Monday, November 7

I Need Your Help...

... if you own a first edition copy of Zombology. I'm getting close to finalising the second edition rules, but there's a couple of things I need to test the hell out of:

  • Win/loss ratios for different numbers of players
  • A couple of Army Perimeter options

And I'm struggling to find the time to do it all myself - that's where you come in! I missed Newcastle Playtest again last week (and I'll be in Japan during the next one), and have volunteered to babysit for a friend next weekend which means I'll miss Newcastle Gamers too. I'm going to be restarting playtesting in the office at lunchtime, but by itself that would take ages to get the required testing done.

The second edition rules can be played with the first edition cards, so I'm enlisting the help of those of you who have the first edition and fancy helping out to try out the new rules. As mentioned a few weeks ago, the initial starting hands have changed (so the set-up described on the first edition first round card will be wrong) and the Guru rules have changed quite significantly.

In addition, there's a couple of different Army Perimeter options I'd like to try out:

  • Single use (same as the first edition) - when targeted by a Overrun you can choose to discard it and block the Overrun or keep it and suffer the Overrun (that's what it says in the rules linked to above).
  • Permanent - Using it doesn't force you to discard it, so it protects you from multiple Overruns for the rest of the game.

I feel the single use Army Perimeter is a bit under-powered, the Permanent option might be an improvement (or it might totally break the game!).

I'd appreciate any feedback you can provide - in particular, the number of players, won or lost and in which round the win happened if it did.

Monday, October 24

A Goal I Might Hit

This year has been a weird one. My new job has required a lot more travel than I originally expected and as I result I've had a lot less time to spend with my family and on my hobbies of board game design and Windows Phone app programming. Up to this point I've only managed to make it to one of the bi-monthly Newcastle Gamers and I've missed loads of the Newcastle Playtest sessions too. With little to talk about I've cut back on blogging and NaGa DeMon is looking unlikely at this point too.

As a result, the goals I set myself at the beginning of the year are mostly looking impossible with the exception of the 366 plays (nailed it already!). So it was good to get down to York this weekend and spend a weekend with Paul and his family. I used to attend Paul's bi-weekly games night when I lived in York and he has a much larger collection of games than I do, so this was a perfect opportunity to get a few new-to-me games under my belt towards my 24 new-to-me games this year goal.

As it was, Paul was quite ill and I was knackered, so our late night gaming never materialised, but we did manage Rhino Hero (9 times!) and Imhotep, plus a load of games I already knew during the days. Rhino Hero and Imhotep took me to 21 out of 24 new-to-me games, so I just need three more  before the end of the year. That's a possibility, especially if I make it to Newcastle Gamers next month.

It was great to see them all and get some games in. We played Istanbul, Port Royal (still firmly on my wishlist), WobBally, Loopie Louie, Jenga and BANG! The Dice Game. A great weekend.

I've now got only eight days until the start of November with no real plan for NaGa DeMon. This is compounded by the fact that I'm off to Asia for a week and a half for work on the 26th Nov, so I'll miss the end of the month and want to focus on my family before I go. I think NaGa DeMon this year is a bust :-(

Monday, October 17

In The Early Hours

I spent last week in the US again (second time in three weeks!), this time visiting towns north, west and south-west of Boston.

As before I was pretty jetlagged, waking up very early in the morning (between 3 and 4:40am). But rather than just lie in bed face down trying to get back to sleep unsuccessfully for a few hours I chose instead to spend the time productively. I practiced my German and Portuguese on Duolingo, read books and also finished the first draft of the new Zombology rules, incorporating my friend Mal's excellent grammar and clarity-improving feedback and a bunch of illustrated examples to clarify the finer points of the rules.

Mal has offered to go through the finished rules with me for a final proof read so hopefully the final version should be complete in a week or so, once we've found some time to sit down together and read through this version. In the meantime, if any of you fancy trying out the new rules or providing any feedback on their clarity, style or completeness it would be much appreciated. You can get the new rules here (and here are the old ones for comparison).

The only substantive changes to the rules are the set up for 3/4/5 player games (so the setup guide on the first round card is not the same as the previously published version) and the rules around Gurus and failed cards. This means that the new version is playable with the previously published cards :-)

I've also had a chance recently to get back to my German language Windows Phone app. I've been adding a lot more vocabulary, so it's slowly becoming more useful.

Next weekend I'm down in York visiting my friend Paul. I hope to get some gaming in, including a few new to me games :-)

Monday, September 19

Gaming With a Four Year Old

This week I'm off to America for work (I'm writing this at 5am in an airport cafe!), and I'm intending to spend a decent chunk of the early hours that I will have free due to jet lag laying out the new rules for Zombology v2. I've honed them and now my mate Mal (who has a far deeper grasp of English grammar than I do) is going through them with a fine toothed comb weeding out a few extraneous words and fixing all my errors.

In the last week The Daughter and I have spent a lot more time gaming than previously so seeing as I have no progress to report yet, I thought I'd talk about that instead.

Since she was three we've played a bunch of the Orchard Toys games with her: Lunchbox Game, The Cupcake Game, The Ladybird Game, Monster Dominoes and more recently Shopping List (which is essentially a rebranded Lunchbox Game). She's enjoyed a few of those (not so much Ladybirds, but Cupcakes was very popular for a while) and a couple of more dexterity based games: Hungry, Hungry Hippos and Elefun.

These games have been entertaining enough and she's enjoyed them, but there's very little in the way of decisions to be made (in fact The Cupcake Game is entirely predetermined by the shuffle of the cupcake deck), so there's not been much preparation for real games.

I was determined not to force her into playing real (i.e. my) games too early as I didn't want to put her off, but then a few months ago I read a post on BGG about how much fun a four year old son was have with Carcassonne, just because there were choices to be made ('it's like a jigsaw puzzle but I can put the pieces in lots of places'). So I soften my stance a bit.

The Daughter and I started playing a cut down version of Carcassonne - no scoring, no farmers, just taking it in turns to place tiles and optionally add meeples in legal places. She really enjoys it ('Carcassonne is my favourite game of all I want to play it every day with you Daddy'), but she still doesn't have the attention span to play through the full set of tiles, so we just play until she gets bored (20-50 tiles in). Because there's no points involved she often helps me ('I'll add this to your city Daddy to make it bigger'), but she knows what she's doing and she's enjoying it, which is the important bit.

We've also played a few rounds of Martian Dice together, not tracking the scores between rounds, just taking it in turns playing a round and noting the points we got for that round. She's enjoying that too.

This week I bought Animal upon Animal (Tier auf Tier) and The Wife suggested getting Dobble Kids too. She wasn't ready for Tier auf Tier, we started playing a game but she wasn't really engaging with it at all so I've stowed that for later, but she loves Dobble. We've played it loads of times already, and we've only had it a week. I can see that being a huge hit for months to come.

With all this real gaming going on she's now showing a lot more interest in my games. Frequently asking questions about the pictures on the boxes racked up in our Games (Dining) Room. Fun times ahead!

Monday, September 12


This week I made it to Newcastle Playtest for the first time since April! It was a great evening - good to see the guys and catch up and also check in with their games designs. First we had a couple of games of The Book of the Dead, a fantastic little timed game from Paul Scott. We played it for almost the first time back in April and I loved it, and I was delighted to see that it was just as much fun this time round (by now with much nicer art!). Paul is thinking of Kickstarting it reasonably soon I believe. We ended with Galactic Contractors, one of Dan's that had improved greatly since my last play.

In between those we played a couple of games of Zombology, but with some slightly different rules. I'd played it a couple of times recently at work during our lunchtime games club and the rules explanation and then the confusion around hands of different sizes going round made me think I needed to do something about the Guru rules. I had an idea a couple of weeks ago that I tried out one lunchtime and that idea has since evolved in my head into a more streamlined idea. It has the double bonus of simplifying the Guru and failed cards rules and simultaneously getting rid of the uneven hand size too.

It worked pretty well, we played a seven player and then an eight player game (I think!) and won both. Everyone thought it was an improvement on the old rules, but we won both games, the first one in round three! The fastest win I'd seen in the previous 100-odd games was round five. So there's a chance it's suddenly much easier. I can't think how that would be true, but I need to play a load more games to get some empirical data.

During the week I've been working on the rules for a second edition taking the rules from the handmade limited edition as a starting point. I've changed the Guru rules as mentioned above which simplify things quite a bit and I've also tried to cut down on the word count. The rules sheet for the first version looked like a fairly intimidating wall of text, which considering it's not too complicated a game is a bit disappointing. It was so wordy once I'd covered off the rules and tried to make sure all the grey areas were clearly explained that there was no room for diagrammatic examples :-(

So this week I've been trying to pare the rules down a bit. The rules changes removed quite a lot of 'if this then that otherwise something else' and then I went through trying to cut out all the places where my natural loquacity had made things unnecessarily wordy. I've managed to shave off nearly 300 of 1844 words which, when I lay them out in InDesign, will hopefully free up some space for more diagrams and examples.

I'm not expecting to get much done this week - I've a work night out on Tuesday, Games Night on Wednesday, I've got to get stuff ready for a trip to America next week for work and I also want to spend some time with my family before I go.

But next week I'm in America all week so I'll probably have the hours of 3am to 7am every day to spend on sorting out the new rules in InDesign. Gotta love jet lag.

The good news is that the new rules don't require any new components - they work with the cards as published in the first version. The only slight exception is that the cards dealt in the first round have changed slightly, so the cheat sheet on the first round marker is now out of date.

Monday, August 22

Zombology: Round Three?

So as I alluded to last week, I'm considering another print run of Zombology. I've played the game a few times recently with people (before telling them I was the designer) and I reckon I could have probably sold a copy there and then if I had one. 'I'm sorry, it's only currently available in the US, shipping to the UK is very expensive and the pound has just collapsed', hasn't sold me many copies!

It would be nice to have a few copies around to flog and for Zombology to have a wider audience than the friends, family, playtesters and Reiver Games fans who got one of the thirty copies of the original print run. 

So what would Zombology Round Three look like? I'm speaking to the printers of the original run, getting quotes for runs around 100 copies. I'd want to change the spec slightly: 


The rules were printed on paper that was too thick really, and the cards were so thick that once they'd been laminated they didn't quite fit in the box tray. I've got a proof from the printer on slightly thinner card - I've got to cut them out and check that they still feel thick enough for use during the game.


I'm considering a slight change to the rules too. There's a situation where a player plays a card that's not valid and if the Guru has been claimed by one of the players the card goes to Guru owner's next hand. This means that one of the hands is now bigger than the rest, which is pretty confusing. Instead, I'm thinking that failed cards always go to the middle of the table, regardless of whether the Guru has been claimed or not. The Guru owner can then, before each round return a Therapy card from their hand to the centre of the table to draw a Therapy card that is the same suit as one of their Gurus from the centre of the table. That way the hands all stay the same size.


The art is pretty basic, because my skills aren't great in that area. However, it's a similar sort of game to 6 Nimmt! which also has basic art, so I'm not considering overhauling it. However, that being said, there's room for improvement, so I'd like to tweak it. There's a few fixes I made for the Drive Thru Cards version that would need applying to the hand made one, mostly around making text more legible, plus the Army Perimeter is pretty bland, so I've some ideas to improve that. 

Last week I got some proofs from the printer for the thinner cards and got information from BGG about advertising costs. I also asked a poll on BGG to see if there's any interest in hand-made games on KickStarter.

This week I have four hours on trains going to and from my biannual hospital visit for my clinical trial, so I might start doing some of the art improvements on the off chance this goes somewhere.

Monday, August 15

4,000 Plays!

I joined BGG back in February 2006, when I was considering publishing Border Reivers. I finally got around to publishing Border Reivers in July that year, and started recording the games I played on BGG in August that year. In fact, Friday was the tenth anniversary of my first recorded game on BGG (it was one of five plays of Border Reivers that day at The Cast Are Dice in Stoke on Trent, the first convention I attended as a publisher).

Over the last ten years I've managed to rack up 4,000 plays on BGG - my 4,000th was Zombology at our lunchtime games club in the office last Wednesday. It's nice that the 4,000 are bookended by plays of games I've designed :-)

That's an average of 400 games a year or over one game a day for ten years! In fact, it's actually more than that, seeing as I didn't record plays of prototypes during my Reiver Games days and I only started recording mobile plays with humans a couple of years ago.

Clearly board gaming is a huge part of my life. There are six games I've recorded at least 100 plays of: unpublished prototypes, Carcassonne, Race for the Galaxy, 7 Wonders, Magic: The Gathering and It's Alive! and to be honest the numbers for Magic, unpublished prototypes and to a lesser degree Carcassonne are actually much higher than that, as I played them a lot before starting to record games. I've played over 500 different games during that period.

Here's to loads more gaming in the future!

In other news, I've been recently frustrated that Zombology is only available really in the US and Canada at the moment through Drive Thru Cards. There have been a couple of occasions when I could probably have sold a copy if I had one on me, and saying 'you can get it in the US for $12 plus $16 shipping' is not going to lead to any widespread adoption. It turns out I'm still rubbish at marketing though, so if I was got to do a reprint I'd need to seriously up my game at promotion, and maybe go down the KickStarter route, despite my previous KickStarter reticence.


Monday, July 4

A Sabbatical

As I'm sure you're aware, this blog about designing and playing games has been very light on the designing for the last few months.

Since my promotion at work last October I've been doing a lot more travel for work, and with a young daughter and The Wife at home, when I'm around I've been choosing to spend most of my free time with them rather than designing games.

Added to that, programming which has been a major hobby and/or my career for the last thirty years is no longer part of my day job, and I miss it. When I have found some time to kill recently, I've chosen to work on my phone apps to scratch that programming itch, rather than my games designs. I've got a few ideas on the games design front, but I can't seem to get the enthusiasm together to actually make any progress on them.

Board gaming is still a huge part of my life (I'm on course to play more games this year than I have in the last ten!), but game design seems to have slipped down the list behind spending time with my family, learning German and Portuguese, programming and finally getting some exercise. Slipped to a point where it's just not happening any more.

I have no way of tracking how many readers I have any more (my stats are getting spammed by spider bots), so I've no idea if anyone reads this, but my guess is that those of you who do are reading it to hear about my experiences as a board game designer and former publisher, not talking about my programming progress or how I hope to do some games design next week.

So I'm going to stop blogging weekly, and just blog when I have something worth saying (and hopefully reading!) on the games design front. Thanks to those of you who've read my weekly ramblings for the last four years.

Monday, June 27

I'm Stealthy, Like The Ninja

It's been a good week. Monday and Tuesday I had the house to myself in the evening while The Wife was in Germany, so I spent the time getting a decent chunk of functionality into German language phone app.

Wednesday I managed another Games Night (work commitments are cancelling a disturbing proportion of them at the moment). We played Lost Cities, Alea Iacta Est (knocking it off my not yet played this year list), Pandemic: The Cure (same again, plus we played it twice, so two more plays towards ten plays) and then a couple of games of Zombology. We'd also manged my first lunchtime games club in ages that day too - Gav beat me twice at Taluva. Man, I'm so glad I bought that! We've been playing it loads.

Then finally on Saturday I made it to Newcastle Gamers too. Newcastle Gamers is on twice a month. We're halfway through the year, so there's been at least (they hold a few special extra sessions every now and again) twelve sessions in 2016. And this was my first one. First! Turns out this new job is keeping me pretty busy.

Thankfully I had a great evening. I got there about quarter to eight, and after waiting for five or ten minutes I joined Ruth, Tom and Sarah for a game of Beyond Baker Street. It had a lot of similarities to Hanabi (you play with face-out cards in your hand and have to build sets playing blind from your hand). Our four player game seemed extremely hard and Tom and Sarah who had played it a lot since being taught it by the designers at the UK Games Expo said it was easy with two, but tricky with three. After that, they looked at my pile of games (Endeavor, Homesteaders, K2, Kodama and Zombology) and chose Zombology. We played it a couple of times and again, I didn't tell them I was the designer until we had finished. They seemed to enjoy it, and asked about where to get it, but of course the only option at the moment is the very expensive shipping from Drive Thru Cards.

After a couple of rounds of Zombology Tom and Sarah headed off so I went looking for another table and managed to join Becky, Mangler, Gordon and Richard for a game of Sushi Go! As soon as I saw it was I keen to play - I knew the designer was of interest to me (though I couldn't remember who it was) and I love sushi, so it seemed win-win. It turns out the designer was Phil Walker-Harding who used to blog here with me eight or nine years ago, before he became a very successful designer (Archaeology, Sushi Go!, Cacao and most recently the Spiel des Jahres nominated Imhotep). I'd not played any of Phil's games since I playtested Cannonball Colony years and years ago, so it was great to try one of his designs and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Like Zombology it's a drafting game, but one with a steadily diminishing hand and set-collection elements. The art was cute, the theme was cute and it was a quick, fun game. I've added it to my wishlist :-)

After a couple of games of Sushi Go! we also played a couple of Zomobology (after Gordon left), and again I neglected to mention I was the designer until after we finished. They seemed to enjoy it (and Becky was complimentary about the art too!) and they also asked about how to buy it when I made my reveal. I'm beginning to wonder whether I should make some more hand-made ones...

We rounded the night out with a game of Kodama, another one on my ten plays list (only one game left!).

All in all this week, I managed to play two new to me games (Sushi Go! and Beyond Baker Street), three games towards my ten plays list (Kodama and two of Pandemic: The Cure) and two off my not yet played this year list (Pandemic: The Cure and Alea Iacta Est). Busy week!

At the halfway point of the year, I've managed to played nineteen games for the first time this year, that's nineteen towards my goal of 24 - it's looking very achievable!

Monday, June 20

Getting Back Into The Swing Of It

After my full-on trip to the States I returned home to a very busy week at work, with loads of people from America and Manchester (including my boss) over for a meeting. To make things more exciting, I caught a filthy cold on the plane home so for most of the week I felt rough as a dog too.

By judiciously avoiding alcohol on a work night out on Tuesday (I also left at 7:30!), I managed to mostly get over it by Thursday thankfully.

My only real gaming this week was the first Games Night in three weeks on Wednesday when we managed to tick Agricola off my 'haven't yet played this year' list and another Colt Express play towards my ten plays list. It was a fairly quite one - just Ian, Mike and I which meant we could get a longer game in too.

Yesterday The Wife swanned off to Germany for a couple of days for a work conference, so until late Tuesday evening I'm solo Parent-In-Charge of The Daughter. I'm using the evenings after The Daughter goes to sleep to do a bit more work on my German language app (taking shape nicely!) and finally making the next version of Dragon Dance. Last time I played it with Paul (back in 1870-something I think) he had a great idea about replacing the short/long range indicator card with a card that tries to convey a sense of space. I'm going to knock something up tonight and will see if I can get it tested in the office this week.

Next week I'm in Romania for most of the week so, if it works, I'll have some time to knock up a proper version of it in InDesign during my mornings/evenings. Of course Romania means no Games Night or lunchtime gaming club again. I need to spend some time in the country!

The week after Romania is Newcastle Playtest, and seeing as I've missed the last two (holiday in Portugal and conference in San Antonio), I'm really keen to make it to this one, especially if I've got a new version of Dragon Dance for Paul to try!

Monday, June 13

Gaming In San Antonio

So last week I got one evening off from work in my week long trip to San Antonio in Texas and rather than wander the hospitality suites at the convention hoovering up free beer and food I chose instead to get a cab out to Dragon's Lair and get some gaming in.

I'd asked on BGG beforehand and a guy called Sean had told me about it and even offered me a lift back into town afterwards if he was around. If he was around I didn't see him unfortunately, but I still had a great night. On arrival I wandered round the store briefly and had a look at their collection of games (pretty good, but not as extensive as The Source in Minneapolis a few years ago). Then I went into the gaming room and met Chris. He was waiting for the Netrunner crowd to turn up so we had a quick game of Kodama (its nice small box is very portable!) and then they arrived and I was invited to join a game of the Legendary Deck Building Game with Al, Jimmy and Chante. I think we got a couple of rules wrong (none of us new the game well enough to pick up and explain so we were learning from the rules - which is often tricky), but it was fun nevertheless. After that Michael joined us and we had a game of Dead of Winter, which was new to all of us except Michael. It turned out that Michael was a traitor, so against four newbies he had fairly easily run of it and the rest of us were overwhelmed after an hour and a half or so.

After that it was getting late so Chante and Al headed off and Michael, Jimmy and I had three games of Zombology. It was an easy sell after Dead of Winter - another zombie-themed semi-coop but one that played in ten minutes! I had introduced myself as Jack and didn't call out the fact that I had designed the game, so as far as they were concerned we were just playing a game I'd brought along, rather than one I was pushing as the designer. We ended up playing three games: I won one on my own, we all died in the second and in the third I think we all won. The guys really enjoyed it and it wasn't until we were in the car on the way back to my hotel (Michael had kindly offered me a lift) that I told him I'd designed the game. I'm still not sure why I kept it to myself but it worked out OK! We ended the night with a quick pint in the hotel bar which was rammed with people from the convention.

All in all a great night: another play of Kodama towards my ten plays, a new to me game towards my 24 new to me games this year goal and some Zombology fans.

Now I'm back I need to try to get the new Dragon Dance made up and crack on with that before I'm off again to Romania at the end of the month! For the moment though I need to concentrate on shaking off the filthy cold I acquired at some point during my trip :-(

Monday, June 6

Hello From Sunny San Antonio

As I mentioned last week, I'm in San Antonio, Texas this week for work. It's a very busy week but I've managed to get tonight off so that I can go to the San Antonio Board Gamers meetup at Dragon's Lair. I've brought Zombology, Dragon Dance (which needs an overhaul) and Kodama with me, hopefully I'll get to try some new stuff too.

San Antonio

Last week I was away for a mid-week trip to Derbyshire for my friend Tim's secret birthday party. It was Monday to Friday, but we had to leave on Thursday as I was flying from Newcastle first thing on Friday morning. I took a decent stack of games: Zombology, 6 Nimmt!, Kodama, Incan Gold, Ca$h 'n Gun$, King of Tokyo, Colt Express and Firefly. Tim had brought a load of games too and Simon and Duncan had also brought a few. I managed to play everything I brought except 6 Nimmt! but managed to miss every game of something someone else brought due to either looking after The Daughter, cooking a meal or having gone to bed early to make up for a game of Firefly the night before which had finished just after 2am.

Zombology was well received after the first couple of games when people were still trying to work out what was going on - it seems there's a fairly steep learning curve for new players. We also saw a game where Zombyism was cured but none of the players won, which was a first I believe. Two plays of Ca$h 'n Gun$ took that off my ten plays list and the plays of Kodama and Colt Express also moved them nearer to escaping from the ten plays list.

I've now got 12 games left on the list, one of which is definitely going, three (Koi Pond, Libertalia and Pandemic: The Cure) are at risk and might well go too and the others I expect to have cleared off the list by the end of the year. My unplayed so far this year list however still has 26 games on it, including many previous staples such as Die Speicherstadt, Puerto Rico, Thunderstone and Agricola.

These lists are just for interest this year, instead of part of my goals. The only gaming goal I have is to play 24 new to me games this year. At 16 by early June I'm in good shape for that, let's see if I can add any tonight!

San Antonio

Monday, May 30

On The Road Again

I'm going to manage only two weeks in the office in both May and June!

So far this month I've had two weeks in Portugal on holiday, then two weeks in the office (including last week), now I'm off for another holiday with some friends from Monday to Thursday. Then I've got a week in San Antonio, TX for work for the conference that I go to every year, followed by two weeks in the office before I head to Romania for a week for work again. It's far more travel than I'm used to.

Last week I did very little that was blog worthy, I mostly spent the week hanging out with my family after the weekend away at Beer and Pretzels. I did manage a Games Night on Wednesday (they are far less frequent than I'd like due to travel commitments) and a lunchtime games club on Thursday where we played Taluva again.

I'm hoping to get some games in on my holiday this week, and then the 17 hour journey to San Antonio will be spent with poor Ian strapped into a seat next to me and my iPad full of board games, so I'd imagine we'll play a fair few games (or I'll get axe murdered at 37,000 feet, one of the two).

On the subject of axe murdering, the conference I'm attending in San Antonio moves around the US and this will be my fifth one on the trot. At several of the last few I've met with random strangers (and some internet friends) to go gaming.

In Vancouver in 2012 I met with Tao who runs Starlit Citadel who had been very supportive of Reiver Games. We went for coffee before he took me back to his warehouse to show me his operation.

Minneapolis in 2013 involved twice meeting up with strangers I'd met on BGG and getting driven to an out of town location (the Fantasy Flight Event Center!) for an evening of gaming. I returned safe and sound and had a blast with Alfredo, Jay and Fred.

Baltimore in 2014 was a no show, but I was back to my old tricks in St. Louis last year with Dan meeting me, taking me for dinner and then gaming before driving me back to my hotel at the end of the night.

This year I've managed to wangle a night off work on Monday and will be heading out to Dragon's Lair for an evening of gaming (and hopefully a fourth successful axe-murdering dodge).

It's a great opportunity to meet new people, play new games and see a bit of the city other than the Convention Center and my hotel.

Wish me luck!

Monday, May 23

Beer and Pretzels 2016

It's been a great week of gaming, culminating in my weekend con trip of the year at Beer and Pretzels 2016 in Burton on Trent. Wednesday I went to Manchester with Ian, so once I'd finished my presentation slides we played a few games on the iPad (including 6 Nimmt! which works better than I expected pass and play). Thursday was Games Night featuring 6 Nimmt! (again) a couple of games of Race for the Galaxy, King of Tokyo and a couple of games of Zombology. Friday I had a night off gaming and an early night to try to recover from a few bad nights sleep and to ready myself for the early start.

Five AM on Saturday I planned to quickly turn off the alarm and get ready as quietly as possible to avoid disturbing The Wife (who doesn't deserve a 5am start just because I want to go gaming). Sadly at 4:58am every house alarm in the street (including ours) went off due to a very brief power outage. I sprinted downstairs to turn it off, The Wife, thinking it was a fire alarm had dashed into The Daughter's room, where she was happily sleeping through it! The Wife went back to bed and I got in the shower only for it to happen again and this time The Wife has to sprint downstairs. Sub-optimal.

Burton Town Hall

Still, it meant I was definitely awake and didn't miss my train to Burton! Beer and Pretzels has been held in the lovely Burton Town Hall for the last 27 years, but sadly this may well be the last one. The council are putting the rent up by a huge amount and Sal and Phil who organise it have yet to find a suitable replacement venue. Three out of the last four years I've been down and met up with Terry, one of my old Bedford gaming chums, for a great weekend of gaming, beer and catching up with friends.

On Saturday Terry and I played a few games with Paul and Carol and their friends Tony, Callum and Phil and a few 2-player games together. We started with Kodama, then Port Royal, Zombology, Magnum Sal, Roll for the Galaxy (ticked offf my ten plays list!), The Voyages of Marco Polo, Patchwork a couple of times, Murano, Kodama again and ended with another play of Port Royal.

Port Royal, Magnum Sal, The Voyages of Marco Polo, Patchwork and Murano were all new to me and all good games. Patchwork stood out as my favourite of the bunch with Port Royal and Marco Polo also particularly good fun. I can see Port Royal being popular at Games Night, so I might have to get that. As I expected, Kodama is growing on me the more I play it, I imagine I'll tick off the remaining 7 plays required to get to ten quite quickly.

Beer and Pretzels 2016

Sunday was a shorter day as I had to get the train home at 5:30, but I still managed another 9 games. We played Oh My Goods!, Kodama (again), Roll for the Galaxy (again), Burano, Kigi, Koi Pond, Port Royal (again), Hamsterbacke and Roll again!

Oh My Goods!, Burano and Hamsterbacke were all new to me and it's becoming clearer to me that I'm moving towards lighter games. I thought Oh My Goods! was great fun, and surprisingly deep for a little card game. Hamsterbacke was also very enjoyable with plenty of screwage.

Burano on the other hand (where I was flailing around completely unsure of what I was doing) I really didn't enjoy. It has a mechanism where at the start of each round you have a minute to build a pyramid of cubes which affected what actions you could take for the next 12-16 rounds. It was immensely frustrating since as a beginner I had no idea what to do and then ended up hamstrung for the next 45 minutes four times during the game. What's more, it's didn't seem to add anything to the game. Needless to say I am not a fan.


All in all a fantastic weekend. Patchwork was my favourite of eight new to me games, putting me well on the way to my 24 new to me games this year goal. We played three games three times: Kodama (which Paul bought after our play), Roll and Port Royal.

In addition, I spent 8 hours programming on my German language app on the train journeys and on Sunday morning!

Next week will be noticeably quieter!

Monday, May 16

Eu Volto

I'm back!

We had two weeks in the south of Portugal. The day we arrived (at 5pm) it was glorious. The next day was pretty good and then we had two weeks of very windy and overcast weather with occasional downpours. The day we left (at 8am) also looked glorious too. Ho hum. Apparently they had a heatwave in the UK in our absence!

Still despite the weather we had a lovely break and The Wife and I even managed some gaming after The Daughter had gone to bed and we introduced The Daughter to Jenga which she loved despite losing every game. I took Carcassonne: The Castle, Kodama: The Tree Spirits, Race for the Galaxy and Magic with us and we played one game of Kodama, several of Carcassonne and Race (two of our staples from when we used to play games together, pre-The Daughter) and unwrapped the Magic cards but lost interest before making decks, let alone playing. The Wife and I have played a lot of Magic in the past - especially when we lived in the US, but I think that's where it belongs now - we've moved on.

I kept up my Duolingo practice of both German and Portguese while I was away, along with reading His Dark Materials in German on the Kindle iPad app (with very frequent use of the in-built dictionary!). The German is going well, I've reached Chapter 4 of HDM and I kept practising with my German language app too.

Portuguese, sadly not so well. I'm about a quarter of the way through the Duolingo course, but I found I couldn't actually say anything useful ('The bill please', 'Can I park here for free', numbers, etc.). I knew quite a lot of words (when reading there was a bunch of stuff I was surprised I could understand), but I felt hopeless when it came to talking.  It's the first time I've used Duolingo to learn a language from scratch (I already knew quite a bit of German before starting the Duolingo course) and I've found it a lot less brilliant than I thought it was when doing the German course.

I've used this knowledge to pad out the list of stuff I want in my German language app. Lots more to do there!

This week I've a busy week of gaming planned: Wednesday I'm off to Manchester for work with Ian - there'll probably be some games on the iPad on the train, Games Night is moving to Thursday as a result and then Saturday and Sunday I'm going to Beer and Pretzels in Burton on Trent with Terry who I used to game with in Bedford when I lived there. Should be a great week!

Monday, May 9

Daniel Solis On Spec

All being well this will have been posted automatically by blogger in the middle of my two week holiday in Portugal...

As I've said here before, I very rarely buy games without having tried them beforehand. I've only got seventy games in my collection (which ordinary people think is ludicrous and makes me a weirdo, but gamers think is a pathetic attempt at a collection and pretty weak for a designer), and space is limited, so I normally get rid of a few games a year and replace them with games I really like but don't yet own. Buying a game without trying it first is a big risk - I might end up wasting valuable space on a game I'd rather not have and will rarely play.

An exception to this rule has recently been games by Daniel Solis, a games designer from North Carolina in the US. Daniel first came to my attention when he was posting the income that he'd made by selling his games through Drive Thru Cards on a monthly basis. I liked the transparency and it was interesting to compare his exploits in the world of no-risk print on de mand publishing to my experience gambling with £12,000 and losing £8,500 of it while running Reiver Games.

Daniel has been prolific (he has 55 games and expansions listed on BGG) and he does his art himself given each game its own attractive unique art. So when I considered publishing Zombology print on demand after the hand-made limited edition sold out, it was to Drive Thru Cards I turned, and I bought a copy of his beautiful game Kigi to check out Drive Thru Cards quality and customer experience. Drive Thru were great and Kigi is a beautiful game with a really nice card laying mechanism. After eight plays I enjoy it, but it feels a bit too light and the pruning mechanism means that your trees rarely get to develop more than a single branch.

When I'd uploaded the Zombology art for proofing I bought Koi Pond (another highly rated, beautiful, Asian-themed game of Daniel's) at the same time. At this point I've only played it twice so I'm still getting to grips with the strategy, but it's got a few interesting ideas in there too. That's two Daniel Solis games bought without trying first.

Recently I'd started seeing more photos in my Twitter stream of another game that appeared to have stolen the tree branch card laying mechanism from Kigi. I was mildly perturbed on Daniel's behalf until I realised the game, Kodama: The Tree Spirits, was one of his. It turns out Kodama was the outcome of Action Point Games picking up Kigi and re-theming and developing it further. I watched a video review of it, during which it sounded like it addressed a few of the things about Kigi that bothered me slightly and promptly bought a new in-shrink copy of the Kickstarter edition from the BGG marketplace. I've yet to try it, but I have high hopes: it's got a cute theme, nice art and sounds more strategic. That's three Of Daniel's games I've bought on spec!

Monday, May 2

Off to Portugal

As expected this week was a fairly unproductive one, mostly spent doing frantic last minute preparation for our trip to Portugal today. I'm not particularly organised it turns out.

I did get a little bit of work done on my German language Windows Phone app, changing a couple of things that really bugged me about the functionality, improving the UI a bit and introducing a heinous bug. Sadly, I didn't have time to fix the bug ahead of the trip, so I'll have to work around it for the next couple of weeks while I'm away. I use my app on a daily basis so it will be particularly frustrating. Fixing it will be a priority on my return!

We did have a special Games Night on Wednesday to bid adieu to Amaury who has been coming to Games Night since the New Year. He's moving to Geneva shortly, which is apparently 'too far' to commute to Games Night. Wimp! We played games that were designed or published in France (he's French), including Pitch Car which was a blast. It was a great evening, he'll be sadly missed at Games Night, although I have to admit his amazing win ratio slightly less so!

I'm only taking four games to Portugal (space and weight is at a premium): Carcassonne The Castle, Magic The Gathering (a tiny subset of our collection), Kodama The Tree Spirits and Race for the Galaxy. I managed to cram them all in the Carcassonne box - efficient!

Not sure if I'll managed to blog next week, so have a good couple of weeks everyone!

Monday, April 25

Zombology on Demand!

After a few busy weeks of travel for work and lots of visitors at home we've had a fairly quite week, spent chilling as a family and getting stuff ready for our forthcoming holiday to Portugal. Up until last night I'd done nothing blog-worthy at all (no mobile development, no games design, no playtesting). But last night, I finally pulled my finger out, uploaded the rules and submitted the request to make Zombology available Print on Demand from Drive Thru Cards.

It'll apparently take a couple of days to be made live, but all being well it'll be available this week.

This will make it far more affordable for US/Canadian customers than the hand-made version (which is now sold out anyway). As soon as it is available I'll mention it on twitter and BGG of course.

Next week I'm not expecting much progress on anything either, as we'll be getting ready for the holiday in earnest, then two weeks off. Hopefully I'll be back up to full speed on my return from holiday.

Monday, April 18


Last week I spent almost entirely in Manchester for work. Thankfully, that didn't preclude gaming :-)

Monday began with a three hour train journey with Ian (Ra, Carcassonne, Tsuro, Galaxy Trucker) and ended with a night in a pub for Tabletop Manchester with Ian and two other colleagues: Russell and Steve. Several people were playing either Netrunner (including Steve and Russell) or X-Wing Minis, but there were a few tables of board games too. Firstly Ian and I taught Russell and Steve Zombology, which we played a couple of times, then Ian and I wandered round to see what else was being played. We joined David Nelson for a playtest of his game: Temp Worker Assassins, which was a lot of fun, before a quick game of Kigi and then joined Toby and Andrew for a game of San Juan, which I'd not played since I'd sold my copy eight years previously. It was an entertaining night, definitely more fun than slumping in a hotel room on my own!

The rest of the trip was fairly stacked out with work, so I didn't get much else gaming or programming related done, and then the end of the week was focussed on my family who I'd not seen for several days. All I did manage was to proof the Zombology Print on Demand version. All I have to do now is upload the rules and some pictures for the game page.

This week I'm around all week, so lunchtime gaming and Games Night are both back on and I hope to get some progress made on the new games I alluded too last week, I've been mulling them over during my time away :-)

Monday, April 11

New Games

It's been a very games-heavy week :-)

Tuesday I made it to Newcastle Playtest for the first time in what felt like several months (I definitely didn't make it in March, not sure about Feb). We had a great turnout, including a couple of people who had made the trek from Cumbria to get some feedback on their game: Collusion.

I turned up too late to join in with that, so we went and started a new table and tried out the newer version of Dragon Dance. It worked ok, and Paul thought it was better than the last version but he wasn't wowed. Then he made a throwaway suggestion which I think would make the game loads better - now I've got another version to design, make and try out!

Afterwards, Paul said he had a game idea that he'd knocked together the previous night while watching TV, 'it's not a game but there's an idea there'. He started explaining the game (The Book of the Dead, themed around the Necronomicon from the Cthulhu mythos) including a particularly complex timekeeping mechanism (it's a timed game). We suggested a simple timing mechanism and then tried it out. Six times on the trot! It was awesome - so awesome I offered to publish it for him the next day, or to help him approach the publishers I know. Wisely, he chose the second of those options!

Wednesday was lunchtime games club (Taluva again) and then Games Night (including Roll for the Galaxy). Then on Friday, my mate Paul and his family turned up for the weekend and we played a load more games. I had my first Flick 'Em Up experience (genius!) and knocked a few more plays off my ten plays list and a few more games off my not yet played this year list.

To top it all off, while wandering round Cragside on Saturday, we came up with not one but two new game ideas, one of which Paul was very taken with, and one of which I was very excited about. Yet another game I've got to make a prototype of ASAP for testing :-)

What an awesome week.

Next week is a weird one. I'm away in Manchester Monday - Thursday with Ian for work. We'll play a bunch of games on the iPad on the trains I'm sure and Russell (of Android Netrunner in the US fame) is going to take us both to Tabletop Manchester on Monday night at The Wharf. Gaming in a pub - yay!

Of course, since I'm away there's no lunchtime gaming on Wednesday and no Games Night, so it's not all good.

Anyway, To The Prototype Coalface!

Monday, April 4

Find The Fun

A couple of weeks ago someone on twitter linked to this video by Eduardo (Edo) Baraf: So you want to make a game. He talks about game design in terms of six headings (see below).

I found the video very interesting, very thought provoking and it made me think about my games design efforts both past and present. During the six years I ran Reiver Games, I started out making games by hand, and then made the leap from time-intensive hand-crafting games in my spare time around a full-time job to quitting my job and running a professional publishing company as my full time job (spectacularly badly, by the way).

Over the last three or four years I've got back into games design and last year I made another hand-made run of a game with Zombology. Back to my roots. Once again I'm doing it in my spare time around a full-time job (and a young family as well this time!).

Edo's six points each made me think of why I spend so much of my free time designing games , so I thought I'd go through my thoughts on each of his points here:

Know what you're good at

I'm not a particularly good game designer, and I'm a pretty pants artist. I think all the evidence of Reiver Games goes to show that I'm rubbish at advertising and marketing. So what am I good at? I think the thing I'm best at is actually the hand-crafting of games. Ten years after Border Reivers was released I'm still proud of the physical quality of the games and the components and the effort that went into making them (3 hours each for those 100 copies!). And I'm proud of Zombology too. It's simple, but it's well done. Lovingly hand-crafted.

Know what you want

I'm not in it for the money, or the fame. I don't want to do a KickStarter, or run another publishing company. I'd like people to play my games and enjoy them, but even that's not the be all and end all for me. I enjoy the process. I like designing games, doing the graphic design in InDesign and Illustrator, playtesting with friends and at Newcastle Playtest, and I love making the games. Both the one-off prototypes that get played a couple of times and are then superseded and the hand-made runs like Border Reivers and Zombology. I enjoy hand-crafting games - I find it relaxing and therapeutic.

Find the fun

This is the bit I need to improve at. My games are fairly esoteric. They are never going to be mass-market hits, they aren't good enough and don't have wide enough appeal. But there are people who enjoy them. Mal loved Border Reivers (even more so once he finally beat me at it!), Paul from Newcastle Playtest gets very excited during Zombology. It's great to know that I've created something that brings other people joy, even if it's just a couple of them.

Find your audience

This is something I always have in mind when working on my games. Zombology was always intended as a filler for the beginning or end of a games night. Something simple and silly to while away a few minutes before playing something meatier. You need to use the intended audience as a filter when receiving feedback to ensure the feedback from your playtesters doesn't take you in a direction that you don't want to go.

Your journey

As I mentioned above, for me the journey is the important bit. I don't really mind whether the game sees the light of day, what matters to me is the joy I get from the journey. Making the prototypes, doing the graphic design, playtesting with friends, and should it get to that stage, introducing strangers to my game. Making the game is almost more fun than having a final product that can be sold.

Their joy

Edo talks about this in terms of the multiplication of the hours you put in to the hours of joy that your audience will get from the game. None of my own games have had enough distribution to achieve that, I'd be very surprised to find that the hours I put into Border Reivers or Zombology were more than the hours of play from my customers. But to me that doesn't matter. I've enjoyed making them from start to finish, and if someone, somewhere has enjoyed playing them, that's just icing on the cake.

Thanks for the video, Edo, made me take stock of what I'm doing, why and who for.

Monday, March 28

Notable Progress

The week was largely mobile development progress. I've been focussing on my German language app for yet another week, adding more content, but also adding local notifications, so you get a toast notification when you get something to practice and the shell tile updates with the number of words you need to practice every half hour. It's amazing how much more professional that makes it feel (the first German language app I got on my phone didn't do that - you had to keep opening the app to check). It also makes it much more usable, for that very reason - now I only start the app when practice tests are ready or to learn something new.

I set myself a goal to release the app this year, and that is now beginning to look achievable.

The weekend (and it was an epic six day weekend :-) ), was all about the games. My sister in law and her husband came to visit and we played nineteen games! Double Firefly! Two plays of Taluva, Kigi and one of Koi Pond, Ca$h N Gun$ and Colt Express from my ten plays list and also my first play of the year of Koi Pond, Vikings and Kigi, The only slight downer was the couple of spectacular sickness events The Daughter managed on Friday and Saturday :-(

In other news I started a lunchtime games club. Mal, Gav and I played Taluva (fast becoming one of my favorite games - also one of Gav's). We're going to play it again next week. In yet further news, at Games Night we only managed one game: Battlestar Galactica, which I'd not played for a couple of years. It was a weird game - we were all humans until distance six, and then the two cylons (including myself) revealed quickly to try to scupper things before they reached Kobol. We had almost no cylon fleet action until the last couple of jumps and the humans managed a fairly easy win (though we did get them down to 2 fuel and 1 population). I'd like to play again for a more normal, paranoid experience!

Monday, March 21

Decent Progress All Round

This week hasn't been as epic as last week, but I've nevertheless managed to make solid progress on a couple of things. It was a busy week at work (though all in the office - no travel!) with visitors from America and Manchester up along with my boss for several days and a work night out (rare enough for me) on Tuesday.

Once that was out of the way we had another good Games Night on Wednesday (more Taluva and Colt Express :-) ) and then I fit in some more development in the evenings towards the end of the week. One of the things I miss about being a developer in my day job is the feeling of accomplishment you get when you write some code, compile it and it works. You've clearly achieved something. These days my day job involves meetings and sending and responding to emails - it's harder to spot when you've done good work.

The last couple of weeks I've made really good progress on my learning German app, and I can tell that, because I can use it to strength my German - the proof is in the pudding. I'm now in a position (after a whole week of faffing on refactoring things) that I can quite quickly add a lot more vocabulary, which is what it needs to be useful. To me and others.

There's a bunch more stuff it needs to be shippable, but it's not a million miles off, so that's a goal for the year in my sights. I want to use it to strengthen my skills in a way that Duolingo doesn't allow me to, and the other apps I've tried don't do either. I've started learning Portuguese with Duolingo too, and already I'm wanting to get a Portuguese version of my app together too. So I must be doing something right (if only for myself!).

The other thing that has gone well this week was more Dragon Dance playtesting. I got a chance to try the new version out with Amaury, who really wasn't very keen on the previous version. He reckoned the new version was 'way, way better for the dragon player' and we even saw a win for the knight - the first in ages.

I need to tweak a couple of minor things and then I'll be looking for more playtesters and a wider range of feedback. Shout if you're interested.

Monday, March 14

An Epic Week

I've spent a whole week in Newcastle! That doesn't sound that impressive, seeing as it's where I live and work, but in the preceding two weeks I spent five and a half days in America and two days in Manchester.

With a whole week of evenings at home I've been amazingly productive, with Dragon Dance, with Zombology and also with my German language Windows Phone app. Broad-based productivity!

Last weekend I picked up my German language app again for the first time in at least eight months. It was the first time I'd written any code in eight months! My new role at work doesn't involve any coding and I'd been so focussed on Zombology (and latterly Dragon Dance) that I'd not done any at home either.

After last weekend's long night of coding on Saturday while The Wife was out, I've been working all week re-structuring the code extensively to make it easier to add extra vocabulary to the app. I want it to do two things which I struggle with in Duolingo (the app I've been using to extend my German skills): limited vocabulary, and a lack of tabulated data. I find it easiest to learn verb conjugations or adjective declensions from a table where I can see at a glance how things are structured, but in Duolingo you come across things fairly haphazardly and never get to see the table (don't get me wrong, I think Duolingo is great - I use it daily for strengthening my German and more recently learning Portuguese ahead of a holiday).

It's coming along nicely, and it feels great to be coding again - it's been a hobby of mine since I was ten and my day job for the vast majority of the last eighteen years.

If that wasn't enough, I also had my first Games Night in three weeks (the aforementioned travel nixing the previous two) which was also epic. There were only three of us, but we managed six games: three of Hive with Mike before Gav arrived (ticking Hive off my not yet played this year list); two of Taluva (christening my new copy, ticking two plays off my not yet played ten times list and Taluva off my not yet played this year list) and then one of Colt Express (christening my new copy and ticking one play off my not yet played ten times list). I'd not played Taluva in about four years, but it was just as awesome as I remember it being, and Mike and Gav seemed to really enjoy it too (we almost played three games back to back).

After Games Night, I printed out a copy of the new version of Dragon Dance I came up with last week and then Gav and I tried it out on Friday lunchtime. Gav seemed to enjoy it and I think it's an improvement on the previous version - I need to run it by Amaury now to see if it addresses his problems with the previous version.

Finally, to round out the week in style, I got the Print on Demand proof of Zombology from Drive Thru Cards and got to proof it on Friday night (I'm a wild man of Rock - that's how we wild men of Rock spend our Friday nights). There was one glaring error (I'd somehow managed to delete one of the card backs) and a couple of minor ones (the front and back cards that are intended to form the equivalent of a box lid and box tray design were facing the wrong way). So I've fixed those and uploaded the corrected art. After talking to Brian I'd already uploaded new art with the 100% Key black replaced with Rich Black, but the proof had been done with 100% Key and it looked fine and there were a couple of registration issues on some cards, which would make rich black look really dodgy, so I unwound that change too.

If only every week was that productive!

Monday, March 7

Asymmetry In Dragon Dance

The game I'm currently focusing on, Dragon Dance, is a two-player game themed around the epic struggle between St. George and the Dragon. I want it to be a game of simultaneous action and bluff that recreates the feeling I had when sparring during my Tae Kwon Do days - watching your opponent careful for the minute tells that telegraph his next move so you can counter-attack, block or move out of the way appropriately.

Clearly a game which features a human knight and a dragon also needs to mirror the asymmetry of that match up - the knight needs to feel in mortal danger throughout as he takes on a vastly more powerful foe. At the same time the dragon needs to feel frustrated as the nimble knight dances around his vast unwieldy bulk delivering small wounds which slow add up over time to a threat.

So the game needs to be, and feel, different to each player. Initially the asymmetry was fairly superficial. The knight had far fewer hit points than the dragon, and the dragon was limited in his actions by a smaller pool of dice that were required to perform an action, requiring the dragon to pause more frequently to recuperate and regain his dice.

Some of the first feedback I got back during NaGa DeMon 2014 was that the game felt too samey, so I tried to change the actions available to each player to make the dragon feel more powerful but clumsier - which I chose to do by making his actions work well with good dice and do nothing with poor dice. Sadly this just broke the bluffing aspect for the dragon player, as his choice of dice (the possible bluff) was now: He's doing x or wasting a turn - so clearly, he was doing x.

When I came back to Dragon Dance at the beginning of this year, turning it on its head improved some things (the theme feels tighter now, as does the reading the tells bit) but broke others - the dragon's options were too few and too samey. It felt much less interesting as the dragon.

Over the last couple of weeks I've been trying to think of a way to make the dragon's options:
  • More thematic
  • More powerful
  • More lumbering and unwieldly

While somehow making it not so powerful that it always wins effortlessly in the first couple of turns!

I had hoped to do something in the early mornings while away in America, but by that point inspiration had yet to strike so I had to settle for just finishing the Print on Demand version of Zombology and reading books.

Inspiration finally struck at the beginning of last week, which meant I was well placed to work on it while I was away in Manchester at the end of last week (I missed Newcastle Playtest last week because after five and a half days away in America I had another couple of days away the week after - I chose to spend some time with my family in between instead).

I want the dragon to feel clumsy and slow, very powerful, very dangerous, but clumsy and slow. Fewer action cubes (the dice equivalents in the new version) is part of that, but the new cards with three possible actions on them (an attack, a defence and an action) mean that the dragon feels very similar to the knight, and since the dragon's cards were all very similar, the choice of card wasn't very interesting either.

So I've decided to further rein in the dragon by reducing his options. Now each of his cards contain two out of the three options: attack, defend and action. As a result, I hope the choice of card will be more interesting (Attack/Defend? Attack/Action? or Defend/Action?) but the dragon will feel more restrained and hence clumsier, which will also give the knight a little more information, hopefully making the game less heavily weighted towards the dragon (I want the dragon to win a bit more than the knight, but not 100% of the time like it is at the moment!).

In other news, during a meeting with my boss's boss on Friday he ordered a copy of Zombology! There's only one of the limited edition left now, almost done!

Monday, February 29

Out of the Closet

I started working for my current employer back in 2001, when it was a smallish independent company. I was working for them when I started designing Border Reivers and several of my friends and colleagues were among the Border Reivers playtesters. In 2005 I left the company and it was during my years in the wilderness that I finished Border Reivers, set up Reiver Games, self-published Border Reivers, went into full-time publishing and eventually gave it all up for a salary.

After a couple of years out of software development I came back for a summer as a contractor while winding down Reiver Games and eventually I rejoined as a full-time member of staff in 2011. Since then I've been running a weekly Games Night (known as Wizard Night in the office - one of my colleagues thinks we all dress up and play D&D), largely populated with friends who are current or former colleagues from my current employer.

In August 2012, my employer was bought by a large American corporation, and I've spent the last week in Milford, MA visiting the corporate head office for a meeting.

As part of that meeting we had a networking exercise where the 65 attendees had to provide a unique fact about themselves and then you were tasked with finding out which unique fact belonged to each of your 64 colleagues. I chose 'I have designed three published board games' as mine, since most of my corporate colleagues didn't know about my inner geek - it doesn't come up in conversation much.

Ok, so that's a slight stretch, the three games were all self-published, and Border Reivers and Zombology had a very small print run. But it's technically true.

As a result of discussions around my games publishing past (and current!), I found three gamers out of the group (including my boss's boss!), got invited to go and play Netrunner in Boston one evening (which unfortunately I had to miss due to a prior dinner engagement), played Netrunner in the hotel bar with a colleague and sold and delivered my first copy of Zombology to the US to another colleague.

My secret is out!

Off the back of this I've been invited to Tabletop Manchester if I'm ever staying the night there on a Monday night by my Netrunning colleague and have been approached by another colleague about an educational board game design project he's been considering for a number of years!

Finally, in the taxi back to the airport from the office I got chatting to my driver and it turned out he was a keen gamer and game artist (with 33 games listed on BGG) who had been to Essen a couple of times and GenCon too.

I also got to spend the hours of 3:30-6:30am most mornings working on the Print on Demand version of Zombology and getting the art uploaded and a proof ordered. For a business trip it was surprisingly game heavy!

Monday, February 22

On My Way to the US of A

When this post goes live on Monday morning I'll be en route to Milford, MA for work. Last week was pretty hectic with preparation for my trip, so I didn't make a huge amount of progress on anything, but I did manage to get Adobe Creative Cloud installed on my work laptop, so I can work on the Print on Demand version of Zombology during the very early mornings in the States when I'm likely to be awake with nothing to do. I might also get a chance to tweak Dragon Dance too, once I've had a chance to think how I'd like the tweaked version to look.

The best thing about the Creative Cloud install was that no sooner than the apps were installed all my files appeared on my machine too. The files I'd created on my laptop were backed up to the cloud and automatically copied down with the new install - mint!

The print on demand version is mostly done - I've done the game cards and laid them out in a print document - now I've just got to do front and back 'packaging' cards (the deck of cards comes in a clear deck box, so the first and last card are effectively the box lid and box back). I'll put box art-y things on those, but then I've got the reverse of those cards free for extra information.

I'm also going to do a re-layout of the rules so that they fold nicely to fit within the deck box.

Once that's done, the last stage is to order a copy to ensure I've got everything right and then it can go live.

Monday, February 15

Dragon Dance Art and Playtesting

I've mostly been focussed on Dragon Dance again this week. After a busy January finishing off the physical copies of Zombology it felt good to crack on with Dragon again.

I made a second version which replaced last week's hand-scribbled version on the train on Tuesday on my way down to Sheffield for my now six-monthly hospital visit. It was pretty much the same as the hand-scribbled version, with a couple of tweaks based on the games I had at Newcastle Playtest and then again with Gav in the office.

On Thursday I got to try out the new version with Amaury, who had played the 2014 version a couple of weeks ago. Unlike Gav (who preferred the new version), Amaury preferred the old one, he found the new one less strategic. In a good discussion after our three games we came up with some ideas, in particular to give the dragon more exciting options (the dragon cards are the moment are all pretty similar).

Interestingly, giving the dragon more exciting options was some of the feedback I received back in November 2014 when I was making the first few versions during NaGa DeMon. Clearly, I need to pay more attention to the feedback I'm getting.

Later in the week I had an evening to myself while The Wife was out and I started getting to grips with some artwork for the new version. With separate cards now for long and short range I can make the card backs a bit more informative, so I want the cards to represent what your opponent sees when you initially play them face down. So the short range cards are a knight's helm (see below) with the eyes peering out, and the dragon's eye up close, while the long range cards are a full view of the knight and the dragon.

Knight's Helm

Obviously this is a very early work in progress version, but I'd like any feedback you have.

In other news, I'll be in Milford, Massachussetts all of next week for work. I've set myself a goal of getting the Print on Demand version of Zombology finished in February. Thanks to being up around 6am (or slightly before) most days in the UK, I'm likely to wake very early while I'm in the US, so I reckon I can finish off the graphic design on the computer in my hotel room between the hours of 3/4 and 7am every day, so hopefully that might be a second goal successfully ticked off this year! I've not got any travel this week, so I can try to either do another version of Dragon or get a headstart on the Print on Demand Zombology one night this week.

Monday, February 8

First Dance of New Look Dragon

This week I made it along to Newcastle Playtest for the second month on the trot (pretty good effort - since my new job started there's been a lot more travel and hence fewer nights out). Of course, it wasn't straightforward, as I was in Manchester for work that day, so rather than heading over from work at 6:30, I turned up at 7:45 from the station. Several of our regulars were even more inconvenienced by travel, so it was going to be a fairly quiet night until a couple of new people (Hello Michelle! Hello Bart!) turned up - in the end there were five of us with Paul and Alex. Alex had brought his two player game: Swag, Blag and Goons, Paul had brought his two player game: Kick, Punch, Stomp! and I'd brought two two-player games: a new version of Dragon Dance and Border Reivers Second Edition. We ended up splitting up and playing a couple of side-by-side two player games, but not before playing three games of the copy of Zombology I'd delivered to Paul at the start of the night. Both the new people seemed to like it, which was encouraging.

I'd spent a couple of hours on the train that afternoon designing and constructing a new version of Dragon Dance, using the idea I'd had a few weeks ago. For once I'd followed my own advice and not over done the prototype, as this was effectively a new game, so likely to be hideously broken:

New Dragon Dance

We played a couple of games that night, one with Paul and one with Bart and they flushed out some problems, and also some weaknesses, Bart had not played the previously version, and it had been a couple of years since Paul had last played so neither of them could compare it to the previous version (which I'd foolishly left in my desk and then failed to collect in time for the session due to delayed trains).

Initial feedback was that it was interesting and worth pursuing if clearly in early development.

On Friday lunchtime I also got to try it out with Gav, immediately after a game of the previous version so he had a useful comparison. Gav preferred it to the previous version, which means I'm probably heading in the right direction (at least for Gav!).

The new version is still a Good Little Game, i.e 18 cards and things you can expect to find around the house, but each card now does one to six things depending on the tokens available to you. The bluffing still works (Gav caught me a few times on the hop) and he really liked that each card is now named with a tell that you're reading and trying to interpret.

I need to make another version now (this one has some inevitable flaws) and then start gathering more data. I want it to be slightly easier for the dragon, but at the moment it's very easy for the dragon - I'll need to tweak things to try to balance that out too.

Monday, February 1

The Art of the Matter

Back when I ran Reiver Games I made four games. The first Border Reivers was a hand-made limited edition, and I did almost everything myself, including the art (except the box cover, that was an original painting by my dad, a retired art teacher and artist). It was ... basic. Very basic. But back in the days when a self-published game was a fairly novel item, it was enough to get me by, and didn't put off the 100 customers to whom I sold a copy of Border Reivers too much.

For my second game, I got a friend who was a computer games artist to do some really cool Frankenstein-themed art, and because he was a friend, I got it dirt cheap. It still added a £1 per copy to the total cost though, a not insignificant amount. While I loved the art on the It's Alive! components, I was less enamoured of the box art, and it received some criticism from punters, so when it came to making a second print run, this time aimed at shops at distributors, I asked him to do another box. Sadly, I don't think that box was any better.

My third game was Carpe Astra, and again I got the friend to do the art, again at mate's rates (though with a print run of 2,000 I could afford to pay a bit more this time, despite the fact I was aiming to sell to distributors and hence was pitching at 40% of retail for a manufacturing and art cost. Again I was a bit mixed on the art, I loved bits of it, but I think the box art could have been better, especially with the target market in mind.

For my final Reiver game I splashed out and hired bona-fide board game artist Harald Lieske to do the art. Harald's done the art for several games I own (Vikings, the Spiecherstadt, Puerto Rico) and several other famous ones (Dominion, The Settlers of Catan), so clearly a big name with loads of board game experience. He knows what looks good on a box and how to do all the art ready for printing. I was doing a relatively small print run (3,000 copies), so my budget was limited (but many times what I'd paid for the previous games!). We eventually reached an agreement where he'd meet my budget in return for simpler art than he was originally planning. I was delighted with how Sumeria turned out, it's still my favourite art associated with one of my games by quite some distance.

What brings this to mind is two things: Zombology and Kickstarter. With Zombology (which I've finally finished - one of my goals for the year ticked off already!), I went back to my roots and made a short hand-made print-run doing everything myself including the art and cutting out boxes and all the cards by hand. Actually, that's not strictly true, I took some of the icons from, either as was, or slightly tweaked.

Complete Zombology prototype

But the point still stands, the art is mostly mine and pretty basic, this is not a beautiful game. While I hope it's not so distracting as to put off the 28 customers I need to cover my costs, it's not winning any art awards.

In these days of Kickstarter, games need to be beautiful to attract punters, and despite the vast wealth of games on Kickstarter, generally the art is of a very high quality - it's almost expected. My friend Tim's game Toast is a great example of that. To set up a games company these days you need to either be a great artist (Daniel Solis, I'm looking at you), have a wealthy good friend who's an artist (do they exist?) or to fold a large art cost into the manufacturing cost of the game. I can't help but think that life would have been easier as Reiver Games or Zombology would have sold faster if I was a great artist or if I'd set up a partnership with a wealthy, games-loving artistic genius.

As I continue with my own game designing (and conceivably self-publishing), I want to work on and improve my artistic skills. Practice might not make perfect, but it's definitely going to improve my skills, which can't hurt in making my games easier to sell.

In other news, January was a staggeringly good month, 59 games played, Zombology construction finished and a weekend in Coventry with Tim and a weekend in York with Paul. I wish February would be as great, but a work trip to Boston, MA is going to get in the way of things, so I'm not expecting much. At least I'm hoping to finish off the print on demand version of Zombology as I planned in my 2016 goals.

Monday, January 25

The Economics of a Very Small Print Run

Back in May I talked about the economics of a small print run of a game. At that point I was intending to start a second hobby publishing company (a la Reiver Games, my first, unsuccessful attempt) and make small print runs of hand-made games.

A promotion at work, coupled with the realisation that I really didn't have time for the sort of promotion required to sell 150 games in a year around my family commitments meant that pipe dream died, but I then resurrected a lighter version of it for NaGa Demon last year: instead of a 150 copy run - just twenty for the twenty friends and family who had pre-ordered a copy when I announced the 150 copy run.

I was going to make the run at cost, so I wasn't trying to make any money any more, just reward those supporters who'd backed me instinctively and do something fun for NaGa DeMon. I'd originally priced the 150 copy run at £9, cheap enough to encourage sales but expensive enough to make a decent return on investment, so I could invest further in future games. I decided to do the very small print run at the same price to be fair to those who had ordered at that price.

I found a local printer who could not only do it at that price, but also do the box labels as actual labels - on vinyl which (I hoped) would save a massive amount of hassle (affixing the labels to the boxes for Border Reivers and the hand-made first edition of It's Alive! was a massive pain and time sink), the only problem was that I needed to make thirty copies to (almost) break even. A quick post on BGG and another six were pre-ordered, leaving just four of the run unclaimed.

I needed greyboard (that's chipboard I think in the US) for the boxes, thick card for the box inserts and then the printing done. I had thick card and greyboard kicking around the house (what self-respecting game designer doesn't?) so I donated those to the cause for free which just left the cost of the printing.

The printing was going to be £255 for thirty copies, selling all of those at £9 would yield £270, but I'm keeping one, and I've given one to the designer of the font I used in the game in lieu of payment so if I sell the rest that's £252. I've also got to pay for the postage and packing to the US for the font-creator's copy, another £5.55, so if I sell out of the print run I'll have lost £8.55.

Once I've finished making the hand-made limited edition, I'm going to make it available on Drive Thru Cards as a Print on Demand game, which if it's priced sensibly might reclaim that £8.55 if I sell a bunch of copies - clearly I'm not getting rich from this, but hopefully not losing too much either.

I've got eight copies left at home now, five of which I've finished and three of which are just awaiting their cards (an hour and a half's work). Two of those eight are definitely spoken for, two of them were pre-ordered but I've not had confirmation from the orderers (muninnhuginn and Richard W, if you're reading this, please let me know if you still want one!) and four are as yet unclaimed. If you'd like one they're £9 plus shipping (£4.10 to the UK, £4.75 to Europe and £5.55 elsewhere). Americans and Candians are definitely best off waiting for the Drive Thru Cards version, which will be much cheaper for you, unless you're desperate for a signed and numbered limited edition copy!

Monday, January 18

More KickStarter Thoughts

As I'm sure you know, I'm not a fan of KickStarter (see Exhibit A and Exhibit B), until this week I've only backed one project on KickStarter, and as unlikely as it seems, it wasn't a board game.

This distrust of KickStarter, coupled with my natural risk-adversity meant I didn't consider KickStarter as a potential vehicle for Zombology last year, I just chose to repeat the most successful period of my Reiver Games days: the hand-made games. As it turned out, I didn't even manage that, with the promotion at work meaning I limited my ambitions even further to just making enough copies for the twenty fans who pre-ordered a copy when I announced the 150 copy run back in June.

What has got me thinking about KickStarter again, and what a game changer it is for the hobby board game publishing industry is my mate Tim. I've known Tim for nearly twenty-five years and we've spent that period gaming together at every opportunity, from Magic in the early days through miniatures, computer games and board games. Tim and I live about 200 miles apart (and have done for twenty years), but despite the distance and our two young families we try to get together a few times a year for some gaming (which now features his young son during the day and then late night sessions just the two of us after our wives bow out at a sensible time). Tim's been a professional computer games programmer for eighteen years and he's been working on a social deduction board game for the last year or two. When we've got together we've discussed and played it together and I've been providing (hopefully helpful!) information about board games publishing and playtested it for him too. Tim decided to go down the KickStarter route from the get-go, the game is themed around nobles poisoning each other at a formal banquet and he wanted the game to come with goblets and napkins for the full atmospheric effect. Clearly, this wasn't going to be something he could just cobble together like I've done for Zombology. Tim's done the research, sent preview copies to a whole bunch of very enthusiastic reviewers and got it live on KickStarter this week.

It's a really fun game, so I was one of the first backers (to be honest, I would have been even if I didn't like it! Tim's backed me through many years of games publishing, it's great to be able to return the favour), which means I'm now watching his KickStarter enfold.

Until now, I've almost entirely avoided KickStarter for board games. I pay no attention to games being KickStarted, I don't visit the KickStarter website, I don't read the Crowdfunding round-ups on BGG or anything. I know it's completely changed the market, from established publishers like Queen Games using it, through the new publishers like Tasty Minstrel and Stonemaier whose business models revolve around, to the massive successes of any project involving miniatures and Exploding Kittens. But I'm aware of it in the loosest possible sense.

So I'm watching Tim start his company by publishing his first game while thinking of my first attempt with Border Reivers and my second almost attempt with Zombology last year. It took me a year to sell 100 copies of Border Reivers (and co-incidentally a year to hand-make the damn things), a year during which I went to conventions, games clubs, ran competitions on BGG and blogged obsessively. Tim got his first 100 sales within 48 hours. I didn't consider getting a game professionally manufactured until I'd got two games and 400 sales under my belt because the £15,000 outlay scared the pants off me (thankfully most of it was life insurance money!). Tim's outlay is vastly smaller than that, and he will go straight to professional manufacturing with the money in hand from pre-ordering customers (assuming his KickStarter is successful). The two stories couldn't be more different. It's probably just as well that I got promoted and bottled out of starting up another publishing company, I'm now hopelessly out of date and my plan of hand-crafting 150 copies looks like something from the last century to a market that lives on KickStarter, as evidenced by the fact that it took me six months to get 25 pre-orders for Zombology.

Obviously, Tim's got it easier because he's got a great game with neat components, fantastic art (it helps working with computer game artists!) and slick videos and website, but watching his backers climb towards his goal reminds me how much has changed since I was struggling to service my bank loan during the latter stages of Reiver Games.

Anyway, please check out Tim's KickStarter if it sounds like something you'd be interested in - I need it to get funded so I can get my prototype upgraded into a proper copy :-)

In other news, I've made good progress on Zombology this week towards my goal of finishing the limited edition run this month. I've now got 25 copies completely finished and by tomorrow will have shipped 20 of those. Nearly there!

Monday, January 11

Turning The Dragon Inside Out

It's been a great start to 2016. Last weekend I spent a couple of days with my old friend Tim (I've known him since school, but never went to school with him). During the days we hung out with our families and played with the kids, while discussing his forthcoming KickStarter for a game he's designed (Toast: a game about poisoning each other during banquets). Then in the evenings we had a couple of late nights of gaming. All told I'd played 11 games by the 3rd of January!

Monday I was back at work and it was Newcastle Playtest on Tuesday. I'd missed quite a few towards the end of last year with various work trips getting in the way so it was great to get along and catch up with everyone. We also played a couple of games of Dragon Dance (my NaGa DeMon game from 2014) and one of Zombology (I'm no longer playtesting that, but I'd delivered a few copies of the handmade version and it's one of the staples of Newcastle Playtest, played almost every session since November 2013 when I started work on it - even sessions I didn't make it to!

Wednesday was my regular Games Night with an attendance of eight and seven games played, and then I played a couple more games of Dragon Dance at lunchtime on Thursday.

Why such a focus on Dragon Dance you're wondering? With Zombology finished and the handmade run hopefully being completed and shipped this month, I need something new to work on. I've not really touched Dragon Dance since the end of NaGa DeMon 2014. I'd left it kind of working: there was some bluff and strategy involved and there was nothing obviously wrong with it, but it wasn't particularly good either.

It's a game of simultaneous action selection with a bit of bluff: each action consists of a card and a die that affects the efficacy of the card. I wanted to capture the feel of combat where you're acting simultaneously using your opponent's slight tells to guess what they are about to do so you can counter or attack as appropriate. I've (technically still!) got a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, so I wanted to get the feeling I remember from sparring and competitions.

So in the game each player simultaneously chooses one of their limited number of dice, and then once you've seen the die your opponent has chosen, simultaneously chooses a card - the die is the tell and can be used to bluff your opponent or to telegraph your next move.

So far, so good. You've got a small number of dice and when you use a card and a die they are both put aside until you give up a turn to reclaim them. The die add an element of randomness but also limit the number of turns before you have to catch your breath. I'm thinking of changing it so you choose the card first and each card has three options: attack, defend and rest, the die you use will determine which of the options you do. This effectively turns each card three cards, increasing the number of options every round.

On Sunday, I even considered getting rid of the dice altogether and instead having a selection step after the card reveal to choose which part of the card to choose. Anyway, I've got ideas again, and some things to try out. Dragon is back in play. I also finished another four copies of Zombology and took payment for another two of the finished ones.

P.S. I finished the week on 27 plays by the 10th. If I could keep that rate up I'd beat my best ever month (66 plays in January 2014 when The Wife and The Daughter were banished due to my radioactivity). I won't though. I hope to finish up above 40; 50 is a possibility but above sixty is very unlikely!

Monday, January 4

2016 Goals

We're four days into 2016, so it's about time I set myself some goals for the year. I've done it for the last three years and I'm doing the same again this year. As before, there are four categories: blogging, gaming, game design and app development.

Since my page views tanked in May last year I've no idea what is an achievable page views goal any more, so I'm just not going to set myself one, instead just these two:

  • Blog every Monday in 2016
  • Do something for NaGa DeMon

Not sure what to do for NaGa DeMon at this point, we'll see how I get on with the remaining games in my stable (Border Reivers Second Edition, Codename: Vacuum and Dragon Dance) before I commit to anything.

For the last few years I've set myself the goal of playing at least one game for every day of the year (i.e. 366 in 2016). I usually nail this one (over 400 plays last year), but if I pull this off I'll reach 4,000 plays recorded in BGG (since August 2006), so well worth going for again.

Over the last couple of years I've also set more structured goals: play every game in my collection at least once in 2014 and have played all the games in my collection at least ten times by the end of 2015. I found this to be a real bind last year with it taking over the games played at Games Night to the exclusion of others' preferences so I'm not going to do anything like that this year. I'll still use my app to keep track of which games I've not played in 2016 and which ones I've not played ten times for honing my collection purposes, but it's not a goal and so I'll not be sucking the fun out of Games Night with it.

Instead, I'm going to aim to play 24 new to me games in 2016. That's a 50% increase on the 16 I managed last year. Because the vast majority of my gaming is either on my iPad or at my Games Night, we almost always play games I know. Time to broaden my horizons. Trips to visit gaming friends and Newcastle Gamers will also help with this I hope.

Game Design
Finish him! I need to finish off the Zombology hand-made run I started in November for NaGa DeMon and get the art up on Drive Thru Cards for the Print on Demand version. Let's say end of January for making the hand made run and end of Feb for the Print on Demand version. After that, get back into game design, either on one of the other games mentioned above or something new.

App Development
Finish him II: Revenge of the him! I've just finished the expanded Duolingo German track, so I need something new to get my teeth stuck into, and the app I have in development should be that thing. I meant to finish it last year, but didn't get round to it, so let's get it out the door in 2016.

That should be plenty to keep me out of trouble, let's see if I can actually finish them all this year!