Tuesday, October 31

Judged By A Panel Of ...

While on holiday, The Wife bought a copy of The Independent. It had a magazine called 'The Information' which had a cover story about 'The fifty best games'. Cool, I thought, I'd love to see what they rate.

The panel of judges who had picked the games consisted: of a curator of games from the V&A Museum, the owner of the Compendia games shop, an editor of a parenting magazine, the Independent's own computer games reviewer and, bizarrely, an MD of a luxury hotel PR company. Weird.

Based on the judges I expected a lot of traditional games, with a few computer games thrown in. I was hopeful that some modern games would have snuck in there, but I wasn't expecting many. I was disappointed. The choices were obviously aimed at children rather than adults, but still - disappointing. So now I feel the need to vent.

The computer games were a pretty good pick: Singstar (2), Buzz! the Big Quiz (7), Dance Factory (12), Big Brain Academy (17), Lego Star Wars II (22), XBox Live Arcade (27), Eye Toy Play 3 (32), Guitar Hero (37), Mario Party 7 (42) and Zoo Tycoon 2 (47). Several are inovative, and a bit more interactive than the usual camp-out-in-front-of-the-controller fare.

Traditional games I expected to get a large showing, with someone from a traditional games company on the panel. The list was mostly to be expected, but the order was very bizarre: Dominoes (29), Cribbage (34), Backgammon (38), Go (46), Bagatelle (48). I'm crap at chess, so I don't really enjoy it, but one of the top fifty games? I think it's a shoe in, it's been a hugely popular for 1400 years. But no, dominoes is better. Apparently.

Dexterity games get a decent showing too, which is fair enough as they can be a lot of fun: Twister (3), Pikastyk (8), Race Cups Sport Stacking Kit(What the fu-hey?) (10), Polarity (20), Jenga (33) and Operation (43).

Standard board games got a disappointingly large showing: Scrabble (6), UNO H20 & UNO Spin (9), Trivial Pursuit (11), Guess Who (14), Happy Families (18), Cluedo (23), Rummikub (24), Snakes and Ladders (28), Memory (30), Monopoly (36), Pass the Pigs (39) Pit (44), Connect 4 (45), Shut The Box (49). Happy Families better than Go? Interesting.

Party games are also well represented, as you would expect. These games sell phenominally well, reach out to a much larger audience than modern games, and are available in a far wider range of outlets. Pictionary (13), Cranium (16), Apples to Apples (19), Articulate (26), Absolute Balderdash (31) and Friends Sceneit (41) are a pretty good selection (with the exception of the last one maybe - although I've not played it so I can't really say).

Now we move into BoardGameGeek territory. Modern games: None. Not one. Nada. Wargames: None. Ok, Risk at 21 almost counts. But it's not very good.

I've saved the two major disappointments for last. The number of puzzles (not even games) was too big: Sudoku (4), Noughts and Crosses (5), Rubik's Cube (15), Solitaire (35), Tantrix (50). And finally, the best game ever? Pirates of the Caribbean Buccaneer. Not convinced. At all. Perhaps they should have entitled the article: 'Fifty Well-Known Games Of Varying Quality With Families In Mind'. It's less catchy though, admittedly.

... and relax. I feel better for having got that off my chest :-)

Sadly I didn't get to Paul's games night yet again last night, but I was interviewed via email for a UK games magazine. It's the first time in my life I've given an interview, on any subject. Hopefully, I wasn't too dull...

The tales of a casual games designer: Part 9

Huzzah! My plastic cyclists have arrived! I ordered 100 each of blue, red, yellow, orange, green and, erm, purple (originally pink but they couldn't be certain to continue with enough pink) and after bagging them up into 20 sets of 5 each there are plenty of bonus leftovers which is nice (around 20 yellows, oranges and reds but only 8 blues) and will make future purchases a tiny bit cheaper. Every little helps>

Played a few more games recently, including a game on the mountains stage which went pretty well. Anna's team leader shot away up the mountains but ran out of steam just before the last km meaning he couldn't use his sprint and rolled across the line in FOURTH after being brilliantly overtaken by three hardier and smarter men.

It's starting to get some real interest on BGG now with over 10 people asking for copies including three Americans placing pre-orders already! Nothing like getting some healthy pressure!

Monday, October 30

A Game Designer's Holiday

Involved quite a lot of game design! Unlike a recent trip to see Dunk, which featured quite a lot of note taking, and new game ideas, this holiday the game design was mostly about Jorvik, a fast 2-player game I'm making pretty good progress on. I played seven games of Jorvik, one against myself, to test some new ideas, two against Mal and four against Linz. I was playing with the deck I had constructed after my visit to Dunk's, so this version hadn't been played before (although it had quite a lot of similarities to the version Dunk and I played). I had also hoped to take a first prototype of Codename: Sennon a 2-6 player game I'm still at the early stages of, but we had a few nights out before the holiday, so I didn't get a chance to knock up a simple prototype.

Jorvik experienced some small changes during the week. I came up with five ideas of possible changes that I could use to change the game. I think the game is still getting better, and Linz seemed to enjoy it, but it still has some weaknesses. Mal (who loves Border Reivers), wasn't a fan of it, and in particular the card-counting aspect to it as you try to complete things before each of the three ages end. In the current rules you will draw a fixed number of cards before the age ends, which means that you can count the cards to avoid getting caught short. Why a fixed number of cards? I've been trying to keep the set-up of the game (shuffling, deck construction, dealing initial cards) to a minimum. The set-up is already fairly weighty for a simple card game, and I didn't want to make it any worse. I'm also thinking of increasing the number of event cards to boost the amount of player interaction and confrontation.

In fact, writing the above paragraph has given me another idea. Just the act of describing the problems it faces made me go off in a different direction. It incorporates a few of the ideas I came up with over the week away, plus a pretty significant change I've just thought of. Time for another prototype, methinks.

While I was away I also had an idea for Sennon, the game I had hoped to make a first prototype of to take away on holiday. The idea increases the strategic options a bit, and adds some more player interaction - always a good thing. I need to get a prototype of this together fairly soon.

I'm off to Paul's for another games night tonight - it'll be the first time in a while - so I'm really looking forward to it.

Sunday, October 29

Cracking Holiday, Grommit!

Well, I'm back and I had a great holiday. Seven whole days of walking, drinking, eating and gaming and cold-turkey on internet usage. We got some excellent walking in, enjoying the fantastic scenery of Snowdonia, and making the most of the surprisingly good weather (you don't expect nice sunny days in late October).

I've three posts to make about the holiday, and I'll start off with this one - which recounts what games we brought and played. The other two will discuss the game design work I did on my holiday, and a tirade against the mainstream press, which I threatened to make, and now have been dared into actually making. I threatened to call it: 'Judged By A Panel Of Cretins', but that's too offensive - it will follow in a couple of days.

So what was the gaming like on holiday? First of all, I'll list what we brought. Linz and Cath have an exceptionally sporty car, so space was at a premium, they brought: Perudo and The Really Nasty Horse Racing Game. Mal had more boot space, but was giving us a lift to limit the number of cars we had to take, so he brought Carcassonne and Border Reivers (Good man!). Bringing up the rear, as the owner of the most games out of all of us, I brought: Ticket To Ride, Puerto Rico, Apples To Apples and Codename: Jorvik.

Including three games of Carcassonne once we got home yesterday, we got thirty-two games in - a good effort in only eight days. There was plenty of confrontational play (The Wife wanted a photo of a particularly brilliant Carcassonne play which royally shafted Mal and I), and Puerto Rico also got pretty aggressive at times. I really liked that I wasn't the only one suggesting games, and that everyone seemed to be up for a game most evenings. I kept a note of the scores of each game I played, but there's no way I'm going to session report all of them so here's a brief overview. Games played:

  • Carcassonne: eleven games (King and Scout: five, River: three, Traders and Builders: three)
  • Jorvik: seven games
  • Ticket To Ride: four games
  • Puerto Rico: four games
  • Perudo: two games
  • Apples to Apples: two games
  • The Really Nasty Horse Racing Game: one game
  • Border Reivers: one game.

Carcassonne was the clear favourite, but seeing as it is Mal's and my favourite game this is no surprise, plus its short play time means you can fit it in while waiting for dinner. Jorvik got quite a few plays, and evolved during the week (although I didn't take any game-making kit with me, so the rules changed but the deck stayed the same). Ticket To Ride and Puerto Rico were both popular, but longer play times limited their appearances. Perudo and The Really Nasty Horse Racing Game only came out on the last couple of nights, and TRNHRG took so long the two ladies quit, leaving just the gents to duke it out to the finish. Mal had asked me to take Apples to Apples, as he was considering getting the junior version as a Christmas present for his niece. After one laughter-riddled game, we had to get another in - it's a good party game - very entertaining. Border Reivers was requested a few times, but as it's only a 2-4 player game, it was usually passed over for a 5-player, although Mal and I did get a game in during which I nearly won it in the second round, then made some bad decisions, and ended up being completely creamed. Nice work, Mal.

Despite owning most of the games we played, having designed two of them, and having played most of them more than anyone else I didn't win many games except Jorvik (which I won four out of seven games). It turns out that despite my almost obsessive love of games, I'm not very good at them. Still, it's not the winning, but the taking part that counts. The leaderboard for the week:

Player Wins
The Wife 8
Linz 7
Me 7
Mal 4
Cath 3

In other news, after a few really good weeks of Border Reivers sales, it's all gone a bit quiet. No surprise really, I've been too busy with the holiday to publicise it much. Still, it will be featured in a BBC magazine early next month, hopefully that will drum up some interest - I'm going to get constructing just-in-case.

Saturday, October 21

Silence Descends

I'm on holiday! There'll be no posts from me for a week, as I'm off to Snowdonia to get some walking, drinking and playing games in. I'm taking the latest Jorvik prototype, so I'll let you know how that develops when I get back.

In other news I played Jorvik yesterday at work on my lunch break with Carl. I thought it went very well, although there were a couple of rules that needed changing as something broke because of them. The deck of cards isn't changing as a result though - just the rules. It's starting to settle down.

Have a fun week and I'll see (sort of) you in a week.

Friday, October 20

Gamer History And Game Design

In the comments of yesterday's post Andy asked me if I consider a gamer's history when designing games. What a great question. Hence today's post. Firstly, in true politician style, I'd like to answer a related question: What is my gamer history?

I've always loved games. Some of my few memories from childhood are playing Mouse Trap and Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs at friends' houses when I was fairly young. In my early teens I got into roleplaying (mainly Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay), and Games Workshop miniature games: Space Hulk, Blood Bowl, Warhammer Fantasy Battle and epic-scale Space Marine. I also got into computer games on my PC, mainly roleplaying and strategy games, with a heathly (or unhealthy, depending upon your viewpoint) dose of first-person shooters. In my late teens I played quite a lot of Magic: The Gathering the seminal CCG, and more computer games. Through university it was mainly computer games, and then in America it was mostly Magic again. In Newcastle, I played quite a lot of Poker, and I was back to board games, mostly Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne. Since moving to York I've been trying to expand my knowledge of board games, trying to play as many new ones as possible. I've also played games on the computer a bit again. My gamer history has definitely had an effect on the games I'm interested in, I'm not adverse to dice, but I like a strategic game, where the choices I make can win (or lose) the game for me. I'm very busy (and always have been), so I don't like my games to take too long, but I'll make allowances for a really good game. I like gateway games, but party games not-so-much.

My designer history is almost entirely rooted in computer games. I've been designing bits (and very occasionally complete) computer games since I was about twelve. Recently (as in the last couple of years), I've been put off computer games design due to the increase complexity of computer games. It used to be that a competent computer programmer could write a production quality computer game by themselves. Now it requires a team almost as large as for making a film, and the costs are converging too. A board game is still a one (or two or small collective) effort, so that's where I've been concentrating my efforts.

Having answered two totally different questions in a politician-like manner, I'll now actually answer the question: No. Well, maybe a bit :-). When designing Border Reivers, I was trying to design a game I would like, that was similar to Mighty Empires and Risk, while being much shorter, and a bit more strategic. With my subsequent efforts (Codenames: Jorvik, Sennon and Dollyo), I've been trying to design a game for certain target markets, which does involve some consideration of whether your customers have played games before, and if so what sort they like. But I don't spend hours thinking that Game A will appeal to Magic players who have a roleplaying background, or anything like that.

In other news, I've been approach by another designer to see if I'd like to publish one of their games, and a mate at work has offered to do an online version of Jorvik in the hope it will get him some web-programming practice, and help me sell it. I'll be demoing it to him during our lunch break today, so he's got an idea of how it works.

Thursday, October 19

New Website Launched!

I've just made the new Reiver Games website live. It's still not finished, but it's better than the old one :-) Thanks to Mal for his help with the design.

Any feedback would be appreciated, either in the comments here, or to the feedback email address listed on the website.

How Much?

After Tuesday night's game of Space Hulk, I thought I'd look into whether or not Games Workshop still made the miniatures for it. I had no intention of buying any, I was just interested to see if they were still in production, since although Space Hulk has been out of print for many years now, the miniatures are shared with Warhammer 40K their futuristic miniatures wargame.

It turns out they are still making them, but the price of them absolutely staggered me. They are selling packs of five plastic terminator models for a staggering £25. That's five pounds each for plastic miniatures. £25 for two plastic injection moulded sprues. That's ridiculous - that's what it is. Who buys this stuff? Millionaires? At that price the Space Hulk game box would cost £65 just for the miniatures alone, ignoring the counters, map pieces and rulebooks. Mental.

In other news, after a few days break after Psychocon, I've finally started manufacturing more copies of Border Reivers. I've three copies in stock, but I really should try to build on that, there may yet be a run before Christmas, and I need to take advantage of all the gluing opportunities I get, as soon it will be getting too cold, even on the good days. What I really need to do is find a cheap, permanent glue that can be used indoors, that is high-tack, bonds quickly and can be easily wiped (or rubbed) off areas it has got on accidently. Any ideas?

Wednesday, October 18

Space Hulk!

A couple of weeks ago at Beyond Monopoly I was introduced to Dave briefly, but I was supposed to be starting a game of Leonardo da Vinci, for which I needed the rules explaining, and he too was having a game explained to him. Afterwards I looked him up on BoardGameGeek, and found out he was interested in Space Hulk an old Games Workshop game with a very similar theme to the film Aliens. As a kid I'd really enjoyed this, so I was quite up for a game for nostalgia's sake. Dave emailed to apologise for the brief introduction, and I replied offering a game of Space Hulk.

Last night Dave came round for Space Hulk. In the game, players take the side of either the Space Marines, an elite genetically-engineered human fighting force, or the Genestealers, a multitudinous horde of ravenous alien killing machines. We played the first mission in the missions book, each playing both side once, and then the second mission (but only from one end - it was a much longer scenario). The Genestealers come in waves, and have no long range attacks, but are deadly in close combat. The Space Marines have good long range weapons, but are weak in close combat and have only a few pieces (five marines in the two games we played). I was worried that the game would fail to live up to my fond memories, and turn out to be a complete let down, but instead it was really good fun. Sure it has a plethora of dice rolls, but it still has some nice strategic descisions, and the oppressive feel you get when playing as the Space Marines as wave after wave of Genestealers surround you cutting you off from your objective really puts the pressure on. I won all three games in the end (I think my memories of good tactics to employ were fresher than Dave's), but I really enjoyed it, even when it was looking very bleak for me. Good stuff. I'd definitely be up for more of that in the future.

Afterwards, we play a couple of games of Carcassonne, as we didn't really have time to play the second scenario the other way round - both Dave and I had to be up early. Dave had never played before (although he had played Carcassonne - The Castle). The Wife joined us so we played a couple of quick 3-player games. As ever Carcassonne was a great game - quick, simple to play and explain and yet with interesting strategic decisions to make every turn. I won the first game and Lou the second, our many games-worth of experience teaching us the value of farming.

It was a great night's gaming, and I'm really glad that Space Hulk lived up to my rose-tinted memories. Plus, Dave is a really nice bloke (hi, Dave!), and you can never have too many gaming friends.

Tuesday, October 17

Psychocon: Analysis

In the cold light of day, I can now consider how things went for me at Psychocon. How did it go?

My first mistake was to not enquire about the size of the convention. I had assumed it would be a similar size to The Cast Are Dice, around one hundred and twenty attendees. It was much smaller, only thirty or so - and probably ten of those are regular attendees of Beyond Monopoly my local games club. Would I have gone knowing that? Possibly not. The smaller size of the convention worked both in my favour and against it. With so few people, everyone knew I was there selling Border Reivers - my exposure was much higher than at TCAD. The downside was obviously that there were far fewer possible customers.

Once again, I'll be considering two conversion rates:

  • The ratio of conference attendees to sales,
  • The ratio of players that bought a copy.

I sold three copies over the weekend, so considering the thirty-odd attendees, that's a ratio of approximately 1:10. That's far better than the 1:26 I got at TCAD, and in fact, far better than the 1:20 I considered the best possible outcome from TCAD. So overall I'm delighted I went - that's an excellent rate.

When it comes to the second conversion rate I'd be hoping for at least the 1:5 I got at TCAD. I played seven games, all 2-player games, and I sold two copies to players - so once again the Psychocon result (2:7) is better than TCAD, so it really was worth attending.

On top of the three sales, I had four people who expressed in interest in buying a copy, and yet didn't commit to anything during the weekend. They might have been trying to placate me, or they might have been serious, I'll find out over the next few weeks.

Once again, one of my customers was a reader of this blog. Hugo of Bode Gueims was looking at the game, and when I approached to see if he wanted to play a game, he asked if I was the writer of this blog. Again I'm interested that the blog is attracting attention.

In summary, I probably wouldn't have gone if I'd thought the convention would be that small, and yet, had I missed it, in retrospect it would have been a big mistake. I'm still learning the ropes of this business, and I got a little lucky this weekend. That counts for a lot.

Monday, October 16

Psychocon: Day Two

Once again I just missed the bus, so I arrived at Psychocon at half ten, rather than the half nine I'd been aiming for. Sunday was lighter on Border Reivers, I only played a couple of games, but it was a very good day none-the-less.

First up was a 2-player against Steve M. This was a fairly brutal game, we were both successfully reiving for a few turns, with money changing hands in all directions. When you know someone has a Reiving Party because they've just stolen some money from you and kept the Reiving Party, there's a horrible feeling hanging over you. No fun at all. At least I was returning the favour :-) Tom watched this game and commented on how different it was from the game we had played on Saturday. The game was interrupted twice for sales, which was nice. Jeff from Saturday had made up his mind and swung by to buy a copy, and then Nigel popped over for one too. Great. In the end, I won the game by military victory. Steve was definitely interested in the game, but didn't have the cash on hand. He said he might very well order one via the internet in the next couple of days.

My second game of the day was against another Steve: Steve T one of the convention organisers. Steve got to the mine first and had the Lion's share of the luck. I tried to attack the mine twice, with numbers on my side, and both times I got slaughtered, while he was unscathed. He used the extra money to build up a healthy economy and at one point had all his cities and all his armies on the board. In the end Steve won: 50 to 15, and my score was only that high because I started saving in the last couple of turns to reduce the embarrassment!

At that point I was asked to join in the Formula Dé tournament as they were short on players. I played the second heat and the final. I started in second place on the grid for the heat, and managed to get into first place which I held for about half of the game. At several points I had a fairly large lead, but going into the chicane I made some bad gearing decisions, and coupled with some unlucky rolls I ended up sneaking fourth place, just winning a place in the final. As the last qualifier, I start at the back of the grid in the final and I never really recovered from that. I managed to get as high as fifth (out of seven). I would probably have finished sixth (Donogh blew up after a shunt), but as soon as the first and second places (the only two to win prizes) were determined we stopped the game as it was getting fairly late.

Between the Formula Dé heat and final I managed to get a quick game of Street Soccer in. This quick and simple football was very popular, with a twelve-player tournament contested during Sunday. I played it, and lost 5-2 to Kevin, but to be honest I didn't really enjoy it - it seemed a little too random. Perhaps if I was more experienced I would have positioned myself better to limit the effect of a poor dice roll. Having recently played Football Tactics 2006, I definitely prefer that to Street Soccer - it just seemed a bit more tactical.

I had a really great convention, I was really pleased with how well Border Reivers went down, and how many copies I sold. I'll post another convention analysis tomorrow, like the one I did for The Cast Are Dice. The day ended on a bit of a downer though, as my first (and so far only) US customer contacted me to let me know he'd played six 2-player games of Border Reivers and considered the 2-player version broken - in his experience the player who goes first always wins. He wanted to review the game on BoardGameGeek (which I really appreciate) and wanted to give me a chance to defend the game before he posted a potentially negative review (which I appreciate even more). I'll be honest - I don't keep track of who starts the games I play, and hence whether or not they are the winners, but I don't think it's a forgone conclusion. I replied letting him know what I do during a game, and how that could turn the game around. I guess I'll soon find out whether it changes his mind.

Sunday, October 15

Psychocon: Day One

I had it in my mind that I wanted to sell between three and five copies at Psychocon before I got there. On arrival I realised that Psychocon is a much smaller convention than The Cast Are Dice. Whereas TCAD had around one hundred and thirty attendees, Psychocon has around thirty. Time to re-evaluate my expectations. I think two to three copies is reasonable.

I also had much more difficulty getting people to play Border Reivers, with fewer people (and a lot of organised tournament games), there were rarely people free for a game - so I spent a fair amount of time wandering round watching other games. Jerry helped drum up some interest. He'd bought a copy at TCAD and that was the last I'd heard. I assumed he'd tried it and not liked it - I know he's on BoardGameGeek, but he's not rated it or even listed it as owned. It turns out that he's taken it to the Sheffield Wargames club where it's pretty popular - yeay! I did manage to get five 2-player games of Border Reivers in before I called it a night, and played a few other games before going home.

First up was Kevin. I don't remember much of that game, I'm not sure it was his type of game. I won in the end by playing an Insurrection on his only city, from which he never recovered.

Jeff was up second. This was a really great game. Right from the start Jeff managed to get to upper hand - getting to the mine first and then taking advantage of the extra cash to bolster his forces. I felt under pressure throughout the whole game. I managed to swing things in my favour, but then Jeff swung it back. We backed and forthed a few times before Jeff eventually won by military might. I was really pleased with the game during this one. Throughout the game, either one or the other of us was clearly winning, however it was completely up in the air as to who would win. A real nail-biter. Jeff was interested in the game, but the price-tag put him off. He was still considering a purchase as I left that evening.

The third game was against Bernie, and this one went pretty much all my way. I managed to get the upper hand in cash generation, and then used this to win the game via the cash route. Bernie enjoyed the game though, and he was also interested in the game. By the end of the day he'd not decided whether he wanted a copy either. He asked me to contact him with the details - but I'd not got his email address so that was kind of hard to do. Final score: me 50, Bernie 8.

A bit later I spotted someone looking at the game while I was watching another game, so I wandered over and introduced myself and offered a game. The guy, Hugo, asked if I was the writer of this blog, as he blogged too. It turns out that Hugo is the author of Bode Gueims a bi-lingual Portugese/English games blog that linked here a while ago, and that I've linked to too. We sat down, and played a game out that lasted rather a long time as we spent quite a lot of time chatting over the game. This was another really good game. Hugo started off in the lead, holding the mine and tooling up with the cash. I managed to swing things in my favour eventually getting to the winning point with forty-five gold at the end of my turn. Hugo had one turn to turn things around before I won at the start of my next turn. He'd managed to push me back quite far by that point and he successfully razed one of my cities stealing the requisite six gold to take me under the winning limit. This also pushed him over the forty gold limit. Now I had one turn to stop him from winning. I couldn't do it unfortunately, but I did manage to push him out of my side of the map and get over the limit too. Final score: Hugo 43, me 43, with Hugo winning. He also ordered a copy - yeay!

At one point during our game, Hugo asked me how many times I'd played Border Reivers. At a guess? Over a hundred. Then he asked if I'm bored with it yet. I thought about it, and honestly, I'm not. Each game is different - there's no one strategy I always play. The board layout, my opponents and the luck of the dice ensure that the game doesn't always go the same way.

My fifth and final game of Border Reivers was against Tom, the teenage winner of the earlier Diplomacy competition. This was another tight game, with Tom winning for most of it and holding a terrifying five card hand at one point (it was a brutal turn when he used three of those on me!). Somehow (I'm not quite sure how), I managed to turn things around and won the game simultaneously with both methods, wiping out his armies and settlements and getting over forty gold. Tom enjoyed the game though - so another another happy opponent.

After popping out for some dinner, Hugo and I set up a game of Hey! That's My Fish!, and just as we were about to start, Jon joined in. I'd really enjoyed this previously at Beyond Monopoly and again it didn't disappoint. However, this time I didn't win. In fact I was royally creamed. Final scores: Jon 38, Hugo 34, me 25.

My final game of the day was Trans America with Steve, his daughter Tasha, Alan, Paul D and Donogh. I'd played the European version of this before - and been lamped. This time I had a slightly better idea of what I was doing. I won the first round, and only lost two points in the second. However, in the final round I lost five, so I ended up coming joint third out of six. Final scores: Donogh 6, Steve 4, Alan and I 3. Both Paul D and Tasha dropped below zero losing the game.

The five games of Border Reivers I played made me feel pretty good about the game. Despite all being 2-player games, they were pretty varied and the games against Jeff and Hugo in particular were really close and good fun. Let's hope for an equally good day today.

Saturday, October 14


Well, I managed to get the copies finished in time for Psychocon, but only seven of them - as I sold the rest! I'm off to Psychocon in a minute, pausing briefly on the way to post a game to another customer. I'll post some convention reports when I get back but there'll be nothing here tomorrow as I'm off to the con again.

In other news, I heard from the reporter with the BBC Mindgames Magazine yesterday. She's received my parent's copy of Border Reivers on loan and is going to do a review of it in the 'This Month' section of the November issue.

Friday, October 13

And The Sun Shone

The weather was lovely yesterday so I took advantage of it, and left work early to do some gluing. I got the gluing finished for the batch I'm taking to Psychocon tomorrow, not a minute too soon. This evening I will have to cut out the last of the tiles to finally finish the batch. I started a batch of twelve copies to work on while The Wife was away in Canada, with the intention of have ten of those copies to take with me to Psychocon, and two spares. I'll finish the batch tonight, but I've since sold five copies, so I can only take seven with me. That should be plenty. I sold five at The Cast Are Dice, and I'm hoping to sell between three and five at Psychocon.

In other news, I got the provisional quotes for Jorvik back from my printers: Stress Free Print yesterday too. I'm intending to do a limited edition again to gauge interest, but the smaller number of components (it being a card game) means it will be cheaper to manufacture in both time, cost and effort. As such I'm considering two different print run sizes: one hundred and two hundred copies. I think it should be easier to sell than Border Reivers, as it's cheaper price ticket will put fewer people off - especially in the States where Border Reivers and the postage to America comes to over seventy dollars. Because the lamination of the print runs has a minimum order of 1000 sides of A3 the cost of the two prints runs is pretty similar - therefore I'm thinking the two hundred copies run is the better option for affordability reasons.

I've also had some ideas for some extra mechanics/rules for Jorvik. I really need to step up the playtesting to see whether these new ideas will work out.

Thursday, October 12

Border Reivers At Two Months Old

It's two months to the day since Border Reivers was first released. So I thought I'd give you an update on how it's doing.

The Good

  • I've now sold very nearly one third of the copies available.
  • I've almost finished making forty percent of the whole print run.
  • I've sold copies to six different countries on three different continents.
  • The vast majority of the copies have been sold to strangers via word of mouth.
  • I've made new friends via Border Reivers.
  • The last few weeks' sales are among the best yet.

The Bad

  • The cutting out of the tiles is a really nasty job - doing it by hand hurts.
  • With the light and the weather failing fast I'm running out of opportunities to glue tiles outside.
  • It's not made me a multi-billionaire yet.

Okay, so that last one wasn't entirely serious. Overall, I'm very pleased with the way it's going. I'm well ahead of my target to sell out in a year - so far, so good.

Wednesday, October 11

Welcome To Jack's House Of Minor Cold

I'm getting better! Yeay! Back at work today. Boo!

Well, I didn't get all the copies of Border Reivers finished that I wanted to while The Wife was away, I blame the cold (which stopped me doing anything I didn't want to screw up) and the bad weather (which stopped me gluing). But I did finish six copies, make all but half the tiles for another six copies, and make the tiles for (and hence finish) four copies that were nearly finished before she left. So I did pretty well, especially as I was busy both weekends.

One thing I did manage to get done yesterday evening (once my head had started to clear) was the fourth prototype of Codename: Jorvik. It not only includes the new cards and a slightly different card distribution, but a mock-up of a tuck box, including card insert to stop the cards rattling around. Once The Wife is home I'll post some photos of the tuck box as I'm rather proud of it.

I'm trying to pick up the pace on Jorvik a bit, because if I'm not careful I'll just spend all my time on Border Reivers until it's finished, and then I'll have a few months of nothing to sell until I can get Jorvik ready. I'd like to have both Jorvik and Border Reivers for sale at the same time, as they will appeal to different markets. I need to get a lot more playtesting in, and start mocking up artwork. I've got some basic layout ideas for the cards (from my trip on the train on Saturday), so now I need to start developing those. I'm also going to approach the printer I used for Border Reivers to get an idea of printing costs, and speak to my Dad about getting some more original artwork for the box, card backs, and event cards. I think the main cards will need to have more detailed artwork, so I might have to do that myself in Paint Shop Pro, like I did for the cards and tiles of Border Reivers.

Tuesday, October 10

Welcome To Jack's House Of Plague

I'm feeling rough. I had yesterday off work, and today's gone the same way. I've a continual sinus headache, and I'm finding it really difficult to think.

Still, it's not all bad, The Wife gets home tomorrow, so I'll get a few days off construction which will be a nice change. I didn't get much done yesterday despite being home all day, and I fear today will go the same way. I finished off applying the style to the new website, and got a few people to have a look at it to see what they thought. I should get some feedback in a day or two, and then I can post it. That'll be good.

Anyway, as you can probably tell from the randomness of this post my brain is fried. Must rest.

Monday, October 9

Great Weekend

Well, the weekend is over but I'm off work with this stinking cold. The cold took the edge off the weekend a bit, but I think it was a great success.

It started with lots of games at Beyond Monopoly, where I also got to meet a few new gamers, which is great. I then spent two and a half hours on a doubly-diverted train to Derby to help Dunk move house. While this was quite a long time, the journey was very comfortable, and I was able to spend a good chunk of time scribbling notes on games design.

Moving into the future I want to be able to design games successfully, and possibly even design and publish professionally. To be able to do that I think there are some skills I need to develop:

  • Be able to continuously come up with game ideas
  • Be able to design better and better games
  • Be able to design very different types of games (in terms of number of players, target markets, mechanics, themes, etc.)

I spent the time on the train writing notes on three games, Codenames: Jorvik, Sennon and Plot. Jorvik is now firmly in playtesting, so the notes on that were fairly detailed, ideas about new cards, changing the balance of card distribution, tweaking some of the rules and also some graphic design work sketching out ideas for card layouts. Sennon is an idea I had a few months ago while on holiday. It's still in the very early stages, so I took the kernel of a design I'd come up with on holiday and fleshed it out a bit, trying to come up with some core mechanics and brainstorming mechanics and components. Finally Plot was a new idea, which I just wrote a very brief overview of to remind me when I've got time to come back to it.

I was encouraged by the fecundity of my imagination, these aren't games yet, but they've got potential, and they show I've not run out of ideas yet - which is very important.

That evening I got to play a couple of games of Jorvik with Dunk. I've now made a third Jorvik prototype, significantly altering the game after playing it with my parents and Mal. I'd felt the second prototype was weak, it lacked enough player choices and seemed too luck-driven, so taking some ideas I'd had (and some that Mum, Dad and Mal had) I'd come up with a third prototype. I'd only played it a couple of times by myself, so I was keen to see how it played out. I thought it was a definite improvement over number two. So Dunk and I had a couple of games and I was really pleased with the way it played - definitely heading in the direction I had in mind right at the beginning. Before we started I told Dunk of some changes I'd thought up on the train, but we played the game as it was. The game played very quickly (around fifteen minutes at a guess, maybe twenty), and provided a lot more choices and tactics. It was still a simple game, with simple rules, but there were now more choices, and you could make decisions that really affected the game. Both games were pretty close too, I won one, and Dunk the other, but by much closer margins than we had suspected during the game. Dunk seemed impressed - he said he could definitely see the potential in the game.

Jorvik has already changed quite a lot from the original idea I had (although the theme is still intact). I've read up on the appropriate history, and adjusted the game accordingly. Border Reivers is quite weakly themed, I wanted this one to be more accurate. Right from the beginning I had an idea for the graphics design of the cards - this has now fallen by the wayside, as despite its strong tie to the theme and visual appeal, it won't work on small cards and would limit the space available for important information needed for playing the game. The player confrontation component I had envisaged has gone in the third prototype (to limit it's power, and better fit the theme), but I'm thinking of adding a different one for the fourth prototype. All-in-all, I'm really pleased with the way it's developing.

The best bit? The fourth prototype will be a modification of the third, adding some new card types, changing couple of rules and changing the distribution of the card types. Up until now every new prototype has been a completely new game. Things are starting to settle down.

The train journey home was less agreeable: the train was one carriage shorter than it should have been, the previous train had be cancelled and there were fewer trains running due to engineering works. I had to stand for the whole two and a half hour journey, most of it in a carriage that was so full the air-conditioning couldn't kee the temperature below thirty degrees. Nice.

In other news, I've sold three copies of Border Reivers the last two weeks running. Excluding the convention week at the beginning, they equal my best weekly sales so far. This week I've another convention, so I'm hoping for a decent sales count too. It's off to a good start - I've received an order via BoardGameGeek within eight hours of the week starting :-)

Sunday, October 8

Session Report: Beyond Monopoly

On Saturday I once again got down to Beyond Monopoly. I got there a little later than planned, as I had to finish Andy's copy of Border Reivers before I left home in the morning, and swing by the post office to post a couple of copies to North America on the way in. I also had to detour via a chemists, as my cold was developing, and I was going to need a lot of tissues to last me through the games and the following train journey. Due to The Wife having the camera in Canada with her, there's no photos today I'm afraid.

On arrival Andy introduced himself, and I handed over his copy, and then I was introduced to Dave - who disappointed Jon by failing to salute me! This was right and proper, for Dave is actually in the army, whereas despite my moniker on BGG (CaptainJax), I have never put my life on the line for anything - I'm very selfish in that regard, but who knows when I might need it?

First game of the day was Leonardo da Vinci by the consortium of Italian games designers Acchittocca. This is a real gamers' game, in the vein of Puerto Rico and Caylus. Each turn is a difficult decision as you try desperately to determine which of the thousands of possible moves will do you the most good. Coupled with the fact that you are in competition with your opponents to see who gets to perform actions for the least outlay of florins (which also count as your victory points), guarantees a game of continual swearing as you realise that either you've stuffed it up, or an opponent has shafted you. Paul A, Mason and I sat down, and after a long time setting up and pouring through the rules, Andy joined us. Andy had played before, so things set off at a faster pace after his arrival. I enjoyed the game, although I have to admit that I had very little idea what I was doing. I couldn't seem to get the resources I needed, and was very short on cash throughout the game. Paul had a strategy of getting loads of resources, which did him proud, as he could then afford lots of inventions. He managed to get one of each of the five types for a hefty bonus, and won the game be a large margin: Paul 75, Me 48, Mason 32, Andy 27.

Just before we finished Leonardo, Becky (a new member) turned up with her young son Ally. We offered them a game, and chose Niagara by Thomas Liesching as it's good for kids, and fairly fast. It's also appropriate as The Wife has visited Niagara Falls this weekend as part of her Canada trip - although I hope she faired better than some of my canoes. This was a fun game with some really nice mechanics. You set the board up on top of the box lid and tray with the waterfall hanging off one end. Each turn the river (represented by large, transparent plastic discs moves a variable amount, pushing some of the plastic discs off the end to be replaced at the front. Each player has a pair of canoes, and if they happen to be on a plastics disc that goes over the edge you lose it, and have to buy a replacement. I liked this game a lot, it's simple and fun, and the pieces are really nice (especially the plastic gems). After Leonardo it was a pleasant change of pace. Becky won the game by collecting four blue gems (one of the three victory conditions).

I was fairly pushed for time, as I had a train to catch, so we chose Saboteur by Frederic Moyersoen as a quick game to round off the afternoon. We were also joined by Andy's brother Alan for this game. We played three rounds, in each of which every player was assigned a character, either a good dwarf or a saboteur. The good dwarves won the round by reaching the gold (under one of three hidden destination cards), while the saboteurs win by stopping them. I wasn't so keen on this despite it being a regular at Shire Gamers in Stoke, it seemed to heavily weighted in favour of the good dwarves, and the saboteurs are fairly quickly deduced and then get continuously lamped. At the end of the three rounds Alan won: Alan 8, Becky 5, Ally 4, Me 3, Mason 2 Andy 2.

It was another great day of gaming and getting to meet gamers, and yet again I got to play entirely new games (to me at least), which I think is important in my quest to become a better (and more successful) games designer. Also, Mason ordered a copy of Border Reivers :-)

Saturday, October 7

Finally Caught Up

This morning I finished the copy needed to fulfill all my outstanding orders. Finally. Border Reivers was released nearly two months ago, and from the outset I had a backlog of pre-orders to satisfy. I then got a steady stream of orders coming in. Not a lot, but almost as many as I could make in a week. While I was meeting those orders I was also slowly meeting my pre-orders too. Now I've finally done it. It took two weeks with The Wife in Canada to pull it off though. Over the next few days I'm going to build up a stock to take to Psychocon next weekend, and then hopefully I can keep on top of it. My biggest worry is that I'll run out of gluing opportunities, as at the moment I'm doing all my gluing outside. I can only do it during daylight, on a nice sunny, and fairly still day. As we move into Autumn I'm fast running out of good weather and daylight hours. The clocks go back soon too, so I won't be able to do it after work either, only on weekends. I'm strongly considering taking a day of work and trying to get almost all of the outstanding gluing done in one fell swoop.

In other news we were bombarded with hits on Wednesday. Not only did we get loads of hits here, and on the Reiver Games website, but the Border Reivers page on BoardGameGeek got ten times its usual daily views too. Occasionally, when I post on The Geek we get a bump here, but nothing as big as this. I've no idea what caused it (I tried to look into it but couldn't find anything), but it led to some more interest in Border Reivers so I'm happy. If you happen to know what it was I'd be interested to hear in the comments.

I'm off to Beyond Monopoly soon, and then straight down to a friend's house to help him move, so I'll post a session report tomorrow evening.

Friday, October 6

Big Step Forward

Last night I spent a decent chunk of time on game construction. It felt great because I finished the slow box construction, and made fast progress on the bagging and sorting of the various bits. All I have left to do for the batch is the decks of cards and the tiles. I've done the gluing on three of the twelve copies, and I'm waiting for a dry day to do the rest. Rather than do all the cards and then all the tiles I'm going to have to completely finish three copies as a priority, as I need them for Saturday - I've two foreign orders to ship and I need to deliver Andy's copy at Beyond Monopoly. Next week I can go back to the rest, and try to complete them before The Wife returns. This batch was intended to include ten copies for Psychocon in Leeds next weekend, but I've already sold one of them, and I've over a week to go before the convention.

I'm still hoping to get them done in time. Fingers crossed. Anyway, short post today, I've an exam for work soon, and I need to revise!

Thursday, October 5

Session Report: Games Night

Last night I organised a games night at my house. Beforehand I managed to get three more Border Reivers boxes finished off. In the end only Roman could make it to the games night, so we played a shed-load of 2-player games.

Don't tell The Wife, but on Monday I bought a new game: Lost Cities by Reiner Knizia. We started off with this as it's a nice quick game that we could play while (vainly) waiting to see if anyone else was coming. As usual with the first game, the person who had never played before ending up with a negative score (Roman -9, Me 13), but Roman is one of those people who can sit down to a game he's never played before and very quickly determine a winning strategy. Roman really enjoyed Lost Cities, so we ended up playing the best of five, with Roman winning three games to two. In the second game Roman got a huge score, while I struggled to get a positive one (Roman 62, me 16). The third game also went Roman's way, but by a closer margin (Roman 36, me 31). In the fourth game I foolishly decided to play all five expeditions, and near the end of the game I knew I was going to struggle to play the cards I needed to make them score positively. Then I realised that I could drag the game out by drawing discarded cards rather than from the deck - I'd never thought of that before. I ended up winning that game, clawing back some self-respect (Roman 15, me 20). Considering I'd played all five colours I was pleased to get a positive score, let alone win. Roman won the last game comfortably, also using the drag-out-the-game technique to good effect (Roman 43, me 27).

Next up I introduced Roman to Ticket To Ride by Alan R. Moon. I loved this game from the first time I played it, and I though Roman would like it too. He did. We played a couple of games, I won the first despite a cronically stupid move in the closing rounds. I'd completed all my route cards so I thought I'd draw some more. I drew the three cards and discarded the one I was miles away from out of hand. There were two others, a coast-to-coast which I was about eight carriages away from completing and a shorter route which I was only four carriages away from completing. I choose to keep both of those. In my next turn I went to start claiming the routes I needed and I realised I had only six carriages left. There was no way I could claim the coast-to-coast route I had elected to keep, and I was destined to lose the twenty-two points it was worth. D'oh! I still managed to sneak a win though (Roman 89, me 93). The second game was an opportunity for Roman to display his strategic thinking again and he romped away with it, completing loads of routes and winning by a mile (Roman 134, me 111).

The last game of the night was Football Tactics 2006 by Randy Thompson. I'd won a free copy of this during the World Cup, and was yet to play it. We set up the game and fortunately for me, Roman was there to translate it - as the copy I have is in German. We played two twenty-minute halves (the game comes with a stopwatch and is timed). I quite enjoyed this one. There is quite a lot of tactical play involved despite the roll-and-move nature of the game as you can move your pieces forwards and backwards, left and right and diagonally, and they can change direction once during their move. I liked the timed nature of the game - it added a feel of urgency, and the breadth of football rules that had been incorporated was impressive - offside, tackles, free kicks, fouls, corners and goal kicks. Good stuff. I'd definitely play this again. The game finished one all, and it was bed-time.

There were two other pieces of good news during the evening. I sold my first copy of Border Reivers to the United States, and a friend Linz (who had only received his copy of Border Reivers on the weekend) showed it to another friend, who has a friend (pretty tenuous, huh?) who writes for a wargaming magazine. The writer wanted to review Border Reivers in his magazine, and Linz was asking if it was ok to lend them his copy and give them my details. Sure! I'm all for free publicity.

Plus I received a phone call from The Wife in Canada, I'd not spoken to her for several days so that was nice too. All-in-all a good night.

Wednesday, October 4

The tales of a casual games designer: Part 9

I've decided on the slightly dangerous concept of giving my game an extra 'gimmick' which will be that it will come with a CD with, hopefully, about 40 voice tracks on. If desired, before playing, the players will place the CD in their CD player and set it to shuffle. Then when hey're decided on their teams, the stage etc they play one of the CD tracks at random which will introduce the day's weather and how it will change the stats of certain riders. For example - "Well, it's Bastille Day today and the French riders will be doing everything they can to take the victory on such an important day! For this stage, all French riders can increase oneof their stats by one point", or there'll be bad weather ones that have negative outcomes.

Of course you don't have to play WITH it, but been thinking about it and it adds a nice bit of flavour to the game. Thoughts?


I'm having friends round for games tonight (theoretically - not had many replies yet!), so I spent a decent chunk of last night doing chores in preparation. Coupled with leaving work late I didn't get a huge amount of construction done. Still, I finished covering the box lids, and covered a third of the box trays.

I need to get a couple of copies finished by Saturday and that will then be all my pre-orders and outstanding orders fulfilled. That will be a nice feeling.

Up until now I've been doing this batch like an assembly line - make all the boxes, cover all the lids, etc. To get copies finished by Saturday I'm going to have to ditch that approach and finish off those two games completely and the come back to the rest of the batch.

With the games night tomorrow and a trip to Derby on the weekend to help a friend move, I've only got five evenings of construction time left before The Wife returns from Canada. I'm hopefully that I can get the batch finished, however if the weather is bad I'm not going to get an opportunity to get the gluing done on the tiles, which will scupper everything. Pray for sunshine!

Tuesday, October 3

Progress On Jorvik

Last night I left work early to pay in some money and buy some card for another Codename: Jorvik prototype. I thought I didn't have much time, as I was expecting to go to Paul's Games Night so I set about making the Jorvik prototype as a break from Border Reivers construction. About halfway through I checked my email and found out there was no games night, so I finished the prototype and starting playing it. The first attempt I aborted after a few minutes to tweak the deck - as it was the game didn't flow enough. So then I played through a second game from start to finish (including scoring) and I'm much happier with this version. Already I think it's a better game than the last prototype. The previous attempt didn't provide enough choices - there were very few options available to you on each of your turns so the game was dictated largely by the luck of the draw. This new version gives players a lot more choices, while still playing quickly and being pretty simple.

After spending some time on Jorvik I went back to Border Reivers construction - covering another six box lids. I'd forgotten how slow making the boxes is, since the tiles are just as slow and more uncomfortable. I'm making steady progress though, and once the boxes are finished the contents (with the exception of the tiles) are pretty quick to make.

I also received another overseas order for Border Reivers today, and my first order for Jorvik! Thanks, Dave!

Monday, October 2

Busy Weekend

Well, it's been a very busy weekend. We made a lot of progress on the new website design (though it's still not quite ready to go live), went for a walk, went to the cinema and Mal beat me at three games - including two I'd designed myself.

I'm really pleased with the new look for the website - it's much smarter and looks a lot less amateur. We didn't get it all updated, but Mal showed me what I need to do the rest - so I can do that in my own time. It finally incorporates the game logo, box art and company logo - so it ties in with the game much better.

My game of Codename: Jorvik with Mal just confirmed my thoughts about needing to overhaul it to add some more strategy, and we had a few idea about how to improve it. I need to make a new prototype. I'll try to get some more card for the job tomorrow. I have to go into town anyway to post a few copies to some customers.

I also managed to do a bit more construction on Sunday night after Mal had gone home. I made ten rulebooks, cut out the covers for the twelve boxes (lid and tray) and then glued three box lid covers on.

Sunday, October 1

The tales of a casual games designer: Part 8

Well, played tour. with the in-laws last night. Playing games with them is always an interesting experience as my father-in-law (Barry) spends most of any game we're playing going "Oh I dunno, I've got no idea what's going on" before winning or doing something extremely clever while the fabled mum-in-law (Linda) tends to spend about an hour per turn even if it's the simplest of options. Hence the game taking quite a while longer than past experiences.

At Cast Are Dice with four teams of four cyclists one stage took about an hour and twenty to an hour and a half while two player games with the wife take a little less time. With the in-laws playing for the first time it took over two hours which seemed quite a long time, but people vanished for toilet, making tea, getting crisps etc and most of the slow movement was Linda who just naturally plays like that. Still, it's good to see how pretty much non-gamers got on with the game.

Linda won.

She didn't just win, she annihilated the rest of us. We played most green jersey points as a team won which seemed to work well for a one off race, with 65 points available...Linda picked up 40, Anna got 18, I got 8 and Barry got just the 1 which was partly my fault as I tried to force my sprinter through a space that wasn't there, causing a crash with Barry's sprinter which my guy picked himself up from (after missing a couple of turns) while his was out for the rest of the race. Which kinda scuppered his chances of picking up points on the sprints.

He also didn't use his best cyclist to his full ability while Linda seemed to pick up the concept of not attacking too early and waited until I sent two cyclists off (far too early) before latching onto them, recovering her cyclist's energy and breaking away again, sprinting past the line just before the cyclist's health ran down. Anna's best cyclist came second with a massive charge over the last 40km while my two dropepd back (with no more power OR a sprint to help them out at the end). Barry managed to pick up the last finishing point with an exciting last minute charge and sprint which gave him something to cheer about.

Overall, the tactics of the game felt great again, with breakaways being pulled back in and some cyclists dropping off the back into their own group. Two of mine and two of Anna's were in that gorup so we agreed to work together to catch up the leading group which felt great and tactical and an achievement when we'd caught up.

So yeah, although it took longer than expected it seemed to go down well which is good. Just got a couple of design changes to make to the counters and terminology to make things clearer.