Favorite Board Game Design Resources

Here are the game design resources that I've personally found most useful in my new day job. (Now I know where to go when I need to re-order something!) 

Bits and Prototyping Materials

I buy nearly all my wooden bits from spielmaterial.de. They're a bit expensive and shipping from Germany takes awhile, but their selection and quality is hard to beat. They're my go-to for standard Euro-game fare: wooden cubes, pawns, meeples, and disks, among other things.

I buy more cribbage pegs than I ever thought reasonable from Casey's Wood Products. They also carry the usual craft line of unpainted blocks, beads, balls, eggs, golf tees, checkers, and so on. I picked up the buttons and spools for the Knit Wit prototypes from them.

After many years of experimentation I've found that card sleeves work the best for me for card prototyping purposes. I can print on regular paper stock, letting me iterate quickly. Plus, the sleeves come in a variety of colors and (perhaps most importantly) they're reusable. I've been buying UltraPro sleeves at full retail price – if anyone has a good source for sleeves in bulk, let me know in the comments.

For 3D components, I do a lot of rough prototyping in craft foam. Read more about this magical prototyping material in my article, Craft Foam: the Poor Man's 3D Printer. I've been doing a lot of laser cutting lately, but still find that sticker paper + craft foam makes a fast, cheap, first pass.

I find inkjet-friendly sticker paper indispensable and buy it in bulk from Label Outfitters. It's not as opaque as the nicer Avery version, but it's a lot cheaper. The letter-sized sheets can be had for less than 10 cents a sheet in bulk. Sticker sheets let you "print" on essentially anything whether it's foam, chipboard, wooden bits, dice, or your prototype box.

If you're looking for inexpensive boxes to store and carry your prototypes, Paper Mart is my favorite. Their tab-lock tuck-top mailing boxes work well for many games. If you have smaller games, they have a flip-top box with a magnetic closure that's pretty swank.

Books

Of all the books on game design that I've read, the one that I found most useful is The Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell. The author approaches the craft through 100 different "lenses" or perspectives. These lenses are also available in a card format that I highly recommend.

Raph Koster's A Theory of Fun thoughtfully explores where the fun in games comes from. Koster embellishes nearly every spread with playful illustrations that help communicate his points.

Rules of Play by Katie Salen Tekinbaş and Eric Zimmerman is the textbook of game design and reads as one. This book is chock full of definitions and dry descriptions of the many elements involved in game design. While I found it interesting academically, I didn't find much in it that I could apply directly to my process.

One of the best ways to increase engagement in your game is to find ways to modulate your players emotions. This concept is explored in depth via "beat analysis" in Robin Laws' book, Hamlet's Hit Points. Laws describes a vocabulary of up and down beats, describes how they can be used for better storytelling and role playing, and deconstructs three stories using them to get you fully acquainted with the vocabulary.

Software

I use a pretty lean software kit these days and can do nearly everything I need to accomplish with Adobe Illustrator (prototype illustration), Google Drive (journaling, data tracking, playtest logs, punch lists, file sharing). Illustrator's a pain-in-the ass to learn and use, but after nearly (gulp) 30 years of use, I find it indispensible.

I use Skype and Sococo for communication, avoiding email as much as possible for sharing information that exceeds more than a few sentences. I favor Drive (for asynchronous stuff) since it synchronizes with other contributors and offers full history, and Sococo (for realtime communications) since it offers voice, video, chat, screen sharing and rich presence info.

Tools

I burned through a bunch of low-grade paper cutters before finding the Dahle 507 Personal Rolling Trimmer. If you need accuracy, it'll split a .5pt line (if you're cutting one page at a time). If not, you can cut up to about 8 pages of 20lb. stock in one go. Do yourself a favor and get a great cutter.

Blogs and Podcasts

Cardboard Edison compiles useful articles on game design from around the web. I found their industry reports particularly interesting.

I'm not an avid podcast listener or player of roleplaying games, but if I were, I'd be devoted to Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff. As it is, I pop in occasionally and always leave impressed with how literate, articulate, and just plain smart the hosts are about story construction and a whole host of other topics often tangentially related to board game design.

And if you're not following Board Game News on BoardGameGeek, you're missing out on what's happening on the scene. W. Eric Martin's been on the beat for years now and really knows the industry and the players.

 

Am I missing out on something truly great here? Let me know in the comments.

 

 

The Evolution of Chariot Race

The recent launch of the Chariot Race Kickstarter got me thinking about all the iterations the game has gone through. The earliest sketches I found were dated 2 October 2010, over six years before the game was released.

I typically keep older versions of a game as I work. Doing so helps me design in a more fearless manner – I can try stupid things knowing I can roll back if needed. I also take comfort when I look at these things before I start a new project, because they remind me that games don't start out pretty or balanced.

In this post, I've included some videos and photos of both Chariot Race and Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age. Flip through them to see how they evolved into their current forms.

Chariot Race started as a pub game with wooden boards and pegs. Watch here as the number of spaces on the board gradually shrinks and the chariot boards take on all sorts of different forms:

This is one of the "wood" prototypes (made from foam) alongside the board game version. Moving to more traditional materials cut the game's cost by more than half and opened up the possibility of including a double-sided board and variable chariots. The wood was fun but terribly expensive and the chariots (as cribbage pegs) weren't very thematic.

This is one of the "wood" prototypes (made from foam) alongside the board game version. Moving to more traditional materials cut the game's cost by more than half and opened up the possibility of including a double-sided board and variable chariots. The wood was fun but terribly expensive and the chariots (as cribbage pegs) weren't very thematic.

Here are some of the many pegboards I made out of foam and drilled for testing. Some of the boards were hollowed out underneath so you could keep your Fortuna coins secret from the other players. I used older boards to hold cribbage pegs while I painted them (bottom right). Not pictured are all the sets I sent out for blind-testing. I must have drilled about 5,000 holes over the course of the project.

Here are the reverse sides of the chariot boards showing the six different configurations. Chariots are either sturdy, normal, or flimsy; horses are either speedy, normal, or slow; and charioteers are either lucky, normal, or unlucky.

Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age saw even more iteration. Watch here as the list of developments gradually expands while I continued to experiment with the size and format of the score sheet:

One of the central tensions I needed to resolve in this game was how much information to communicate on the score sheet. I was strongly tempted to go with a minimalist design (so new players wouldn't be scared off by all the text) but it turned out the new players appreciated the reference information most of all. (The last frame here, "LBA," refers to The Late Bronze Age, a print-and-play expansion for the game.)

People often attribute the success of a product to the novelty of its underlying idea. The truth is, the idea (while clear in hindsight) is often only dimly visible when you start out and dozens of iterations are often required before you're able to clear away the fog and arrive at the "obvious" solution.

If you're designing a game of your own, keep this in mind. You'll rarely get it close to right the first time. Much of the quality of a good game comes from its execution – all the little details matter – and the best way to get those right is through continuous iteration.

Interested in the final result? Check out the Chariot Race Kickstarter page.

Designing Knit Wit

I designed Knit Wit in the spring of 2015. Originally entitled "Venntangled" and played on a whiteboard, after several iterations, the game evolved and picked up its "knitting" theme. You can check out an interview I did for Z-man games along with a few snapshots from playtest sessions below.

Here's an interview I did with Z-man on the design of Knit Wit. The last few frames show the how the prototype I initially sent morphed into the final product.

Playtesting with the Rory O'Connor, Anita Murphy, and their family. Theses people are brilliant; if you haven't seen their Story Cubes or Extraordinaires Design Studio products, be sure to check them out.

At one point, players each had their own "personal" spool. The concept was later dropped since it didn't add much but additional time to the game. It also added a lot of visual complexity as you can see here!

Another prototype. I made the spools here out of some extra wooden disks and double-sided tape.

A special thanks goes out to Max Brace for the "Knit Wit" name. I think we tried out dozens before he quietly suggested the name after a few moments of thought and it fit the game perfectly.

Upcoming Releases

So many games! Here is some information on titles that have been announced for 2016. Keep an eye on this space; there's more to come.

Knit Wit

Craft your own word categories using loops and spools then find playful answers that match as many categories as possible. The more categories you match, the more points you score!

a social game for 2-8 players, 15 minutes
Release Date: March 2016
Publisher: Z-man Games
More info on Knit Wit

Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu

Beings of ancient evil, known as Old Ones, are threatening to break out of their cosmic prison and awake into the world. Everything you know and love could be destroyed by chaos and madness. Can you and your fellow investigators manage to find and seal every portal in time? Hurry before you lose yourself to insanity.

Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu was designed by Chuck D. Yager and based on Pandemic. It’s a new, standalone game (and not just a re-skin). I helped a bit with development.

a cooperative game for 2-4 players, 45 minutes
Release Date: Gen Con in August 2016
Publisher: Z-man Games
More info on Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu

The Great Chariot Race

Keep your eyes out for more on this game—Pegasus has been a bit coy about it so far. Suffice to say, you'll race against other chariots in Ancient Rome.

Watch Michael from Pegasus talk about the game on BoardGameGeek TV.

a dice game for 2-8 players, 30 to 45 minutes
Release Date: Spiel in October 2016
Publisher: Pegasus Spiele

Thunderbirds Expansions

International Rescue has been busy! Brace yourself for not one, not two, but three expansions to come out this year.

Get a closer look at the components in these expansions in this Kickstarter update.

Thunderbirds: Tracy Island

Includes three new characters (Brains, Tin-Tin, and Parker), new models (Tracy Island, Ladybird Jet, and FAB 2), 14 disaster vehicle models, and a new Disaster deck.

Release Date: June 2016
Publisher: Modiphius Entertainment

Thunderbirds: Above & Beyond

Includes four new ways to play the game:

  • Levelling Up - improve your character's abilities as you get more experience during the game
  • Disaster Vehicles - 10 alternate bonuses that you can take when avert a disaster, based on popular vehicles in the series (including the Crablogger, Fireflash, and Sidewinder)
  • Crisis Mode - do you have what it takes to join International Rescue? Test your meddle with this challenge that limits each turn to 70 seconds
  • Epic Difficulty - for the ultimate challenge

Each module can be mixed and matched with the others and with the Thunderbirds: Tracy Island and the Thunderbirds: The Hood expansions.

Release Date: Gen Con in August 2016
Publisher: Modiphius Entertainment

Thunderbirds: The Hood

One player takes on the role of The Hood in this expansion to Thunderbirds - The Co-operative Game. Craft a diabolical scheme and attempt to photograph—or even hijack!—the Thunderbirds machines. Comes with a Hood peg, Hood's Lair, Hood's Sub, and Hood's Plane figures, Agent figures, scheme tokens, camera, and everything else you need to play. Also can be used to turn Thunderbirds into a 2-player competitive game.

an expansion for Thunderbirds for 2-5 players, 45 to 60 minutes
Release Date: Spiel in October 2016
Publisher: Modiphius Entertainment

Thunderbirds: A Peek Behind The Curtain

Bits and pieces from dozens of iterations of the Thunderbirds board game

Chris Birch of Modiphius has agreed to try out a little experiment for the Thunderbirds kickstarter with me. Since we still have a few weeks to polish up the game a bit, we thought we'd lift the veil and share the rules as I edit them in Google Docs and have them open for comment.

Now, mind you, this is the raw text that describes how the game works. It's unvarnished and unillustrated, with diagrams drawn by yours, truly. Michal Cross will be coming in to do his part and make the whole package look fantastic.

So, with that caveat in mind, I've unlocked the Cahelium-lined vault and put the rules online.

If you have any comments, feel free to leave them below or add them directly to the document—but note, that I'll be resolving most of the comments in the document as they come in to keep it readable.

I hope you enjoy our experiment and the early look into the rules and thanks for your interest!

New Digs

I've decided to join the 21st century at last and upgrade my dusty old website. Goodbye tables and spacer gifs! Hello slightly cold, clinical look. Is that the cost of having fashionable UI in 2015? If nothing else, I refuse to put a cover page on this site. And no, you didn't see a popup when you visited. You're welcome.

At least this thing is will be easy to update when I have something to share.

I'll be pointing to a few older pieces of content here to start off, but then hope to be able to share news on upcoming games like Pandemic Legacy and Thunderbirds and other games coming down the pike. And I'm especially looking forward to being able to point people to this site without an obligatory apology.

Enough naval-gazing and on with the show.