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Designer Diary: Simultaneously Designing Silver and Silver Bullet

Ted Alspach
United States
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The card game Silver was almost named Silver Bullet.

During development of Silver, once I determined that I wanted a silver token in the game, a silver bullet was the obvious choice as it's the silver item most associated with effectively getting rid of the werewolf menace that seems to plague so many of my games. I even purchased an actual silver bullet from Amazon and that was used for hundreds of playtests. It was solid silver and cost about $30. Of course, it wasn't a real silver bullet as any gun enthusiast will tell you; it was a combination casing and bullet design, similar to the half-bullet design in the final game.

Designing for a Series of Games

Once I decided that Silver was going to be a series of games, I started using A, B, C, etc. designations for the different decks under development. It would be strange for the first token to be a bullet and not an item that starts with A.

Why did I use A, B, C designations for the Silver decks? Well, a lot of testing involved using totally different combinations of cards than the Silver Bullet recommended rules for mixing decks (i.e., replacing all of the numbers from one deck with those from another deck), and that required rules for how cards with the same numbers from different decks were ordered in various instances (like discarding two 2s from two different decks). If you look closely at the lower left of the cards, you'll see a bullet (whereas Silver cards depict an amulet).

I tried all sorts of combos, some of which you'll see once the fourth deck arrives in 2020. In those situations, there might be cards with the same number from different decks, and I needed a rule for how they would be discarded (and later, for what order they would affect scoring at the end of a round). Since I already had numbers on the cards, letters were an obvious choice. Even though those rules aren't in place yet, the letter system applies to all Silver games. (The first game is technically Silver Amulet, even though the title of it is simply Silver.)

Overlapping Development

Both Silver and Silver Bullet were developed at the same time. With dozens of cards to choose from for each set, it required a ton of playtesting to determine which cards would work together well for the first two sets. There are all sorts of cards that I personally love playing with, but they didn't make sense in the base game or even the interactive-themed follow-up.

As many game designers will tell you, taking things out of a game is often what makes them better, and while that's certainly the case here, it was made a lot easier by limiting myself to 14 abilities in each game. Those kinds of constraints are useful when developing games, and in this case, an entire series of games. There are currently more than one hundred different cards that have been finalized or are in various stages of development, anywhere from a finalized card being shipped from the manufacturer at this moment to a brand new conceptual card. Here's a look at some of the cards I was working with over the summer:

The strange thing about Silver development is that I'm both designing and developing individual cards as well as determining the correct combinations of cards for each set. Even when I think I have the right set of cards, tweaks to any one of those cards (which happen regularly) can make me rethink the cards that are in that set. "Final" playtesting of each set has been amazingly time consuming because it seems as soon as a card is modified slightly to make it work just right, suddenly one or more of the other cards in the set doesn't work as well because of those changes; I then either have to rework those other cards or replace them, triggering the entire process to start yet again.

By the time Silver and Silver Bullet had shipped off to production earlier in 2019, I was already hard at work on the third game in the series, which again had to stand alone yet also be able to be combined with the first two games. That one is already off to production, and now I'm busy finalizing the fourth game's cards and doing testing on several sets of cards after that.

Finalizing the Silver Bullet Cards

So the second game was going to be Silver Bullet, and with that came a challenge: how to offer cards that felt similar, yet made the playing experience entirely fresh. One of the great things about Silver is that once you learn one of the games, you can jump right into the other ones because the core mechanisms are all the same. Only the abilities of the cards change, which makes each successive game simple to learn. While you can run through the abilities of the new cards before the game starts, you can just start your first game and learn about them as you play, which is much more effective and makes the game much more accessible.

At the same time, though, the number and complexity of the new abilities can be overwhelming for players, so there's a careful balance that has to be struck. Silver Bullet has cards that I've divided into three sets of abilities to make this balance work as well as possible: enhanced, similar (yet different), and totally new.

Enhanced Abilities

Silver Bullet's special abilities are closely tied to the Silver special abilities, with the Instigator and Insomniac closely mimicking ones that exist in the original game. In addition, the Priest (2) allows you to flip over one card in your village each turn, similar to the Empath (2) letting you view one card in your village each turn. This ends up being more useful because now you have a way to turn up your 0-4 cards once you have a face-up Priest. However, if you use the card like the Empath to view cards you haven't seen yet, you risk exposing a 0 or 1 that could make you the target of another player.

Similar, Yet Different Cards

New cards were added that are offshoots of cards in Silver, like the Lycan, Copycat, and Troublemaker. The Cow (5) lets you "preflip" in a way; instead of flipping a card in your village like the Exposer (5), you flip over the entire deck, so whenever anyone draws a card from the deck, it starts face up. The Cow's ability required an entirely new component to be added to the game: the cow pasture cardboard game mat, which indicates which stack of cards is the deck, and which stack of cards is the discard pile.

And the Count (10) can make the round come to an end quickly, but not quite as quick as when you have two Villagers (0). Instead, The Count's ability allows you to move ten cards from the deck to the discard pile. Considering there are only 32 cards in the deck at the beginning of the game, this can make things move along really fast.

Totally New Mechanisms

And then there are all the new cards with totally new, unique abilities, like the Hunter, Mortician, Marksman, Gremlin, and the Thing.

One of the new mechanisms is evident with Goth Girl, which solves a problem you didn't realize you had until you've played a bunch of Silver — accidentally giving away a good card because you didn't have a chance to view it before you discarded it. When Goth Girl is face up in your village, you can discard a card directly to the bottom of the deck (keeping it face down or face up), so not only is it hidden from your opponents, but you won't feel sick in your stomach when you accidentally discard a 0 (because face-down cards aren't revealed when they are discarded this way, which means that no one will know what the card is). Goth Girl also works as a way to slow down the pace of the game because you're putting more cards back into the deck.

How Gameplay Is Affected

The great thing about Silver Bullet is that it takes the base game mechanisms ("protection" was the theme of Silver and its handy amulet) and shows what can happen if you ratchet up the interaction to 11.

Because of the highly interactive, dynamic nature of the cards in Silver Bullet, you'll probably be a little more reluctant to call, but doing so and getting that Silver Bullet for a future round is pretty sweet...and tempting!

That said, Silver Bullet has a take-that feel that wasn't as prominent in Silver. It's a little ironic that the name Silver Bullet implies more "take that", but the bullet token itself is actually something you do to your own village, which doesn't affect other players directly. Instead, it's a bunch of the other cards — Instigator, Thing, Troublemaker, and Gremlin — that have an impact on your opponents.

Future games in the Silver series won't have such a high level of take that, but instead will focus on other areas, such as card flipping, scoring, and play order.

Combining Cards from Different Decks

Possibly even more exciting than playing Silver Bullet as a standalone game is combining it with the original Silver game. It's super easy to do (and why each Silver game comes with a Game Trayz tray that lets you keep your cards sorted by number if you'd like).

To combine the decks, remove all of the cards of specific numbers from one deck and replace them with the cards of those numbers from another deck. Because of the way the games are designed, you can increase or decrease those mimicked abilities, just include cards that provide new mechanisms to try out, or incorporate any combination of cards.

I did extensive testing with mix-and-match sets, but often I'd do an even split between decks, using evens/odds, lows/highs, and even primes/non-primes (which isn't quite even, but close). I've encouraged playtesters to try different combinations of cards and let me know what their favorites are, and of course, if anything really fell flat. And of course, during development, I'm looking to see whether any of the new cards in a deck break things when combined with other cards; this task is getting harder and harder with each deck that is produced, though focusing on the new mechanism-style cards tends to address most of those possible issues.

If you've played Silver already, a great way to ease yourself into Silver Bullet is by swapping in one or two numbers each game, slowly ramping up to the point where you have all Silver Bullet cards and no Silver cards. I also like playing that the losers of a game may each take out one number and replace it, which prevents anyone from honing in and using a particular strategy too many games in a row.

Silver Bullet will debut at SPIEL '19 and start showing up in stores shortly thereafter. Three more Silver games are due in 2020, and even more after that!

Ted Alspach
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Sat Oct 5, 2019 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Silver

Ted Alspach
United States
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While this is a designer diary, it's also in many ways a developer diary, as I tend to wear two hats these days. Despite having played what must be thousands of different board games over the years, I had never played a "point shedding" game until I was introduced to Cabo (first edition) at Greg Schloesser's weekly East Tennessee Gamers game night a few years ago. A recent transplant to Tennessee from California, I was discovering all sorts of great games that were super common in the southeast, while introducing west coast staples to the good folks here.

Cabo had been a surprise hit for the group. Lots of players who normally stick to heavier games enjoyed it, as well as casual gamers. I liked it right away, and when I tried to purchase a copy afterward, I discovered that it had been out of print for several years. After a little research, I found all sorts of similar card games that had the mechanism I call "point shedding", which is the process of reducing the sum of points in your hand by trading out your cards for other ones, and even reducing the number of cards in your hand overall. These games included Rat-a-Tat Cat, Skyjo, and the public domain Golf, played with a traditional card deck.

Cabo stood out because it provided abilities along with the base mechanisms, adding spice without too much randomness. It had a good chunk of interaction between players, a light memory element, and a dramatic reveal at the end of each round.

However, as a gamer, I wanted more. During many turns, I found myself going through the motions because there was an obvious play (take a lower card or one that matches an existing card) or no real option (just discard the card you drew).

With that in mind, I started working on a Cabo variant in which more cards had abilities. These abilities were offshoots of what Cabo did at a base level, but as I added them, the variant turned into something quite different.

Memory Issues

The first thing I did was to reduce the memory element by keeping cards drawn from the discard pile face up. These were known cards already, and by placing them face down in Cabo, you have to remember their value along with the other cards you've viewed. Keeping track of seen cards was tiring and sometimes frustrating, and players with highly developed short-term memory skills would do better than those of us without that particular talent. Keeping cards face up that everyone has seen created a more level playing field.

Abilitizing Face-up Cards

The next thing was to add abilities to the low-number cards that work only when face up in your village. One of the first cards was the Bodyguard (#3), which could protect another card in your village from abilities that allow players to move or swap your cards. I quickly discovered that the only way to get a card face up in your village to protect your other cards was to draw it from the discard pile. This caused players to hang onto unseen cards, making the "peek" ability (which allows you to look at one of your cards) much more valuable. Further, no one wanted to give up a face-up 3 because it handed a huge advantage to the player on your left.

Thus, two new abilities were added: the Exposer (#5), which allows you to turn one of your own cards face up, and the Revealer (#6), which allows you to turn any card face up. These cards were valuable in the early game as they allowed players to find out what unknown cards were, and maybe add an ability to the mix if those were low cards.

Other low card abilities came soon after: The Empath (#2) allows you to view a face-down card each turn, and for each Rascal (#4) face up in front of you, you can draw an extra card from the deck (returning unchosen cards back on top of the deck). Just having these three abilities made drawing a 5 or 6 an interesting choice. If you've seen those three cards in front of you, which one do you turn face up? Being able to view unseen cards is huge, but protecting your low value cards is also valuable, and then there's the extra options you have by drawing two cards each turn (which also tells you what the player to your left might draw). That sort of decision is the kind of thing I look for in games, where the right answer is both subjective and situational.

Later in development, I added the Squire (#1) ability. Having a 1 is valuable by itself (and an easy target for other players), so I gave him an ability that benefits everyone. For each face-up Squire, a card from the top of the deck is also displayed face up. Players can then choose from the face-up deck card, the unseen top card of the deck, or the discard pile. As a bonus, taking a face-up deck card keeps it face up in front of you, so you don't have to memorize what the card is and can use its ability if it is a low card. Face-up Squires help keep games different and fresh.

It's great to have all those choices, but not so great that the other players have those choices, too. When multiple deck cards are face up, your opponents can learn a lot about your hidden cards by watching which card you choose.

The last card to get a face-up ability was the Villager (#0). For a long time the Villager was just a zero, already an amazing card to have in front of you. During the thousands of playtest rounds, I realized that I wanted more tension; if no one called, the deck would slowly run out, and the round would end with more of a whimper than a bang. The Villager's ability changes that. The game includes only two Villagers, and if, and only if, both of them are face up in front of players, the round ends instantly. No one else gets a turn, and you have to turn your cards face up.

The interesting thing about this is that the game runs along as usual until one of the Villagers is turned face up. At that point, it's a time bomb, especially if you don't know where the other Villager is (or even if anyone has him). Anyone can turn over a card and it could be the other Villager, ending the game suddenly, so with one Villager face up, your strategy has to adjust for this sudden end because you don't want to be stuck with any high value cards. On the other hand, if you've got a pretty good hand and you know where the other Villager is, flipping him face up could be huge for you — a low score for you and a potential high score for your opponents.

Adios Cabo, Hi-Yo Silver!

It wasn't long before the game became more than a Cabo variant. It needed its own identity. I also realized some things that weren't working were holdovers from Cabo (first edition) and could now be easily changed. On the chopping block were the following:

• The Cabo theme (or lack thereof)

• The funky artwork of the original edition
• The lack of variety in special abilities with a single deck
• The name of the game
• Playing up to five players
• Having only four cards in front of you
• Pretending your cards match just to see what they are
• Different length rounds based on how many players were playing
• Playing until a player reaches more than 100 points total (the game was too long)
• The lowest total always scores 0 points, whether that player called or not
• You can play a round forever if no one calls
• The 50-point kamikaze (if your four cards = 50 points, you get 0, everyone else gets 50)
• Jumping back down to 50 points if you hit 100 exactly
• The dreaded 13 card (only useful for the kamikaze)

Theme On!

First up was deciding whether this new game should have a theme, and what it might be. As I developed the game, I had been using familiar names for the cards from our other werewolf games and tried to match up some of the mechanisms loosely. The numbers though...what could they be?

Well, in most of our games, werewolves are the bad guys, and usually you want to eliminate them, so the numbers became the number of werewolves in your village, which showed how many werewolves followed the different characters. Thus, the high-powered Robber (#12) would have twelve werewolves hanging around him, while the lowly Villager wouldn't have any. Treating each player's line of cards as a village worked well (an idea borrowed from Legend Dan Hoffman's excellent Ultimate Werewolf Inquisition). Other themes could have also worked, but it was nice to fold this into the werewolf mythos, with similarly named characters and abilities to other games.

No, Really, It's Not from 3D Software

While developing the game, I used artwork from our other games, usually One Night where roles matched up. Once the theme was locked down, I went in search of an artist to fulfill the vision I had, and finally found one: Andrey Gordeev.

Andrey's art is absolutely amazing, and I was thrilled when he agreed to join the project. He's still working on artwork for future games in the Silver line even now, and my favorite emails are the ones I get from him that contain new sketches and color versions of new roles. Andrey's art looks like something you'd see in a Pixar or Dreamworks feature, but he actually creates it all the old-fashioned way (well, digitally old-fashioned, by painting in Photoshop, not with a dedicated 3D program). Each and every character he's created has a ton of personality and all sorts of great little tweaks. Since you're slogging through this really long diary, here's a fun secret for you: Each card has werewolves on it equal to the number on the card. Some are obvious, while some are hidden. When you, erm, spot the Cow in Silver Bullet, you'll know what I mean.

Multiple Decks/Games

As there were more cards with special abilities in development than would fit in the game, I had been considering releasing this game on Kickstarter and using the other special ability cards as Kickstarter bonuses, then selling the bonus cards later as a bonus pack. It worked for the One Night games, after all.

But soon the number of cards in development was in the dozens, and I realized that the number would continue to grow. (We're currently testing about one hundred unique cards in addition to the ones that will be published this year.) That this might be a series of compatible games was forming as an idea, and I tentatively called the base game the A deck, with the next one being the B deck, etc.

The Game Names Themselves

As a game designer and publisher, trying to find a unique name for your game that somehow communicates what the game is about, while still being interesting and memorable is always a challenge — but in this case, the name came pretty naturally.

Once the Amulet of Protection (which had debuted in Ultimate Werewolf: Ultimate Edition) was added to the game, I didn't realize it, but the name was already decided once I started naming the decks/games with items alphabetically. The A deck had an amulet. The B deck should have (it seems so obvious now) a bullet! And what's more awesome for fighting werewolves than a silver bullet? Silver is something that's traditionally been used to defeat werewolves, so why not have a different object in each game? And they could all be silver!

The toughest part was deciding the name of the first game. I went back and forth between Silver and "Silver Amulet" for a while, before deciding on Silver, knowing that each follow-up game would start with the word "Silver" and have the item after it. The word "Amulet" is on some of the box sides, so if you do collect them all, you'll have a nice Amulet/Bullet/Cxxxx/Dxxxx/etc. display.

Goodbye, Player #5

Cabo supports up to eight players if you mix two decks together. Like "Trichu" (the horrendous three-player variant of Tichu), you should avoid this at all costs. With a single deck, up to five players could play. Unfortunately, this results in waiting wayyyyy too long for your turn, trying to track all of those face-down cards (since in Cabo every discard pile draw goes face down in front of you), and having opponents get five chances to destroy your call.

Four players makes the game more snappy, and with the new abilities, two and three players results in an entirely different feel. I've played hundreds of games at all player counts with Silver, and while everyone has their preference for the "best number of players", I truly couldn't tell you if one is better than another as I like all three different player counts for different reasons.

Hello, Card #5

Having four cards in front of you was less satisfying in terms of the rush you get when you exchange matching cards, so Silver starts with you having five cards. You still look at two at the beginning of the game, then have to figure out what the other three are. This fifth card provided more interesting options when you had face-up card abilities, too.

Fake Matchers, Beware!

The "fake matching card trade" trick that gamers did with Cabo always bugged me. In Cabo, you can always exchange any number of matching cards. If they don't match, you put the card you drew on the discard pile and flip your cards back down. The only penalty was a loss of your turn, but in the process, you learned what all your unknown cards were, without waiting for a "Peek" card. Gamers, hmmmph!

So a new rule said if two cards you tried to exchange didn't match, you had to keep the card you drew as well as the cards you tried to exchange. And if three or more cards don't match, you get the card you drew plus another card off the top of the deck. The goal was not to penalize folks who can't remember their cards, but to stop rampant fake-matching card trading, and it worked.

Consistency Between Player Counts

Because a Cabo deck ends up being smaller when you have more players, it changes the rhythm of the game, making abilities harder to balance.

In Silver, you deal out four sets of five cards regardless of how many people are playing. With fewer than four players, you place the unused sets of cards off to the side. This results in a deck that is always 31 cards (plus a face-up discard). It might seem like a little thing, but five extra cards in a three-player game, or ten extra in a two-player game changes the feel of the rounds as well as strategies — and not in a good way. Every round of Silver still has a varying number of turns (since players can draw from the discard pile as well as the draw deck), but there's less variance than if the deck was a different size for each player count.

Four Rounds Is Just Right!

Lots and lots of rounds of Silver later, we realized that a specific point total as game end wasn't right. Not only did it feel too long, there wasn't a good flow to the game. After a ton of experimenting with different ending conditions (Time limit! Lowest score to reach X! X successful calls! X rounds!), I settled on four rounds. It made the first game, as players learn the mechanisms and base strategies, take about 45 minutes, with subsequent games clocking in around 30 minutes.

Calling Is a Dramatic Event

Calling for a vote in Silver is higher stakes than in Cabo. In Cabo, you call "Cabo" if you think you have the lowest total. If you do, great, you get 0 points. If not, you get your sum +5, and the player with the actual lowest total gets 0. Calling isn't particularly a great strategy since if you have the lowest total you'll get 0 anyway, and you're mostly risking 5 points to end the round quickly.

In Silver, the reward and penalties are more dramatic. When you call for a vote in Silver, and you have the lowest (or match the lowest) number of werewolves in your village, you get 0 points. You also get the Silver Amulet of Protection, which gives you a special, one-time ability to permanently protect a card the next round. If you're wrong, you score the sum of your cards, plus ten points.

Rounds Should End, Right?

In Cabo, each round continues until someone calls. The deck is out? Shuffle the discard pile and keep playing until someone calls. In Silver, the round ends in one of three ways: someone calls for a vote, the deck runs out, or both Villagers are face up in players' villages. The round will end, often sooner than you originally expected.

Shooting the Moon

You have a way to catch the leader in Cabo — but only if things go according to plan. You must get both 13s and two of the four 12s, then someone else has to call, and no one can mess with your cards. Then you get 0 points and everyone else gets 50. I've played a lot of Cabo, and this is incredibly rare. We removed this from Silver because final game scores are much lower than in Cabo. Also, getting both 13s is easier because of the Master (#10) ability, which lets you grab a card of your choice from the discard pile.

If You Reach 100, Something Went Very Very Wrong

One cool thing in Cabo is that if you're losing, you can redeem yourself if your score equals 100 points exactly. It sounds hard, but it's fairly common among Cabo players. Since Silver scores should never get to 100 (at least, not with the base set of cards), we threw that rule out.

The 13 Is One of the Best Cards in Silver

As opposed to Cabo, where the 13 is only good for a kamikaze, the Doppelgänger (#13) in Silver automatically matches any other card(s) you are discarding, so having it in your village is a good thing (and it's usually a top choice when someone plays a Master, and a Doppelgänger is in the discard pile). Of course, if the game ends suddenly via double Villager exposure, you're hosed. But that edginess adds a lot of excitement to the game.

Cabo: Second Edition

Through all of the playtesting and developing of Silver, I had been trying to secure the license for Cabo itself. The good news, as you probably already know, is that we got it and made a whole bunch of little tweaks to Cabo, including:

• Cards from the discard pile stay face up
• A unicorn theme (some would say pasted on, but...whatever)

• Redid the artwork (inspired by the original very funky art)
• Removed the fifth player
• Added an anti-"fake matching card trade" rule
• Removed the "lowest total always gets 0" rule
• Changed the round-ending conditions to include running out of cards in the deck
• Lots of other little tweaks

All of which make Cabo even better!

Silver Now and Silver Bullet Soon

Silver launches with a limited number of copies at Gen Con 2019, and it should be available in stores in September 2019. Just one month later, we'll launch Silver Bullet at SPIEL '19. Silver Bullet has the same gameplay, but with fourteen new ability cards and a Silver Bullet in place of the Amulet.

As Silver was in development, there were a ton of ideas and thoughts about abilities. Only one ability from Cabo made it into Silver directly: the Apprentice Seer (#8), who can view a card in another player's village. "Peek" from Cabo was thrown out and replaced by the Beholder (#7), who can view two cards in your own village; knowing your cards is incredibly useful, and viewing two instead of one made a lot of sense with three initially unknown cards. "Swap" was also thrown out, replaced by the Robber (#12), who lets you steal a card from another player, then view your new card.

The new abilities in Silver Bullet change the game in some interesting ways, with a heavier focus on flipping cards face up and face down, the ability to use powers of cards you didn't draw that turn, and even the ability to slow down and speed up the round.

A Grand Design for Abilities

Once you play both games, you'll see some underlying rules we have for what abilities do with certain numbers. The 10 card in all decks is some sort of Vampire who interacts with the discard pile. The 7, 8, and 9 cards give you more information about face-down cards. The 5 and 6 are about flipping cards, and the 11 and 12 are interactive cards that affect other players directly. There are other guidelines, and they'll start to become apparent as we reveal additions to the Silver line. That's right, we are currently developing a whole bunch of additional Silver games (after all, we have a whole bunch of cards to work with), with two or three scheduled for 2020, and even more in 2021 — and some of the abilities are crazy fun.

These guidelines were really important when developing both the base game and the sequels because these aren't just standalone games. You can mix and match cards from the games together by replacing all the numbers from one set with the same numbers from another set. We spent a lot of time with Silver and Silver Bullet playtesting combos, such as evens and odds, lows and highs, and even primes and non-primes. Those are all seven sets of numbers from each, but you can mix any number of numbers and the game will still be balanced and fun.

We did some testing of other ways to combine the game, and while they work, the end result wasn't as solid as simply removing all of one number from one game and replacing it with all of that number from another game (for any number of numbers). We tested having two of each number from two different games, having one of each number from four different games, randomly picking 52 cards from a giant pile of cards from all the sets available (that wasn't fun), and even playing with multiple sets of the same number (like twelve 3s, sixteen 9s, and no 1s, 2s, 5s, 13s, 0s, or 12s). But the most consistently good games were those that swapped out complete sets of numbers.

The Silver App

While Silver has been in development, we've been hard at work developing an app for it. This free app has all the cards in the base game and provides a compelling two-player (you versus the AI) game that allows you to try out the game to see whether it's for you. Look for the app on iOS and Android soon!

Special Silver Components

Once we decided on including a silver amulet, we were determined to make it metal. (Real silver would have been nice, but it would've jacked up the MSRP a little too much.) Both the silver amulet and the silver bullet are solid metal, with a great feel and great table presence.

Silver includes a scorepad that is fifty double-sided pages, good for one hundred games or even more if some are two player. It even has dedicated rows for subtotals (after rounds two and three), and a total row at the bottom.

The four reference cards are great for your first few games, telling you things you can do each turn, and what the icons on the bottom of the cards mean.

Because we knew that there would be more games in the Silver series, and players would want to combine cards from each game, we worked with Noah at Game Trayz to create an insert that allows players to sort each numbered card set in the game (as well as the set of reference cards), whether those cards are sleeved or not. Because Noah is awesome, he created a pocket for the scorepad, and then he went totally nuts and designed another pocket for the silver token that will be in each game, and gave it a snap-tight lid so your amulet/bullet/whatever won't fly around the box — all out of a single piece of plastic. Game Trayz rock, if you didn't realize that before.

The Silver Debut with Game Mats

If you stop by the Bézier Games booth at Gen Con (or SPIEL), you'll notice that our tables are covered with giant 36" x 36" player mats specially designed for Silver and Silver Bullet. These are so awesome that we had extra ones printed for Gen Con attendees. (They aren't included with the game, but should be reasonably priced.)

We'd love to have you stop by at Gen Con, take a look at Silver (and Silver Bullet), and maybe pick up a copy. We're tight on timing, so we've air-shipped only five hundred copies to the show, so stop by early if you think it's something you'll enjoy.

Now, I'm back to working on the next batch of Silver games due in 2020! Thanks for reading the Silver design diary!

Ted Alspach
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Tue Jul 16, 2019 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Colony — A Strategy Game

Ted Alspach
United States
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In the middle of 2015, Doug Garrett (of Garrett's Games and Geekiness) mentioned the Japanese game Age of Craft to me. He had just played it at his West Coast MeepleFest invitational (brought by Denis Begin and taught by Joe Huber), and while the players enjoyed it, it was difficult to play due to the small cards and the need to refer to a translated guide while playing. He suggested it might be something that Bézier Games should consider translating and publishing. I picked up a copy and found that it had a lot of really interesting elements, kind of a "Dominion meets Settlers" vibe, and that by itself it was pretty compelling, despite the components and language barrier. I found that the license was available and got to work on developing the game, discovering in the process that the core game could be used to create something really compelling and deeper than the published Japanese version.

At its core, Age of Craft is a dice-drafting game set in medieval times in which the dice faces are resources, and those very specific resources are used to purchase cards that provide various abilities, like producing more resources, exchanging resource types, and generating victory points. Players continue to obtain cards until they reached 20 points or a certain card type was used up, at which time the game ended. The game came with 29 different "random" cards, and each game you used only seven of them, so it had a ton of replayability built in.

There were a whole bunch of things I loved about Age of Craft:
• Dice as resources
• Dice drafting
• Tons of "random" cards (which we now call "variable")
• Engine building
• Seven different categories of cards

And those things were pretty much kept in the game, forming the core of what Colony turned into.


The first thing I did when looking at the game was deciding whether we were going to keep the theme or not. I'm fine with medieval/renaissance-themed games — yes, there are tons of these, but for good reason as the setting is rich with opportunities for various game mechanisms — but I didn't want this game to blend in. Add to that the fact that Dominion, which shares some DNA with Age of Craft, was also set in this broad thematic space, and it felt as though it could really be better by having a different setting.

Post-apocalyptic near-future games haven't been particularly overused in the boardgame world, and the idea of rebuilding civilization after some sort of cataclysmic event was interesting, and as the rest of the game began to take shape around it, it's hard to imagine a more appropriate setting. Near-future technology is fun as it takes the things we know and twists them just slightly with a bit of science to show where we might be headed. It also left the door open for some really compelling thematic followups, like the in-the-works sequel/expansion which Shall Not Be Announced Yet.

Naming the game provided another challenge, but Colony stuck out for several reasons: First, it's not really been used by another mainstream hobby game, and second, that's essentially what the game is about" building up the best possible colony. Finally, it also provided a great jumping off point for follow-up titles.

Graphic Design

The graphic design on the original cards wasn't going to work for a number of reasons, so a great deal of effort was made to come up with a design that would work universally for all of the cards and be as functional as possible. The resulting design is evocative of the theme and super functional; you can spot the cost of cards to be purchased from across the table, the different kinds of cards are clearly colored (while this isn't important to gameplay, it's very useful for set-up), and the imagery used fits the theme and the mechanisms perfectly. The upgraded version of each card is framed in black instead of white, and the artwork between the 1.0 and 2.0 sides of the cards is tweaked just enough to be noticeable.

Once you've purchased a card, you add it to your tableau in front of you, and if you're short on space or just want to keep your tableau compact, you can stack cards up, displaying only the bottom part of each card, which shows both what the card does and the number of VPs on the card. It's a well-thought-out design that is incredibly elegant and flexible.

The best graphic design is the kind you don't think about; it just works, and our graphic designer achieved that with the Colony cards.

Custom Dice?

The first thought I had when playing the game, as a designer, was, "Whoa…this would be awesome with custom dice, with each face representing a different resource." I wasn't alone in this sentiment as playtesters, after or even during their first game, would also make the same comment. I tested this out and found that while it was an interesting concept and definitely enriched the theme, it made playability nosedive. The number one reason was because purchasing cards in Colony is done with exact resources: such as three 3s and two 2s. Changing those pips to three wood symbols and two food symbols made it significantly harder to both remember which resources you had in front of you, and also what each card cost. Add to that the fact that players have to learn the six new resources and what they look like, and you've got an extra layer of translation going on behind the scenes for virtually every action in the game. Games with custom dice took significantly longer to play and were more likely to result in missed options because players couldn't track what they could and couldn't do as easily.

There were other reasons why custom dice weren't appropriate for the game, and while I've seen comments from folks who haven't played yet mentioning it would be better with custom dice, they'll find out that once they play, the dice values fade into the background, and the focus is on how to use the resources they have most effectively and not on the resources themselves.

To summarize why there aren't custom dice in the game:

1) Our brains can track combinations of numbers much easier than combination of symbols, even if those symbols are meaningful.

2) There are several other ways that the dice are used besides resources, and one of the modifiers allows you to tweak the resources by one or two at a time.

3) Traditional dice patterns are amazingly clear to read from across the table versus any sort of symbol. Again, that probably has to do with our brains being conditioned to track numbers.

Drastic, Sweeping Changes

There were a few things about the original game that I didn't care for. The most prominent one was the mechanism in the game that prevented players from hoarding resources so that they could buy the cards they wanted on future turns. It was essentially a creative Settlers' robber mechanism, but due to its implementation, it could turn out to be incredibly frustrating: By saving up resources to buy the thing you really wanted, you were putting yourself at risk of losing many of those resources with a roll of the dice, thus scuttling your efforts and making you start over. It was frustrating instead of fun. At the same time, I realized that hoarding isn't a particularly engaging gameplay mechanism, so I came up with a warehouse card that everyone starts with that limits the number of stored resources to six in between turns. As all but one of the 30+ cards in the game can be purchased with six or fewer resources, it was functional but at the same time reduced the possibility of hoarding.

That change sparked another major addition to the game: unstable resources. Instead of all resources being storable, these resources must be used that turn, or they dissipate and aren't available anymore. All of the cards that produce resources produce unstable resources. In Colony, stable resources are represented by white dice, while unstable resources are represented by frosted dice.

That change resulted in yet another major addition to the game: upgradable cards. In Age of Craft, all cards were singled sided; in Colony, every card in the game can be upgraded to a better version of that card. For production cards, upgrading them results in producing stable resources instead of unstable ones. In order to upgrade, players must pay 1 2 3 4, and this allows them to flip a card over to its upgraded side. You can even upgrade the "Upgrade" card, reducing the cost for upgrades to 2 3 4. Upgrading the "Warehouse" gives you three more slots for resources, and most upgraded cards results in more VPs than the original side of the card.

Now that cards could be upgraded, it caused a dramatic overhaul of all of the cards in the game in functionality, cost, and VPs. The original Age of Craft game had some balance issues with some of the cards, and the cards from [Age of Craft that made it into Colony were almost all modified in some way in order to work well together. The balancing of cards in a game with such a large scope continued throughout playtesting, up until the second quarter of 2016.

As cards were modified, several of them were dropped, and many new ones were created. At one point in testing there were about fifty unique cards that were active, and this number was eventually winnowed down to 28 for the final version of the game.

In order to streamline the rules, each player's turn was divided into four phases, with the Activate phase being the time when players could use each of their cards (once per turn). This in turn resulted in the Construction card, which is a card that players can activate to build (purchase) new cards. Sometimes you'll have a turn in which you are saving up for a card you really want and don't purchase anything; if that happens, you get a CHIPI (Cybernetic Holder of Instant Production Income), which you can turn in on a future turn for a random unstable resource. If you upgrade "Construction" to version 2.0, you can purchase multiple cards in a single round, or if you decide not to, you get two CHIPIs.

In Age of Craft, players started with a single card, which they could discard at any time during the game for resources equal to the difference between their score and the leader's score. This provided a nice catch-up mechanism, but typically didn't affect the game otherwise. In Colony, I took this to a whole 'nother level by allowing the players to discard *any* card once per turn, again for the difference between their score and the leader's in stable resources. Because this can be done multiple times during a game, it's no longer simply a catch-up mechanism, but instead it's this extra strategic tool that you have to know when to use (or if to use) at just the right time. Of course, discarding a card takes away the VPs you had for that card, so you have to leverage to resources you'll receive to compensate (and then some) for that. As the leader, you want to be careful not to get too far ahead of your opponents, or you'll give them a whole bunch of additional resources near the end of the game just when they need it, possibly enabling them to catapult ahead of you to victory. This unique mechanism adds a layer of tension to the game for all players and makes the last several rounds of the game fraught with excitement.

Age of Craft didn't have a score track, relying on players to do the math for themselves and other players throughout the game, both for purposes of seeing who is winning, as well as what they can gain from discarding a card. Colony has a scoreboard, which in the first few rounds is pretty much unnecessary…until you start to see one player leading by 2 or 3 points, and then the pressure to discard or not is on.

Speaking of reaching the total number of VPs in order to win, Age of Craft could end in a tie, one in which "all players share the victory". Anyone who knows me knows I HATE that (which is probably why co-op games aren't high on my list of game types I enjoy), and I even created TieBreaker in 2011 to solve what I see is a blight on the boardgaming hobby. For colony, you can never end in a tie because once someone gets the VPs required to win, the game ends instantly. This can mean that players don't get the same number of turns…too bad! The starting conditions actually account for this, and in the 300+ recorded plays of the game in the last few months of playtesting, players 1-4 were almost exactly evenly split in terms of who won, with about 3% difference between them.

All of these (and many more) changes took place in the first few months of design and development, reshaping Colony into a totally different game from its ancestor.

Interaction Between Players

I'm not a take-that kind of player. Targeted take-that mechanisms rub me the wrong way, both as the recipient (oh, that sucks) and the disseminator (now I feel a little bad about picking on you, even if you were the leader). Age of Craft had a bunch of attack and defend cards, and I definitely struggled to see whether they would have a place in Colony. I know some Euro-minded individuals felt the same way I did, and that any sort of attack cards would be a huge turn-off for them.

But the Age of Craft attack and defend cards were pretty clever as they were, and I made it a mission of mine to see what could be done to make them less "mean" and more like a reasonable strategic path. Attack cards in Colony are all about the attacker getting resources. However, some of the defensive cards in the game result in the defender getting resources, too…resulting in a little game of chicken as attack and defense cards are purchased. The powerful attack cards have some downsides — for instance, each time you use an un-upgraded "Pirate", you might lose it — and the defensive cards are relatively inexpensive…but they can derail a player's strategy, which is often more important than just taking a single resource from the opponent. The cost of attacking is simply the resources needed for the card as well as the missed opportunity of purchasing something else, so those cards, if you purchase them, have drawbacks as well.

And then there's trading. Some players love this, others not so much. In Age of Craft, players could always trade on every turn. For trade-minded players, this made the game incredibly long as negotiations and assessments of players' resources and game position added A/P that sucked the fun out of the game. In Colony, you can trade only if you have a card that gives you that ability, and only one trade per card is allowed. Further, everyone is incentivized to trade with you because there's usually a benefit for them in the trade, like a free resource.

If these kinds of interactivity interest you, there are a bunch of attack, defensive, and trading cards to add to the game; if not, there are plenty of cards you can put in the game in their place. It really does allow you to customize the game exactly to your group's liking.


I love it when you discover different aspects of a game that work well together. There are two, three, and four card combos throughout Colony just waiting to be discovered. As the game was developed, we discovered some combos that are truly awesome and incredibly satisfying to pull off. Some cards were tweaked to avoid being too powerful, but at the same time, if you're able to pull off a combo of cards every turn for a few turns in a row, you'll have your opponents wincing (haha) when it's your turn as they frantically scramble to figure out how to offset your devastating moves.

It's really hard not to list my favorite combos here — really hard — but I'm not going to because discovering them yourself is incredibly satisfying. Argh!

The Insert

With a game like Colony, which has dozens of cards to pick from each game, you need some form of organization for them. The first comparison most people will go to is Dominion, which has a similar number of cards and, at first glance, a very nice insert — unless, that is, you're a gamer who wants to keep their cards clean and in good shape, and you use sleeves. Then the Dominion insert fails miserably and makes a lot of gamers very sad.

The Colony insert went through seven iterations in design and prototyping, resulting in what is likely the best, most functional insert available in any game. Not only can you store both unsleeved and sleeved cards, but the cardboard label insert is used as a cover for three hidden pockets that hold score markers, CHIPIs, and dice, and that label insert snaps into place in the plastic insert to keep those items from moving around when the box gets turned sideways or jostled around. Just close the lid and the contents are securely held in place until the next time you play.

The Set-up App, and the Awesome Meta Rule

With all the variable cards in the game — you play with seven types, and there are 28 types from which to choose — you might not be sure which set to pick. The rules have a great starting set, and three additional tested sets for different types of players. Instead of having a deck of random cards to determine which cards to choose (you’re *so* much more sophisticated than that, right?), there’s a free Colony set-up app for iOS and Android phones and tablets that provides a random set of cards for each game. You can also specify which cards you want to see more often, all the time, or not at all, even while providing you with one card of each type (or not…that's an option in the app as well).

If you play multiple games of Colony in a row (and you very well might want to do just that), there's a special meta-rule you need to follow. The players who *didn't* win each pick one variable card to get rid of and a new one to replace it with. This way, the player who won by taking advantage of a card (or combo of multiple cards) has to find a new way to play next game, and each of the other players gets to pick a card they really like or that suits their particular play style.

An Honest-to-Goodness Strategy Dice Game

In general, I really like games in which you can plan out what you want to do based on where you start a game, or how things start to evolve around you. Each game of Colony starts you off in a different potential direction, and you have to evaluate what your options are each turn in the midst of planning your long-term goals, all the while being aware of what each of your opponents are doing.

Colony redefines how dice are used in games, with a randomized starting point for each turn — the active player rolls three dice, then they are drafted around the table — instead of the dice determining what you can do. The dice are merely a gentle nudge in one direction or another, but what you do with them — whether you store them, modify them, or use what you have to purchase something as you get them — is up to you. It allows for both short- and long-term strategic planning, as well as a pivot when you find yourself with a set of resources that could provide you with an alternative strategic direction as necessary.

Colony fills the void of a deep, strategy game with dice as a central part of it. The more you play, the more you discover additional nuances and combos that are really satisfying to pull off. I can't wait until everyone starts to get their hands on Colony when it is released at SPIEL 2016!

Ted Alspach
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Tue Sep 27, 2016 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Americanizing Terra into America

Ted Alspach
United States
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Background: Publishing Terra

In early 2015, Bézier Games, Inc. decided to publish the English version of Friedemann Friese's Terra. This was an easy decision once we found out it was available as I was a fan of Friedemann's Fauna (which was an SdJ nominee in 2009). While Fauna was focused on animals, Terra covered geography and history, two subjects I'm much more interested in than random animals (although I really liked Fauna despite that).

In Terra, players are asked three questions. One of them is always a location that corresponds to a region on the giant map of the world that makes up most of the game board. The other two questions are two of three possible categories: a year, a length, or some other number, which are all represented by segmented bars along the bottom of the game board. Each card has a full color photo on it, and the cards have a map/explorer feel to them. When it's your turn, you place a cube on the answer you think you know best from any of the three questions. Turns continue until you run out of cubes or decide to pass. (Answering incorrectly loses that cube for the next round, so you don't want to shotgun the board with cubes, or you'll be at a disadvantage in future rounds.) After everyone has passed, the answers are revealed and players score points: 7 points for a correct answer, and 3 points for an answer adjacent to the correct answer. The rules are essentially the same as in Fauna, with a few tweaks to simplify scoring.

Both games are sort of a cross between the variety of topics in Trivial Pursuit and the "get as close as you can" mechanism in Wits & Wagers, but the oversized board, full-color images on the cards, and additional mechanisms really set them apart.

So it's late spring 2015, and Bézier Games wants the English version of Terra out by Spiel 2015. Not a lot of time, though by using a German printer (piggybacking with other foreign publishers who were doing their own localization of Terra) it saved shipping time, which gave us an extra month to get the game ready. Initially, I figured we'd do a straight translation of the rules, cards, box, and the little text on the game board, and *boom* we'd have an English version ready to go.

Then reality set in. The U.S. is one of only three countries in the world that doesn't use the metric system, and all of the length answers on the cards (and the board) were in metric. Kilometers, millimeters, centimeters, whatevermeters — that just wasn't going to work in the U.S. While most game players can do some of that basic math to figure out the inches, miles, feet, yards, etc. relative to metric values, it's a pain simply because we don't think in metric, so playing would be a chore. Weirdly, pretty much all other English-speaking countries do use the metric system, though, so if we switched to good-ole imperial, they wouldn't be able to play (and they really *can't* do the math because they never need to convert unless they are dealing with Americans). The compromise was to make the board double-sided, with imperial on one side and metric on the other, and to have both imperial and metric units on the cards. Just that was a tremendous amount of work.

After starting the laborious process of adding imperial measurements to the cards, it was apparent that the English translation wasn't going to cut it; the translation was most likely done by a European who had an excellent command of the English language, but it was clear that English was not their native language. The phrasing was off, there were odd words and colloquialisms, and it was a little challenging to read, so every card, the entire rulebook, and the box were redone to make them more English-friendly.

During *that* process, we realized that while the game covered worldwide geography, many of the topics were things of little or no interest to most Americans, like soccer, various international organizations, and several other topics that were a result of either German or European familiarity that just didn't work for Americans. The U.S. is about 90% of the English boardgame market, so again, these things had to be fixed. In this case, it meant that we had to come up with dozens of new cards to replace the topics that didn't work.

Finally, there was the board. The German board (and the one used for all other languages) was very 8th-grade textbook-looking, which works great for Europeans who don't have a negative view of educational games. In the U.S., though, saying that your game is fun "and educational, too!" pretty much means that no one will even look at it. This isn't because Americans don't want to learn about things, but because there are so many crappy educational "games" made all the time that the word, when applied to games, has a different, mostly negative connotation. Thus, we hired an artist to redo the game board in a satellite-imagery style.

The game did (barely) make it out for Spiel even with all the additional work that had to be done.

During all of these changes, I kept wishing that there were more topics about things I was interested in, but then I realized that Terra just wouldn't work for most of those topics because the majority of them would have location answers based in the U.S., and they wouldn't be spread around the world evenly. Furthermore, while Terra's "year" answer track ranged from 5000 B.C. to the present day, most of the things on my want list took place in the last few hundred years.

America Is Conceived

By the time Spiel 2015 rolled around, I had already pinged Friedemann to ask whether I could do a new game based on Terra, but focused instead on America. Friedemann and HUCH! & friends (the German publisher that owns the rights to Terra) agreed, and I set to work. The first thing I did was write up all of the things I wanted this game to have that Terra didn't. Here's my initial list:

• Focus on America; all locations will be in the U.S. or in Mexico/Canada.
• Just two tracks: year and number. Every card will have the same three categories of questions.
• The location "regions" would be states, though some might be combined where it makes sense.
• The year track will be detailed for the last fifty years, then grouped in larger and larger increments to the B.C.s.
• The cards will fall into the following five categories: Entertainment, History & Politics, Geography, Technology & Science, and Games & Sports.
• The player to the right of the player with the box chooses a category, then the player with the box thumbs through the box to find a category card that matches it, moving all cards in front of that one to the back of the box. The player who found the card reads first.

As I look at this list now, the general direction was there, but pretty much every item above was tweaked at least a little. Here's how that happened:

• Focus on America; all locations will be in the U.S. or in Mexico/Canada. Well, Mexico and Canada went out pretty fast. (Americans don't know Mexican states at all and tend to have a very limited knowledge of Canadian provinces and territories.) On top of that, Canada is so freakin' huge it would have been two-thirds of the board. Because there's one ocean on each side of the U.S., each of which is adjacent to a whole lot of states, oceans went out as being an area to place a cube.

• Just two tracks: year and number. Every card will have the same three categories of questions. This is the only item from the original list that was solid from the start. In fact, this allowed me to change the design of the cards from Terra's to the three-column design in America, which allowed me to use labels for each column (State, Year, Number) right on the card box, so the questions didn't have to use those terms, thereby allowing the question text to be larger and more succinct. This set-up also prevented the need to have metric or imperial measurements on the board as the card asks specifically for a measurement type (which is usually imperial, due to the nature of the game), and you just answer with a number of that measurement.

The location "regions" would be states, though some might be combined where it makes sense. It didn't make sense to combine the smaller northeastern states where a lot happens and leave the bigger western states as single answers, so every state — regardless of size — was a possible answer for the location question. That decision allowed me to simply put "state" on the box in the column below the state question, so you know that the first (leftmost) question is always a state. The only problem that created was that the District of Columbia, where the city of Washington D.C. is located, is not a state, and a lot of historical stuff has happened there. In the end, the call was made to avoid questions for which D.C. was the answer. (Most of them were pretty obvious anyway.) Finally, what to do about Alaska and Hawaii, which have no adjacencies? Well, I made them adjacent to each other, and nothing else, for gameplay purposes.

The year track will be detailed for the last fifty years, then grouped in larger and larger increments to the B.C.s. Well, this sort of worked that way. The year track consists of five-year intervals from now until 1950 (sixty years, I was close), then gradually increases to 25-year intervals by 1700, then it makes a big jump to 1492, which is as far back as we go. (Sorry, native Americans!)

The cards will fall into the following five categories: Entertainment, History & Politics, Geography, Technology & Science, and Games & Sports. Close. The categories don't really matter (see below), but there are an even number of cards in the following five categories:

Entertainment (movies, television, music, books)
History & Geography (combined these two)

Products, Inventions, and Technology

Games, Sports, and Fun Activities

Food & Restaurants

Food turned out to be one of the most fun categories to include because there's so much stuff that originated in the U.S. or that was made popular by America. I had to be pretty creative with some of the location questions to avoid clumping in California, New York, and Illinois for all topics, but in the end there's a really nice variety of locations for the topics.

The player to the right of the player with the box chooses a category, then the player with the box thumbs through the box to find a category card that matches it, moving all cards in front of that one to the back of the box. This was a good idea in my head, but in practice it was difficult and confusing to players. This evolved until it ended up with the player with the box choosing which *side* of the box from which to read, and then the player to his left answers first, meaning the player who chose the question goes last at the table. Not quite I cut, you choose, but close!

Bonus points to me for coming up with a system to allow all the cards to be used once, with no repeats until all of the cards have been seen: After a card is scored, it is removed from the box and placed directly behind the "center" divider card. This works out so that the card you placed there will have its other side come out to the box end eventually. It's a slick system that seems very obvious in hindsight. <pats self>

Content Creation

Once the system was in place, it was time to create the cards. America ships with 168 double-sided cards, which (I'll do the math for you) is 336 topics, or 1008 questions — each of which needed to be thought of, written, formatted, researched, and tested. Games like America are very much dependent on the content of their cards, so a tremendous amount of time went into figuring out the topics and the questions/answers within those topics. After coming up with the 336 topics, I hired several writers to help research and write the questions and answers. In order to make that work, I had to develop a style sheet that listed all of the criteria, such as the questions being only so many words long, that every question and answer had to be focused on the U.S. (not just locations), and how long the "factoids" that appear on each card have to be — then I edited every single one of those, tested them, and had the cards proofed. Whew!

Solving the "I Dunno" Dilemma

During playtesting, one thing that I noticed — and this is true in Terra and Fauna, too — was that players were very involved in topics which most of them knew something about it, but that level of interest dropped considerable when they didn't know (or have any idea about) a topic or some of the questions. It's not fun to not know something, and random guesses can work in America, but they aren't that satisfying. Of course, there's no way to ensure that everyone who plays will know something about every topic. However, the way America works, you can always leech points from other players by placing next to their (likely correct) answers — but sometimes it seems like nobody at the table knows the answer to a question. Thus, what I refer to as the "don't pass" line (from craps) was born.

In addition to the standard answer spots, players can also place their cubes on the "No Exact" or "No Exact or Adjacent" spots, with a set each for States, Locations, and Numbers. If players get the feeling that no one knows an answer (maybe they haven't placed on that answer bar yet, or everyone is whining that they don't know anything about it), they can place a cube on one of these spots, and if they're right, they get points! Like all other spots on the game board, only one player can place on each of them, so there's some tension as to when to place (if at all) on those spots. It makes topics that otherwise would be an "it doesn't matter, none of us know that" into a fun little bluffing thing where you might place a cube out on a spot and state, "I remember that from a PBS special" when you really have no idea, then watch others pile up around you, then when everyone has used up their cubes, plop one down on the "No Exact or Adjacent" to scoop up a quick 7-point score.

These new spots underscore that there's a really solid game engine under the glossy trivia hood, which gamers will appreciate, and non-gamers will enjoy without realizing why.

Finalizing America for publication

One of the other concerns regarding the game was the price. America is a trivia game, and most trivia games are $25 games that are dropped off at non-gaming stores by the pallet around the holidays, hoping to score big and then be forgotten. (I'm sure they don't hope to be forgotten, but they usually are.) The goal for America has always been a little different; the idea is to redefine what a trivia game can be for Americans, with fun, engaging questions that are combined with elegant gameplay. I don't want America to be forgotten after a holiday blitz, but instead to be a game that can be pulled out time and again. The way the card replenishment system works, players will get more than fifty games out of it without ever seeing the same card twice — that's a lot of replayability.

But with an oversized game board, wood pieces (even though they are cubes, they're big, chunky cubes), and a ton of full-color cards, there's no way America could have bargain-bin pricing. It ended up at $45, which is still more than I would like it to be at, but the quality of the components and the gameplay make it a great deal (and if you do the math, that's less than 90¢ per game).

All sorts of other tweaks were made to the game during development, including adding a little icon behind the state question that indicates whether the answer is east or west of the Mississippi River (which just so happens to divide the country almost equally in terms of number of states, even though the amount of land on the west side is much greater than that on the east side).

There are a bunch of fun little in-jokes on several cards, a very meta card with the topic of "America the game", and the cube colors are red, white, and blue (as well as silver, black and light blue). And if you and your friends can handle it, you can also play with the "back" of the game board where the state names are blank...

America will be available at Gen Con 2016, and shortly thereafter in stores everywhere!
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Mon Jul 4, 2016 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: One Night Ultimate Vampire

Ted Alspach
United States
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Back in the Day...

After Daybreak (the standalone expansion to One Night Ultimate Werewolf) was completed in mid-2014, I figured that I was done with the One Night series for a while as the base game and Daybreak provided a pretty much complete experience for One Night players, ranging from simple roles to really interesting, complex ones. I thought I would probably put out a few more expansions because there are cards that were on the sidelines for a variety of reasons, but as far as gameplay goes, One Night was locked in place.

I had started working on One Night Revolution for Indy Boards & Cards, and I thought that ONR would be a nice sideways step for the mechanisms in the original One Night Ultimate Werewolf, mainly by splitting the role from the player's team. One of the things I had been toying with was preventing a player from using their night action in Revolution, and this was done by a player giving a "disable" token to another player, who would wake up later in the turn order to discover he couldn't do his night action because someone before him had disabled him. Neat idea, but for a variety of reasons it just didn't work in ONR.

Would You Like a Bite?

That idea of "giving" something to someone stuck with me, and one morning I woke up with the idea of a new One Night role card for a Vampire, who would "give" his gift of vampirism to another player by biting them. Actual physical biting was considered, then quickly dismissed, but the idea of the Vampire player giving a "bite" token to another non-Vampire player was pretty solid. Of course, then everyone would know who was bitten, which would suck (pun intended) for the victim.

New idea: What if everyone started with one of those tokens, a blank one, then the Vampire exchanged the blank one for a bite? Problem solved! But that would require ten blank tokens (one for each player) and a bite token (maybe two because of the Doppelganger) just for that one role card. The publisher side of my brain did the math and rolled his eyes at the designer side of my brain — yet another idea crushed by the realities of publishing.

Marks Take Hold and Won't Let Go

A few days pass, and in the Shower of All Great Ideas™ I'm struck by Cupid's arrow. Well, not his arrow (that would hurt, and I'm married, so it would be awkward, too) but instead by how I could get Cupid to work in One Night. Cupid, you see, is one of the more popular roles in Ultimate Werewolf: One player causes two other players to fall madly in love, so much so that if one of them dies, the other dies of a broken heart. These new tokens required for the Vampire role would also work for Cupid — two players could receive one of Cupid's arrows! And if Cupid woke up after the Vampire, Cupid could cure Vampirism. (A "love heals all wounds" kind of thing — very romantic of me in hindsight.)

So now there's a thing — these tokens could really add some flavor to the game by marking the players with various attributes. I renamed them "marks" (Mark of the Vampire and Mark of Love) and thought about what else would work with this new mechanism. The original idea was a Mark of Disabling, which sounded a little too crippling to be fun, but what if a special-powered vampire scared someone so much they couldn't do their night action? A Mark of Fear! The Count was given this ability — and an uncanny resemblance to a certain muppet.

The Marks of Nothing were renamed to Marks of Clarity during this process, too.

Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch of Mark-Manipulating Characters

Now things were looking good. I looked through the dozens of characters in Ultimate Werewolf Deluxe Edition to see whether any more might work with the new Marks system and found the poor Diseased role, who in the "big" game makes werewolves sick, preventing them from eating the second night. Of course, there is no second night in One Night (or it would be called "One Nights", which is a grammatical nightmare).

No one wants some terrible, very communicable disease, but because it is so contagious, the Diseased gives a Mark of the Disease to the player sitting directly to their left or right. And because the Diseased is on the village team, they have a really fun defense: If anyone points at a player with disease, that player (not their team) loses (even if their team wins) because thematically they contract the disease and die a horrible painful death while the other team members are partying in the village square to celebrate their victory.

What's really fun about this is that the Diseased can give their disease to a vampire, which still has to be killed in order for the village to win, but YOU don't want to be pointing at them. (You'll need to convince everyone else to do so while you point at some other random player, thus ensuring that your team will win, even though most of them will end up losing because they pointed at a Diseased player.) Really fun!

The Tanner in the original One Night Ultimate Werewolf, who has to die in order to win and in doing so prevents the werewolves from winning, is a fun role. I really like the idea of additional teams, and in creating the Assassin, that's what you get: a new "team" of one that can win only if his target, whom he's given the Mark of the Assassin, dies. He's got to convince the players to kill his target (he can't do it alone), knowing that if they suss out that he's the Assassin, his motives aren't to be trusted and they might go another way. However, with the Assassin, if he wins, other teams can still win, so if the Assassin is lucky enough to put a mark on a Vampire, he should have an easy time getting the village on his side. Likewise, if he's targeted an innocent villager, he might be able to sway the Vampires to help kill said villager.

One of my favorite new roles is yet *another* solo team. Originally I thought it might be fun if the Assassin had a helper, a morally-challenged Robin to the Assassin's Azrael-style Batman. (Extra points if you don't have to look up that reference.) The Apprentice Assassin would help the Assassin kill the player with the Mark of the Assassin — but after a few playtests, it wasn't nearly as interesting as I thought it would be. Keeping the name, the new Apprentice Assassin has a single goal: to be the Assassin. How does she do that? By killing the original Assassin! What's super cool about the interaction here is what happens at night: The Assassin wakes up and places his Mark of the Assassin on a player, then *doesn't close his eyes*. The Apprentice Assassin wakes up and sees him, and the Assassin sees her and knows she wants to kill him. They're totally aware of each other, but neither can say anything about the other or they'll never manage to kill their respective targets!

The Priest came about as a way for the Villagers to ward off the avalanche of Marks being played. He rids both himself and a player of his choice of any Marks, giving them a blank "Mark of Nothing". (That was the working title of the "empty" marks.) This worked thematically quite well as it ensured that the Priest couldn't be a Vampire *or* be in love. (You're welcome, Catholic Church.)

Mark Manipulators

One of the reasons people love the original One Night Ultimate Werewolf is because of the potential for role-switching. I wanted to add some of those abilities to this game, with a focus more on Marks than role cards. The Marksman is a Seer-like role, allowing the player to look at one player's card and one other player's Mark. The Pickpocket is the Robber's little brother, stealing a Mark from a player and replacing that player's Mark with their own. The Gremlin is like the Troublemaker on steroids (steroids that turn you into a weird blue monster), with the ability to exchange Marks *or* role cards, including your own.

Dusk vs. Night

The working title of the game was "Dusk" (nice symmetry with Daybreak, which had a lot of roles that took place at the end of the night) as most roles did their actions before the roles in One Night Ultimate Werewolf. To that end, there's a distinct break between Dusk and Night, where all players open their eyes and view their Marks, then close their eyes again. This allows players with "night" actions to use the info on their Marks when they do their actions — for instance, if the Pickpocket has the Mark of the Vampire, he knows that when he steals a Mark from a player, then that player will get his Mark of the Vampire; if he can convince the village of that, it should be an easy win for the village team. Should be.

Later in development of the game, when it was determined that the game worked incredibly well as a standalone, the decision was made to give it a new name, and One Night Ultimate Vampire was the clear choice.

Through a lot of playtests — One Night games have been playtested more than two thousand times for all three games — a few other roles were added and modified, and several (not mentioned here) were discarded.

!@#$%!@#$ Doppelganger

The original One Night Ultimate Werewolf game has a role called the Doppelganger. It's awesome and fun because it allows a player to look at another player's role card and essentially duplicate that role. Making the Doppelganger work initially was pretty difficult, and when Daybreak was being developed, all sorts of issues cropped up that had to be dealt with. With Vampire, those issues took on a whole new level of complexity.

The key with the Doppelganger is to get all the roles to work with it without having to modify the original role functionality at all. At least, that's the theory — and with the exception of the Copycat, I was able to pull it off. One of the things that had to be done was to provide another set of Marks just for the Doppelganger (similar to how there are two Shield tokens for Daybreak's Sentinel). The publisher side of my brain fought this pretty hard because it essentially added another punchboard to the game and about two pages to the rulebook as well as a new Doppelganger token because the number on the token (that determines wake order) had to change.

Things are a little weird for several edge cases, such as when the Doppelganger views the Apprentice Assassin because now the Assassin has two people gunning for him, but I guess that's part of the job, as anyone familiar with Grosse Pointe Blank will tell you.

That Amazing One Night App

The app for One Night would, of course, need to be updated with all the new roles, which by itself isn't too bad; it's the interaction with pre-existing roles that takes time. For instance, The Revealer (from Daybreak) flips over a card and leaves it there unless it was a Werewolf or a Tanner, in which case he flipped it back down — but the narration had to change because if the card is a Vampire, he has to leave it face up and the narration can say that only if a Vampire is in the game, and if there are no Werewolves in the game, he can only say Vampire and not Werewolves. Similar issues appeared with lots of other roles.

And then there's the !@#$%!@#$ Doppelganger. The app logic for the Doppelganger is SO confusing that the spreadsheet for the app needed all sorts of new "if" and "then" columns in it. Working through all the permutations was a brutal exercise to get everything just right. The positive, glass half-full view of this is that those permutations resulted in lots of rules clarifications for how things are supposed to happen, which led to notes in the rules to help players figure things out. The app is more useful than ever when you're combining Vampire with the original One Night Ultimate Werewolf and Daybreak.

For Vampire, I hired Eric Summerer much earlier in the process to provide narration for the new roles; this allowed for app and game testing much earlier than in previous One Night games, and while I've had to get corrections/updates from Eric several times, having "real" narration in a beta app for testing has been incredibly valuable.

Next, I started working on ideas for app enhancement. The app was already awesome, so I didn't want to mess with it too much, but there were some things that could be better. I designed a "verbose" mode for the Doppelganger that reads off the roles that have to take their action immediately when the Doppelganger wakes, and an expert mode that makes the night move super fast for experienced players.

No, Really, They're Epic

During development, I was convinced that Vampire would work only if there were no Werewolves. After all, the winning condition for Vampires and Werewolves were the same: No one on your team can die. That would result in Vampire/Werewolf team-ups to kill a villager, something that would be hard to stop if you're a villager.

But as expected, the Shower of All Great Ideas™ came through, and by changing the winning conditions for all three teams, Epic Battles not only work, but they're, well, Epic.

As a bonus, those three-way Epic Battles work with as few as three players!

I'm super-excited about this One Night prequel, and I think anyone who has enjoyed One Night will really have a lot of fun with the new mechanisms and roles!
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Mon Nov 16, 2015 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Suburbia 5★

Ted Alspach
United States
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While designing/developing Suburbia Inc, the first expansion to Suburbia, I was dead set on providing a five-player version of the game as it was something that several people asked for when Suburbia was released. Suburbia Inc was initially tested with five players, and during that time one of the critical discoveries was that the Market board — the big triangle that has the tiles priced below it — needed at least one extra slot for five players.

Five players worked, but it tended to be slower than I was comfortable with. Given that, the production cost of adding wood bits to a non-boxed expansion, and Lookout (the German publisher of Suburbia) questioning the concept of five players — it seems that this isn't so much an issue in Germany; I'll have to look into the cultural reasons at some point — the five-player portion was scrapped from the expansion.

Suburbia Inc was released, people seemed pretty happy with the new borders, bonuses, and challenges, as well as the new set of tiles, but I kept hearing requests for two things: (1) the ability to add a fifth player and (2) even more tiles to keep cities more interesting and unique — and that's what Suburbia 5★ ended up delivering, in a way that combined the two features but allows them to exist separately if players want to. The five-player part was kinda done, but there was this nagging feeling that it could be better. However, I put that aside and focused on the other aspect of the expansion: new tiles.

Tourism Tiles

In this particular case, the theme of the expansion (tourism) was at the forefront. I thought it would make cities much more interesting, if, as in real life, they had a few notable destinations that were unique to each of them, actual reasons you'd want to visit those cities, and as a result, might end up settling there. With that in mind, I set out to create fifty new, unique building tiles that would keep gameplay fresh and even more fun than the base game. For reference, both the base game and Suburbia Inc have at least two copies of each tile, so having unique tiles is indeed something quite different.

I started by listing all of the interesting kinds of tourist traps and landmarks that would be fun to have in your cities. Most of them were real world locations, and a few were amalgamations of some, while others were simply made up because they sounded interesting. As I looked at the list, I realized that having real world buildings next to fake ones just wasn't working, and there's always the possibility that some government bureaucrat would see their local landmark in the game and demand a licensing fee (since we all know they are busy web surfing at work anyway). So the decision was made to rename everything to new names, some of which are puns.

When figuring out the attributes of the tiles, the first thing to do was to assign them a color. (In Suburbia, each color represents a major "kind" of building: Blue for Commercial, Green for Residential, Yellow for Industrial, and Gray for Civic.) I had to be a little bit flexible in doing this eventually as tourist destinations are likely to be commercial more than not.

After that, it was time to assign benefits to the tiles. Most tiles have two benefits: an instant benefit and a conditional benefit. (Occasionally they don't have one or the other.) Because these tiles would be replacing existing base game (or Inc) tiles, some of the standard benefits had to be available, such as adding income and reputation. However, about one-third of the tiles have new functionality, such as the Dollar Arcade's instant ability that gives the player who builds it $1 for each population they currently have. It's in the B stack, so the player's population is typically between 15 and 30 when it's initially purchased...but if they invest in it towards the end of the game, it can be worth $70, $80, even $100!

At this point I had a lot more than fifty ideas for tiles, and decided that some of them would actually work better as Borders (which were introduced in Inc). I started with an additional twelve borders (same as Inc), but by the time the game was completed, that number was whittled down to six.


I liked the idea of rating all of the tiles from 1 to 5 tourist stars, with the 5-star tiles being the best ones, and the 1 star ones being just slightly more interesting than a standard building. I arbitrarily assigned star values to each tile, just to give me a place to start from, and realized that nothing quite reached 5-star status — partially because people have different tastes, and if I were using stars as the overall attractiveness of these destinations, even the traditional 5-star resort isn't really 5 stars for everyone because some people just aren't that interested in those resorts.

Now that I had the stars on the tiles, what would they do? Initially, I thought it could just be a collection thing where there would be a new Star goal, or maybe even a permanent Star goal that was worth double which everyone was vying for. On the subject of goals, one of the nagging criticisms of Suburbia is that if you have a fewest/lowest kind of goal, it can be difficult to win if an opponent just doesn't purchase a certain tile for no other reason than they don't need any of them, resulting in you missing out on your goal because you're tied, so the second use of stars could be for breaking ties in goals. Still, neither of those sounded all that compelling, and since stars were sort of the focal point of an expansion around tourism, they had to have more meaning. That's when I came up with the Star track.

There was some internal debate on the Star track about having it be an additional row on the players' borough boards, but because the actual number of Stars you have is irrelevant compared to how many more or fewer stars you have than your opponents, a new community track was put in place. And that's when the Star Track started to fall very nicely into place, doing the following:

1) Setting the turn order based on your position on the Star Track, with stacking order breaking ties. This, combined with the tie-breaking of goals for the leader, works amazingly well. In Suburbia, going last towards the end of the game is a distinct advantage because it allows you to move on goals without anyone being able to affect you. However, since ties are broken by the most stars, it presents an interesting decision point when you're close to other players with various goals.

2) Providing an extra population for the players who are furthest along the track, and removing a population from the players who have gone the least far on the track. This simulates the popularity of a town over time as people move into the places that are more interesting and have more to do than in less interesting towns.

3) Breaking ties for goals based on your position on the Star track at the end of the game. The last few spaces on the Star track limit the number of tokens that can be placed there to encourage a bit of a race towards the end of the game.

4) A little bump in income early in the track and a +1 bump in reputation later give players mini-goals to reach.

One of the things that naturally worked out was the use of Investment markers on tiles with stars; as with other benefits, Investment Markers double the number of stars on a tile, so if you want to jump ahead on the star track and no star tiles are available, you can simply invest in one you already have.

The goals for stars remained, but they are for the number of star tiles, not your position on the Star track. Black stars are used to indicate Star tiles, while Gold Stars are used for moving on the Star Track.

Several of the new tiles have star tile interactions, such as the Starry Sidewalk, which provides $2 for every star tile in play.

Five Players

Flexible turn order with the Star track is what really makes five players work in Suburbia. It potentially reduces the downtime between turns and keeps all players engaged at the end of each round (once all five players have gone) because that's when turn order switches and when some players gain or lose population.

From previous testing with five players in Suburbia Inc, I knew we'd need an additional spot on the Market board, which meant that 5★ would have to include a new Market board. That's okay because the new Star track needed a home, and that was a perfect place for it. To accommodate the needs for five versus two/three/four players, the board is double-sided (something I stole from Castles of Mad King Ludwig).

Five players also required a new borough board and set of wood tokens, which by popular demand are green. In addition, two copies of the base tiles — Suburbs, Heavy Factories, and Community Parks — were needed. Why two? Because in addition to the fifth player needing a set, the supply of extra base tiles was increased from four to five.

Tile Tweaking

As the game was in development, benefits and prices of tiles were constantly in flux, but the longest and probably most tedious portion of the development process was getting the prices right. The stars add value to tiles, but how much? How much more is a player willing to pay for a Star tile with the exact same benefits as a non-star tile? This part is that 20% of the work that takes 80% of the time.

Then there's the testing of the tiles with all of the base game tiles and figuring out what the correct mix of tiles is. With any Suburbia expansion, there's the risk of dilution for some of the tile icons, like Airports and Schools; adding in too many new tiles results in less interaction for the remaining tiles with those icons. There are ways to get around this, but they're really cumbersome and require super long set-up times. In the end, it was decided that a simple random mix of tiles was fine, and if players want to customize their stacks to avoid dilution, they may do so.


Most purchasers of Suburbia Inc were very happy that it didn't come in a box since they would be storing the expansion in the original box anyway. I didn't know if that would be possible with the new expansion due to the wood pieces, but I was able to do it with some clever packaging.

Using the rules and the "back of the box" info sheet as the top and bottom of the expansion, I created a hole in every punchboard where the wood pieces sit. Manufacturing inserts a baggie with the wood pieces into the holes, covers the punchboards with rules, shrinkwraps it, and voilà! A boxless expansion that has wood pieces in it.

The resulting expansion adds just enough of a twist to Suburbia to be fun for all players, regardless of player count, and if you have five in your game group, you'll all be able to play!

Ted Alspach
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Wed Jul 29, 2015 1:40 pm
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Designer Diary: Social Deduction Nirvana with One Night Resistance

Ted Alspach
United States
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First off, One Night Resistance isn't a knock off of either One Night Ultimate Werewolf or The Resistance. It's a totally different game that stands on its own.

If you love The Resistance, One Night Resistance provides these new features:
-----• Variable Spy counts (0-3 in each game)
-----• As much fun to be Resistance as it is to be a Spy
-----• Shorter (~10 minute) games
-----• Unique abilities for each player
-----• Engaging at player counts as low as three, all the way up to ten
-----• Role changing

If you love One Night Ultimate Werewolf, One Night Resistance provides these new features:
-----• The ability to play without an app
-----• Lots of public information to discuss following the night phase
-----• The structure of The Resistance, including a Leader and rotating around-the-table gameplay
-----• Roles and abilities are separate
-----• The great artwork and feel of The Resistance universe


I've known Travis Worthington of Indie Boards and Cards for several years, as those of us in the gaming industry "know" each other from seeing one another at trade shows a few times a year. Of course, with Travis it's a bit different because he's local; we both reside in the Bay Area of northern California (though on opposite ends). In early 2014, he approached me to see whether I was interested in having IBC do a "retheme" of One Night Ultimate Werewolf into the Resistance universe, something that had been really successful for Coup. A straight retheme didn't seem particularly interesting, though I knew that there is a huge group of Resistance players who will never give One Night Ultimate Werewolf a chance because of the theme and/or its association with "regular" werewolf.

What did interest me is somehow combining the "Resistanceness" of The Resistance with the "One Nightedness" of One Night Ultimate Werewolf. Let's step back for a moment so that you can understand why this would be interesting.

First off, let me say that I love The Resistance. (As a gamer, I like Avalon more, but that doesn't change how I feel about The Resistance.) My first play of the game was a little rocky, with other gamers who didn't quite get it at first. But I warmed up to it quickly, and I really liked the similar social deduction feeling it had to werewolf. I've probably played hundreds of games of Resistance and Avalon.

Of course, at the time The Resistance was first published in 2009, Ultimate Werewolf was just starting to take off. Ultimate Werewolf was my way to address what I thought the issues with werewolf were (or at least, the issues of all the commercial versions up to that point were): It was the first version of werewolf to have a comprehensive set of rules (including pages and pages of moderator tips and guidelines), names and role descriptions written on the cards, and an appropriate art style for the genre. It also had lots of other innovative things like a moderator scorepad and a built-in game balancing system. It was werewolf for people who already really liked werewolf...and many of them loved it as a result of using the Ultimate Werewolf set.

However, Ultimate Werewolf didn't address the two primary issues werewolf-haters had with the game: the need for a moderator and player elimination. Personally, I like both of those as a good moderator can make any werewolf game better, and player elimination in werewolf creates a tension that you just don't get in any other game; the threat of elimination is the real mechanism here as it drives the game forward with intensity. That said, many people will never play werewolf because of one or both of those mechanisms. The Resistance found a way to solve both of those issues in a novel way.

Most importantly, The Resistance added a very firm structure to the narrative of the game. There's a Leader who appoints a set of players to go on a mission, and those appointees are voted on by all of the players. The players on the mission vote secretly and simultaneously on whether to make the mission a success. It's all very organized and logical, and while the number of mechanical decisions are limited (and thus easy to understand and use in the game), the possibilities are immense, and the discussion during each game is always lively and engaging. The Resistance also simplified the role structure by making each player simply a Resistance member or a Spy. (Of course, this was expanded upon in expansions and more notably in Avalon.) The Resistance is a game that a Vulcan would enjoy (though they would never show it).

Skip ahead a few years to One Night Ultimate Werewolf, which addressed those issues as well, but entirely differently; while The Resistance had a solid structure and limitations on character powers to avoid a moderator, One Night Ultimate Werewolf had an app act as the moderator. (Yes, you can play without it, but the free app is the way to go if you can.) The Resistance addressed player elimination by never voting out players, even though you play 3-5 rounds and some players could be outed as Spies before the game is over. One Night Ultimate Werewolf addressed player elimination by limiting the game to a single night, so the "death" of a player at the end of the day didn't matter as another new game would simply start up because the current game is over.

One Night Ultimate Werewolf added some other novel things as well: Role switching, impossible in "regular" werewolf in one of the two directions for a variety of reasons, gives the game its hook. Now not only are you trying to figure out who to kill, you need to figure out if you're still on the same team you started on (a prerequisite for figuring out who to kill). The addition of three mystery cards in the center of the table eliminated the ability for all players to have perfect information, and also provided the possibility that there might not be any werewolves at all, in which case the village has to agree not to kill anyone in order to win. And of course, the game takes less than ten minutes to play, and can be played with as few as three players.

One Night + Resistance = AMAZING

Combining the essences of these two games would result in a social deduction game that had both a solid narrative structure and the possibility of role switching. And maybe, while I'm at it, I could make it so an app wasn't required, and there would be a way to get the initial conversation of what happened at night moving along.

That was my frame of mind as I sat down and started putting concepts together for the game, which in many ways designed itself based on the framework above. Fortunately for me, the resulting game was as compelling as the two originals, and even more so in some ways.

The first set of rules, written about one month after Travis and I first started discussing this project, is remarkably close to the final, shipping game. There were lots of tweaks and balancing of abilities ("specialist" cards in the game), but the core is still there. Here's what I came up with initially:

There are three Spy role cards and one Resistance role card for every player in the game. Always. No chart needed. There are several specialist cards, many of which allow Spies to do one thing and Resistance to do another. The Leader starts the night out by telling everyone to close their eyes, having the spies wake up to see each other, having them close their eyes. Then the Leader does his night action (on his specialist card), and when he's done, he says "Mission accomplished". Then the player to his left does his night action and says "Mission accomplished", and so on until it's back to the Leader, who gets to look at his role card one more time before waking everyone up.

Starting with the Leader, everyone says what action they took during the night (they may lie), in clockwise order. In the final game this is even better as they are required to take a specialist token. This jumpstarts the conversation right away. Players can discuss amongst themselves for five minutes — in the final game the timer is optional; instead the conversation goes until the Leader calls for a vote when a majority of the players agree a vote should take place — at which time everyone must point at someone; the player with the most fingers pointed at him reveals his card, and if he's a Spy the Resistance wins. If he's not a Spy, the Spies win. The Leader token passes to the left and you can play another game.

That's the core of the game right there. Through playtesting and development, the following items were added, removed or modified:

The Specialist cards were modified several times, making sure they were balanced properly. A double-sided reference card was created, with one side being the basic "first game" specializations, and the other having the complete list. The Specialist tokens were added and required to be taken upon waking.

One session of playtesting really stands out: At the end of BGG.CON 2014, Travis and I recruited Jeremiah Lee, Alan Gerding and Sean McCoy of Tuesday Knight Games (Two Rooms and a Boom), and Dan "Game Boy Geek" King to playtest a few games. They wanted to keep playing even after multiple games over a few hours, and even after both Travis and I repeatedly crushed them. (Note to everyone: Travis is not bound by "the truth" in any way.)

While a great deal of playtesting was done with this game, it came together pretty quickly. I'm really proud of the resulting game, and I think Travis and I have managed to create a game that will appeal to both One Night Ultimate Werewolf fans as well as The Resistance fans, and hopefully pick up a few more fans on the way.

Ted Alspach
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Mon Apr 20, 2015 6:00 am
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Designer DAILY Diary: Castles of Mad King Ludwig I

Ted Alspach
United States
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This is going to be a slightly different read than the typical designer diary. As noted below, as I started to design Castles of Mad King Ludwig, I just had one of those feelings that it was extra special, so I wrote down my progress almost daily for about four months. (Coincidentally, I had just gone "full time" for game designing/publishing a month earlier, so I did have more time available to do this.) Looking back on it now, it's really interesting (to me, at least) how the game evolved.

The diary stopped in August 2013 as the game was probably 90% "designed" but still only 50% developed. Castles had been playtested over three hundred times when it made it to the printer in mid-2014.

With that said, I hope you enjoy what is probably the most detailed (and longest) designer diary I'll ever write. (I'm pretty excited about future games, too, but I haven't chronicled their development like I have here.) I've gone through and indicated items that made it to the published game in RED so that you can see when different aspects of the game appeared during the process.

Friday, May 3rd, 2013
Woke up at 2am with the base idea. I've wanted to do a micro or macro version of Suburbia, but I had (for the Micro version) been thinking more along the lines of infrastructure: roads, electric, sewer, water, trash, etc. But I woke up thinking what if, instead, players could build their own buildings? Most buildings would be boring, but a mansion...oooh, that would be really interesting. Fell back asleep with a mental post-it note stuck to my brain about the idea.

At 6am, woke up and ran to my computer to write up the first concept/rules/overview document (see document from 5-3-13). Working title is "Mansions of Suburbia."

Then I started futzing around in Illustrator with different rooms and connections. Sized everything to fit in an 11" high by 22" wide playing area. You can build a pretty awesome mansion in that space. Here's an image of what I ended up with:

Researched all the types of rooms you might find in a contemporary mansion and in mansions from medieval times.

Wrote up a giant list of all the rooms I came up with. About 200 in all. Then categorized them by type: living, sleeping, eating, outdoor. Split living into five sections: living (relaxing), activity, corridors, utility, and basement. I like eight categories. It's double that of Suburbia.

Started making initial buildings in Illustrator. Basic, no real art, just different colors/symbols for each type. Each building that's at least 2x2 has a "star" value, which I'm calling Prestige right now but I'm thinking of it as "Awesomeness". How awesome is it to have each type of room in my mansion? Kitchen, just one. Bedroom, one. Throne room? Five. Dungeon? Five.

Came up with different criteria: Adjacent, connected, each of your. Every doesn't make sense since I think I will have all unique rooms except for hallways, stairs, bathrooms and bedrooms, and rooms never get flushed. I want it to be 2-5 players out of the gate. I think there will be a solo and/or bot game in there somewhere, but for now I'm going to focus on the multiplayer game.

Thinking about goals and how they would work here. Lots of ideas, including public goals similar to Suburbia, private goals similar to Suburbia Inc (expansion) stack bonuses/challenges, and tiered goals. The latter feels better for this kind of game.

Saturday, May 4th
Finished creating buildings in Illustrator. Printed them out, pasted them up via Xyron to cardboard and cut them. 210 rooms to start with. Here's a sample of the first set of test rooms.

Designed a "contract board" where the rooms are placed in order to auction them off.

Came up with a deck of 32 room cards that represent all the shapes and frequency of those shapes in the game. That's what the start player will use to determine what room values are and how much he'll get paid for them.

Created a new version of the rules, this time more rule based and less conceptual.

Mansions of Suburbia
A building game for 2-5 players

Updated Rules: May 4, 2013

MoS is a tile laying building game in which each player is trying to build the most opulent, large, and over-the-top mansion possible. Players are contractors, looking for the best deals on rooms.

160 Room tiles of all shapes and sizes
50 Hallway/Stairway tiles
32 Shape cards
1 Contract Board
$XX in money
Start Player token
20 End Game Goals
10 Player Challenges

Each player receives one Foyer and $30 (thousand) in cash. Place the Foyer in front of each player. Randomly determine a Start Player.

Place the Contract Board in the middle of the table, and place the hallways/stairs on their spaces there.

First Round:
The start player draws cards equal to the number of people playing, and places a building tile of the sizes drawn on the Contract Board at whatever prices he chooses.

Each player (including the Start Player), starting from the player to your left of the Start Player chooses one of the rooms or a hallway/Stairs and pays you for it. If they pass, they receive $5 and you receive nothing. When it comes to your turn, you pay the bank for the tile/upgrade you choose. If you pass, you receive $5 from the bank. Unselected tiles get $1 placed on them. Then the start player moves to the person on the left.

Subsequent Rounds:
The start player draws cards equal to the number of people playing or the number of empty spaces on the contract board, whatever is less, and places a building tile of the sizes drawn on the Contract Board at whatever prices he chooses. If there are buildings on any of those spaces, he may move them to a different price before placing.

Placing Rooms:
When it is your turn to take a room, you have the following choices:
• Buy a room and place it.
• Buy a Hallway/stairs and place it.
• Pass.

If you buy a room or hallway/stairs, you must place it in your mansion using the following rules: A door from the new room must align with another door of a room already in your mansion that can be traced back to the Foyer. New tiles may never overlap each other. You may align doorways to walls, as long as you follow rule #1 above.

Game end
The game is over immediately after the round in which the last room has been purchased. Players determine the value of their Mansion plus any cash on hand. The player with the highest overall value wins!
Ran through a simple two-player mini-playtest of placing rooms one at a time based on a limited selection. No money, no score...yet. Not particularly compelling, but I did discover that hallways need to have doorways...that was really frustrating. Not looking forward to redoing all the hallways. All hallways should have doors on every available space.

This is when I decided to write a live diary. I wrote all of yesterday's entries and today's just now. I'm not sure if I'll be able to keep this up, but hopefully I will and the game doesn't sputter and die. (Most designs do, but this feels extra special.) ‘Cause if this game never sees the light of day, writing this won't be nearly as useful. Now I'm wondering if writing this will spur me on to work on the game when I might have shelved it otherwise. What would have happened to Suburbia if I had never shelved it and let it gel in the back of my mind for a few years like I did, but instead went full speed ahead with it? Would it simply have been out sooner in a form very very similar to how it was published, or would it have been dramatically different? I wish I had my thoughts and notes from the early days of its development...for my BGG designer diary I had to go back and piece a lot of it together from old files and their "last modified" dates. I got most of it right, but there's no way I could remember it all. If MoS makes it, this'll be an incredible reference tool. And now I'm back to wondering how much this particular diary will influence the design/development of the game. Heavy stuff.

Realized I need some time away to recalibrate, so took twelve hours off (from 6pm Saturday to 6am Sunday).

Sunday, May 5th
Up at 6am, redid hallways. Yuck, just busy work but needed to be done. grabbed a Suburbia scoreboard, some small ceramic stars, Suburbia 5s and 1s and headed downstairs for a "real" playtest. Spent four hours doing a real self playtest with four players. With money and having the Start player choose the values, and keeping score (still no goals though), it's very engaging. Set the game length to (tentatively) three times through the deck (96 cards), about thirty turns. Found a few issues with various tiles, but nothing game-breaking. This is going to take a long time to balance correctly. Stopped after playtest for a nap to recharge (after all, it is Sunday).

After a relaxing two-hour nap, I worked on goals. I'm going with Tiered goals (first gets X, second gets x, etc.) for things like most rooms of a type (8), and most bathrooms/halls/bedrooms. And also most square feet of each type (8). That's 19 there, but also most total square feet and most money. That's 21. I'm making them 16/8/4/2/0, using the top X number for each player type. That way first place is always a bonus of eight stars, regardless of the number of players. I'm happy with that bit of cleverness. Those are the public goals.

For personal goals, they are following Suburbia challenges: They are "at least" challenges, so you have to have "at least" X in order to get 10 stars at the end of the game. You'll get to pick between two of them at the start of the game, so you have a better chance of not conflicting with goals on the public board (more important for 2/3 players than 4/5).

Did a real four-player playtest with Toni, Gage and Dakota (they're awesome for trying stuff out so early on), and it went well. Feels a little long, and there are things to work on, but it's a good, solid start.

Monday, May 6th
Up early to do a bunch of little fixes. Foyers need built-in player colors. The main scoreboard needs to be changed: There need to be places for the goals, and I'm removing 1x2 and 2x5 hallways and their designated areas from the Contract board. I also had to redo the Long Hallways and change them from 1x7 to 1x6, and make more of them (since there are no more 1x5s). Also added "steps" to the stairs to show them going from light to dark. For production, it makes sense to make the hallways double-sided, with one side white (main floor) and the other side darker (basement).

Tuesday, May 7th
A bit of a setback today as I came down with a nasty cold that essentially had me bedridden. I needed to do more testing in order to refine (which definitely can't be done in bed), so I took the opportunity to work on Suburbia Inc and other Bezier Games items, and spent some time refining the rules, including trying to shore up the downstairs rooms concept.

While I'm writing this, it might be a good time to write up the similarities and differences between Suburbia and "Mansions":

I also put out some feelers to get a graphic designer to work their magic on my ridiculously lame design for the rooms. That'll help a lot!

Wednesday, May 8th
A big self playtest (three-player) today, with the goal of taking lots of notes and addressing certain issues, number one being the length of the game. The first way to solve the length issue is by taking out some of the cards used to populate the contract board with rooms: Removing four of the 32 cards (two 100 sqft, two 200 sqft) results in saving 1/8th of the game time. Another way to solve the issue is to remove one of the eight choices on the contract board; now there are only seven spots (the 8 and 6 spot have been combined to become a 7 spot). Yet another way is to change the "number of players or empty spots on the board, whichever is fewer" for cards being dealt: only in the beginning of the game did that matter, so now it's always the empty spaces, even on the first turn.

Removing cards means I have to remove 20 of the 160 buildings. Most of these will be bedrooms (ten) and bathrooms (five) along with five other 100sqft buildings.

Another thing that I don't like is that there are too many room sizes. There are twelve right now, along with two different sizes for hallways and stairs. I want to get that down to ten room sizes. It probably makes sense to get rid of the in-betweens, moving them to other sizes. So I'm thinking about making some of the 2x3s into 2x2s, 2x5s and 2x7s. (There are already 25 2x4s.) And then making all the 3x4s (ten) into 3x5s and 3x6s.

During this playtest I discovered that the goal of total sqft is NOT fun to compute — it's hard enough to add up the sqft for one type, but all would be painful — so that goal has to go away. And I came up with a good idea for what to replace it with: External doors (most).

During the first four-player playtest on Sunday, one of the playtesters mentioned what would happen if they ran out of doors to connect to? Of course, that would break the game because nothing could be added to the mansion. So I've added a rule to always have at least one door that can be accessed from the outside (not from an enclosed "outside" space). Of course, it's still possible for a player to hose themselves by making that door in a spot where they can't fit any rooms or by making the only door outside on an edge of an outdoor room's last empty edge (though I have a fix for that upcoming, see below).

I really like the attributes of downstairs and outside buildings: I like that they have certain restrictions (downstairs must be played downstairs, while outside must always have at least 1 edge empty). I'm thinking I should double-down on those attributes and make it more clear on the tile. (Right now there's no indicator on the downstairs tiles, and the outside tiles each have text on them, as some of them require more than one edge to be empty.) I think I'll make ALL outside rooms have one edge empty, and I'll designate that edge right on the tile. That might hurt connectors, so I'll have to check on each of them and see whether I need to add more doorways. I think I might be able to do the same with Downstairs iconography...on the stairs as well as the downstairs tiles. I'm thinking that the other room types might also benefit from some kind of attributes too, but there are six other types to work on. Yikes.

One of the chief complaints with Suburbia is it's hard to remember that you have a tile that is impacted by "every" tile of a type in the game. Well, Mansions doesn't care about tiles that aren't in your mansion, but it does have a lot of "each of your" conditional statements. Those should be different than the connected/adjacent ones. Maybe I could add a halo around those to make them show up better.

I'm also thinking that the "connected" conditions should always be bonuses, and the "adjacent" ones should always be negatives. But the "each of your" conditions could be either.

I really need to make some dark hallways for basements: double-sided is a pain, but for now I can make separate ones that are dark.

Also, the corridors that you get points for can't be hallways. They can be halls, which is much nicer sounding. Also, they shouldn't be completely wide open. They should have fewer doorways than hallways (but still a lot of doorways).

This evening I finally found the right term for the "star points": Luxury. I think that totally works. Luxury Points. It's just the right amount of over-the-top.

I contacted Dale Yu (who did the dev work for me on Suburbia) to see whether he'd be around at Origins so I could show this to him as a possible dev work project for him. He's open to it. I didn't give him details on anything yet except that it was a "spiritual successor to Suburbia" which I think is apt.

Thursday, May 9th
Woke up thinking that Luxury isn't the right term. What I'm really going for is "awesomeness" points. That sounds silly. Maybe if I put it in the rules it'll start to sound better.

Here are the eight rooms and their defining characteristics:
Outdoor: one edge is always empty
Downstairs: must be downstairs. Has two doors unless it's a pit (which must be connected directly to stairs)
Activity: Always has three doors
Sleep: Always has two doors on adjacent sides
Utility: Always has one door (special bathroom exception)
Food: Always has two doors on opposite sides
Living: Always has four doors, one on each edge
Corridors: Halls have multiple doors, stairs have two doors

I redid the vast majority of the rooms, and now all of them follow the above criteria. That means I have to print them out again in order to test them. Yuck!

I've gotten in touch with a few graphic designers to see whether they can put some magic into the current design.

I've updated the look of the shape cards to be blueprints. (I think that might be a nice theme for the "back of the tile" look as well.)

Friday, May 10th
It's going to be longer than I had hoped for the updated room artwork, so I printed another set of rooms (six 11x17 sheets) this morning (full set #2, if you're counting). Now I have to apply adhesive, mount them, and cut them. Yuck. But I'll have a totally updated set, albeit with the old graphics. But in order to move forward, I need to continue to test what I have. Besides, it's not like I'm not going to make changes to the rooms anyway.

I think I will print out stickers to put on the back of each tile with their sizes. I think I'll use Avery sheets for this, so they are consistent.

Renaming the game to "Mansions" for now because every one thinks it's an expansion for Suburbia with the old name. I'd like to take advantage of the Suburbia name, but not at the expense of people thinking it's an expansion.

Printed out all the tiles again and new stickers. Added "Most and fewest external doors" to the goals and a new eight external doors challenge.

Did a Real two-player playtest w/ Toni, going through the now 27-card deck twice, and it was again, too long.

Saturday, May 11th
Started the day with a four-player self test, and determined that the player challenges are too hard and too random...a few players never saw their needed tiles come up hardly at all. Midway through put in a new rule: When taking $5, you also take two new challenges and look at them, and keep 1. It worked for one player, but for two other players, they just got screwed. Seemed too random as well.

Redid the challenges to be about 1/2 of the requirements for rooms/sqft, and half the points (5/6 instead of 10/12). Will keep the new "take two when you take $5" rule, but will now add the rule that you get NEGATIVE points for missed challenges. I'm concerned about everyone using their last few turns to churn through the challenges, but the negative potential should offset that. And the game won't end until all the cards have gone through, so maybe it's not too bad.

For now, I'm removing the fifth player. I think it would be unbearably long.

Other changes: $2 per unused tile in a four-player game instead of $1.

Played another four-player self playtest through with the updated challenge rules, and it was pretty compelling. I'm not sure about the Take $5 *AND* one of two tiles; that seems harsh, but then again, if you can't buy anything on a turn because you blew your stash on something, you KNOW you don't have anything for the next turn (unless you are start player next turn, then you might).

The $2 per tile worked pretty well for four players. I'm thinking that maybe I should keep it $2/tile for two and three players and make the difference that for three players you don't use the $1 spot, and for two players you don't use the $1 OR $2 spot. Gotta do the math there, but I think that works.

The length of the game seems better now: I set it for four players so that you run through the deck twice, but you take seven rooms out randomly first. That was a good length. I think. We'll see with real people.

Sunday, May 12th
I'm still struggling with a way to make the game the correct length for different player numbers. Going through the deck twice for four players (plus an initial seven room placement) is a good length for four, but that's too long for two, and probably for three as well. Today will be a three-player self test to see whether it is indeed too long. There's a tradeoff of good game length vs. giving players the idea that they are actually building a mansion (and not just a big house). You need a lot of rooms for a mansion.

Self playtest with three worked; it's a reasonable length. But it's still missing something. What is that mystery ingredient?

After a dip in the pool and a long hot shower (good ideas often come in the shower), I had an idea: Each of the room types don't just have physical attributes, they give you a special power when you COMPLETE them. Completing them means that all their doorways lead somewhere: another room or corridor. (Note from August 2014 Ted: This aspect was the turning point in the game. The room completion rewards are awesome.) Here are the ideas I came up with:

Bonus points
Double regular room points
Extra buy (on the turn the room is completed)
Free Basic Corridor (for corridors, of course) to be placed immediately
Ability to move any (other) room, keeping of course the basic rules intact (must be able to get from Foyer to the room, etc.
Get to pick up Challenge tokens (see below on my change to this)

Now to assign them to each type!

For challenges, the issue continues that if you get them late in the game, they're really random how much they help/hurt you, so I am going to change them to much smaller amounts, and make challenges PER instead of a larger total. For instance, 1 point PER every 200 sqft of each room, or 1 point PER each room of one type. I could also do other smaller things like 1 point PER each completed room, 1 point PER each room TYPE you have, 1 point PER each specific size room (oooh, that's a good one), 1 per each size you have.

As I was typing up the bonuses, I realized that #5 above would cause total chaos with scoring: moving a room. Would you have to subtract scores? If a room was complete, would it be completed again or should the completeness bonus be taken off? Any time I see the potential for a rules nightmare, I'm pretty fast to shut it down, unless the feature/mechanism is incredibly huge. This one isn't. But now I'm at six out of eight. Gotta think about those other two.

For now I have Utility and Downstairs without completed bonuses. Utility rooms have one door, so that's weird, because it happens as soon as you place it.

Monday, May 13th
I created the player aid for the room type bonuses. Still don't have one for sleep. Changed the Utility bonus to be get one challenge (no looking through the stack). Seems a little more random, but faster and not guaranteed to be as much of a bonus if the player got to look through each of them.

I created all the updated and new challenges. There are now thirty of them (compared to seventeen before).

Updated the Contract board to show the tiering of the goals...It has space for the goals above, the rooms below and the stairs and hallways to either side on top. Keeps the board really small.

Tuesday May 14th
Started the day with a four-player self playtest. Lots of great ideas, and giving the room types bonuses for completing has worked really well. In addition, I came up with something for the Sleep rooms: Completing a Zzzz room allows the player to sort through a single pile of rooms of their choice and rearrange the order of that stack in any way they choose. I don't want to make it too complicated, but in order to prevent two players from doing the same stack on the same (or even subsequent) turns, I want to put a token on a "viewed" stack that comes off only when a room from that stack goes to the contract board.

Lots of other ideas and changes:
• I'm changing all the prices so that they are 1/2 of what they were: once I started going to $2 per untaken room, this was probably inevitable.
All the downstairs rooms are now changed to EACH OF YOUR and they don't have a completion bonus.
• No other room types will have EACH OF YOUR, which will, I believe, SOLVE the Suburbia "I forgot I had that" problem...if you have a downstairs room, you have each of yours; otherwise you don't. Simple.
Activity rooms will all have -1 for being next to certain room types. It's a good tradeoff from the +7 points you get when completing them.
Utility room bonus will be take two, keep one challenge. (It was just take one, but that's lame and too random.)

Successful two-player game (with Toni) this evening. She's very excited about the game now. (This was her first play with the new "completed" bonuses, and she likes them a lot.) Also, the game length seemed about right. (After the initial five room display, the cards were reshuffled and we went through the deck once.)

Rules are now two pages in Pages with two columns each as I've added lots of text for each room type.

Still waiting on artwork...the folks I've hired haven't quite gotten it yet.

Wednesday May 15th
I've given up on the artists for now. It appears that room design for boardgames is a skill that most designers just don't have. One already sent me a note telling me it just wasn't working (it wasn't), while the other continues to give me substandard stuff.

I've come up with a solid design for the rooms that should take me all the way through most playtesting. I'm calling it 3rd Gen, since it's the 3rd generation of my design (though 1 and 2 Gen were pretty similar).

All day has been spent redoing tiles. Each room is a separate file, which means that making changes to individual rooms for updates will be much easier. Had a setback midday when I realized that doorways weren't lining up.

The good news is that as I'm doing this I'm creating a much better set of rooms that match better.

As I'm working on redoing the artwork, I've also made a change to the structure of the sets of sizes: Most sizes will have three or four room types in them, and that's all. This should reward multiple plays of the game as users will have a better idea of what is in each stack (and it gives a little more oomph to the Zzzz bonus of going through a room size and reordering). So lots of rooms are being moved around from one size to another.

I'm also working on the theme a bit more for connections, trying to have them make as much sense as possible. It's still not as clear as Suburbia, but most of the time it makes sense.

Thursday, May 16th
More work on the redoing of the artwork. I finished 100, 200, 250, 225 and 350 sizes yesterday, so today I did the rest: the 375, 400, 450, 500 and 800 sizes. Jeesh, there are a lot of rooms. But this was finished and printed, and I redid the backs (before I had just been using printed stickers that had the blueprint grid with the size). Now the backs are consistent and cover the entire back of the tile, with the sqft in the center of the tile.

Printing, sticking and cutting the tiles took me about two hours. Not too bad, but I don't want to do this that often. Hopefully this set will last a long time with only minor tweaks.

One little adjustment is that larger living areas now have two types of rooms connected for bonuses.

As I was going through the process, I decided to remove all of the outdoor "courtyard" room types and replace them with other names. I want to call any internal empty surrounded area in a mansion a "courtyard," which could be a goal as well as a challenge.

Another change is that there are no more "pits" 'cause they just weren't fun.

Played a pair of two-player games with Toni today, and both were very compelling. Toni also did a runthrough of the rules and marked up lots of stuff. The second game was the first really competitive one, with Toni coming in three points behind me at the end. (I had been winning by 10-20 points in most previous playtests.) The designer advantage is wearing off the more Toni plays. Rats.

Friday, May 17th
It's hard to believe it's been a full two weeks of pretty much daily improvements/playing/testing/design for Mansions, but it has been, and the game has evolved pretty dramatically. I like the spot it's in right now, so today will be a day of rule fixing and a three- and a four-player self test.

{later) Well, I didn't get in any self testing; instead I played three two player games with Toni and one three-player game with Toni and Gage. I'm still undefeated, though the last game we played had me eking out victory by a single point. Lots of good ideas were tossed around during the game. Gage tried a unique "hallway stacking" strategy where he obtained about six hallways on a single turn by completing them one after the other. It's not game breaking, and it's probably not that great of a move — it takes at least three turns to pull off, not including the initial hallway you placed — but it's cheap and reminded me why playtesting with real people is important.

Saturday, May 18th
After yesterday's playtest sessions, a few things were apparent:
• The Yellow Chain isn't very thematic. I will be removing Food connection bonuses (to other Food rooms) as a way to partially solve this.
• The Sleeping room completion bonus is still lame. My idea to fix this is to change it: now the person completing the Sleeping room picks up a stack and places one room on TOP of the room card stack. It's much more powerful that way, and it does away with Sorting cubes/tokens, too.
• The backs of rooms need to show what room types are available in those stacks. Since I just did a whole printing, I'm going to create stickers for the rooms that have their type icons, and place them on the back of each room.

Did a four-player self playtest with the new Zzzz rules and it's better, but it's still weaker than most of the other bonuses. Maybe that's okay...not every bonus can be super exciting. I wish it were though. I'll have to think about it some more. One thing is for certain...the room completion bonuses totally give Mansions a different feel and increases replayability tremendously. That's a great addition to the game.
Finished the day with a two-player playtest with Toni. She won her first game against me, by about 12 points or so. Now that she knows the tile distribution (and things haven't changed too much since the completion bonuses are in place), she'll do better.

I added a fancy-looking Mansions logo as a placeholder as I didn't have one since the name change, which is now a long time ago.

Sunday, May 19th
Updated all the bonus tokens to be cards; since we're going to have cards in the game, having the bonuses as cards is probably cheaper from a production standpoint, and makes a lot of sense once you have thirty or so in a stack. (That many cardboard tokens are hard to shuffle, and difficult to read being so small, and even with my large hands I often couldn't pick up the stack with one hand in order to place a token under the stack after choosing one of two.) I had to redo the tokens anyway because they had the old icons. As I was doing so, I set them all to max out between 7 and 12 (14 for Sleep rooms since they have a lame completion bonus right now) for two players. There's more variability and a chance for a higher score with four players since more rooms come out, with max of 8-28 (though for 28, the player would have to place ALL 14 sleeping rooms, which seems just a little bit unlikely since they also have to pick this bonus when they place a utility room). I've been thinking about this for a while, and even though there's twice as many rooms that come out with four players, meaning higher potential bonuses, the chance of being able to obtain the rooms you need for the bonuses is more difficult because you have more people picking rooms ahead of you each turn.

In order to come up with these values, I used the data from my Numbers (yay! down with Excel!) file that lists all the rooms and their values/types/etc. and created a new sheet that lists out each of the bonuses and their potential values. It took me about 45 minutes, but it's a really useful tool (though in all honesty, dozens of playtests would get me there, too). Playtests will validate those points in real world conditions, and I'll adjust as needed, but this is a great mathematically-true starting point.

Added "Enclosed Courtyards" as a bonus. Those are difficult, so they are worth 7 points each. The logic is that you rarely create one unintentionally, but you can. They're reasonably easy to create with Hallways but they'll take you at least a turn per Courtyard to go out of your way to create with Hallways, so that's a good tradeoff.

After going through the exercise of creating the Courtyard bonus, I took it right back out for two reasons: 1) It's fiddly in that players have to understand a new term just for this bonus, and it's hard to define in a few short sentences. 2) It makes 33 bonuses, and I am printing the prototype cards 16 to a sheet. I might revisit the concept later, but for now it's out.

And as I am creating the bonus cards, I realized that I had 31, not 32, so Courtyards are back in....for now. We'll see how it plays. Very wishy-washy today...hahaha.

Two 2two-player playtests with Toni today, with us each winning one. On the second, I had the opportunity to get the Courtyard bonus. I got it about 2/3's of the way through the game, and already had one completed Courtyard. I was able to make another one by the end of the game, but I'm concerned that getting that card early might allow a player to create several by placing hallways between two columns. It's potentially game breaking as is. A fiddly rules fix, that I'm putting in place temporarily is that while a hallway can be an edge of a courtyard, the same hallway may not border more than one courtyard. That'll stop the hallway strategy (mostly) while still allowing a player to use a hallway to create a courtyard (which I think is fine). I don't particularly like it, and it goes back to my initial reason earlier today for taking it out.

Monday, May 20th
The two decks of cards are working well, but they do take up lots of additional table space. (The room deck needs a discard pile, so it's three full-size spaces.) I could make the cards the "small" size which both takes up less space and also is a little cheaper to manufacture. I typically don't like the small cards as much as the larger ones, but there's very little info on each. For now I'll keep the large ones, but I'll be thinking about the smaller ones for real production.

I added a clarification to the Sleeping room bonus: If a room is already on the Room deck (because someone else has completed a Sleeping room before you), you place a room on the TOP of that room (or rooms). Last in first out usually won't make a difference, and this is a cleaner rule than placing on the bottom of the rooms, but the top of the room deck. In fact, the rule won't come up very often anyway (as it means that two or more Sleeping rooms have to be completed the same turn, or on consecutive turns where the first one resulted in no rooms being added to the Contract board).

I'm working on updating the Contract Board...I've been playing with crossed out numbers on the board (when I went from $2 to $1 placement for untaken tiles). I also condensed it down to 11.5", which is the size it will need to be in order to fit in a Suburbia-sized box without making it a foldable board. We'll see if that's so small, it seems like it really should. Of course, I'm also thinking that maybe we should have a board that has spots for each size tile...right now they are all over the place in stacks, and it's hard to remember where they are...that would make things a little easier, and force organization of them.

After a solid hour of monkeying around with the Contract Board, I ended up making it exactly the same size and shape as the Suburbia Real Estate Market. That's good and bad: Good 'cause it's familiar and links the two games. Bad because the way tiles come out are different, and how goals are scored is different. But I think the good outweighs the bad in this case...It's familiar yet different.

I also redid the goals with the new icons and removed the word "most" from all of them. Goals in Mansions are always "most", so it is not necessary. I also added Completed Rooms and Courtyards as two more goals, bring the total to 20, just like Suburbia.

Played a four-player self test today, and found it very engaging again. No major issues going through the deck twice.

Played a two-player game with Toni at the end of the evening. Very solid, very compelling.

I believe it is ready for "real" playtesting with external testers. I've set up something tentatively for tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 21st
First thing this morning I played through a three-player selftest. No issues, but I need to clarify the "1 1/2 decks" rules. I'm going to go with doing the 1/2 deck to start, then the 1 deck to finish.

Today is a day of polishing the components and getting ready for playtesting:
• I created stickers for the backs of each of the tiles that shows which types are in each stack (useful for when Sleeping rooms are completed).
• I updated the Player Reference cards that show what the room completion bonuses are.
• I switched out the Suburbia blue "skyscraper" icon for a large (1") yellow cube. Ideally I would like the start player (contractor) token to be a yellow hard hat. That reinforces the "I'm the builder this turn" theme.
• I created a scoreboard: 0 to 100, similar in style to the Suburbia one (which I had been using), but bigger to fit the nice glass stars I have been using as player scoring markers.
• I created a box top from an old Suburbia box. It's all white with the purple logo and a nice image of a mansion on the front. Good enough for prototype purposes.
• I created a box bottom, too. It's really not necessary, but one thing EVERYONE does when they see my prototype boxes is pick them up and turn them over, so it has placeholder text as well as a few pictures.

Played a two-player game with Toni, and she won AGAIN. Hmmm.

Bit the bullet and made double-sided hallways and stairs to replace the ones I had made a week ago. Because they're thin, it's a challenge to get them lined up perfectly, but this time, the first attempt was a winner.

First real playtest tonight with J & B. Here is the feedback from them (* items are ones I definitely am interested in addressing):

*100 is too small of a score
Sleep completed bonus seems weakest

"connected" vs. "adjacent" is confusing. Wants a better term for "Connected"
*Jungle Garden should be "Gazebo"

Doors should be more obvious
*Icons should be bigger
Make a money spot on the room tiles
La-Z-boy instead of fire for living rooms
*Bigger Reference card

Otherwise, the game went well; they were very engaged. B is a/p prone...her choosing a room would often take five minutes and setting up the tiles would take ten. The result was a three hour game. I don't think that's typical, but I'll keep it in mind going forward. Even without that, I could see the number of cards being reduced to 25 from 27 (would result in one fewer turn for a four-player game). Alternatively, in a four-player game the initial seven cards that are dealt could be put in the discard pile instead of being placed back into the deck.

I'm also thinking about getting rid of either the 200 or 250 size tiles. They're really close in size. If I go down to 25 cards, I can get rid of ten rooms (as there are fifteen in each of the 200 and 250 stacks). For this batch of playtests, however, I will keep these in place.

Wednesday, May 22nd
Confirmed game for Friday in Phoenix with the North Valley Boardgamers. Will be bringing both Mansions and the Suburbia expansion there.

Thursday, May 23rd
Travel day: driving to Phoenix for Memorial Day weekend.

Friday, May 24th
Played a four-player game with Chris B., Eric and Nick at the North Valley Boardgamers meet. They all liked it a lot, but I'm definitely sure the game is too long right now. Went over 100 again (top score was 103)

Saturday, May 25th
One of the comments from last night's play session stuck a chord with me...they said it was difficult to get the rooms lined up correctly. I know that's going to happen due to the nature of the rooms and entranceways. I had an idea for that: What if doors were placed in the middle of every ten feet instead of every five feet? The catch? All rooms would have to be in increments of ten feet 'cause things would go bad for a 15x15 room...where would the doors go?

If I did this, room sizes would be much larger if I were to have ten sizes:
10x10 (100 sqft...exists today)
10x20 (200 sqft...exists today)
10x30 (300 sqft)
10x50 (500 sqft...dupe of the one below)
20x20 (400 sqft...exists today)
20x30 (600 sqft)
20x40 (800 sqft exists today...this is the largest room in the current set)
20x50 (1000 sqft)
30x30 (900 sqft)
30x40 (1200 sqft)

Of course, I could have non-rectangular rooms, too. On second thought, if I kept things the way they are today, I could still have non-rectangular rooms. That might make things more interesting. I'll have to play around with that to see what it would look like.

After monkeying around with some shapes, non-rectangular rooms certainly are more interesting, but they're going to cause a lot of issues when it comes to placing those rooms. I might print out of a few sample rooms when we return home from Phoenix, but my gut feeling is that unusual shapes (an L, Z or C) will cause frustration and not really provide much benefit.

Sunday-Monday, May 26th-27th
Memorial Day weekend. No Mansions playing or updating. Did see Fast & Furious 6 at Studio Movie Grill, shot a few dozen rounds at Ben Avery, played three games of Ultimate Werewolf.

Tuesday, May 28th
Drove back from Arizona, but got in a two-player playtest of Mansions with Toni. Tried to work out the game length thing by theorizing how many cards would be needed since going through the deck twice is too long for four players. Top score in the game was 119 (Toni) to my 116. Her $30+ made the difference.

Wednesday, May 29th
New players: Playtest at Game Kastle in Fremont with Audrey, Ray (the owner) and Dean. They played a three-player game, and for the first time, I did not play as part of the playtest. I also had Ray learn the game from the rules, which he wasn't entirely on board to do, as he had just learned a bunch of other games over the he skimmed stuff and then "taught" the other two.

This was useful for clarifying things in the rules, and one item that needs to be updated instantly in the rules is the lack of icons next to the room types. That's an easy fix.

Everyone enjoyed the game. Ray said it was easier than Suburbia, while Dean said there was more thought involved. Audrey thought it was easier as well. Final score was Ray's 92 to Dean's 81 to Audrey's 79. Even though Audrey lost, she was ahead for most of the game (by 22 points at one time). Ray's "types of rooms" bonus and "200" size bonus won it for him in the end, while Dean (who had been in last place most of the game) made it into second with a 350 size bonus card. Ray and Dean each won one goal and came in second on another, and all three players tied for Courtyards (three each). That has me thinking that the current seven points per courtyard value is too high. (Maybe it should be four points each.)

Oh, and they all liked Awesomeness Points.

Thursday, May 30th
Mansions has been alive for 28 days today, four full weeks, and has dramatically evolved over that time.

Today I reprinted the Bonus cards at the new, smaller size. There are now 33 as I've added a "stairs" bonus (two for each). Each of the cards is now a separate file.

I also reprinted the deck of room cards. There are now 52 cards (about double the original number), and they're also the smaller size I've been threatening to do for a while.

I updated the rules with minor changes, including adding icons to the room descriptions and adding the new playtesters from the past several sessions.

I updated the player "completed room" quick reference cards to make them bigger and to clarify a few things that were misleading on the original cards.

I've changed the Foyers to be Utility rooms. This gives everyone the chance to get a Bonus card, even if no Utility rooms come up.

Played a four-player playtest by myself with the new cards/foyers. The deck seems like a good size. Scores were quite a bit lower (top was 70). It may be hard to play well when self testing.

Ended the evening with a two-player game with Toni, who won yet again, this time 103-92. Now using 32 cards in total (same as before, when it was five for set-up and a runthrough of the 27-card deck). Good length.

Friday, May 31st
Updated the rules after a solid read-through. Added a background color to the (still in) Pages document so the icons show up better. Reordered some things in the rules, including putting the Game End up after the main rules. (It was after the room descriptions.) That keeps the main rules really tight. I still have to go through and do the InDesign version of the rules.

Started a playtest, and after just a few turns in, decided it was time to update the tiles. The trigger? I didn't like the 375 size. It's hard to get your head around the math, and it's very close to the 450, so I decided to change them all to 300s. At the same time, I got rid of four of the eight 350 halls...they're boring and they always found their way to the cheapest spot. The remaining Halls now have alternating entrances on their wide sides, and all four are now +1 for connected Yellow rooms (food).

I made the walls thicker, added a "floating" shadow to the instant Star in the upper left, and took the outline off of the sqft symbol so that the size is easier to read. It took several hours just to update all the rooms, but they're better!

To keep the playing area smaller, I've changed the locations of some of the doors on the longer's now less likely that they'll be on both "long" ends.

Getting rid of five 350s (the Weight Room is gone, buh-bye) means there's two fewer cards in the deck, so now there are fifty room cards instead of 52. I'm keeping the length 32, 42 and 50 (just changing the four-player number).

Bonus cards need updating for the new sizes (argh, just printed them out), and I need to replace the 375s with 300s for the Room cards, too.

That reminds me that I need to look at the sqft bonus cards because they seem weak relative to the room cards. I'll do that another day...this was a good deal of work.

Saturday, June 1st
Updated the rules with the new tile/card numbers, then set about the creation of the fourth generation of room tiles. I printed them last night, so all I needed to do was to stick them (via Xyron) and cut them. Sounds easy, but it took about two hours to do. Here's a sample of what the fourth generation of components looked like:

Did two three-person self playtests. First with 42 cards, which resulted in about 18-19 rooms each, and 1:20 playing time, and then 40 cards, which resulted in about 15-16 rooms each and 1:00 playing time. Of course, the first game had more blue tiles in it, which lengthen the game (each completed blue room=1 extra card).

Toni and I did a two-player playtest at the end of the day, with me (finally) winning with a score of 82 to 74.

I'm still trying to figure out how many stairs and hallways are needed. Right now I am saying ten hallways and five stairs, but I don't think that's enough. I don't think they should be a limited resource, but at the same time, I need to come up with a reasonable number that will fit on the board that's unlikely to be exceeded.

Sunday, June 2nd
Finally put the rules into InDesign, but just the text. Doing the contents/setup is a bit of a task that I haven't had time for yet.

Played two two-player games with Toni. She won the first one 105-98. I had FOUR courtyards for a 20 point bonus at the end — I had the 5 point courtyard bonus card — but it wasn't enough. Second game I won by a lot 93 to 75. No big Utility bonuses on either side in that one.

Monday, June 3rd
Created the set-up page for the InDesign rules and updated the design of the rules. The rules (not counting setup) are just over one page, with no illustrations. That should be two pages once images are in place. Contents still has to be created.

Played a two-player game with Toni. Use the Courtyard bonus cards to get 20 points again, but this time it was enough for me to win: 105-101.

For the fourth gen tiles, many of the long rooms had doors repositioned to avoid long sprawling mansions. That seems to have worked, though you can always create them if you try hard enough.

Tuesday, June 4th
Finally did the Contents for the InDesign (formatted) rules. It looks good...the front page of the rules is very colorful, and I think somewhat easy to follow.

Also went through and fixed some of the issues from the fourth gen: the 300 bonuses and room cards, and a few misprinted tiles.

Did two four-player playtests early in the morning, clocking in at just over an hour each. Interesting that four-player games are still scoring fewer than 100 points for each player when self tested. It could be that I'm not focusing enough on each player and they are making suboptimal moves.

Two more modifications: One somewhat cosmetic, but important, and the other a bigger change.

The "cosmetic" change is putting the icons on the back of the room tiles in order from most frequent in the stack to least frequent. That'll help newer players when completing blue rooms. While I made that change to the files, I'm not going to have it in place until I redo the tiles for the fifth Generation (not for a while right now).

The bigger change is bumping up the Bonus card points for room types (colors). Right now they feel weak...the values were determined by doing the math, but as is often the case in games, math doesn't give you the whole story. So all rooms will be 2 or 3 points instead of 1 or 2. I think that'll make those room cards more of a realistic choice. They're a little streaky, especially mid to late game, as you either have 'em or you don't at that point, and you can do less to control their appearance (it seems) than size cards.

There are 14 Utility Rooms. If they all come up and are placed in a game, as well as the four Foyers, that's 18 of the 25 Bonus Cards in play. The first run through the deck will be the first 12 rooms. Then there are 13 cards left for the remaining six rooms (two cards per completed room), so the deck will never be "gone through" twice (though by putting the unused card on the bottom of the deck it never seems depleted). Even in the rare event that all the utility cards are placed, that leaves seven unused cards.

Played two games with Toni with the new room bonuses. On the second game, I had five courtyards with the Bonus, for 25 points. Toni says it's too powerful, but it took a lot of time to set up all those Courtyards. The first game was standard two-player, but the second one was each of us playing two players. There's some funky stuff with that, and it doesn't work without some changes. The nice thing was the four-player game we did with two took us only 1:10 to play.

Wednesday, June 5th
Started the morning by going through and counting (via Numbers) how many playtests have taken place so far, and here are the results:

• 15 self tests: 1 2-player, 5 3-player, 10 4-player
• 25 playtests: 19 2-player, 2 3-player, 3 4-player

For a total of forty games played in 33 days. (I've played in all but one of them.)

Tonight is a scheduled two game playtest session with two gamers: Karen and Mike. The first game will be just the two of them, and the second game will be a four-player game with all four of us.

Following the Numbers spreadsheet creation, I did a three-player game, and after a few turns, I decided to experiment with a different set of prices on the Contract Board. It turns out the game was tighter and more interesting with 15 10 8 6 4 2 than it was with the 10 8 6 4 3 2 I have been playing with for weeks now. Add to that the benefit of making the Outdoor tiles more desirable (completion bonus gets you $10), and a little boost for the Contractor, and it's a change for the better.

I've reworked the Contract Board now so that it has the new numbers, but also made it double-sided. Side 1 contains numbers for two and three players, while side 2 contains numbers for four players. Technically I could leave it one-sided, but it's easier to play three (and two) players with fewer "slots" for tiles as well as fewer goal spots. I also did some tweaks to the layout and added a background pattern.

I reprinted the rules with the updated boards, and had Karen read the rules initially. We found some issues in the rules as a result, which I'll be updating tomorrow (Thursday).

The two games went over well, with both Karen and Mike thoroughly enjoying the game. The two-player game seemed to go long (about 1.5 hours), but neither Karen nor Mike felt it was that long. The four-player game took about 1:15.

It was very noticeable how different the game plays with two than it does four. Mike said the four-player game felt more chaotic, but I don't think that's the right term. It has more elements you can't control, but they can be factored into your decision-making process.

Karen said that Mansions was much easier to grasp than Suburbia.

Notes from the playtest session:

• Rules: Currently don't say to place the goals face up. done 6/8/13
• Rules: Should say "room TILES should not overlap." done 6/7/13
• Rules: Define Courtyard in the rules - in fact, add a section for the Goals and Bonuses that describes each of the unusual cards. done 6/8/13
• Rules/Reference card: There's a limit of one completion bonus for Corridors per turn (prevents the "ladder" move for hallways). reference card done 6/7/13
• Reference card: Change the completed room description for Blue (zzzz) cards to be more clear. reference card done 6/7/13
• Reference card: The Living (purple) room completed room bonus should say "re-score all room points" instead of double room score. reference card done 6/7/13
• Reference card: Should have the names of the icons (room type) reference card done 6/7/13
• Room Cards: The back of the Room cards should be labeled (right now they are just plain blue). The label will be the sqft symbol and the word "room" under it to match the Bonus cards. Though it will be landscape instead of portrait, since the room cards are landscape. - done 6/7/13
• Contract Board: It was confusing to have the three-player icon on one of the spots. Maybe a two-player icon with a slash through it would be better. done 6/7/13
• Green tiles still seemed weak relative to the other types. They should have higher values.

Thursday, June 6th
Played two two-player games with Toni. I won both of them for a change.

We had a discussion about keeping similar conditional effects in the same piles, so that, for instance, all the 500 sqft basement tiles would be +2 for each X tile, instead of some being +1 and some being +2.

It's interesting as doing that actually helps Zzzz (sleep) room completers as well as repeat players...they know what to expect, especially in a four-player game where the combination of rooms can be determined ahead of time.

For the nerds out there: Money Flow at the Macro Level
When you're playing a game that has various resources, you might be aware of how the resource amounts change during the game. In Castles of Mad King Ludwig, you really have two resources: Money and Rooms. Money (indicated here in $, though technically in the game it is German Marks) appears to be in constant flux, with three out of four turns (in a four-player game) resulting in cash outflow, and the turn when you're a Master Builder resulting in inflow (though not always). There are some exceptions to this, such as if you decide to forgo purchasing a room and instead take $5, or when you complete an outdoor room and bank an extra $10 that turn. As a player, you have to budget correctly during your outflow turns so that you have money on the third of those turns to be able to purchase a room, with the assumption that on your inflow turn you'll make up the difference.

As a game designer, I have to look at both the player's money flow experience as well as the overall game's money flow. The overall game money flow is more important initially because it will impact the players' money flows directly. What I need to know is how much money is in the game each turn. There are quite a few variables, but all of them are fairly manageable and reasonable assumptions based on averages can be made.

First off, there is (in a four-player game) exactly $60 available. At the end of turn 1, there will $60 - whatever the Master Builder pays for his room (since his money goes to the bank). The average spent by the Master Builder is not necessarily the average price of the seven available rooms ($15+$10+$8+$6+$4+$2+$1, or $46, divided by seven spaces is $6.57). Instead, the average skews up slightly, with an average of $16 given to the Master builder, for an average of $30/4, or $7.50. But the Master Builder spends more than this, averaging about $9 for purchases on their turn (partially because buying expensive rooms on your turn as Master Builder is better strategically than giving that higher price to a competitor). So an average of $9 leaves the game each turn, which means at the end of turn 1 there is $51 left (on average...of course that actually amount is impossible on the first turn, as only one room can be bought and $9 isn't an option). But there's also the addition of money that is placed on unbuilt rooms, which typically on the first turn will be $3 ($1 on each of the three unbuilt rooms). So the money at the end of turn #1 is $54, down $6 from the opening amount of $60.

If that's all the game did with money, the cash would slowly siphon out of the game until at the end of turn 10 there would be no money left in the game (which would be bad). However, two other things bring money back into the game: completing Outdoor rooms (at $10 each) and players who skip building in order to get $5. There are eleven Outdoor rooms available, and assuming a typical game where each player builds twelve regular (not hallway/stairs) rooms (for a total of 48 rooms out of the available 75 built), seven of those outdoor rooms will be built each game, for a total of $70 put into the game. An average game has 14.5 turns, which means ($6*14.5) $87 is taken out during the course of the game, but $70 is put back in, for a net loss of $17 during the game, resulting in $43 between all the players.

Of course, players always have the option to take $5 on their turn instead of buying/placing a room, so each time they do that it adds $5 back into the money pool. Players average one "skip" turn like this every two games, or .5 per player per game, or two skip turns for all players each game, resulting in an additional $10 each game...or so it would seem. However, a skip turn brings $6 into the game, not $5, because each player, in skipping her turn, leaves another un-purchased tile which receives $1. So now we're at $12 for skipped turns, which is added to the $43 above for a total of $55, still $5 short of the $60 players started with.

There's one other variable at work here: the purchase of stairs or hallways instead of a regular room; each one of these purchased results in an additional $1 entering the game, and wouldn't you know it, but an average of five stairs/hallways are purchased each game (more enter the game via the Corridor reward when the Foyer or a set of stairs is completed, so this number might seem low at first). Add that $5 to the $55 and you end up with...$60.

Real world conditions will quite often jump in the way and make each game's total cash available by the players less or more than this amount, and as you might expect, an abundance of cash in the Master Builder's hands will often result in more money leaving the game. But this is auto-correcting, just like the money that stacks up on various rooms throughout the game. (Keep in mind that the $60 includes any money sitting on rooms under the contract board.)
Continued in part 2
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Mon Sep 22, 2014 6:05 am
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Designer DAILY Diary: Castles of Mad King Ludwig II

Ted Alspach
United States
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This is part two of the ridiculously long designer diary for Castles of Mad King Ludwig. Read part one first, then if you still have any energy left, read this one.

Friday, June 7th, 2013
This morning was spent making many of the changes suggested in Thursday night's playtest session. I updated the rules, the room card backs, the player references and the contract board. However, I printed out only the Player References, which are now larger and better organized.

For a while now, I've been looking for a plastic hard hat token to use as a start player marker, just for our playtest version of the game. Toni found a site that has some hard foam ones, so I ordered one. While she was looking, she came up with an idea: What if, in lieu of getting the bonus for completing a room, you could get a tiny little LEGO-sized hard hat, and once you had two of them, you could trade it in for any bonus? We talked about it for a while, and while I am reluctant to add anything that's a new component, the one aspect I really liked was a "wild" completion bonus. Eventually, we decided to try something in today's playtest session: For every two downstairs rooms that are completed, you get one of the other seven bonuses of your choice.

In our two playtest sessions (Toni and I), we used that functionality, and it was great, a really solid addition to the "Completed Rooms" set of features. (Remember, up until now the Downstairs rooms didn't give you any bonus.)

Of course, just this morning I updated the player reference card that lists all the completed room bonuses, so now I have to do that again.

Saturday, June 8th
Origins is this coming week, so updates to Mansions will probably be far and few between during that time. I plan on showing it to Dale Yu for the first time on Thursday, but aside from maybe a few other friends joining us for that playthrough, it won't be seen by anyone else there. And we'll probably be too busy to do any additional playtests.

Printed out the updated Player Reference cards with the new Downstairs "wild" bonus (for every two completed Downstairs rooms).

Also printed out a new set of Room cards with the new backs. Coincidentally, since I updated the room tile backs a few days ago, the cards now have the correct icon order (most frequent to least frequent), which doesn't match the existing fourth Gen room tiles. (I haven't printed out another set with the new icons.) I also used the corner rounder on the room cards and pulled out the bonus cards and did a corner rounding on them as well.

Little change: Changed the Train Room into a shooting range, and increased the Instant Points to 4. Not printed yet (waiting for fifth gen set).

Rules were updated with the new Downstairs completion rule, as well as other items, like a description of the bonus cards and goals, clarifications based on playtesting notes from the Karen/Mike playtests, lots of example images, and other minor adjustments.

Watched a four-player playtest game with Aliza, Jeremy, Michael and Monika. It took a little over two hours (one of the players was VERY slow in putting the tiles out for the Contract board, taking more than five minutes each time, which added about 30 minutes to the game). Only one of the players had played Suburbia, and that player liked Mansions more than Suburbia. One of the new players mentioned he thought it was completely balanced as is. He played Suburbia (including the expansion) after this play, and noted that while the games share some similarities, they felt entirely different.

Notes from the Playtest:

• Bonuses felt swingy - one player said they would like to take three cards instead of two.
• Maybe the players should get money bonuses instead of VP bonuses for not going first?
• There was a discussion about letting players choose from a two-sided Foyer (or even between different foyers). One side could be a certain type with X entrances, and the other could be a different type with Y entrances. I like this idea a lot.
• They mentioned the idea that maybe everyone should start with one random room. I'm intrigued by this, but I think it would add a big chunk of luck to the beginning of the game. If there were a way to implement this fairly, I would be more likely to seriously consider it.
• One of the players noted that the Secret Room and the Panic Room had the exact same layout. Note to self: Go through and compare each of the room stacks and make sure all the different combos are represented.
• There were three Downstairs Completion Bonuses with the new rule: Bonus Cards, Extra Turn and 7 Points.

Sunday, June 9th
Updated the rules with yesterday's playtesters.

Played a four-player game with Steve and Nicky today. Good feedback. One of the big ideas that came out of that playtest session was to possibly start each player with a set of double-sided tiles that they can arrange as they'd like on the first turn (based on the tiles that initially show up under the Contract Board). That could give each player a way to set up their set in a unique fashion.

Steve also mentioned that he wasn't particularly enthralled with the theme. I need to give this some thought, but I think he's onto something.

Tuesday, June 11th
Created three double-sided three-tile sets that players can use to customize their mansion at the start. The Foyer will go back to a corridor, but it will have three entranceways. Piece #1 will be a Utility/Kitchen tile. Piece #2 will be a Purple/Red tile. And piece #3 will be a Blue/Green tile. It'll take a bit of tweaking to get the balance right so that it's not the same choice for each player on their initial setup.

Friday, June 14th
Showed Mansions to Dale while at Gen Con to see whether he's interested in developing it. He is, and we'll start work on it this summer, with the goal of a Spiel 2014 release. I talked to him about retheming, and he said he'd think about it.

•••one month break•••

Tuesday, July 17th
After more than a month off to work on other projects (Suburbia Inc and many other new games), I'm back to Mansions — but it's not "Mansions" anymore. After feedback from playtesters and Dale (who is now signed on to do development work), it's been rethemed to "Castles of Mad King Ludwig".

I think the theme change will work well with the different planned ideas.

Today I worked on new cover art for the prototype box to get myself more engaged in the theme.

Tuesday, July 24th
Today was spent redoing the first chunk of room tiles to match the new theme. Significant changes:

• The walls were changed to stone. Much more aesthetically pleasing.
Changed the Utility, Activity and Food icons to an Anvil, Mandolin and Goblet, respectively.
• Added shading to the rooms to give them a more 3D look (dark edges around the walls)
• Changed the "star" icon to a castle. Now there are Castle Points.
• Made the room icons much larger.
• Added a wrought-iron fence to the top edge of Outdoor tiles.
It looks much better than the old black/yellow stripe.

Wednesday, July 25th
I finished up the room tiles this morning.

Thursday, July 26th
I finished up the the bonus cards and room cards this morning. Re-theming is a lot of work.

Friday, July 27th
It's printing day today...started this morning by printing all of the components. Will be spending several hours cutting, pasting onto cardboard, and cutting again.

Sunday, July 28th
Playtest with Doug and Shelley prior to the Suburbia Inc podcast. Both of them were very excited by the game and the new theming. (They had never seen it as "Mansions".) The walls are too dark and not thick enough, so they'll need to be redone soon. Doug's biggest concern was that Bonus cards were overpowering or that there were too many available to players.

Shelley liked the theme but wanted more themed rooms, like the Grotto and other Ludwig-specific rooms.

Tuesday, July 30th
West Coast Meeplefest prep includes redoing ALL the room tiles with better walls, and adding more themed rooms. This is an all-day project.

Wednesday, July 31st
Updated the Contract board to have Marks instead of dollars. Moved the 3m label down to the sides of the hallways so it could be viewed easier. Updated the logo. Made a double-sided contract board. Rules are updated with the new components. Here's a look at the updated rules as of July 31, 2013:

Also changed the number of cards for a four-player game to 40 instead of 50. That's ten rooms per player, not including hallways, stairs, and blue room bonuses.

Sent the new components to Dale.

Thursday, August 1st
Meeplefest Day 1. Lots of Castles playtests, all of them run by other people (Doug, Denis, etc.). Feedback is overwhelmingly positive. Some confusion about the bonuses vs. room completion bonuses.

Friday, August 2nd
Meeplefest Day 2. More playtests run by other people. Still very positive. Lots of good buzz about the game.

Saturday, August 3rd
Meeplefest Day 3. More playtests, and this time I taught two of them, played in one. Castles was being played pretty much nonstop throughout the day. Discussions about including an "L" or "Z" shape room took place. I think I might try those with a few of the sizes.

Oh, and the game has been in development for three months now. Happy Birthday, Castles!

Sunday, August 4th
Meeplefest Day 4. Prior to Meeplefest, I was up to fix the Room Completion Bonus reference cards. I changed them all to Room Completion Rewards (aha!) and modified the layout/graphics a little to better match the room tile "look". Prior to now, the back of those reference cards were blank. Now they have "Actions & Scoring" so they really are a true reference card. And the Actions and Scoring resembles the back of the room tiles, so they fit together very nicely.

Monday, August 5th
Did some research today about square feet vs. square meters. In Germany, square meters weren't law until 1872, so for most of King Ludwig's life, things were in square feet (or fuß).

Wednesday, August 7th
One of the things I've wanted to try out is irregularly-shaped rooms. I'm starting today with L-shaped 300 sqft rooms to replace the current ones.

L-shaped 300 sqft rooms are done. Whew. It's tough to cut these.

I had an idea, and a lot of math later, I think I'm going to try it: round rooms. There are pro's and cons to round rooms:

• Looks amazingly cool.
• Fits well with the castle theme.
• Distinguishes the sizes that are round from the square/rectangular ones.

• Only four doors possible, n/s/e/w on each tower. No variation.
• Pain in the butt to cut them for prototypes.
• No corners to put the castle points, square footage, icon.

I've already figured out that 500 sqft rooms are great candidates for this: the 500 square foot rooms were virtually 20x25. The round rooms are 25x25,which by doing the math, makes a 490square foot room, which is really really close to 500. Enough that it works for game purposes.

The smaller round rooms aren't as nice...if I do the 225sqft rooms (which is the plan right now), which is 15x15, the round room size is 176sqft. The upside is if I call it 150 sqft, I now have rooms that are 100, 150, 200, 250, 300, 350, 400, 450, 500, 800. The downside is it's a lot further off from 150 than 490 is from 500, but I think for game purposes it'll work!

Thursday, August 8th
As I was working on the new rounded rooms, I realized that the foyer (starting tile) needs to be 150 and rounded as well. So I created all the rounded rooms, printed them and cut them today...cutting rounded rooms is a ridiculous amount of work!

Looked at some castle floor plans, and while the new L and round rooms give the game some nice flexibility...but it's missing something. So I revamped the 800 sqft rooms to make them long octagons totaling 600 sqft. And I did those and printed/cut them as well.

Now I need to revise the Room cards and Bonus cards that refer to the changed rooms since the picture (and the size for some) doesn't match anymore. I changed the Bonus cards, but we wanted to get some playtesting in so the Room cards will have to wait.

Toni and I played five (yes, five!) two-player games (bringing the current number of playtests to 70), and several things came up:

• It seems like there are too many purple tiles and there seem to be too few blue tiles. In two games, we were flooded with them. I'm going to update the Room List spreadsheet with the current set of tiles and see where we are with that.
• The Gazebo is currently a 400 sqft room (square). If anything should be a round room, it's the Gazebo.
• Bonus card changes: Unique types and rooms should be all or nothing, because of the new set-up rule. I'm thinking 7 points for having ALL sizes and 7 points for having ALL types. done 8-9-13
• The Start Token should move to the next player after the set-up round.
The set-up round should be the first round; you just can't buy anything (or take $) that round. The rules need to be reworked here.
• We had some discussion about making a basic and a "strategy" game.
• I need to add a line to the rules about the contractor NOT reading the tiles when setting up in order to make the game move at a decent pace. At Meeplefest, some players were taking way too long to read the tiles. It should take no longer than 30 seconds to set up the tiles. I can't overemphasize this enough: It's no fun to sit and watch another player deliberate the costs of tiles.
• There should be a note in the rules to clarify that getting an extra turn via the Yellow room reward results in players being able to take an additional Corridor reward (which is limited to one per turn). That extra turn means you can have a second one. (It's not on the same turn since you have two in a row.)
Lowered the number of cards for two players to 22 (from 25). done 8-9-13

Friday August 9th
Printed out updated room cards. Also changed it so that the deck is 50 cards, with six each of the 100, 150, 200, 250, and 300, and four each of the 350, 400, 450, 500, and 600. The number of cards for each set of players:

• 2 Players: 22
• 3 Players: 30
• 4 Players: 36

That might change, but it seems like a good set to start with to ensure the game is played in a reasonable amount of time. Also, it makes each game entirely never know exactly which cards will come up.

I also updated and added Bonus cards: Updated the Uniques to be all-or-nothing, and added a few more: 1 point per $5, 1 per Round Room, 1 per Square Room, and 5 for having the Start Player token at the end of the game. I'm not sure about that last one...players have some control over extending/ending the game; obviously this is harder the more players there are.

Did a three-player test with Brett and Toni. One of the issues we ran into was two 150 round rooms that overlapped slightly (and definitely should not have fit there). Also, Brett mistook a great hall for a downstairs room because the sides/doorways are too dark.

Sunday, August 11th
Today is the day to revamp the rules. Until now, the rules had been four pages, with the contents/set-up on the first page like Suburbia. Set-up is the real catalyst here: Squishing it all onto a portion of a page is making it too difficult to read, so I'll be putting contents on page 1, set-up (and the first turn) on pages 2 and 3, and the rules will then start in earnest on page 4. In addition, I'm going to look into spreading them out more, to make them more digestible. The goal is eight pages when I'm done (same as Suburbia, if you include that game's tile manifest, which this game will not have).

After working on the rules, they are at six pages now, though I don't have any visual example for the first turn, and I probably need more images for the main portion of the rules. But the Contents and Set-up are totally updated to cover 2.5 pages now, and it looks a LOT better.

•••end of diary entries•••

Well, that's when I stopped writing about the game, but a whole lot of work was done between then and the end of April 2014, when the game was finalized. Most of that was tweaking, though there were a few major changes. Getting the artwork really helped bring the game to life, and the top-down perspective really looks like a detailed floor plan of a castle.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig will debut at Spiel in October 2014 and should be available in the U.S. at about the same time.

Ted Alspach
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Mon Sep 22, 2014 6:00 am
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Designer Diary: The Business of Suburbia Inc

Ted Alspach
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Suburbia Inc has its origins in the base game. Oftentimes when designing a game, many ideas find their way into the game only to be tossed out later. As Suburbia took a long time to develop (even before Dr. Developer Dale Yu was on board), many ideas, mechanisms, and concepts found their way into the game, then were hustled right back out again.

In the summer of 2012 before Suburbia was released, I realized that the game would probably do well, so I decided I would start working on an expansion for it. I had no idea how well it would do, or that it would win the coveted Mensa Select Mind Games award, but I was confident enough in the game to start putting together an expansion for it.

Origins of Inc

I started with building tiles. The one hundred tiles that shipped with Suburbia were a subset of the original set, all of which were chosen for a variety of reasons and many buildings that I really liked didn't make the cut. The toughest thing initially with the expansion was to figure out which of those buildings should make it in, so I started looking at them in the order they were cut from the game...backwards, that is, starting with the last tile to be cut from the base game.

This very first tile in the expansion, then called "City Planner", was one that Dale Yu, the aforementioned developer, had convinced me to take out of the game. City Planner allowed you to swap in another tile for it for free later in the game. The reasoning for getting rid of it was solid (well, at the time I didn't believe so, but in hindsight it was indeed a good idea): City Planner introduced too many exceptions to the rules of the base game. First, the tile was a different color. Suburbia already has four colors of tiles, and this would be a fifth color that would exist only for this specific tile. Second, it allowed the player to take a tile for free, ignoring both the price on the tile as well as the Real Estate Market cost where it was located.

The description for that tile in the expansion takes up almost an entire column because of the clarifications needed. Even with all of those clarifications and comments, however, I knew it was a tile I wanted in the expansion, so I started to design the expansion around it. The name "Redevelopment Planner" was chosen for the tile, and the idea that your little borough has become more of a business to manage than just a sprawling mass of tiles was born. In the base game, you're an entrepreneur with this great vision for a utopian city; in the expansion, you're a businessman with the same goal of growing your borough into a great city, but now you're going to use additional tools to treat it as a successful business, too.

Borders and Bridges

Everyone expected a Suburbia expansion with new buildings. I knew I could put out a whole bunch of new buildings and people would buy the expansion and have a terrific time with it, but I wanted to add an extra dimension to the game. I started with the idea that players would be able to share borders, and this would allow them to benefit from each other's buildings and infrastructure. This concept dates back to the very beginnings of Suburbia design, when all players placed tiles in one central city instead of having their own boroughs in which to work. As I started to develop the concept, it split into two: borders, which defined the edges of a borough, and bridges, which connected different boroughs. Both were developed, but bridges were cut from the expansion for a number of reasons, the most important of which being that they didn't work with the new theme of incorporation nearly as well as borders did. Maybe bridges will see light in the future...hmmm.

Back to borders — initially they were designed as three, and then four, hexes stacked on top of each other. Some were straight, others were curved. One side of the hexes had a dark border where you couldn't place any tiles. Eventually that design changed into half-hexes where you couldn't place anything on the flat side, and then they were thickened slightly and started and ended with half hexes on each end so that tiles placed against them would be nestled comfortably on the "jagged" edge.

During development borders were simplified and now all of them share one common attribute: they have only adjacency benefits. This makes keeping track of benefits for borders much easier and makes it clear what the value of the borders is. The number of borders was eventually reduced to twelve, mainly for gameplay purposes; while in games with the new "Guard" goal (most borders) you might actually run out of borders, typically players place only one or two borders each game, which means that you see a different mix of borders in each game in a different order...just like the A, B, and C stacks of tiles.

All borders have a better cost/benefit ratio than regular tiles, but of course they limit where you can build in the future, so you're making an interesting spatial trade-off when you build them. Because of their unique shape and impact on the layout of your borough, borders have been become the signature new component of Suburbia Inc.

More New Buildings

As I went through the previously culled buildings to see which ones would make sense with the new business-themed expansion, I ended up making a lot more new ones — or heavily modifying old ones — than just plucking old buildings out and plopping them in the expansion.

One of the new buildings was a direct result of player feedback. One of the aspects of Suburbia that I've heard from players is regarding goals. About half of the goals in Suburbia are awarded to players having the fewest of something. These goals put you at the whims of other players, and while they definitely change up how you play each game, many games will result in tied goals that no one wins because no one was building a certain type of tile. If only there were a way to break those ties...

One of the standalone games I designed a few years back is TieBreaker, a fun, silly card game designed to break ties for games that don't have built-in tiebreakers. It consists of about sixty mini-games on cards that help to determine the winner, but they do so by requiring the tied players to engage in some sort of (often silly) challenge with the other tied players. It's fun and totally unnecessary, but adds some closure to what otherwise might be a slightly frustrating result because the game's publisher didn't think to add some sort of tiebreaker mechanism.

Well, it didn't make sense to have mini-games as part of Suburbia, but then I realized...what if a tile could be purchased to be used as a tiebreaker? And if so, what would that tile be? In a game with a tiebreaker, you have a rules lawyer looking up the fine print to determine who really wins, and thus was born the "Law Office". It's probably my favorite of the new Inc tiles because anyone who owns a Law Office gets to score one goal in which they're tied. Place an investment marker on that Law Office, and now you score up to two goals in which you're tied.

Other building tiles were created and tested, all designed to fit in the Inc theme. The new "Cemetery" tile is a business of its own, with a cost of population when it's placed. (You need dead bodies to start that particular business.) The "Indoor Mall", another late-stage removal from the base game, gives you reputation from your blue (Commercial) tiles, the only tile in the game that does that directly. Finally, some respect for being a businessman!

There's one new tile that I expect will be a love-it-or-hate-it tile: the "Redistricting Office". Like the PR Firm, which if purchased by the right player at the right time can sway the game, the Redistricting Office has similar "power". It redraws your city limits, effectively stealing the population of your opponents and giving it to you. The cost and benefit are tied directly to the number of players in the game. In a two-player game, placing the tile costs you only $12, and you steal 5 population from your opponent, resulting in a ten-point swing (five more for you and five less for your opponent). In a four-player game, the tile is the most expensive you can buy, costing $24 and handing out a twenty-point swing over each of your opponents (fifteen to you, five from each of them). Of course, there is a catch...all those late-game population increases tend to move you over multiple red lines, lowering your Income and Reputation considerably.

In the end, Suburbia Inc contains a dozen new building types, split across all three stacks of tiles. They can be added to the existing tiles you have, with the caveat that some combos such as restaurants and airports are weakened due to those tiles being diluted. On the other side of the equation, because there are a bunch of new "Office" (briefcase) tiles, the Business Supply store tends to be more valuable (and there's a new goal to reflect this: "Milton", which is awarded to the player with the most Office tiles).

Bonuses and Challenges

Another "thrown out" concept from back in the early days of Suburbia development were mid-game goals. The idea that players could get bonus points in the middle of the game for achieving goals was interesting, but less compelling than the goals that everyone is working toward throughout the game. As I pondered how to make meaningful midgame goals, I realized that more valuable than points in the game are certain stats, specifically income in the first half of the game and reputation in the second half. And so Bonuses (income enhancements at the end of the A stack) and Challenges (reputation enhancements at the end of the B stack) were born.

In order to make these bonuses and challenges more achievable for players, they are treated differently than goals: Every player can achieve them instead of just one, and instead of the concepts of "most" and "least" they all require the player to have a certain number of tiles, amount of money, or certain level of stats (income, reputation, etc.). Suburbia Inc includes ten of each of them, and at the beginning of each game, you choose one at random and place a bonus face up on the B stack (which scores when the A stack is depleted) and place a challenge face up on the C stack (which scores when the B stack is depleted).

While this is a great system, the number of tiles in each stack had to be changed so that all players have an equal number of turns before the bonus or challenge is reached. As a result, the expansion includes a new "stacks" board with a different number of tiles that should be placed in the A, B and C stacks. Also, because Inc games were scoring more — thanks to some of the new tiles, borders, and the bonuses and challenges — the number of tiles in each stack is reduced slightly, resulting in one or two fewer turns for Inc games than the base game. Having slightly fewer turns keeps the game length exactly the same as the base game, even though you now have an extra option each turn (whether to buy a border or not), and you must tally the bonus and challenge when they come up.

Testing and Development

While Suburbia was designed and playtested significantly before "Master Developer" Dale Yu (he of Dominion development fame) was brought on board, Dale was involved in the creation of Suburbia Inc early on and had significant input into many of the choices that went into designing the expansion.

That said, the development of the game was fairly straightforward, and while one major component (which shall not be discussed here) was killed off in development, the pieces that made it through the process were relatively the same (at least conceptually) as they were when it all started to come together. The biggest issue was balance, to ensure that the cost/benefit ratios for all the new pieces didn't result in some freaky imbalance.

Final Thoughts and Impending Release

Suburbia Inc is a must-own expansion for anyone who enjoys the base game. The parts of the expansion all work together really well, but you can also play with only the parts you like. (If you don't want borders in your game, you don't have to have them; the rest of the expansion still works just fine.) The new tiles add to the already substantial variability of the tile mix, and the new bonuses and challenges add some midgame goals to keep things interesting throughout. And none of the new additions are so dramatic that first-time Suburbia players can't just jump right into the expansion, too!

As the Spiel 2013 release of the expansion approaches, I can't wait for people to try out all the new things in the game!

Ted Alspach
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Wed Oct 16, 2013 6:00 am
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