Friday, April 27

Archaeology released!

Well I am happy to say that I have finally finished Archaeology!

It feels great to have a couple of finshed copies sitting next to me. I am for the most part happy with how everything has turned out. I had one printing job partially botched, but thankfully the company acted quickly to correct it and I wasn't held up too long. Other than that the process was pretty smooth, just long!

I have learnt a lot and am very keen to write up some observations from the whole process, but for now I think I just need a rest. I was really working hard to get the game done before the business end of the semester kicked in.

Oh yes, I also put together a website to handle ordering at My first print run is 50 copies. Hopefully I'll have to do a second, but we'll see how things go!

Tuesday, April 24

Well, That Was Unexpected

What a weekend! Friday night I decided to write a Geeklist on BoardGameGeek about my experiences self-publishing Border Reivers. I hoped that it would get a few thumbs and draw a few people to look into Border Reivers. I might even get a sale from it, if I was lucky.

Saturday morning I added a couple of items, posted it, and packed myself off to Beyond Monopoly! for only the second time this year. BM was great - I'd not been since early January, it was nice to catch up with everyone, and get to play a few games that were new to me. Thurn and Taxis in particular shone. Another worthy winner of Spiel des Jahres, the German Game of the Year.

I staggered back late in the afternoon, all gamed out, and checked out BGG to see what had become of my Geeklist. I was expecting the usual: a couple of thumbs up and dropped into obscurity. Instead it had all kicked off. I'd got over fifty thumbs, a bunch of GeekGold (BGG's currency), and a couple of orders from the States despite the truly awful exchange rate at the moment. It had been a slow news day, so my Geeklist had remained at the top of the list on the front page all day, gaining thumbs up (which keep it at the top) and getting read a lot.

It kept going, it was top all weekend and Monday. It's now got over 165 thumbs. Border Reivers entered the 'Hot Games' sidebar on the front page (today it was the eigth hottest game!). I got six orders over four days, and a bunch more interest. It totally blew me away. I've burnt through my finished stock, which is great, but I'm getting interviewed by the Yorkshire Post this week and I hoped to have some stock ready for that too. D'oh!

I also got a few more It's Alive! pre-orders, and I've nearly got enough capital now to publish It's Alive!, I should certainly be able to get the rest in time now, even assuming that none of the outstanding enquires turn into sales, and the Yorkshire Post interview doesn't generate any more. Yeay! Now I just need to get the rest of the artwork, finish the graphic design, blind-playtest it, send it to the printers and construct a few copies in the next five and a half weeks. Gulp!

Bizarrely, two of the recent Border Reivers orders were from the BBC MindGames magazine review in January. I'd given up on that as a slightly wasted effort as it had only generated a single sale. Turns out it might be three!

Friday, April 20

An Invititation

Hugo of Bode Gueims has made us an offer:

I'm currently inviting boardgames bloggers to contribute to Bode Gueims with old (but still relevant) content from their own blogs, which I then translate to the "other" language (in your case from English to Portuguese) in order to open up a bit more both communities of gamers to each other. Having been enjoying Creation and Play for quite a while now, I think my fellow Portuguese speakers would enjoy it also, mainly because there is very little content on boardgame design in Portuguese. So, I would like to extend an invitation for you or any of the current contributors of C&P to participate in Bode Gueims as well. As I said, there is virtually no extra work for you guys: You just pick some old (but still relevant) entry from your blog and send it to me, so I can translate it and publish it. I will obviously state the author of the post and where (and when) it was published first.

Anyone interested?

Who's Been A Busy Boy?


The last couple of weeks have been a bit of a blur. The Wife came back from Denmark, and we had a lovely long weekend together, playing Pirates of the Spanish Main and Carcassonne: The Castle which she bought me as a present :-). We also had a visit from her sister and her fiance (not The Wife's! The Wife's sister's) when we played among others Twilight Imperium Third Edition.

Since then I've been trying to step up Border Reivers production to get it finished off at the same time as doing some graphic design work on It's Alive! processing the artwork I've been receiving from the artist over the last couple of weeks. I've got all the artwork for the cards now and the slab (on which you place your cards), so I'm just waiting for the player shield and the box illustration. I've been getting all the individual files together into a print-ready A3 sheet, while at the same time working on graphical overlays which sit on top of the artwork to convey extra information. I'm having some issues getting the numbers on the cards to look good, I'll probably post some options here for feedback in a day or two.

I've now got five finished copies of Border Reivers in stock, plus nine that are finished except for the tiles. I've started another batch too. This is good as I had a photographer from the Yorkshire Post round today to take some photos to go with a phone interview I'm doing tonight. I wanted to get some stock in, just in case the story generates some sales. I'm also considering some options for a publicity/special offer that might help shift a few copies fairly swiftly, as I need over two hundred pounds of Border Reivers sales in the next three or four weeks if I'm to fund It's Alive! in time for a release at the UK Games Expo at the beginning of June.

Anyway, sorry I've not posted in ages. I've been busy :-) Still - I wouldn't have it any other way.

Monday, April 9

Theme vs mechanics at the start of the design process

A question that seems to often get asked of designers is "what comes first for you, the theme of the mechanics?". It seems to be the boardgaming equivalent of the cliched music jorunalism question, "so what are your band's influences?".

This is an important question because most gamers are very interested in how theme and mechanics work together. Knizia is accused of pasting on themes, some American games are accused of having fiddly chrome-laden rulesets. These observations beg the question in the player's mind, how are games born? Do themes or mechanics usually set the design process in motion?

While I am no authority at all on game design, I thought I would share my thoughts on this issue about how the design process works out for me.

It seems to me that initial ideas for games must fall into one of three categories: When the theme is the first thing to arrive in the designer's mind, when a raw mechanic comes first, and when the process begins with some combination of the two.

I thought I would share my thoughts on how each of these three processes has worked for me, and something of what I have read from other (more famous) designers.

Theme comes first
Occasionally something will spark the desire to make a game with a very specific theme. For me this usually comes from watching a movie or something on television. A particular scene or situation might just spark my imagination, and I immediately get an idea for a game. Seriously, every viewing of Star Wars could yield ten game ideas: Escape from the Trash Compactor! Light Speed Hide & Seek! The Death Star Maze Game!
Usually this initial idea will suggest some basic things about gameplay, such as the aim of the game, or some foundational mechanics. Then it's time to start scribbling in the notepad, and try and flesh out the flow of play. Sometimes spare mechanics that are lying around will be plugged in to the design. Sometimes new and fresh mechanics will naturally arise out of the theme. This for me (if it happens) is one of the most exciting things in game design.
I often find that ideas which come to me theme-first also often fall flat pretty quickly. Sometimes there just doesn't seem to be any simple solution to a problem in the design, and it is very hard to properly squeeze mechanics into a theme if they don't naturally fit! If you start with a strong theme, you are in some sense 'bound' to reflecting it in the gameplay well, and if you can't, the design usually falls by the wayside. For me I feel I am selling the idea short if I just settle for a mechanic that will do the job without integrating with the theme.
A real world example of this would be Knizia's Lord of the Rings. Reiner was commissioned to create the game and he has said that after studying the book he realised he simply had to make the game co-operative. The theme came first and dictated the base mechanic. Now of course developing the smaller details to make the game flow how he wanted must have been very tough, and people debate how successful he was.

Combination of theme and mechanic together
Sometimes a game mechanic will arrive in my mind with some aspect of theme inseperably attached to it. These ideas usually come when I am actually thinking about games and game design. One recent example was a tile laying mechanism that popped into my head, but what I was imagining on the tiles seemed to only work if the game was set in a cave. Odd huh?
Now the cool thing about getting ideas this way is that there is some leeway with what you do with the development of the theme. Is it a pirate's cave? A tunnel through the earth? Ancient catacombs? Each possibility allows you to move the design forward in various ways. There is the opportunity to take the design down a number of different paths and see which one works best.
I often find these designs develop well and end up yielding nicely playable prototypes. The fact that the mechanic is automatically linked to a theme helps the gameplay feel somewhat natural. Of course, more arbitrary elements often slip in as a final theme is chosen and the game system develops.

Mechanic comes first
This is pretty rare for me, and these ideas come either when I am thinking about game design in pretty concrete terms, or when I am thinking about some mechanical process in real life. For example, watching the switches on train tracks as I take a train trip may suggest to me some sort of abstract strategy path-swapping mechanism.
I find that these ideas rarely develop straight into a game of their own. I usually just remember the mechanic or take note of it. Sometimes I later find a good situation in a different design were it makes sense to insert this mechanic. On some occasions these mechanics are interesting enough that they can become the comeplete basis and centre of a game. In hearing Ted Alspach speak about Seismic, it seems that for him the mechanic of laying tiles to build a path way was such an exciting one that the whole game design flowed out from it.
Amd again I can't help but think of Knizia. From my first play of Lost Cities I was sure he must have come up with the game idea while playing around with a standard deck of cards. But while the theme does feel pasted on, the real fun of the game comes from its exciting set-collection mechanism. I am sure Reiner realised that this mechanic was good enough on its own to simply 'be' the game.

What seems to work best
The games which for me have come the furthest in development are the ones where something like 'chain reactions' have occured from one stage of design to the next. What I mean is, that the design begins in one of the three ways listed above, but then at some point hits a wall, and one aspect of the design takes me down a totally different path. This may happen two or three times before the game really takes shape into something that I feel can be great fun to play.
The development of my game Archaeology is a good example of this. The game began with a mechanic, which was a modular board which created an island out of sqaure terrain peices. I am sure this was probably suggested by Settlers of Catan, but it also came from an old computer game I programmed in BASIC as a child. Anyway, after playing around with the mechanic I eventually decided this would be an island where explorers came to hunt for treasure. So I added treasure tokens which were placed face down on each terrain sqaure, and turned over until collected by being landed on by players. During playtesting the game developed into a fully fledged pirate epic, with sailing, weather conditions and all sorts of goodies. I eventually lost interest in the design, as I felt I could never come up with the correct mechanism for player movement, and the interaction between players seemed doomed to be very low due to some core design decision I made early on in the process.
What stuck in my mind though was the fun that there was in collecting a mystery treasure each turn, and the way the different types of treasures combined to be valuable. From there I started a new design that was largely based around this mechanic. The board was vastly simplified, and I soon realised the theme of an archaeological dig made much more sense. However I again had problems with player movement and late one night decided to toss the whole board in and basically make the game a card game!
Things took many more turns (and a board was later re-introduced!) but the finished product is so far removed from my island mechanic that I can scarcely call them the same game. I feel that Archaeology is a better game for going through this process, as I feel that it evolved organically. Because I threw away so many big chunks of gameplay I was always dealing with my favourite mechanics and theme ideas, and this I think made for a more creative headspace in which to design.
Something similar to these 'chain reactions' seems to have happened for Teuber with his Catan/Entdecker/Lowenherz design, and with Knizia and Ra. One design led to another, which led to another, the gameplay being distilled and refined with each iteration.

Thursday, April 5

Prototype day

I have been doing the artwork for Archaeology for three months now, and the fine tuning is taking quite a while! I am finding it hard to stay super motivated as there isn't much creativity required in the project at this late stage. Although it will be done in the next two or three weeks!

So I find my mind wandering to the games I have lined up next to try producing. Today I spent time working on three prototypes for games that are in various stages of the playtesting phase. It was certainly a fun diversion.

Two of these games use quite similar mechanics and are exploration games. Although one is quite light (a pirate theme), and the other quite brain-burning (an egyptian theme). Playtesting today surprisingly yielded that the lighter game seems to be playing the best, although it is far less developed. I think I may have over-thought the complexities of the egyptian one, and need to work more on the simple fun factor of each phase of play.

The third game is an extremely light-hearted combat card game, which is slowly turning into something kind of good! Time will tell if it has the gameplay to back up its quirky theme, but if I figure out the right balance for all the combo moves it could be cool.

But I've decided that's enough prototyping for awhile and I just need to put the head down and finish Archaeology. Onward!

Sunday, April 1

March Report

Well, March is over and I did some stuff. Time to admit what exactly. I'll start with play, as is my want.


A decidedly mediocre month in terms of number of games played. I didn't get to Beyond Monopoly, and due to various trips abroad I missed a load of my stalwart games nights with Paul and chums and Dave. Still I managed to get a few good nights of gaming in and this is what I played:

Plus the shrapnel: Carcassonne: The Castle, Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Spanish Main, Power Grid and Puerto Rico.

The only new game I played this month was Fluxx, which, to be honest, I really didn't enjoy that much - just a bit too random for my tastes. It was good to play more Space Hulk after a short break, and Lord of the Rings which I hadn't played in ages. Dave and I have agreed to play Lord of the Rings (and the Friends and Foes expansion) next time we get together - we've both not played it enough recently.

With 27 games in total it was a fairly average month, and that only because Paul G and I played nine games on the last night of the month. I really wish I was at home more to enable me to get more games in.


I had a week off work this month to allow me to make the most of The Wife's visit to Denmark. I wanted to get as much construction done as possible so that I can spend more time with her when she returns. This was counteracted by ten days when I was away from home for work (and visiting The Wife in Denmark :-) ).

Border Reivers

I only got six copies finished during my week off, but I did manage to get twelve copies almost finished in addition. This is pretty good progress, as that's nearly forty hours work right there. Sales wise it was an average month, which is ok, as I don't want to sell too many before the end of the tax year, to minimise my tax liability. After the end of the tax year (in just over a week), I'm going to step up efforts to sell out of Border Reivers, as I need the money from Border Reivers sales to pay for It's Alive! production.

It's Alive!

It's been an exciting month for It's Alive! I announced it to the world on March 4th, and since then it's been all go. I've had a boatload of pre-orders, it's been mentioned in a bunch of places including Board Game News, and I've received a few thumbnails of artwork from the artist, chose the ones I like and opened some of them up to my readers here for input. Once the financial year ends I'm going to step up Border Reivers promotion, in order to get enough cash to make It's Alive!

Codename: Jorvik

I finally got around to making the prototype of Dave's suggested rules change. Yesterday afternoon, Dave and I spent a few hours in a local pub testing it out. It's definitely much better than the last version, and fixes the problem I was worried about - lack of player interaction. The card balance is all wrong at the moment - but I can fix that by tweaking and playing repeatedly.

In other news, I wanted to go to the UK Games Expo and hopefully launch It's Alive! there. I ummed and ahhed, hoping to delay the decision until I knew I'd be able to get it ready in time. I checked that they still had space - and they didn't. D'oh. Fortunately I put myself on the waiting list, and a space came up, so I am going now. I'll just have to bust a gut to get it ready in time.

Session Report: Headingley Games Club

On Thursday Dave and I went to Hugo's games club in Leeds. I was going with the intention of trying to play Border Reivers with a bunch of people and hopefully sell some, like I had done in London the week before.

It took us about an hour to get there (it's on the 'wrong' side of Leeds), and then it took us another fifteen minutes to find the place (my trusty sense of direction failed me after we parked the car) - fortunately, Dave used his army skills and managed to navigate by the stars or something and we eventually found the place.

We walked into the venue and found a large room full of people all playing Games Workshop games such as Warhammer 40K, Blood Bowl and Warhammer Ancient Battles. I never knew they'd done an ancients game - shows how out of the loop I am. Anyway, apart from a blast from the past this wasn't what I was looking for - we were directed upstairs. Upstairs was more like it, there were eight people playing board games, including Canal Mania which I've been meaning to play for ages. There was also a back room where a small bunch of people were playing Magic: The Gathering, which was a break from their normal game of roleplay wrestling. Urrrgghh. The less said about that disturbing idea the better.

Sadly for my playing Border Reivers idea, I recognised a lot of the people from Beyond Monopoly and Psychocon. So we volunteered to join in with a game of Puerto Rico that would be starting in around half an hour. With half an hour to kill, Dave and I set up a quick 2-player game of Border Reivers. This would be Dave's fourth game, so I was expecting some stiff competition now that he had got the hang of it.

It was a good game, I can't remember an awful lot about it, I got to the mine and held it for most of the game (though Dave did Ambush me there, killing my mine workers), and there wasn't much action on the fortified border. I managed to sneak around the fortified border, exposed Dave's soft underbelly, but he blocked me off to stop me taking too much advantage. Dave built all three of his cities, while I only got two built. In the end I won with an economic victory, 44 to 14.

Then we joined in with five others for a game of Puerto Rico. This was Dave's first game of the highest rated game on BoardGameGeek so we didn't play with the expansion (which I had never seen before). I chose a shipping to the old world strategy, while Nigel and Andrew (I think that was his name) went for cash, and through that buildings. I spent most of the game skint, which hurt later on as I was unable to build anything useful. In the end the three guys from the club whooped us - final scores: Nigel 49, Andrew 46, Corran 45, me 42 and Dave 36. Not a bad score for Dave in his first game against four seasoned players.

I'm not sure I'd go there again, it's a long way for a couple of hours of gaming, we spent almost as much time in the car as we did at the club.

In other news, check out this year's April Fools Day effort on BoardGameGeek. After last year's effort (the 'admin' screen) I didn't want to miss it this year, and Aldie didn't disappoint. Sadly the Crochet tab doesn't work, so I guess I'm going to have to shelve my plans for a nice gaming shawl.