication and strategy. The people who played it really seemed to like it too. As you can see, the basic structure is the same. There are land tiles of various types, some player pawns, and their corresponding temples. What’s more apparent in the picture is the concept of “Resonance.” If you look at the closest row of hexes, you will see that there are central land graphics surrounded by an outer color. For instance, there’s a red mountain on the right with a black background, and a yellow desert in the middle with a white background. The four land types (mountain, desert, forest, ocean) each break into three different “resonances” (black, white, grey), both of which affect gameplay and scoring. Now, look at the nearest “character” card (the one with the crazy dude on it). It has two land symbols on it, which correspond to that player’s “native land.” This concept is important, because you can only build temples on that kind of land. The resonance, on the other hand, is how temples are scored. But honestly, this isn’t really worth explaining here. There will be some fantastic pictures tomorrow which will do a much better job of explaining it.


Lastly, and this deserves its own paragraph, is the upgrade system. See the black tokens on the board? Those are placed on a land tile when it has been “siphoned” of all of its magical energies, making it useless for scoring or temple-building. Every time you do that to a piece of land, you can take an upgrade from the pile. In this game, the blue demi-god chose to become the god of Hunting, Knowledge, and Chaos. This granted him powers beyond the standard actions in the game. This was probably the biggest leap for the game at this stage, as it went from a repetitive, hardly escalating game to a snowballing adventure of increasing power and madness. Plus, you know, more art is always better. More on that later. Oh, and take a look at the character card above. I stole the god drawings from the internet, so they couldn’t be used in the final game. But I seriously loved that cloud so much that when I commissioned the final art I specifically said that something like that had to be in there. And oh boy was that a good idea. And because I’ve tagged the post anyway, I’ll say that after these play-tests, the name was changed one last time to “Terra Neo.”

So, to the future. Tomorrow I will post the rest of the development of this game. This includes final art, and some tweaks to how the game functioned. It’s due on Friday night, but all that’s left to do is for Alex to finish the rules, so unlike with my last two games, I am hardly worried. Once that is done, this website and I will embark on a long journey to restore my productivity and publication to acceptable levels. But, for the last time, more on that later. Stay tuned.

The little game that never was, and doodling at work

Contests are interesting motivators. They force you to commit to an idea in a way that an ambiguous or even non-existent deadline never can. That being said, they can also be incredibly frustrating if you feel that the idea you have is no longer workable. Two days ago I attempted to complete a game in 24 hours as part of an informal competition on Board Game Geek. Obviously 8 hours of sleeping and 8 hours of working mean that there are only a few hours left in a day to create the physical manifestations of the game. The game, unofficially labeled as “Jargon” in my files, did not reach completion. Here, then, is the little game that never was.

I think this picture requires some explanation. Where I work, there are occasional gaps where machines are booting up or running diagnostics. It is during these gaps that I slowly fill a piece of paper with doodles and notes. I usually fold the paper into quarters, and I use orientation to link related ideas. The paper is constantly refolded so that I can unfold it one step and have a slightly larger area. You can see that quadrants 1, 2, and 3 are all related, but that quadrant 4 is just a measured perspective of the Justice logo. Not much of an explanation for that one.

Anyway, the game is heavily inspired by Rivals of Catan, a game I played for the first time last weekend with Alex Coulombe. The resource tracking system was beautifully done, and it really felt like a good basis for a rapidly developed game. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to create a game with too many elements, and I liked the idea of using square cards. Early in quadrant 1 I settled on the idea of representing businesses with the cards, and although my initial designs had a revolving design similar to Rivals, I drifted away from that idea. My resources became things like Employees, Innovation, Recognition, and of course, Capital. I really don’t think it’s necessary to go too far into the workings of the game, since it didn’t ever reach completion. I did mock up the four initial business types, although the weird names may have been overkill.

This card would have represented a “Design Firm.” I chose to use the name Innovacorp because I was considering having the entire game written in nonsensical business jargon (hence the name). The four columns of the left represent the different resources that the company could pull from. Green is capital, yellow is innovation, red is recognition, and blue is employees. The Design Firm archetype was supposed to use innovation as it’s main resource. I really had no concrete ideas for it beyond that.

The idea of moving resources from business to business was intended to be a major part of the game. With that in mind, Financial companies were just giant money pits that could absorb and administer money throughout your enterprise. The next type, Commercial, had a similar motivation, except with employees. There were supposed to be some special effects involving promotion and hiring, which would help you increase your workforce for a lower cost.

Finally, the last type was Consulting. I had watched the recent Don Cheadle show, “House of Lies,” which, while pretty negative about the business, made me want to include it as a type. Consulting Firms augment and improve all other business, but I would have made it difficult for them to function on their own.

Anyway, the game floundered and died towards the end of the 24 hour block. I just couldn’t pull it all together, and I wasn’t that thrilled with the idea after working on it for so long. There was more work done, but it was almost entirely text documents, and like I’ve said, they make terrible posts.

Finally, I’m going to end this post with what will hopefully become a new thing for me: work doodle posting. As you can probably tell, the two sheets that I am showing for this post were not scanned, but simply tacked to a wall and photographed. I have no excuse for this except that I didn’t want to go get the scanner and plug it in when I could just as easily take a horrible copy-shot with my phone without getting out of bed. I’ll try and scan them from now on. The second sheet from work is mostly industrial design stuff (possible motorized paddle-board?) and some strange math stuff. I’ll probably try and do a routine weekly posting of all the doodle on Saturdays, but I can’t make any promises.