Making and Designing Board Games Lecture

I have been leading a 10-week workshop on tabletop game design near Boston, MA. Over 20 students have participated and several of them have created board game design prototypes throughout the course. This is really exciting to see! I gave a lecture last week to go over the entire course in one 30-minute session. I share a few of their game designs. Fortunately, the lecture was recorded and uploaded to YouTube. Over the coming weeks, I will be sharing the content for the board game design course and release more supporting content.

A Kickstarter Christmas: Going Cardboard — a documentary about boardgames

I am going to share my latest experience with Kickstarter and review Going Cardboard – a documentary about board games. In order to get started, I want to introduce what Kickstarter is all about first. I find myself telling people about Kickstarter as my experience has been phenomenal as a backer. I am becoming an evangelist.

What is Kickstarter?

(the short version)

Kickstarter is a website that allows people with projects to find financial backing by offering the backers rewards.

(the much longer version)

For example, let’s say you a friend that wants to make a music CD and music video for their band. (And, we all have that friend.) Traditionally, they would have to scrape some money together and try to self-finance their project. Kickstarter allows that person to post a project description and video to a central website where people can back their project. They offer backers rewards such as early access to download the CD, wall art, a signed CD, and even creative things like, a chance to hang out back stage or be in the music video. In some cases, you can reach your target audience. In some other cases you find a whole new audience. What I love about Kickstarter is that it forces the people submitting their projects to think through budgets and come up with a strategy. If they say it will take $5,000 to make an album, they need to raise at least $5,000 to get rewarded the money. If not, the funds do not get transferred from the backers, and more importantly, the friend trying to get their music out there found out that the audience may not be as big as they thought. Trust me, I know a lot of musicians with a 1,000 CD’s in the garage. Knowing the size of an audience is important  and Kickstarter provides a clean mechanism to find that information out. If your project fails, you can reevaluate, try again, email more people, find creative rewards to offer potential backers, and try like hell to get outside of your circle of friends.

Going Cardboard

I received my Kickstarter rewards for Going Cardboard today, almost 10 months after backing this project by Lorien Green. The wait was long but so worth it. The thrill of opening the box of items felt like Christmas. Lorien provided great rewards to her backers and raised 3 times the amount of money that she requested. Her film turned out great and so glad that I stumbled into it while browsing Kickstarter for new projects.

Goaing Cardboard Kickstarter Rewards

I backed this project because of my interest in board games. I have a circle of friends that gets larger and larger that loves to play board games. The games we play get increasingly complex, but often I find games that stick. I was introduced to Dominion by Rio Grande Games at one of our annual gatherings called StruebCon. This is a great game and I teach the game to as many people as I can. It’s a great game to introduce to people, they will get hooked and may try other games. Before you know it, you have another gamer friend.

Going Cardboard features interviews from game designers, game publishers, and game players. There is amazing footage of several of the gaming conventions such as Essen in Germany that draws over 150k people each year. In the US, we typically do not celebrate the game designer. This is the person or group of people who created the game. It’s weird to think, but someone “invented” Monopoly. A new class of games called “Designer Games” have the game designer’s name right on the front of the box (these are the games I love). Maybe in a few year’s time, we will celebrate the designers like they do in Germany and Korea. Think of the memories that they have created for us. Game publishers are the folks that take the chance on the game designer and provide the resources to get the game printed, manufactured, and distributed to game stores and via the Internet. Game players are the wonderful people fo the world that keep the eco system of games going. “We” buy games from the publishers that we love, like Rio Grande, Mayfair, and Z-Man, and in turn more games get published from the game designers. It’s a wonderfully small world in most cases you can meet and interact with the entire supply chain at one gaming convention. Thanks to mechanisms like Kickstarter, I am seeing the industry blur the lines a bit as game designers, publishers, and players are all a little more integrated into the whole experience.

This documentary celebrates all angles of the board game industry. Watching the film is like sitting around talking to your friends about board games, telling stories of what you heard about new games, games that didn’t make it the shelves, and new games that you found on BoardGameGeek. Going Cardboard gives you a window of this budding universe of board games. It comes at a perfect time. I believe that board games are hitting a tipping point. All of the evidence is adding up. Even my local electronic game store features a board game night every week where you can unplug and play games like Dominion, Settlers of Catan, Battlestar Galactica, Arkham Horror, Lost Cities, and on and on.

I recommend “Going Cardboard” to anyone that’s interested in games. You should offer the DVD as a gift or hold a screening at your house, invite friends over to watch and let them in on what you have been doing all of these years. You might find a few closet gamers that just needs a little push.

Game on.

“My other shirt is a v-neck”

Have you ever done something that you completely forgotten about only to see it on the web years later? I guess the whole current generation of noobs will know what I mean when they are sitting in their job interview, and the interviewer asks them about that YouTube video…

If you ever go to a gaming convention you will notice all of the ironic t-shirts everyone wears. For example, the overweight guy wearing a small Supperman t-shirt. Each year more and more t-shirt vendors invade the exhibit hall at Gen Con.

If you know me, you know that I just had to create a bunch of sarcastic, novelty shirts. I just can’t not do it. So in 2006 I made up a bunch of shirts. I sold a few, mostly it was a waste of time. A few survived and I gave them out to my friends for Gen Con 2006. One in particular was a shirt for The Dungeoneering Dad that read, “My other shirt is a v-neck”. Looks like TDD gave it away…

Today, I find that exact shirt on a website called “toomanytshirts.com” – a site where “a random dude from Pittsburgh” wears and photographs a different t-shirt every day.

It's In Here Somewhere...

That was a pleasant surprise to see the old shirt still making its rounds with my trademark bar code on the sleeve. I completely forgot about the two weeks I was “T-shirt Hans”.

Here are some of my other more popular (less popular) t-shirt slogans:

    • Rage Against the Washing Machine
    • Got Rhetorical Questions?
    • I believe in God and Aliens
    • 3 out of 5 dentists agree 60% of the time
    • Community Chest
    • I hate Slogans
    • Political Statement
    • I am case-Sensitive
    • I’m the man from Nantucket
    • Ask me about today’s specials
    • I hate scallions
    • My favorite font is Ironic Sans

Happy Birthday Jumpman, I mean, “Super Mario”

Today marks Super Mario’s 25th birthday, or the anniversary of the start of the best selling game franchise of all time. Designed by Shigeru Miyamoto, Mario and all of the spin-offs have sold over 240 million game copies.

Super Mario Evolution

Here’s something I learned recently. Super Mario was originally named Jumpman. Do you think the game would have been a big with the name Jumpan? Or should we ask what William Shakespeare asked, “What’s in a name?” Mario got the name because the orginal character looked like Mario Segali, a caretaker at the New York City office where the game was programmed. I read that on the Internets so I knows it to be true.

Mario was the first game that got me into video games, my gateway to Zelda, Final Fantasy, and Tecmo Football. I have a special place for Mario, the sound effects, and the music.

Here’s a list of some things that I learned from Mario:

  • Use your head at all times
  • Turtles should be jumped on or fire-balled although I love turtles
  • Stars make you invincible
  • Mushrooms make you taller
  • Donkey Kong hates barrels
  • If you play the game long enough, you get the girl in the end

Thanks Mario!

Dominion Card Game Review and Storage Project

Thanks to my friends in the StruebSquad, I have been playing a lot of board games as of late. They started me off with some pretty stock games and then slowly introduced me to deeper Euro Games, Cooperative Games, Abstract Strategy, and Miniatures Games. Now I know what Meeples are, I have said, “I have Wood for Sheep”, and I have even oar raked another ship recreating an ancient naval battle.

Dominion Card Game Storage

The latest game I have been playing is called, “Dominion” by Donald X. Vaccarino and published by Rio Grande Games in the United States. Dominion is a board game style card game. In the box you get a number of action cards, resource cards, and victory point cards. Each game you pick 10 of the action cards which will be common for all of the players. With resource cards like Copper, Gold, Silver, and Potions, you can buy action cards, resource cards, and victory point cards. At the end of the game you add up the victory point cards and the player with the most points wins the game. Each turn you can play an action card and/or buy cards if you have the right resources. Dominion starts with collecting actions and resources and finishes with a race to gain victory points. During the whole you are striking a balance with resources, actions, and victory points.

I really love this game and my appeal for Dominion is three fold:

    • It’s highly re-playable – with new expansion and card combinations, you can play a new game almost every time
    • It’s really balanced – everyone has the same chances to get the common action cards, unlike a lot of other card games
    • It has a lot of strategy – you have to adapt to how other people play, find good card combos, and know when to switch between gaining resources to gaining victory points

Digression…

You might be thinking, “Hans, I have not heard of this game before, what gives?” My quick reply would be, “There are a lot of games out there,” Hans said gamely. If you have grown up in the United States, there are a few games that everyone has been introduced to – Monopoly, Sorry, The Game of Life, Candy Land – if you are “lucky” you might have played Risk, Scrabble, Stratego, and Trivial Pursuit. In general, you will notice that US favorite games are mostly luck based, meaning you use a randomizer (dice or a wheel) and then move a piece on the board. There is a big part of the game you can’t control, but in most cases these games are fun. Some of my best memories as a kid was playing games with the family and extended family. Now, in other parts of the world the games are less luck based and more choice based. Most European and Korean games are games played with a lot of choices. You have to choose what to do and each player has the same opportunity. As long as your playing board games, I am okay with either style of game or a game with a good combination of luck and choices. I recommend Lost Cities, Pandemic, Acquire, Settlers of Catan, Power Grid, and Divide and Conquer 😉 to name a few gateway games.

Regression…

The designer and publishers of Dominion have released multiple expansions and promo cards that add more action cards and twist to the base game. An issue of storage and portability comes into play. You want to take Dominion over to a friend’s house or to a convention, you would have to carry 4 boxes. After some research online [Labels, Box], I created my own storage solution. I took one box and pasted in dividers. Using card stock and labels, I then added dividers for each set of cards. The result is that all of the cards are in one box in order like a file cabinet.

Dominion Card Game Storage

Looks like there will be a new expansion for Dominion called Prosperity that is scheduled for release Aug/Sep 2010. Just maybe it will be ready for Gen Con 2010 that starts in early August this year. The good news is that I think that expansion will fit in my uni-box as well. The box is getting heavy.

It’s time for you to Throne Room + Woodcutter and buy Dominion and the expansions.

Death Tag – Spitball with Tic Tacs

You’re It!

Death Tag is a full contact game using a McDonald’s straw and various projectiles – the most lethal of which is the Tic Tac – 1.5 calories of pain. This is Death Tag’s story with a video of my new Death Tag students – my nephews…Pass on the fun, er, the mayhem…You’re it!

I invented the game as a kid when I discovered that a Tic Tac and a McDonald’s straw had roughly the same diameter. A fresh Tic Tac fits almost perfectly into the straw. This principle makes the combination nearly lethal. Over the years, I have expanded on the design and have tested straws from every fast food chain in the United States and projectiles of all sorts.

The Straw


The McDonald’s straw has one of the largest diameters, with a straw from Starbucks a close second, and an In and Out Burger straw third (West coast glocking). Always have multiple straws on hand – you never know if you need back up muzzle loaders. Tic Tacs become sticky, so avoid copious spit.

The Projectile

The Tic Tac is a perfect fit to the McDonald’s straw. My independent testing proves that this combination is the most fierce with the highest muzzle velocity. The Tic Tac is the most accurate and longest shooting projectile I have used. It also leaves a white mark on your targets. There are two drawbacks though – stickiness and cost. Saliva + Tic Tac equals jammed barrel on occasion. I have recently switched to un-popped popcorn. This projectile is cheap and somewhat pointed to being your enemy to a swift submission. Popcorn also allows for some advanced techniques like “The Rain Maker”.

Techniques

Load the projectile, use your tongue to stop up one end of the straw. Build up some pressure and move your tongue. You can gets some serious distance and accurate shots this way.

“The Machine Gun” or “The Rain Maker” technique requires a cheek full of popcorn. Load up some popcorn and shuffle the kernels into the barrel while blowing. Make it rain destruction on your opponent.

Origin of the Name

Death Tag started picking up steam in the early 2000’s. I was on the road a lot and drove solo across the country many times. On a drive from Columbia, SC to Melbourne, FL, my friend Dale and I stopped at a truck stop. The trucker’s paradise had everything, a Micky D’s and convenient snacks. I bought up a supply of Tic Tacs and grabbed a handful of straws. I explained the premise to Dale and it soon involved us shooting cars out of the window. We assigned point values to certain objects that you hit. For example, the side a truck was 1,000 points, but a minivan is 5,000 points. A car window had the point value of 10,000 points and a road sign was 15,000 (since you could shot out and arc it – we called it the golden arch). The ultimate thing we shot was a Target sign on the side of tractor trailer – 50,000 points. The “freshmint” or white Tic Tacs also leaving a little white mark to be proof positive of a successful hit. We started calling it, “Death Tag” because we were surviving around the road, paying more attention to hitting our targets than driving safely.

A Word of Caution

It’s called Death Tag for a reason. Be careful, you could die, lose an eye, or leave a welt. I know it sounds fun, but I am a trained professional. I recommend discussing the side effects with a doctor and always wear proper eye protection.

Guitar Zero to Hero

I don’t usually have time for video games, but I do have time to pretend to play video games and then write about pretending to play video games. Does three hours a day of online poker, chess, and bridge count as video games?

One day I had the idea to poke fun at Guitar Hero and Rock Band by claiming to play these games constantly, although I have one friend who got completely obsessed with the game. He’s so into the virtual rockstar mindset that he has no more bathroom sinks on the wall and every time he asks you a question, he yells, “I can’t hear you.”

Guitar Hero

I started this flight of fantasy trying out my newly written jokes about my Guitar Hero mastery and obsession with my friends and then on my newsletter.

The responses poured in. People love to the play rockstar games and were glad that I joined in. Everyone missed my sarcasm and believed my lies about playing the game. I had a problem as everyone I saw thought to ask me about the modes and songs – everything I had no idea about.

My friends pulled me into a basement and set up the Rock Band equipment: a 5-button guitar, a 5-button bass guitar, a 5-button drum kit, and a microphone. We were complete – the band was all here with an orgy of adoring virtual fans.

In one night, I went from Guitar Zero to Guitar Hero. On “Easy Mode” the game is pretty easy. Insightful as that may be, the more advanced modes are impossible to me and I have an appreciation for those that can orchestrate the 5-buttons to create virtual portions of a rock song.

“I can’t hear you, London!”

New Computer

I finally ordered a new computer. In the PC clone line of computers, my first computer was a 286 with MS-DOS. It was not a productivity machine, but I did play a stock market game and Duke Nukem quite a bit. I have upgraded a few times since then and my desktop now is a P4/1GB/Vista/Ubuntu modded several times starting in 2002. It served me well as I made a living off the system by writing software and technical books. And yes, Doom was played heavily to mom’s chagrin. Vista was not a good upgrade for this aging system. Even in its most optimized state, the lag in video playback, game response, and DHTML processing made it a pain to use for day to day entertainment purposes. AGP video cards and Vista don’t mix, so it’s time to look at SATA, more RAM, and PCI Express/SLI video.

On a tip from Darth Kevin, Shadowlord’s nemesis in the real-world, I purchased a custom SLI machine from CyberPower. I was able to build a system that will fit my needs (gaming, AJAX development, updating online dating profiles, using Google, watching the Matrix, etc.) and fall into my budget of $2000.

The first system I configured was absurd – 2TB of storage, 4GB of RAM, dual SLI video cards, Quad processor, and floppy drive. I have trimmed off some excess and now looking at a solid configuration. When I settle into the machine, I will let you know how it stacks up.

Case and Power Supply

Apevia X-Juniper Jr. (S Type Metallic Gray)
Apevia ATX-LCD650W Quartz

Motherboard and Processor

Asus P5N-E nForce 650i SLI
Intel Quad Core 2.4GHz/64bit/8MB

Internal Drive

500GB SATA-II

Sound and Video

3D Wave On-board Sound Card
GeForce 8800GTS (XFX Extreme Edition) 320MB/16X PCI Express Video Card

External Drives

LITE-ON LH-20A1H – 20X, Double Layer, DVD burner and player
12in1 Flash Media R/W
Floppy Drive

OS

Vista Ultimate

Connectivity

10/100/1000 On-board LAN Card

Peripheral

Logitech G15 Keyboard
Logitech MX Revolution Mouse
Dual Samsung SyncMaster 204B 20" Monitors

Reiner Knizia at Gen Con 2007

If you play RPG’s, computer games, or board games, then Gen Con is the gaming convention for you to attend. A group of my friends, who call ourselves “The StruebSquad”, a group of game players and designers, go out each year. The competition is tough, but the time spent is a great departure from the grind of the real world.

Gen Con 2007 turned out to be one of the best. The last day of the four day convention, the squad got to meet a hero of ours — Reiner Knizia. Reiner is a german game designer that has created some of my favorite board games and continues to put out challenging, fun, and creative games several times a year. Two of my favorites are Lost Cities and Ingenious.

Reiner Knizia at Gen Con