Category Archives: Game Design

Get Off My Lawn, Old Man Winter

So, it looks like my prediction of 3 more months of winter at the start of February was pretty dead on. Thankfully, it looks like we’re finally ready to start seeing some live plants here in Minnesota. I just hope we don’t get another blizzard like we did the other day. May blizzards are really demoralizing, ya know?

It’s been an extremely busy couple of months for me lately, as I went to both GAMA and the Gathering of Friends in order to drum up business. Although neither show has resulted in a direct sale yet, a couple of other projects are cropping up, and I think it’s at least partially because of the exposure I got at those cons. Still, I’m glad to have a couple of months at home now to just buckle down and get games done.

So, how am I doing overall, you may ask? Well, my finances are in decent shape still, and I’m continuing to drum up work as I go along. I’m also continuing to come up with game ideas that I want to work on as I get the opportunity. In general, I’m really enjoying myself, even if I’m still having to hustle to get things ramped up.

So, how about a project update, then? It’s been awhile since I’ve talked about the projects in my queue.

Project Tweedledee – Last blog entry, I revealed that this game (a collaboration with my friend Eric Lang (@eric_lang on twitter) is based upon a comic book called Finding Gossamyr. Tweedledee is largely completed, although I continue to run playtests of it when I can and make tweaks to the game components. In the meantime, Th3rd World, the publisher, has been ordering art and otherwise getting the game prepped for the printer. Maybe in a month or two I’ll even be able to show off a bit of art. We’ll have to see.

Tweedledee features a tasty little action engine system that we think gamers are really going to enjoy, and most of the playtesting tweaks have been in order to squeeze a little more juice out of that system and to make the players’ decisions a bit more interesting.

Project Tweedledum – The other collaboration I’m doing with Eric, Tweedledum has been put on the backburner while Eric and I deal with other projects (Kaosball is his main focus for the moment, and I’ve been focusing on Rattler to try and get it done). Eric is going to be the “heavy lifting guy” on this game, as I was on Tweedledee. We talked about the game a lot and hashed out the major points of the design while we were hanging out at GAMA, now it’s just a matter of getting the components designed.

Project TopHat – I showed this game off to several publishers at both GAMA and Gathering, and although it got plenty of interest, it hasn’t sold just yet. So, I’ve decided to take some of the feedback I got at the Gathering and revamp the game a bit.  In particular, I removed an auction phase from the game and beefed up the player interaction some more by introducing competition for certain resources that enter the game. I’ll be trying out this new less filling, but better tasting TopHat 2.0 as soon as I get the chance, and then we’ll see where I go from there.

Project Rattler – I’ll admit it, this project has been rough going. The amount of text required for it has bogged me down a ton, and I’ve been struggling with some lingering issues that I had with the design. However, last week I had a major breakthrough on Rattler, and I’ve been making good progress ever since, which is a relief after beating my head against the wall for so long.

With last week’s changes, I really feel like Rattler is going to be a home run. It has a very unusual theme, a compelling setting, and a number of unique mechanics. The challenge has been trying to capture the proper level of drama vs. control, and that has proven elusive up until now.  Since my breakthrough, however, I’ve been powering through it, and I expect to be done with the design and components by the end of this month at the latest.

Project Lottery – I’m still waiting to hear back from a publisher on this game. More on it once I hear back on it for sure. Whether it works out or not, Lottery has been very educational for me, and has taught me a lot about the mainstream market, which is useful regardless of Lottery’s success.

Project Fury – I feel like Fury could be one of my biggest releases of the year. As a designer, you’re never 100% sure, but I’ve learned to trust my gut over the years. It has a good theme and an original IP, and it’s with a publisher that can really make it cool. I’ve mapped out the main mechanics now, and component design is up next. Now that I’ve broken through the wall on Rattler, I expect Fury will enter high gear soon.

Project Volcano – After a delay earlier in the year, the contract for this game is now being wrapped up, so that’s good. I’ve got some sweet ideas for where to take this design, and overall, I’m going to be focusing on making it a rollicking game of high adventure and exploration.

Other Projects – In addition, there are 2 more projects that I’m in talks with publishers about. I don’t have codenames for them yet, as they aren’t sure things at this point in time, but if and when contracts do get signed, they’ll get added to the queue and work will begin.

I also have a couple of design ideas for next year that are explorations of an entirely new type of game for me, but we’ll have to see if I find appropriate homes for them. They’re fairly experimental, so who knows, right?

So, while I’m obviously keeping pretty busy, I feel really good about the designs I’m working on this year. I feel like they’re going to help me take the next step in my career, and these games are really going to be designs that I can be proud of.

Good Friends and Tasty Wings

Next Friday, I’m flying off to the Gathering of Friends, which is by far my favorite convention. I originally got my invite because Alan Moon was a fan of Descent 1st Edition, and I’ve been going every year I could manage since. It’s a small, intimate convention full of knowledgeable, hardcore board gamers. It’s also just down the road from a great little pizza & sandwich shop called Donatello’s that I basically eat at the entirely time I’m there. I can’t wait to have their buffalo wings in cowabunga sauce (yes, the shop is named after THAT Donatello) and one of their fried bologna sandwiches.

This year, I’m especially looking forward to the Gathering since it’s my first year there as a free agent. I can show off games I’m working on, get people to try them out, and get a couple months’ worth of playtesting done in about a week.This year, I’m going to be showing off at least 2 games, and maybe 3. Tweedledee and TopHat are definitely going to be there, and Rattler will be as well, provided I get the okay from the publisher. I can’t wait!

I’m going to be showing TopHat to several publishers and trying to find a buyer for it. One company is looking at it from the GAMA trade show, but it doesn’t pay to stop shopping a game around until you have a buyer. This design has gotten very good reactions from the folks who have played it, and this con will be an excellent opportunity to observe players playing it “in the wild”, without me teaching and running the game. I also will use the feedback from the Gathering to fine tune some numbers and file down a couple of rough spots. I have high hopes for this one, as it supports 2-8 players and plays in less than 45 minutes, but it needs the right publisher to really knock it out of the park.

Tweedledee is also looking really good these days. The publisher, Th3rd World Studios, showed it off on TableTop Day recently, so I can talk about it some. As I’ve mentioned, the game is a co-design between Eric Lang and I, and I can definitely say that it’s one of my favorite games I’ve helped to design. I keep pulling it out to play with people even though it doesn’t really need any more playtesting (having achieved total buttery smoothness already). Although the final name is not finalized, I can also reveal that the game is based on the Finding Gossamyr comic series. If you haven’t heard of it, I strongly recommend giving it a try. As there are only 4 issues out so far, it’s easy to catch up on the story.

As for Rattler, I got to show it to the publisher at the GAMA trade show, and I’m happy to say that they were extremely pleased with what they saw. I can’t say for sure yet if I’ll be showing it off at Gathering, but hopefully I’ll get the okay, as I’m curious to start seeing player responses to the game besides my usual crew. I think the game is pretty original and fun, but it needs a good chunk of polishing, and I’m eager to get it finished and off to production so that it can be in stores as soon as possible.

Anyway, as you can see, it’s been a busy month for me between tidying up the last of my GAMA follow-ups, figuring out how to do estimated taxes, and getting ready for Gathering, but I’m feeling optimistic that this April is going to be a great month for me.

Edit: By the way, for a free look at Finding Gossamyr, look here.

Time “Marches” On…

If there’s one thing that really hits home as a freelancer, it’s the relentless March of time. Okay, I’ll stop with the March puns, I’ve got it out of my system now, I promise.  Anyway, seriously, time really rushes past as a freelancer. There’s a steady drain on your savings, while you race the clock to set up deals and sell games before the last grains of sand run out of your bank account. As I’ve said before, it’s scary for me, as I’ve had a steady paycheck for almost 15 years.

Fortunately, I’m doing pretty well so far. I’ve sold 4 games for sure since leaving FFG, have a pretty solid 5th, and have 2 more games finished and ready to sell, hopefully in a couple weeks at the GAMA Trade Show. Depending on how fast the publishers are, there might actually be quite a few games with my name on them out this year. We’ll just have to wait and see, really.

My main focus in February has been Rattler, now that Tweedledee and TopHat are pretty much finished up. I’ve made good progress on Rattler, and done a lot of world design for it. It’s an unusual setting that I’m very excited about. I’ve even seen a couple of pieces of test art for it, and that’s always exciting stuff for me. In March, Fury is going to start being my focus as I brainstorm and start designing for it, and hopefully I’ll be able to finish Rattler.

I will say that my favorite part of every game is seeing it come to life through art and components. I love opening up a new game that I’ve designed and pawing through the bits. There’s nothing better than the smell of a freshly opened game. Heck, I can even tell you what country a pack of cards were printed in by the smell of their ink (my friend Eric Lang showed me that trick).

In conventions this month, I’ll be going to the GAMA Trade Show, as I mentioned earlier, which is in Las Vegas. Maybe I’ll try and catch a show while I’m there if I’m not totally swamped with meetings. I’ve always kind of wanted to see the Blue Man Group perform, or maybe a Cirque du Soleil show. I doubt I’ll do too much gambling, though, maybe just a bit of slots and blackjack for the heck of it. Some other folks in the industry are pretty good poker players, but I’m only average, so I’ll stay out of the annual poker tournament.

I may also be heading out somewhere in the country to make an appearance for TableTop Day on March 30. Details haven’t been finalized yet, but if all goes well, Eric and I, as well as the publisher, will be showing off Tweedledee that day. I’ll let you guys know as soon as the trip is finalized where I’ll be appearing. If it happens to be in your area, come by and see us.

So, March is going to be a busy month for me, but I’m greatly looking forward to it.