• According to Steve Jackson's 2011 Report to Stakeholders, Steve Jackson Games grossed $3.5 million in 2010, with sales of the Munchkin line accounting for more than 75% of that total and sales of two dice games introduced in 2010 – Zombie Dice and Cthulhu Dice – accounting for 8.4% of sales. Thus, SJG's number one priority for 2011 should come as no surprise: "[K]eep the core Munchkin sets, and Munchkin Quest, in print."
• Mark Rosewater, who is a Wizards of the Coast employee and head designer of Magic: The Gathering, writes a weekly column on Wizards.com called "Making Magic" that focuses on design issues related to M:TG. Often Rosewater's columns are relevant to the topic of game design period, no matter what game or genre might be under discussion. In a February 2011 column about combat mechanisms, for example, he segued from combat mechanisms to the topic of player choice in game design, a section that deserves quoting in full:Quote:The trick I always use when I consider adding choices is to question if the choice is doing good things for your game:• Have you participated in a Settlers of Catan tournament and been a semi-finalist in the U.S., Mexico or Canada for any North American qualifier (top 4) or World qualifier (top 16) since 2006? Then you have a chance to compete in the Catan Tournament of Masters Invitational that Mayfair Games is sponsoring at Gen Con 2011. Application details on the Mayfair website.
* Does it create decisions that are fun to solve? Players tend to enjoy a choice between two good things more than a choice between two bad ones. Picking out your flavor of ice cream is fun. Choosing how someone gets to punch you is not. We do make some "damned if you do, damned if you don't" griefer cards, but we are careful to keep them from being too easy to play.
* Do the players have all the information to make the choice? A common design mistake is to give the players a choice but not provide the information they need to be able to make the choice. This makes the players feel helpless and tends to frustrate them.
* Does the choice matter? Another common design mistake is to give the players two choices that don't have any real impact. Players are smart and will figure out when a choice is only an illusion. Remember, gamers are intelligent (that's partly why they've chosen to game as a hobby), fooling them is a bad game design strategy because they will ultimately see through it.
* Do the choices lead somewhere? Remember that the act of making a choice is not what is fun for players. What is fun is accomplishing something directly as a result of your decisions. Having the decision mean something is what's fun, not the act of making the decision. Players enjoy looking back and being happy that they were able to make the right decision. The moment of the decision-making is not where the happiness lies.
You'll see a common thread through all the above issues. The choice has to serve the game and the desires of the player. Choosing merely for the sake of choosing isn't enjoyable and will lead to bad game play. Your job as a game designer is to use choices as a limited resource that are put strategically where the game most needs them.
Frederic Moyersoen reports that worldwide sales of Saboteur have reached 350,000, with the top-selling countries being France (90k), Germany (83k) and the Netherlands (38k). Interesting numbers...
• In what should come as a surprise to no one, more and more game publishers around the world are making their way to Facebook. Surprised Stare Games (UK), Cranio Creations (Italy), and many more have shown up since the start of 2011. If you want to see what's coming from a smaller publisher, following the company on Facebook is ideal as they often talk about prototypes, playtesting, artwork and so on.
• Ludology is a new podcast from Ryan Sturm and Geoff Engelstein. The first episode, released Feb. 7, 2011, explored the topic "What Is a Game?" and episode #2, scheduled for Feb. 21, will explore the question "Why Do People Play Games?"
• Designer Bruno Faidutti and GMT's Rodger MacGowan will be the Guests of Honor at Orccon, which takes place Feb. 18-21, 2011 in Los Angeles. Late notice to be sure, but you can still make it!
To submit news, a designer diary, outrageous rumors, or other material, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- [+] Dice rolls
Trafffic, from designer Annick Lobet, is the first title to be published in both English and French from Quebec publisher Le Scorpion Masqué.
The game is played simultaneously, with 2-4 players trying to create particular traffic patterns on the game board in order to score. To start the game, nine cars – three each of red, blue and yellow – are placed randomly on the board's 16 intersections.
Each player is then dealt a equal number of target cards showing three adjacent cars in some pattern. Whenever you spot one of your target patterns on the game board, interrupt play – "Beep! Beep!" – and show the card. If you're correct, you remove the card from your hand; if you goofed, the player who spotted the goof gives you one of her cards and laughs at you. (Laughing optional.)
You can move a car on the board by grabbing the green light token and placing it in front of yourself. You can either move one car one space to a vacant spot or switch the location of two cars. Once someone else takes the green light (and moves), you can again take the green light.
The first player to empty his hand of cards wins the game. For those who have played before or who have a knack for such games, Trafffic includes expert level target cards that show three cars (one in each color) along with an empty intersection. Prior to starting the game, expert players can swap any number of basic targets for these tough-to-achieve numbers to level the playing field or to allow them to strut even more proudly when they crush the competition once again...
- [+] Dice rolls
Mayfair Games has unveiled not one, but two game release schedules for 2011 – one for the Mayfair Games brand proper, and another for its new FunFair brand, which includes games aimed at the broader toy and game market.
First up is the Mayfair Games schedule:
Shipping now with a Feb. 17, 2011 street date:
Due out Q2 2011:
• Catan Dice Game: Standard Edition
• The Struggle for Catan
Later in 2011:
• First Bull Run: A Test of Fire
• Five Points: The Politics of New York
• Giza: The Great Pyramid
• Nippon Rails
• Rivals for Catan Expansion Deck
• Steam Map Expansion #1
• Urbania Redux (working title)
Note that titles from partner publishers like Academy Games, Treefrog Games and others are not included in this schedule.
And now the FunFair titles scheduled for release in 2011:
• Badger Badger! – Move wily badgers move through the forest looking for tasty treats in this game of skill and memory.
• Double Double Dominoes – A dominoes game where all the chips are down and playing the right tile at the right time can be the difference between victory and defeat.
• Got 'Em – The game of wall building and pawn capturing that offers two modes of play: Brainy Got ‘Em and Bright Got ‘Em.
• Rocket Jockey – A game of fast rockets and valuable cargo that will have players flying through the solar system.
• UGH! – A quick card game of surviving the ice age by gathering sets of necessary items that every cave boy and cave girl will love.
• White Water – A wild, white water river-rafting race that requires precision paddling and opportunistic team work.
The press release announcing this schedule included this overview of the FunFair brand: "FunFair games are designed for family play, have easily understood rules that get you playing in under five minutes, have great visual appeal on the shelves, and usually have a MSRP price of $30 or less." More details on all of these games once they're available.
- [+] Dice rolls
Cranio Creations, which debuted in 2009 with Horse Fever, has revealed details of three new games coming from the company. Here's an overview of the trio of titles:
Explore spooky dungeons, find glorious treasure, buy powerful magic items, and challenge the most horrible creatures. Will your party be able to defeat the final boss?
Dungeon Fighter will be the first game where your physical skill determines the ability of your character. Can you kill the Medusa without looking into her eyes, defeat the Minotaur in its labyrinth, or resist the Dragons' breath? Will you be able to hit the target by throwing the dice from under your leg, with your eyes closed?
You will truly feel part of a centuries-old battle between good and evil ... with a touch of foolish stupidity. Due out in October 2011 for Spiel. (1-9 players, ages 7+, 45-90 minutes)A preliminary cover image for Dungeon Fighter
Pimp My Park
Build and manage your amusment park by attracting the right audience, building different attractions, and investing to increase your finances. In Pimp My Park, the fastest players will be able to build the best buildings and create the best advertising – but be careful not to spend too much as bankruptcy is right around the corner.
The construction of the buildings in 3D gives the game a very interesting and attractive visual component. (2-6 players, ages 13+)
Humanity is on the brink of the abyss! Four different evil forces are leading the destruction, and cooperation among all the players is needed to save the world – or (as a back-up plan) to attempt to colonize other planets. By working together (or not), you will protect buildings, launch rockets, and control the threat of catastrophies, all to survive until the final attack is ready, with you hoping to save more people than any other player.
In Catastrophy all players will try to prevail upon each other, and cooperate to prevent the end of the world. (2-6 players, ages 13+)
- [+] Dice rolls
15 Feb 2011
Trollhalla came about through the designer's momentary bewilderment in the canyonlands of Southern Utah, by way of the imagined ploddings of African elephants, courtesy of Viking pig-muppets and the seafaring inclinations of discontented bridge trolls. In this designer diary, designer Alf Seegert talks about Trollhalla's peculiar journey from conception to publication...
I suppose I should begin by telling you something about the game. Trollhalla is for 2-4 players (and plays genuinely very well with two), ages 8 and up. It plays in about an hour. Trollhalla is the spiritual successor to Bridge Troll, but has very different mechanisms and theme. It's also less complicated, and it has a glorious big game board and super-thick, high quality components and wonderful colorful artwork by Ryan Laukat. Zev from Z-Man Games really went all out on this one. My goal with Trollhalla was high simplexity: the offering of tactical/strategic engagement with relatively simple rules, which (I hope) will appeal to children and adults alike, both gamers and casual players.
Here is the description of Trollhalla from the back of the game box:Quote:You and your hideous troll-friends have decided that it's time for a career change. You are tired of guarding bridges and shaking down weary travelers all for the sake of a few clinking coins! Tolls are down, bandits are up, and besides, living under your bridge is damp and uncomfortable – and breathing all that crumbling bridge mortar is taking a toll on your lungs...Unlikely as it might sound, my aquatic Viking troll game Trollhalla began seven years ago in a moment of hesitation on a snowy expanse of desert slickrock. My wife and I are avid hikers of the Colorado Plateau and were on a crisp winter hike to Double-O arch in Arches National Park (near Moab, Utah). Trails over slickrock are typically marked not by paths but by cairns – tall stacks of usually flat rocks – used as path markers. (Here in the western United States, cairns are also commonly used to mark alpine paths above the tree-line. Example here.) But cairn-marked trails can sometimes lead to confusion because it seems not everyone always agrees where the path should go! On this hike at one point we discovered not one but two cairns, heading in seemingly very different directions – and we had no idea which direction was right. But one of the cairns was substantially taller than the other and hence seemed to "carry more weight". Apparently following that taller cairn was the right choice, for we had no problems reaching our destination, but the encounter had gotten the geek in me thinking...
It's time to venture forth and find some fresh sea air! In Trollhalla, you join forces with your fellow trolls to sail the seas in search of islands filled with pillage and plunder. Crunchy livestock, nervous monks, panicked princesses, piles of gold, and casks of grog await you! But watch out for Billy Goats – if you're not careful, they will knock parts of your precious stolen cargo out of your boat!
With so many goodies lying about on these islands, it feels like you've died and gone to troll heaven, or perhaps someplace even better – Trollhalla!
By this time I had tried my hand at several board game designs, including one that had come in second place at the 2004 Hippodice competition in Bochum, Germany (The Vapors of Delphi, which is, alas, as yet unpublished). Always keeping my eye out for new potential game mechanisms, I began to wonder whether a game about cairn-stacking might be viable and fun. I began by playing around with a chessboard and a stack of wooden discs. Before long, I had a little game in the works where travel between different villages was governed by a simple stacking mechanism. Players would vie to stack cairns in places where they wanted travel to happen, tallest stacks would dominate, and travel would be triggered by a combined random/player-controlled element.
I think I was also probably primed to use a stacking mechanism by encountering the use of stacked chips – although in a quite different implementation – in Steve Poelzing's very clever game Chobolo.
For no clear reason that I can remember, I was led to make my emerging game about elephants traveling village-to-village with empty baskets that would be filled with fruit on arrival. Not only did stacking happen on the paths, but on the elephants themselves. (I used little wooden elephant figurines at first, then plastic ones later. The elephants and cups in the photo above were made by playtester Sander Bol (cabol on BGG) in a prototype made from files I sent him.)
In my emerging prototype, I used 1" discs in four different colors to represent baskets belonging to each player. In each village smaller stacked discs represented bananas, pomegranates, passion fruits, coconuts, mangoes, and spoiled fruit (penalty points). I wanted to avoid a standard "majority of pieces in spaces" mechanism and instead tried a mechanism based on relative vertical placement: After traveling along the path containing the tallest stack of baskets (presumably full of grass or other tasty elephant treats), the active elephant would have the top basket on its back collect the top fruit in the destination village. The next highest basket would collect the next highest fruit, and so on. Players would strategize by redirecting elephants to different villages to each collect the most optimal fruits to add to their supply. (Bonuses were awarded for collecting a complete set in each color.) By placing baskets on paths, players would not only urge elephants in that direction but would also collect cards like Monkeys (to flip stacks of baskets upside down), Water Buffalo (to scatter baskets on a path), and Grasses (to weave an extra basket and perform one extra action).
Overall, I liked this new design and had good luck fine-tuning it, courtesy of my colleagues in the Board Game Designers Guild of Utah. Jonathan Degann, avid BGGer and the founder of the Journal of Boardgame Design, visited our Guild for one of our sessions and played TEMBO, as the game was then called. He was impressed by it and provided excellent suggestions for improvement and moral support. I submitted TEMBO (the Swahili word for "elephant") to that year's Hippodice competition, which had proved an increasingly promising venue for my designs. (I had since placed as a finalist for my prototype games Bridge Troll, Ziggurat, and Mont-Saint Michel.) In 2008, TEMBO came in third place and two major European publishers expressed strong interest in publishing it.
As it turned out, TEMBO didn't find a European publisher, and I'm still not clear exactly why not (though one publisher had two other pick-up-and-deliver games in the works and didn't feel comfortable making yet another one that year). Another reason might be the coincidental announcement of Ystari's game Bombay at a time while TEMBO was still being evaluated. At first, I was very pained by the visual similarity between Bombay and TEMBO (which I take as pure coincidence) although the games played very differently. As it turned out, however, I find the timing serendipitous because it forced me to pursue new (and for me, better) directions for this game.
I decided to see whether Z-Man Games might be interested. In 2009, Zev Shlasinger had released my game Bridge Troll, my first published game design. When I approached Zev with TEMBO he played it and said he liked it. "But," he said, "you said it might work with trolls. Let's try that." So I did. I had been toying with a nautical Viking theme for TEMBO and a terrestrial troll theme for it (not to mention several other ideas), and ultimately put these two ideas together: Viking Trolls! I suspect I must have been deeply deranged from childhood by the Muppet Show clip with Viking Pigs pillaging a village to the tune of The Village People's "In the Navy."
As a result, the elephants in TEMBO became Viking longships. The stacks of baskets became each player's individual trolls. Although I was proud of TEMBO, I found this new theme much more fun! And here was an opportunity to move away from the abstraction of colored discs and instead include more of Ryan Laukat's delightful artwork by using tiles instead. (Ryan, a fellow member of the Board Game Designers Guild of Utah, did the whimsical art for my game Bridge Troll, and he has been the artist for many excellent designers, including Reiner Knizia; he also did the art for several cards in Dominion and its expansions.)
The fruits from TEMBO were transformed into the sorts of plunder that Viking trolls would relish pillaging: panicked princesses, mortified monks, frightened pigs and peasants, piles of gold and casks of grog. The Monkey, Grass, and Water Buffalo action cards became Weather Gods: Wind, Sun, and Storm Gods respectively. (My use of weather here was inspired by Mike Compton (compman on BGG) from his suggestion that I use a weather theme in Bridge Troll to justify the varying number of travelers each turn.) Instead of a generic player board for stacking collected fruit, Ryan and I devised individualized boat-boards on which to stack tiles.
Because of the changed theme and use of tiles, I had to change some of the spatial implementation of the other pieces. I kept the cairn-stacking mechanism in place at sea, where trolls "scout" for plundering destinations and the highest stack in a sea lane dictates the direction that an adjacent ship will travel. But stacking trolls on top of one another on ships themselves was unwieldy and didn't look right, so I instead had players seat trolls in ships in order from front to back. Likewise, plunder tiles on islands are arranged in order so that when plundered, the westmost troll in a ship claims the westmost tile on an island, and so on. The rules are pretty much functionally identical with the original stacking mechanic in TEMBO, only "horizontalized".
My favorite rules-transfer was inspired by Zev. I had a rule variant in TEMBO, a sort of "shoot the moon" effect, in which a player who piles up a bunch of spoiled fruit (each one a penalty) would actually score a big bonus if he collected a complete set. (Thematically, I had the player use all that spoiled fruit to make a distillery and sell alcohol!) In Trollhalla, the Billy Goat becomes the penalty tile. If you collect one, he goes crazy and kicks out one other tile from your cargo – always a tile in your largest set, which threatens your ability to score bonuses from completed sets. But just as in Bridge Troll – where the Billy Goats can actually help you if used properly – in Trollhalla a player who collects a complete set of Billy Goats now has a petting zoo and scores a whopping 25-point bonus.
Now I just needed a new title. The epic Viking aspect of the theme to me suggested Valhalla, the grand hall in Asgard for valiant slain Viking warriors. As I saw it, the big new island-filled game board and plunder tiles in turn suggested "heaven for trolls", and as a result offered a nifty portmanteau word. In the same way that Lewis Carroll used "galumph" (galloping in triumph) and "vorpal" (voracious and purple) in the poem "Jabberwocky", I now had trolls and Valhalla: Trollhalla. (Later I discovered that actually I didn't originate this term. Ken St. Andre, designer of the role-playing game Tunnels & Trolls, is the longtime holder of the domain Trollhalla.com, his official T&T fansite. Thankfully, Ken – noble Troll god of Trollhalla that he is – graciously decided to spin this connection into a win-win for both of us rather than be upset about it.)
Zev gave this new theme and title a thumbs-up and I continued to develop Trollhalla through 2010. Ryan began on the artwork and aimed for a more "epic" feel in comparison with Bridge Troll. (The cover and the board are each quite a sight to behold.) The artwork still remains whimsical, however: the characters in the plunder tiles all stare out wide-eyed in terror, while the Billy Goat glares and the cow stares stoically ahead, seemingly resigned to its fate...
In finalizing the game I received helpful feedback from the Guild – and unexpected assistance from a fellow BGGer I had never met before, Paul Incao (pincao on BGG). Paul had posted a comment on BGG asking how my proposed expansion for Bridge Troll was coming along and I had written him back. Before long we had a flourishing correspondence, and he ultimately became a dedicated playtester and major contributor to the final game, not to mention a good friend – and thanks to a suggestion made by his daughters, we now have a female troll in the game as well! This encounter, of course, is yet another reason why BoardGameGeek is so wonderful for connecting people through board games.
Trollhalla is scheduled for release in late February/early March 2011 by Z-Man Games, and I hope that players enjoy the game as much as I did designing it!
- [+] Dice rolls
To start with, let's hear once again from Rob Harris, who earlier reported on HiG's Pantheon and the Queen Games line-up for BGG News. Rob returned to the Hans im Glück booth for a look at Marcel-André Casasola Merkle's San Salvador:Quote:San Salvador is only on the HiG stand as a cardboard mock-up for the graphics. See photo.• German game site Die Pöppelkiste has its usual massive Nürnberg report, with each publisher having its own page.
It was very quickly explained to me as placing your pieces in certain areas where they might collect resources such as wood, etc. Then during the second round through card play, the location of resources is more clearly defined. Sorry there is not more info. The name was "Land In Sicht" on the box.
• Pics from German retailer Milan-Spiele.
• BGG News contributor Andrea Ligabue notes that Italian gaming site Gioconomicon.net has published a huge image gallery covering seventy games so far, each with its own folder.
• The German branch of TricTrac has covered Nürnberg 2011 in three posts: post 1, with a cover shot of Die GulliPiraten from Andreas Pelikan and Heidelberger and a layout of Michael Palm and Lukas Zach's Artefakt (Winning Moves), post 2, which highlights the puzzle-y Miss Lupun from Winning Moves; and post 3, which includes a look at Queen Games' Mammut-Jäger and Paris Connection, a revised version of David V. H. Peters' SNCF, first published by Winsome Games in 2010.
• Spiele-Akademie.de has a long post with lots of pics from the fair, including a look at Amber Road from Mindtwister.
• Das-Spielen.de has a Nürnberg report that hits most of the titles covered elsewhere, but it does have the first mention I've seen of Casa Grande, a Günter Burkhardt title coming from Ravensburger for Spiel 2011.
• Ludoversum has a short Nürnberg write-up followed by approximately one million photos.
• Spieletest.at has a combination of video, photos and descriptions, all categorized by publisher and linked to on this Nürnberg 2011 summary page.
• Spielkult has a Nürnberg summary page listing each company and its games, with more info on separate pages, including tests of a few new games, such as Reiner Knizia's BITS from Ravensburger.
• French site Jeux sur un Plateau has ten different posts on Nürnberg, including an English-language video on alea's König Artus und die Tafelrunde.
Phew! I'm sure I've missed a number of reports, but this should give you plenty to occupy those slow work hours. Lots for me to research as well to bring you more designer diaries and game previews in the months ahead...
Edit, Feb. 17: Here's one Nürnberg report that I had in an open tab, yet still forgot to include. (Too many tabs!) German site H@ll 9000 has dozens of photos of upcoming games, separated by publisher.
- [+] Dice rolls
14 Feb 2011
files on Ticket to Ride's game page here on BGG, and you'll find lots of fan-created maps for this Spiel des Jahres winner. Springfield, France, Mexico, South America, Africa, outer space – these locations and many others have been transformed into a spaghetti pile of twisty colored tracks.
Now TtR publisher Days of Wonder is challenging those fans – and anyone else interested in working on the railroad – to create a new map for Ticket to Ride, with the best design taking home a cash prize of $10,000! What's more, that design will become part of the Ticket to Ride Map Collection – a set of new TtR maps from designer Alan R. Moon that will debut at Spiel 2011 this coming October.
Here are the contest details from Days of Wonder:Quote:Map designers must submit an official entry form describing their map, postmarked no later than April 15th. Submissions will be reviewed and the most compelling designs selected for further play-testing. Days of Wonder will make the final Grand Prize selection and contact the winning map designer by June 30th; the winning map will be unveiled at the Essen Spiel Fair in October of 2011. Official rules and entry form for the $10,000 Ticket to Ride Map Design Contest are available on the Days of Wonder website.Best of luck to all who enter – even though you don't have a chance against my Ticket to Ride: Being John Malkovich entry!
- [+] Dice rolls
Fantasy Flight Games posted the following news item:Quote:After nearly ten years of publishing best-selling board games based in Blizzard Entertainment's popular fantasy realm, we at Fantasy Flight Games must announce that our licensing agreement for all Warcraft products has expired. We are immensely proud of Warcraft: The Board Game, World of Warcraft: The Board Game, and World of Warcraft: The Adventure Game. Each of these product lines presented its own unique perspective on Blizzard's beloved setting, and offered countless hours of enjoyment to our loyal fans.Now, the end of a licensing agreement is something that businesses go through all the time. The licensor decides it wants more money, or wants to release products itself, or take the property in some other direction. So the announcement itself isn't strange or out of the ordinary.
We'd like to thank Blizzard Entertainment for conceiving the rich lore of Warcraft; the vibrant world of Azeroth provided acres of fertile creative ground to our eager designers. We'd also like to thank them for such a long and fruitful partnership. It was our honor to have been even a small part of Warcraft's impact on our culture, and along with millions of other fans, we at FFG look forward to Blizzard's future endeavors.
Finally, our deepest thanks go to the players, whose dedication to these three board games helped make them some of our most popular titles ever. We're confident that their engaging stories of adventure and warfare will continue to entertain fans for years to come. Thanks again for your continued support!
What is strange, though, is that the FFG website has been scrubbed of these Warcraft products: The games aren't listed in the FFG catalog; they are no longer included in the community forums or the FFG store; and they've disappeared from the collections of registered users of the FFG website. Poof.
• French website Jeux sur un Plateau interviewed Rio Grande Games' Jay Tummelson at Nürnberg 2011 in which he talks about Dominion without revealing much in the way of future releases.
• At The Opinionated Gamers, Patrick Korner has published an interesting two-part series (Part I and Part II) called "A Guide to German Publishers". In the articles, Korner summarizes the history of German game publishers – small, medium and large – with more articles to come in the future about publishers in other countries.
• In a related item, this press release notes that Schmidt Spiele GmbH had sales of roughly €38 million in 2009, with (if I'm reading this correctly) more than €9 million of that due to Schmidt handling sales for both the Spiel des Jahres – Dominion – and Kinderspiel des Jahres – Das Magische Labyrinth – in 2009. (Drei Magier Spiele is a brand within Schmidt Spiele, while Hans im Glück titles are distributed by Schmidt.)
• The Play 2011 Game Festival in Modena, Italy will host a conference/brainstorming session for journalists, gamers and game designers on "the different ways in which digital and traditional games can resonate with the practices of journalism, social criticism and the preservation of historical memory". More details on the conference in this post from Andrea Ligabue.
• Campaign Manager 2008 (Z-Man Games) is now playable online at Yucata.de.
• The Resistance is now available in a second printing from Indie Boards & Cards.
• Need more shelf space for your games? Take a cue from Kazuya Morita Architecture Studio in Osaka, Japan and put those shelves everywhere...
- [+] Dice rolls
Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim designed Train of Thought together, it made sense that the designer diary would also be written by both of them, but since BGG News doesn't have a "double author" option, I'm posting it under my username. Sorry for any confusion! Jay and Sen will alternate telling their side of the story of the creation of their first published game. —WEM
As published designers we're often asked three questions over and over, so this designer diary will attempt to answer these questions:
1. Where do you two get your ideas?
2. How did you get it published?
3. Are you guys millionaires now?
1. Where do you two get your ideas?
We met each other at McMaster University in 1992, forming a friendship based on a common love of games and movies. In fact, I still have the ticket stub to the first movie we went to together: Stay Tuned!. Bromantic, right? Okay, that's about all the history you need to know – let's fast forward to 2005 and I have to relocate to Vancouver for my "day job". Up until this point, Sen and I only dabbled in designing games. For some reason, the increased distance between us was the motivation we needed to get serious about game design.
Challenge #1: How can we possibly design games together when we live over 4000km apart?
Jay and I work though this series of tubes known to the greater public as "the Internet". We use a forum to generate ideas, then develop them into full-fledged games. This has been our secret weapon and we probably shouldn't tell anyone about it, but what the heck – we're generous!
We use the forum to keep track of all our ideas for each game. We actually have a whole section of the forum where we post random thoughts on game ideas and concepts. It's lovingly referred to as the "Brain Farts" section. There are no rules for a Brain Fart - it could be an idea about a specific mechanic that we'd like to see in a game, a title for a possible game, or even a theme we'd like to explore.
Train of Thought came from one such Brain Fart.
Everything on the forum is logged for posterity as we often come back to old ideas for new games, so here is the EXACT Brain Fart (complete with lack of capitalization, etc.) from October 19, 2008 that put the train of thought on the track, so to speak:Quote:Just another thing I thought of while thinking of another thing... (Train of Thought - another good game name - oooh, about trying to guess what someone's trying to describe as they're describing things that are linked to the item but not the item itself...and the score is related to how quickly you can get your team to guess what you're thinking...As you can see, I actually started to think about Train of Thought when we were discussing another game in the Brain Farts section - that happens more often than not with my divergent way of thinking.
So, to expand, what if we have a deck of cards with tons of things...people, places, things, adjectives, adverbs, actions - basically pictionary haha.
But the goal is not to draw/hint at the exact thing that we're trying to describe. The goal is to get people to guess it quickly by using as few "logical links" (train cars, in this case, I guess) as possible.
I have to travel from British Columbia to Ontario for work several times in a year. On each trip, I try to tack on some extra time to my business trips to design games in-person with Sen. We usually have numerous games at varying levels of development – but we always spend time reviewing the latest Brain Farts.
On one such trip in May 2009, Train of Thought was one of the ideas that caught our collective eye. One challenge we had was that our initial envisioning of the game seemed too much like Password - a game where you just give one word clues. Sure, our game would have three word clues but that wasn't enough to differentiate it from the pack.
But then it happened...
We thought, "What if you had to use somebody’s guess as part of your next three-word clue?" And that was it! That was the key "a-ha!" moment for this game.
Here's the post on May 12, 2009 once we figured it out:Quote:A game where players must try to get their team to their next destination by making them guess what they're thinking - but only by using 3 word sentences that contain the previous answer given by the team mate...Within that week, we had hammered out the entire game. Here’s the original excerpt from the Forum:
Start at Point A - Dragon
Get to Point B - Skating
Don't get derailed! And try not to have a one-track mind!Quote:Okay, we made it.Sen's Turn:
It's very fun.
1250ish of the most commonly used nouns in the English language broken up by 6's onto small cards (check to see dimensions for boxes, etc.)
Roll a die, get a start word on one card (face up), use same number to get destination word on other card (face down).
Turn timer over, use 3-word phrases (1 of which must be the start word) to try to get closer and closer to the destination word. Each guess from your team/group becomes a possible new start word. If the destination word is guessed within the allotted time, the team gets 1 point (represented by claiming a card that has a train card printed on the back of it).
We really liked it and played it between ourselves incessantly while driving around London sourcing out game bits and parts. Of course it needed to be playtested. We spent a few sessions with our various playtesting groups around London and Stratford, Ontario, working out some of the kinks and trying to think of variations.
We tried to make it more "game-esque" by adding steals if a team couldn't guess correctly, derailment tokens to allow the Conductor to go back on the track, and even a "Name That Tune" sort of betting mechanic. ("I bet I can get you to the destination in 3 guesses!") But, in essence, the game you see now is the game it started out as. The rest of the elements seemed too "tacked-on" to include as the main game.
Sometimes, less is more.
The one major thing we did change was the team play. Originally, Train of Thought was played in teams, where someone from your team gives the clues and only people on your team can guess – though the other team could steal the point after a certain amount of time had passed. It was through our playtesting cycle that we stumbled upon the idea to make it as it is now – where one player gives clues and everyone else guesses.
Now everyone is playing the game at all times. That is one of our central tenets in game design: We want to keep all players as involved as they can be during all phases of a game.
So after playing it many times with many people and putting it through its paces with our other playtesters in Toronto and Vancouver as well, we were sure that we were on to something worthwhile. Mucho gracias to all our playtesters, family, and friends!
2. How did you get it published?
GAMA is an annual trade fair for the Game Manufactures Association held in Las Vegas, NV. Now, normally, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but we'll break the rule in this case. I had been to GAMA in 2008 and was able to get some of our games into the hands of publishers, but none of them got picked up; our designs were definitely less refined than they are now. Still, the trip proved worthwhile, so we planned for a repeat appearance in April 2009.
GAMA 2009 was where I first met Michael Mindes and Seth Jaffee from Tasty Minstrel Games (TMG for short). I offered to playtest one of the games they were getting ready to publish called Homesteaders (a great game, by the way), and while playing I spoke with them about our game Belfort. They kindly offered to playtest it and liked it so much so that they offered to publish it after the conference concluded!
So, to recap for those of you keeping score at home: Chronologically, we had started thinking about Train of Thought before GAMA 2009 *but* it wasn't completed until after the April conference. This is because we were preparing other games, like Belfort to be shown at GAMA. So, in a weird quirk of fate, Belfort was the game that delayed us from finishing Train of Thought sooner!
But everything happens for a reason, right?
The next piece of the puzzle fell into place when Seth Jaffee, the developer for TMG as well as the designer of Terra Prime and the forthcoming Eminent Domain (both from TMG), came to stay with me in Vancouver. Seth came up to the "Great White North" from the blazing heat of Arizona after playing in an Ultimate Frisbee event in Seattle in June 2009. While here, I showed Seth Train of Thought, even though we had been told that Tasty Minstrel wasn't interested in publishing party games in the least. I honestly wasn't trying to pitch it to him; I just wanted his feedback since he's a fellow designer. Seth became enamoured with it and while he wasn't sure if it was something that TMG would publish, he really wanted to show it to Michael. So the prototype flew back to Arizona with Seth.
After Michael got his hands on the game and played it, we got this via e-mail on Sept 9, 2009:Quote:Jay,Sen's Turn:
Tasty Minstrel Games wants to publish Train of Thought... Officially.
One of the toughest things about designing Train of Thought was writing the rules.
The first draft of the rules wasn't completed until December 2009 - almost 3½ months after the contract had actually been signed. That's just ridiculous! How did we get a publisher to publish our game when we didn't even have the rules typed up yet?
Our reason for not having written rules wasn't that we were too busy with other things or that we were procrastinating. Writing rules is quite frankly the hardest and most tedious part of designing a game. And Train of Thought was no exception. We found that, while Train of Thought is dead simple to explain while teaching the game to someone with the cards in front of you, it is really difficult to put the same rules into words that make sense yet leave no room for interpretation.
The biggest point of contention was what constituted the so-called "Spirit of the Game". In game terms, Train of Thought can be "broken" easily if people want to abuse the rules. One of Seth's concerns was that someone could just use the word "of" as part of their three-word answer and then the Conductor could easily say "type of…" and have an easier time of it. We tried several solutions:
• Having a list of banned words.
• Having players be able to "call foul" on the Conductor's clue and have them explain the logic of their phrase afterwards.
• Allowing only a two-word clue as opposed to a three-word clue.
• Having a section in the rules describing the best way to play the game.
In the end, we decided to go with Option 4 as this solution was the most flexible and allowed gaming groups to self-moderate. The rules that Seth helped us develop also contained a good section on guesses that are "close enough", "misplays", etc. So we drafted the first set of rules with these points in mind.
It retrospect, the first iteration was dry, very mechanical, and not digestible at all. It was like "un-funning" something by trying to over-explain it. Once we saw the fantastic art that Gavan Brown was doing for the game, we knew there was a mismatch. His artwork and design was so fun that it made our rules feel cracker-crumb dry and completely out of place! So we all went back to the drawing board and hemmed and hawed over the rules for about a week until we finally came up with rules that not only made sense to the rules-lawyers in all of us, but could be graphically represented by the artist, and taught quickly by the demonstrators.
With the artwork and rules completed, the files went off to Panda Press in Vancouver on September 16, 2010 - just over a year after signing the contract. Panda sent the specs to their affiliate manufacturing plants in China and the wait began. Before we knew it, it was November - time for BGG.con in Dallas, TX!
For those not in the know, BGG.con is a convention put on by this website and is all about gamers coming together to play games. More than 1,200 gamers descended upon Dallas, hungry for the latest and greatest in boardgaming, and I was one of them! TMG had 90 copies shipped directly from China to the convention centre for the pre-release debut of Train of Thought. For most of the convention, I was stationed at their booth so that I could demonstrate the game and sign copies for people who purchased it.
Throughout the convention, players could rank any game that they played using their personal code at a computer station, which generates an overall "BuzzList". Throughout the four-day event, the Top 25 ranked games were displayed on a huge screen in the lobby so everyone could see what was hot and what was interesting. As the convention came to a close, Train of Thought ended up being the number 2 ranked game at the convention! And for the week following, it broke into the Top 10 on "The Hotness" list on BoardGameGeek itself - a list of the top traffic-generating games listed on the site. All of this was very exciting, to say the least, and a bit overwhelming as well!
3. Are you guys millionaires now?
No. We're not millionaires - not even close. It was never our goal to become rich doing this. We enjoy working together and we enjoy making games that people like to play. It's really that simple.
If you're getting into game design as a way to become a millionaire then you're probably in the wrong business! Many people know the Trivial Pursuit story and the millions they eventually made, but for every Trivial Pursuit, thousands upon thousands of games don't even break even.
On the plus side, Train of Thought has been well-received by the gaming community so far. The hype generated by BGG.con has lead to Train of Thought being voted as one of the Top 50 Most Anticipated Games of 2011 and the #4 Most Anticipated Family/Party/Abstract game for 2011, out-ranked only by reprints of two well-known games and a sequel to a popular game. We're in the process of exploring how Train of Thought could be implemented as an iPhone app and looking for non-traditional distribution channels for the game that could prove to be lucrative. So we're hoping for commercial success with Train of Thought. While it's more about making the game than it is about making money, neither of us is adverse to a little spending money!
We're also not about to put all of our eggs in one basket. We have Belfort set for release in Q2 2011 through TMG, and they picked up a third game of ours called But Wait, There's More that we were able to show them at BGG.con. That one is due to come out before the 2011 holidays. On top of all of that, we have several game designs currently doing the rounds with other publishers and countless games in development. Hopefully, some of them will be on your game shelves one day. You can keep track of our progress by reading our blog "Inspiration to Publication".
As one of our colleagues puts it, we like to "follow the fun" in our games. We like to make games that we'd want to play ourselves and hope that other people will want to play them too. It's our passion for design and our love of playing games that will keep us designing well into the future – whether we become millionaires or not!
- [+] Dice rolls
• Designer Bruno Faidutti has posted more details about The Dwarf King, a trick-taking card game based on Barbu that IELLO will release in May 2011. On his website, in addition to showing off lots of artwork from the game, Faidutti summarizes game play as follows:Quote:The Dwarf King takes the core scoring idea of Barbu, which is to have a different scoring system for every hand, many of them about not winning some tricks or cards. Since my game is Barbu on steroids, there are now forty different scoring contracts instead of just five. So, sometimes the goal of the game will be to take the King and Queen of Dwarves, sometimes not to take the elves, sometimes to win exactly three tricks, sometimes to have your right neighbor win tricks, and so on...• Rules for Stefan Feld's Die Burgen von Burgund are now available in German, English, French and Korean on the alea website.
• U.S. publisher Privateer Press is switching its Monsterpocalypse game to a non-collectible format. As noted on the Monsterpocalypse website in early February 2011:Quote:In light of the success of the Monsterpocalypse battle miniatures game two-player starter released last October, Privateer Press has decided to move Monsterpocalypse into a new non-collectible format. Privateer Press will be releasing the first follow-up, Monsterpocalypse: Dangerous Monster Zone, in summer 2011. The expansion will feature figures from classic Monsterpocalypse series for the factions introduced in the core game. The new non-random format allows collectors and players to fill out their favorite factions easily, as each box will be clearly marked with its specific faction set.• Spanish publisher nestorgames has announced that its next releases will be the Formula 1 racing game Top Speed from nestorgames' own Néstor Romeral Andrés and Javier Garcia's Mecca, previously released as a print-and-play game.
• U.S. publisher Fantasy Flight Games has released a long preview video for Mansions of Madness:
• FFG has also posted a new variant for Cadwallon: City of Thieves.
• Finally, on Feb. 11, 2011, FFG posted a news item announcing a new expansion for Battles of Westeros titled Tribes of the Vale – but then pulled the item from its website. Curious. Look for more info later...
• FRED Distribution has added listings on its game page for Mirror Mirror, Number Please and Defenders of the Realm: Hero Expansions #1-3. No details are available for the first two items, but Defenders designer Richard Launius has provided previews of the three Hero expansions here on BGG: Hero expansion #1, Hero expansion #2, and Hero expansion #3.
- [+] Dice rolls