Narrow Gate Games - Scott Allen Czysz's Game Design Blog

A place to share my game designs, works in progress, game design philosophy, and ponderings.

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My Game Design Process (so far) - Part 4: Pitching and Publishing

Scott Allen Czysz
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It's been a while since I have posted in this blog.  I have just struggled to come up with something meaningful for this last part of my design process: pitching and publishing.  A big reason is that I am not going down the usual path for pitching my game designs.  I have never gone to a convention, or even an unpub or Protospiel.  So, take all the following "with a grain of salt" (whatever that means).

If I have a game that I believe is worthy of being published, I will work to get it published.  Although that sounds obvious, I guess I want to state it another way: I design games for the enjoyment I get from creating something, I do not typically design a game with the initial intent to get it published, does that make sense?  In other words, I rarely design a game specifically for a publisher who is asking for a game.

So, if I do have a game that I want to get published, I am usually starting at square one, which means it is an uphill battle and not always successful.

I have four games that are published or signed to be published, and I was going to walk through the stories of how I pitched those games, but I am afraid there is not much to those stories.  Three of the games were BGG design contest entries that did OK in the contests, so they got some small publicity that way (can't really talk about the fourth one, sorry). 

> For Pocket Landship, a BGG-er contacted me and asked if he could mention it to a publisher he knows.  I, of course, said yes. 

> For Count of Nine, I just e-mailed Jason Tagmire of ButtonShy Games and we had an e-mail conversation that ended with a contract for the 9 card version of the game, then several months later, I designed an 18 card version (Count of the Nine Estates), worked with ButtonShy on that game, and it was successfully released last Black Friday. 

> And for 12 Patrols - to be released on Kickstarter hopefully later this year by Alban Viard Game Studios - I again just e-mailed Alban since I knew his game company was publishing a line of what they are calling "Nano9" games.  Actually, I think I did message Todd Sanders here on BGG since I knew he has and is working with Alban.

So, all of these got their start with a BGG contest entry, then some connection through BGG.  So, thanks BoardGameGeek.  But, I suppose I still had to pitch these games to the publisher.


Pitching
Here are some of my thoughts on the pitching process I do / would use, assuming I have some time with a publisher (either face to face, through a video call, or through e-mail):

1) I usually try to avoid comparing my game to another game, as I think it puts a pre-conceived notion into the head of the publisher: "It's like Carcassonne with zombies!".  No thanks. 

2) I try to cover theme / setting as quickly as possible, just to set the stage.  When people tell me about their game design and it is mostly about the theme and setting (most of which isn't apparent from the components because it is really just backstory) it's a turn off for me, so I try to minimize this piece of it.


3) I am fine summarizing the game's mechanisms, but to me, the game is about the experience of the player(s), not the mechanisms.  I don't go home from game night thinking "Man, that was an awesome worker placement tableau building experience!".  Instead, I may think "Man, that was great how I squeaked out victory by getting the right team assembled for the mission before anyone else could".

4) So, I try to focus on the feel and experience of the game, with sort of a footnote of mechanisms and components.

5) I try not to say "no" to a publisher I am in discussions with at this point.  Theme change? Sure, I'd be open to discuss that.


I am not great at putting together a sell sheet, and in fact, I think I have only completed one for my game "depleted", see below.  It's maybe OK, but not awesome.
From gallery of Narrow Gate Games


Maybe too much theme and setting, not enough about mechanisms and how the game plays.  But, I do have a link to more info and a Tabletop Simulator file, so that's good.



Publishing
Finally.......!

Again, my total published game experience is limited:
1) Pocket Landship successfully funded on Kickstarter to about 1,500 backers in 2019.

2) Count of Nine was signed by ButtonShy games and was a Board Game of the Month Club release.  Unfortunately, as I understand it, one or two of the nine cards were misprinted (wrong backs on two cards, I believe), so that messed up the game a bit.

3) Count of the Nine Estates, an expanded and improved version of Count of Nine, now as an 18 card wallet game was released by ButtonShy Games in November 2021 and sold out in one day.  So, that was exciting for me.

4) 12 Patrols is signed to be released through Kickstarter hopefully late this year.

5) A reprint and expansion for Pocket Landship is also scheduled to be on Kickstarter this year.

6) I have another small game signed to a publisher, but I can't say much about it.



From a game designer's perspective, I think publishing means:
1) signing a contract with a publisher
2) working with the publisher on any changes needed to the published version: gameplay, components, rules, art
3) waiting until the game is published
4) if the game will be on Kickstarter, being available to answer questions on the Kickstarter page - if the publisher wants you to
5) supporting the game once it is "out in the wild": communicating questions and issues to the publisher (from BGG and other sites)

My thoughts on these steps:
1) Contract: So far, I have only signed with small-ish game publishers.  That's fine.  The contracts I have signed have all been similar from a financial perspective, typically starting at about 5% of net revenues, maybe gradually ramping up at certain volume thresholds, like every 1,000 units.  The one thing I do ask for is an up-front advance.  I am not looking to get rich, I just want the publisher to have some "skin in the game".  Even though it is only $100 or so, I want the publisher to feel like they have already put money into this game, so they better publish it as soon as they can.  I don't think a $100 or $500 advance will sway the publisher all that much if their situation changes, but it is just something I do.

2) Changes, Development: As far as changing the game, generally, I trust the publisher - they have published more games than I have, so hopefully they understand the market better than I do.  The publishers I have worked with so far have been great, but if we do disagree on something, when it is time to make a decision, I clearly state "I am the designer, you are the publisher" meaning they are the ones putting their money at risk for the game, so I will defer to them, and I am OK doing that.

3) Waiting: Not a whole lot to say on waiting for the game to get published.  Hopefully during that wait, the game is getting new art that I will get to see and share my input on.  But, other than that, not much typically happens on my end.

4 & 5) Support: For Kickstarter games, being available to answer questions during the campaign is important. It is also a bit cumbersome, because it typically involves checking with the publisher to see if they will answer it, if not, this is how I will answer it, does that sound OK?...Once the game is published and out in the real world, I will support it best I can: answering questions on forums, etc.


And, that's it.  Are there "best practices" in there?  I don't know, but hopefully you found something useful.
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Mon Apr 18, 2022 4:54 pm
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My Game Design Process (so far) - Part 3: Marketing

Scott Allen Czysz
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In my previous blog posts, I covered steps 1, 2, and 3 of my 6 step design process.
1) Idea
2) Design
3) Development
4) Marketing
5) Pitching
6) Publishing

My Game Design Process (so far) - Part 1 (Idea and Design)

My Game Design Process (so far) - Part 2 (Development)


And now, for something completely different...
If a game design makes it this far (through my internal development step), that means it is (in my view) a very good game worth trying to get published.  So, although some small amount of marketing activity may have already occured, this is where I start to get serious. 

I have to admit here that starting at this step in the process, I am a novice, and I intentionally decide NOT to do some things that would be helpful here.  I do not use Facebook Groups.  I have never gone to a game convention.  I am not active on Twitter, Instagram, etc.  I am not against gaming conventions, but there is a cost to them ($ and time), and again, I am a hobbyist designer.  If I had a larger game design that I really loved, I would take it to conventions, unpubs, etc.

Here is what I do have:
d10-1 Active on BoardGameGeek.com, although now that I have had a couple small games published, I don't typically enter BGG game design contests anymore.

d10-2 My own game design website: https://narrowgategames.com/  I have had a game publisher tell me that having this game design entity is confusing because at first glance it may appear to be a/the publisher of my games.  It is not. It is just a place to focus my design activity, if for example BGG went away or changed to a pay site or something.

d10-3 A mailing list, using MailChimp.    I have been sending out monthly updates most months, but I recently halted this.  It is not like I am having 2 or 3 games published per year, so I feel like this mailing list (to less than 100 people) is sort of forced or artificial.  I will keep the mailing list and use it to make announcements when, for example, one of my games will be released through Kickstarter or something similar.

d10-4 My own Discord server for my game designs: https://discord.gg/yyeMJV9MWw  This is a great spot for a fan (if I have fans) to start a conversation with me if they want to.

If I feel like a game design of mine is deserving of being published, I will now NOT create a BoardGameGeek game page for it.  I have learned that more than one publisher would prefer this.  It can lead to confusion among potential customers (assuming the game name stays the same) to have multiple BGG game pages for the same game (the unpublished version and the published version).

At this point, my marketing will typically just be sharing about the game on BoardGameGeek or other outlets. If it is a solo game, I may post some plays on the "Solitaire Games on Your Table" geeklist to hopefully get some interest.

Also at this point, I will typically create a sell sheet - not because I will be pitching the game immediately, but in order to help me communicate what the game is all about in a concise manner.  Then, if there is interest in the game from a publisher, I will already have the sell sheet ready.

Like I said, I am a novice here.  I know I could be doing more, but I also know that this is a hobby for me and I want it to be enjoyable and not feel like a second job.


Confession of a slimy marketing decision I once made: A few years ago, I entered a game design in a BGG contest - a contest I had participated in previously.  For judging the contest, I knew (from past experience) in what order the games would be listed.  So, I named my game in a way that would ensure it was listed near the top, with my logic being more people would see it, hopefully try it, then hopefully vote for it.  The game didn't win (I have never won a BGG game design contest), but it did do fairly well.
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Thu Mar 17, 2022 4:06 am
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My Game Design Process (so far) - Part 2

Scott Allen Czysz
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In my last blog post, I covered steps 1 and 2 of my 6 step design process.
1) Idea
2) Design
3) Development
4) Marketing
5) Pitching
6) Publishing

My Game Design Process (so far) - Part 1

Although I was going to cover steps 3 and 4 next, I think there is a clear cut-off between these two steps, so I will only cover step 3, development, here.

Development

I define development as starting with a working design and making it a near-finished product.  This means improving the gameplay (clarify the game, better balance the game,...), improving the components (graphic design), and improving the rules.  It may also mean preparing the game for production (looking at component costs, etc.). Assuming the game will go on to get published, I would expect the publisher to continue the development until teh game truly is ready for publication.

Not all game designs I start get this far.  I would guess for every 10 game ideas I come up with:4-5 get designed into something playable and "working", maybe half of those, so let's say 2 will complete development and go on to the following steps.

What does development look like for me?  Typically it is some combination of these steps, not necessarily in this order, some happening in parallel:
E playtesting with family (wife, kids)
E playtesting by online buddies from BoardGameGeek.com or ButtonShy's Discord "Design Discussion" group
E entering the game in a design contest with the hope of getting good feedback to make it better
E more private (solo) playtesting by me taking notes on all of the above, then making tweaks to the game

Some guidelines I use:
E Gabe Barrett "Find the fun".  Add more of what is fun in the game, and take out the parts that are not fun.  Although that sounds simple and obvious, it makes sense.  It doesn't care what my favorite part of the game is, or the theme, or the art, it just cares about what players find fun.
E I can't remember the designer who I heard this from, but when making tweaks and not sure how much to tweak: double it or cut it in half.  Don't make minor (10% tweaks) because you may be so far off it will take forever to get where you need to be.  So. be bold when making changes to a game at this point.
E The game will never be perfect or 100% done, the goal here is to get it at least 95% done.
E Be aware of "local maxima"

From gallery of Narrow Gate Games

(https://90percentofeverything.com/2011/01/06/local-maxima-an...).  Sometimes, a game design in its current state can be improved with small improvements, but this may only take it up to its "local maxima" - think a top of a hill.  But, for that game to become a great game, it may need some major restructuring, which means going downhill for a while in order to get to the bigger mountain, and hopefully, get to the top of that bigger mountain.  This is tough for me.  It means potentially scrapping a lot of work, to make the design worse (hopefully only temporarily) in order for the design to eventually get a lot better. In practice, I may just decide that this design "is what it is", learn from it, and move on, or make it the best possible game at the top of this "hill", but not try to make it to the top of the "mountain".  I think this is OK. 

I think my game Count of the Nine Estates may be the closest I've come to sort of dismantling a game in order to get near the top of that bigger mountain.  The original game was 9 cards.  I think it is a clever design, but it had a constricting feel to it.  The more cards you built into structures, the less you could do in future turns.  So, when Button Shy Games expressed an interest in it, I decided to recreate the game as an 18 card game, and I think it is a much more enjoyable gameplay experience.


There is no standard recipe for development for me. Basically, keep going to make things better. This may also include art and graphic design to make the experience more immersive.


What did I miss?

Thanks.
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Wed Feb 16, 2022 4:53 am
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My Game Design Process (so far) - Part 1

Scott Allen Czysz
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I've talked about bits and pieces of this in previous blogs, but I thought this time around I would try to cover the entire game design process for me, as sort of a self-evaluation of where I am doing well and where I probably need to improve. I will mention examples from my experience along the way.

After a bit of pondering and scribbling of notes (which, by the way is how a game design idea typically starts for me), I have come up with a 6 phase process for my game designs, from "idea" to "published":
1) Idea
2) Design
3) Development
4) Marketing
5) Pitching
6) Publishing

1) IDEA
For me, a game idea can (and has) come from just about anywhere: a book, a movie, a song, an album cover, a conversation, another game, a mechanism, a theme, a desire to take part of an existing game and make it better somehow.  Looking back, I think most of my game ideas start with a theme.  More recently however, my game ideas have been coming from a mechanism, experience, or even player count and components (18-card multi-player game, for example).  I don't know if this matters at all, if it is good or bad, or a progression from beginner designer to more experienced designer, or just random.

Once I have an idea, I will try to capture it in a notebook I have.  I don't have a strict format, I just try to capture as much of the idea as I can and try to translate it to gameplay, components, mechanisms, etc.  These are all hand written, maybe with sketches - very free form, and that is intentional. At this point, I don't want to be bound by any kind of structure.  Even the notebook I use is in a sense unbounded.  I use Staples brand Arc notebooks which allow pages to be added, removed, and moved around the notebook (or from notebook to notebook). I really like it.
From gallery of Narrow Gate Games


Next, I sometimes write up a summary of the game to shift from a collection of random ideas to some sort of structure.  This may be in the format of rules: Game Overview, Components, Set-up, Gameplay, but not all the time.  Then I will read this, ponder this, and try to decide if this game idea has some promise, or if it is just a theme I like trying to be force fit into a tabletop game.  Sometimes, I will then also write a paragraph or two starting with "So What?"  Here I try to talk myself out of this game idea because it's already been done, or too simple, or too complex, or whatever.  I find that if I have a real easy time here, then the game is likely not worth developing further.  If I really struggle here, then I think "maybe I'm onto something here".

At this point, sometimes I will utilize the "Board Game Identity Pyramid" I heard about here:
https://boardgamedesignlab.com/the-board-game-identity-pyram...
From gallery of Narrow Gate Games

I am not sure if this is the perfect tool for me at this stage, but it does force me to think through the game design and be thorough about it.

Another big part of this phase is research.  This is oftentimes looking for other games that have similar themes and mechanisms, mainly to stop me early if I am just unintentionally re-inventing a game that already exists.  I may (and maybe I should do more) research on mechanisms.  But usually, this research involves the theme, the genre, the period, and also researching or searching for some inspirational art.  Finding this art helps me focus in on the desired feel or tone of the game idea.

For me, the "game idea" phase is a blast.  It's energizing and positive.  If I could just do this and hand the rest of the work off to someone else, I'd be OK with that.

2) DESIGN
I don't have a strict hand-off point between "game idea" and "game design". On the other hand, I don't consider a game a game (it's still an idea) until I have rules written.  So, let's consider "game design" starting at the first version of the rules - usually a very rough draft of the rules.  Likewise, where "game design" ends and where "game development" starts is a bit murky.  I am lucky enough to have a monthly meet-up with other game designers.  If I have a game design that is done enough to bring it to them to playtest, I will call the start of game development.

The design phase is another phase that I very much enjoy.  Noodling an idea around in my head and in scribbled notes is fun, sort of like doodling is fun, but to take those ideas and turn them into something physical that works and is enjoyable is very rewarding. 

Like everything else, there is not a single recipe here, but it is typically going to be some combination of defining:
- components,
- mechanisms, and
- rules,
- and then creating a prototype. 

As for mechanisms, I don't have a book of mechanisms to consult, but I have designed a couple dozen games, so I do have sort of an informal library of mechanisms to pick from. Other than my game Highlands, where I intentionally set out to create sort of a simplified version of another game (Scythe), I don't typically consciously pick mechanisms from games I know.

I can't really define how I select mechanisms for games, other than to say they depend on the "feel" or experience. I usually want to give the player choices (which I know sounds obvious, but it means I don't like things like "skill checks" where the player rolls a die and sees how they did).

I am happy to say that I can now usually design a game that works (meaning it isn't a train wreck the first time I try to play it).  But, I can't always design a game that's fun.  I have several game designs that work fine, but I just have no desire to play them - they're not fun.  And, to be honest, that can be a bit frustrating.  I guess the lesson here is a well known one: get a game idea to the table to playtest as soon as possible.  So, a big challenge here is, as Gabe Barrett of the Board Game Design Lab says, "find the fun".

How do I find the fun?  Great question.  I wish I had an answer.  This is where I have progressed as a game designer: I can usually design a game that works, but I haven't yet figured out how to methodically and repeatably design a game that is fun.  The result is I spend time on a game idea and a game design, and then just set it aside because it isn't fun.  Obviously, I'd like more of my games to complete the whole process and not get set aside a couple phases into the process.

One piece of the answer may be the game's "hook".  One of my design tenets is "There is a fine line between a hook and a gimmick", meaning I don't want to design games that are popular just because of a gimmick, a particular theme, or art, or whatever.  But...with so many games existing in the world today, I realize that any new game, especially one from a small game designer needs to stand out.  So, how do I add a hook to a game?  Another great question that I do not know the answer to.  Does a hook come as part of the game idea phase, or in the game design phase, or in the development phase?  And how does it come?  As a flash of inspiration, or are hooks methodically created?  Please comment here if you know the answer.



I initially thought that all 6 of these steps would fit in a single post, but it is already getting long, so I stop here for now.

My biggest challenges in these first two steps are:
1) "finding the fun", and
2) finding or creating a "hook" for the game

Any thoughts or ideas on these two things are gladly welcomed.

Thanks.
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Tue Jan 18, 2022 2:04 am
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Another 'Year in Review' Blog Post

Scott Allen Czysz
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I'll be honest, I like looking back on the year that was for my own sake. I am not sure how entertaining this post will be for others.

I'll ramble a bit about my game playing in 2021, then ramble a bit on my game design activities in 2021.


Game Playing

My wife and I moved cross country to Colorado over two years ago now. Moving to a bigger city and making the friends we have made have enabled us to play many more games with others. In addition, thanks to the pandemic - and also I think to moving cross country and initially not having a friend group here - my wife now enjoys playing board games with me, which is great. In fact, she has beaten me at Scythe twice today. blush

Looking at my recorded plays here on BGG, in 2021 I played:
E 31 different games a total of 417 times, so on average, I played each game about 13 times. But, averages aren't great for stuff like this.
E I played 3 different games over 50 times each, and
E I played 19 games less than 10 times each
E (and 7 of those only 1 time each).

Somewhat surprisingly to me, my most played game in 2021 was The Isle of Cats. It is one of my wife's favorites, and it is one that we will sometimes play 2 or 3 times in one sitting, so I guess not that surprising.

Scythe was my second most played game. This is another favorite for my wife (once she finally took the plunge to learn it). We played through Scythe: The Rise of Fenris with our friends. That was a blast, and we are planning to do it again hopefully soon.

And, my third most played game last year was Fantasy Realms. This one plays quick and plays great from 2 to 6 players.


I think the favorite "new to me" games in 2021 are:
E Raiders of Scythia A very well designed worker placement game by Shem Philips.

E Fantasy Realms My go to quick to play, easy to learn, thinky game.

E Ragemore A cool, and cool looking solo game from ButtonShy Games.



I won't single out any games that I didn't enjoy, and honestly I don't think I played any that I did not enjoy. But, there were a couple games I played that didn't give me the "I've got to get this game" feeling. The three I can think of:
E one didn't do anything new or exciting, it was fine
E one seemed mechanical to me, the theme didn't connect well with the mechanisms
E one seemed more complicated than it needed to be, complexity added for complexity's sake





Game Design


Two of my game designs were added to the BGG game database last year:
E Depleted
Board Game: Depleted

I had a lot of fun designing and playing this game. Unfortunately, it's a bit of bear to PNP, 108 mini cards, plus other stuff. Luckily a geek buddy of mine, David Francis, from the other side of the world was willing to build it, play it, and offer a bunch of great feedback. I named one of the player ship mats in honor of David. Or, I guess more correctly, I let David name one of the ships, so that was cool. This game is available to purchase on TheGameCrafter.com, but of course it is not cheap there. I'd like to make a couple tweaks to this game this year, then perhaps pitch it to a publisher.



E Count of the Nine Estates
From gallery of Narrow Gate Games

This is an expanded, and I think much improved version of my 9 card game Count of Nine. ButtonShy Games released this game on Black Friday (late November) after it being part of their Board Game of the Month club. And, it sold out on the same day it went on sale, so that was cool (for me). Hopefully, there will be a reprint in 2022.


As for other design activities, I am intentionally trying to expand my horizons some by designing multi-player games, in addition to my usual solo designs.

A solo design I like is called "Foray". It is a solo, 54 card, play through the deck one time game, maybe closest in feel to Lord of the Rings: The Adventure Deck Game. Here is what it looks like:
From gallery of Narrow Gate Games

I like it. It needs better art. I submitted it to one publisher, but they thought it needed more tension. I think it is fine, but it is a short playtime game, maybe just 10 minutes or so. So, if I have time, I might try to improve the art, put in on TheGameCrafter, and maybe just print some nice copies for family and friends. I'm not sure any publisher is looking for a 10 minute solo game to publish.

My first multi-player attempt this year, I called "MyRobot". It can play 2 to 5 players (maybe 6). It works and is fun, but isn't anything special.
From gallery of Narrow Gate Games

Maybe another good 'friends and family' game.

Next, I designed a game I am calling "Forest Sky". This is an 18 card, 2-4 player game that feels a little like Fantasy Realms (intentional on my part), and a little like Texas Hold'em poker (not intentional.
From gallery of Narrow Gate Games

I want to run this on by my local designer meet-up group again, get some other people to playtest it, tweak it as needed, then submit it to a publisher, likely ButtonShy.

Finally, as mentioned in the last blog post, I am working on another multiplayer game, as yet un-named.
From gallery of Narrow Gate Games



Playtesting Activities

I have enjoyed playtesting other published games and/or the solo mode of other games. Here is a list of games that I either playtested in 2021, or I playtested them earlier and they were published in 2021:

Pulp Invasion Yes, it's a Todd Sanders game, no it is nothing like Pulp Detective. A fun solo game with great retro scifi art.

Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig: Secrets & Soirees Expansion An expansion that adds solo play to a fun game.

Tapestry: Arts & Architecture This is a family favorite game of ours, so it was great to playtest this expansion a while ago. My wife helped me playtest the 2-player rules, so we both got our names in the credits on the side of the inside box, so that was very cool.

Upcoming Stonemaier game - I obviously can't say anything about this, but it was fun to playtest and looking forward to seeing the real game.



I've mentioned this before, but a big surprise to me was that in the Tapestry expansion, Stonemaier published a technology card based on a joke thread I posted a while ago.
From gallery of Narrow Gate Games

I half-jokingly say that that will be my highest volume game design contribution, since the expansion will I am sure print tens of thousands of copies.


Publishing Highlights

Count of the Nine Estates selling out in one day was great and memorable for me.

Pocket Landship's planned expansion and re-print in 2021 did not happen due to a family tragedy with the publisher. Hopefully in 2022.

I did sign another game with a publisher for hopefully a late 2022 Kickstarter campaign, but I can't say more than that.

My wife loves that I have a hobby (game design) that actually pays me money, rather than a hobby that costs a lot of money to enjoy, so she is encouraging which is nice. I received royalty payments/advances in 2021 that would pay for one or two monthly car payments, but that is just fine, I am not complaining at all.
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Tue Jan 4, 2022 12:18 am
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Designing a Good Multi-Player Game

Scott Allen Czysz
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At least, that is what I hope to do.

As I have mentioned here several times, my game design resume is mostly small solo games. That is fine, I am not ashamed of that or anything, but, as my game playing has changed to more 2-player and multi-player games, I also want my game designing to head in that direction. I will definitely still design solo games, but I want to add to that and design multi-player games as well.

I talked previously about "Forest Skies", an 18-card game for 2-4 players. That game is a game design success for me, and maybe someday it will get published.

For my current - as yet un-named - multi-player design, I took a reflective approach. I looked at about 20 multi-player games that I enjoy playing to some degree. These games varied from great (to me) games to games I sold after a few plays. Themes varied from revolution to cats to spirits to fantasy to civilization building, and more. For each of those games, I wrote down one or two things I liked about them, and one or two things I don't like about them. And, from all of those scribbles, I created a more concise list of about 15 things I like and about 10 things I don't like. It was a fun exercise, and I realize it may do nothing more than create a pieced-together Frankenstein's monster of a game. But, I am hoping that it creates sort of the "guard rails" to keep me on track to get closer to a game design that will be enjoyable (to me, at least) to play.

I will share my likes and dislikes here.

In no particular order, my "likes":

thumbsupLimited luck: Minimize dice rolling, drawing cards, "output randomness", etc.
thumbsupHave a clear set of limited choices per turn, 3-6 or so choices per turn, not 1 or 2, not 12-50.
thumbsupTactile: Minis are cool, bigger chunky pieces are good
thumbsupSpatial: Plotting a route, fitting things together, etc.
thumbsupMultiple paths to victory
thumbsupCentral, shared board
thumbsupChoices: card drafting, market to buy a selection of items
thumbsupSimple rules, or at least not complexity added for the sake of complexity
thumbsupLeveling up, upgrades
thumbsupEngine building: start small, "snowball" to bigger, more powerful
thumbsupSet collection
thumbsupTile laying with choices, more than "pick a tile, play that tile"
thumbsup"Grueling" choices, "I don't know what I should do" (because several choices offer benefits) decisions
thumbsupBuilding stuff that at the end of the game you can look at and admire
thumbsupGood, logical graphic design
thumbsupNPCs and/or neutral factions or similar to make 2-player games feel like multi-player games

And, in no particular order, my dislikes:

thumbsdownLong set-up time
thumbsdownSpending most of the game just focused on your own player board, not knowing or caring what other players are doing
thumbsdownLuck of the draw, stuck with a bad card draw
thumbsdownGoal of the game is to survive, not die, versus growing, thriving, etc.
thumbsdownMechanical feel, not thematic
thumbsdownLittle tension, just play till it's over to see who won
thumbsdownNo "wow" factor


How does all that compare with my "design tenets" I came up with a while ago?
1) Theme and mechanisms are important, and a game design can start with either, but what is key is creating the desired "experience": feelings, emotions, etc.
2) Give the player meaningful choices.
3) Low rules overhead.
4) Quick-ish set-up.
5) Multiple paths to victory.
6) Logical graphic design.
7) If dice are rolled, roll dice (not a single die).
8) Small-ish box games can be elegant.
9) There is a fine line between a "hook" and a "gimmick".
I think - and not surprisingly - my likes and my design tenets do match up fairly well. (I bolded the overlaps).


So, let's get to the game design, how it started, where it's at now, and where it is headed.

First off, I should say that this is definitely a "mechanisms first" design versus a "theme first" design. This is not a surprise since none of my "likes" above were about a particular theme, and as I wrote a while ago, theme probably doesn't matter as much as I used to think.
Does Theme Matter?


My first scribbles of this game idea were VERY mechanical:

central board
2-4 choices/options per turn:
tiles to choose from
face up cards to choose from: objectives, upgrades, etc.
leveling up, engine building
set collection for upgrades?

From gallery of Narrow Gate Games


And, that was about it. So, some type of central board, tile laying game with upgrades and objectives. As for the tile laying, I didn't want just "pick a tile, play a tile". I wanted to somehow link the tiles to the game's economy: do something to produce revenue/resources/money to then spend on tiles. So, I could save up for more expensive/better tiles, or buy cheaper tiles now.


From there, more ideas formed. I came up with different types of tiles, and the idea of linking your tiles together, sort of like Blokus, but you have to pay for the tiles you play by generating resources on the board. So, first cut at types of tiles:

> Power generators that will power mine and refiner tiles
> Power recyclers that will add a power boost to any adjacent Power Generator
> Mine that will gain resources (just 1 type of resource, call it Gold, Money, whatever)
> Refiner that acts like a recycler, except with the Mines - any adjacent mines gain a resource production boost
> Connectors that connect all these pieces together

There is an economic aspect to the game where players need to decide to spend up on higher performing tiles, or go for the cheap ones.

There are also (at this time) objective cards that can be picked up as an action.

And, there might be upgrade cards that can also be picked up.

So, on a players turn, they can do two different of the following:
> buy a tile
> place a tile
> run their mines to gain resources
> choose an objective card
> choose an upgrade card
> implement an upgrade

I played the game a few times solo 2-handed, and it seemed to work, but it's hard to tell if it is really fun.

Over Christmas, when my adult kids were in town, I recruited them to play a game, and got positive feedback (I know, they're my kids, so what did I expect?). They also gave me some ideas to improve the game.

Here is a shot of the end game:
From gallery of Narrow Gate Games




So, still definitely a work in progress. I have some changes in mind to make, and a couple themes I am playing around with. I'll keep you all informed as I progress.

Thanks.

EDIT: Added Thoughts...

In the photo above, you can probably see that there wasn't much tension getting the territory you wanted, so the map probably needs to be tightened up some, and that could be done a couple different ways: just make the map smaller, or add some sort of obstacles, etc.

I was a little surprised how few "tile laying on a shared board with an economy (meaning tiles cost different amounts, etc.)" games are out there. I think the only real one I found is In the Hall of the Mountain King. I have not played it, but might need to check it out.
Board Game: In the Hall of the Mountain King

The yellow tunnels are the tiles placed by the players.
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Wed Dec 29, 2021 10:05 pm
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90% There

Scott Allen Czysz
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For this post, I thought I would share the current progress of my game design in progress "Forest Sky". Not because it is awesome (yet), but because it has hit a bit of a hurdle that is typical with game designs (at least for me).


I posted a couple weeks ago about my 18-card game, Forest Sky.
Forest Sky - A Design Diary

So far, this game has been playtested by:
E me, playing multi-handed (~10 games)
E 2 player, me and my wife (~20 games)
E 4 player with a game designer meet-up (2 games)
E 3 and 4 player on Thanksgiving with family (~5 games)


After these plays, my current conclusion is "I think this game is about 90% there" - which I know means it still has about 50% to go.


I think the game is doing these things right:
thumbsup compact, 18-card game (no other components)
thumbsup plays well at 2, 3, and 4 players, thanks to the public card pools
thumbsup tough decisions most turns, the "I don't know what to do!" feeling (the good one, not the bad one)
thumbsup simple rules, easy to learn, but crunchy game

With these undecided effects:
thumbsup thumbsdown to score well, players usually have to "sacrifice" a card they want, playing it to one of the public pools, putting it at risk of another player taking it - this isn't always fun
thumbsup thumbsdown especially at the start of the game, no clear direction on what to do, what card combos to go for

One of the biggest issues may be:
thumbsdown I like the bird theme, but it is probably a mismatch for the crunchiness of the game. This game is very thinky.

From gallery of Narrow Gate Games




So, I kind of see it like the red cross in the image below: the game is close to a summit, but will probably need to go down some if it is ever going to reach the peak.
From gallery of Narrow Gate Games



So, what to do?

Some options:
1) Change the theme to something that better prepares the players for what is ahead with the game.
2) Change the game to be less "crunchy", basically, make the game a little easier for players.

Change the Theme

This game is, at its core, an abstract card game, sort of like poker. But, the current theme is birds in a forest that look sort of pretty, sort of cool:
From gallery of Narrow Gate Games

The four different bird types are the four suits of the cards. In my mind, the game is sort of building the best alliance of 6 cards, but again, the game is basically an abstract. That's OK, it means it should be easy to re-theme. So, an option is to re-theme the game to something more crunchy, more gritty, more cut-throat. Maybe some sort of political, espionage, back-stabbing, behind the scenes influencing type theme? This would fit with the gameplay where players have to put some cards at risk.


Change the Game to Fit the Current Theme
If the current theme is sort of pretty and laid back, maybe the game should be too. This is tough because I think the game is currently pretty good, it's just that first time players aren't expecting the crunchiness of the game, and that may be a turn off to players.

In the game, each player will score the three cards in their hand at the end of the game, using those 3 cards, plus one of the 3-card public pools -- so scoring those 6 cards. One way to simplify the game is to only score 5 of the 6 cards. So, get rid of the "6 even numbers" card and replace it with simpler, "5 even numbers", for example. This should be fairly easy to do, it will just take some time, and playtesting.


Which of these is the right answer? I honestly have no idea. I will probably play around with both and see what works best. What do you think?

Thanks.
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Tue Nov 30, 2021 1:20 am
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Count of the Nine Estates - Available to Order Next Week!

Scott Allen Czysz
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From gallery of Narrow Gate Games

After a long wait for me, Count of the Nine Estates will be available for order at:
https://buttonshygames.com/
on Black Friday (Friday November 26).

It's been a long wait for me because I had this game designed about a year ago. Welcome to the world of game publishing. I am not faulting Button Shy. They crank out so many games a year - several Kickstarter campaigns, plus a Board Game of the Month Club that sends out several games a month. And, I am very happy that the game is being released on one of the biggest shopping days of the year. So, that is good, I think.


So, what is this game all about? It is an enlarged and improved version of Count of Nine, a 9 card, solo, euro game I designed a few years ago:
Board Game: Count of Nine


I am proud of Count of Nine - a solo euro game with only 9 cards (no dice, or cubes). But, it had a bit of a constraining feel to it. So, this new game I think fixes that.

So, how does it fix that? By adding 9 more cards and making all 9 of those "estate" (formerly "high structure") cards. And, at the start of the game all 9 estate cards are off to the side available to the player.
From gallery of Narrow Gate Games


But, wouldn't that make the game too easy to have all those choices of estate cards? Why yes, yes it would. So, what we did was: when you build one estate card, discard all the other estate cards in the same row and column. Here is what happens when the second estate card is built:
From gallery of Narrow Gate Games

The second built estate card moves over to your tableau, and the estate card in the same row and the estate card in the same column are discarded from the game.

This adds a very nice strategy element to the game that was not there in its former incarnation. So, at the start of the game, there are 9 estate cards available. Once you build one, 4 others will be discarded. If you build a second estate card, 2 others will be discarded and you will only have one left to choose from. I think it works very well.

We also added some "bonuses" to some of the smaller point estate cards to add another decision in the game: Do I go for the 6 point estate, or for the 3 (or 4) point estate that gives me an extra work crew or gold to work with.

I really like the feel of this expanded game compared to the predecessor.


Remember, Count of the Nine Estates will be available for order at:
https://buttonshygames.com/
on Black Friday (Friday November 26).
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Fri Nov 19, 2021 3:58 am
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A Fun Moment For Me

Scott Allen Czysz
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I was going to title this: "A Design of Mine To Be Published by Stonemaier Games". That headline is technically correct, but misleading.

What is this all about? Read on.

About a year ago, I made a humorous post just for the heck of it. I really can't remember why I bothered to make it. Here is the post:
The Biggest Design Flaw of Tapestry - Sorry Jamey

Tapestry gets critiqued for a few things: not being a REAL civ game, stuff like that. But for me and my wife, we enjoy it. So, I think I just wanted to share some positive vibes about the game, so I made the humorous post.

Fast forward to a couple days ago, and I'm reading the design diary for the next Tapestry expansion, and I see my silly card creation, and it is actually going to be included int eh expansion!

From gallery of Narrow Gate Games


You can see more at the Deisgn Diary for November 7 at the bottom of this page:
https://stonemaiergames.com/games/tapestry/tapestry-arts-arc...


So, in the grand scheme of things, it's just one silly card. But...it's one silly card included in a game of one of the biggest game publishers in the world, and I think that's pretty cool.
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Tue Nov 9, 2021 3:37 am
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Forest Sky - A Design Diary

Scott Allen Czysz
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Hi all,
Last time, I talked through several game designs I had been working on...then I didn't post here for several weeks. Well, part of the reason was I have been working on a new game, and now I would like to tell you about it.

Now that I am generally not designing for a BGG design contest, when I start a design I usually need sort of a target audience. For this game my starting point was:
1) design a multi-player (2-4 player) game
2) design within the normal constraints of ButtonShy Games = 18 cards, no other components (if this game design goes well, I will submit it to ButtonShy)

My first notes, from August 26 were:
E1-4 cards in hand per player
Eno/minimum flipping and swapping cards (an overdone mechanism in card only games in my opinion)
Eshared pool of cards (~ Texas Hold'em poker)
Eno complicated math scoring

Here are more early thoughts originally from ButtonShy's Discord server's "Design Discussion" channel:

A) I started noodling on a design idea for a multi-player (2-4) 18 card game, hoping that maybe there is a publisher out there somewhere that would be interested in a game that is just 18 cards.

B) One of the things with 2-4 player games is that they can feel very different with 2, 3, or 4 players, so I wanted to try to minimize that. The solution I am thinking of is sort of "NPC"s (non-playable characters), although they won't really be characters, just 2 pools of 3 cards each.

C) I am thinking each player starts with 3 cards, plus these 2 pools of 3 face up cards in the middle of the table. For 2 and 3 player games, the unused cards would be in a face down draw deck between the 2 pools. In a 4 player game, all 18 cards would be used.

D) So...what's the game?? To make the best hand of cards from your 3 cards in your hand plus 3 cards in ONE of the public pools of cards. "Best hand" is still to be determined, for simplicity for now, maybe just think best poker hand (but could also be combo building a'la Fantasy Realms, or something else).

E) Each turn, a player could do ONE of the following actions:
1) swap a card from their hand to one of the pools,
2) swap one card between the two pools, (decided not to do this one)
3) (for 2-3 player games only) draw a card from the deck and replace a card in one of the pools (discarding the card that was in the pool), or
4) "lock" one card in one pool by rotating it 90 degrees. Game ends when 5 of the 6 pool cards are locked.

F) So far, I have only playtested it 3 or 4 handed solo. It works fine mechanically, but hard to tell solo if it is fun. What are your thoughts? Is this (or could this) be enough for a game? Or, it it just a variation on Uno, Go Fish,...? (Counterpoint: If "The Mind" can be a fun game, why can't this?) Any thoughts will be very much appreciated. Thanks.

G) Or, does this game (or something very similar) already exist? Would not be surprised. Stripped down to its bones, this game idea is sort of like Texas Hold'em Poker except with 2 3-card "flop"s to pick from and we can swap cards between our hands and one of the flops.

H) Game layout:
From gallery of Narrow Gate Games


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I received some good feedback, then started working on a sharable version of the game.


With 18 cards, I was originally thinking 3 suits of 6 cards because...that adds up to 18 cards. But then, I realized I could make 4 suits of various counts: 3+4+5+6=18 cards. So, just to make it interesting, that is what I did.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For theme, as mentioned a while ago, I wanted to do a raptor theme, so I made the 4 suits: grows (6 cards), hawks (5), owl (4), and eagles (3). The "story" is each player is trying to build the strongest alliance of 6 birds (3 in their hand plus 3 in one of the two public pools). But, admittedly, this theme is pretty thin.

I originally called the game "BS24" for ButtonShy (potential) 2-4 player game. Then, I called it "BirdCard".

Then, I started calling each of the two 3-card public pools "forests" and each player's hand of 3 cards their portion of the "sky". So, I called the game first Forest Skies, but now I am calling it just "Forest Sky".

I am not a graphic designer or artist, so I look for public domain art, and try to keep the cards simple. Here was my first non-hand dran card for the game:
From gallery of Narrow Gate Games

The card suit is: Hawk
The card is reddish (pink) also signifying its suit.
The card's rank (value) is 4.
The Hawk cards are available from 4 to 8.
And, finally, this card's bonus if it is in your hand at the end of the game is: +4 points if in your hand of 3 cards plus the one public pool of 3 cards you select, no card is lower than a 4.

Functional, but very plain.

Future iterations of cards (not the exact same card):
From gallery of Narrow Gate Games

The sharp corner outline of the card bonus is important. It means you can only count ONE bonus with sharp corners in your hand. This is so you can't get the bonus points for both 4-of-a-kind and 2-pair with the same 4 cards. (There are also rounded corner bonuses that you can't "stack", like a 3 card straight and a 4 card straight with the same cards.

Next, I wanted to make the card's rank (value) stand out a bit more:
From gallery of Narrow Gate Games


And, finally, the current version of the cards, just trying to make the look a bit more consistent, and make the bonus text more readable:
From gallery of Narrow Gate Games

The feather image (and a talon image) replace the sharp cornered and rounded corner boxes. I think they stand out a bit better.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I have playtested the game solo multi-handed several times with good results, and I have playtested it 2-handed with my wife several times.

The game is "crunchy", sort of "brain burny", which I am happy with as an accomplishment with just 18 cards, but that crunchiness might need to be dialed down a bit.

Here is a photo of a simulated 4-player game at game end (5 of the forest cards are "locked" - rotated 90 degrees):
From gallery of Narrow Gate Games


And here are all the cards laid out by suit and rank:
From gallery of Narrow Gate Games


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I am happy with the game. It still needs more playtesting, but it is one of those designs that just sort of seems to fall in place nicely.

So, then, just for fun, I thought I'd try to design a logo for the game. First attempt:
From gallery of Narrow Gate Games

Trees in the background are a modified photo from a hike my wife and I went on this last weekend.

OK, but not real happy with it. I posted this back on the ButtonShy Discord design area and got good feedback from a few people, including from Jason Tagmire (head of ButtonShy), so that was cool.

Modifications based on their feedback:
From gallery of Narrow Gate Games


For now, I am using this:
From gallery of Narrow Gate Games

If you look closely, you can see 3 birds in the sky (your 3 "sky cards), and 3 light gray birds in the forest (the 3 public pool cards you select, one of the two available "forest"s).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

And, there you have it, an 18 card 2-4 player game designed by me over the span of about 2 months.

If you would like to playtest the game, please do and feel free to geekmail any feedback you may have. Thanks.

Here is the Google Drive link:
https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1g9aF4auHDE76NipY1iNf...



Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed this somewhat detailed "peek behind the curtain". If you have any comments, feedback, or questions, please comment below.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Updated logo (also in comments), and updated cards:
From gallery of Narrow Gate Games


From gallery of Narrow Gate Games
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Wed Oct 27, 2021 4:36 am
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