Archive for January, 2016

Game Idea a Day – Week 4

Friday, January 29th, 2016

1/22 – I tried imagining a tile-laying game that is the opposite of Carcassonne, where the tiles contain both the people and the castle parts. I decided it should have a “barrel of monkeys” theme, and the castle walls are the walls of the barrels. Nothing more than a concept so far. I do think there is potential here, but like a lot of these “just ideas” I’d need to spend some time developing before I can even know whether it’s worth pursuing.

1/23 – A board game with “startup” theme. This brainstorm started out as working on the (SIX D SIX) dice game from 1/16 & 1/17, and when I thought of the theme, it all morphed and changed. The actions are super specific to the theme now, and I’m really happy where this is going. I haven’t built a prototype yet, but I think it’s to that point. I definitely want to playtest it soon. (I also ran this by, and got some ideas from my friend Nate.)

1/24 – Very short brainstorm while thinking about games based on dramatic films. I’m sure I’m not the first to think about these, but came up with the following (academy award winning mashups): Forest Gump endless runner, Lego Birdman, Need for Speed: Ben Hur, & GTA: West Side Story.

1/25 – Spent time this day adding to the design from 1/23. Then later I was thinking about (yet another) puzzle mode for Action Go, which I decided to start prototyping. At this point, I’m tempted to turn it into a stand-alone app and push it to the top of the pile of game ideas. I am working on a prototype already.

1/26 – Did a little googling, and couldn’t find a game where you actually play as Cthulhu. I imagine this as a god game, but one where you have specific mission objectives to drive individuals mad (by sending your horrific minions after them, of course). It would be really cool to tell the history of why or how you got to planet earth, maybe as flashbacks, and really get to the motivations behind the Erdrich horror. I love imagining that you have just been in the alien equivalent of cryo sleep until the planet is “ripe enough” for consumption.

1/26 – Separate bonus journal entry about “reactive architecture” game. Specifically a VR game where you are inside some kind of living building. This may have also been influenced by my reading/consuming (in less than 24 hours!) the absolutely fantastic science fiction novel Planetfall, by Emma Newman. If you read it, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

1/27 – Random ideas related to a “modular” abstract strategy game. This is not so terribly different from an idea I’ve been throwing around for at least a couple years, related to an app that would let you play various abstract strategy games on a bunch of different board types/sizes. Only this idea was for a physical game and/or set of rules. Probably influenced by my picking up (and playing my first game of) the modular board game 504, by designer Friedemann Friese.

1/28 – Mini game design for a game called Harpie Hangover. The name came first, and says it all. You essentially play as the Harpie, flying around and buying “potions” from townspeople and other goblins and fairy folk.

How to play the game Go

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016

I tweeted this idea the other day:

Book idea: popular board game rules re-written with the 1000 most common words á la Randall Munroe’s Thing Explainer.

Go is one of the most elegant and simple games around, yet the rules are often misleadingly complex. So without further ado:

How to play the game Go

Go is played on an area made of 19 lines going one direction, and 19 lines crossing them going the other direction. Black places first, and then black and White take turns placing a piece of their color on a space where any of the lines of the game meet. Once placed, a piece may not be moved to a different space.

Any pieces of the same color next to each other form a group. Only pieces on spaces exactly next to one another (on the game lines) can make a group. A group can be as small as only one piece. Groups may be made larger by placing another piece next to any of the pieces already in the group.

If White puts pieces on ALL the spaces next to a Black group, white takes the black pieces in that group out of the game. Same for black. Those pieces become points for the player that took them.

No player can place a piece that would make the game look like it looked after their last turn.

After both pass, each player points out any pieces they will be taking from inside their groups. If the other player doesn’t agree, the player must keep playing to take them.

Each player adds a point from each taken piece, as well as a point for each of their pieces still in the game, and finally a point for each empty space surrounded by their own groups. The player with more points beats the other player.


1. I wrote this using The Up-Goer 5 Text Editor.

2. Obviously this is missing some of the important strategies that are included in any decent set of Go rules. Additionally, most rules of Go are complicated quite a bit with terminology that is not actually important to play, but might be important if you want to actually talk with anyone about your game. This is not usually a barrier to playing if you have someone to teach you, but if you are trying to learn from rules, it can be unnecessarily frustrating.

Edited (2016-01-28)

3. Removed the suicide rule, which as Matt pointed out is not universally accepted. (Incidentally, Matt taught me to play go, way back in the day.) I originally wrote it: “Black can not place a piece so that White would take it without playing another piece. White can not place a piece so that Black could take it without playing another piece.”

4. Re-worked capture paragraph. Less verbose and simpler.

5. Added paragraph about passing, re-worked the last paragraph a bit to explicitly count all stones. This is more consistent with New Zealand rules, which seems sane.

6. Removed “That’s it.” from the end. That was just silly.

Game Idea a Day, Week 3

Friday, January 22nd, 2016

I’ve been looking forward to writing this post all week, and even spent some of the time while I was brainstorming composing the summaries that I would include here. (None of which were written down, and all of which have completely fled my brain, so maybe when that happens in the future I’ll actually take some notes.) But I guess my point was that posting these publicly is definitely having an influence on my continuing the project. A project that has, thus far, been 100% successful! 22 days into the project, I’ve got a few more than 22 entries.

Here are this week’s summaries:

1/15 – A top-down roguelike, but crossed with the various Dig Dug inspired games where you have to dig your way through the level. With crafting. So a bit like a 2D minecraft (á la Terraria or The Blockheads), but top-down instead of from the side. And you can dig/climb up or down at any time. (Unless, maybe, you’re being attacked.) I actually have some ideas about the theme/story for this too, inspired, mainly, by Ursula Vernon’s awesome book Digger.

1/16 – A new game for my dice-based game system SIX D SIX. This game is a two-player abstract with no luck or hidden information. You take turns adding dice to a gameboard. The dice you add must show a 1. You then also increment another die already placed. There are a couple of possible win conditions. I think it could also work with a score pad and counting points. (Will need to playtest to work out a bunch of the details.)

1/17 – Continuing some of my thoughts from the day before, I started designing two game ideas that essentially “hide” the components necessary to play SIX D SIX games (72 die, 6 of 6 different colors, and 32 black) in a euro-style big box game. The first idea involved moving die around a map, and the second (more promising) involves using the dice as sort of workers on an individual player board that represents a tech tree. You take actions with meeples, but of course all the actions are influenced by your player board. I really like this idea, and it’s been percolating.

1/18 – Idea for an unfolding game where you start out combining nuts and bolts and eventually realize you are working in a bomb/munitions factory. Inspired by the short film Uncanny Valley, which is well worth your 8 minutes. This could be combined with my idea from 1/9.

1/19 – Earlier in the week, I spent some time hanging out with Sean Berry, the creator of Algebra Touch. I showed that app to my 5 year old daughter, and my brainstorm time for the day was spent outlining modifications to that app that would alter it to be focused on basic math rather than algebra, and target a much younger audience.

1/20 – Thought about bringing some block-breaking games to VR. Three pretty good ideas here, I think. First was a collapse variant where you are trapped inside a house made of blocks, and break them (collapse style) to get out. Another idea involved a table where bricks appear, and you have to move them to a play area and match-3 with them. And finally, a crazy room full of piles of old looking junk, where there are three of a kind of every item. You can only move the top item on each pile, and once you get three of them touching, those items disappear. You are cleaning a hoarder’s house in VR, essentially.

1/21 – A board game (although I could also imagine it as an app) where you are plotting the shortest route to pick up kids via school bus. I actually think this has a lot of promise, and already did some sketching in a notebook for how the board should be laid out. Play is like Set or Ricochet Robots, where there are no turns, and every player stares at the board until they think they’ve found the best solution.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with this week’s entries. Only 1/18 felt underwhelming when I re-read it, and I think it’s the first entry to really feel a bit like a cop-out on re-reading.

A Strategy for Abstract Strategy Game Reviews

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016

Today I posted over on Board Game Geek asking for help defining a review system for abstract strategy games. For posterity, here’s the contents of that post:

I’ve been thinking about criteria for reviewing abstract strategy games. In particular, I’d like to end up with a list of ratings, (not just one) that give the reader a sense of how the game plays in comparison to other abstract strategy games.

As an aside, I’m not using the term combinatorial, although I do prefer those games, both because I don’t want to limit the scope of games reviewed to those criteria, and also because I feel the term is hard to understand and explain to someone not already familiar with the nuances of game rules (and abstract strategy game rules in particular). I will certainly indicate the presence of any non-combinatorial elements in the review, and maybe even “at a glance” as part of the rating section. Maybe something like this:
– Number of players: 2
– Luck: Yes/No (If yes, maybe with some details.)
– Randomization: Yes/No (With an indication how.)
– Hidden Information: Yes/No (Again, indicating where.)
– (More needed?)

My goal, to be up-front about it, is eventually to start a new game review site, focused on abstract strategy games. That site’s mission will be: To promote and evangelize the beauty of abstract strategy games.

Here are the criteria I’ve come up with so far:

Strategic complexity – How strategically complex? I.e., how far ahead can I think about my turns with any real expectation of implementing a specific strategy?

Tactical Complexity – How individually complex are each of my decisions in a given turn? How many factors are there influencing my decisions based solely on the game’s state in a single turn?

Rules complexity – How easy is the game to understand and begin playing? How well are the rules written?

Game Readability – How easy is the game to understand at a glance? Can an experienced player take in the game’s state and gauge whether a player’s position is superior or inferior to that of their opponent?

Game Depth – How deep is the game? This could mean a lot of things, but for my reviews, it will mean how much can experienced players be said to be playing at a “different level” from beginner players? Or in other words, how much do the game decisions made by an experienced player change versus the decisions of a beginner player?

Spacial Engagement (Geometric Engagement?) – How much does the game rely on the player visualizing the positions of game elements in relation to one another or in relation to imagined elements?

Mathematical Engagement – How much do mathematical equations or general math principles (counting, etc.) play into the tactical decisions and / or long term strategies in the game?

Originality – Have I seen games like this before? Do I feel like there are new ideas in particular that deserve calling out in this particular game?

Physical Beauty – If this is a game played with standard components, or PNP, it may get dinged here, but since I am attempting to promote abstract strategy games to the general populous, it’s actually a super important criteria.

Overall Elegance – This could be expressed dispassionately as a ratio of rules complexity to strategic depth, but I actually think of it more as an expression of my feeling of satisfaction with that ratio. Did playing the game feel like more than the sum of its parts? Did it inspire me to think about it?

Again, I’m definitely looking for feedback about these. In particular:

– Is there anything obviously missing? Are there other criteria you use when judging a new game?

– How are the names? Any you feel should change or that you feel could be articulated better?

– Is “Overall Elegance” even needed? It’s probably the most subjective, but the concept I’m attempting to capture is just how it feels to play, which is absolutely subjective. Is there a better way to say that, maybe one that doesn’t seem as subjective?

– I’m thinking about doing a scale (probably 1-5) for each of these, and giving the game a score based on the sum total, or possibly an average. Thoughts on that final score?

– Are there other game ranking schemes you particularly like? I’d appreciate pointers to any that break the review down into a list of criteria like this. (I know there are more of them out there, but I’ve only managed to “find” a few links so far.)

This entire thing essentially came about because I was thinking about the term “combinatorial game”, and whether I wanted to use it along with (or instead of) “abstract strategy game”. When thinking about a rating system for Abstract Strategy games, it’s a no brainer to indicate whether there are elements that fans of “pure” thinking games might not appreciate: randomization during gameplay, hidden information, player manipulation, and generally just anything that gets in the way of the player determining their win or loss through skill alone. Generally, this is why the combinatorial term came about. (Although some might argue that it came around the other way, from actual academic game theory, as it was definitely used there first.) But I feel like it was only co-opted by game designers because “abstract strategy” has been used too frequently in the board game industry at large to describe games that are only abstract in theme, and don’t meet the other criteria.

If you visit the wikipedia page for abstract strategy, you’ll see the description carefully adds qualifiers like “almost all…” and “most…” or “many…” when describing the no luck and no hidden information qualities. It’s a controversial term.

I’m partial to the term “abstract strategy” though, partly because I just like its connotations. Abstract thought is one of the things that sets us apart from other species of life on this planet, and has far-reaching implications for humanity and civilization. Not to mention that games essentially wouldn’t be possible without it. In addition to the reasoning I gave in my original post, I also feel that the term “combinatorial” hasn’t reached critical mass yet, and not enough folks know what it means for it to be super useful. (Thus, I went with Abstract Meeple rather than Combinatorial Meeple, though both have a ring to them.)

Back to my thought-process: Indicating the presence of any of those non-combinatorial elements in a review will be easy, but some games that contain one or more of those elements still feel like abstract strategy games to a greater or lesser extent to me. I want to be free to review those games, and also want to communicate that feeling and quantify it somehow in my rating system.

But simply telling my readers that a game “feels abstract” seems too subjective, and also, it won’t give them enough information about whether they might also share that feeling. So I realized I’d need to break it down. Which led to the question: Why do games feel like abstract strategy? This led to my list of rating criteria.

And somewhere in making the list, it occurred to me: All the issues of combinatorial (or not) being equal, I have the same problem when comparing two completely combinatorial games. Other than my personal feelings about them, how would Chess rate any differently from Go? I thought about it some, and that also influenced the list. (In particular, the addition of Spacial and Mathematical engagement.) As it says in the post, I’m definitely looking for feedback on all of this. Feel free to post a comment, or head over to BGG and join the discussion.

Game Idea A Day – Week 2

Friday, January 15th, 2016

Last week I said I wanted to spend less time on these, and I mostly achieved that goal. I think most of the entries for this week were under 15 minute affairs, and several were probably more like 5 minutes. Here are some summaries:

1/8 – Another game imagined for the LED system I’d thought a lot about on 1/4. This is a two-player abstract, inspired by speed chess.

Brief aside: At some point last week, I was with my daughter at another kid’s place, and one of the children present was playing Cow Evolution, which I had never heard of before that moment. I think maybe I’ve played games with similar mechanics, but the developer has a bunch of these games in the store, and I spent a few hours researching them this last week. It was particularly fun to compare them to one another in terms of features and presentation. (They are mechanics-wise very similar, if not identical.)

While playing (at least in part because there is not much thought necessary), I spent quite a bit of time thinking about the game design behind these “evolution” games (they are more accurately about combining things), and where they fit into the game design family tree. They are certainly related to idle games, and unfolding games of course, but it’s also interesting to compare them to Threes!, 1024, and 2048. This line of thinking clearly influenced the next couple of journal entries.

1/9 – A Threes! inspired game played on conveyor belts. (As of right now, I think this was my most promising design idea for the week, and I’d love to spend some time prototyping it.)

1/10 – An idea for a game based loosely on these evolution games, but in reverse, where you begin with a human egg and divide cells until you have an embryo, or maybe even a complete human.

1/11 – Quick plot sketch for an open-world game set in the pre-historic era where you get to ride wooly mammoths and fight aliens.

1/12 – Thought up a 52-card deck solitaire variant that is surely not original, but might be fun. I haven’t tried it out yet.

1/13 – I read through a C++ tutorial on creating a grid like the one behind geometry wars. Then came up with this idea for a game set on such a grid, where you have to deform the grid using first your fingers, then (on subsequently more difficult levels) by placing objects on the grid that influence it in various ways.

1/14 – A roguelike idea where every space in the dungeon has potential to branch out into a new level.

Anyway, there were some gems in there. (And writing this inspired a new entry for today!)

99% Invisible – podcast reaction

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

I only rarely listen to podcasts. But my wife is a fiend for them.

She referred me to the 189th episode of 99% invisible – The Landlord Game. Folks familiar with the history of Monopoly will know that title refers to the game as it existed before Parker Brothers got their hands on it.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the podcast (it’s short), but had one thing I really wanted to react to. In the podcast, one of my favorite game designer “personalities”, Eric Zimmerman, is quoted as saying something along the lines of “People love Monopoly even though it breaks all these game design best practices.” (Definitely paraphrased, I can’t be bothered to go back and listen for the exact quote.)

I have two reactions to this.

First, it’s really important to note (especially so for this podcast, which comes at the topic of game design from the perspective of design in general) that Game Design is an especially new discipline. There are very few people working in it, and even fewer academics studying it. So “best practices” at this point are fairly arbitrary and more hypothetical than theoretical. (This might just be my opinion, but it’s one I’d defend.)

Secondly, more to the exact point Zimmerman was making, I think most game design principals that Monopoly goes against — and here’s a couple of my favorites: 1. Roll and move feels less like playing a game and more like the game is playing you. And 2. Player elimination just leaves people not playing your game. — …are probably only principals of game design because there has been a backlash by game designers against the popularity of Monopoly. Put another way, I think a lot of game designers get their start by thinking “Wow, you know, Monopoly really sucks, but here’s how I would fix it…”

First Week of Game Idea a Day

Friday, January 8th, 2016

So I joked about my New Year’s resolution being a new game idea (or entry in my game ideas journal) every day. I was, for the record, TOTALLY joking at the time. But now I’m serious. DEADLY serious.

And I’ve got an entry for the first 7 days of the year. Eight entries, actually. I’m going to try and summarize them here like someone posting their weight every morning on twitter.

1/1 – I had an idea for turning Action Go into a board game. Basically a go variant at this point. I actually wrote up some rules and stuff (even though that’s not necessarily part of my resolution).

1/2 – I expanded on the previous idea, bringing some of the mechanics out of the realm of Go, and using them in more of a euro game with resources and player boards. (Still themeless, though I have some ideas. I stopped just short of prototyping this.)

1/3 – Came up with a pen and paper game idea I’m calling Order and Chaos. I’d love to get feedback about it, (like does it even work?) so maybe I’ll write a separate blog post at some point with the full rules.

1/4 – Came up with a new idea for an LED-based gameboard and pieces. Essentially each game piece is an LED with battery, and the board tells it what color to make. I had a couple of game ideas for that set of components. I’d love to build a prototype, but pricing out the component it seemed like it was going to get too expensive.

1/5 – I spent some time thinking about logic puzzles in the vein of Nurikabe or Sudoku, and came up with one that I’ve never seen before. I’m going to do some research, and if this is original, I might actually turn it into a real project.

1/6 – Came up with a simple 2-player abstract strategy game played on a circle. (Yes, another one.) I’ll probably write this up sometime too, since the rules are complete and I playtested it by myself a few times.

1/7 – Another general game system idea (this one with some interesting hexagon components). I actually came up with a list of possible (sort of generic) objectives, but no solid game ideas.

1/7 – Later in the day I got thinking about local multiplayer games and gave some thought to a team game about hatching ostrich eggs inspired by Killer Queen.

I haven’t written anything concrete yet today, but I spent a good hour or two this morning coming up with puzzles for my idea from 1/5, and thinking about how to make it into an mobile app. I’d like to do some more brainstorming yet today, but I should also get some actual work done on one of the various games I’m ostensibly supposed to be working on.

As for the rest of the year, we’ll see how long I can keep this up. It’s starting to feel like a real project, like a game a week (which I’ve never tried) or #1GameAMonth (which I have). I’d really like these to only take me 10 or 15 minutes, and some of them did, initially, but the problem with brainstorming is that it’s sorta self perpetuating. Once you come up with a good idea, you want to iterate on it, or if you really think it’s good, you start to imagine implementation details.

Ideally, I’d like my journal entries to be short and concise, like the best from @PeterMolydeux. That’s a sub-goal, I guess. For now, I’m really happy with my ideas from this week. Hope that doesn’t sound too much like I’m tooting my own horn. You always love your last idea the best, so I guess the true test will be to see how I feel about these in a month or two.

Twin Cities Startup Resources

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016

Every couple of months or so (it was twice in the last few weeks), I am contacted by someone new to the twin cities startup / entrepreneur scene. Usually this is someone looking for mobile application development, that’s how I get involved, but sometimes (nearly always) they are also looking to network and interested in pointers to various other local startup community resources. I’ve compiled a few lists of this sort over the last few years, usually tailored to a specific individual’s needs/interests. Today’s list was generic enough that I figured I’d post it here, with some additional sections tacked on for iOS and GameDev.

It’s worth noting that these are mostly about face to face events. I think all of them have both a presentation you can sit down and watch as well as networking opportunities, before after or during.


Minne* – MinneBar is a great event, and you should make it to MinneDemo when you can! – Great resource for local startup news. Their events list is usually pretty out of date, but still a good place to start.

Pollen Midwest – Their website is super hard to navigate, but there is a lot of really interesting content there, and they organize events that are often really relevant. – I’ve actually never made it to this, but from what I understand, it’s similar to MinneDemo.

Startup Week / Weekend – Only once a year, but a whole week of events worth knowing about.

(There are too many of these, IMO, and I don’t really go to any of them, so no idea which ones — if any — are worth checking out.)

Mobile Specific

Mobilize – Relatively new to the scene, this group is only about a year old, but high quality. Presentations have been mostly focused on the business / startup aspects. They have occasionally had game development related speakers.

Mobile Twin Cities – Again, mostly about the business aspects, there used to be more development content. I haven’t actually been to this in a while, but it’s been going on for many years. (Worth noting that the full-day (or sometimes two) conference, Mobile March, grew out of this group.)

iOS Development (code) Specific

Cocoaheads MN – Despite feeling rather thrown together, and a location that is mostly inconvenient (~45 minutes out of town), this is the longest running and highest quality apple developer meetup in the twin cities. Always developer focused, full of quality people.

Twin Cities iPhone Developers Meetup – Also code-focused, this meetup has skewed toward beginner topics in the past, but looking through the last year’s meeting titles, looks like they’ve advanced a bit since I’ve been in attendance. I should probably be going to this more often.

Game Development Related

IGDA Twin Cities – Disclaimer: I help run this. With 3 meetings a month (or thereabouts), there is plenty to engage with here. Feel free to contact me if you want more specifics here.

Glitch – This grew out of a student group at the UofMN. A year ago I would have said it was still focused on students, but they have a lot going on, including an annual conference, organizing the local Global Game Jam site, and quite regular events in their office space near campus.

United Geeks of Gaming; Game Designer Sessions – The only public board game design meetup that I know about in the twin cities, they meet (currently) on the second Friday of the month.

Artistic Promiscuity

Saturday, January 2nd, 2016

Attending a social event yesterday, on the first day of 2016, I should not have been surprised to be asked about whether I had made any new year’s resolutions. I answered that I’d come up with a board game idea that afternoon, so I could say it was to create a new game every day, and I’d have until tomorrow before I was behind schedule.

But really I hadn’t thought too much about it.

On the drive home, I kept coming back to a list of platitudes I’d read on a random Facebook (re-)post. The one that really stuck with me was as follows:

“Be artistically promiscuous.” **

I love this quote, possibly just because it likens art to sex, but also because it demands frequency! Making art is about practice, and being good at art is about doing it over and over again. So frequency is incredibly important! (Do it every day if you can!)

But promiscuity also implies different partners. Different styles of art, (painting, dance, music!) or different styles of the same art (platformers, abstract strategy, puzzles!), it probably doesn’t matter how exactly you interpret this, but variety is incredibly important to an artist, both in variety of artistic output, but also (probably more importantly) variety of input or art that you consume. Promiscuity not only implies different partners, but it could also mean you are indiscriminate about those partners. I like this too, because diversity is important, and you can’t always know what is going to be good before you consume it. Just because that movie got terrible reviews doesn’t mean it won’t resonate with you in some way or another.

If promiscuity is about sexual behavior, in this metaphor, I’ve been (so far) assuming art is the act itself, or possibly the offspring produced. But you could also imagine this quote to be about art as the sexual partner. This is great, because then you get to personify making art, and fall in love with it, or rather, best not to fall in love with it, because you are just going to be making another piece of art tomorrow!

Whether it’s making or consuming art, I want to be doing more of it in 2016, and in greater variety. I don’t know if this is even possible, but I’m sure going to try.

** I turned to google to find attribution for this quote, and as near as I can tell it originated with the complete list as I read it on Facebook, by Valerie Curtis-Newton, and was written sometime in 2015.