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American Steel wins the Ion Award

I’ve been working on a game over the past few months, with my friend—and designer of Rocky Road a la Mode—Joshua J Mills, called American Steel. I haven’t written much about it because It’s been coming together quickly, and wasn’t really stable for long enough to write meaningfully about it. That and I hadn’t played it myself until recently. But I am absolutely thrilled to announce that this past weekend, American Steel won the Ion Award at SaltCon.


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Unpub 7 Wrapup

I liked it so much I put my name on it

Last year, Unpub really took a toll on me as a designer. I didn’t feel like I rpepared well or made good use of my time. So this year, I did a lot more work to make sure I came home happy with myself. And I think that because of that, Unpub 7 was my most successful year so far.

First, let me look at my lessons from last year and see how I handled them.

Saturday is for heavier games: I focused on Iceburgh, trying to wrap it up before sending it in for judging for the Cardboard Edison award. I got playtests with several different people at several different player counts. I learned a lot about how I need to teach it (which also translated to rulebook improvements). I also found several changes I needed for balance, especially the 5-player game which is harder for me to test. Sunday, I was planning to do ’52 Pickup, which should be smaller and lighter, but because I had a lot of people to talk to and didn’t have a table until the afternoon, I didn’t get much time to test it. But the plan was good.

Table Presence. *Drops mic softly on neoprene*

Table Presence: I took my neoprene table mat, which probably got as much interest as my games. But it drew attention because it looked really nice. But more importantly, I got some Ice Cube tokens in just in time to use for Iceburgh. They were perfect, and so cool looking. I think they really took the game to the next level.

Bring something new: Check and Check. Not only were both my games on the table new, Iceburgh had more interest thanks to Cardboard Edison. But I also found time on Friday to try out a few brand new games, which both worked really well. Even though I had some older designs with me, I didn’t really get them out.

I was prepared to talk to publishers, and was able to sit down with a few to talk about everything I had going on. I’m glad I had some backup games, because I was able to pull one out after a short pitch, and that turned into a full playtest. That’s an opportunity that wouldn’t have happened without preparation.

Now for some of my highlights from Unpub.Obviously number 1 is getting to see all of my friends that I only get to see, and meeting new friends who I only interact with online. It never fails to amaze me how friendly and close the boardgame community is.

I tested a few brand new games at Unpub, and really enraged my friend, designer Joshua J Mills, when it worked first time it hit the table. [Note that worked doesn’t mean it is good or done, but it’s a good first step.] 

Barons of the Old West. Version 18 or so.

Over the weekend Dan Cassar was testing a design we are working on together, called Barons of the Old West. I don’t even know if I can call it a codesign at this point, because every time I walked over, he had made so much more progress. I’m more of a contributor at this point. But I played it once at the end of Sunday, and the simple idea we started with had become a really substantial heavier game.

I also got to play a card game codesigned with TC Petty III. I hadn’t played the latest build, and I was really happy with the whole game experience. It’s a card game with a fairly unique scoring mechanism. The theme has been light, and we’re still trying to make that shine. I think it’s mechanically almost complete, so now is sort of the fun part.

Was this a Dare, or a Dare? Late night shenanigans.

Dare or Dare Legacy made a return, too. We hashed out rules from last year and built on last year’s game (destroying some of last year’s cards, and creating new ones we won’t see until next year.) It’s the sort of game you can really only play once or twice a year. But I expect it to keep traveling with me.

We ended up closing out the hall on sunday night after a successful last playtest.  All in all, I played 8 different games that I’ve been working on, including those two codesigns. (9 if you count Dare or Dare). I got to show off a lot of things I’ve been working on to a lot of people. Keep an eye open for more news coming soon.

Closing down the hall

The four warriors leave triumphant. And Tired

In other news…

In a little over a week, I’m giving a talk about game design at Bethany College, titled Overthinking Game Design, continuing the series of game design seminars. A list of previous presenters is available on BoardGameGeek. I still have to finish my notes, but I’ll be sharing how my experience as an engineer filters over to game design. I’m sure I’ll have something insightful to say, because I still have a week to figure out what it is. The talk will be available online at a later date, but if you’re brave and in the area, stop by!


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Unpub 7 and Cardboard Edison

Unpub 7 is a little over a week away (!!!!!) and I’m busy making final preparations. I’m trying to pack more efficiently than last year, especially since I won’t be around Thursday night, so I’m bringing only the games I know I’ll need to/get to play. That’s still a lot. Fortunately most of the games I’m bringing are pretty small.

And, I’m happy to announce that One of the games I’m bringing to Unpub, Iceburgh, has been named a finalist for the 2017 Cardboard Edison Award. It’s a real honor because there are some very talented designers and really good looking games in the running. Final submissions for these games are due right after Unpub, so I will be polishing up rules and final gameplay tweaks to make sure the game is where I want it to be.

There’s a short video explaining Iceburgh on the Cardboard Edison Award page. I’ll have an upgraded prototype ready to go, so if you want to play at Unpub, it will look a little fancier than what you see in the video.

You can also take a look at the table signs/Sell sheets I’ve been working on for Unpub to learn more about the games I’m bringing.


I’ll have about a dozen different games with me at Unpub for testing and showing off, including those, so remember to catch me in open gaming and ask what else I’ve got! You can also find me at Table M2 on the first half of Saturday and Sunday Afternoon!

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Unpub 6 Wrapup

I’ve recovered from my trip to UNPUB 6, so it’s time to look back, talk about the fun I had, and the lessons I learned.

We got in Thursday afternoon. After a big dinner and relaxing, we went to the hotel bar, where I taught some Oh My Goods, a published by Alexander Pfister, one of my current favorite games. By the time we finished, the baseball game let out, and a big group joined us. It was mostly talking and catching up.

One Card Wonder at UNPUB 6

One Card Wonder at UNPUB 6

Friday started with the designer breakfast and panels. We decided to play some games instead, so we left the main hall and sat down to play the postcard game I’ve been working on for the Board Game of the Month Club from Buttonshy. After the first game, we stripped out a lot of the extra complications and made it much more streamlined.  I think we might keep the extra rules and only make them available online as the expert version. Sort of a director’s cut. Next I played the prototype Five Elements by Mark McGee. I missed a key rule, and once I figured it out halfway through the game. I really enjoyed it. It’s got a neat hand-management and slightly spatial element. It was late, after running out for lunch, we sat down, and I taught a quick game of Dead Man’s Chest, a bluffing game from Eagle-Gryphon. We also collected some prototype parts that didn’t arrive until after check in. We had the option of Trucks or Dudes. #TeamTruck.

I got a few minutes to try out an 18-card hand/deck building game I’m working on late in the afternoon. It kind of fell apart, so I need to figure out if it’s fixable or not. After an amazing dinner, we returned to the hall. I mostly chatted with a few other people, but got to play another postcard game prototype from Doug Levandowski. I’m pretty sure you haven’t played a game like this, so it’s fun to see postcard games pushing boundaries. We returned to the hotel a little after midnight. I got one more game in, Unpub the UnPublished Card Game (so I guess it was Doug Levandowski night).

I was splitting my table with Dan Cassar for the weekend, and I started off with a 2 1/2 hour shift Saturday morning. As usual, it was a little slow at first, but it started to pick up between 11 and 11:30. I got two games of One Card Wonder in before we swapped. I ran into friends during the off shift, and we sat down for a light lunch. But honestly, I didn’t accomplish much in the meantime. Mostly, I walked around and looked at what else was popular. I started my next shift at 3. Although the floor was busy, it felt a little slow to me. I only got 3 games of One Card Wonder in in the second shift. I think there were a few contributors to that. First, OCW was running a little long (45 minutes with rules and discussion), so I got fewer games than I expected. Also, it seemed that there were more longer games this year, so there weren’t as many people looking for games after I finish a half hour game. And swapping out makes you lose your momentum with playtesters. Both times I swapped out, I had to leave people who would have played. If you keep playing the same game, people will tend to gather, and they’ll be able to find you. And of course, One Card Wonder wasn’t as flashy or well known as New Bedford was last year, so it doesn’t immediately grab you when you see it. That’s something I definitely plan to work on for next year.

Dare or Dare: Legacy

Dare or Dare: Legacy

I made my game trades Saturday evening. I took a big bag of games and came home with an even bigger bag of games. I’m not wild about every single game (some were part of a package), but I’m overall really happy with my haul. In the evening, I got to sit and play Daniel Newman’s Station. It plays mostly like a worker placement game, although the economic balance made it play a bit differently. I think some minor tweaks to the action rewards will tighten it up. After a delicious dinner at Nando’s Puri Puri and some excellent conversation, we returned to the hall. I watched friends play a quick game of Dancing Eggs. When that was over, we wanted something loud and goofy, but didn’t have anything with us, so we made something up. Dare or Dare: Legacy. The main gist is that everyone gets some blank cards and writes down a dare (anything you’d be comfortable asking your child to do as a boundary). Then everyone gets one card at a time and either does the dare, or bluffs and makes up their own dare. (Hence Dare or Dare.) Everyone else has to guess whether they were bluffing or not. We gave out star stickers for performance, but we decided it should be more of a group judging thing. Depending on the results of the bluff and whether you get called or not, you gain a couple of points. There’s no real score or objective besides having fun, which it did extremely well. Next big convention, I’ll pull it out again, we’ll rip up a few cards and make a few new ones. Hence the Legacy aspect.

Sunday was a little more hectic, trying to pack up and leave. Since Dan was leaving early, I let him take the whole morning shift. He had a very successful weekend with at least 40 tests by my count, and he handed out about 10 playtest kit. In the afternoon, I got 3 more tests of One Card Wonder in. The latest round of mechanic changes seems to be very positive, and accomplished everything I hoped. I just need to re-balance the new parts now, but it’s a much stronger game, so I’m looking forward to wrapping that up.

Overall, I spent a lot less time playing games than I expected to. Last year was too much, this year swung the other direction, so I’m hoping to find the right balance next year. I think one challenge may have been the timing of my shifts. First thing in the morning is always slow. And it seems like mid afternoon is a good time for people to go get lunch after they’ve been playing games all morning. Sunday is always slower, but it also starts to really slow after 3, as people pack up and leave. I think there’s still a challenge there to balance the table schedules across Unpub. One thing I’m really disappointed in is that I didn’t play any Role Selection. I made some improvements since the Meta game contest, and really wanted to see how they pull the game together. There’s always the next event, and hopefully I can put One Card Wonder to bed now.

Finally, here are my main takeaways from this year’s UNPUB.

  • Chap Stick. I’ve talked about water and drinks before, but one thing I’m now noticing is that even when I drink enough, I’m talking all day, and my lips get chapped. It’s a problem that is easy and cheap to solve.
  • Saturday is for heavier games, Sunday is for shorter games. From my unscientific survey, everyone (both designers and players) was pretty exhausted by Sunday. So get those heavier games out Saturday when people are fresher. Pick something shorter and lighter for Sunday. People will be more likely to jump into something that doesn’t require as much energy. And, it makes it easier because people leave on Sunday, if you have that one last game they can play for 20 minutes.
  • Table presence is so important. There are lots of games in various stages of completion, and Table Presence can mean different things to different games. Size, color, artwork, polish of components goes a long way. But it goes beyond that, too. A tablecloth can make your game look even nicer. have good signage, including Sell Sheets, previous games (if you have them) to attract attention.
  • Bring something new. Yes, sometimes you have that game you’ve been working on for a long time, and you really just need to put in front of a bunch of people and see a lot of playtests. But a lot of people (especially the other designers) go to these events again and again, and if you show the same game, you’re competing with lots of new things.
  • And as a corollary, bring something to talk to publishers about. UNPUB isn’t really a pitching event, but if you have a chance, take it. If nothing else, you build your relationship with them, and that’s great professional development.
  • Know *specifically* what you’re looking for. Players asked me what kind of feedback I wanted, and I didn’t have a good answer. I’m working on balance, but I didn’t think about how exactly to find out about balance.
  • Talk to people. Walk around. Be your own advocate. I’ve got a, shall we say, “subtle” style. Don’t be subtle. People want to play games. Like pizza toppings or ice cream, people don’t want to make the decision. So if you go up and talk to people, that gives them a reason to say yes.
What happens at UNPUB is usually posted on Twitter

What happens at UNPUB is usually posted on Twitter

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Sell, Sell, Sell!

Unpub 6 is coming up, and it’s time for me to gather the games I want to take. Besides the games, there’s something really important I need to take, and that’s Sell Sheets for each of the games I’m taking with me. I’m taking sell sheets for all of the games I’m going to play, even though I’m not planning on trying to pitch them all to publishers. There are several reasons behind that, and I want to share why I think they’re important, and how I create my sell sheets. Read the rest of this entry »

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2015 Wrapup and 2016 goals

Last January, I wrote about my gaming goals and plans for 2015, and this year, I’m looking back at those goals and setting some new ones for 2016. Read the rest of this entry »

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My first Metatopia Experience

My reaction after my first Metatopia is simple. If I had known what I was missing, I would have started going years ago


See that? It says “Professional”

I was only there for about 28 hours, but I feel like those 28 hours were as productive as twice that amount of my own time. Over the course of the weekend, I was able to play two prototypes from other designers that I was really looking forward to playing. I also got to play a number of small prototypes from friends that I wasn’t expecting to play, outside the scheduled testing times. The weekend was so productive that it took me several days to write up some feedback and send it to people, which is why I’m only getting around to posting this a week later. And of course, I had some playtests of my own games, and came back from Metatopia with one more game than I had when I arrived. 

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