Archive for June, 2016

Have a Dice Cream Social

The Kickstarter for Rocky Road a la Mode has just hit its second stretch goal, and Green Couch Games has announced a contest to win a free Green Couch Games t-shirt! Want a chance to win a free shirt? Of course you do! Here’s how

  1. Print a copy of Rocky Road: Dice Cream.
  2. Invite some friends over.
  3. Serve those friends a sweet, cool treat.
  4. Play a game of Rocky Road: Dice Cream.
  5. Tweet a picture of your get together using the hashtag #dicecreamsocial and be sure to mention @GreenCouchGames and link to the Kickstarter campaign!

At the end of the campaign, Green Couch Games will draw 5 winners who followed all 5 of the steps listed above to win a Green Couch Games t-shirt!

Just like this tweet from the other night:

Want the Print and Play copy, or a want a How to Play video? Simply check out the fourth update, and while you’re there please consider backing Rocky Road a la Mode.

And speaking of the fourth… the Fourth of July holiday this weekend is a great opportunity to have a bunch of friends over and serve them ice cream. (Of course wherever you are, a summer weekend is a good opportunity to see friends and serve them ice cream.)

Keep cool everyone!




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Different Approaches to Micro-game Design

This past year (and longer, really), I’ve been exercising my design muscles by making really tiny games. I talked about why designing microgames is a good design exercise a while ago. The first one was Nantucket, which ended up being a few cards, and I discussed the process behind that a in the same article. Nantucket really started with the mechanics of New Bedford, and I adapted them to the smaller simpler format. This year, I had BoxScore as a stretch goal promo with the Bottom of the 9th Clubhouse expansion. And now you can get another game Rocky Road Dice Cream as a deluxe pledge for Rocky Road a la Mode by Joshua J. Mills from Green Couch Games. As I’ve continued working and developing my skills, I’ve observed that the approach I took with Nantucket is just one of several different ways to adapt a game. So today, I thought I would talk about those three approaches with 3 other games: Espresso, BoxScore, and Dice Cream. Read the rest of this entry »


Hittin’ the Rocky Road

RockyRoadMainIt’s the first day of summer! And Green Couch games has launched a Kickstarter campaign for a seasonally appropriate new game: Rocky Road a la Mode, by designer Joshua J Mills. It’s a great little game with amazing artwork by Adam McIver that plays a little like Splendor, but with a time track turn order mechanism and multi-use cards. Players play music to attract customers, serve ice cream, and earn points and permanent resources in a quick race to the finish.

And as part of the campaign, I’m pleased to announce that you can also get a new microgame I designed to support the campaign, called Rocky Road: Dice Cream. With a single card, a few tokens and dice, you can take a little scoop of Rocky Road everywhere you go. I’ll be back tomorrow with more details of how the game works, and the process behind its creation.

Rocky Road a la Mode is a scoop of engine building, with a scoop of resource management, and a scoop of time management in a family friendly cone. So if you like great little games, please check out Rocky Road a la Mode and Dice Cream on Kickstarter!DiceCreamInset


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Learning New Ways to Fail

Finalists for the Buttonshy wallet game contest were announced a few weeks ago. My submission, Space Race: 1969 was not selected. The judges were crazy kind enough to assemble and deliver scores and feedback for the non-finalists.  It’s incredibly valuable just to get any feedback, and I’m going to learn a lot from this submission. The good news is that the feedback is basically what I expected. But the bad news is that the feedback is basically what I should have expected.

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Review: Oh My Goods – It’s Got the Goods

Parts of this review may look familiar. Like my last review, Oh My Goods is also a 2015 release from Mayfair/Lookout, by Kennerspiel des Jahres winning Alexander Pfister. And like that review, this is a game that has sort of surprised and impressed me, despite the relatively low fanfare that has been made over it. I’ve also played it a lot for a new acquisition, and now that I’ve played and taught it several times, it has been a hit with everyone. Oh My Goods is yet another big success, but this time, in a small box. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Turn of the Cards

During our initial play of World’s Fair: 1893, we noticed that getting Influential Figure cards was an important part of the strategy, because it let you place more tokens on spaces. And with area majority, being able to place more tokens is a big advantage. But we observed that some players had fewer opportunities to collect these special cards, and were at a disadvantage when it came time to score.  That observation initiated a discussion over how random card draws can have a big effect on the gameplay of some games. This is a really interesting type of randomness to study because it’s not simply an input or output randomizer. It has some far-reaching and subtle effects depending on how it is used in the game. Read the rest of this entry »

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Harvest Moon, Stardew Valley, and Me: Part 3

Part 1

Back in 2010, when I was just getting into games, a friend of mine who was also getting into games picked up Agricola. The game sort of blew my mind, because it generated a ton of interesting decisions about how to run the farm. Was I going to spend time planting crops, or raising animals. Time was represented by the rounds. Energy was represented by workers. Money was spent as food and gained as points. And of course the board gave a little bit of that arrangement puzzle, because you had wood for fences, fields and houses that set boundaries, and you had to decide what to prioritize to place anything.

Agricola tells much less of a story than Harvest Moon, but was incredibly enthralling. I have tried to make some farming games. 10 Acres tried to capture that balance and puzzle, but didn’t work. Perhaps surprisingly, New Bedford draws a lot on the influence of farming, too. I’ve made no secret of the fact that it was influenced by Agricola. But I don’t think I’ve mentioned that the whaling mechanic was originally an abstraction for a “harvest”, where players determined their own timing.

There are some other features of Harvest Moon that I would really like to implement (or see implemented) in a boardgame.
Boardgames still struggle with capturing a mood, particularly quiet moods. How do you capture the quiet of a rainy day compared to a busy summer afternoon? Or the cold stillness of the last night of the year? Fishing under the moon on a simmer’s night. Or even the entire premise of leaving city life behind to find a simpler life in the country. To me, those things are integral to the experience of Harvest Moon. Those moments—along with festivals and events—tell a story. But it’s not a “hero’s journey”; it’s more of a history, like a photo album, and you’re only playing a single part in it.

The older Harvest Moon games required you to ship your crops by the 5pm delivery time. You didn’t earn any money for items added after that. That makes an important difference, because most stores also close at 5, so you have to give up time harvesting your crops in order to visit any of the stores. It’s another simple change that adds a level of depth to the decisions. New Bedford (and the worker placement mechanic in general) kind of simulate that by making earlier actions more valuable, so you have to choose which actions to do early and which late. But you can get even closer by having actions that are only available during specific times in the round.

You didn’t have to specialize in the old Harvest Moon games. There was enough time in the day that you could raise animals, have a huge field, and usually do all the foraging you needed to. I think that’s much easier to do in a single game you’ll place once or twice for forty or more hours. But in a boardgame, like Agricola, that specialization is key. Having the choices of which parts to focus on makes the decisions more interesting. And forcing a balanced strategy can also take away from the game. You can’t completely ignore the mines in Stardew Valley, or you’ll never be able to upgrade your tools and build some buildings. You have to work on everything in order to unlock some parts of the game. You’re not, strictly speaking, forced down a single path, but you miss out on a lot of it if you don’t follow it. A game should do the opposite, where the more you stray from the path, the more you experience.

There are ways to do this organically, too. If the game scales well, players will naturally be motivated to take the less expensive routes rather than stay on a single path. This relies on the value being scaled well to the added effort. If I can follow a strategy that gains me a little benefit, or another that has 5 times the benefit but is 5 times harder, that’s going to create interesting decisions. Especially if it has multiple dimensions. This is sort of the cost to upgrade tools in Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley. Is it better to use 5 ore to upgrade your watering can to save time and energy now, or upgrade your hammer/pickaxe to collect ore for upgrades faster?

I am still on a quest to create a farming game, and there are still struggles . One challenge is that Harvest Moon is inherently solo play. [Co-op play is planned for Stardew Valley, but cooperative multiplayer is closely related to solo play, while competitive play is significantly different.] I have several different attempts that take the idea in different directions. I am on the third revision of a game idea that is strongly influenced by the daily grind aspect of Harvest Moon. It turns out it’s really difficult to make that work without the game itself becoming a 3 hour grind. I have another game idea that follows the town life aspect, aiming for something that captures the feel of country life, but abstracts away more of the micromanagement of the farm. And there are a half dozen half-formed ideas that play off of farming one way or another.

Stardew Valley has made me realize how important the balance of priorities is. That was such an interesting part of Harvest Moon, and I think that’s going to be key to making a game that brings back what I loved about Harvest Moon. Another part of it is keeping that excitement to find out what each new day brings, giving players to look forward to something on every turn.

I think farming is a great theme to build a game around. It’s accessible because you don’t need to know anything special to understand a farm. Farming comes in so many varieties and touches so many different parts of life, it’s practically universal. But it also gives you a lot of flexibility. There’s something appealing and rewarding about building something from scratch, starting with soil and making something grow. Farming represents hard work, growth, and celebrates life. And so, I continue my quest for a great farming game. Not because they don’t exist, but because there’s always something more that can be done. Sometimes, all it takes is a little energy and time.

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