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One Card Wonder and Sale on New Bedford

It’s been a while since I checked in, but I am pleased to finally announce that One Card Wonder will be coming next year from APE Games! This has been in the making for a while, and after a great development run, it is finally official. You can learn a little more about it on the APE Games website. I am looking forward to writing about the design and development process.

And if you follow me, you might already New Bedford, but if you want to pick up a copy, Greater than Games is running a month of deals throughout December, starting with New Bedford.

There hasn’t been much to report since September. I’ve barely played a published game in that time, but I’ve had a few great opportunities for playtesting, including Metatopia in November. I’ve been chasing around 3 or 4 designs in various levels of completion, and all this playtesting is showing me that most of the designs are still far from ready. The bad news is that it means I’ve got a lot of work ahead. But the good thing is that it looks like I’ll have a number of great designs getting close to completion next year.

I hope everyone has great end of the year holidays, and I’ll hopefully be back with more news soon!

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Literary Game Design 1: Games as Stories

I’ve always wanted to talk about the relationship between games and literature, an idea that will probably make all but the geekiest of game design nerds roll their eyes. But for those of you who haven’t left yet, literature provides a great lens through which to examine game design. Each game played is like its own story, that the designer and players craft together. And if I learned anything from high school English class, there are five basic elements of any story: character, setting, conflict, plot, and theme. And if a game tells a story, these elements must be present as well.  But there are sometimes two different levels of story. The first is the story being told within the game. And the second is the story being told about the game. This second level is the one I’m interested in examining. Read the rest of this entry »


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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Give Up on Your Games

One useful piece of advice I’ve learned as a designer is “give up on your games”. No, I’m not overcome by a wave of ennui for game design. But it’s time for spring cleaning, which means getting rid of some game ideas that are holding me back. Letting go of a design is a hard thing for a designer to do, but holding on to a design long after it is viable can waste your time, energy, and passion. After some recent playtests and design sessions, there are a few games that I’m no longer going to work on. I hope that by sharing my reasons behind these decisions, other designers will find reasons to leave their old ideas behind and make way for some new ones. Read the rest of this entry »


Avoiding the Sophomore Slump

A problem I’ve been concerned a lot with over the past year is avoiding a Sophomore Slump. New Bedford was my first game and a big success, and I was worried about being able to produce a second game that was just as successful and popular. There’s danger from both sides with that attitude. If I make a second game and it’s not as good, I’ve hit the slump. If I keep rejecting games waiting for that next great one, I also hit the slump. But now that I’ve officially got my second game announced, I have figured out what designers can do to avoid a sophomore slump. Read the rest of this entry »

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Variability in Isle of Skye

I had a brief discussion on Twitter the other day about whether the new game Isle of Sky is truly “variable”. [You can read my review of it.] Seth Jaffee talked about it back in November, and took the position that the variability was “fake” because it only changes the value of the tiles, not how players choose tiles and use them. After realizing I couldn’t properly express my thoughts 144 characters at a time, I wrote a defense of why Isle of Skye does include real variability, in the sense that they do more than change the value of the tiles.

I think Seth and I agree that Isle of Sky is a market valuation game first and a tile laying game second. So the value of any tile depends on how many icons are on it, what each icon is worth for scoring. Then you have to factor in how much money you have, and how much other players are willing to pay for it.

But there’s an extra piece, which is how well it fits in your region. And importantly, that is more than just the tile-laying. Each tile is a different scoring scheme. Some reward set collection, some reward network building, some reward careful terrain placement and closing regions. No two are simply functionally identical with different icons.

So when you consider the value and the placement, you have to consider how the scoring interacts, and include the income and scrolls. Route-building goals suggest more sprawling boards in favor of connectivity. But the postage stamp goal suggests a compact board. And the order makes a difference because it’s harder to re-connect a road in later rounds. Scoring most boats doesn’t care about water area size, but largest water does. Largest water also cares about closing the area while boat plus lighthouse doesn’t.

Because the scoring overlaps, the mechanisms can be in cooperation or in competition, or some mix. So from game to game, you’re doing more than just calculating the value based on arbitrary rules. You’re trying to take advantage of the rule interaction to determine what strategy to take. In all my games so far, the winner hasn’t simply been the player who prices best, it’s the player who correctly chooses what goals to focus on and when.

To look at it from a different angle, I think it would quickly become stale if you just used the same 4 tiles and only varied their order. You would be able to match up the same features again and again. With the different scoring mechanisms, you can’t rely on forming the same combinations in every game. The variability doesn’t depend on that newness, but the random draw and mixing and matching do at least make it more replayable because they make it harder and take longer to establish good rules for valuation.

Because the pricing aspect is so central to IoS, it’s easy to see it as simply variations on “value your tiles correctly”. But I think that glosses over a lot of the nuance of how you determine value from complexly interacting scoring systems, which for me is where the richness of the game lies.


Jurassic World: Everything Goes Wrong, Plus Dinosaurs

Jurassic World is its own metaphor. It is bigger, more dangerous, and simultaneously more bland and disappointing than the original movie. It is the story of a monumental achievement brought back to life struggling under the weight of corporate influence. It is still a thoroughly enjoyable big-budget summer escape, but it falls well short of what its original creator dreamed of. Welcome to Jurassic World, spoilers to follow. Read the rest of this entry »

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