Gathering: Pitching to Filosofia and Z-Man Games

This is the third in our series of pitching to publishers at this year’s Gathering. You can read about the here:

  1. Intro and overview of the Gathering
  2. Pitching to publishers overview
  3. Pitching to Asmodee and Repos

logo_filoUp next I got to sit with JF from Filosofia. I showed him our app game,What’s That.When you’re at a convention and a publisher wants to take your game – as was the case with What’s That with Repos, you never have to give it to them right away. I always tell them that I’d like to show a few more publishers but I will come back at the end of the event to hand it into them.This is good for a couple reasons:

1) It lets you see which publisher is more interested in your game.The more interested they are, the more likely they will want to publish it!

2) It lets you assess which publisher you’d rather work with for your game. Do you want your game to go back with a first time publisher or an established publisher? They both have their benefits – but you now get to make that choice!

3) Once you give it to one publisher, but more than one are interested, well now you know which publisher you can send it to next if that first publisher decides to pass on your game. It’s great having a line-up of publishers wanting to take a closer look at your game!

Unfortunately for What’s That, the app kept crashing – sometimes right when we wanted to see what the answer was! It was frustrating – but it was a new app, made by fellow Game Artisan of Canada member, Stefan Alexander.We didn’t have much time for QA so we just went with what we had. I think the problem was that if I received a text message while we were playing then it crashed. I think they weren’t really interested in it anyway…!

Next up was Pop Goes the Weasel.They thought it was too confusing for kids. We did come up with one good idea that simplifies the game for kids, but still retains the ability to play the game as is for slightly older kids.

By this point I had Josh Cappel (artist extraordinaire of such board games of…oh I don’t know…Belfort!) joined us so we pitched our new game, Rock, Paper, Wizards to JF. Yep – Josh joined forces with the Bamboozle Brothers and the three of us created a brand new game! It involves bluffing and pointing weird finger gestures at other players!

Ed Bryan from Toy Vault also came by and helped us playtest this one. Ed’s another good wingman for me! The game went so well that he brought Zev over to play it. Zev IS Z-Man Games, but Z-Man Games is owned by Filosofia. Zev liked it a lot and wanted to make sure they took this one back with them. Yay! Two games now being requested by publishers!

Update: We have received an email from Filosofia after they played it and they said that while they don’t want to publish it as is – they don’t want to give it back to us. They had some concerns and asked us to see if we could review some options. So we are!

Junkyard-photo2We were then told that they did get the new sample of our game Junkyard from the manufacturer’s in China. Last year at the Gathering I showed them Junkyard and since then we’ve been figuring out a way to make the game. Everyone at Filosofia loves the game, but the cost to produce 52 wooden pieces is high.When I visited Filosofia in November we came up with some ideas on how to reduce costs.The biggest idea was to reduce the size of the pieces by 20-25%.We got a quote from Panda on how many we’d have to make in order to get the per unit price low enough to retail it for $30-35.The pricing and quantity worked out for Filosofia, but they wanted to see a sample of the product before committing.They brought this sample and we got to play the game with Zev because he has never played Junkyard.After a fun game of Junkyard Zev gave his thumbs up to the game. So this meant that everyone is on board! The next step for Junkyard is to ask for another sample with a varnished finish of some sort as the pieces are a bit too rough as they are now. But yay for progress!

We were also given feedback on the three other games that Filosofia had since November. Jam Slam was one of them that showed the most promise so JF wanted Sofie to play it. I learned something about pitching in this pitch session.

Jam-Slam-logoThe game is a simple game of listening to a clue and slapping a card that has that information. For older kids it has an advanced variant where you get bonuses if you collect the most or least of a specific thing. I thought we should play with this since we’re all adults and it would make it more of a challenge – and therefore (in my mind) – more fun.Well that was wrong. Being new to the game, Sofie was confused by the multiple motivations. She boiled it down to show that the game had three motivations and a kid’s game should only have one motivation. So the lesson learned is to always show your game as the base concept first, before throwing in variants or expansions! So she decided to pass on it but gave us some interesting insight into the design.

JF also shared some comments from the playtests of the other two games they had of ours and from this we learned another lesson.The feedback for our card game, Lion’s Share was that there was fun there – but there was too much memory in it.Wait – what? Memory? There’s no memory at all in the game.Why would they say that then? Think about it for a second…..yep – they played the game wrong.And who’s fault is that? Ours.We re-read the rules and found a section that could be misinterpreted. Damn. Sometimes you have only one chance with a publisher and if the reason why your game fails is because they played it incorrectly, then you’re hooped! By playing incorrectly, they didn’t get the experience you wanted them to have so they only thought the game was mediocre.When you found out they played it wrong, there’s little motivation for them to play again because their experience was only mediocre before. So the lesson here – blind playtest your game! Have some other group playtest your game without you there to guide them or help them out.This will help you ensure your rules are being interpreted correctly.

Whew! That was a busy first day! And there are still more pitches ahead – so stay tuned!

-Jay Cormier

Pitching to Filosofia and Asmodee, part 4

Logo_AsmodéeOn Monday I had my meeting set up with Stefan at Asmodee. I met him at their office and after grabbing a bit to eat and chatting about the business, we sat down for some game pitching! I was now 3 games lighter since Filiosofia kept Lions Share, Jam Slam and Clunatics, but that still left me with five more games to pitch. I laid out the games and started explaining the games when Stefan jumped in and recommended we play Chainables first as it seemed easy and would allow us to eat while we played.

Chainables: Three of us played this word game and we played enough rounds for them to understand how it played. They liked it but didn’t offer too many more comments – so I cleaned it up and moved onto the next game.

Simplicity: Stefan and I played Simplicity and even finished the game (it is a pretty quick game!). I showed him the expansion that we had designed with it and he asked to hold onto the game for further evaluation. He said he’d probably play it with the expansion as it seemed like a good idea. Cool!

EIEI-O: Stefan had expressed interest at the Gathering but it was with another publisher at that time. It has since been released by the other publisher – so I was able to pitch this game to Asmodee. EI-EI-O is a quick reaction game where you have to make the sounds and actions of common farmyard animals. Stefan got more people from the office to play the game. I decided to stay out of playing the game and just flipped the cards and rolled the die! The game was a huge hit with tons of laughs by everyone involved! Lots of wrong sound effects for the animals and awkward actions. They definitely were interested in this game and are already planning on sending the game to France for evaluation.

Short Order Showdown: We played a few rounds of this, but I did a poor job explaining some of the rules and it caused some confusion. My bad. There certainly was a language barrier – but I do take responsibility in not explaining the rules as well as I should have. That might have been part of the reason why they ended up passing on this game.

l4w-1Lost for Words: Lost for Words is a word-making game that Sen and I made because we didn’t like how slow Scrabble is to play. It’s a fun game for word fans but it fell rather flat with Asmodee, possible because of the language barrier. I wonder if this game will ever find a publisher!? I hope so because the response from word fans is always fantastic!

After this, one person in the office asked to play Chainables again as he found it very interesting. That was a surprise to me! Not that the game isn’t interesting – but that they would be interested in an English word-making game! We played it with 4 players and brainstormed a bit about the cards since they were too big. One person thought it would be better if they were tiles, and placed on a rack just like Scrabble. That’s cool! That would be very slick methinks! They asked to hold onto Chainables for further evaluation. Huzzah!

Stefan had to get ready to head off to BGG.con the next day so I left with only Lost for Words and Short Order Showdown! That means, after these two meetings (Filosofia on Friday and Asmodee on Monday) we had these games being assessed:

Filosofia

  • Junkyard
  • Clunatics
  • Lions Share
  • Jam Slam

Asmodee

  • EI-EI-O
  • SimpliCITY
  • Chainables

A very successful couple of days pitching games! Who knows, it’s very possible that both Filosofia and Asmodee will pass on all these games, but as usual, Sen and I are optimistic about many of these games! Stay tuned to this blog to see what the future will hold for these games!

-Jay Cormier

Pitching to Filosofia and Asmodee, Part 2

On my Montreal trip, my first meeting was with Filosofia. Since I had become friends with JF due to our similar interests outside of the board game world (both of us are big movie nerds!), he invited me to stay with him while I was in Montreal, after my work thing finished up. How nice! I spent Thursday night with him at his place and the next morning we both went into work together. He gave me a tour of their office and warehouse. While it might seem bland for them because they work there all the time, for an outsider it sure was interesting!

There were prototypes in boxes, new imports set up and being played, filing boxes that would normally be pretty boring – but they were each labeled with a different board game name..! It was pretty neat. Then we got to check out the warehouse which is where they distribute all there games from. Rows and rows of boxes of games! There was even a section of games that were open that they use to replenish missing pieces for people that have an incomplete box when they open it up.

The morning was spent playing our prototypes that I brought. I played with JF and Martin, who is responsible for deciding which new games they bring in. I started by laying out all the games – which I had packaged individually into fairly tight white boxes that each had a label of the game’s name on the outside.

I laid out all the games and gave a one-sentence pitch for each game and we all decided to start with SimpliCITY first.

 

 

SimpliCITY: We started with one of our new games, SimpliCITY. This is a very simple tile laying game that has players building their own cities while trying to satisfy one of three face-up goal cards before the other players. Everything played smoothly but in the end they thought that it was a bit too similar to Carcasonne for their tastes – since they are now the publishers of Carcasonne. Maybe if they didn’t publish Carcasonne they would be interested, but alas they decided to pass on this one.

Lions Share: Next up was our new card game (well, it’s been around for quite awhile in our repetoire, but not in its current iteration – which we both think is the best its ever been!). This game has three interesting aspects to it:

1) that you play between players – so you’re only ever playing with players on either side of you, even though you can affect and impact the other players whenever a trick is taken

2) the criteria that dictates which card you can play where – changes throughout the game

3) When you take a ‘trick’ you get to keep 2 cards but you also must share 2 cards with your opponents

Both Martin and JF really liked Lions Share and asked to keep the game for further evaluation. I told them that the game really shines with 4 or 5 players and they were eager to try the game with more players. Exciting!

Jam Slam: I have a lot of fondness for this game as it started out as a game based on a character I created and perform as: Bertolt the Explorer! We’ve since removed that character from the game, but the gameplay still remains fun and hectic! One player takes the turn being the Jam Chef and he shouts out what specific ingredient he’s looking for – based on looking at the next card in the ingredient deck, and the other players race to slap a face-up card on the table that matches with what was requested. JF took it one step further and actually started to try to trick us when he was the Jam Chef – and that added to the hilarity. Both Martin and JF seemed really impressed with Jam Slam and they asked to hold onto this one for further testing. Huzzah!

Short Order Showdown: Next up was another quick reaction game about trying to flip over tiles and try to add them to your plate such that it matched one of the face-up orders. The game played fine, but they preferred Jam Slam to this one and decided to pass on this one. It’s an interesting lesson in determining the order that you present your games to a publisher. I wonder what would the outcome be if I had showed them Short Order Showdown before Jam Slam?

Clunatics: I didn’t think that Filosofia would be interested in Clunatics since it’s not only a party game – which I didn’t think Filosofia published – but also a English-heavy party game. They seemed interested nevertheless, so I forged ahead and showed them the game. I’m glad I did because they really liked it! It’s a party game in which you can only give the smallest of clues to the other players. On their own, these clues are too small to guess, but when you do 2 or 3 of these clues, then it starts to form a possible answer! They really liked the small clue aspect of the game – and how you’re forced to use specific mini-clues. Martin had a great idea: add movie, book and song titles to the cards! Currently all the cards are just idioms or common phrases. Adding titles is interesting – especially if you can’t tell the other players what category it is before you start!! They wanted to hold onto this one to review further! Yay!

Chainables: I had even lower hopes for Chainables with Filosofia because it’s an English-based spelling game! Still, we played it and it went over really well. They both indicated that they liked it and would like to know when it did finally come out – but would have to pass on it because of the aforementioned reasons. JF used to be a teacher and was fascinated by the teaching possibilities of this game – cool!

Akrotiri: While we haven’t made it 100% official, Filosofia will be publishing our game, Akrotiri for a release in the third quarter next year. We had time before lunch so we set up and played a few rounds with the new quest cards that offer an advanced variant for experienced players. JF was content that it was a solid idea – so we packed up and headed out to lunch. Martin, JF and I were joined by Sophie for lunch and we got to talk ‘shop’ throughout lunch, which was very interesting for me. I won’t go into all the details as I’m not sure what was told to me in confidence and what is public knowledge. Basically it was a lot of discussion around the history of Filosofia and its future. Very interesting indeed!

Junkyard: After lunch the four of us decided to play Junkyard. Filosofia had been assessing Junkyard for some time. They even shipped the prototype off to France to be reviewed by a parter of theirs. The result is that absolutely everyone loves the game. The only issue that’s preventing them from signing this game for publication is the cost.

Junkyard is made up of 12 unique pieces in 4 colours and is currently made out of wood. Expensive to make! We played a couple rounds and they even invited their graphic designer, Philippe to play, in case they did decide to proceed with the game, he might be involved in creating the final shapes or moulds. The games were great and we spent more of our time brainstorming the main challenge. Should it be wood, plastic or some other material. Not only that but we brainstormed other ways to reduce the costs. Maybe we could reduce the size of the pieces by 20%. If the game was made out of plastic – then that’s a big savings.

Another point was that Martin had played the game many times and noticed that with 4 players, they were running out of pieces near the end. While the game could just end when the pieces ran out – it was much more fun to end the game when someone’s tower toppled over. So he requested 3 new pieces from Sen and I. We complied and sent him 3 new pieces. But now this brought the piece count up to 15 in each colour – or 60 total pieces – which is even more expensive! We could reduce that to 14 or maybe even 13 pieces, but then I had an interesting idea to keep the pieces at 12. What if we changed the motivation to build taller – and therefore more precarious? Currently the tallest tower gets a 5 point bonus at the end of the game – but what if we made it 6…or 10? What if we game some points to the player with the 2nd tallest tower? With these attractive points, players might play taller in an effort to get the tallest tower – and therefore the towers would be more wobbly and fall more frequently! Lots of good ideas were thrown around, but the next step is to get some quotes from manufacturers.

We had sent Junkyard on our own to Panda for a quote and I shared with them their numbers – but it was only based on a 2000 unit order. So our next step is to ask them how many units we’d have to make in order to get the retail price between $30-$35. We all set a deadline as the end of February to get as much information as we need.

By this time the day had already come to an end! Man time flies when you’re having fun! Before leaving we set a deadline of the end of February for all the prototypes. That seemed like enough time for them to make a decision. Back at JF’s house later that night, JF and I fiddled around with a game that is in Alpha (See this post) stage currently called Box Office (terrible title – but it’s temporary!). I had shown this game to JF in April at the Gathering. Since he liked movies as much as I did, I thought he’d like the concept. Since April we had tweaked it a bit, but it was still Alpha…though it’s getting closer to Beta! We had some fun with it – but more fun was had with brainstorming the next steps – which I’m very excited about! All in all, a very exciting day of pitching and playing our games with Filosofia! The next day was spent attending something called the Fiesta! More on that in the next post.

-Jay Cormier

New Ideas, They Are A Bubblin’!

Jay was in London at my place for the last week and we got a lot of work done.  We were aiming to finish a bunch of games, and we met most of our goals while exceeding some – so time well spent!  We were able to playtest quite robustly with my gaming group, my wife and sons, and our fellow GAC member Daryl Andrews.

Let’s recap:

  1. We tested out some new minor additions (in game goals vs. end game goals) for Akrotiri – a game that has been signed to Filosofia as our first 2p game!  It’s fast, fun, and now has some different challenges and motivations during each turn.  Can’t wait to see this in fully-published format!
  2. We changed the wolves in EIEIO to be on the die instead of card-based.  While this means it’ll come up more often (potentially 1 out of every 6 rolls – do the math!), it is theoretically cleaner than the conundrum that occurred when the cards came out in series.  We haven’t playtested this one yet – there was just so much other stuff to do!  EIEIO was slated for Filosofia as well, but they opted not to sign it, so we’re looking for another home for it.
  3. We changed from 8-sided dice to 6-sided dice for marking words in Lost for Words.  The 8-siders were just too finicky and hard to know what the actual face up number was.  We also worked out some rules stickiness in which there were too many darn ties.  The value of the in game goal cards may also be nerfed from 2 points to 1 so that finding a longer word isn’t as difficult.  I’m really looking forward to playing it again!  Word games are a hard sell, but I’m hopeful this one may break the mold – it’s faster than most and uses some innovative techniques to encourage play.  If it never makes it to a boardgame format, it might make a great app!
  4. Speaking of apps, I had a dream of an app I wanted to make – it was a  word game.  I told Jay about it and, by the next day, he had made a prototype of a card version of my dream game!  That game is now Chainables (working title) – a game in which you are trying to combine 2 syllables into full words.
  5. We worked a bit on Pass the Hat, our game about busking.  Some new changes to be made to all the cards, using a vertical vs. horizontal splaying mechanism.  The scoring seems to work, but we need to make a few more adjustments to make it flow better.  It’s our most “Gamery” game, currently, so we’d like to work on finishing it more.
  6. We played But Wait, There’s More with the Shepherd/Nicell family.  It was great!  We got to try out a few expansion ideas – some which worked amazingly well and some that need tweaking.  It’s such a hilarious game on it’s own, we want to make sure that the level of fun increases with each card drawn/expansion added.  Look for that one on Kickstarter soon!
  7. Jam Slam was tested with no changes just to see if there was anything we did want to change.  We’ve always had scoring chits AND a scoring track included when we send this prototype to a publisher but our playtesters – hands down (no pun intended) – liked the track much better than the chits.  So track it is!  The people have spoken!
  8. We played a lot (I mean a LOT) of one of our new games Simplicity.  It’s really simple (hence the name) and about making a city (hence the name, again).  It’s a tile-laying game in which you pick a tile up and place it down.  That’s all.  There are in game goal cards to achieve and mid/end-game goal cards to cash in on over the course of the game.  It’s so simple, it boggles the mind.  We thought of the game a year ago, almost to the day, and couldn’t put it together.  This time, we said “Let’s just make some cards or tiles and play around with them” and a great game was born!  Is it perfect yet?  Hardly!  We’ve got some ideas to add some variation here and there, but the core game is sold.   A big plus is that my wife LOVES IT, so I will be able to test the heck out of any changes we do make!
  9. One of our personal “holy grails” of gaming would be to make a game about movies, as Jay LOVES movies with a passion.  He’s at VIFF, TIFF, etc. as much as possible.  He had a radio show reviewing movies back in University.  He collects and saves all his ticket stubs and documents who he saw each movie with… okay, we’re getting into OCD territory.  Anyway, we’ve been working away at Box Office, in one shape or another, for years actually.  Now that we’re more seasoned designers, the latest version is actually coming along nicely.  Jay had a brainstorm re: this sliding scale thing…should be really good!  We didn’t playtest this with anyone as it’s really only in Alpha stage and we never want to subject playtesters to games that aren’t at least in their Beta phase.  Unless that game happens to be named The Dig.
  10. On a sad note, we found that Pictionary: The Card Game (a 2009 Dale Yu design) was very very similar to our Hog the Remote (a 2006 Bamboozle Brother design).  We had a bunch of interest in HtR, so it was disappointing to find the similarities.  Carrie had bought Pictionary: The Card Game for her work.  Luckily, I saw it and read the rules.  No one wants to go up against Hasbro.  Not even the fabulous Bamboozle Brothers!
  11. Lions Share was played a lot – we’re changing how play is done so it’s more 7 Wonders-style in that there are areas to play between each player and you only interact with the players to either side of you during the card playing phase.  The sharing of the trick is still super interesting as that’s what allows you to interact with players you can’t normally deal with.  A new scoring mechanism we devised makes team and vs. play much more interesting.  We need to add more cards to accommodate more than 4 players (hopefully up to 6). We’re thinking of adding a Chameleon type animal that can act as any animal and another animal as a suit…not sure which one yet – they’d just be a general animal.
  12. We got to try out Clunatics as well, which was well-received.  We’re just cleaning up the rules a wee bit to reduce scoring issues and keep cards in front of you to a minimum.  I made a mini-dry erase board and stuck a small dry erase marker complete with eraser in the box.  We’re hoping to shop this one around soon to NorthStar games perhaps.  They publish a little game called Wits and Wagers.  You might have heard of it!

Whew!  I *think* that’s it – there may be more that we did!  Thanks to Carrie, Ethan, Eli, Elly, Daryl, Jeff, Vince, Brian, Steven, Jeff, and the whole Shepherd/Nicell family (except you, Sean!) for gaming it up with us over the week and helping us take our games to the next level.  Your feedback was invaluable!

Oh yeah, I’ve started to take stop motion videos of our playtesting session using my iPad, a Makayama Movie Mount, and the iStopMotion app.  Gerry Paquette, another GACer, showed us how he did this at “Cardstockawa” (our annual Ontario grand game design moot) over the summer and I’ve wanted to do this ever since.

Let’s see if this works…

IT WORKS!  Huzzah!
~ Sen-Foong Lim

Essen 2011 Roundup

Sorry I didn’t do up-to-the-minute updates as Jay sent me frantic encrypted e-mails letting me know what was going on at Spiel ’11.  I was pretty sick over the last few days, so it was all I could do to decode them, read them, cheer weakly, eat the paper I transcribed the message on to, and then go back to bed!

We had several prototypes to show and are also looking for European partners for co-publication of Belfort and Train of Thought.  Here’s a recap of what happened at Essen for the Bamboozle Brothers:

Jay met with:

Kosmos, who liked Swashbucklers, were interested in co-publishing ToT and took the rules for EIEIO
Pegasus, who expressed strong interest in Swashbucklers and were also interested in Clunatics, ToT, and Lost For Words (depending on how their initial venture into party games goes with Pictomania).
Huch & Friends, who want to check out Clunatics, would like the rules for Bermuda Triangle, and copies of Belfort and ToT to evaluate as European releases.
Quined, who are evaluating Akrotiri – Jay gave them the updates they requested in terms of “spicing it up” so now they are going to playtest with the new additions we’ve made
PSI, who told Jay that Belfort has been sold in Europe (English copies, of course – but it’s a start!)
Queen, who Jay met with on behalf of our friend and fellow Game Artisan, Matt Musselman, to pitch Matt’s Bordeaux to them. They enjoyed Bordeaux and then Jay had time to show them our games – they loved Belfort and requested a copy for evaluation. Jay also showed them Swashbucklers and they were very excited by it. They requested a prototype of it as soon as possible. Jay gave them the prototype immediately after the convention.
Alea liked Bordeaux as well, and this company is Matt’s first choice. There wasn’t a ton of time, so Jay was only able to show our party games to Alea. Now, you might be thinking, “Alea doesn’t do party games!” and you’d be right. But what they can do is link us up with other publishers that do! They liked ToT, Clunatics and Lost For Words and took several sell sheets for these and EIEIO as well, saying that they’d show them to their colleagues. Nothing like getting a plug from one of the most respected publishers in the biz…
Hans im Gluck, who liked Swashbucklers and Bermuda Triangle. As Swashbucklers was slated for Queen, Bermuda Triangle went home with HiG – spread the love! HiG also really liked Bordeaux – go, Matt, go! Also of note: HiG was very positive about our sell sheets, so that’s a sign that it’s something we should all have on our “to do” lists. It’s one of the last things Jay and I do, but one that we spend a lot of time on, despite it seeming so simple.
Jolly Thinkers, who are a Chinese publisher – they were interested in Train of Thought prior to Essen so we took this opportunity to meet face to face and hand over a copy for evaluation.
Jay also had a meeting with Gamewright, who currently have Jam Slam, but I’m not sure what transpired in the meeting. Jay’s probably so burnt out on games that he’s sleeping right now. 😀

Step 31: Get to Know Other Designers

<caveat – this probably should be somewhere near Step 12, and will be ret-conned in later!>

As a game designer, I have found it extremely helpful to surround myself not only with great playtesters, but also other game designers. Initially many people think that you might not want to talk to other game designers about your unpublished games because they could steal your ideas. I have never thought this was an issue, mostly because everyone and their brother has a dozen ideas for their own board games. The ideas aren’t what’s lacking. What’s lacking is the ability, and often the experience and knowledge of how to get a game to market. This is where fellow game designers can be a big boon to you.

I belong to a group called the Game Artisans of Canada. This group was founded in 2008 by a few game designers with an interest in sharing stories and experiences in an effort to help each other get their games to the market. Many of the GAC members have games published already, including Rob Bartel with Two by Two, Sean Ross with Haggis and Matt Tolman with Undermining – to name but a few. There are different chapters across Canada which each meet up on a regular basis for play testing. In addition to this, they have an online forum which everyone across Canada can ask questions, share playtest sessions or debate game design philosophies. There’s a whole process to become a Game Artisan, which involves a trial period as a Journeyman and a lot of mentorship from your local chapter.

Attendees of Cardstock 2011! Look at all that brainpower!

In addition to our chapter meet ups and the online forum, GAC has an annual get together called Cardstock. This is heaven for game designers. 20 or so designers meet up and playtest each other’s’ prototypes over a long weekend! This year it was in Calgary and many of us flew in to take part in this experience. I was flabbergasted at all the creativity and brainpower that was at Cardstock. Every game that Sen and I brought to Cardstock left a much better game. Talk about invigorating!

The Game Artisans even have their own newsletter called Meeple Syrup that is dedicated to celebrating the organization’s successes. Issue 3 was just released and is available here.

Sen and I joined them in 2010 and have had numerous examples of how they have helped us become better designers and probably published more often.

1. Game Designers make the best playtesters. Game designers understand the need for balance and how a suggestion can lead to other issues. They understand that sometimes a playtest session needs to stop in order to tweak the rules before starting again. The feedback we get from playtesting with other game designers is always fantastic and leaves us excited to take another crack at it.

2. Game Designers have a ton of various experiences that each of us alone don’t have yet. Have a question about how a contract should be worded? Ask GAC. Not sure how to contact a publisher? Ask GAC. Trying to figure out how to solve a game design problem you’re having? Ask GAC. There’s a ton of knowledge amongst all the members of GAC.

3. Game Designers have contacts. We have already experienced a few examples where one GAC member has helped another get a game to a publisher and get published!

  • Michael Mindes of Tasty Minstrel Games asked me and Sean Ross about our opinions of the game Alba Longa, designed by GAC member Graeme Jahns. It was being published in the Netherlands by Quined and Michael was thinking about bringing it to America. I told him my honest opinion, as did Sean, and he decided to co-publish the game with Quined.
  • Quined then asked Graeme if there were other designers with games that he think they’d be interested in. Graeme thought of our game, Akrotiri and they were interested enough to send an email to us asking us for the rules. After reading the rules, they asked for a prototype. They’ve played the game twice and are still fascinated by it. Time will tell if that turns into a publishing contract!
  • Rob Bartel introduced us to Gamewright and they now have our game Jam Slam and are still deciding about whether they are going to publish it or not.
  • Dylan Kirk has contacts in China and when one of them asked if he knew of any games that might be a good fit for them, he told them about Train of Thought. On my trip to Essen coming up, I have a meeting set up with that publisher to see if they’d be interested in publishing the game in China!

4. Blind Playtesting! With different chapters across Canada this gives everyone that’s part of GAC the ability to get their game blind playtested. This means sending the game to another chapter with the rules, and letting them figure it out on their own. This is so valuable as this is the experience that a publisher would get when we would send a game to them – so the feedback from these sessions are extremely helpful.

5. Improved Quality. While this goes hand in hand with some of the other points in this list, it deserves its own callout because I’m referring also to the perceived quality of all games by members of GAC by publishers. Publishers are already starting to recognize the abilities of GAC. They know that if they receive a game from a member of GAC, that it has been playtested by other designers and most likely, even blind playtested. The goal would be to get to a point where a publisher comes to our group to ask for game submissions.

So while you may or may not be able to be a part of something like the Game Artisans of Canada, you should definitely surround yourself with other game designers. Try online places like Meetup.com or Craigslist, or even by asking your local game store if they can host a game designer night once a month – and see who shows up! You’ll become a better designer because of it.

~ Jay Cormier

Online, there’s the Boardgame Design Forum – http://www.bgdf.com – where like-minded people post about their designs. You could also use http://www.boardgamegeek.com and post in your local forum to try to find a design group or start up your own. An online group is a great place to bounce ideas off of people and a local group is excellent for playtesting.

Another thing that a group gives us access to is a huge collective boardgaming experience. Jay and I have played a ton of games, but there’s only so many hours in a day! With the difference in tastes and personal collections, we can draw on the gaming knowledge of many instead of just the two of us. So when we propose an idea, we’ll often get the reply of “Have you played yet? It sounds pretty similar.” While you might think this is discouraging, it isn’t – either we take a look at Game X and decide that it’s similar and we’ve saved ourselves the time of re-inventing the wheel and potential embarassment of pitching it to a publisher; or we find out that our game is different and, hopefully, better!

The group can also help bolster confidence in your designs – there have been a few times when people in the GAC were thinking of abandoning a project, but other members helped the game stay on the rails and move closer towards a final versions.

We also help promote each others’ games through things like newletters and Rob Bartel’s “Canadian Heritage Collection” catalog – a catalogue of games designed or published by Canadians that is sent to Canadian game retailers. Jay will be bringing one of Al Leduc’s prototypes to Essen to give to an interested publisher, Jolly Thinkers. We help with suggesting publishers, using our links and contacts when possible, to get our colleagues’ games in front of the decision makers. Jay will be pitching Matt Musselman’s “Bordeaux” to Queen and Alea at Essen later this month. Fingers crossed!

Help can be as simple as amking a suggestion. Why, even tonight, I suggested that a new designer take a theme that Jay and I had been toying around with and run with it, because his game fit better than any we’ve been able to think of so far! Hopefully, something becomes of it. We just want to make good games and help good games to be made.

In fact, both Jay and I are even working in collaboration with other GAC designers on separate games. Jay is working with Graeme Jahns, Ryley Tolman, and Gavan Brown on a party game tentatively called “Like It” while I’m involved in co-designing Yves Tourigny’s brainchild “Midnight Men” with him.

Like It logo

Like a boss.

“Like It” was sparked at a late-night session at Cardstock 2011 after the group had played “Clunatics” and Gavan seeded an idea. The next morning, Jay, Ryley and Graeme were eagerly discussing it and a quick prototype was mocked up in short order. There’s some really great mechanics in this game that have been great to watch develop over time on the GAC forums. That’s the beauty of the internet – connecting people in Vancouver, Calgary, and Lethbridge in order to create something new.

The Nightwatchman, from "Midnight Men"

The iconic Nightwatchman, bane of evildoers everywhere, brings justice to the streets of Cosmo City in Yves Tourignay's "Midnight Men"

My involvement with “Midnight Men” comes much later in the development of it; Yves had already done much of the work, including the all-important part of getting the game signed to Canadian game publisher Filosophia for a 2012 release. I became enamoured with the project as soon as Yves began discussing it, due to my love affair with comics from a young age, and was eager to try it out. I finally got to play it at Cardstock 2011 and it was apparent that the potential was there, but that there were kinks to work out. I was determined to help with that. After re-creating my own prototype version and tabling it with my local playtest group in London, I provided even more feedback to Yves. So much so that I think I was driving him to drink! I suggested that Yves discuss the possibility of me being part of the development team with Filosophia, but Yves did one better and offered me a role in the actual design of the game. I accepted immediately as I’ve always wanted to make a superhero game myself. Yves has created a richly detailed world and I am honoured to be part of bringing it to life. The progress that Yves and I have made on the game since we began the partnership has been a real testament to the power of teamwork.

This year has been a banner year for Jay and I as designers and it’s in no small part to our links to the Game Artisans of Canada.  2012 will be even better, if all goes as planned.  So, If you’re serious about game design, do yourself a favour and seek out like-minded people. It makes the job that much easier – as the old saying goes, “Many hands make light work.”

~ Sen-Foong Lim

Status update on all our games

Taking a little time out to give you all a status update on all of our games that are in active development.

Board games go through a few phases when they are being developed.  The most common phases you’ll hear people talking about are: Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Published.  There are more if you want to sub-categorize them, but these are the main categories.

Alpha usually means that the game is mostly an idea or a concept.  There’s still a prototype, but the core rule-set is constantly changing.

Beta games have been playtested numerous times and are generally working but are being endlessly tweaked.  A game will spend most of its time in this phase.

Gamma games are generally done and are ready to be shown to a publisher.  Some small tweaks could occur – or a publisher could develop the game even further with more tweaks – but the game is working very well after a ton of playtesting.

Here are the games that Sen and I have at each of these phases along with a brief write up on each.  If you’re a publisher and are interested in learning more about any of these – just let us know.

Published

Train of Thought – a party/word game in which one player tries to get other players to say a hidden word using connected three-word phrases.  Available from Tasty Minstrel Games in January 2011.

Belfort – a resource management strategy game that has players competing to build the most buildings in each district of a new castle as well as employ the most elves, dwarves and gnomes.  Available from Tasty Minstrel Games in Q2-Q3 2011.

But Wait, There’s More! – a laugh-out-loud party game that has players pitching the most ridiculous products to each other in an effort to have their product chosen more than anyone else.  Available from Tasty Minstrel Games in Q4 2011.

Gamma

Akrotiri – a tile laying strategy game that has 2-5 players sailing their boats around the Mediterranean in an effort to make money by shipping resources so they can fund their expeditions to find hidden temples.  A unique system allows for players to have a specific map to a hidden temple – but will also be 100% different every time it’s played.  Currently being reviewed by Z-Man games.

Jam Slam – a quick reaction game in which 3-6 players listen to one player call out a specific ingredient and then try to be the first to slap a card with what was requested before the others.  A hilarious game that has ear-eye-hand coordination! Was a semi-finalist in the Great Canadian Game Design Competition.  Currently being sent to Gamewright for review.

Junkyard – Players place oddly shaped wooden blocks on their own tower of junk in an effort to score more points without knocking anything over.  A unique system that uses cards to help players strategize while keeping some randomness makes this balancing game different than any other on the market.  Currently being sent to Asmodee for review.

Lost for Words – 2-6 players try to find the longest word in a straight line by adding a tile with letters in a 3×3 grid to a growing board of other tiles.  The player to shout out the longest word in the time limit places the tile and scores points.  Currently being sent to Asmodee for review.

This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the 2-4 of Us – Currently a Games-on-the-Go product consisting of 25 tiles in a matchbox sized package.  This game has 2-4 players placing tiles and trying to get more of their cowboys in an enclosed town than opponents.  Currently waiting for a publisher.

Hot Property – Currently a Games-on-the-Go product consisting of 25 tiles in a matchbox sized package.  Hot Property involves 2 competing real estate agents placing tiles and creating neighbourhoods in an effort to have more of their coloured houses in as many neighbourhoods as possible.  Currently waiting for a publisher.

EI-EI-O – Currently a Games-on-the-Go product consisting of 25 tiles in a matchbox sized package.  EI-EI-O is a quick reaction game that has 2-6 players acting and sounding like animals quicker than their opponents.  Currently waiting for a publisher.

Top Shelf – 2-4 players place various candy products on a shelf in a convenience store in an effort to grab the attention of potential shoppers.  Get 4 of the same type or colour in a row to score – but make sure some of those are from your brand!  Currently waiting for a publisher.

Beta

RuneMasters – a non-collectible card combat game that uses a never before seen mechanic of placing rune-sticks in specific configurations to ‘cast’ creatures into combat.  Still in early beta but has been through about 8 iterations so far.  It has come a long way already as we’ve simplified it a lot while retaining everything that makes it unique.

Clunatics – a party game that has one person trying to get the others to say a specific phrase out loud – but they only can give the smallest of clues.  There are 15 different ways a person can give a clue and they only get to use 5 of them on their turn.  Lots of hilarity with this one – and it’s almost in Gamma.

Lion’s Share – a card game for 2-5 (maybe 6?) players in which they play animal cards on one of the two tables at a restaurant.  Players have to follow colour, number or animal type.  One animal is deemed to be the Alpha animal and if it’s played on a table – that player collects all the cards into their score pile – but before they do, they must share 1 card with an opponent.  This one is almost Gamma.

Scene of the Crime – One of the players is guilty of the crime and the other players try to determine who did it by placing small tiles that contain different evidence types on the board.  The evidence is played in sets on the board – and looks like Scrabble except instead of letters, there are various evidence tiles on the board.  If a player can find evidence of an opponent in an area on the board that matches a clue – then it leads players to believe they are guilty.  This one used to be Gamma, but we brought it back to Beta to figure out some issues.

Hog the Remote – a party game that has one player using a set of picture cards to get other players to guess the name of a TV show.  It’s kind of like charades but using pictures instead of acting.  This one was coming along great and then we saw that ??? came out with a game that shared some similarities.  This one has been shelved indefinitely for now.

Collectibles – a card game in which players trade rare collectibles in an effort to score the most points with the best collection at the end.  This one seemed to play well, and has been in Gamma, but we’re both kind of dis-enchanted with this one right now.  We like the mechanics and might use them in another game down the road.

Up in the Air – a 4 player partner card game that has players juggling various objects in an effort to keep everything … up in the air the longest.  This was in Gamma and after some feedback we changed the game until it turned into an entirely different game called Junkyard.  We still like the mechanics of this one and might revisit it.

Alpha

Bermuda Triangle – a re-themed version of our Gamma game Night of the Dragon.  While Night of the Dragon was a fun game for families, it never got picked up by a publisher.  Recently we were motivated to re-theme it to the Bermuda Triangle and it’s really working – though it’s making it almost an entirely different game that uses the same core mechanic.  I’m looking forward to making this one work as it involves time travel!

Dice Fu – a game that uses dice in a new way as players assign dice to combos on their various fighters in an effort to defeat their opponents.  Needs a lot of work – but it’s very interesting so far.

Box Office – A game about scheduling when your movies should be released in an effort to make the most money.  I really like the concept but we need to work a lot on the mechanics to make it more fun and less simulation.

Time Management – Players play managers of a store and they try to attract more customers than opponents by hiring the right staff, training them and delegating tasks.  This one was way too simulation – so we thought we might turn it into a game for the office crowd to be used to teach various skills.

City Planning – this one’s so much an Alpha game that we haven’t bothered coming up with a better name for it at all!  This started as a party game and then it seemed like it would fit better as a strategy game.

-Jay Cormier

We have a few other games have been sitting on the back burner after we tinkered with them in Alpha / Beta. For interest’s sake, here’s a look at some of our shelved ones and the reason for stopping the specific project:

Xtaxatax (pronounced “Stacks Attacks”) – was a 2-player game where there were stacks of discs that had stickers on either side of the disc, depicting unit type/strength/etc. The cool idea was that the stacks could be flipped over in the midst of battle to really change up the game and that as you stacked units on top/on bottom, the complexion of that battalion changed. We stopped this one mainly because we couldn’t figure out how to make a good proto for the discs such that they’d stay linked. I was thinking magnets, but didn’t know how to do it. Also, Jay’s not the biggest fan of games that involve ranged combat or too much in the way of math or memory. I am a fan of ranged combat, math and memory games, so just writing this makes me want to pull out the prototype to see if there’s something salvagable in this game.

WerkQwerks – A party game concept we came up with that never really came to fruition. It revolves around one player being the project manager and the rest of their team having to perform some mundane tasks, but with some limitations (i.e. their quirks). I think we put this on the shelf due to lack of interest – not that it’s a bad idea, but that we were focused on making a more “gamer game”. Again, just writing this makes me think – FUN! Of course, I also thought The Dig would pan out…

Sexxxy Game – HA! This couples game was a social, real-time, kind of game where players would have trigger words and responses based on double entendres and sexual innuendos. Reason for shelfing – we could never find girls to playtest with us. And I’m married! Honestly, though, it was the prototyping that was difficult as the game was supposed to be played in the real world while on a date, not around a table. Still a cool concept. It’s a bit too niche, though. A game for couples? Would that sell?

FlickWars – Jay and I both get a kick (or maybe that’s a flick) out of skillful dexterity games. We wanted to make a crazy flicking game where you’d use carroms to break down castle walls, etc. We started to prototype, but it just got difficult as neither he nor I are woodworkers. We’d have to borrow tools, ask a lot of people to help, etc. In the end, we shelved it because of the difficulty in making the physical game and now that we’ve got our dexterity fill through Junkyard, I don’t think this will see the light of day anytime soon. Besides, companies likehttp://www.uncleskunkletoys.com do a much better job at this type of game than we could ever really hope for! Seriously – take a look at that site. Those games look AWESOME!

Castle of Dr. Knizia – Another game that we actually playtested with real human beings other than ourselves or significant others (poor dears). It involved exploring a castle and going through doorways, always worried about what was on the other side – did you sneak through like a mouse, or burst through, sword drawn and ready for combat? The niftiest mechanic was how the monsters got placed in the castle. I even made these card holder things out of balsa wood to indicate which monster was represented by which chip on the board. It was one of our earliest attempts at a “gamer game” so it was clunky at best – so it got abandoned in favour of other games that we could build from the ground up, instead of having to try to strip things away and see if it still worked out. We were focused mostly on Scene of the Crime in an effort to get that in front of a publisher, so adieu, Dr. Knizia. Maybe some of your cool mechanics will be used in other games.

Contract Game – Based on the theory of lowballing to get awarded contract and then trying to fulfill it under budget, this was set in a fantasy realm where there were Giants used as cranes, Mermaids used as plumbers, etc. I still love this concept and it may be revived for an expansion to Belfort or a game set in the same world.

MMA Card Game – As a martial artist and BJJ competitor, I love mixed martial arts (MMA). As a game designer, I love card games. So I figured, I could combine the two together! It never really came of anything, because Jay wasn’t interested much, so it kind of just sat there. We generally focus our energy on games that we’re both keen on. I am currently talking to my training partner and video game designer, Tim Fields, about doing an online Brazilian Jiu Jitsu game that’s turn-based, so concepts from here could get used in that game.

Pants on Fire – A case of a title coming before a game. Honestly, that’s happened a fair bit with us! We get enthralled by a title that is evokative. And quicker than you can say “Train of Thought!”, a new game is born. Not so with Pants on Fire, however. We just never figured this one out – we wanted to make a trick taking game, but this didn’t flow. And now that there is another game with the same title, this one will probably never be completed.

Heroes – This one has kind of gone through a few conceptual changes between spies and superheroes and organized crime and zombies and other things. We have a really, really interesting concept of how to do a map-based game with no real movement. We have a “patrol zone” concept that we really like. Jay was leery of doing a superhero-based game without having access to existing licensed characters and we were investing more time into Belfort at the time. There are definitely concepts and mechanics from this game that will get another look.

And last, and definitely least…

The Dig – Ah, our albatross. This one just didn’t work. Too mathematical/procedural. It just didn’t play like it did in our heads. We wanted a game that rewarded co-operation and sharing and pooling of resources, that still had a single winner in the end. Let’s just say that this isn’t that game. This isn’t even a game – it is an exercise in frustration. We still like the theme of digging for treasures, but this will take a lot of work to get a game out of it.

Wow.

Just reviewing them makes me think very fondly of a few of them in particular and makes me wonder if I shouldn’t just make some of the ones that Jay and I don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye on to get them to Beta Stage and then involve Jay to do the refinement.

Essentially, that’s what happened with Akrotiri – though it was not through disinterest. Jay had the idea and it intrigued him so much that he started to work on it solo in BC and had a quick proto done in a day or two. In his making of the proto, it not only allowed me to play it and become more interested in it, it progressed the game faster and faster until it reached a solid Gamma format in very little time.

There are many times where one of us fail to be super-interested in a game until the prototype is made – and that is often the most difficult part of the process. To invest all that time, effort, and sometimes money into making a prototype that you’re not hyped about can be tough, especially when there’s all sorts of other cool ideas floating around in your head. But if one person on the team believes strongly that there’s a good game in there somewhere, maybe that person should go solo and make the proto. To paraphrase Field of Dreams, if one makes it, the other will play! And if the other plays, he may actually like it enough for both of us to invest more time and effort into developing it.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last few years of designing games, it’s this: when in doubt, make a proto. You will find out if there’s a game to be had quicker than you will bandying ideas about in your head or online. Making the prototype is DEFINITELY the key phase in taking a game from concept to reality.

Concepts are good because they’re fluid – nothing’s written in stone. But a prototype is more hands on, more engaging, more understandable. There are visual and tactile components that, like a rug, tie everything together. People can’t play a game that only exists in your head, even if it’s the best game ever!

So, if you’ve got an idea for a game, just get to work and make a proto. What have you got to lose?

Updates on other games

Two updates for you today.  The first is about the contest I won with a friend of mine, Don, from Toy Vault’s PiecePack competition.  We submitted the rules to a game we designed using a specific set of components that we called Cream of the Crop.  The top 5 games were chosen to be included when the game was released – and our game was chosen as one of the five!  We hadn’t heard from them all year – but today I got a response back from an email I sent that said that it had been back-burnered for awhile but is still in plans to hit the stores this coming year!  They are targeting a second quarter release.  Yay!

The second update is that Gamewright has been reviewing the rules to our Jam Slam game (previously called Jungle Jam) and he expressed interest in playing a prototype of it after reading the rules.  Now he did say he’s on the fence because he feels like Gamewright has a bunch of quick reaction games – in fact, when we pitched it we mentioned that this could be in the Slamwich family line – kind of like a spin off.  But he wants to see a prototype to play it – so that’s always good news!

We have had recent thoughts about changing the theme of Jam Slam to a witches cauldron – and we might do it and send both in, just in case he would prefer that it was NOT similar to Slamwich.

So some great holiday news for us!  Huzzah!
-Jay Cormier

Step 15: Rules for making Rules

Ok we’ve procrastinated long enough, now it’s time to actually write the rules for your game.  What’s that, you say?  Shouldn’t the rules be one of the first things you write?  Well, there are outlines and there are rules.

An outline is a point form list of concepts and mechanics that you use to keep your facts straight as you’re designing.  It’s what you come back to tweak after your playtests.  It helps you remember basic turn order and end game objectives and start game set up.  Much like prototype designing, it’s important to save each version of your overview.  Once you start playtesting you could find yourself going in circles – changing one thing only to change it back 7 playtests down the road as it might fit better now that you’ve made other changes.  At that time you will be thankful to have old copies of your notes!


Rules for our game, Jam Slam

Rules however, are a different beast.  Rules are the entire rules to the game.  This is the document that eventually will be what the publishers are going to read – so it has to convey every aspect of the game.  Unless you have a face to face meeting with the publisher (and more on how to do that in an upcoming post), these rules have to explain every rule for your game.

Think about this for a second: what’s your least favourite aspect of playing board games?  Most likely it’s reading or listening to someone read the rules.  This is why when we make our rules, we try to make them as close to what we would like to see in the final rules as possible.  This means that we give a lot of graphic examples of the gameplay.  This means that you do have to create these extra graphics – but you’re just repurposing your existing graphics into scenarios.  Bottom line is that we would never like to read a rule book that is only text – and therefore we’d never submit a rulebook to a publisher that was just text.

Take a look at some of your games and look at their rules.  How are they laid out?  Some use columns like newspapers to allow easier readability, some have a running summary down the side, which helps people who have played before but can’t remember everything, and some even give strategic advice on how to play.

How do you know if you’ve written decent rules?  There’s really only one way – blind playtest.  This is where you give your game and the rules to a group and have them read the rules and play the game – WITHOUT you making a single comment or answering any of their questions.  Man, this is going to be tough!  It’s really frustrating to see people playing your game incorrectly, but you have to let them play it out as that’s the only way you can see how they interpret your rules.  It will become ridiculously clear if parts of your rules are confusing or misleading.  You should always blind playtest your rules before submitting to a publisher.

One game we submitted to a contest was Jam Slam – and while we played the game numerous times with a ton of people, we never blind playtested the rules.  The game made it to the semi-finals but we received feedback from their playtesters about the game, and here’s what one of them said about our rules:

“In simpler games like this one, I think it’s extremely important that the rules are crystal clear. I think you are mostly there, but there are some issues. For example, the cards that you have to discard from your penalties can only come from the current round, correct? This is specified in the example, but it should be specified in the main rule. As far as the Goal Cards are concerned, it doesn’t say whether you use only the cards from the current round to determine if you’ve made the goal (as opposed to also counting leftovers from previous rounds). I assume you only use the current round’s cards, but it should specifically say this.”

So this is a perfect example of why it is imperative to have your game blind playtested before submitting to a publisher – or a contest!  For us, we hate writing the actual rules and it often comes later than it should.  That said, once we do write the rules, we try to spend as much time on them as we can to make it as perfect as we can.

-Jay Cormier

The only things I can add to Jay’s post are:

a) In my opinion, there’s no such thing as “too many examples” in rules. In working with other playtesters and designers, the one thing that is often commented on during blind test sessions is that a rule was misinterpreted. This is often the case when wording is ambiguous or made more friendly than technical. However, having a clearly illustrated and documented example or ten can clarify how the game is supposed to be played. This goes back to the graphic design segment: If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a well illustrated example of gameplay can take players from “???” to “oh, that’s what they meant”. Words can often be misinterpreted. The designer’s intention becomes much clearer when paired with pictures to show the movement of pieces, the discarding of cards, etc.

In a more complex game, like “Belfort”, we are going to have to spend a lot of time over the next few weeks drafting out examples that can then be depicted graphically. Some games go so far as to have an entire sub section devoted to an example of a turn from start to finish. This may be the length we have to go to for “Belfort”. Sometimes, words just don’t do justice in explaining the complexities of a game turn.

Basically, when it comes to providing examples, the more the merrier. I’d rather you provide too many examples than too few.

b) Write accessible rules. – rules that suit the game play. I am known for being (overly) technical and writing (mind-numbingly) precise rules. However, they are very dull, dry and boring to the point of unreadability. For a fun party game, like “Train of Thought”, this didn’t work at all. The development team spent a lot of time reworking the rules such that the flavour of the game was captured and the integrity of the rules was kept.

c) A “quick start” rule section may be a good thing to include and then have more detailed rules available for the second play once the gist of the game is understood. Note that this doesn’t always work for every game.

d) Often times, you can do a summary of the rules on the back of the manual, on spare cards, or on a separate player aid. These are all excellent things to have in rules-heavy games so that players don’t constantly have to refer back to the rules. They are especially important to have in games where keeping your actions secret is important – if everyone sees you looking at the “How to Attack Your Neighbour” in the rules, you can rest assured that they’ll save their defensive cards in anticipation!

e) Proof-read your rules. Better yet, get someone other than someone intimately associated with the development of the game to do the proofing. And just get them to proof for spelling, grammar, and understandability – not to comment on the rules of the game per se.

-Sen-Foong Lim

 

Step 5: What Comes First: Theme or Mechanic?

I don’t think we even need to discuss where ideas come from. If you’re really looking for game ideas (and many times when you’re not) you will find them in almost everything. Eventually, when people know that you like to design board games, you’ll find that they often recommend turning a current situation you’re in with them into a board game.

Some people have asked what comes first though – is it the theme or the mechanic? Well there are actually a few more variables that could come first, such as: Title, Genre or Components.

Theme: I would hazard a guess that a lot of games start with the theme. “Hey wouldn’t it be cool if there was a game about trying to escape a mall infested with zombies?” Theme is what gives the game a unique flavour and often will help drive some of the mechanics.

I used to work for 7-11 back in the day and I remember learning that candy bar manufacturer’s pay more money to 7-11 to be placed on the top shelf, instead of a lower one. Makes sense – and it was the theme I liked that motivated us to make our very first finished board game called Top Shelf. It’s never been published, but it still has its place in our history of game design as being our first design! With just that theme we came up with a tile placement game where you’re trying to make matches to get more of your product sold than your competitors.

I showed Top Shelf to a company at a convention and they liked it enough and asked us to send them a prototype. They asked us to take the theme out of the game and just make it a completely abstract game as that was the kind of publisher they were. We obliged but as we did so I felt the game lost some of its magic. Possibly that’s just me as I’m more of a fan of theme-based games than abstract games that have no or minimal theme. I like to feel like the game is telling a story as we’re playing it.

Mechanic: Sometimes we come up with a mechanic first – like tile laying, pick up and deliver, resource management etc… As we fine tune some of the concepts, we throw around some possible themes that might fit. Eventually we lean more to one theme and progress from there.

I had this idea for a tile laying game that had some pick up and deliver mechanics to it. As I started to develop it I made it about delivering various meats on something I called a Smokeboat. Later as the game kept improving we moved the theme over to the Greek Islands and the game became Santorini. It still has the pick up and deliver mechanic but it fits much better with the theme.

Title: Sometimes you come across a title and you think,

“Dang, that should be the name of a board game!” Well, I think that at least! For us we’ve had these titles way before designing any aspect of the theme or mechanic: Pants on Fire (seemed like it would be a great game with bluffing), Mage vs. the Machine (seemed like a cool battle game concept),Hog the Remote (seemed like some sort of quick reaction game about TV) . Some of these made it to prototype phase and Hog the Remote has ever been to a couple publishers already. We actually have a thread on our forum dedicated to possible game titles.

Genre: Since we’re trying to be as well rounded as possible when it comes to designing board games, we want to explore every possible genre of games: kids/family, dexterity, Euro-strategy, war simulation, party games. In my other spare time I work as a children’s entertainer as a character named Bertolt. I thought it would be great if Bertolt had a game of his own. So we set out to create our first kid’s game. We toyed with an idea about Bertolt packing clothes for a trip, but it didn’t work. We then came up with this concept of quick reaction mixed with audible clues. It turned into Bertolt’s Jungle Jam. Eventually it became just Jungle Jam when we pitched it to publishers as they wouldn’t know who the heck Bertolt was. Currently it has been retitled again as it shares the name with a game that was in a court battle against Jungle Speed. We don’t want to be associated with that at all! But our game does actually involve making jam, so we’re now calling it Jam Slam. It’s currently in the semi-finals of a contest for best Canadian Game Design!

Game Components: This is more rare, but it’s possible an entire game can be started because of seeing something you’d like to see in a game. Often Sen and I will go to school supply stores and just walk up and down the aisles. Those stores are great because they often have things in the main primary colours – and in huge quantities. One great example is seeing these miniature coloured popsickle sticks at a dollar store. We bought them for no reason except they seemed like they could be cool.

These sticks have sat in our supply box for a couple years doing nothing. Then just about a month ago I had this idea on how to use these sticks in a game. We’ve spent the last couple of weeks working hard on it and we’ll need to spend many more to get the balance just right, but we’re excited about our new game, possibly called Rune Masters.

So there is no correct answer as to what should come first when designing a game. I think that’s part of what makes designing board games so interesting. Anything can get you started about making a game.

Starting with this post I’m going to add some Game Design Challenges. If you want to flex your designer muscles then give them a whirl. The goal is to be a more well rounded game designer who is able to design any game if requested (imagine having that job?!).

-Jay Cormier

This post brings back a lot of great memories, but even moreso, it brings to light an important aspect of our design philosophy. The “V” from your MVP mnemonic – being able to see the possibilities in all sorts of things and to be able to take the mundane, turn preconceived notions on their ears, and make something fun out of a bunch of cubes and a piece of cardboard is what game design is all about. And then, from that sandbox-type free-for-all, being able to reign things in and create a viable ruleset…wow. It’s a process, but a great one.

-Sen-Foong Lim
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Write a description of 5 possible games. Each game should start from a different point: Theme, Mechanic, Title, Genre and Component. You don’t have to design the actual game or even any rules, just write a sentence or two about how each would work.