Game Design

My Button Shy 18 Card Game Challenge Extravaganza

Here’s a short update.

Thank goodness

Last month, I participated in the Button Shy Games 18 Card Game Challenge. Here were the terms of the challenge:

  • Make a game that only consists of 18 Cards
  • All cards have to be identical — no exceptions

I made a game where, from a grid of cards of primary colors, you create sequences of secondary colors. You then take a certain amounts of the cards involved in creating that sequence.

I titled my little card game: A Colorful Game

I’m not sure of the details or outcome of the challenge. If I don’t win —

Which is likely

Which is likely (oh no, I’m agreeing with my inner critic) — I’ll release my print and play version for free. If I somehow do win, I’m not sure what will happen to the game.

I’m also debating whether to enter this month’s challenge to create an 18 card game that doesn’t allow for a table or play surface (all cards must be in players hands the whole time).

Anyway, here’s a short gameplay demo video of A Colorful Game where I play an intense session against my dog.

Game Design

What I’ve Learned so far About Tabletop Design (Part I)

Full disclosure, I’ve been working on this game for a year and a half at this point and I’m still only about halfway finished. What I’m trying to say is that I’m not an experienced or veteran designer. I do not have the wise wealth of any published games under my belt.

Now that that’s out of the way, I’m going to let my inner critic ask me questions for a multi-part article series as I divulge the major challenges I’ve faced so far as I navigate this odyssey of tabletop game design—take it away!

It’s a war of attrition

This is first and foremost for a reason. When you’re in it, you’re in it for the long haul. Remember up there where I stated that I’ve been working on this game for a year and some change and I’m still only about halfway through? I’m aware (albeit vaguely) of the challenges in store for me and I’m rushing to meet them.

What happens when you feel burnout?

It’s going to happen. It’s happened to me loads of times. It’ll happen to you. The worst that you can do when you feel burnout is feel like you’ve failed. Your mind will flood with harsh statements about your project—

Like that time I told you that your stories are lamer than your game?

Yes, that’s a great example of—

What about the time I said that experienced publishers actually somehow feel physical pain whenever you print a new prototype?

Yeah OK, I think—

Oh, and that time I mentioned that fact that you’re allowed to design a game is proof that there’s no god?

We get it! The point is that you might beat yourself up in order to make yourself hate your current game so that any other idea seems attractive. When that happens, take a short break and then set a time to come back. Make yourself come back to your game no later than two weeks from your break. Even if it’s just to look at your game and playtest.

Game Design

The White Box Essays: A Recommended Buy

Jeremy Holcomb is a professor of game design any the DigiPen Institute of Technology. He has a wealth of experience with the full spectrum of idea-to-publish tabletop design. His insight is as paramount to the industry as the likes of the founders of “indie-giants” like Stonemaier and Leder Games. Enter The White Box Essays: a collection of pieces that shine a light on every aspect of game design.

You mean, “step 1” make game “step 2” play game?

It’s a little more complicated than that. From ideation to prototyping and playtesting cycles, to how you might go about settling on theme, complexity, mechanics, and most importantly: the emotional charge of the player interactions that you want to cultivate in your game—The White Box Essays has think pieces on most of the facets of critical thought on making your tabletop game strong.

Sounds like you forked over money for things that you could google

This book is also critical on some of the more controversial topics in board games, like inclusion and diversity. It invites designers to think about who they might be inadvertently excluding from their game.

  • Is the artwork diverse and inclusive of all peoples of the world?
  • Could the theme of your game potentially be offensive to some people?
  • How accessible is your game for people (e.g. the hard of seeing, hearing, or colorblind people who might want to play)?

These are questions that I weigh heavily as I develop my game. These are also all topics that most of the other big names in game design (some of whom I’ve mentioned above) are library volume levels of quiet on.

Taking no stance on encouraging more diversity in your community is, in my opinion, just as bad as opposing it.

Even doing simple things, like following people on twitter who are of a different race, sexual orientation, gender, and who are in a different geographical location than you are can help you understand a different voice. This makes your thematic storytelling more interesting at the least, at the most it helps welcome other intelligent people into a community that desperately needs it. (Can we not have another “middle eastern traveling merchant” themed market game?)

So you’re recommending that I buy a book, that’s the worst board game ever!

You also do get some generic assets which may come in handy when designing your game. I’d like this point, though:

Don’t buy The White Box for the assets, buy it for the White Box Essays it contains.

You can find almost all of these assets for a lot better price point and in greater bulk at your neighborhood board game store or on amazon.

Regardless, here’s what you get in the white box:

  • The White Box Essays, a book of 25 essays on game design and production
  • 3 counter sheets with 71 pre-printed and 49 blank counters (chits)
  • 150 small wooden cubes in six colors
  • 36 wooden meeples in six colors
  • 6 giant wooden cubes in six colors (this one’s actually a little harder to find)
  • 12 six-sided dice in six colors
  • 110 plastic disks in eight colors

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Jeremy Holcomb, Atlas Games, Gameplaywright, or any other company or individual responsible for creating The White Box or any associated product to it.

Link to purchase The White Box.

Game Design

Plan it! Keep Your Game Development on Track

A short one today, sorry!

Don’t apologize, this is the best day of my life

Now that I finally have a build of my tabletop game that can be played from start to finish, I’ve decided to double-down on an Agile-based development cycle. Here’s my development project plan, in a nutshell:

  • Two weeks of play testing and collecting feedback.
  • Two weeks of adjusting game mechanics and UI based on said feedback.

I’m going to try and work in some minor concept sketches for artwork.

Four week cycles?


Divided into two weeks?

That’s right.

Sounds stupid.


Anyway, this is a staple of the Agile method. Put tasks into two week “sprints.” If you can’t do something, move it into the following sprint. It’s a great way to keep yourself on track while not feeling horrible for not getting everything done in a two week period.

You can also break your tasks out into manageable chunks. Nothing fancy:

  • Fix icons
  • Balance character X so they’re less powerful
  • Fix this crisis, it’s too hard for players to beat!

That’s all folks! as a reward for reading this, please enjoy these concept sketches of my characters with little context as to their thematic and mechanical relevance to my game! (I know, I drew the frog general a lot.)


Game Design

Don’t Beat Yourself Up for Taking a Break

Two weeks ago, I just had my first round of playtests with other people. I got a lot of good feedback that I want to incorporate into the game before I pick up the pace on playtests.

But I’ve barely touched my game in a week. Why? I’ve got a lot going on in my life right now.

  • The level of work needed from me for my current job has increased
  • I am an aspiring creative writer and I’m trying to finish a few short stories before May
  • I got a lot of good feedback that I’d like to incorporate into the game
  • I want to improve the UX of the game as well

Really? Is that it!?

Oh, one small thing. I’m the process of buying a fucking house.

Regardless of how full your plate may be or not, it never hurts to take a break from your passion projects so that you don’t get burned out—or, just so that you need to free up some bandwidth to deal with other things in life.

Mental health is important. You’ve got to spend time to relax, to stimulate your brain in a different way, to break your routine and grind. And, you’ve got to spend time banishing those negative thoughts in your head. You know the ones.

I feel attacked

One infectious thought that I have is that the more I delay my projects, the more I’m missing opportunities to get it out more quickly. Subsequently, if I don’t get it out by x-date I will have failed and I’ll never get it out!

My tabletop game, and my writing, and my job, and my other personal shit all circulate throughout my head. Sometimes, I have enough mental fortitude to entertain them all at the same time for a sustained period of time. Other times, I’ve got to let one fall on the floor for just a little while.

That’s OK. The project isn’t dead, just resting for a bit. I’ll have a new prototype ready within the next three weeks or so, and then I’ll hit the road for a bit and get some fun playtests in!