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Balancing Yardmaster Express

David Short
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Board Game: Yardmaster Express
I love designing inside guidelines. I enjoy the challenge and the thought gymnastics needed to solve a unique problem.

So, when Crash Games challenged me to make my 24 card micro game, Yardmaster Express, compatible with 5 players, I was up for the task.

Before I get into how I designed the game to handle 5 players, let me first briefly explain the anatomy of the 2-4 player game.

Yardmaster Express (YmEx) is a very simple drafting game inspired by my love for the original Yardmaster. YmEx captures the essence of the original and stuffs it into a tiny form factor.

The cornerstone to the game is the fact that the drafting centers around an evolving communal hand of cards. The key to making that communal hand offer compelling decisions for the players turn after turn, game after game, is the dichotomy between low value and high value cards.

This dichotomy exists solely because points aren't just awarded according to the values on the cards, but also to the longest cargo run of a single color. This provides a worthwhile incentive to playing lower value cards, which directly balances the choice between choosing low value cards versus choosing high value cards.

This balance between low values and high values drove my design of the cards. Each color is made up of six cards: three low value cards that don't change color and three high value cards that are mixed colors. The low values are easier to connect and offer greater chances at creating a long cargo run of a single color. The high values are more difficult to connect and discourage long cargo runs, but offer greater victory points.

From gallery of dshortdesign


So, that brings us back to adding the 5th player. I had 24 balanced cards for the 2-4 player game and I knew I needed Read more »
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Thu Jul 3, 2014 8:47 am
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Gamesmiths go on a Round Trip

David Short
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From gallery of dshortdesign
This week's Gamesmith's meeting was very productive. We started off playing my game Round Trip. Round Trip is a set collection and pick up & deliver game for 2 to 4 players about moving your party of travellers thru an airport to their destination gate. It's fairly light and accessible, yet with enough of a puzzle to solve to keep all kinds of gamers actively invested.

From gallery of dshortdesign
We setup a 4 player game using the standard Airport A. Seth was the start player. Things started off leisurely as they always do, but soon everyone was pushing and pulling while they tried to make it thru the crowds to their gates. Dan was the first to score a seat on his airplane, while the rest of us fought with blockages in the terminal and the slow stragglers in our party. Soon enough though, Seth and I started dropping score cards at a brisk pace attempting to keep up as best we could. All the while, Dan and Simon continued to load up their planes. The game progressed like this until Simon loaded the 12th passenger onto a plane and thus triggered the end game. For our final turns, Dan and I both found ways to secure a window seat before the game ended. I don't remember the exact scores, but they were something like Dan 17, Seth 19, Simon 19 and me 20. Good game.

From gallery of dshortdesign
Everyone seemed to enjoy it so we moved onto another game using Airport D. Simon started this one by moving his party briskly thru a couple of terminals riding on the tram at least once. Soon enough, Dan saw an opportunity to go against the flow by playing an action card that allowed him to move backwards thru the airport. In doing so, he was rewarded with one of his party members comfortably seated in a nice roomy exit row on the wing! From there, everyone took turns jockeying for position while trying to score cards and avoid laying the red carpet for their opponents. I continue to love this board due to the speed and options that the airport trams offer. The end game for this session came rapidly, leaving Seth and I roaming the airport with a couple of our lost party members. In the end Dan grabbed the victory (slightly edging out Simon).

From gallery of dshortdesign
At this point, Seth voiced his opinion that the end game felt too abrupt. It was a valid concern, so we proceeded with a 3rd game using yet another board (Aiport C) and tested playing a bonus round after the end game was triggered. Dan started us off on this one. Read more »
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Wed Sep 18, 2013 4:43 pm
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Round Trip Rules

David Short
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From gallery of dshortdesign


Luggage... check. Round trip plane tickets... check. Carry-on bag... check. Looks like you and your party of five are ready to head to the airport to catch your flight. Only problem is getting to your flight gate is easier said than done. You must check your luggage, pass security and grab some food, all while avoiding getting bogged down by the hustle and bustle of the terminal. Make sure not to leave behind anyone in your party and... don't miss your flight!


[ Game Components ]
2 Double-sided Airport Boards
10 Marker Discs (2 ea. of Red, Blue, Green, Purple)
16 Black Neutral Cubes
20 Party Cubes (5 ea. of Red, Blue, Green, Purple)
48 Cards



[ Game Setup ]
Decide which airport to use for the game. If this is the first time playing, it is recommended that Airport A be used. Place the chosen board in the middle of the playing surface in reach of all players.

Place all 5 Party Cubes of 1 color (Red, Blue, Green, Purple) at each airport entrance (only 1 color per entrance). Which color goes to which space has no significance. Each entrance has a matching gate. Place 1 matching Marker Disc at each respective gate. For instance, if the Blue Party Cubes start the game at Entrance O3, then place the Blue Marker Disk next to the plane docked at Gate C3.

Place 2 Black Neutral Cubes at all other empty spaces of the airport (ignoring gates).

Each Player should choose a color and place 1 Marker disc of that color in front of them. This will serve as a reminder of what color each player is during the game.

Lastly, shuffle the deck of cards and deal each player 3 cards face down. These cards make up their hand and should be kept hidden from the other players until played. Place the rest of the cards face down as a deck next to the board. The game is ready.

{Insert Picture of Setup Here}
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Tue Aug 20, 2013 5:11 pm
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Game Design Roulette

David Short
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I'm not normally a designer that juggles a magnitude of game designs at one time. I know of several designers that do that (and do it well). Instead, I tend to focus on a select few, even as narrow as one design at a time.

However, I'm currently in the midst of a game design watershed. My microgame Enqueteur is signed with a publisher and we are actively working on finalizing it. Bomb Squad is being reviewed by several publishers and we are fielding comments from blind playtesters across the country. Ground Floor: Middle Management is developing nicely and is a priority for me. And of course, my new idea Clone Lab is my new design focus. BUT...

...apparently, that wasn't enough for me. A new idea has thrust itself into the mix and garnered all my design effort in the last week or so.

Here's some back story. My friend, Mike Tunison and I are flying together to BGG.con this year (oh yes, that's happening!). The downside is that the travel will be around 8 hours each way. Mike came up with a solution to the time sink though.

A little over a week ago, we got together to play some games at lunch and he mentioned his idea to spend those 16 hours designing a game together. But not just any game. A game about traveling by plane that could be played on those small trays on the backs of seats. I immediately was excited about the idea.

Later that day I found I couldn't stop thinking about it. By the end of the day, I had the main mechanism and storyline worked out. By the next morning, I was piecing together a prototype. The day after that we were playtesting it. Whew. Talk about a flood of design (unfortunately, this flood blew past Mike and thus we'll be pursuing two designs separately... but he still deserves props for providing me such great inspiration).

From gallery of dshortdesign


So, here we are. Round Trip is a set collection and pick up & deliver game for 2 to 4 players. It's euro goodness in a small package - both in duration and footprint.Read more »
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Tue Aug 6, 2013 2:00 pm
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Introducing Clone Lab

David Short
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As I alluded to in my previous blog post, here's a more detailed overview of my concept for:


From gallery of dshortdesign

You frantically run your hands thru your nest of hair. Fidget with your chipped glasses. Shrug in your lopsided coat. It's inevitable... you keep arriving at the same conclusion: There's too much work and not enough time.

"Back to the lab, Junior. We must make another clone!"


In Clone Lab, players are rival mad scientists who have conquered the cloning process and moved onto their next bizarre creation. They are struggling to complete their next big project using only themself and their clones. Each player can have unlimited clones in their lab, but each clone costs to create and costs to maintain. Additionally, each subsequent clone is not as capable as the original. Worse yet, a clone of a clone warrants even less confidence.

[ Goals ]
2 - 5 Players
Worker Placement Euro
Under 90 Minutes
Medium Weight
Mad Scientist Theme

[ Initial Concept ]
Players are attempting to finish their project better/faster than their opponents using workers. These workers come in varying sizes to distinguish between the quality levels of the clones. Each player starts with 1 large pawn (themself) and 1 medium pawn (their clone).

The projects that the players are trying to complete could take a couple of different forms. First, it could be one joint project for all players to work on. This would require that parts/elements of work are marked in some way that they were done by certain players. Another way this could go would be every player is working on an identical project, but on their own. This would be fair and easy to design, but would be less appealing and less replayable. A third way this could go, is that the game could come with 7 or so unique projects and these are handed out randomly at the start of the game. These projects could be balanced or they could be assymetrical with varying costs that balance them. A fourth way this could go, is to have a large deck of cards, and a certain amount gets dealt to each player. They choose 1 or more (Ticket to Ride style) to complete during the game.

The clones would be created with some sort of cost. They would also have to be maintained with some sort of expenditure. The way I first envisioned their quality of work being represented during the game was with a modifier. There would be actions on the board that can be taken with your workers. Each action would have some sort of value/quantity. The original would have no modifier. The first clone, and any subsequent clone of the original, would have a modifier of -1. A clone of a clone would have a modifier of -3. I'm not sure I'll allow clones of 2nd-clones, but if I did they would have a modifier of -6.

But now I'm thinking this is a great opportunity to finally design a dice euro like I've been itching to do. So, now I'm envisioning each worker coming with a certain amount of dice. Each action on the board would cost a pip value (this could be something like 6 total pips or 6 exactly on 1 die - I'm leaning toward the latter). The original worker would get 6 dice. The 1st-Clones would get 3 dice. The 2nd-Clones would get 1 dice and the 4th-Clones would get 0 dice. If players put more than 1 worker at a spot, the total represented on that space are how many rolls you get. So 4th-Clones are useless dice wise, but could be helpful for rerolls. I think there's something there.

[ Game End ]
The game ends at the end of the round in which 1 or more players has finished their project. If only 1 player is done, they win. If more than 1 player has completed their project, then the projects would have some sort of score.
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Fri Jul 19, 2013 4:42 pm
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Skyline PnP is coming!

David Short
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Board Game: Skyline
Prototype Key

Now that Ground Floor's Kickstarter campaign is fully funded and successfully reaching many overfunding bonuses, my attention has shifted a little to Skyline.

It's been requested numerous times that I open the game up to PnP. My hesitation has had little to do with fear or disapproval of the PnP concept, and everything to do with the extra work it takes to make a game easy to PnP.

However, I've been making large strides in that area and so I thought I'd post about my progress.

The top left image serves two purposes. It shows both the quantity of dice required and their composition in relation to the sides of a standard d6. PnP'ers would merely print this out and place 1 die on the left for each type, successfully creating a conversion key which allows the ability to use any dice to play Skyline. So for instance, you could use white d6's for Penthouse dice, red d6's for Mid Floor dice and black d6's for Ground Floor dice. With this key, a player would know that rolling a '5' on the white d6 means that they rolled a Mid-Rise Penthouse.

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Tue May 15, 2012 9:34 pm
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Discovering the Skyline

David Short
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Board Game: Skyline
Skyline Mini Boar

Skyline, meet the world. The world, meet Skyline.

Skyline is a dice stacking game about building a cityscape of skyscrapers. It's for 1-4 players, can be played in 10 minutes and is designed around the idea that "The dice control the results... but the players control the dice".

This game basically fell in my lap. The original conception of the idea came about 6 months ago, but that was simply a name and the idea of dice stacking. I didn't revisit the idea until Thanksgiving week, and during that week I had the entire game designed, prototyped and playtested within 2 days. No design of mine has ever come that quickly. Now granted, this is by far the lightest game I've worked on, but still 2 days is mighty fast.

Skyline can definitely be grouped in with similiar games like Zombie Dice, Martian Dice and Bears!, but it builds upon those games (no pun intended). Specifically it differs from those games in two significant ways.

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Tue Dec 13, 2011 6:36 pm
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Falling short of Mars

David Short
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From gallery of dshortdesign
Old Version of Prototype Player Aid

There are two main issues with the current state of M:e - game length and my support mechanic. Each have several smaller issues contributing to them. I'm going over the problems in this post and will handle potential solutions in later posts.

Game Length: As I've stated previously one of my main goals was to make a quick game that still had its share of meaty decisions. The 'decisions' end of things seems to be on the right track, but the length of the game was just about double what I wanted it to be.

Game length can be elongated for a couple of reasons in a game. Some games are really fiddly and the mere act of upkeeping the game takes time. Other games have copious player interaction that allows the banter and discussion to lengthen the game. Other games require many calculations, not decisions mind you, but calculations (math is often the culprit here - I'm looking at you Power Grid). Then, there are also games that go long due to the sheer depth of the decisions and problems.

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Fri Sep 9, 2011 11:46 pm
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