Dice Tower reviews This Town Ain’t Big Enough!

Here’s a new video review for our microgame, This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the 2-4 of Us from Tim Jennette of the Dice Tower.

He really seemed to like the game! Here are a few things that stood out for me:

  • “I like the scoring mechanism”
  • “Very interesting – I like the gameplay”
  • “The expansions drive the experience a lot”
  • “We’ve played it quite a bit”
  • “You can’t beat the price!”

You can watch the whole thing here:

-Jay Cormier

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But wait there’s more…But Wait There’s More!

BWTM-bestpartThat’s right – you might not even have the base game yet (but if you do – yay! Let us know your thoughts!) – but we’ve already got some expansions coming your way. The first is called That’s The Best Part, and I have to say, it really is the best part! It’s one of my favourite things about the game!

Here’s how it works: After someone pitches a product with their two features (one that came in halfway through after stating But Wait There’s More!) – it’s opened to questions from the audience. The player to your right then asks you a question from one of their That’s The Best Part cards. The question could be something like “What if it gives me a rash” or “What if I accidentally flush it down the toilet?” and the person pitching has to respond with “Oh…that’s the best part…” and go one to explain why this product giving you a rash is the BEST part! I laugh every time I hear it!

Check out the Toy Vault website for more info on this $4.99 expansion. It should be available in a month or so!! Awesome!

-Jay Cormier

Great Review of our new game, Akrotiri!

AkroI’m hoping this will be the first of many reviews for our new 2-player Euro game, Akrotiri. The game kind of snuck into stores over the holidays and there hasn’t been much fanfare for it … yet..?!

Here’s hoping more reviews will pop up online soon! For now you can read this review from BGG user, Blue Alien.

-Jay Cormier

Kickstarter loves games

kickstarter_logo_0We’re all getting more and more familiar with Kickstarter (online crowd-sourcing), but did you know how important Kickstarter was to the world of gaming?

In 2012, 23% of all dollars pledged were to games! This consists of board and video games, but it’s still amazing! $50 million were pledged to games last year, while only $42 million was pledged to films, making gaming and filming the number 1 and 2 categories on Kickstarter.

Perspective

In 2009, when Kickstarter was still a baby, only $48,190 was pledged to gaming. It grew to $519, 885 in 2010 and to $3,615,841 in 2011 – but over $50 million in 2012 is an insane jump! That’s a 1391% increase from the year before – OR it’s a 104,441% increase over 4 years! Wow!!

What about Board Gaming?

Over $15 million of that is for board gaming. While that’s a smaller piece of the pie compared to video games, board games are being funded successfully 47% of the time, while video games are only being funded successfully 23% of the time.

Why?

A big benefit of Kickstarter is that the more people that pledge a campaign – then the more people they tell (to help hit Stretch Goals) and the more people become aware of the whole crowd-sourcing industry. Some successfully funded campaigns start to build and spread like wildfire. Dungeon Roll, Ogre, Machine of Death all come to mind. By offering Kickstarter exclusives, or more game/goodies for the same price, it becomes more and more lucrative for new backers to pledge and support a game.

In some future posts we’ll take a look at the difference between a game that barely gets funded to one that is enormously successful!

-Jay Cormier

(information gathered from Kickstarter)

The Gathering of Friends: Part 4 – Pitching to Filosofia and Z-Man Games

I had a 10 A.M. meeting set up with Filosofia and Z-Man Games so I got there in and set up Akrotiri with time to spare.  As some of our more faithful readers might recall, Z-Man has had Akrotiri for a while now, but with the acquisition of Z-Man by Filosofia, Sen and I felt they might need more time to figure things out.  We had heard that they played it, liked it, and needed more time with it.

We played a 5 player game with Zev, Sophie, JF and Martin – all from Filosofia – plus Rob Bartel (one of our GAC colleagues). This wasn’t a typical pitch because they knew the game as they had all played it; this was more of a confirmation of their desire to publish it or not. There were also a few new concepts and mechanics added to the game since some of them had played it last, so I wanted to highlight those changes for them first-hand.

Overall, the playthrough went well.  We learned that there was too much downtime for a 5 player game so it will be a 2-4 player game if they do pick it up.  We also learned that getting new goal cards was too expensive and added an unnecessary level of thinking to the game.  We brainstormed some ideas on the spot and came up with a great solution – giving players free goal cards after finding their 2nd and 4th temple.

JF really seemed to like Akrotiri and proposed we play it again with fewer players to playtest this new rule and consider its effect on downtime.  Zev and Sophie had another meeting to go to, so JF and I quickly set up a 2-player game.  The new idea worked beautifully! The game took less than 45 minutes to complete and it was great to receive new goal cards throughout the game!

We packed up Akrotiri and moved on to EIEI-O. Now, here`s an interesting story about the power of social networking!  Dylan Kirk (designer of Genji and fellow GAC member) is a friend of Joyce Lam –  owner of the Chinese game publisher, Jolly Thinkers (which is also a gaming cafe).  Dylan recommended that she check out Train of Thought as a possible import, as Jolly Thinkers specializes in educational games and he thought the game might have potential for ESL students.  Since both Joyce and I went to Essen last year, we arranged to meet up while we were there.  I showed her Train of Thought, which she enjoyed and took a copy back with her to China. She tested it there and found that it didn`t work as well as planned, unfortunately. No biggie.

Months later, Joyce emailed me and asked if we had a nice-looking prototype that we`d like to get professionally printed as she knew someone who was starting up a boardgame printing company that wanted to have a portfolio of some designs. Sen and I thought about it and decided to submit EIEI-O – our is a quick reaction game of making barnyard sounds and wacky animal actions.  When the final product came off the presses, Joyce sent us a picture of the game in it’s printed glory – it looked great!  So, being proud of our brainchild, Sen and I posted the picture on Facebook – like any other loving parent would!

Here’s where Filosofia comes in.  Sophie is Facebook friends with Sen – he`s working on another game (Midnight Men) with Yves Tourigny that has been signed by Filosofia.  So when she saw the photo, she commented that she would like to see the game sometime – pretty wild!

And now back to the Gathering.

Luckily, I received our nice, shiny copy of EIEI-O exactly one day prior to me leaving for the Gathering – talk about timing!  JF was keen to play so we gathered a few other people to take it for a whirl. It was quick and fun.  Everyone seemed to enjoy it. As we were finishing up, Sophie came back to the table so we played the game again! She brought Matthias from Abacuspiele with her to play.

After just one round of playing, Sophie said that she`d “like to do it”.  Double entendre aside, I still had to ask for clarification, querying if that meant we were moving towards a contract.

She said yes!

WOW!

Not only that, but Matthias liked it as well.  Sophie asked if he`d like to do the German version of the game. They asked for another prototype, but I only had the one!  So she asked me to send her the files as they have access to a print-on demand service that can produce short runs. She said she`ll make a few more copies and send one to Matthias to assess.

WOW!

Second day at the Gathering and we actually got a game signed!  The only issue was that they want a different title for the game. Apparently, EIEI-O doesn’t translate well in German! Sophie made a bet with me that whoever comes up with the title gets a free meal from the other person at the next Gathering!  I jokingly pointed out that she has final say on the title so the contest seemed a bit fixed.  She replied that she was trying to bamboozle me. It was a funny moment as she had only recently learned what “bamboozle” means!

Sophie then asked how the second game of Akrotiri went and JF was very enthusiastic about it. I asked Sophie what the next steps for Akrotiri would be. She said that she’d like to play it as a 2-player game one more time when she gets back to work and she’d let us know in 2 weeks. She asked if we’d be open to making this a 2-player only game. I said we were open to it, but it works perfectly well as a 2- to 4-player game. So, we’ll see what she decides. We’re hoping to keep it 2-4 players.

The Filosofia crew were evaluating a few other designs from an American designer, Chris Handy (who I went to see Cabin in the Woods the night before), and they asked if I could stick around to play his prototypes. Of course I could! Apparently, Z-Man has had one of Chris’s designs for quite a while and were using the Gathering as an opportunity to come to a decision (much like they did with Akrotiri).

The first game, Heist, was a tactile game in which players reach into a bag to feel for specific shapes, depending on which room they entered. It was a fun idea, despite some challenges.  When broke for lunch at TGIF, Chris, JF and I brainstormed about how to improve the game. We came up with some more ideas on how to speed up the game and make it more of a fun party game. One aspect this process reminded me of how rigid Sen and I were originally in regards to changing the scoring for Clunatics – Chris really wanted the card that determined which room each player wanted to enter to be revealed one at a time. Once we determined that the amount of strategy that process added didn’t really fit well with the type of game Heist was shaping up to be, we decided a simultaneous reveal would be much better.  A few more tweaks were added and we tried this new version of Heist – it was awesome! As we finished one round, we saw Zev walking around and got him to play a second one with us now that we tweaked the rules. The game couldn’t have went any better! It was fun, engaging and tense.

In addition to Heist, we also worked on another game by Chris called Wild Wild West. We fiddled around with the rules on that one too and made some progress in the right direction (in my opinion at least!). I think it was good for JF and Sophie to see how collaborative I was during this whole process. I tried to ensure for my entire time at the Gathering that it wasn’t all about our designs.

Afterwards, I showed them Junkyard and Eat at Joe’s. JF liked Eat at Joe’s and thought that it would be a better fit with a publisher like Gamewright. Then we played Junkyard.  I informed them that Wiggles 3D had exclusivity until June 1st. JF expressed a lot of interest in Junkyard and asked a few times to let him know if Wiggles 3D passes on it. It’s reassuring to have multiple options for our games!

Finally, I asked JF if he’d be interested in seeing a game of ours that is currently in Alpha state. I had brought Box Office (crappy title!) more to play with other designers to get some input on which direction we should take the game.  I had played it earlier with Rob and got some great ideas about where to go next but I decided not to waste this opportunity with JF, because he’s a movie nut like me. I showed him the concepts and some of the mechanics we came up with and JF was impressed. He said he would definitely want to see this game once we get it polished!

Wow – that was unexpected!  To have a publisher want to look at a game that we haven’t even finished yet? Coolsville!

We were hungry so we walked over to Canada to find something to eat. It was nice to get some fresh air, see Niagara Falls, and eat something that wasn’t from TGIF!  At dinner I got to hear the whole story from Chris Handy about how he got into game design.  We realized that our passion for game design very similar. Later on, I invited him to join the Game Artisans of Canada. Even though he is American, he can join as a Friend and still get a benefit from the group.

Then, looking at the clock, I realized that the day was now over and I had spent the entire day with Filosofia – what a great day!

-Jay Cormier

Belfort: Designer Diaries, part 3: The Artist

In our latest installment of “Belfort: From Inspiration to Publication”, we take you into the creative world of one Josh Cappel. Hailing from Toronto, Josh is a fellow member of the “Game Artisans of Canadian” and his artistic skills grace many a game, including Pandemic, Endeavor, Terra Prime, and the upcoming Pirates vs. Dinosaurs, to name but a few. He is also the co-designer behind Wasabi (currently enjoying it’s 3rd printing, thank you very much) along side Adam Gertzbein. So the fact that he had time to talk to us was pretty fortunate!

Jay: Hey Josh, thanks for your time! First off, although it’s been said many times, Thank you so much for the beautiful art for Belfort! We love it!

Sen: Absolutely! So tell us – how did you come to be the artist for this project?

Josh: A mysterious scroll was appeared on my windowsill one morning. I cracked the seal and before I knew it I was magically bound to the task of illustrating Belfort. Okay, not really…

Jay: Did Tasty Minstrel Games come to you out of the blue? Were there other artists in the running?

Josh: Belfort is my second game for Tasty Minstrel; I did the art and design for Terra Prime last year. They did ask me to put in a bid, so there may have been other contenders for the gig. Luckily for me, they didn’t accidentally hire several artists at once and have no choice but to turn it into a competition. Though I feel I could have won it, if they had.

Sen: Yep, I think you would have too! So, what did you think of Belfort when you read the rules and saw the prototypes? What was your first impression?

Josh: Honestly? My very first first impression was, “Pentagonal board? Cool!” I am a sucker for the visually interesting. After a quick pass at the rules, my impression was “Okay, it’s Caylus with a fantasy theme.” I suspect that a lot of people will leap to the Caylus comparison simply because the central story is that the players are building a castle of sorts, and because there is some worker placement. First impressions are misleading though! Belfort doesn’t share much at all with Caylus. The game structure is entirely different, there’s a spatial aspect that is very central to game play, resource-gathering is less cutthroat, and the choices available to the player are many and varied at any given time. It has its own feel, and the feel is “interesting”. I hope that sounds as complimentary as I mean it.

Jay: Yes it does – and we are thankful for your praise!

Some early concept sketches of an elf and dwarf from Josh Cappel.

Josh: Playing Belfort, I find I am often struck by the depth of a given decision, and interested in the reasons I might or might not make the decision. Take buying a building: Can I afford the cost? If not, can I exploit one of the many resource-gathering/juggling mechanisms to manage it? Does it grant me income? What special actions does it grant me? Will I need to staff it with a Gnome? What on-board location should I claim if I do buy it? And so on, all with cascading implications for the future. I am always interested in my options during the game, engaged in the possibilities that open up from any choice. Good meaty fun – never boring, never scripted.

Sen: Well, that concludes our interview – no need to hear more after such kind words like that!

Jay: Ha! Well, maybe a few more questions! Tell us what the best part of working on “Team Belfort” was.  I mean, besides being around the awesomeness that is Sen and Jay.

Josh: The best part of working on Team Belfort was that we cobbled together a game world that I think has the potential to be the setting for other future games. It just feels fun to me.

Jay: And what was the most challenging part? Besides the fact that you had to be around Sen and Jay, that is.

Josh: The most challenging part was reconciling the level of detail I decided to paint, with the schedule we were on. The gameboard was incredibly difficult. Keep in mind that the board is a pentagon, and I did the city in an overhead isometric view. That means I had to figure out how to illustrate the differently-shaped buildings of each district rotated 72º from the previous one, while keeping the perspective consistent and each building immediately recognizable despite the rotation. Seventy-two degree rotation. Easy, right? YOU try it. Turns out, not so easy.

Jay: Here’s an image of the first draft of the board for Belfort. Now it sure is purdy, but the final board is a million times better (he said, without hyperbole).

First Draft of the Belfort board

Here's the first draft of what the board was going to look like. It still looks great, but Josh wasn't pleased with it and started over, turning it into an isometric view instead. In my opinion - well worth the extra effort!

Sen: I know we were surprised that you were going for that look when we saw the first segment of the board. We were excited about what it would look like when it all came together, but realized that you just signed yourself up for a crazy amount of work!

Josh: Add to that the insane decision to populate the city with hundreds of teeny little denizens all going about their business, and you have yourself a task of lengthy proportions. Luckily for me, the good folks at Tasty Minstrel loved my early game board samples enough to extend my deadline so that I could achieve it.

Sen: Luckily for us, too! We love the game board and couldn’t be happier with how it turned out, so thanks for all your effort.

Here's an example of one of our early boards and Josh's early board. Obviously Josh's was a vast improvement. Still, the final board is even more beautiful!

Jay: There are so many treats throughout that game board! I can’t wait for other gamers to experience everything that’s going on just on the board. And just so that doesn’t make it sound like the board is confusing – what I mean is that with all these tiny people all over the place, you can get lost just looking around and finding little stories all over the place!

Here's the final art for the board of Belfort! Wow. So much detail. The isometric view is stunning.

Sen: I think I spent a good hour just looking at the board when I first got it! Any clues as to the meaning of some of the Easter Eggs?

Josh: Well, there are a few Tasty Minstrel shout-outs. Michael Mindes himself is actually present on one of the board segments, although I added him in between preview approval and print file delivery… so he hasn’t noticed it yet! Surprise! There are a few references to my previous Tasty Minstrel Game, Terra Prime. And at least a couple references that board game geeks might pick up on, if they have sharp eyes. A lot of the stuff going on in the streets of Belfort isn’t “easter eggy” per se, but it’s definitely a lively town that I hope players will enjoy exploring.

This early concept scribble is ridiculously close to how it looks in the final version! Well, layout-wise at least.

Jay: Can you describe the working relationship between you, us and Tasty Minstrel? How is it working with people without ever physically meeting?

Josh: Actually, I have only ever worked for publishers that I have never met in person, so it’s pretty normal for me. The working relationship with you and Jay was ideal. You guys are creative and enthusiastic designers who (since you have a long-distance working relationship with each other already) know how to communicate easily and effectively online in a way that moves things forward. I would love to be involved in any of your future designs, of which I am certain many will get published. Tasty Minstrel Games and me are old pals by now. Since Belfort wrapped I have already started and finished another game, Martian Dice, and have just signed on for a fourth. I expect that I will still be providing art for Tasty Minstrel Games when we are all old and grey.

Jay: Nice! I haven’t played Martian Dice yet, but want to give it a spin, or a roll as it were.

Sen: Great to know that there will be an unending supply of Josh Cappell illustrated board games in our future!

Jay: So does that mean that board game art is your full time job or do you have a 9 to 5 job in the real world? It’s difficult to imagine you working in a cubicle somewhere!

Josh: Pretty much full time. I do take on non-game-related projects occasionally, but the great majority of my work is in games.

Sen: That’s so great to know that you can make your living off of providing such happiness to people who play the games you illustrate! You helped shape the world of Belfort as an anachronistic fantasy realm with a solid dose of humour. How did that come about and what lead to things like “100% Ent Free” rulers?

Josh: Early in the development process I wrote to Michael (head of Tasty Minstrel Games) and asked him if he was certain he wanted to do Belfort in this fantasy standard universe. Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes… you see them a lot in games and I didn’t want Belfort to get lost in the mix because the theme was overplayed. His response was that to create unique fantasy races would be fun and cool, but it would keep us from exploiting the tropes already established about the existing fantasy races that would facilitate player comprehension. Get it? Basically by giving players a fantasy setting that they are already familiar with, it’s a little less overwhelming when they first approach the game. So, working within that framework but aiming to stand out a bit, I decided to ramp up the personality, a.k.a. the funny.

That goofy looking elf was the extent of the humour we had in the game before Josh got his hands on it.

Jay: I was surprised by how much humour you added to the game…which is pretty much all of the humour! Belfort wasn’t inherently a funny game before you had it, with the possible exception that we were using goofy looking elves, dwarves and gnomes in our prototype.

Josh: Actually, it all started with the Gnomes, I think. You guys set up the Gnomes as workers that players can add to their buildings to make them run more efficiently. From there I just sort of expanded on the idea that the Gnomes are intense bureaucrats, and that of course meant that Belfort’s parent kingdom has a strong cluster of Guilds and Committees and Departments that keep things running under the surface of it all. Then for some reason I started dropping in anachronistic props for the Gnomes… in various places you’ll see clipboards, wristwatches, paperclips, coffee cups…

Sen: Wristwatches? Wow – I haven’t seen that yet! Now I have to go back and pour through the art again to find that!

Josh: Another big factor was the basic idea that this worker-placement resource-management castle-building game was set in a world with magic and monsters. Naturally, these sorts of elements would be part of the everyday life of Belfort’s citizens, so I decided to play up the matter-of-fact relationship with the fantastical.

Jay: Yeah I love how it feels like there’s a lot of red tape in this world and it’s very bureaucratic. There’s none of that in the game play really – but it adds to the anachronistic humour you created.

Sen: You were given a lot of latitude when doing the graphic design of the rulebook and you put your own spin on the text. We loved it so much that we all went with that humourous vibe and you received extra credit for your contributions. For others out there interested in the board game biz, was this an unusual case for you or is this normal expectation of an artist when doing the text and graphic layout of a rulebook? What initially compelled you to try to revise and improve the flow of the rules? Was there any resistance from the publisher at all?

Josh: It is definitely not normal for game artists, but it is par for the course for me specifically. Rulebook editing is one of my strengths and is an added service that I pitch to publishers; it’s part of what they are paying for when they hire me. I feel that my job is to provide the best possible clarity for the players via engaging illustration, effective component design, and smartly-presented rules. I never change the functional mechanisms of any game rules; that would be overstepping my boundaries. However I do what I can to improve how the rules are communicated to the player. Sometimes that means reorganizing the flow, defining game terms consistently, standardizing language/tense/voice throughout, and writing solid examples of play. Often I alter components during the design process and that means that the rules are outdated by the time I get to them so they have to be rewritten to fit.

Jay: The rules to Belfort are definitely the best I’ve ever seen in terms of layout, comprehension and artistic design. It makes me want to play the game! It’s very inviting. But it’s not just rules, you also wrote a lot of flavour text throughout the rules.

Josh: Yeah, I love writing flavour text, and when I started inserting little touches here and there in the components, the whole team reacted very positively. From there I continued the trend into the rulebook. You two and Seth (Tasty Minstrel’s developer) built a very strong and extensively-tested set of rules; that stable foundation allowed me to really pour on the personality.

Sen: There are a lot of guilds in the world of Belfort – What guild isn’t in the game that’d you’d like to see?

Josh: It’s hard to say without playing the game a lot more than I have. Usually those kinds of ideas come from repeated plays where you can start to say to yourself “wouldn’t it be cool if you could __________”. The Guilds are one area that definitely remains open for expansions. This is evident when you notice that we put the build cost of each Guild on its tile (even thought they all cost the same) instead of printing it onto the game board. This was done deliberately in case we decide to add a Guilds expansion where the new Guilds have different costs. That being said, there are at least two other Guilds mentioned in flavour text; the Rules Lawyers’ Guild and the Clipboard Makers’ Guild. Not sure if they’ll ever make a non-cameo appearance, but at least we know there are other Guilds in Belfort than the twelve game tiles!

Another early sketch, this time of the Calendar board.

Sen: And tell us about the blue-skinned creatures you added to the game world. What are they called and what is their role in Belfort? Where do they stand on the subject of Dwarf-Troll relations and will we be seeing more of them in the future?

Josh: Ah, the Goons. Big tough guys. The came about to fill an archetype gap. For some reason we decided during development that Trolls are not well-regarded in Belfort… you’ll see occasional anti-Troll comments here or there. That animosity doesn’t feature in game play at all, but you two had mentioned that there was a possibility of a future aspect to Belfort where the city would be under attack by “greenskins” (a generic term for typical fantasy monstrous humanoids like goblins, orcs, trolls, etc.). So, once it became clear that I would be illustrating a big bustling city, it was requested that I didn’t include any greenskins in the mix, setting up this future possible conflict.

In the end I did include a smattering of them scattered about. Aside from a few random pedestrians, a couple are playing dice with a Dwarf at one of the Pubs, and there’s one that actually has a stall at one of the Markets selling some decidedly evil-looking trinkets. I wanted a Trollish sort of creature to act as burly hired muscle in the city, so I painted up the Goons. They can be found mostly guarding Banks and Gatehouses. One is helping out in the background of the game’s box. I envision them as strong, quiet, loyal hirelings. Handy to have around in a fight… maybe one day we’ll find out.

Jay: Look into your crystal ball – If there was to be a future expansion to Belfort, what do you think it might be about?

Josh: Belfort under attack! I’m not sure whether that could be done as an expansion though. Maybe an outright sequel. Mark my words, we will return to the Belfort world for another game project. I have actually begun the process of converting one of my own existing game designs so that it is in the Belfort universe. We’ve talked a little bit about future plans, so I have an inking of where things might go with a possible sequel, mechanically.

Sen: If there was a “Super Grand Ultra Deluxe 10th Anniversary” edition of Belfort (think the 3-D version of Settlers of Catan), what would you want to see in it?

Josh: Ask me in nine years. That’s when I expect to begin working on it!
In our final installment of “Belfort: From Inspiration to Publication”, we will be talking to the Richard Lee of Panda Manufacturing, the company responsible for making all the bits and putting them in the boxes.

For past interviews in this series, please go here:

Belfort Designer Diaries: Part 1, The Playtesters

Belfort Designer Diaries: Part 2, The Developer

If you are interested in learning more about how we came up with the ideas and how the game grew from something small into what it is now you can read this interview by Jeff Temple and watch this video we recorded.

Design Tip: Simple versus Clean

What’s the difference between a simple game and a clean game?  A simple game has reduced decisions and strategy and a clean game can be any game that is streamlined where everything fits and makes sense and has no extraneous rules or pieces.

This concept took Sen and I awhile to understand actually.  We could easily recognize when one of our games was messy and convoluted, but would often think that the solution would be that we should make it simpler.  In the end we would end up with a very basic – but still messy game!

Let’s look at the difference of each by using some examples from one of our games in progress: Akrotiri.

In Akrotiri, part of the game has players moving their boats from island to island picking up resources and then shipping them back to Akrotiri to sell them.  Seems easy enough, but we were continually challenged with how to determine the prices of how much Akrotiri would buy these resources from players.

The Simple way to do it would be to set a fixed price and say that every resource is sold for 1 gold.  That’s just too simple and offers no strategy and cannot be affected by a player’s choice at all.

Our initial idea was to use a stock market to track each resource’s value.  Every time a resource is added to the board then the stock market goes up by one.  If a resource is sold to Akrotiri then the market goes down by one for that resource.  Seems like it makes sense, but it wasn’t clean.  Why not?  Because players would often forget to change the market when either adding a resource or selling to Akrotiri.  It was messy and caused players to say things like, “oh I sold that resource last turn but forgot to lower the price – so it should be 2 steps lower.”  Not a good gaming experience.

We toyed around with some other ideas before coming back to this stock market idea.  This time we placed all the resources on the market itself.  If a resource is added to the board then it is taken directly from the stock market.  When it is sold back to Akrotiri then it is placed back on the stock market tracker and the player gets the amount that it is placed onto.  Now that’s a lot cleaner.  Now players can’t forget to affect the market.

So when designing your games try to be objective and determine if it’s simple or clean, and unless you’re making a game for children, lean towards clean!

-Jay Cormier

First off, thanks to Sean of the G.A.C. (Game Artisans of Canada – a group of designers that Jay and I belong to) for his assistance with coming up with the current stock market mechanism. Secondly, there’s nothing more rewarding than coming up with creative solutions to a problem that doesn’t increase the analysis paralysis or downtime – and that’s the difference, for me anyway, between a simple game and a clean game. Though, personally, I prefer referring to them as “simplistic” vs. “elegant”. Semantics, I know. To me, “elegant” means also linking multiple mechanics in the same game to affect the outcome as a whole.

To me, a simplistic game can be made by reducing the rules and components until you’re left with the most basic elements of the game. There is very little interaction on the board or between players. Think of a classic “roll and move” game like ‘Snakes & Ladders’ – you roll, you move, the board tells you if there’s a penalty or a bonus based on the square you land on. Two players never interact. First one to the end wins.

An elegant game, to the contrary, may have some very simple mechanics (and, in fact, works better if it is made up of primarily simple mechanics) but the complexity is built into how those mechanics interact. How the board, the pieces, and the players interact with each other all form a meld of complexity. The art, here, is making it as seamless as possible – hence elegant. It should, at the best of times, come off smoothly without much down time or referring to charts or manuals. It should be minimal in execution, but maximal in effect. Think of something as simple as the event die in ‘Settlers of Catan’ 2-player card game – roll a die and something happens. The elegant part of this was that both players were affected by this die roll on either player’s turn, but not necessarily in the same way, depending on the buildings they had, the resources they stockpiled, their contingency of warriors, etc. It was a simple roll with simple rules to effect each result (compare who has the most red points in knights – that player gets a benefit) and both players took part in the event phase, even on the other player’s turn which keeps things interesting. And the result of the roll can be more or less beneficial depending on how well a player planned in his or her previous turn. Almost zero downtime for a ton more effect in the game. Definitely a worthwhile trade-off if you were to do a cost/benefit analysis.

Both the ‘Snakes and Ladders’ and ‘Settlers of Catan Card Game’ example use a single die as the mechanism. The difference is in the ramifications of the die roll. One is simplistic, the other is far more elegant.

-Sen-Foong Lim

 

Step 14: Create Sales Sheets

Once you’ve decided that you want to send your game to a publisher then the next step would be to create what we call a Sales Sheet.  A Sales Sheet is a one-page document that gives a quick overview of your game to a potential publisher. To some this might seem superfluous, but to us, we credit a lot of our success to having these Sales Sheets ready.

Showing a clean looking Sales Sheet to a publisher immediately tells them that you are professional and you know what you’re doing.  When I attend board game conventions and approach a publisher’s booth to ask them if they are accepting submissions, I often get an ‘eyes-rolling’ kind of vibe as they begrudgingly say “ok sure.”  Then when I pull out my Sales Sheets, I can actually see a visible change in attitude as they immediately realize that they’re dealing with someone who’s serious about game design and not someone who has designed the next Monopoly clone.

A Sales Sheet needs to include the following things:

  1. Title of game – preferably with a mock up logo
  2. Suggested age range
  3. Number of players
  4. Length of time to play the game
  5. Quick overview of the game
  6. Category that the game fits into
  7. List of contents
  8. Images of the game
  9. Sample of one turn or round of play
  10. Some reasons on why this game will sell
  11. Your contact info!

Here’s an example of one of our Sales Sheets for our game Jungle Jam (which has since been retitled to Jam Slam, but we haven’t updated our Sales Sheet yet!).

board game sales sheet

Our newer Sales Sheets have a lot less text, but this one had all the major points on it that I wanted to cover.  See bottom of post for an example.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

1. The logo might seem challenging to you if you don’t have artistic skills, but you really don’t need a lot of skills to create a logo.  Google ‘how to make a logo’ and you’ll find a bunch of resources to help you.  The main key is that your logo should have the same energy that you want your game to have.  If your game is a quick reaction game then your logo needs to be playful and punchy; but if your game is a serious game about trading antiques then an old fashioned feel is obviously better.

2-4. The next three can be combined into a graphic similar to what we see on published board games.  If there are ways to remove or reduce text on this page, then do it!

5. The quick overview gives the publisher an understanding of what the game is all about and should not take longer than 15 seconds to read.  So keep it short and concise.  It will take a lot of copy editing to come up with the most colourful yet efficient ways to get your message across!  Get your English Major friends to help you with this one.  Here’s an example of an overview for our game, Junkyard:

“The Junkyard is the frantic and fun-filled stacking game where junk piles rise high but tensions rise even higher. Each player builds their own junk pile out of oddly shaped blocks that their opponent’s have challenged them to use.  Should you place that piece to make your junk pile more stable or make it taller? While a stable structure will keep you in the game longer, it’s the tallest junk pile that wins!”

6. The publisher should already know what kind of game it is, but most games have subsets of categories that it could belong to.  Our upcoming game, Belfort is a Resource Management game, but it also has Worker Placement, Area Majority and Building as subset categories.  It’s beneficial for a publisher to know which categories your game fits into as they could be looking for an Area Majority game.  Conversely they could be full up on Area Majority games and will want to pass on your game – but it’s better to know that sooner rather than later anyway.

7. A publisher is always looking at the bottom line so a list of contents will help them understand if it’s a game they can make with a profit or not. Hopefully your game is as lean and clean as possible so you don’t scare off any publishers with a ginormous list of contents.

8. If you can include actual photographs of your game instead of just computer based samples, then it will go a long way to show the publisher that there is a full prototype ready to go.  Just like when we look at a game we might want to buy from a game store, the image on the Sales Sheet would be better if it shows the game in progress.

9. It’s even better if you can use this image to show an example of one round of play.  This part can be challenging because think about what everyone’s least favourite part of playing board games is…it’s reading the rules.  So don’t just put a rules summary in your sales sheet.  The publisher doesn’t need to understand why Player A did what they did – the publisher just needs to know how some of the mechanics work together.  Here are a couple examples.

10. The last part is your chance to let the publisher know why your game is worth publishing.  It’s important to keep to facts here instead of telling them how much fun your playtesters have with your game.  Some examples of what you should talk about here:

  • If your theme is interesting or hot in the market then list that
  • if your game has a new mechanic that’s never been seen before
  • If your game has variants or expansion possibilities
  • If your game could be licensed to popular characters
  • If you are open to re-theming your game entirely (instead of wizards collecting dragon eggs, it’s a bunch of Igors collecting body parts!)
  • If it’s a kid’s game then list any educational impact
  • If you can find any sales stats that support why your game will do well, then that’s perfect!

[EDIT BY SEN FEB 4, 2015 – in discussing this with James Mathe of Minion Games, he finds this offputting; I’ve also heard that from one other publisher.  They find it presumptuous that designers would tell publishers what would sell.  While I still think it’s good for you to *think* about the above points and perhaps be able to discuss them, it may be best to leave them off lest you offend the publisher you’re trying to sell your game to.  This also clears up a poop-load of space from your sell sheet.  Don’t be in a huge rush to fill it up, though – remember that white space increases readability and walls of text are an instant turn off!  Feedback works!  See?]

11. Obviously don’t forget to put your contact info on it!

Once complete you are now ready to approach publishers.  We’ve found that whether we’re approaching a publisher in person or via email, we’ve used our sales sheets almost every time.  In an upcoming post we’ll talk about the importance of conventions and how these Sales Sheets are invaluable to us as designers.

Here’s an example of a newer Sales Sheet that is more show and less tell.  It works well for this kind of family game and this was what was used to show to Mattel and Hasbro.

Promo sheet board game design

-Jay Cormier

Not much more to say except treat your sales sheets like your “business cards with a bang”. You want something to leave people with that says more than just your name/contact info/website. You want to leave them with the impression that you are professional, that you’ve got a prototype ready to play at the drop of a hat, and that you’ve put a lot of thought into the product you’re pitching. Short of giving the publisher a working prototype, you want them to be able to get the gist of your game – the general rules, the look and feel, the target demographic – with as little effort on their part. The less amount of time they have to spend scouring the internet, calling you, chasing you down the better for you.

The sell sheet is your foot in the door when your foot isn’t even nearby. Publishers will take the countless sell sheets they’ve picked up from a convention and sift through them, hoping to chance upon the next SdJ. Make sure your game is poised to be picked up by making a sell sheet that helps them remember everything pertinent about your game without overloading them. Give them confidence in your product by creating a well-presented, succinctly worded sell sheet.

The time spent making the sell sheet and handing it out will pay dividends if it’s done right.

-Sen-Foong Lim

Design Tip: Constraints are Good

About 3 years ago I mentioned to Sen that I thought it would be a cool idea if we came up with a super small game that we could include in a letter to publishers as a ‘free’ gift when submitting other games.  For some reason I thought this would be really neat and make us stand out.  I set to work on a tile placement game about trying to have more of your houses in a neighbourhood than your opponent.  I managed to get the game down to 25 tiles.  I made a small little matchbox-like package for it and viola – we had a really cool pocket game! (I’m glossing over the fact that it took more than a few stabs at the game until we got it to its final state).

Hot Property Game Design

Hot Property: our first game using our self-imposed 25 tile limit

Once that was done, I was feeling pretty motivated about how we got a Euro-style game to fit within 25 tiles.  It got me thinking and I remember for one 5 hour flight from Toronto to Vancouver, I brainstormed all the different genres of games and then tried to see if I could come up with a way to make it using only 25 tiles.  At the end of that flight I had ideas for 11 games!

The benefit of reducing an entire game into 25 tiles, is that you’re forced to eliminate anything extraneous which ensures the cleanest and simplest of rules. Some of these games that we made were pretty minor and didn’t have much fun to them, but others had a gem of an idea in it that were not only fun but enabled us to turn them into bigger full-fledged games.

Belfort, our game that is coming out early next year, started as a game that had only 25 tiles.  Hard to believe when you see the final game that it started out as only 25 tiles! Some tiles were used to track how many resources each player had (by rotating the tile so that a specific number was facing up), and the other tiles were buildings that players could build.  The first time I played it with Sen, I was excited to show him how we were able to get a resource management game to fit within 25 tiles!

As soon as Sen finished playing it he said that he really liked it, but that it begged to be a bigger game!  We spent the rest of the weekend turning it into the first prototype of the game that was to eventually be known as Belfort (it was called Castletown back then!).

Other smaller, 25-tile games we have made that we eventually turned into larger games have been Akrotiri – a pick up and deliver game, and Lost for Words – a word search/creation game.  Both of these games are almost ready to be shown to publishers right now.  There’s even a couple more games (EIEIO – a quick reflex party game and This Town Aint Big Enough for the 2-4 of Us – and area majority game) that we’re thinking of converting to bigger games as well.

This was just our way of motivating our creativity, but you could use other constraints as well.  Try making a game using only dice and face cards from a deck of cards; or a game using only a checkerboard and 10 custom cards; or a game using coloured cubes and a piece of paper…you get the idea.  Try to make the most basic game using only a couple basic items and you might find yourself with either some new ideas or a really interesting concept for a bigger game.

-Jay Cormier

I am, by nature, an extremely divergent thinker. This is really just a polite term for “tangential”, or, as my wife would say, “focus-challenged”. Personally, I prefer “free-thinker”. I’m the kind of guy who has what could be only be termed as “chronic creative diarrhea”, constantly coming up with idea after idea after idea. I spend a lot of time coming up with all the cool things that could possibly work together in the game, invariably ending up with a mashed-up monstrosity, and then I have to spend even MORE time cleaning up the mess I’ve made of what had started out as an interesting game.

Enter self-imposed constraints. By placing limits on ourselves, Jay and I can steer clear of thematic traps more easily (i.e. adding something for the sake of making the game fit a specific theme better), minimize cost of fabrication, and reduce the time from it takes to get a game from a “brain fart” to the prototype stage.

This last point is the most important to me, as I am admittedly the kind of designer who would spend eternity tweaking things in my mind before ever committing anything to a physical format if you let me. But by saying “Hey! We’ve reached the 25 cards limit – time to print and cut!”, we can get to the most crucial part of the game design process faster playtesting. While I am good at recognizing strengths and flaws in game systems in my head, I can’t account for everything once the number of variables gets unwieldy and I can’t account for how different personalities will interact with the game. The physical components themselves can also change how a game is played. And to realize that, the game has to be made a reality.

These small games are simple by nature so they the rules are quick to teach and easy to pick up. The set up time is minimal and the games themselves take only minutes to play at the most, so many rounds of play can be racked up in a short timespan. Thus, we can accumulate valuable data on actual playtesting by other playtesters. Jay and I are then in a better position to analyze the game as opposed to doing all of the guess work in our heads. This allows us to prioritize which ideas need to be expanded up immediately, which worked but can sit and wait, and which are never to be heard of again (except, for some reason, on this blog…).

Of course, this design ethic doesn’t work for every game and not every game we make starts off this way. Some games aren’t going to fit within 25 cards straight from conception. “Train of Thought” and “But Wait, There’s More”, both word-based party games, were designed without the 25-card limitation because, really, how fun would a word game be with only 25 different words available to use?

We’re currently designing a trick-taking game called “Lions Share”. We’ve limited ourselves to 55/110 or 60/120 cards in this case. Those limits are actual real-world constraints we’re using to ensure that publishers will look at the game without production reservations. The maximum number of cards that can be made on a single sheet of stock of standard dimensions is 55 by Imperial measurements or 60 by the Metric system. Going over those limits will actually affect the bottom line for the publishers, so having 60 cards in a game can be more appealing to many of them than needing 68 cards, even if the 68-card version is a better game. Using non-standard card sizes is costly as well as a custom die needs to be created. So, whenever possible, stick to 55 or 60 cards in a deck (or multiples thereof).

We’re also trying to solely use cards for “Lions Share”. This constraint was put on in response to the fact that a lot of publishers are requesting card games. As a game design team that is not looking to self-publish, we’ve got to cater to more than just the game players – we need to ensure that the publishers like what they see from a fiscal standpoint as well as the gameplay. So we want to design games that they want to publish. The cheaper a game is to produce, the more likely a publisher is to take a good long look at it.
If, for some reason, we desperately need chits or dice or some other component it’s not a deal breaker as these are self-imposed limits. But we’d like to try to remain true to our limitations as we see a need for a game of this variety in our portfolio.

Working with these constraints for some time now has shown me that there is still complexity in simplicity. Simple games are much more elegant than the bloated systems we sometimes see in some overblown games on the market. The old adage is true, sometimes – less can be more.

It’s an odd fact to try to wrap your mind around but constraints can actually be liberating. Whether it’s trying to keep a theme intact or trying to only use a specific type or number of components, limits allow you to declutter your mind and work only within a space that you’ve defined, free from having to think about anything outside your scope. It seems counter-intuitive to think that limiting creativity is a good thing, but I challenge you to give it a try. Limits can actually force you to be more creative in order to solve problems in very different ways. Having no constraints on your design process can leave you in a position of analysis paralysis where everything seems possible but you are unable to take the game from concept to a playable format. So, if you choose to place constraints upon your game design process, the world may no longer be your oyster. But I’ll bet that you find you come up with some real pearls.

-Sen-Foong Lim