Monday, December 30

2013: The Year in Review

2013 has been a lot less momentous than last year, no major purchases or moves. We've been adapting to life as a family and trying to make do with very poor nights' sleep (bless her, The Daughter seems to be one of the worst sleepers of her cohort of friends). It's been an excellent year, as The Daughter grows up we've got to watch her learn to smile, crawl, walk and start to talk. We're starting to meet the person too, as her personality develops. She's a very happy, giggly and affectionate girl and brings us both a lot of pleasure - which more than makes up for the nights.

Professionally, my employer (that I'm working for for the third time) that I've been employed by for half my working life was bought by a large American corporation which meant, predictably, a slight increase in bureaucracy, countered by an nice increase in benefits. I got to visit Minneapolis for work in June, my first visit to the mid-west US, and while there hooked up with a few gamers via BGG (who thankfully weren't axe-murderers) and went to the Fantasy Flight Games Event Centre for some after work gaming.

The year is ending on a strange note though, as I've come home from Bristol on my own, with The Wife and The Daughter remaining in Bristol for three weeks while I get radiotherapy for an over-active thyroid. It's strange having the house to myself - very quiet and lonely.

Games Design

I spent most of the year pressing on with Codename: Vacuum, racking up one or more plays per week, tweaking things here and there. It's getting better, slowly, but with so many cards each tweak needs careful balancing to ensure the decks are all roughly as good as each other.

In August, Dan Howard and I started up Newcastle Playtest, a bi-monthly meetup in a pub to playtest each other's games. It started off strongly with six designers getting involved, and plenty of willing playtesters. Nearer to Christmas it has died down a bit, it'll be interesting to see if there's enough interest in the New Year to keep it going. I've found it very useful, interesting and enjoyable on the occasions when I've managed to make it along.

In November, I decided to get in on the NaGa DeMon action and resurrected Codename: Proteome with a new theme and new mechanics as a game of Zombie science: Zombology. I managed to make five different prototypes, six different rulebooks and played it 16 times in the month of November. The end of the month version is available print-and-play and I'm still continuing to work on it.

After the hectic month of NaGa DeMon action, and with Christmas and its associated socialising on the cards, I had a fairly quiet December, no prototyping, hardly any playtesting and not much gaming at all until the Christmas break. I did have another game idea though: Codename: Dragon - a 2-player card game about St. George and the Dragon. It's been a long time since I last had three designs on the go.

General Gaming

I've had an un-written goal for the last five or so years to play as many games as there are days in the year. I've not managed it since 2010, but I've done it again in 2013: 370 + whatever I play at tonight's bonus Games Night. Again, I've counted iPad games against real opponents. My five and dimes were:

  • 56: Codename: Vacuum - played this a lot!
  • 27: 6 Nimmt! - a favourite Games Night filler
  • 22: 7 Wonders - popular at Games Night and with the in-laws
  • 19: Ra - mostly on the iPad while travelling for work
  • 18 Race for the Galaxy - popular at Games Night and with The Wife
  • 18: Zombology - almost all in November!
  • 14: Incan Gold - popular at Games Night
  • 13: Hol's der Geier - a Games Night filler
  • 11: Carcassonne - On the iPad and with the in-laws
  • 11: No Thanks! - Games Night filler
  • 11: X-Wing Minis - need to play this more!
  • 10: Thunderstone - popular with The Wife and the in-laws
  • 9: The Resistance - at Games Night, and when Paul came to visit
  • 8: Coloretto - Games Night I guess?
  • 8: For Sale - another short game popular at Games Night
  • 8: Hanabi - love this one, only got it in July I think
  • 7: 11 Nimmt! - Games Night filler
  • 6: Hey! That's My Fish! - on the iPad while travelling
  • 6: The Speicherstadt - I taught this a couple of times at Newcastle Gamers
  • 5: Carcassonne: The Castle - on holiday with the sister-in-law
  • 5: Lords of Waterdeep - a Games Night favourite
  • 5: Love Letter - learnt this at Beer and Pretzels

I also made it to a convention this year, for the first time in about 4 years: Beer and Pretzels in Burton-on-Trent in May. It was a great weekend, hanging out with my friend Terry whose Games Night I used to attend when we lived down south. I learnt several new games that weekend too.

Purchases-wise, I bought The Bridges of Shangri-La in the Travelling Man sale and Hanabi and Love Letter later in the year. I got Macao, Thurn and Taxis and Alea Iacta Est for my birthday and Coup and Galaxy Trucker for Christmas. Plus I got a boatload of X-Wing minis during the year. I also got rid of Babel, Canal Mania, Clans, Eminent Domain, Fzzzt! and Meuterer - given away to friends in the hope they get played in their new homes.


My goals for blogging for the year were to blog on at least 45 of the Mondays in 2013 and get 20,000 page views and a few extra followers. As it turns out I've blogged every Monday in 2013 (plus a bunch of extra times in November for NaGa DeMon), got 35,000 page views and 7 new followers. A huge success. Mostly down to NaGa DeMon if I'm honest. My most popular posts this year were:

I hope you all had good years too, and here's hoping next year will be even better!

Monday, December 23

Merry Christmas!

Just a brief one this week. I'm now down in Bristol for the Christmas break with the in-laws and the entirety of my family. I'll be taking it easy for the week, just having some nice chilled out time with The Wife and The Daughter before my enforced exile begins when I drive home on my own on Sunday.

I've not brought any prototypes with me, just a few games: Carcassonne (which has already seen some action last night), 7 Wonders (popular with the in-laws), X-Wing Minis (popular with the brother-in-law) and Love Letter and Hanabi, which are pretty easy sells. Gaming is more popular with the in-laws than my family, though my sister has asked for Carcassonne for Christmas (yay!).

Of course, I've asked for a couple more games for Christmas, so if Santa has judged me to have been nice then I might be on the receiving end of Coup and Galaxy Trucker :)

Anyway, I hope that those of you who celebrate Christmas have a wonderful holiday full of festive family gaming and I hope you are equally blessed by an overgenerous Santa. You'll have to let me know what he gave you!

Monday, December 16

The Drought Before The Storm

This week has featured no played games and almost no games design. We had several days of planning meetings at work which has got in the way of lunchtime playtesting and my weekly Games Night (which has been disturbingly infrequent recently due to visitors and illnesses) wasn't on because Thursday evening was our office Christmas party instead. The evenings have been short with The Daughter down with another filthy cold (I'm beginning to think her nursery is actually an undercover black ops lab for testing the virulence of bioweapons) and not sleeping well, so I've not had much time to do anything.

I have at least been thinking about games with Codename: Dragon top of the list. In my youth I did eight years of Tae Kwon Do, so I have a little experience of fighting. In Dragon, I wanted to capture the feeling of not knowing what your opponent is going to do, with the attack and defence with moves having both strengths and weaknesses (if you do an axe kick you'll get two points for a head shot, unless they do a back kick: then you'll drop the the floor holding your crotch!).

To achieve that feeling I want each move to have one or two counters that leave it open to a hosing if your opponent correctly guesses what you've gone for. The simultaneous action selection will mean that instead of reacting to your opponent's move, you'll have to play a Princess Bride like game of bluff and double bluff. I've started making some specific card notes, they'll need fleshing out over Christmas. I also want there to be two different ranges, close (swords and claws) and long (lances and fire), so the cards available to you are limited by your current range.

I've lots of ideas at this point, no concrete prototype or even set of rules yet though.

So that's the drought covered, what about the storm? This Thursday, Games Night is back on and it's Christmas Games Night with mince pies and Glühwein instead of the usual snacks and beverages. I'm anticipating a good turn out and a convivial evening of gaming. After that, we're away to see the grandparents (and aunts and uncles and cousins) for a week. We'll stay with the in-laws, and I'm hoping there'll be a few gaming opportunities that week in the evenings.

The big storm though will be in early January. As many of you know I have Multiple Sclerosis. For the last few years I've been on an experimental treatment as part of a clinical trial. It's been great at combatting my MS, but it's not without side-effects and thanks to one of those I'm going to need some radiation therapy at the beginning of next year. As I'm sure you can imagine, being a source of gamma radiation does not gel well with young children - I have to avoid picking up, cuddling and kissing The Daughter for three weeks after I get nuked. Obviously, that's going to be really hard on both of us, but I know what's going on and that it's temporary, whereas you can't explain to a 16 month old child why daddy doesn't want to cuddle you any more. It's going to be awful for her.

To avoid just really upsetting her, we're thinking that The Wife and The Daughter might just go away to stay with the grandparents for those few weeks. She'll still miss me (I hope!) but she'll be showered in affection by the grandparents, and missing me will be less traumatic than me being around but avoiding her like the plague (that I am!).

Which means a couple of weeks in the house by myself. I'll miss them terribly, but needs must. Any ideas how I could fill the time? ;-)

Monday, December 9

Three on the Go

This week, for the first time in many, many years, three game designs have been in my head simultaneously: Zombology, Codename: Vacuum and my new idea for a two-player St. George and the Dragon themed game that I mentioned last week - which I'm calling Codename: Dragon.


At Newcastle Playtest on Tuesday we played Zombology. I'd missed the second Newcastle Playtest in November, so it was the first time any of them had seen it since the very first version/play at the beginning of November. Dan had played in those two early games and Alex and Michał had turned up during the second of those two early games so they had seen the early version, but not played it. We were playing a four player game, so I tried out one of the ideas Konrad had provided via email during NaGa DeMon: taking out one of the suits with fewer players. It seemed to work well.

The scoring still feels pretty clunky though, so I've been thinking about how to make that a smoother experience. I think the next thing I'm going to try is numbering the cards from 1-10 again, instead of 1-5. I switched to 1-5 in the first place to make it easier to count up the value of the cards you had collected. But since then, I stopped scoring the face value of the cards you collected and just counting the number of cards. The downsides of having low numbered cards is when working out which suit was the most successful. You end up saying: 'Which suit has a five? Those four, right, which of those four has a four? Three of them do, ok, so that rules one out, how many fours do those three have? That one has two, so does that one, but that one only has one - right now we know suits suits are scoring.' Seamless! Clearly this is a right chew-on. If the cards went 1 to 10 then it would be easier to see which had the high cards, instead of two 3s and two 4s per suit there would be a 6, 7, 8 and a 9 which would mean you'd be able to spot the differences more easily (I hope!).

I'm also considering making the requirements for higher numbered cards a number of cards played. Currently, to play a 5, for example, any player has to have played a 3 or a 4 in that suit. If instead, the 5 (or will it be 10?) required a certain number of cards out in that suit it might make them easier to play (while still meaning that you need to play the low numbered cards first). In fact, while I type this, I've had another idea, maybe you score face value of your cards in the most successful suits and -1 point per card in the rest (a bit like Coloretto).

Anyway, I've now got loads of ideas of further things to do with Zombology over the coming months. I'm also speaking to an artist about getting some exclusive art done for the NaGa DeMon winners. I've started contacting them to get their shipping addresses, but with the art to sort out it's going to be at least January before I ship them.


During NaGa DeMon I'd pretty much shelved Vacuum - I didn't play it during November at all, a noticeable break from the usual once or twice a week - so that I could concentrate on making headway with Zombology. Last time I played I got some really good feedback from Dan, my co-host for Newcastle Playtest. He pointed out there there are effectively six resources in Vacuum (the five card symbols, plus cashy money), and that the Population and Trade mechanics are a bit dull - just get as much as you can. It's made me think about several things, but the one I'm most keen to try is that you get points for your income, rather than your stockpiled cash. That would mean that you no longer need to keep track of the money you've accrued, just how much you can make in a turn. I'd need to change several things to interact better with that idea, but I'm going to try it out first to see if it's worth the effort. I meant to play Vacuum last week at lunchtime, but had to blow it off after leaving work just after lunch on Monday to take The Daughter to the doctors after a fall at nursery and a bumped head :-( She's fine, but that stuffed my hours for the week.


Dragon popped into my head just over a week ago. I was trying to think of another quick and simple game that I could do for NaGa DeMon next year. I was thinking that instead of trying for a game that plays lots of people, I could go for one that plays two, that would be easy to get playtests lined up for. The idea in my head was a simultaneous action selection game with dice-based combat and uneven player powers (clearly, George can't breathe fire). With the thought so quickly established, I decided to give up on getting it done next November and instead crack on. I've installed Evernote on my phone and started sketching out ideas for how the game could work. I'm not that far from making my first playtest copy I hope, though this close to Christmas I'm struggling to find much time for games design.

With three games on the go I worry that I'll struggle to make decent progress on any of them, especially with limited free time. Still, if you've got the ideas in your head, you just have to run with them!

Monday, December 2

NaGa Demon: A Retrospective

I work in software engineering and at the end of a project we hold a 'retrospective' to answer three questions:

  • What went well, that we would want to do again?
  • What went badly, that we would want to avoid next time?
  • What else should we do?

Seeing as this was my first NaGa DeMon, my first game I'd designed entirely in the public domain and at the last minute I decided to run TGWAG, there's lots of things that I could look back on and evaluate the performance of. So, without further ado:

What went well?

  • I got a lot of page views on the blog. November was my best month by far, outstripping the reddit month (which I honestly though I'd never equal) by 50%
  • By posting the rules online I got a lot of useful feedback as the month went on, letting me iterate the rules very quickly
  • Several people said they would/had print out a copy
  • Someone (thanks, Konrad!) not only solo'd it three or four times, but also played it at least three times with friends, and then sent me very detailed feedback.
  • I managed to design a game within a month, from ideas to reasonable game (with room still for improvement of course)
  • I iterated the rules six times, made five different prototypes and played Zombology sixteen times in a month!
  • Lots of people got involved (possibly due to TGWAG and free PIPs, possibly not)
  • I wrote loads of blog posts in November
  • I chose a simple, short game to design - something complex and hard to balance would be very difficult to develop in only a month

What went badly?

  • I over estimated. I offered five free copies (and for the first three weeks there were only three TGWAG players!) and I set the achievement levels too high (or I was too stingy with my PIP allocation)
  • I designed the rewards badly - a free copy of a game you can print out yourself? Pants!
  • I decided to fix that by adding exclusive artwork, but far too late in the day - the winners are going to have to wait a month or so for their prizes
  • I didn't advertise it very well - just a link from BGG

What else could I do

  • Raise awareness about TGWAG earlier to try to drum up some interest - make the prize more enticing and offer fewer of them so there's a sense of competition
  • Find out better ways to publicise it, beforehand and during the game.
  • Try to attend more sessions to try it with more people - I missed one of the two Newcastle Playtest sessions in November and both of the Newcastle Gamers sessions :(

Overall, I felt it was a great success. I took a game (not Vacuum!) that I had an idea for and turned it into a playable game in only a month! Is it the best game ever? No, of course not. Is there room for improvement? Definitely. I'll continuing designing this in addition to Vacuum, and hopefully it'll get better and better. I definitely want to do NaGa DeMon again next year.

In other news, I've had another idea, which initially I considered for NaGa DeMon next year, but I think I'll get cracking on it shortly. It's a two-player game about St. George and the Dragon. :)

Sunday, December 1

TGWAG: Final Scores!

The Game Within A Game (TGWAG for short) is now over, huge thanks to everyone who took part - your feedback was really useful. In the last week there were a couple of new entrants (GamesBook and Mal) and a huge rush for the finish line from @pidaysock, the only person who has actually given me feedback from games they've played. Congratulations to @pidaysock (the overall TGWAG winner) and Tiffany Ralph, Frugal Dave, Derek Hohls and boardsandbees - free copies are yours!

I'm now in negotiations with an artist about getting some exclusive artwork done for the five TGWAG freebie winners. I'll be in touch with you all for a postal address. What with Christmas and all, and having to get the art done I think it'll be the New Year before the freebie copies are shipping.

Playtester PIP Score Level Free Copy?
@pidaysock 17 MSc Yes!
Tiffany Ralph 15 MSc Yes!
+Derek Hohls / GamesBook 11 MSc Yes!
Frugal Dave 8 BSc Yes!
boardsandbees 6 BSc Yes!
@spdesigntwit 5 BSc No :(
Mal2InternNo :(

Amended to fold GamesBook's score into Derek Hohls's score!