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Design Diary: Home Stretch

Hello, poets and musicians, artists and scientists!

I’ve been hard at work over the past few months on getting Nine Muses polished, both visually and mechanically. This board game has come a long way since the version that I entered in a small design contest last April. (Humble brag: it won 2nd place as a crowd favorite.) I’m proud of the game that it was, but I’m infatuated with the game that it is. And there’s still some work to do! Let me give you a brief history of Nine Muse’s design roots and how it evolved, with an update on what’s in store for the future of this game.

Nine Muses in its infancy

Last Feb-March, I began design on Nine Muses as an entry to a board game contest. The challenge was to design a game that used no more than 9 poker-sized cards and 27 tokens or other small pieces. As a history buff with a fondness of all sorts of ancient mythologies, I had to make the game about the Nine Muses of antiquity. I quickly got to work.

The game I had in mind was simple: You’re all philosophers competing to gain renown and ensure that your opponents become unknowns. To do this, you use the muses to exchange the three types of knowledge defined by Aristotle (Craft, Science, and Ethics). The muses served as an exchange market and as a means to gain victory points, with the first player to gain 25 points taking the win.

The original concept that I submitted had three muses that allowed you to exchange one type of knowledge for points, and the other six each had 3 options for you to exchange knowledge. The idea is that you’d want to trade up to Ethics to maximize your points, but you might need to take advantage of the muse available and turn in Science or Craft for points instead. Only a limited number of muses were available to you at once, but you could spend a Science to replace a muse to hopefully gain the options you needed.

The twist to all of this was that the knowledge was finite, and when the bank ran out of the knowledge that you were owed, you could pick an opponent to steal from! That’s where the tension was.

It was fun, and I’m glad it did well in the contest, but it didn’t have the replayability or dynamic strategy I’d expect in a game. I had to make it better.

Inspired to improve

I experimented with countless builds, some of which let you “claim” a muse and gain points at the end of each turn, which forced players to pay you if they wanted to use the muse you claimed. (Example of one of these muses below.)

This was all well and fun, but these versions suffered from “follow the leader” syndrome, and also stopped players from being able to make any worthwhile moves. Even after tweaking the costs and points, there was something missing. Something lacking.

The problem was that aside from being able to steal knowledge here and there, there was no extra “spice” to give players the impression that they could develop a unique strategy of their own with what was at hand. Then it came to me, if the players are philosophers, why not let them play as the real deal?

To think about thinking

First, I changed the win condition to whomever had the most victory points after a certain number of rounds.

After that, I tweaked the muses to give them unique powers along with their knowledge exchange ability. As you’ll see in the image below, I also went through major visual overhauls to thematically aid your journey to become a great sage.

Then, I created philosopher cards, based on real people who lived in the times of antiquity, that players could reveal during the game to gain large sums of points—if they played their cards right (pun intended).

The gameplay improved quite a bit! But there was still one issue: follow the leader syndrome. There were four muses on the board for players to exchange knowledge with, but everyone wanted to make the same exact moves. That told me that I still needed to open the game up and allow people to execute more strategies to gain an edge over their opponents. Back to the drawing board.

Modern solutions to ancient problems

After a couple of months of experimentation with the former build, I hit a wall. I rode my bike, watched some TV, and played some board games and video games, then I realized something. My former builds each had a piece of this design puzzle, I need only put them all together.

The current build of the game has muses as an extra strategic layer on top of the base element of exchanging knowledge and scoring points. Now, philosophers serve as your knowledge exchangers with the man himself, Aristotle, being that stoic professor you must demonstrate your knowledge to for points. Although gaining various muses also allows you to score points or gain a knowledgeable edge for future turns.

Now we’re cooking with metaphysics! In the current build, players have three philosopher cards to use over the round. They can discard a philosopher card to demonstrate knowledge to Aristotle or claim a muse, or they can play the card to perform its specified knowledge exchange.

Players can claim a muse by meeting the “Visits” condition, and they can also steal a muse from an opponent as long as they meet that condition. (You only need to meet the condition at the time of claiming the muse, not continuously throughout the game. Any ties mean the muse can’t be claimed or stolen.)

The game is now played over five rounds; the player with the most points at the end of the last round claims victory and leaves their opponents in the footnotes of the history books. At the beginning of each round, you gain three philosopher cards to spend and a new muse is revealed. Once all players have used all of their philosopher cards, the round is over. Once the last muse is revealed, everyone plays one last round. The gameplay is fast and smooth, with dynamic strategies that don’t require you to have a philosophy degree to comprehend.

Current playtests have been great, and I’ve gotten overwhelmingly positive feedback on the game. But I’m not done yet, there are still some tweaks to make before I can say the gameplay feels as best as it can.

Changes for the better

My recent playtests have surfaced a major piece of feedback: The trade ability on the philosopher cards is too situational to be used most of the time. As a result, players are discarding philosopher cards to perform other actions in the game with the same or a better effect.

I’ve also noticed that the bank or “central pool” of knowledge as I call it is too large and needs to be limited, likely to specific amounts per number of players. I want to give players more moments where they have to steal knowledge.

Two tweaks I’m eager to test are to skew the philosopher trades such that you spend less and gain more, and there are two trade options for you to choose from on the card. Fingers crossed that these provide more options…

What’s in store for the future?

Slight tweaks and playtesting are in order for Nine Muses. I also need to standardize and improve the elements of the design. Symbols are all over the place, design-wise, and the text for the muses is difficult to read. In short: some gameplay and visual polish are needed.

I also need to work on packaging physical, print-and-play, and digital versions of Nine Muses. Oh, and there’s the little matter of the launch date and where to purchase this game—which I’m almost ready to sign off on. I’ll make an official announcement about that in the coming weeks, I’m almost ready to release an announcement about my release announcement, heh.

But now it’s time for me to kick it up a notch in terms of branding and advertising. I have a lot of visual work to do there: ads to design, pitches to refine, and videos to divine. (Sorry, “videos to divine” makes no sense but I couldn’t think of another word that rhymes with “refine” and “design.”)

My philosophic conclusion

Don’t be frightened of me using the A-word.

To me, advertising isn’t about trying to sell you my game. It’s to spread the word that my game exists and let you know what kind of game it is, so you can be the judge of whether it’s right for you or not.

You’ll see more info on Nine Muses, like the official release date, gameplay videos, and more peeks of the artwork, in the coming months as this game gets closer to being ready to add to your board game collection.

Until then, keep pondering and wandering…

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Announcements Blog Game Design Games Nine Muses

Introducing Nine Muses

Greetings Otherworldly Beings!

I’m excited to announce another game in the Otherworld Games family, Nine Muses!

This is a 2-4 player 30-45-min euro-lite game designed with minimal components. This game is currently in the Board Game Geek 9-Card Nano Board Game contest. I’ll be making regular design log posts on the Otherworld Games site but for now, check out the Board Game Geek thread with info on how to play with print-and-play and digital.

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Spooky October updates from Otherworld Games

Hello Otherworldly Beings,

Happy spooky scary skeletons month!

As the leaves turn and the dead come back to life, it’s a good time to reflect. I like to take this time to think about the important things, like do I have enough garlic and holy water to ward off creatures of the damned? The answer is yes.

I want to share a bit about what’s going on with Otherworld Games for October and the coming months…let’s go!

Play Color Space and leave me feedback!

Color Space has been out on Tabletop Simulator for a couple of months now. I’m going to add some extra touches to the game in the coming weeks but the game is ready for you to play. All you need is a copy of Tabletop Simulator, then you can download the Color Space mod for free!

Color Space box art

Expect gameplay videos soon!

To show you a bit more about how Color Space and One Last Job play, look out for videos on the Otherworld Games Youtube channel soon. (These will be my first videos, so go easy on me.)

More on that in a future update.

One Last Job is still in the judging process

I’m so anxious to see how it does in this contest. I’ve also been working on fun changes to the game that I’ll release post contest. These changes include, but aren’t limited to…
• A new character with the D10 die (D10 currently isn’t in the game)
• A slightly bigger bank (2 extra coins)
• A new mechanic where the dice placers DON’T choose can work for or against them

AND you can expect One Last Job to come to Tabletop Simulator soon!

One Last Job logo

I’m planning to spring ahead next year

You may have noticed that this new one-person board game studio hasn’t yet released a physical board game. There have been set backs, as I’ve noted in prior updates. But it’s looking good to start my first Kickstarter next spring! Originally, the plan was for Color Space to be the the first game. But the more I think about it, the more I think One Last Job is the better fit.

The reason? One Last Job uses more standard components than Color Space. I had been working with manufacturers to get the Color Space pieces just right for a slick-looking prototype and just never got there. I decided to take a step back and think. I decided that Color Space needs more time but One Last Job is rearing to go! I think it could make a great mint tin-style game.

Stay tuned on One Last Job developments in the future!

Okay, that’s really all for now…see you around, Otherworldly Beings.

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End of summer update from Otherworld Games

Hello Otherworldly Beings,

The end [of summer] is nigh! Here’s an update on what Otherworld Games has been cooking over the season.

Color Space digital is available FREE on Tabletop Simulator

You heard that right. If you have Tabletop Simulator on Steam, you can download and play the digital Color Space mod right now for free. Give it a try to see if it’s the type of game you’d like to play in the physical world.

A poster for the game Color Space, out on Tabletop Sim for free. Kickstarter for the physical edition will be available next year.

Color Space physical edition Kickstarter has been delayed…

Due to the rising cost of freight and materials, the Kickstarter for Color Space has been delayed to some time next year. That just means there’s more time to playtest. 😀

One Last Job is in a contest!

Back in July, a little 1-card print-and-play game known as One Last Job was launched. It’s free to download and play right now, as long as you’re willing to print and cut out a card and 2 player aids. You’ll also need a small collection of assets. (Dice, chips, cubes—that sort of thing.)

Title art for the 2-player dice-rolling game One Last Job

That’s it! Oh wait, actually…one last thing

A new game is in development! With the working title “Cosmic Voyage,” this is a co-op game about space exploration and scientific discovery. Think of something that fuses together the vibe of games like Tokaido and Forbidden Island but has unique aspects such as career advancement and dealing with mental health on an extended space mission.

It’s still in early prototype stages but it’s coming along nicely. We actually just played a new prototype today and the game is fun and solid! More on this in the future.

Okay, that’s really all for now…see you around, Otherworldly Beings.

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June updates from Otherworld Games

Happy Summer!

What a time it’s been. The pandemic has rearranged and marred our lives but it looks like we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel across the globe. Fingers crossed! Here are some updates on what this small design studio. (I mean, really small, since it’s just one person.)

I neglected to give a May update and almost neglected a June one. Apologies for being so absent. Life and other projects sort of took me over for a while there. I’m coming back with some strong updates, though. I’m also working on publishing a book of creative fiction scifi short stories and building out an Etsy store to sell my art prints—but enough about that. Let’s get to it!

Introducing One Last Job, a free print and play game

In an effort to be more active in the board game design community, I decided to enter the 1-card print and play design contest hosted by Board Game Geek. I’ve entered One Last Job, a two-player, rootin’ tootin’ dice recruitin’ game. You face head-to-head against someone, recruiting crewmates—in the form of dice—and rolling them to use their abilities.

Logo for One Last Job

Every aspect of this game, the mechanics, the artwork and design, all of it was made by yours truly. (Remember where I said I was the only person at Otherworld Games?) HOWEVER, this game still wouldn’t be possible without the amazing people who helped me playtest it; one of those being my wife and partner in crime. Thank you!

A photo of me playtesting an earlier build of One Last Job against myself.
Me playtesting an earlier build of One Last Job against myself.

Download the print and play file, print it and play it, then head over to my entry thread and leave a comment in the thread to let me know what you think!


Neat, but what’s going on with Color Space?

I’m still on track to kickstart the Kickstarter for Color Space on Nov 2nd. I’ll be talking the game up a lot more around that time. I’ll need all the support I can get to make Color Space a reality. Mainly money. Right now, I’m trying to settle on physical products for the game, including the game itself. What do I mean by that? I mean I’m trying to figure out how Color Space will physically look. Check out some of these prototypes!

A photo depicting four physical variants of Color Space. Top left: cedar and wax. Top right: acrylic glued in acrylic. Bottom left: epoxy. Bottom right: cedar and epoxy.
Four flavors of Color Space. Top left: cedar and wax. Top right: acrylic glued in acrylic. Bottom left: epoxy. Bottom right: cedar and epoxy.

But I want to play Color Space now!

Good news, everyone—you can do that thing! My lovely wife made a Tabletop Simulator version of Color Space that you can download yesterday. (Or today if your time machine is broken. My point is is that it’s been out for a bit.)

Grab this FREE mod and fire up the old Tabletop Simulator!

That’s all for now! Keep your board games cool out there. You know, so they don’t melt their assets off.