Game Design

Find Peace With Deviating From Your Creative Project Plans

It’s nice to take a break from the daily grind and take a vacation. Maybe travel to a different city? Eat the local cuisine? Drink the local whisky? That sort of thing. The one thing I despise during a vacation is over-planning.

I’m not talking about essentials like packing and booking an airbnb or hotel—I’m talking about itemizing your day down to the hour or minute. I can’t stand taking a vacation with someone who maps out the whole day with sight-seeing and whatnot. Why can’t we just go get loaded in a foreign locale? Why do we need to go to the colosseum, the forum, then go to five different restaurants that all the tourists say are the place to go? The one thing I despise during a vacation is doing too much touristy shit.

Now you’re probably thinking, “hey Neutrino Burrito, you just phrased two things you don’t like with the insinuation that there’s only one thing that you don’t like. I’m calling the police!”

I’m on the phone with the cops right now, you’re going away for a long time.

What had happened was, I thought of one thing that I disliked and then in the moment remembered another whole thing that I didn’t like. My planned communication of dislikes expanded.

Four paragraphs in and you’re still rambling, can you get to the point?

Just like vacations are best when you leave room to be spontaneous and explore your new environment, your creative endeavor is best when you leave room to explore what’s possible.

Also, having a drink every now and then certainly doesn’t hurt.

Get drunk and slack off—got it! Any other sage advice?

No, but to reaffirm my point with personal experience—

Hard pass. Can you just stick to pairing games with alcohol?

—A year and a half ago, I decided to start developing a tabletop game based around the Roman Republic being turned into the Roman Empire. Some day, I still might make that game. Right now, my game is entirely different. The theme is different, most of the mechanics are different, the win conditions are also different.

If you asked me which game I’d rather be making, It’s the one I’m making right now, not the one I started making in the summer of 2017. Since this is the first tabletop game that I’ve ever developed, it took me this long to realize exactly what I wanted. If I had stuck to the plan, I’d still be scratching my head, wondering why my Roman game isn’t enjoyable for me. As I type this, I’m a few weeks away from opening this game up to beta tests. Meaning other human beings are going to mock play test my game.

Wait, you don’t think people are going to ridicule my game, do you?

Of course not! They’re likely going to save that so they can ridicule you, personally.



Game Design

4 Games That I Backed on Kickstarter in 2018 That I Can’t Wait to Play in 2019

It’s the new year, bitches! New year, new tabletop games. (That’s how the saying goes, right?) Here are four games that I backed in 2018 that I can’t wait to get my mitts on this year.

Disclaimer: I wanted to embed the kickstarters I’m backing here but WordPress unfortunately is treating it as an upsell opportunity and only allows embedding on their premium plans, not my lowly personal plan. (I think that’s a lousy tactic.)

Additional disclaimer: Kickstarter also won’t let me take images from these project pages, so I’ve got no shiny things to show you. It’s text only, folks. Suck it up.

Conclusion of above disclaimers, disclaimer: If you’re interested in exploring these games, I’ve linked to the kickstarters below! Click them, some may still be active!

Call to Adventure

I’ve been looking for a role playing game that isn’t as extensive as something like D&D. Call to Adventure is made by Brotherwise Games—publishers of such games as Boss Monster and Unearth. I love Brotherwise Games as a publisher and I’ve been a backer of theirs since their first Boss Monster kickstarter many moons ago.

(Link to Call to Adventure on kickstarter.)

This game also features an expansion based on Patrick Rothfuss’s In the Name of the Wind book series. Full disclosure, I haven’t read the book and have no current plans to but from what I gather, you don’t need to have read the book to enjoy the game. I can’t wait to get my mitts on this one!

La Mancha

Don Quixote is a novel which represents how satire hasn’t changed in the past 400 years. Although I love the book, I’m not motivated to reread it any time soon—once is enough.

(Link to La Mancha on kickstarter.)

Enter La Mancha, the card game that puts you into the shoes of misplaced chivalry and dementia without having to actually pore over nearly a thousand pages of ramped windmill attacks.

City of the Big Shoulders

Euro-style game? Check. Based around the greed and power grabbing in 1900s Chicago? Check. Top hats everywhere? Check.

(Link to City of the Big Shoulders on kickstarter.)

This game seems intriguing, it’s all about buying stock, constructing buildings, and sending your workers out to do your bidding. My kind of game. The artwork is not only phenomenal, it’s thematically on point.

Inhuman Conditions

This game intrigues me. It seems short, sweet, and it’s built for two players. I’m also a fan of Blade Runner, which is the [parody-esque] inspiration behind Inhuman Conditions.

(Link to Inhuman Conditions on kickstarter.)

The intriguing thing behind this game is that it provides a way to weave multiple games into a single narrative. It’s also advertised as a party game, which is odd in a two-player format.

What tabletop games are you excited to play in 2019?

Game Reviews

7 Wonders Duel + Pantheon + White Wine: Reimagining a Tabletop Game for Two Players

When I play and review tabletop games, I try to figure out what type of alcoholic drink thematically pairs with them. When I think of a game like 7 Wonders—I think of an alternate history of the old world. At first, I was going to pair this game with a barley wine, but then I thought about what most people drank during the time of Ancient Greece and Rome: white wine.

Truth is, 7 Wonders blends many cultural landmarks, not just that of Ancient Greece and Rome, but also that of the Sumerians, Egyptians, and Phoenicians. These are all different peoples who lived along the Mediterranean Sea. The main reason that I chose white wine is because I’m not much of a wine drinker and I thought that I’d give it a shot. (It wasn’t bad!)

What’s so good about this game?

As a history major (and lover), a game like 7 Wonders intrigues me. As a tabletop gamer, the mechanics of 7 Wonders keep me engaged. As a wine-drinking amateur, I found the white wine we had, a Pinot Grigio called Chloe, to be semi-sweet and smooth.

We don’t have wine glasses, so a glass from the Vivant brewery will have to do!

7 Wonders Duel is a two-player only reimagining of the game 7 Wonders. The spirit of 7 Wonders is definitely there in Duel, but mechanics are streamlined and meant to only work for two players.

What are the differences between the original 7 Wonders game and Duel?

There are a lot of similarities between the two: you take a card and construct the building on it (granted you have the resources at hand or can trade for them), discard it for sweet coin, or use it to construct a Wonder.

Duel has a few different ways for you to win:

  • Military supremacy—move a military tracker all the way to your opponent’s space
  • Scientific supremacy—collect six out of seven scientific symbols
  • Civilian Victory—after three ages of card drawing have passed, whomever has the most victory points wins

There are other major differences between 7 Wonders and its two-player adaptation. For one, drawing mechanics are different—you arrange the cards in a special pattern for each age, with certain cards face-down or face-up. (You flip over face-down cards when they become uncovered.) You can only draw cards from the pattern which aren’t partially covered.

Age I starting pattern

Secondly, the trading mechanic works a little differently in Duel. Players pay two coins plus the number of brown or grey cards that their opponent has in order to trade for a resource. There are yellow card buildings that players can employ which lock trading at one coin. (You can see two of them in the image above.)

Wonders also work differently: each player draws four Wonders at the beginning of the game and they can only construct seven Wonders between them—it’s a race for players to construct their anachronistic attractions!

What’s with those little tokens some of the cards?

That’s a part of the Pantheon expansion! In Age I you activate gods from the pantheons of five different ancient civilizations (the Phoenicians, Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Romans, and Grecians).

  • Age I—religious tokens trigger a god to placed in a slot on the pantheon
  • Ages II & III—players pay coins to activate a god’s single-use ability
The Pantheon board attaches to the top of the base game.

So who won?

My opponent beat me with a rare military victory! When you construct military buildings, you move the military token (that bright red piece on that track of oval-shaped spaces in the image above) one space toward your opponent’s city. If you move it all the way to the end, you win.

Typically, players are able to last out all three ages and compare their victory points, but not this time. My opponent had just a few spaces left to a military victory and I thought that they wouldn’t be able to build any new military buildings, but I was wrong!

What’s your verdict on 7 Wonders Duel?

I love this game. It captures the card generating mechanics and the ancient city development that you’d find in a game like Civilization, while keeping gameplay to a tight 45-60 minute. The Pantheon expansion adds more opportunities for you to change the balance of power in your favor.

I’ll definitely bring 7 Wonders Duel back to the table.


Game Design

Playtest Early, Playtest Often: Key Advice on Developing Your Tabletop Game

Your game isn’t finished? So what! It’s time to playtest it.

I’ve gone through several iterations of my game, and playtested with people that are close to me. None of that was nearly as beneficial as when I playtested with avid tabletop game lovers who had nothing to hide. They ripped my game apart before I could even finish explaining the rules to them—in a good way.

As I reflect on my game this holiday season and look to make improvements on it in the new year, the most important feedback that I got on my game was that it seemed like I was throwing complicated mechanics in the way of what seemed like an easy objective. I knew that my game was in trouble. After receiving that feedback, and realizing that players were typically forced to agree with one another during a turn (there was no competition or backstabbing in my competitive game), I reworked several elements of it.

  • It’s now a hidden identity game where everyone has separate win conditions
  • The “influence” currency in the game now has multiple purposes instead of just one
  • Players are forced to decide whether then want to help one another or try to screw one another over in the game

I have yet to playtest this latest prototype but I think that these changes will make the game way more exciting for players. And that’s the point, right?

But my game doesn’t have the cool parts built in yet…

It doesn’t matter—playtest it. Playtest it with yourself, with others who understand that it’s not finished yet, with other designers if you’re fortunate enough to have a network of them.

Playtest it!

But my game isn’t even winnable yet…

It doesn’t matter! Playtest it! Break your mechanics down to their core elements and set a goal for a weekly or even daily playtest, then specifically dedicate a portion of your playtests to hunting for balance issues and flow issues with that one mechanic.

Is your currency too easy or too difficult to obtain?—dedicate a handful of playtest sessions to investigating that specific element.


It-doesn’t-matter-playtest-it! In early development, my game had a lot of issues that I would’ve worked out a lot more quickly through active playtest sessions versus speculation and glancing back and forth from my computer screen to my handwritten notes in my journal.

You still write things down? It’s 2018

I realize that. Soon it’ll be 2019 (happy new year!) and I’ll still likely write things down. You don’t have to, but you should log all of your playtests somehow.

Here’s what I make sure to log for each playtest:

  • Date
  • Play duration (in minutes)
  • Turn durations of all players (in minutes)
  • Noticeable balance issues
  • Game-stopping issues that we had to work through
  • Ideas sparked by seeing my game in action
  • Asset issues (typos, weird icons, things that don’t make sense)
  • General anecdotes on the flow and fun of the game

If you take anything away from this advice, let it be: playtest early, playtest often AND log all of your playtests so that you know where to improve your game.

Game Design

Overhauling Your Tabletop Game Mechanics

If you’re designing a tabletop game, you may have run across elements of your game that just didn’t click. Why, though? Well I’m telling you why: Santa Claus is coming to town! Wait, that’s not right. This is my first tabletop game, and it’s gone through many iterations. I’ve changed the theme, I’ve added or removed some minor mechanics, but for some reason the game still didn’t click. The answer came to me from one of my beta play test sessions. Someone gave me critical feedback. I don’t even think they were aware of how critical it was and how much I needed it.

Here’s what they said:

It just seems like all of these mechanics are a complicated way for me to just get one thing.

That’s when it hit me. I was trying to shoehorn in a resource management element to a game that’s about players trying to fumble together to create policy to solve problems. Later on, they—as an experienced board game player and statistician themselves—gave me advice on how I might change the mechanics to fit around the resource management mechanic. I, personally, took a different approach—I sliced that mechanic out with a machete and reconstructed the game.

So what was the problem?

The issue was that players weren’t encouraged to bargain with one another, they weren’t motivated to interact. There also weren’t any ways that players to make the game more difficult for one another. So I got rid of the resource management element in lieu of one that lets players tinker with the power of various factions.

Screen Shot 2018-12-16 at 10.35.30 AM
A prototype of the faction power board.

Now, players must create alliances and work together to solve in order to solve a crisis. If they can, their faction’s power increases. If they can’t, their faction’s power may decrease.

I’ve still got some work to do on this. I’m working to force more allegiances with players, and I may break this out into eight or twelve factions instead of just four.

What does all of that junk mean on your faction board?

You may have noticed that the green squares don’t necessarily go up at a steady increment—that’s a balancing technique, as it depicts the amount of influence that players receive at the end of a round. They use influence to bargain for an alliance, veto other player’s vote tokens, and to buy vote tokens themselves.

Players also have special abilities which are unique to their characters.

Screen Shot 2018-12-16 at 10.35.45 AM
Prototype of the character cards. (These are public knowledge to all players.)

The symbols on top of the sliders indicate a special ability that players who are aligned with that faction will get when they bring the faction to that level of power.

OK but how to do people win, just by bringing their faction to full power?

Players also have a hidden motivation. This is the true nature of how they win as individuals. I’m still testing this to see how much fun it brings to the game.

Screen Shot 2018-12-16 at 10.35.37 AM
Your motivation is only known to you.

Is that it, then?

I’ve still got more to work on with the bargaining and allegiance mechanics, and I have to figure out which special abilities factions will have when their power increases. But this is coming along! I’m hoping to have a mostly finalized version of the game for balance play testing within the next three months! (Stay tuned.)