Game Design

Eurotrash versus Ameritrash Games

In my last post, I briefly mentioned that Century: Golem Edition was a “Eurotrash” game. Let me explain…

All that talk about insulting another culture and you go after a whole continent?

In the tabletop community, there are two styles of game—both with loving nicknames, mind you: Eurotrash games and Ameritrash games.

Both are insulting, but what’s the difference?

Eurotrash games are, as you guessed it, typically more popular with European tabletop game players. These games focus on mechanics which are, although air tight, typically end in whomever gets more victory points is the winner, with multiple ways to get victory points.

These games focus on the mechanics and the balance over the theme and artwork of the game. They make sure to have a solid system with its mechanics and themes applied well, versus telling a well-thought out story. Not saying that these games are bad at story-telling, but that’s not their focus. These games want to make you think strategically, puzzle-like, and develop many plans of attack and counter-attack in their systems. In the end, those with a mind for problem-solving prevail.

Think of games like Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, and Settlers of Catan.

Ameritrash games are quite the opposite; they focus on the artwork and telling a great story to the players over having wonderful gameplay mechanics that force players to dig their heals into chess-like strategies. Not saying they’re horrible with their mechanics, but that’s not their main point. These games want to try to emerge you into a world of role-play, where you may need to keep your identity secret. The better you are at getting into the story and figuring out how to advance it through whatever mechanics (bluffing, attack vs defense battle mechanics, etc) are within your world. These types of games are typically more popular amongst the North American tabletop community.

Think of games like Coup, One Night Ultimate Werewolf, and Spyfall.

Neat, what’s the point in this though?

I think that as we innovate on tabletop games, we must think of these ideas and try to make something that blurs the lines between “Ameritrash” and “Eurotrash” games.

Also: I apologize if any of these terms offend someone. I meant them in a loving way and they are used in the tabletop community at times to describe games.

Game Design

Manage Your Project from Creative Abstraction to Concrete Reality

Your next amazing, world-changing creative idea will only exist when you create it. Seems like a no-brained concept, right? Then why do ideas fail to get past their maturation phase? There are a few schools of thought:

  • You lose interest in the idea and move on to something else
  • You get distracted by other aspects of life
  • You don’t think the idea worth going through the effort to turn into something concrete

The last bullet point in that list is a difficult one to combat, but I believe that you can push past all three of these obstacles with one thing: a plan.

Wow, radical idea. Is your entire blog going to be condescending?


No follow up to that? OK.

In today’s world, no one wants to admit that they don’t know what they’re doing. If you admit that you’re new to something, you may find just as many people who want to dismiss you as who want to help you. There are a lot of factors in your creative world that you can’t control, mostly, the opinions of the people who you’d like to consume your creative product.

What you can control, however, is giving yourself enough structure, with a well managed plan, to keep you on track so that even though this may be your first or second time creating something, you can still communicate your project timeline to people. It’s extremely important for trust. BUT with enough freedom for you to be able to stay creative and think outside of the box.

Another benefit of a plan is that your big, extensive project is broken down into manageable chunks which you can complete or delegate more effectively.

Fine, fine. But what’s the best way to do that?

Project management is an entire career for some people. But you don’t need a career to know how to manage a project. It may be good to do some research into different methodologies and figure out which is best for your project, but for creating a tabletop game, I use a variation of the Agile method.

…the what method?

The Agile method. This form of project management is typically used by software developers, including video games. The core tenets of the Agile method are as such:

  • Individuals and interactions over process and tools
  • Working product over extensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

The way that I specifically translate these tenets to a tabletop game is:

  • Individuals and interactions—focus on you and your team’s (if you have one) ability to work together to share ideas, instead of plotting, micromanaging specifically defined tasks, and extensive schematics.
  • Working product—make sure that your assets speak for themselves as much as they possibly can over creating a 20+ page rulebook and making the assets barebones or far too artwork focused with little UX design. Even heavy role playing pen-and-paper games like Dungeons & Dragons have rule books which are well organized for function over form. Look at it this way, if your game normally takes an hour to play once people know the rules, if they have to constantly refer to the rulebook to remember a small detail of how the game works, try to portray that rule or mechanic in a card or token.
  • Customer collaboration—create prototypes and play test your game as often as you possibly can. Don’t assume you have a mechanic down and you don’t need to see it in action. Don’t save play testing for the times when you get stuck. Don’t think that because your game can’t be completed or won that you shouldn’t play test it. Throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks should be built into your plan. Try to play test your game at least once a month, if not more.
  • Responding to change—give yourself time to jump into that rabbit hole. You may find out that there are huge changes to your game that can make it more fun. Don’t think that because you’re exploring a different theme or a rather large change to the core mechanics of your game that you’re derailing your entire project. In fact, you’re doing your project justice by leaving yourself open to change. If you’re working on a team, being open to everyone’s creative input makes your game shine. Allow yourself the time to go on that adventure, even if you’re worried that it’ll push your deadlines back.

Exactly how loose (or not) is this “Agile method” as a plan?

In terms of creating a tabletop game, I’ve developed a variation of the Agile method. Since the Agile method (at least the one that I know) is fine-tuned for software developers, there are some aspects of Agile that I use and some that I don’t. I’ll break down, in terms of the plan, what I believe is important for you to track…and what tools you might consider using to track your project.

Break up your project into phases

It helps to think of your project in phases from start to completion, to categorize them in larger stages. For example, I thought of my tabletop game in these phases:

  1. Prototype—the ‘beta’ and heavy play test phase; get your game to a point where it can be completed and winners can be defined here
  2. Design—this is a hybrid phase; you’ll want to play test quite a bit here but this is the phase where you want to collect feedback on the actual ‘user experience’ of the game; get your iconography and rulebook in a good place here AND make sure that you’re weeding out the game breaking bugs
  3. Produce—the money phase; here’s where you’ll try to get money to get your game manufactured and distributed in the next phase; you’ll still want to play test your game here but depending on your method of getting funds for your game, you may be able to open the play testing up to a wider audience; in this phase, you’ll want to figure out the cost of manufacturing and shipping; this phase is extremely important to the future success of your game and has high potential for pitfall, proceed with care
  4. Manufacture & Distribute—the concrete phase; this is where your game gets mass produced; it’s highly dependent on the success of your produce phase; and has its own logistics to work out; you’ll need to ensure the quality of your product as its mass produced and handle shipping from the manufacturer to a holding/storage facility and then to the end consumer

Define the tasks within a phase and organize them into sprints

Tasks—Now that you have an idea for the various phases of your project, think about the tasks that you’ll need to finish to complete a phase. Start one phase at a time. You don’t need to define all tasks for all phases up front. As I write this, I’m still in the Prototype phase of my project, making sure that I can make my game playable within my desired time frame of 45 minutes – 1 hour and that the game is winnable most of the time. I’ve defined what I need to do in direct but not pedantic terms. For example, some of my tasks include:

  1. Develop characters
  2. Define mid game ‘game changer’ condition for each character
  3. Lay out new gameplay and rules for ‘game changer’ conditions
  4. Develop assets (cards, tokens, etc.)
  5. Print and play test, collect play test feedback
  6. Tweak as needed, repeat until the game is winnable and appears to be balanced

NOTE: I do also think ahead a bit. It’s OK to think about the design of your game as you’re prototyping it but it’s more important to have a semi-solid game FIRST and then narrow down the design later. That’s why I’ve defined phases of my project, not to trap my thoughts into a box and then only allow myself to move on once I’ve figured everything out in that box, but to keep me just focused enough to be able to get the important things down before changing my focus to other aspects of the game.

Sprints—Once you’ve laid out your tasks, build them into sprints. A sprint is a short span of time for you to complete your tasks. Typically, the sweet-spot for a sprint is two weeks.

What that means is that you’ll want to give yourself a few tasks and complete as many as possible in two weeks. It’s OK if you don’t complete one in two weeks, you can just move it to the next sprint.

IMPORTANT: As you define your tasks and put them into sprints, write down the “definition of done” for each task. For example, “I’m done with developing characters once I’ve given a name to, created one special ability for, and defined the mid game changing trigger condition for four unique characters.

Dependencies—You’ll also want to think about the relationship between your tasks. If you can’t complete the print and play test task until you’ve completed the develop assets task, then make sure that it’s last on your list and possibly in a later sprint.

In the prototype and design phases, it’s important to be open to all ideas. For example, I recently (like, last week) decided to completely change the entire theme and story of my game.

You did WHAT?!

I won’t go into detail on that in this blog post, I’m saving that story for another time, but I will say that I am entirely more pleased and excited to play my game now. If you stick too closely to the rules that you defined when you first started your project, you’ll might not be happy with the outcome. Creative projects only work when you can pivot on a dime and make big changes as you work to complete them.

Creativity is having to build the plane as you fly it—although, I’d highly recommend against actually trying to build a plane as you fly it.

In the end, you’re the creative director of your project and you need to make these decisions. Not just that, you need to OWN these decisions. Anyway, let’s move on.

What tools do I use to track all of the junk I have to do?

There are many project management tools out there. I use Smartsheet, which is a paid software that has great project management features in a spreadsheet format. I can create dependencies between tasks and do things like show priority and task health, then calculate project health based on that.

My recommendation is for you to use the tool that you’re most comfortable with and the one that works within your budget. Pen and paper, whiteboard and dry erase marker, stone tablet and chisel—whatever works for you. I have some recommendations though:

  • Smartsheet—provides familiar spreadsheet setting and easy to read structure, this works well if you decide to use the Agile method for your project
  • Wunderlist—free version exists which gives you a to-do list type of interface
  • Todoist—free version exists which is robust and lets you set reminders for tasks
  • Evernote—free version exists and gives you the ability to easily take handwritten notes and add photos to organize your thoughts

Thanks for reading!

Take some time today to organize your tasks into a plan—then get to it!

Game Reviews

Century Golem Edition & Field to Ferment: Rethemed Game with a Rethemed Beer

In my last pairing, I voiced disappointment with the form of cultural appropriation that happens in tabletop games with giving games that have a market, buying, or trading system a generic “middle eastern” or “Indian” theme. Century: Spice Road is one of many games which fall into that category, so I was pleased to see this game fitted with a new skin.

Really? Another scalding on cultural appropriation?

I love Century: Spice Road. It’s another European-style (lovingly referred to as a Eurotrash game) game which focuses on gameplay mechanics, balance, and having multiple strategies to gain the most victory points and win. The game focuses on collecting and upgrading different spices in your caravan that you’ll sell to merchants to gain victory points. At its core, Century: Spice Road is a resource management game. You must make decisions on whether to keep or upgrade resources to get that merchant card that you want. Merchant cards are your key path to victory in the game. Using your spices to buy 5 merchant cards ends the game, and the player with the most victory points wins.

Century: Golem Edition’s mechanics are no different from the original. The game is a “retheme,” meaning that the only difference between Spice Road and Golem Edition is the artwork and core story.

(I know the diamonds are upside down here.)

In Century: Golem Edition, you collect gems (equivalent to Spice Road’s various spices) which you can use to power golems (Spice Road’s merchant victory point cards). Here’s my recommendation if you’re wondering whether to buy this game or not:

If you already own Century: Spice Road, I’d recommend against purchasing Golem Edition unless you prefer different artwork.

Golem Edition is a great retheme. I didn’t own Century: Spice Road, although I have played it a few times, so I leapt at this game when I saw it at friendly local game store (FLGS). I think that the artwork on the cards (especially the golems) and replacement of spices (which were painted, wooden cubes) with gems (which are translucent hard plastic) is for the better. I’m glad to see this resource management and trading game take on a new life with these fantasy elements.

I played this game with one other person—this game works well with two players but can support up to six.

What is Field to Ferment and why did you pair it with Golem Edition?

Just as Century: Golem Edition is a retheme of a tabletop game, Field to Ferment is a retheme, of sorts, of a beer. It’s a beer with three different variations, which are each brewed the same way but with different types of hops added! We performed a tasting of all three variations.

Field to Ferment has three variants: one made with Centennial hops, another with Simcoe, and one with Citra hops. I love all three versions of this beer. Field to Ferment is a nice, well-rounded (but on the lighter side) ale with a great finish that reflects hops from the Pacific Northwest region. It’s brewed by Fremont Brewing, which I consider to be one of the best breweries in the PNW. This beer is interesting, because the only difference in flavor is the hop variation.

Each variation brings unique notes to the taste:

  • Centennial hops have a smooth, slightly herbal taste with a clean finish
  • Simcoe—my favorite of the three—has a strong pine flavor but also with a clean finish
  • Citra hops, to me, had a similar taste to the Centennial but with interesting citrus notes

Just as Century: Golem Edition is the same game with a new skin, Field to Ferment is the same beer with a different flavor.

I get it. But why care so much about these variations on the same thing?

You can gain a lot of insight by looking at the same thing with a different perspective. Making slight variations on the same thing, whether it’s making a small change to something that you’re creating or making a minor change to your daily routine for the better, you can stimulate yourself such that you think outside of the box. To me, this can turn a fun game with a common, Indian goods and spices trading theme into a fun, whimsical game about powering friendly golems with gems.

In the same vein, hop farmers who dared to innovate on selectively cultivating their hops have produced interesting flavors which create a trademark for a great beer three times over.

Thanks for reading! Until next time…

Game Design

Working on your creative project is a full-time job (on top of your full-time job)

Tabletop games don’t grow on trees or fall magically out of the sky. They’re made by people. People design them, others create the artwork, others design the iconography and branding, write the rulebook, manufacture the assets, package everything, ship it to a holding facility, then ship it domestically. It’s a lot of work. It’s a full time job. But what if you already have another full time job?

This article isn’t just for designing tabletop games. It would be wonderful if you could make a living solely off of your passion projects, whatever they may be. So why can’t you? What’s standing in your way? It always comes down to three excuses:

  • There just aren’t enough hours in the day
  • Money is tight
  • There aren’t enough resources at hand
  • Seem familiar, right? Well, I lied. There are three other excuses that are even more commonplace:
    • The project’s too daunting; there’s just too much work
      Not an expert on how to complete a good portion of the necessary tasks
      The final product will be absolute garbage
  • Can’t be as garbage as your blog, get to the point already

  • I’m sure you’re far more intimate with the latter three. Human beings are resourceful creatures. We can accomplish a lot with little. But we have to really want it. I mean, really want it. We have to want to complete what we set out to do so badly that we have to bat away our internal demons constantly to finish what we started. Every thing that you do appears to have a diminishing return, your sense of joy toward creating the next big thing is no exception. Your brain throws a bunch of doubts at you all the time. What do you do to shut up that voice in your head that screams things like, “this won’t be nearly as good as you thought it would be in your head! Just give up!”

    Nothing. You do nothing.


    That’s right. There’s absolutely nothing that you’ll be able to do to shut up the nagging asshole inside your head that constantly tells you that you’re not good enough. That demands that you give up and just watch TV or browse the internet. That tries to distract you as much as it possibly can when you just want to get the next little chunk complete.

    Your blog is worse than garbage, at least you can burn garbage for warmth…I’m out of here!

    Wait, I didn’t say that you should give up on your project. I said that you should give up on trying to tell that voice that tells you to give up to give up…you know what I mean.

    That voice is going to be there. It’s not going to stop, and you shouldn’t waste energy on trying to make it stop. You should dedicate your time to getting another part of your project done. Complete a step in the process while you tell yourself it’s not good enough. Beat yourself up as you finish those next brush strokes of your masterpiece.

    Every time you cast doubt on your work, tell yourself this:

    I know this isn’t my best work but it’ll have to do for now.

    There comes a point in time when you need to stop editing your work. If you consistently raise your personal bar of quality as you work on a project, you’ll never finish it.

    But here’s the thing, I just came up with this other new thing which I’m excited about! I’m going to work on that instead.

    Another issue that crops up is feeling bored with your current project and wanting to start a new one. Fight that urge.

    Write your idea down, take a week away from your current project, then come back to it. If you do work on multiple projects at the same time, that’s fine. If this is you, here’s what you should be asking yourself:

    • Am I making some form of meaningful progress on all of these projects?
    • Why am I bored of this project? I was so excited about it in a past life!
    • Should I pivot to this different project or just take a short break from everything?

    You’re not bored of your idea, you’re tired. Your mind is tired and it needs a break from that idea. An idea is a scab.

    That’s disgusting

    An idea is a scab. There comes a point when you get tired of it and start picking at it. What you’re actually doing is introducing more bacteria into a healing wound. What you think you’re doing is scratching an itch. Scratching that itch will only introduce further pain.

    What I’m trying to say here is that if you grow bored of a project, that doesn’t mean that you should stop. In fact, you should plan even more.

    Plan is such a boring word…

    Planning is the best thing that you can do for yourself and your project. A plan can be a complicated as putting strict deadlines on aspects of projects, but as simple as breaking out your work into smaller chunks and figuring out a rough time frame for when those chunks can be complete, chunk by chunk.

    Sounds like some kind of smart, wild-ass guess

    SWAG or Smart, Wild-Ass Guess is a common project management term which means to break your end game up into smaller pieces, then roughly guess at how long each piece will take to complete. Everything from theme to final asset creation should be SWAG’d so that you can get a feel for how long it will take to scale that mountain of a project.

    When you want to complete a creative project, there isn’t one task. I know that seems obvious (of course there isn’t one task, there are many) but you should really picture your project like a graham cracker.

    Oh it all makes sense, picture my project like a graham cracker…ha ha just kidding what the fuck are you going on about?

    Hypothetically—as in, don’t actually try to do this in real life—if you were to try to shove an entire graham cracker into your mouth you might run into some difficulty, right?

    That’s why graham crackers have perforation, that way you can break them apart into smaller pieces and eat them better. Treat your project the same way, something that seems big but can be broken down into smaller chunks—connected mini projects that have certain dependencies.

    OK, but this is still a lot of work…how am I supposed to do this all by myself?

    You may not have to. Defining the work and planning it out is a big step to take. If you can divide up your work, you can better articulate what needs to be accomplished, and maybe even delegate to friends with talent.

    Delegating to friends can help breathe collaborative life into your work but I get it, you may not have friends who share this interest or have time to contribute. Ultimately, you’re going to have to wear many hats yourself or pay people money to get the work done that you can’t.

    Do whatever it takes to let your project see the light of day. Don’t treat roadblocks as set backs, treat them as learning experiences. Figure out ways to work around the blockers and keep pushing forward.

    Set yourself some deadlines on your tasks and your project overall, even if they seem arbitrary. Setting a date makes a goal more tangible and gives you something more concrete to work toward.

    Split your time up per week:

    ~40 hours a week for your normal job

    ~10 hours a week on your project

    Aim for completing a task or big part of a task every two weeks.

    Most importantly—if you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a week off from your project.

    Game Design

    Designing a Game is a Grand Balancing Act

    Do you remember playing tic-tac-toe as a kid? What about checkers? Both were fun when you were young but got old just as you got old, right? That’s because both of them are solved games.

    Are solved games what I think they are?

    A solved game is a game whose outcome (win, lose or draw) can be correctly predicted from any position, assuming that both players play perfectly

    Wikipedia, Solved Game

    That’s one reason for a bland game, which results in loss of replay zest.

    Then there are games that rely too much on random chance to support their mechanics. Both of these issues lead to the horrid plague of imbalance.

    I’ve played Monopoly, now get on with it!

    A well-designed game contains a medley of elements that prevent it from being solved and keep it from being imbalanced. I want to talk about these mechanics at their core. Note that these elements aren’t everything that you need to make a great game, but they’re four attributes that are important to think about when designing the mechanics.


    This is important, but should be the smallest aspect of a game. Everyone has fun playing the odds a bit and it increases replay. Chance is also fair, as player outcomes aren’t as beholden to direct attacks from other players.

    Too much chance comes with its own problems, though. It can drag some games out indefinitely (I’m looking at you, Risk) or it can make players feel like they have no control over their own outcome; like the game is pure destiny. You might as well spin around in a circle and point to the winner without even bothering to set up that game (Yahtzee, you’re only dice and paper but you’re still not worth the set up time).

    Take a game like Bang! The Dice Game, for instance. There’s a lot of chance involved. But it’s balanced well with two factors:

    • The different mechanics of chance actually make the game nice and short
    • Chance doesn’t interfere with each player’s ability to take action—on the contrary—it lends to it

    Attack and Counterattack

    Fun games are ones that allow the players to take action against the game itself or other players (or both). I know that sounds like every single game ever made, but designing a fun, balanced attack move is difficult.

    In Bang! the fun isn’t just in your ability to attack other players, it’s in what attack options they’ll have and their strategy for who they should attack and possibly counterattack.

    Connected Mechanics

    This is an easy idea to think about but a difficult one to continually put into practice. Mainly, because it means that you’ll need to continuously change and remove mechanics that may be amazingly fun, but don’t work well together.


    I get it, this one is even more obvious. But at the same time, it’s not. The best part about winners in a fun game is that it feels like they deserve it. If the other three aspects are singing in harmony, then your win condition will be the least of your worries.

    So, what did we learn?

    I’ve been developing this game for a year, but designing mechanics for a tabletop game is still new to me. I’m familiar with storytelling, but my stories are always linear. I write them down, try to make them intriguing and fun, but the words on the final draft will always be in the same order.

    The theme of the game (the setting, the events, and the player’s involvement), the players and the overall moves they could make—all of these ideas came naturally to me. Through trial and error, I’ve learned to make sure that attack and counterattack, connection between mechanics, and a little bit of chance make for a well-deserved winner. But if there are issues finding a winner, or that win doesn’t feel like it’s been earned—looking to tweak those three attributes allows the last one to fall into place.