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Designer Diary: Yogi, or The Game Formerly Unknown as In A Bind

Board Game: Yogi
Yogi is a game due to be published by Gigamic, and their page for the game suggests it'll be launched on September 1, 2017. I hear there will be early copies at Gen Con, though.

As you may have inferred already, given that this is a "Designer Diary", I had a part to play in its creation.

I think it's super-hyper-mega-awesome! But I'm biased.

For most people, this is a new game. I saw photos of early demos at Dice Tower Con. I wish I could have been there as it looked as if folks were enjoying it!

However, the game is almost identical to In A Bind, originally released on August 1, 2015.

If this were a designer diary for In A Bind, I would be celebrating its reincarnation. I could call this the end as I'm no longer selling it.

But everyone who bought a copy will hopefully enjoy it for many years to come.

Maybe there is no end to the story.

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The game was essentially finished by Forrest Bower of "Bower's Gaming Corner". He was the one reviewer who had a fast enough turnaround for me to get it reviewed before my original Kickstarter finished.

The game was all about simple instructions, one on each card:

—"Left hand above left elbow."
—"Two hands touching."
—"Hand on a knee."
—"Finger touching mouth."

You needed to obey all your instructions simultaneously, not even stopping when you have to draw a card.

This game involves the hardest draw step you will ever encounter.

People often end up drawing cards using their mouths, elbows, or even feet.

My original rules focused on the "sadistic mode", that is, handing out cards to challenge your opponents. Bower encouraged me to embrace the simplicity even further: Just draw a card and do what it says.

He was right. The game is all about the physical challenge, testing your flexibility, stamina, and determination. Though the "slow and sadistic" rules added something by allowing the decision of who to pick on, the default rules are now simply:

• Draw a card (whenever it's your turn)
• Read it aloud (so everyone can hear)
• Do what it says (and if you ever stop, you lose)

This is how I always introduce people to the game now, and even the "Final Ultimate Last Ever In A Bind World Championship" was played using these rules.

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I wasn't very organised with my first Kickstarter. I honestly half-expected the silly video I'd made to go viral and was almost scared of the potential logistics. Suffice to say it didn't.

I started the KS before it was ready and used a 58-day campaign as a deadline for getting it all organized. Of course I'd investigated the printing and shipping costs, but there was no marketing to speak of — just a budget of about £8 to cover the postage and single prototype that I sent to Forrest. On day 56 I was about 2/3 of the way to my target. I was sure it was going to fail.

Thankfully, a few folk convinced me to just keep trying.

I love performance.

I love to sing a song and get the crowd singing along.

I love to dance and enthrall and have folks look at me for a moment.

Maybe it's some sort of need for validation. Maybe it's some sort of egotism to think that others should WANT to look at me, at my performances, my creations.

Maybe all creative people are fragile egotistical creatures in search of validation.

Or maybe that's true of other humans as well.

Is there more than a semantic difference between a "sense of purpose" and "validation"? Is it purely that the latter must come from outwith?

Maybe the strong minds continue to create for the innate joy, like Bill Watterson, who retired from Calvin & Hobbes fame and is now painting things that most of the world will never see.

The strong might create a game that 1% of people will love, knowing that they've brought joy to a few individuals.

The weaker minds seek to go mass-market, reveling in the constant attention and occasional adoration.

Are many who strive for a mass-market title simply in need of more validation from outside?

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When the game was first played in 2013, it was very different. (This predates all the pictures above.)

There was exactly one card that had anything to do with your physical position and it "merely" asked you to stand up. Each card was a tangle of points to accrue, card-stealing, and an instruction complicated enough to confuse any non-gamer.

I'll call it a mess. A hot steaming mess.

Of course, there were some ideas worth pursuing.

The second prototype was all about the physical nature of what could be done around the table. Cards challenged players to hop around the table, spin around, do sit-ups, make a noise for as long as possible...

I'll call this the first major change, the pure focus on silliness.

The overly complicated nature remained, however. Challenges would maybe award the winner some cards, award points, or steal cards from losers. Cards in your hand meant survival. More cards in your discard pile meant more chance of winning.

The second major change happened, focusing purely on physicality and synergy.

I had always thought of the cards as either "Sorceries" or "Enchantments", to use MtG terminology. (I believe that a large portion of games, including the final In A Bind/Yogi could be played using the rules of Magic and some unprintable cards.)

As the "enchantments" ("binds") combined to become exponentially harder, it was clear that this was a richer vein of design than the standalone cards, which were — by contrast — fairly similar each time they were played.

You could play cards on yourself, or you could play cards on others. If anyone failed, the game would simply end. Playing cards on yourself was a push-your-luck element; if you weren't the one who failed, you wanted to have the most difficult cards on yourself; you wanted to push yourself to your limits.

I had been working on the game for only a few months, but by Dragonmeet (a UK-based convention in December) the rules were almost exactly that of "sadistic mode".

I wasn't working so had plenty of time to iterate, iterate, iterate. First, every card became equal (1 pt. each) and then points were removed and it became a game of player elimination and survival once I realized that folks were happy to sit back and enjoy the silly positions of other folks.

Constant lesson: Not everyone is like me. Not everyone wants to be the center of attention.

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When my 2014 Kickstarter was half-done, Gary invited me to run an event in the new pub he was managing events for. There were twelve folks at the start of the afternoon, with more joining in as the evening went on. Musical performance followed games followed music followed games.

By the end, around twenty people had been laughing and smiling and were brought together thanks to the silliness of the game.

Running events like this isn't the most efficient marketing method, but it is, frankly, the whole reason I make games. I see people having fun. Fun because of me. Both my ego and desire for validation are briefly satisfied.

I like to think that everyone at the event had a great time. They all wanted a copy for themselves.

It wasn't enough of a crowd to satisfy the scale of an online campaign.

On the final weekend of the Kickstarter, I offered everyone an expansion in addition to the basic deck. It made little difference.

In retrospect, lack of awareness was my problem, not a perceived lack of value. When I then told Liz and Miquette that I might throw in the towel, they were aghast.

After some strong encouragement, I spent half a day messaging FB friend after FB friend. If they liked the game, please buy a copy. If they didn't, please share it.

It was because of those friends agreeing to back me, agreeing to share it to thousands of others, that fifty new folks helped me reach my funding goal.

Lesson: Don't be afraid to tell people online about what you're doing.

If I wanted to properly thank everyone, I'd need another few thousand words. The key instigators, though, are:

Ben Neumann, who encouraged me to make a game as silly as I wanted to.
Rob Harris, who set up Playtest UK.
Danish Frank, who created a game that inspired my initial effort.
Gokce Balkan, who helped me with all my videos and helped me keep the faith.
Elizabeth Chu, who first invited a bunch of folk to my Edinburgh event and then encouraged me to keep going.
Miquette Brietenbach for similar emotional support.
Dave Cousins, who showed the game to several people during SPIEL 2015.

I won't individually name everyone who playtested, which allowed me to iterate and make it a worthwhile game; everyone who formed part of my support network; everyone who played it, enjoyed it, and encouraged me to pursue my dream; everyone who helped show me what tabletop games are capable of; everyone who allowed me to film them playing it; everyone who shared the link on the last day of the Kickstarter, maybe because they just thought, "Hey, Bez is working hard and we want to support her"...

Lesson: We are all products of the people we interact with and the environments we occupy.

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In early 2014, I was still taking time to explore the game. I briefly tried a spoken version, all about triggers that forced you to say words.

It became too much about the memory and mental workout. Trying to contort — and watching others do so — is somehow funnier than hearing others make silly noises, and remembering to do so yourself.

With the number of threads complaining about trackable hidden information, I know I'm not the only one who isn't particularly keen on memory as a test.

It's important to have moments of minor achievement and revelations in a game.

In a strategic game, finally working out a path of options that will lead to an extra 20 points is a real "Aha!" moment.

In Rhino Hero, being able to place the walls and ceiling when it already looks unsteady is a sense of achievement.

Similarly, Yogi/In A Bind makes you feel like you've achieved something when you manage to draw card despite your entanglement.

By contrast, the verbal version that was simply about remembering an increasing number of tasks to do each turn didn't have any of those minor victories — only a sad sense of disappointment at yourself.

And that's not fun. Probably needless to say.

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Most people say to do 90%+ of your art before launching a KS. Across three campaigns for games, I've had 0%, 6%, and then 0% of the final artwork done.

As you might be realizing, I struggle with motivation. Without external pressure, I'd get very little done.

It simply didn't seem worthwhile to spend hundreds of hours on artwork that might never be used. I could (truthfully) state that the campaign allowed me to improve the artwork. The more extreme exaggeration was a result of backer feedback.

I would draw and draw different versions, knowing none of them would be final. I was safe.

But then I had to muscle on and do the final art, knowing it would never be perfect.

"Perfection is the enemy of great, let alone good or done."

I did buckle under pressure and spent a month doing essentially nothing. If I hadn't already taken money from hundreds of people (and felt an obligation to fulfill), I would have probably never finished the game.

So I guess the Kickstarter worked as a source of external motivation.

In the end, I delivered two months late, at the end of May/start of June in 2015. Of course, I wanted to try to sell to shops but out of respect for backers, I decided on a launch date of August 1.

And so it was that — many phone calls later — I had sent it to shops and spent August 1 demoing to folks at Leisure Games.

The next month or so was a lovely time of going around the country from shop to shop, usually managing to earn back my travel money and a little extra.

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There's a certain degree of anxiety about people backing. One close friend, who helped me escape a criminal record after being found guilty of possession of scissors (I was doing a charity haircut), still hadn't played the game when I saw her a few months ago. I want to make something that will actually get played and bring people fun, not something that they buy out of any sense of obligation only to have it sit on a shelf.

Maybe that's unrealistic given today's acquisition-led society. I have far too many games I've still not played and I don't consider myself a collector. We buy objects because of what they represent. Most were bought in the hope of facilitating an experience that I might never find time for.

Time is the real resource that can never be replenished — unless you consider health improvements a form of "earning time".

And yet I hope that folks will spend time with my games, prioritizing them above other shared experiences that might be available in the world. In a world where you might prioritize learning a language, maybe some other knowledge, exploration, musical improvisation, fitness improvement, or a million forms of entertainment, it is gratifying to have folks spend time with something I made, and then describe it as...

qwertymartin wrote:
KAndrw wrote:
using your brain while laughing til a little bit of wee comes out.
I hope {Bez} uses this as a publicity quote
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When I think back to the development of the rules over the initial three months, I think how inefficient my iteration was compared to my process now.

Things I have learned:

Test the extremes. Maybe it will work and you will be surprised. If not, you know better how far to go.

Don't hold onto complexity. In fact, don't needlessly hold onto anything.

Marketing is more important to the initial success of a game than its quality.

Some games market themselves well. I'm very lucky that Yogi/In A Bind is one of these.

A strategic game will exercise your mind and test your ability to plan ahead, calculate probabilities, and negotiate the web of other players' desires so that you can block them.

Dexterity games and party games could be considered tests of physical/social prowess, but some games are far more focused on providing entertainment than testing any ability.

I used to be quite competitive when playing Twister. Unless you play with blocking, full contact, or some slippery fluids, it does become all about endurance and can be a bit dull with two skilled players.

If I really wanted to test everyone's physical ability, having one player draw the cards and everyone else do everything would be a better way to do it. No luck. Equal challenge. The winner is clearly the best.

But the variance does make it more engaging, exciting, and entertaining.

Simply testing an ability is not intrinsically fun.

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When the game's framework was set, I set to work on working out all the possible "binds". Ideally, they should all be possible simultaneously — a fact that I eventually checked by laying out the cards, trying to do them all and tweaking them until I could actually do all at once.

For the upper body, there are very few additional positional restrictions that could be made. In a sense, it is difficult to add new cards to the core deck.

There are plenty of cards that merely need to be touching part of your body, and there are a few more locations these could go.

The game never stops evolving. After printing, and a few hundred games (mainly at conventions and various shops), I realized that one card always took people a little longer to process, mentally: "Right hand right of right elbow".

There's probably no simpler way to phrase that instruction, yet it's just quite incongruous.

When Gigamic was about to reprint the game and needed a replacement, it actually got as far as the art before I realized I had overlooked a very simple instruction I could also add: "Right hand above left hand".

And that's the story of how Yogi is slightly better than In A Bind, in terms of its mechanisms.

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The expansion deck, a promised gift to Kickstarter backers, had to have the wild cards. I loved the wild cards. They were born when I was cycling back from work.

After a day of professionally preparing food, I showed a prototype to a few co-workers in the pub. Two said that I should make a sexualized version so that they could play with their boyfriends.

Cycling home, I knew that I wasn't interested in making something that was so explicit. Frankly, most games intended for initiating sexual contact/conversation tend to be very heteronormative and unimaginative.

However, the wild cards were born from this thought process — the ideas given in the pub had literally been "one finger touching... uh" and "this card in... oh!". Why not literally let players fill in those blanks themselves? In the right environment, such a card could become X-rated.

However, I've seen so many wonderful uses of the wild cards that I'd never have expected. People start involving the table, the floor, shoes, paintings, food...

Once, someone tasked an opponent with putting "this card in... that person's shoe". We were in a game cafe, so everyone was somewhat friendly. However, the player had to call over the non-player, explain the situation, and ask them to please put the card in their shoe — which they did, after making it clear that they'd call in a favor during a future game.

I also remember one player calling out "this card in... between me and you". They then proceeded to move around the other player, forcing them to use the card as a shield.

The wild cards were chosen by making cards that could:

• Be used to recreate an existing card (in case the caller had no imagination)
• Inspire a few different ideas for most people

Some wild cards were originally more freeform, but restrictions (and a longer phrase before the "blank") helped provide a framework, helping avoid the dreaded delay when someone has no idea what to say.

In a Bind with all the wild cards mixed in, slow and sadistic, is my favorite way to play. It's innocent, creative fun.

Unless you want it to not be, of course. That's entirely your prerogative.

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The other expansion ideas — the actions, spoken phrases, and communal actions — were chosen for their entertainment value and simplicity of interpretation.

I expected people to just add a few of whatever they liked. I expected people to play with the communal actions only if playing with more than a certain number.

Instead, people tend to slowly mix everything in.

It's important to learn not just how people will play the game once it's on the table, but also how people decide what subset of the game to put onto the table.

I think that players are far more likely to just deal out everything with a casual/party game than with, say, Viticulture or even Carcassonne.

I think that if Yogi wanted an expansion, I'd like to spend a few months re-examining it and ensuring it could just be all shuffled in without too much rules complication.

From gallery of Deleted010518

Back in December 2013, I'd decided to publish the game myself, using Kickstarter. It was only a card game, so the goal would be low. Logistics should be easy. I wanted to learn.

Frankly, I had no interest in approaching publishers and investing energy in persuading them to accept my idea. That sounded (and still sounds) a lot more tiring.

When approached during the Kickstarter by several companies, I said no. These were companies that I respected that could have sold many thousands more than I did! Yet the reward of learning how to do it myself, perhaps even gaining connections to eventually sell it in larger stores myself, seemed far more appealing than a bit of money.

I also had just lost my job, so time was available to me.

In the end, it was an expensive meal bought for me that persuaded me to sell the game if the price was right. I was told that the rewards of the game could be far more than I had ever earned from any of my menial jobs. As such, it'd allow me to make enough money to do whatever I wanted (which would probably be working on other games without worrying about money quite as much).

I believe that with the right marketing this might sell orders of magnitude more, and that's why I eventually signed with Gigamic.

Hey, I told you I was egotistical.

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The game was taken to SPIEL 2015 and sold by North and South Games. Dave was kind enough to show the game to a few companies even whilst I was running the Kickstarter for In A Bind Jr.

Having two major companies (the smaller of which was, of course, Gigamic) offer me written contracts, with good advance payments on royalties, and being in a position to have to turn down an even larger company, was beyond anything I dared dream of.

In a Bind Jr was a simple adaptation based on a perceived need, a mash-up of the original game and some expansions, with references to left, right or individual fingers removed. A few cards were repeated, and the game was mainly tested with my young nieces to make sure it was all playable.

Lettershapes were designed to be more similar to the way they're first taught and I paid a little extra so that I could have color illustrations.

Having already gone through the process, it was slightly easier to illustrate another 55 cards. However, I had another spell (not as long thankfully) around the turn of the year when I simply couldn't do much.

Lesson: I think I need to take a lot more time off in the winter.

In A Bind Jr was delivered to backers in June 2016 and — again wanting to give them some period of exclusivity — I realized that August 1 was a practical release date.

BezDay was born.

In 2016, I sent out small PnP rewards to previous KS backers, ran a KS for cheap original art, uploaded a PnP game for everyone to play, fulfilled art requests, and organized a small gathering.

In 2017, if you want something drawn, tweet the words "#BezDay #artrequest @stuffbybez" and then use the remaining characters to tell me what you'd like me to draw.

If you live in London, you could come to Loading Bar on Tuesday, August 1 or Leisure Games on Wednesday, August 2. There will be special games and prizes.

If you sign up to my mailing list, you'll get a free PnP version of my next game.

If you have a copy of Wibbell++, you'll find many more games to play with by the end of the week.

But that's a separate story.

From gallery of Deleted010518

In the end, I'm glad I printed it myself initially. If nothing else, it gave me a platform and a learning experience so that I could work on future things.

It helped me understand what's involved in publishing on a small scale. It allowed me to go to conventions and watch people having fun with my things.

Honestly, the conventions are the highlight.

I was volunteering at UK Games Expo 2017. I had volunteered there for several years before I became a trader, and I wanted to volunteer one last time whilst I had nothing to sell.

I have changed. The convention has changed. My relationship with other people has changed.

Whilst the convention's growth has almost nothing to do with me, and many relationships are purely down to visiting one event every year, much of the change is because of In A Bind.

I feel it has opened doors for me. As I was walking around, being an ambassador and checking that everyone was having a good time, I was greeted by a few distributors and publishers. I was able to run an event to celebrate the reincarnation of the game and — though it was only announced the evening beforehand — I still had twelve people laughing and having fun.

I was congratulated by "Shut Up and Sit Down". The whole industry is fairly small; I'm sure I could have said hello to these people regardless. But being able to consider them my peers, thinking that I somehow managed to stumble into being someone who made a game that is quite fun if you like that sort of thing...

I don't feel like I've "made it", but I'm infinitely closer than I was four years ago.

It's been a lot of fun so far (and a lot of stress, anxiety, neuroses...). I'm now just keeping my fingers crossed for Yogi, working on future things but even Yogi itself will have no end.

If it does well, there will be a second edition. There will be expansions. There should be events.

I love the events.

After all, if a thousand people buy it but never play it, is it a good game? If ten people play it and love it, is it a good game?

Again, it's all about the sense of purpose, managing to bring some joy into the world, getting some validation as a result.

From gallery of Deleted010518

I heard about Curses! after the game was on Kickstarter. I think that Yogi is different by virtue of the physical synergy of the "curses".

I have heard a few folk being surprised that this game didn't yet exist. It wasn't a flash of inspiration. It was a slow process of stripping out the unnecessary parts of an overcomplicated prototype until I found the most engaging parts.

Gigamic took their time with the title. It was meant to be out at SPIEL 2016, but instead all they had to show were some pieces of artwork that they had rejected. They were still on the lookout for an artist.

Whilst I'm biased towards my initial drawings, Simon Caruso has done wonderful work. I was especially impressed with the diversity. Without any input/request from me, they included my likeness and — though I was initially worried about representation given the first few pieces of art Simon did — my request for diverse representation was certainly listened to.

I don't know of other games that feature a transgender woman shaving her neck, and I think that's something we should see more of.

Having spoken with Simon on Facebook after the fact, it seems that I needn't have been worried about this aspect at all.

The card quality is fantastic, and since getting the PVC cards, I've had the opportunity to play in a hot tub and a swimming pool.

The game is definitely different. I'm not sure if it's better or worse, but the fact that there is the opportunity is fantastic.

Richard Garfield speaks highly of IELLO's treatment of King of Tokyo, saying that they added so much he didn't imagine and improved it massively.

With Gigamic providing the budget for PVC cards and plastic card holders, I feel the same about this game.

I can only hope that everyone else will agree with my biased opinion on its quality.

The game continues to grow and evolve.

From gallery of Deleted010518

Immediately after SPIEL 2016, I spent two days developing and illustrating a giant (A4 sized) deck for an event at Airecon. A team-based version, it featured such cards as "foot on a wall", "two knees above deck" and "three hands touching".

The amount of fun that the giant deck has brought has more than vindicated the time and money spent on it.

I have some tarot-sized cards purely for further exploration of expansion ideas.

The second English-language printing might have a couple of extra words added, "right hand above elbow" becoming "right hand above right elbow".

Nothing is ever perfect, but we can edge ever closer to our ideals.

As long as a game is continuing to be printed, we can't say that the act of creation has finished: noting people's desires and requests, discounting those (like the idea of removing/swapping binds) that are at odds with the rest of the game, and drawing some conclusions as to how to make it even better, whether by means of an expansion, new edition, or an entirely standalone remaking.

From gallery of Deleted010518

It all started with Danish Frank. He made a prototype, named "Unfair", which prompted me to make my own silly non-strategic game.

Or maybe it started with Fluxx, which had probably inspired him. "Unfair" was similar, but had one single card that would instantly end the game, as well as a rule that the game would end if the deck ran out. Most points in your personal discard pile wins.

Playtest UK was the thing that facilitated our meeting; it allowed me to get a prototype on the table once a month and even if the game was terrible, that was perfectly okay. We were all designers, learning together.

Ian Smith's group — primordial games — was my introduction into modern board games. That led me to seek more groups out, letting me find Playtest UK when I moved south to London.

Originally, I thought I'd be making videogames. Only after several years of making Flash games did and BoardGameGeek help me find a group to play more sociable games with, rekindling the joy that I had years ago, playing Saturn Bomberman around a single TV screen, after games of football.

My first memory is of a Spectrum loading screen.

Maybe there is no "start" to the story.
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