2023 Recap


This is the fifth year I’ve done one of these recaps. This is the longest and by far the most self-indulgent version of it. You can view all the previous posts in their specific category, but here are direct links to the entries for: 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022.

Here’s a table of contents for this post:

By The Numbers

Game Design and Development

  • 2 iOS apps released (1 board game, 1 open source game-related utility)
  • 82 game design journal entries written (59 tagged tabletop, 15 digital)
  • 28 journal entries were “a continuation” of previous ideas
  • 2 journal entries were ideas from dreams (neither had any merit tho)
  • 9 board game ideas prototyped
  • 1 board game prototype ordered from The Game Crafter
  • 1 presentation given at CrafterCon on digital board game development

Games Played Log

  • 274 unique game entries
  • 195 games played for only one day
  • 240 days I played played some Picross
  • 20 game reviews in my game log

Board Game Arena

  • 457 plays completed there
  • 262 plays where I won (57.3%)
  • 78 different (unique) games
  • 56 plays of Gizmos (the most)
  • 24 different games only played once

Other Activity

  • 52 books read in 2023
  • 15 of those books I rated 5-stars
  • 52 movies watched in 2023
  • 4 of those movies I rated 5-stars
  • 8371 songs scrobbled
  • ~3104 photos taken (all from my phone)

Game Design and Development

Sometime last year I moved all my journals into Obsidian. Obsidian is great, but more importantly, they are all now markdown files, and much more organized than they were before.

A separate, but related project is to move all of my game design related documents and files into a .git repository specific to that purpose. It’s one of those projects that may be perpetually in-progress (although it is finite!), because there are so many files still in Google Drive. Some of those will remain, because they are publicly shared, or collaborations, but in all cases, I’d also like a copy to live in the repository.

The peace-of-mind I’m getting from this cannot be overstated, but additionally I’m finding it much easier to find where I’ve put things, and make progress on projects that have been shelved for ages. This process also surfaced some projects I’d completely forgotten about, and my list of prototypes (by what stage of development they’re in) has grown as a result. (Specifically, before the markdown version, I only had 28 “playable” board game prototypes listed, and I now have 31.)

My Game Design Journal

I wrote 82 game design journal entries in 2023. That’s twice as many as 2022!

After trying to “eyeball” some statistics, I decided to go through and tag all my journal entries, which made compiling the statistics reported above a simple matter of counting the instances of that tag in the file for 2023. (The tag count by file is built into Obsidian, and this was the main reason I decided to split the file up by year.)

My re-reading and parsing of the journal entries revealed a few other observations:

  • First, I think I tend to have a lot of game ideas where I have some game components, and I want to make a game using those components. For example, one of my holiday gifts this year was a set of 4-colors of wooden checkers pieces, and since receiving them, I have thought of no less than 4 new games playable with those pieces.
  • Initially, I wanted to tag new game ideas with whether or not they’re variants of other ideas. But I realized that it’s very hard for my brain to sort this out at a glance. This is actually a really hard question, and I now recall that there was a long thread in BGG about it sometime in the last year as well. I didn’t really resolve this, and decided not to report this statistic.
  • Related to the above, I was very liberal in my use of the #continuation tag. In the past, I always tried to list the date of the previous design journal entry that the idea continued, but this time around, I just went with whether the idea was building on any previous ideas I’ve had. A great many journal entries are about games I’m actively working on, and I certainly don’t list all the previous entries in those cases.
  • 7 journal entries were about variants for existing games not designed by me. Some of these were about new Go variants. I spent a lot of time last year thinking about Go variants, and am still considering publishing a set of them in some form or another.
  • 6 of the journal entries were game ideas that are playable with common components. I generally don’t include those kinds of games in my prototypes list. (Unless I really think they have merit, and then I’ll spend some additional time thinking about how or whether they could become commercial games. Maybe through some component trickery. Or, as was the case this year, perhaps by bundling them with other Go variants.)

Video Game Development

I was fairly focused on non-game contract work this year, but still managed to find time enough to work on (and release) the app version of my game Blither. I still have a lot of tasks on my TODO list for that game, but my enthusiasm for working on it has almost dried up at this point.

The only other video game development of note that I tackled in 2023 was to spend a few weekends porting Go Tetris to Swift. That project is maybe 50% complete at this point. I’m using an open source cross-platform game engine, called GateEngine, and I documented some of the exploration and learnings around using the engine (and my port more generally) in a series of posts on the Swift.org forums.

Games Played Log / Journal

Not including BGA turns, other turn-based board games, or Picross, here are my most-played games of 2023:

  1. Diablo 4 (Xbox): 117 days
  2. Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (Switch): 80 days
  3. Army of Ruin (Steam): 30 days
  4. Coral Island (Steam): 25 days
  5. Stitch (iOS): 21 days
  6. Hogwarts Legacy (Steam): 21 days
  7. Grimoire (iOS): 19 days
  8. Garden Tails (ios): 13 days
  9. Rogue Genesia (steam): 13 days
  10. Sumaddle (iOS): 12 days

Note that there are no tabletop games in my top 10, but I did play tabletop games (in person) on 49 days in 2023, which is a heck of a lot more than the 31 days from 2022. My most played “in person” tabletop games, by number of days played were:

  1. Passo: 5 days – I played this a lot with my kid, and because the game is relatively short, most of the time we played at least 2 out of 3 games, so this number may be way low compared to number of completed games.
  2. Cascadia: 5 days – My guess is I “just” played this 5 times.
  3. Go: 4 days
  4. Gizmos: 3 days
  5. Say?: 3 days – This game’s designer, Khanat Sadomwattana is really on a roll. I just received Yuma from the kickstarter, and am eager to play it.
  6. Aegean Sea: 2 days
  7. Meadow: 2 days – Shout out to Nate and Ellie, who own this game.
  8. Euker: 2 days – This is a thanksgiving tradition among my dad’s side of the family.
  9. Splendor: 2 days
  10. Splendor Duel: 2 days – I mostly got this to see what makes it tick. It’s a fine 2-player Splendor variant.

It’s obviously an idiosyncrasy of my “played log” journaling that I don’t currently log when I played a game more than one time in a day. I’m going to try and think of a way to fix that for 2024.

Board Game Arena

My top 10 games played on BGA this year were:

  • Gizmos: 56 plays
  • Innovation: 43 plays
  • Splendor: 26 plays
  • Race for the Galaxy: 23 plays
  • Azul: 22 plays
  • Jump Drive: 20 plays
  • 6 nimmt!: 20 plays
  • Stone Age: 17 plays
  • Ticket to Ride: 15 plays
  • 7 Wonders Architects: 14 plays

It’s no secret that I love the game Gizmos. I was happy to see it at the top of my most played on BGA list. All the games in that list are ones I play with folks on my Tuesday night online game night. We play asynchronously all week, of course, but an hour or two on Zoom definitely helps keep things moving along. Notably, the group has shrunk a bit in the last year. I stopped inviting other folks, even when it looks like it’s not going to be many people on the call, because a) I’m lazy, but b) it’s easy to end up with too many. (We usually try and play only one game concurrently.) c) I also think it can be sometimes awkward when folks on the call don’t know each other. It’s always hard to align everyone on which games to play and when, maybe even more than with an in-person game night. Even when everyone has known each other for years (as with our core group), it can sometimes be hard to pick a game, which is why we end up falling-back on these staples we know everyone already knows and loves.

If you’re reading this, and are one of the people I’ve stopped pestering to come play with us, please know that I still want to play with you!

I also wanted to remark on some of the games I personally really enjoyed learning this year on BGA:

  • Ark Nova: 11 plays – Just barely missed the top-10 cut off. I’ve never played this in person, but I’ve enjoyed getting to play it on BGA.
  • boop!: 9 plays – I saw this in person and dismissed it as yet another commercial game that’s too simple, and probably broken. But it was something much more rare: a commercial release of an abstract strategy game with some actual depth and clout! I have yet to pick this up (at least in part because I can play it any time on BGA), but I probably will do so eventually.
  • Let’s Catch The Lion! – 7 plays – more about this one below.
  • That Time You Killed Me – 3 plays – I’ve owned the physical version of this since it came out, but have yet to play with my copy. The digital implementation was the push I needed to finally learn to play, and explore this game a bit.
  • Earth, and Forest Shuffle – 2 plays each – I think it’s interesting that I only played both of these tableau builders twice. They were both new to me, and I thought I’d played both of them more than I had. I really enjoyed both games, and have considered picking up physical copies. (More so Forest Shuffle than Earth, but only because I think it would go over better with my wife & kid.)

Abstract Strategy Games

Toward the end of December, I started playing games on AbstractPlay.com. I only finished 2 games there by the end of the year (one game of Tintas, and one of Adere, both new-to-me and excellent games!), and I’m eager to continue to play there daily. I’ll include stats for those games next year in a similar way to BGA. I’m always saying abstract strategy games are my favorite, and I do like to try out new ones whenever I get a chance, but in general, they seldom make my “most played games” lists. So I decided to take a closer look at my plays of Abstract Strategy games in 2023. (And additionally, maybe I’ll try and change this somewhat in 2024.)

One of the standouts for me this last year was a game I didn’t acquire until mid-November, called Passo. Shortly after that, I convinced my 13-year-old to play it with me, and my game log says we played it 5 days. I don’t remember a day that we played it where we didn’t play best out of 3 times. And there may have even been a day or two where we did that twice. On the other hand, one of the 5 days was introducing the game to Nick Bentley, and I believe we only played it once.

Passo is one of those short games with simple components that I really wish I’d designed. I’ve even spent some time in past years working on designs played on modular boards! Before taking our first plane trip in 3 years, one of the things I did to prepare was to write up a list of about 10 modifiers to try out while playing Passo. Then on the plane, I presented these to my kid as a “challenge” for us to figure out which ones are fun. (The grid of 5×5 board spaces fits perfectly on one of those back-of-the-seat tables, by the way.) Interestingly, we tried a bunch of combinations of all my ideas, and none of them felt as good as Passo. I don’t know whether we gave them a fair chance, but the impression I came away with is that Passo is incredibly “honed” in its simplicity. It’s hard to make a better game out of its components!

Looking at my log again, the abstract strategy game I played on the most days was Blither, (the game I released as an iOS app) played on 10 days. I’m certain I actually played it more days than I logged it, since I’m also sure I worked on it more days than that, and I doubt there was a day I worked on it that I didn’t finish at least a game or two.

Other notable abstract strategy games:

  • My friend Mike and I played boop! on BGA 9 times in the course of about 3 months between March and June. At first, I thought it was broken. (Mostly because you can get into cycles, or at least very long sequences, but it’s also possible to get out of them.) But the more I played, the less I cared. I enjoy it well enough, and really loved reading the boop! designer diary on BGG.
  • In contrast, Mike and I only finished 7 games of Go in 2023, though we always had a game going throughout the year. I played at least 3 games of Go on my phone this year (in the Smart Go app). And notably, I played at least 3 physical games of Go, although all three were against either my 13 year old or other teenage friends they had over.
  • It’s hard to say how many, but I also played quite a few Go variants this year. Mostly on Ludii, and AiAi, but as I mentioned I spent a lot of time thinking about them, and part of that time was just spent googling around for what’s out there.
  • Notably, I found that Stephen Lavelle has two excellent digital Go variants: Pachingo, and Go48 He is one of my game-design idols. Arguably a genius.
  • I played 7 games of Let’s Catch the Lion! on BGA – I think of this little Shogi variant to Shogi as Tic-Tac-Chec is to Chess. I love both of those small games. My impression is that they give just the tiniest taste of the tactics you can find in the larger game, while still being their own totally satisfying self-contained experiences. Although I’ve wanted to for many years, I never spent the time to learn how to play Shogi. I think I’ve been intimidated by the usual look of the pieces, which are indecipherable to my western-biased eyes. I enjoyed Let’s Catch the Lion! so much that I ordered the full version (also known as “Dobutsu shogi in the Greenwood”) from a little shop in Japan. It’s my understanding that version is essentially Shogi, with kid’s pieces. I haven’t received it yet, but when it arrives I’m eager to explore some of the other variants described in this Shogi geeklist.

Video Games

I mostly played Diablo 4 with friends, and I had sort of grown tired of it at one point not too long after it came out, but then the second season content sucked me (us?) back in again. Plus, at some point my brother got an Xbox, so I was also playing with him too for a while.

Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is easily my game of the year. It’s just a really solid sequel, with tons of little improvements over the first one, giving me plenty of reasons to keep playing. Just thinking about it makes me kind of itch to play it again, though it looks like the last time I played was back in September.

I was surprised to see iOS appear so many times in the top 10. Although it’s kind of disappointing which games are on there. Stitch is a nice “easy” puzzle game. I think it’s puzzles aren’t all that great, but it’s art is very nice and the experience is meditative. I think it has a similar feeling to putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Both my wife and kid are also playing it. (And have probably played a lot more than I have.) I was actually going to drop Apple Arcade with the recent price increase, mostly because I haven’t played many of the games lately and have been disappointed with the recent releases, but I mentioned it at the dinner table and was told that would be unacceptable.

I had to open Grimoire to remind myself what it is, and it’s definitely a stupid idle clicker game. Garden Tails isn’t much better, though at least it’s got some match-3 in there, and it’s pretty. I should play more Sumaddle though. That’s a good puzzle.

I didn’t start playing Coral Island until November 18th, so it’s impressive that one got to 25 days. I’m kind of done with it, but there are a few other objectives that I could imagine playing just to get to. It’s definitely got content to play a lot more than I have already, but I only started playing because my kid wanted to play it. I definitely got sucked in. Notably, our friend Angela got it for Xbox, and ran into a ton of bugs that don’t exist (as near as I can tell) in the Steam version.

I play Picross fairly frequently as part of my daily workout, so it doesn’t seem fair to include it in the list above. Yes, it was (again) my most-played game of the year, at some 240 days. But this is fewer than last year’s 297 days, and at least part of the reason for that is that I figured out how to use a “spare” pair of Joycons with my Steamdeck. So I bought a dock and hooked it up to my TV, so it’s pretty functionally equivalent to playing a game on the Switch. It’s a little more effort to get it set up, so I still play Picross for my workouts 75% of the time though.

Video Game “Platforms”

Here are the results of tracking “where” I played games last year:

  • bga – 71 games on 355 days
  • tabletop – 51 games on 49 days
  • ios – 46 games on 131 days
  • steam – 36 games on 130 days
  • web – 33 games on 32 days
  • xbox – 14 games on 136 days
  • switch – 9 games on 279 days
  • oculus – 8 games on 9 days
  • aiai – 8 games on 5 days
  • ludii – 5 games on 2 days
  • playdate – 1 games on 1 days
  • ps5 – 1 games on 1 days

Poor Playdate. I played so much of it last year, but the last time I fired it up was to update it and check out the new catalog (store) built into the OS. But apparently I didn’t actually play any games that day, or I forgot to log them. (I honestly can’t remember.) There are at least a couple that I really want to try out now, so hopefully it will get more entries in 2024.

PS5 is a weird one. I’m sure I turned my PS5 on more than 1 day last year… but it’s true that there weren’t any games on it that I got into the way there were in 2022. I still have a small stack of games for it that I haven’t even opened yet, but that’s true for every platform.

A few words about “web” – It’s worth noting that, when entering a web-based game into my log, I often have the dilemma where I wonder if “web” is the correct platform. For instance, BGA is a website! Obviously I treat BGA as its own platform, and it’s tracked separately anyway, so that’s a bad example, and I’m planning to treat AbstractPlay.com the same way, but what about Yucata? (I actually didn’t log any games on Yucata in 2023, but I did in 2022.) Ludii is also a website, but I log plays as Ludii, because it’s also a stand-alone app. I think this year I’m going to try and avoid using “web” as a platform, and use the domain instead. So if I’m playing a game on itch.io, I’ll put that as the platform instead. This decision is at least in part because I realized I didn’t log all the times I was playing Glory to Rome on the website that exists for it, or solving puzzles on Puzzmo, which I can’t imagine I did more than a small handful of days. Even so, I should be tracking those, and will endeavor to get better at remembering this.

Favorite Video Games of 2023

I already spoiled this section by saying that Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is my game of the year. And obviously I liked Diablo 4 just fine as well, or I wouldn’t have played so much of it. I kind of hate how loot-box-y it is, but there’s always plenty to do without paying.

Other notable games I loved this year included:

  • Cocoon (Xbox) – I finished this over 5 days. I’m pretty sure it would have been 3 days, but I got stuck on the very last puzzle of the game.
  • Walkabout Minigolf (Oculus Quest) – This is a surprisingly fun VR game, especially when you play with other folks. It feels basically exactly like playing regular minigolf, except you’re in a virtual world, where strange and interesting things can happen. (Also where you can fly around.)
  • Six Match (iOS) – I’ve had this game on my phone for a while, and have played it previously, but I played a bunch of it again this year. It’s a very interesting take on match-3, I think. They added puzzles at some point, and I enjoyed those quite a bit. (Probably haven’t even beat them all yet.)

Shout out to the weird (new-ish?) subgenre of “avoid-em-up” games, also known as “survivor-likes”, since Vampire Survivors was the one to bring a lot of attention to games like it. Army of Ruin made my top 10 most played, but there are a kind of ridiculous number of them in the middle of my games played log this year. A lot of them sitting at 5-10 days played, including Brotato, Boneraiser Minions, Pathfinder Survivors, and 20 Minutes Until Dawn. They all have upgrades that scratch a particular itch, and feel sort of like eating popcorn to me. Not filling, and certainly not nutritious, but satisfying none the less. My favorite of the bunch is probably Boneraiser Minions.

Other Tracked Activities


I marked 15 of the 52 books I read last year 5-stars. My favorites were probably these:

  • Sure, I’ll Join Your Cult, by Maria Bamford – I am an unabashed fan. This was a hilarious memoir.
  • Also a Poet: Frank O’Hara, My Father, and Me, by Ada Calahan – Two memoirs in one year? I loved this book almost as much as I love Frank O’Hara. His best poems are on another level, but this included some very choice lines, and got me thinking about O’Hara and his work again, and was also lovely in its own right.
  • Legends & Lattes, by Travis Baldree – This was an excellent cozy book about an orc warrior whose life is changed by trying coffee for the first time, and decides to open a coffee shop. Delightful.
  • A Heart that Works, by Rob Delaney – Okay, seriously, I NEVER read memoirs. Comedian, actor, and writer Rob Delaney writes here about how he got his first book deal by being funny on Twitter. It’s probably worth noting that I listened to both this one and Maria Bamford’s book read by their respective (celebrity) authors.
  • Witch King, by Martha Wells – This was the first in a new series by one of my favorite authors. If you haven’t read Martha Wells, start with either Murderbot or the Raksura books (sci-fi robot or fantasy dragon/changlings – to taste).
  • Defekt, by Nino Cipri – This short sequel to an equally short first novel about the multiverse connected to the backs of big box furniture stores is compelling and lovely.

If you read this, and follow me on Goodreads, know that I’ve stopped updating there, and may even delete my account eventually. I’m now posting my mini-reviews, as well as rating and logging the books I read, on The Story Graph.


The number of movies I watched each month of this year was quite variable. I only watched one movie in August (a really weird french Power-Rangers-inspired movie called Smoking Causes Coughing, 4-stars), which was the least, while in December I somehow watched 11 movies.

I marked the following four movies 5-stars in 2023:

  • Nimona (2023)
  • Barbie (2023)
  • Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022)
  • Twelve Monkeys (1995) – This was a re-watch, and remains one of my favorites.


I scrobble all my music, and last year sometime I imported everything from Last.fm into ListenBrainz.

I still send my scrobbles to both places, however, and interestingly enough, they have conflicting numbers for how many tracks I listened to. Last.fm says I scrobbled 8,578 tracks, while ListenBrainz says it was only 8,371. Last.fm’s report includes a bunch more information, so I’m not ditching it any time soon, but its totals for “most listened” both albums and artists are lower! I think there must just be some difference in how both services compute albums as “listened”.

Both sites do agree on a lot of numbers, so I think this is accurately my most listened to albums and tracks:

My Top 5 albums listened to in 2023:

  1. No Rules Sandy, by Sylvan Esso
  2. The Lion King: The Gift, by Beyoncé (and other artists)
  3. History, by The Knocks
  4. Touche, by O’o
  5. Sylvan Esso, by Sylvan Esso

My Top 5 tracks listened to in 2023:

  1. Apricots, by Bicep
  2. Heaven Takes You Home, by Swedish House Mafia
  3. Coffee, by Sylvan Esso
  4. Claws, by Charli XCX
  5. Echo Party, by Sylvan Esso

Shout out to Le Youth, which both sites agree was in my top 5 listened artists, but somehow doesn’t appear in either of the above lists. Bonobo and Ben Böhmer also appear in my top 10 artists.

Notes on Process

A bit about my tracking of this stuff: I’ve spent a fair amount of time for this post pulling together all my data. Here’s a list of my sources:

  • the daily log (text file) self-reporting all the games that I play
  • Board Game Arena
  • my game design journal entries
  • The Story Graph (I also track books I read and my reviews in a text file)
  • Letterboxd (I also track movies/dates/reviews in a text file)
  • Last.fm and ListenBrainz for music

Around the time I started the original game log, I was trying to log all my games to Board Game Geek (BGG). BGG is great for board game plays, but doesn’t do all the other games that I play, so I mostly stopped using it (or BG Stats, which syncs with BGG) in favor of my own custom text file that just lists the date, and any games that I played that day, as well as the platform each game was played on. Every year since 2019, I’ve enhanced how I parse this log, so I can milk it for more statistics. The latest version is, of course, written in Swift.

I spent at least a couple of hours on the Swift project this year, and mostly it does exactly the same stuff it did last year, but now it does it better. It’s got better error reporting (important for the inevitable data-scrub that has to happen before the file parses correctly), but also the report it spits out is clearer, and ordered with the totals that I really care about at the bottom (while still printing all the gritty details above, so I can fact check and get into the weeds if I want to). Finally, I did also do a refactor of the project itself, moving it from a command-line macOS application to a Swift Package executable. This allowed me to write some tests. So now I’ll know if any future changes I make break parsing of the older log files.

And I have already identified two things I want to be able to parse for next year:

  1. I’m going to start marking games that are new-to-me games in my “played log”, so I’ll have better stats on how many games I played that I hadn’t before. I’ll do this by prefixing them with a +.
  2. I’m also going to mark games that I played more than once in a day by adding something like x2 or x10 in the parenthetical section after the game name. Most of the time this won’t apply to video games, so it’s fine if it’s missing, but for board games or any other game where you can “finish it” one in a sitting, I’ll add this when necessary.

I’m 6-days into 2024, and I’ve already used both features a bunch.

I will of course continue to pull in my digital board game plays from Board Game Arena (BGA) next year, but I’ll be adding games from AbstractPlay.com to that as well, which means I’m pretty sure I’d like to somehow incorporate parsing both of those and then integrating them into the Swift project as well. Both so I can get consistent gameplay counts, but also just so I don’t have to do as much manual counting.

I’ve written quite a bit about my game design journal, and in some posts I did analysis around what kinds of ideas I had. This year, because I’d already added the entries from 2023 to .git, I decided it was fine to add to that file as long as I didn’t change its contents. So I went through all my ideas from 2023, marking each entry with 2-5 hashtags. Obsidian has several features around hashtags that let me easily pull together the raw numbers that I reported above.

Of course just the process of reading through all the entries from last year was interesting, and I even found an idea I thought might be of interest to the creator of a game I like, so I sent it to him. Hopefully he’ll find that unsolicited idea welcome, but I’m not holding my breath for a reply.

I mentioned moving to The Story Graph for book tracking. It’s what both my wife and I have decided to use instead of Goodreads. We both have Goodreads accounts that go back over a decade, but are unhappy with Amazon (who owns Goodreads), so we’ve decided to stop using the Goodreads entirely. I also have a text file for books I’ve read, and that file is actually far older than any of my other logs. (I neglected it for many years in the middle, but started keeping a list of books I read in 1995, while I was still in High School.) I love some aspects of The Story Graph, but I recently wanted to see a list of my wife’s books read in 2023, and that seems to be impossible currently, though the site has all this information and will show it to me in different ways, as well as show it to her. it just doesn’t make that list available to other users. (The stats are, in general, far better on Story Graph than on GoodReads though.)

As usual, pulling this post together took way longer than I’d expected. This year I even set aside a whole day for it (January 2nd), and even though I actually got a decent start on it the day before, I still wasn’t ready to post it at the end of the day on the 2nd. I then proceeded to spend at least half of the rest of the week on this endeavor, and still hadn’t finished it by Friday. I’m guessing I spent ~20 hours putting this post together.

Looking Forward

I enjoy this kind of introspection for its own sake, but I sometimes struggle to come to any conclusions after. And since I dislike putting pressure on myself, I usually avoid new-year’s resolutions and that sort of thing.

But in spite of that, I’ve decided I’m going to make a concerted effort to try and play more abstract strategy games this year. I’ve already made a deal with my kid to play a game of Go at least once a week, but I’m not holding my breath for whether that happens.

I will also be attending GAMA this year for the first time. I’ve heard it’s the industry conference to attend for Board Games, and I’d like to check it out for myself.

Here’s hoping that you and I both have a productive and happy 2024!

Card Game Systems

As a game designer, I am of course interested in “game systems” both as a concept, and specifically, as objects to own and play. I love the idea that games can be broken down into parts that can be used to compose other games, and I’m always looking for patterns in games that I play that I’ve seen used in other games, and thinking about how to abstract them.

So finding the Everdeck, a card game system meant to map its cards to multiple card game systems, is something that is of interest to me. Incidentally, I think I’d perhaps stumbled onto the Everdeck previously, but it wasn’t until the company that manufacturers my computer keyboard of choice also produced a similar deck, which they call ZSA Cards, and finding that they consulted with Wilhelm Su, who created The Everdeck, that I gave it a second glance.

I have a few stories to tell about card game systems that I’ve worked with:

First off, I did make a few different game designs for the Mystique Deck, a card game system designed and produced by Nestor Andrés, of nestor games. There may have been a contest, I can’t remember, but I designed several games, and at least one of them went into the book that was produced.

Secondly, at some point I had the idea to make a deck of cards for use with the Loony Pyramids game system. My friend August Brown illustrated the cards, and I playtested a bunch of ideas none of which really became “the game” for the system, and then eventually I just posted the PDF on my blog without any real fanfare. Ideally, I would like to formalize a game or two I think is outstanding with the cards, and then approach Looney Labs, but I haven’t done either of those things yet.

Finally, of course one of the oldest card game systems is the 52 card deck, and I have designed several games over the years for that system. Most notably, I published a solo deck-building game for a game contest, and it got a lot of comments on BGG, but I got too busy to really follow-up on most of them, and it was eventually disqualified from the contest for some reason. But I enjoyed that process, and think the game isn’t too bad as/is.

Here are some other card game systems I’ve enjoyed:

  • The Ell Deck – a deck of letter combinations, by Behrooz “Bez” Shahriari. I backed the Categorickell kickstarter, and was quite happy to finally have the deck in my hands earlier this year. There are 30+ games to play with these simple 2-letter cards.
  • Nautches – This is a hexagonal game system with a pun in its name (because all the sides have “notches” on them), and if anyone who knows me well heard that description, they would know I needed to own this. I was a little disappointed the deck itself isn’t larger, and that it didn’t come with the rules or ANY supporting materials, but the quality of the cards and hexagonal box is very high. Sadly, there are still only two games using the system posted on the site, but it does lend itself to playing around with different designs, and I’m very happy to own it. I have at least one or two designs for this, and I should probably make a separate post about those, or at least submit them to the Nautches site and see if they get posted.
  • Pairs – This new-ish card game system was also linked from the ZSA Cards site, and is published by Cheapass Games (and designed by James Ernest and Paul Peterson). There are already quite a few games you can play for it, and my “deluxe” copy (with rules for 30 games) is on its way.

2021 in games Played and Created

In 2021 I wrote 73 game design journal entries. Of those, I think I made (or started making) 6 board game prototypes (most notably for Blither, I think), and worked on at least 2 new digital game prototypes. There were 28 entries for game ideas I’d already had or worked on in some previous capacity.

I did only one game jam in 2021, the Global Game Jam.

I also released one game on two platforms in 2021, Thrive Digital, for both iOS and Android.

The played log

This was my third year keeping track of all the games I played. (You can also read my previous year’s posts about 2019 and 2020 if you’re curious.)

I played 319 different games in 2021.

My “played log” boils down to a list of entries per day, with a comma separated list of games, and each game has an associated platform (iOS, Switch, tabletop, etc.). This is the epitome of manual data collection, so I’m just trying to remember to add to the log whenever I play something. Usually after I get done, but sometimes in a batch at some point later in the day.

I added a totally new type of entry this year after last year’s resolution, which is just a single line with a name of a game and a (mini) review. I think in every case it was about something I’d played earlier that day. Before I parsed the log, I was certain I would be disappointed in the number of reviews I wrote because I could only remember writing a few of them, but I’m happy to say that I ended up with 38 reviews!

Top Played Games

I’ll write about some of these individually below, but here’s the top 10 list of games:

  1. Good Sudoku: 365 days
  2. Stone Age: 319 days (33 games, 18 won)
  3. Innovation: 293 days (70 games, 40 won)
  4. Splendor: 215 days (42 games, 26 won)
  5. Race for the Galaxy: 212 days (53 games, 36 won)
  6. 7 Wonders: 200 days (45 games, 15 won)
  7. Flow Fit: Sudoku: 128 days
  8. Roll for the Galaxy: 128 days (43 games, 27 won)
  9. New Frontiers: 119 days (25 games, 19 won)
  10. Picross S6: 106 days

This list includes games I played on Board Game Arena, some of which span multiple days. I think this year I’m going to log games on BGA slightly differently, and only include the names of games that I complete that day. This will reduce some of the tedium of figuring out which turns I just played on BGA (I don’t usually log them until after), but of course at the expense of being able to figure out which days I thought about each individual game, however briefly. Also worth noting that BGA collects extensive statistics itself, and that’s how I was able to see how many of each game I played (as well as the number of victories).

Here’s a list of the top 10 games not on BGA:

  1. Good Sudoku: iOS, 365 days
  2. Flow Fit: Sudoku: iOS, 128 days
  3. Picross S6: Switch, 106 days
  4. AM2: iOS, 102 days
  5. Picross S4: Switch, 84 days
  6. Picross S5: Switch, 63 days
  7. Picross S: Switch, 40 days
  8. Cozy Grove: Switch, 21 days
  9. Genshin Impact: PS5, 19 days
  10. God of War: PS5, 19 days

I’m happy to say I’m no longer playing AM2, and I’m hopeful that next year there will be no clicker or idle games on my top 10 list. (Though I’m not ashamed of checking them out now and then.)

Daily Routine

It’s obviously worth noting I played more games this year than last year. 319 unique games versus last year’s 297. I think one reason for this may be that among the many changes the global (COVID-19) pandemic has wrought on my life is a new and more-regimented daily routine. More so than at any other time that I can recall, I now have a set pattern to my life. (Maybe this is as much attributable to age as it is to the pandemic, I truly don’t know.)

In the morning, I drink coffee and usually catch up on my Board Game Arena games before starting my workday, with breaks for lunch, picking up my kid from middle school, and sometimes a walk with my wife or (rarely) the whole family. Around 6 is dinner, and by around 9:30 or 10 my wife goes to bed and I begin my daily workout. (Don’t worry, this is when my evening games routine begins.)

My workout involves my Apple Watch (the completion of my “fitness circles” is a game in itself), and also a fitness/physical therapy tracking app called PT Timer. The PT Timer app tells me which “routines” need completion. Currently this is: a floor stretch, standing neck stretch, some upper-body strength stuff on M-W-F, and finally a 20-minute-minimum cardio that I don’t use the app to complete, but enjoy “marking completed” at the end. During my cardio (which has a variable length because I try not to stop until the Apple Watch tells me I’ve burned enough calories for the day) I jog in place on a small trampoline in front of the TV… while playing something on the Nintendo Switch. Almost always, it’s some form of Picross.

After my workout, I read a book or some poetry, sometimes play another video game, sometimes do some writing, and somewhere between 11:30 and 1:30, I brush my teeth and head to bed. While I’m brushing my teeth, if it’s past midnight (and it usually is), I do the daily Sudoku problem in Good Sudoku. And recently (well, for the last 125 days) I also do the daily puzzle in Flow Fit: Sudoku.

Good Sudoku

There is an achievement for a full year of Good Sudoku. I should have it, but I don’t. About halfway through the year an update lost my current streak. This was 182 days ago. (My current streak.) I actually emailed the developers about it, and they offered to fix it for me, which I definitely indicated I would be happy about, but then I never heard back from them again. I get it. I’m not great about supporting my apps either. Anyway, this is the only game I actually played all 365 days in 2021. I’m 100% sure Good Sudoku is the first and only game that I’ve ever played every day for a year. Mostly I consider using the hint button cheating, but the Sunday puzzles are sometimes really hard, and if I’ve spent more than a half-hour on it, and am still having problems, I’ll do it anyway. Usually one hint is all I need.

Flow Fit: Sudoku

Flow Fit: Sudoku feels a lot like Sudoku. It’s got tetrominos with numbers in them, and you have to fit them onto a grid such that no number occurs more than once in any row or column. It’s a really engaging game for me, and if the daily puzzle is too easy or quick, I will pretty frequently do some of the other puzzles to fill out my toothbrushing routine. It’s also a frequent go-to if I’ve got some time to kill. So far I’ve done 410 of the 2625 puzzles bundled with the app.


I modified the script that parses my game log a bit this year to count number of days played per platform. Last year’s platform numbers were all the games multiplied by all the days they were played. This year’s can tell me both number of unique games played as well as number of unique days. Here’s the full list:

  • BGA – 96 unique games on 346 days
  • iOS – 74 unique games on 365 days
  • Xbox – 40 unique games on 93 days
  • Switch – 34 unique games on 329 days
  • PS5 – 22 unique games on 82 days
  • tabletop – 10 unique games on 12 days
  • steam – 13 unique games on 15 days
  • AiAi – 19 unique games on 2 days
  • web – 8 unique games on 7 days
  • Tabletop Simulator – 5 unique games on 6 days
  • pc – 5 unique games on 11 days
  • Ludii – 3 unique games on 2 days
  • Quest – 2 unique games on 2 days
  • tvOS – 2 unique games on 1 days
  • Blinks – 2 unique games on 1 days
  • Oculus – 2 unique games on 3 days
  • Itch – 1 game on 1 day
  • Mac – 1 game on 1 day

A few observations:

It’s interesting that no Xbox games made it onto my top 10 games list. I managed to find an Xbox Series X even before I got a PS5, and I definitely played a lot of games on it. I subscribe to Microsoft’s Game Pass, which is fantastic for someone like me who likes to try and sample a lot of different games.

My top played game that was definitely on the Xbox was Astroneer (13 days), which I was playing at the beginning of the year. I also played a bit of Deep Rock Galactic (11 days) with my friend Angela, as well and Path of Exile and Sable tied for 10 days playtime each. I finished Sable, and really enjoyed the experience. I’m surprised it was only 10 days, because I became a bit of a completionist about it, not wanting the experience to end.

It’s also interesting to me that BGA and iOS are kind of both leaders, since I played games on iOS more consistently than BGA. Frankly, I’m rather surprised there were 19 whole days I didn’t play any turns on BGA.

I like calling out Stephen Tavener’s AiAi. 10 of the 19 games in the log were the ones I reviewed for the BEST COMBINATORIAL 2-PLAYER GAME OF 2020 competition, but I know I opened up AiAi more than just a couple of times this year to try out various games I saw show up in his announcement thread. AiAi has become an incredible resource for playing abstract strategy games, and Stephen is able to add them at a simply incredible pace.

I called AiAi the platform when I could have just said I played these games on “PC” or desktop. I did already manually “roll up” a bunch of different ways of saying “web” into that category (as opposed to “browser”, “puzzlescript”, or just a plain URL.) If I add up: Steam, AiAi, pc, Ludii, Itch and Mac, I get 42 games & days, 47 if you include Tabletop Simulator. But that’s not quite right because of course some of those days might have been the same between the different platforms.

I’m pretty convinced I forgot to log some VR plays. There’s no way that I only used my Quest 2 on 3 days last year. I can actually think of 3 days off the top of my head, and I’m sure there were some days I used it in my living room as opposed to getting together with my friend Nate in the park, or the only in-person VR meetup of the year (also outdoors) where we played the new Space Pirate Trainer “Arena Scale”. Still, it’s worth noting that I didn’t use VR very much in 2021.

I was surprised to see that I played 15 different tabletop games across 18 days, so I decided to dig into the data. Turns out, I am deliberately only taking the first word when I parse the data for platform, and I had a bunch of entries where the platform was “tabletop simulator”. I fixed those entries manually and the actual numbers are displayed above. I did play more tabletop games than expected, given how seldom I went anywhere outside of my apartment this year.


As mentioned previously, I wrote 38 game reviews, but they were all very short and casual, and several of them (3 to be exact) were second reviews of games I’d already written about before. Those games were Astroneer, which I wrote about twice in January, Ori and the Will O’ the Wisps (in February), and Shapez (in August). Also, it’s worth noting that 10 of those reviews were written over two days for the previously mentioned Best Combinatorial Game of 2020 competition. I can’t really decide if I want to publish these anywhere. They’re written a lot like my goodreads reviews, which is to say that the audience is definitely “future me”, as opposed to “anyone else”. I usually just say something short about what I felt the game was about, as well as anything unique or interesting I observed while playing. And of course I say something about whether I enjoyed the experience.


I sometimes do wonder if there’s any point to the game log. It feels… kind of narcissistic to keep track of all my game playing. But being able to write this post (and have these introspective insights) definitely feels “worth it” to me, so I have no plan to stop. (And feel a renewed vigor for the project as I write this.)

I’d like to do more releasing of games in 2022, but I’m not going to hold myself to that too strictly. It’s more important that I continue to enjoy creating games as much as I enjoy playing them.

Happy new year everyone!!! Here’s to playing (and making) all the games in 2022!

Formal Game Representations

There are a few different specialized “languages” out there now for describing games. Perhaps because Abstract Strategy games are often quite “simple” in terms of rules complexity, these sorts of game description languages typically have examples that are abstract strategy games. (But also, I think, there’s probably an overlap between people interested in this topic and people who are interested in games that require an extraordinary amount of logical analysis to play.)

I have been very interested in this topic many times over the years as I became aware of various projects and aspects of this topic, and this post will be my attempt to outline some of my findings.

Early game description work / History

There is a relevant “History” section of the Wikipedia article on General Game Playing (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_game_playing#History). This is a page on Artificial Intelligence (AI) that can play multiple games – as opposed to a specialized program that just plays a single game like Chess, for example. The article says that this concept was first proposed by AI researcher Barney Pell in 1992, with something the article called a “Metagame System”. Pell’s research, at least some of it, is still available via the wayback machine, and I read through one article called “Metagame: A New Challenge For Games and Learning” (https://web.archive.org/web/20070706185808/http://www.barneypell.com/papers/metagame-olympiadUCAM-CL-TR-276.pdf) from 1992 that was surprisingly readable (and fascinating). In it, Pell says:

“In order to write programs which can accept a set of different games, we must specify how these games will be represented. Although fully-general representation languages are possible (like first-order logic or Turing Machines), it is likely that classes of games will be much more specific, especially those which can actually be produced by a generator. So, any representation language can be used, so long as the games produced are guaranteed to be unambiguous in the chosen representation, and so long as the semantics corresponding to the representation is clear. A natural method of representation, pursued in ([Pel92]), is by means of a game grammar.”

Metagame: A New Challenge For Games and Learning

“[Pel92]” here refers to a companion article titled Metagame in Symmetric Chess-Like Games. This second article does get far more into the weeds with details about the game grammar used to define games that the Metagame-playing AI will learn to play. I found it actually kind of disappointing, because much of the article is dedicated to defining the types of game the grammar will describe, and it was surprisingly limited in scope.

It’s worth saying a bit about the context of these papers, and noting that this research is all about developing AI. The premise here is that an AI that can play multiple games would be more useful than an AI that can just play one game. The whole point of this project was to be able to pit different AI against one another in a tournament. This grammar was going to be used both to more easily facilitate the AI learning the games, but also to generate new games so the AI would be playing something never before encountered.

This is probably worth repeating: The earliest effort to formalize a language for describing games was only undertaken in service of an effort to teach games to computers.

Zillions of Games

I remember playing a program over 20 years ago now called Zillions of Games (http://www.zillions-of-games.com/). The copyright on the ZoG website says 1998. I remember using it to play Othello and many Chess variants, and (perhaps more importantly) explore a ton of other games that I’d never heard of before Zillions. They were probably also games that it would have been near-impossible at the time for me to hunt down in physical form.

Zillions of Games came bundled with ~250 games, each of which was described individually in a .zrf (presumably “Zillions Rules File”). If you owned the full unlocked copy of the game (this was the shareware era when game demos were near ubiquitous), you could import your own ZRFs, and there was (amazingly still is!) a community of folks who spent time implementing new games.

I have a very distinct memory of liking Zillions of Games enough that I wanted to learn how to develop games for it. But I was in college at the time, and distracted by many other things vying for my attention.

You can find some information about ZoG, and the language used to encode the games, on the website, but also on Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zillions_of_Games). The description language for ZoG is lisp-looking, (with parenthesis everywhere). I only call this out because it’s influenced future projects with this gaol. ZoG had lots of limitations. It was notably not suitable for card games or other games that required any hidden information, probably because ZRF had no concept of variables!

It’s worth noting that, while it’s not exactly the same thing, I do see a parallel between ZRF creation and other platform-specific game creation languages, like Game Maker Studio’s GML, or Godot’s GDScript. Zillions of Games was a Game Engine as well as a product that allowed the user to play the games made in that engine. The games just happened to be board games.


More recently, (in the last few years), I’ve been aware of a project called the Ludii General Game System (https://ludii.games/). This is (at least partially) the brain child of Cameron Browne, a game designer, computer scientist, and author, who is very well known in some abstract strategy game design circles. He wrote a book on connection games that I have on my shelf.

Ludii has some very interesting project goals, but more importantly, the project has now written description files for literally over 300 games. (There are over 2,000 games with descriptions for use in Zillions of Games, but that software is quite old now, and I think Ludii is far more interesting.)

You can download Ludii now, and play all of the games it comes bundled with, and even create your own .lud files and load them into the player. There is a language reference for Ludii (https://ludii.games/downloads/LudiiLanguageReference.pdf) that is 386 pages long!

To really dive into Ludii development, unfortunately, I don’t think the language reference is going to be enough. There is also a Ludii tutorials document, but I found it a bit disappointing in its brevity. As of this blog post, there are really only two pages that are particularly relevant to writing your own .lud files. This one on the “basics”: https://ludiitutorials.readthedocs.io/en/latest/lud_format_basics.html and another one on recreating the game Amazons in Ludii: https://ludiitutorials.readthedocs.io/en/latest/tutorial_amazons.html I also watched a nice introduction to Ludii on youtube. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTkO8h8RBBI)

I’m in the process of posting a few different places (in various BGG forums) to see if there are better tutorials that I’ve just been missing.

Other systems

For the sake of putting everything I know about this subject into this post, it’s worth noting there is another competitor to Ludii that may have been around even before it, called GDL, or Game Description Language (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game_Description_Language) GDL looks like it was developed at Stanford, very likely in conjunction with some AI coursework. I’ve dug around some of the GDL related sites and there are broken links galore, but there’s lots of information about it online. Some of the earlier Ludii papers reference GDL, so I’m fairly certain it came first.

There is ALSO a javascript project called Dagaz (https://github.com/GlukKazan/Dagaz) which shows quite a bit of promise, and has been used to port all of the games at MindSports (https://mindsports.nl/) from java to javascript. The author of Dagaz write a very nice article on some of this stuff (which someone else translated to English), which you can read here: https://habr.com/en/post/481868/

One more footnote is that there is another comparatively young project aiming to do some of this same kind of stuff in python called Zero Play (https://donkirkby.github.io/zero-play/).


So it seems to me that there are a few reasons someone might be interested in describing games (in a language tailor-made for that purpose):

  1. To improve and teach generalist AI to play multiple games.
  2. To generate new games programatically.
  3. To use a common codebase to facilitate the playing of games.

I am interested in all of the above. Although the implementation details of AI optimization and improvement are not in the circle of my particular venn diagram, access to generalized AI is of interest to me. (I thought about splitting #1 into multiple bullet points.) It’s worth noting that the last project mentioned above (Zero Play) is named after AlphaZero, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AlphaZero) a general game playing AI that was created by the same team that made AlphaGo. (AlphaGo being the Go-playing AI that famously beat one of the best human Go players in a series of very public games in 2016.)

The second bullet point is definitely one of the goals of the Ludii project, and one that Cameron Browne has extensive experience in. Games which have been created by computers are listed in a “family” on Board Game Geek (https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgamefamily/22566/misc-computer-generated-games/linkeditems/boardgamefamily), (containing at this time only three entries, two of which have Browne listed as designer). Probably the most well-known AI-created game is Yavalath (http://cambolbro.com/games/yavalath/), which Browne created using an earlier program (called LUDI) while he was working on his Ph.D. in 2007. While the earlier work by Barney Pell definitely indicated this was an objective, I didn’t find any evidence that it succeeded.

Finally, it is the facilitation of a general platform for game playing (& playtesting!) that I think a description language will be most valuable to me, personally. This is the primary reason I am interested in Ludii. Ludii’s platform (java application, but also online multiplayer) seems very stable, and has an increasingly tantilizing list of features. There is a category of simple games in particular (with simple rules) that seem to be a very nice fit for the platform. On their forums, the Ludii team have said that web-playability is on their roadmap, and that will lower the barrier to entry even farther.

I am going to try and implement some games in Ludii, and evaluate whether it’s a good platform for playtesting new games. It already includes features for analyzing games like 1st player advantage, and branching factor. These are metrics for their games that every game designer will probably find interesting.


After writing this post (and promoting it on BGG), Cameron Browne actually pointed me to some additional resources relevant to this discussion, (which led me to even more resources) and thought I’d drop some additional bullet points in here.

  • Brown pointed me to an article by Jacques Pitrat from 1968 called “Realization of a General Game Playing Program”. In his words: “… doesn’t specify a GDL as such, but shows that the idea of GGP has been around for more than half a century!”(https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Realization-of-a-gener…) Alas, I haven’t yet found a way to access the paper.
  • Jon Orwant wrote his Ph.D dissertation in 2000 about what he calls the EGGG (Extensible Graphical Game Generator): https://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/9164
  • Stephen Travener’s program Ai Ai uses a description file type called MGL, for Modular Game Language (http://mrraow.com/index.php/aiai-home/mgl/). It’s worth noting that Stephen Travener is a person quite relevant to this discussion, as he has worked on both Zillions of Games and Ludii, as well as his impressive Ai Ai software, which is also capable of playing and analyzing hundreds of games.
  • Browne pointed out that there are description languages for card games (I haven’t done any research into this yet.) and Video Games. Specifically, he pointed me to General Video Game Description Language (GVGDL), which I haven’t been able to find in a quick search, although there are plenty of hits for VGDL, and I haven’t really looked into that yet either.
  • Finally (again), the Ludii project website has a history page that I hadn’t read until after posting this. It outlines the history of a few other projects that led to Ludii’s creation, including Browne’s previous project Ludi, which I at least mentioned earlier. Well worth a read if you’re interested in more on this topic. (https://ludii.games/history.php)

Design Journal Notes for 2019

Most people I know have heard me talk about how, back in 2016, I tried to write in my game design journal every day. So many good game ideas came out of that experiment that I’m still designing and developing games from that year to this day. (Notably, I had the idea that eventually became Thrive in that year.)

I always meant to write a “wrap up” post about that experiment, but I got bogged down in trying to categorize all the journal entries. I have a spreadsheet I started with a row of 26 checkboxes for each entry. The column headers were:

  • Board Game
  • Video Game
  • Mobile Game
  • Physical Game (Not board game)
  • VR Game
  • Idle/Unfolding Game Idea
  • educational game
  • mechanic only
  • puzzle
  • story
  • expands on previous idea
  • expanded on in later post
  • made prototype
  • feel really has merit
  • multiple ideas in one post
  • 2nd second entry that day
  • 3rd third entry
  • felt rushed or inconsequential
  • short (under a paragraph)
  • long (half a page or more)
  • could be complete (playable if prototyped)
  • would need a team to implement
  • skipped for blog post
  • expanded on in blog post

I clearly made the task extra difficult for myself by including whether the post was expanded on elsewhere, because it was no longer just skimming through the journal, it was also cross-referencing my blog, as well as other entries in the journal. I only made it through categorizing 3 months of posts before I lost steam.

Since 2016, I never really “stopped” trying to write regularly in that journal, but I was definitely not diligent about writing every day. I spent some time and just tallied up number of entries in that journal per year (yes, this was more time than I probably should have spent), and here are the results:

52010 (and undated, before 2010)
1952019 [was 183 as of this post date]

[It was only the 19th when I write this. I updated this post with the final 2019 total on Jan 2nd 2020.]

This means, if my math is correct, my game design journal contains somewhere around 802 entries. It’s currently a 254 page single spaced gDocs document (so I can update it from anywhere).

I took some notes about each month in 2019:


  • 16 entries, 1 from a dream
  • A few entries about the Thrive expansion
  • Some ideas & feedback from Protospiel MN (Especially about the “pyramid tile” game, which I had as a prototype there.)
  • An entry with a bunch of ideas I had at Global Game Jam, but didn’t have time to implement there.


  • 10 entries
  • A notable entry about a Puzzle Prison “static puzzle” mode (which is a good idea, and I should do it)
  • More Thrive entries, three of them about multiplayer


  • 9 entries
  • Month started strong, then no entries for a couple weeks (Only one the entire week of GDC!)
  • Hard to believe this was the month the Thrive kickstarter ran.
  • There were 3 entries about Thrive puzzles (which I spent several days actively designing toward the beginning of the month)


  • 7 entries
  • One of them was when I first started thinking about the “next” version of Ship Deck (which I have only recently sent off to get printed at Game Crafter) – Interesting that it took me 8 months to finally act on those ideas.
  • Some important Thrive rules clarifications & revisions.
  • Only one real “new idea” from the entire month!


  • 6 entries
  • One entry was a list of the types of game ideas I want to have. (Seems like a cop-out in terms of actually generating ideas, but even looking back on it now I think it’s probably a helpful exercise to clarify the purpose of the journal periodically.
  • 4 of the 6 ideas were about a tile-and-meeple board game prototype I made that I still think shows promise.


  • 6 entries, 1 from a dream
  • Made a lego copy of Thrive
  • Low volume, but high quality this month. Every entry (except the dream) was an interesting idea that I continued working on (or at least thinking about) in some way.
  • Last entry was a game with transparent pieces with arrows on them that I prototyped and play tested a few times. (As well as continued to think about.)


  • 11 entries, 1 from a dream
  • Only 2 entries before 7/23, which is when I decided to begin trying to write an entry every day again. I probably felt guilty about the creative dry spell.
  • Notable entry that included lots of the pieces (mechanics) of a game I’ve been thinking actively about this month (in December, so 5 months later). What’s interesting, is that my thoughts on this game lately have been inspired by Innovation (Innovation is a Carl Chudyk game that until this month I haven’t played in many years. I’ve been playing it turn-based on BGA.). But when I wrote this entry, I definitely wasn’t thinking about Innovation.


  • 25 entries
  • Many (at least 3) of them about a engine-building game I’ve since prototyped, tentatively called “Black Box”. The basic idea (and theme) came from a conversation with Adam Rehburg and Ryan Lambert in the car on the way back from GenCon.
  • Had the idea of playing games via FlipGrid.com (still haven’t tried this)


  • 25 entries, 1 from a dream (not mine!)
  • Several play testing notes, including Black Box, Pyramid Tiles.
  • But also some notes from games I’d played, including Cabal (https://www.walkingshadow.org/cabal)
  • I prototyped a game with 18 identical cards for a ButtonShy game design contest. Didn’t do anything with it.
  • Wrote down a game idea that was from a dream my kid had. (That was not my only entry from that day.)


  • 20 entries
  • A few entries about a game idea that I think shows a lot of promise, but I haven’t prototyped yet. (It’s got a unique hook that I’m not ready to post publicly yet.)
  • Some ideas / entries for ALT.CTRL.GDC that I never took the time to prototype


  • 31 entries, 2 that feature ideas from dreams
  • One notable entry with a chess variant / VR hybrid idea. The chess variant could actually be playable on a tabletop, if I gave it a little more thought. The VR does make it slightly more interesting though probably not required.
  • Several “new idea” entries, probably a higher ratio of those to “continuing ideas” entries than previous months.


  • 17 entries (so far!)
  • [Update: total for Dec. was 29 entries. I finished the year very strong with several new game ideas, including a small-hex-grid game I’ve since prototyped, and definitely want to get to the table soon. At protospiel in Jan, at the latest.]

Since I got serious about this project again in July, I’ve also been keeping track of my “streak”, or number of consecutive days I remembered to write in the journal. My longest streak was 25 Days, 29 Entries, and it ended on 2019-11-10.

I’m not sure if I’ll continue to keep track of the streak, but I’m definitely going to continue trying to write daily. The actual title of the document is “Game Ideas”, but I definitely want to treat it more like a journal, and I’m formally giving myself permission to wax on about the design of other games I’m playing, or anything else game design related. (Although the goal is still to have at least one new “design idea” in each entry.)

Finally, I was surprised by the number of ideas I wrote down from dreams. I do also have a dream journal, and it barely ever gets written in (I’m guessing only 1-5 entries a year). I wonder if any games have actually been made that started out as an idea from a dream. Maybe I’ll have to make one.

valuing quality in video games

This morning, I had a discussion with my daughter, trying to explain to her why I didn’t want to install a particular idle/incremental game on her iPad. Without naming names, it’s one of those idle games that just doesn’t have an end. I don’t think it’s a particularly bad game, but once you learn its systems, (which I do find interesting!) there’s nothing left to it but grinding for more of the same. I don’t particularly want my daughter playing games that are 99% grind.

This led me to think philosophically about why I want to play those games. I do value new game systems, and I think incremental/idle games have some of the more interesting systems being designed today. Depending on the game, it can take a while to reveal all the systems in play, but I think, if I’m being honest with myself, I am liable to play far longer than it takes to understand the systems. Or maybe by the time I’ve played long enough to understand them, I’m invested in my progress in the game, and feel compelled to continue.

One of my client projects right now is a game to teach kids about the dangers of smoking, and this has led to some discussion in the office about the nature of addiction. (Or anyway, some reading of the wikipedia page for addiction.) And I think the nature of these games (watching the numbers increase) is a sort of reinforcing / rewarding stimuli, meaning it’s possible to feel compelled to play, which I definitely do.

In the last year or so, I’ve kept a browser window open on my iMac (which is always on, on my home office desk), and there are usually between 4 and 6 tabs open to various idle games there. These are the type of games that do not have endings. (It’s worth noting that I also don’t like books or comic book series without endings!) I like to think that I basically just play these types of games in tiny spurts. But the truth is that I’ve been spending hours in front of that iMac at night. Hours when I could be making games. (And sometimes I am!) But these are hours that I could also be filling with any number of other higher-quality distractions.

I think playing games has inherent value! But when I think about where that value comes from, I find that it’s tied closely to having new experiences. Solving (and discovering!) new kinds of puzzles is especially satisfying for me, but experiencing new stories is also a totally valid benefit. So it makes sense that it’s the repetition of experience that I find distasteful for my daughter’s gameplaying. (Would I be as reluctant to let her spend hours playing Tetris? No, but maybe that’s a topic for a different post.)

Games that involve some grinding are totally fine. In traditional games, “grinding” is (optimistically) used to enhance the player’s feeling of accomplishment when they are finally strong enough to continue unveiling the story/experience. Pessimistically, it could be argued it’s often just an unintended consequence of the game’s mechanics.

And of course not all idle/incremental games are infinite grinding. The best ones do have an end. (Spaceplan or Universal Paperclips are some good recent examples.) But many do not. I’m not going to stop playing those types of game entirely. (I really do enjoy discovering their mechanics and systems.) I’m just going to try and become aware of when I’ve reached a point of diminishing returns, and stop playing then.

This year’s Experimental Gameplay Workshop presenters

For years I’ve been a very vocal proponent of the Experimental Gameplay Workshop at GDC. This year’s session hit the internet quite fast (over on the GDC Vault), and I consumed it last night. As usual, I’d definitely highly recommend game designers and developers give it a watch.

Often, I want to refer back to the session after, or follow a particular work I saw there, but it can sometimes be quite difficult to find a list of participants for a particular year. This year’s seemed especially un-google-able, so I’ve compiled a list here:

  • Baba is You, Arvi Teikari – A sokoban-like game where the rules of the game are also pushable blocks, and can be rearranged.
  • Untitled Goose Game, Nico Disseldorp & Stuart Gillespie Cook, House House @house_house_, A game where you play as a goose and interact with your environment and an AI controlled gardener to complete objectives.
  • Everything is going to be Okay, Nathalie Lawhead @alienmelon, This is an art game, or “an interactive zine”, that focuses on using humor to confront modern horrors.
  • Noita, Petri Purho Nolla Games – An action rogue like game where every pixel is simulated, which means they are both destructible and have real-world (and fantastic) properties.
  • Time Watch, Balthazar Auger and Lucas(?) from NGD Studios @ngdstudios – A FPS that allows you to play a single death-match three (or more) times, all the while altering causality.
  • Feng Shui, Saúl González and David Marull from Ludopia @LudopiaNet – A puzzle or architecture game allowing you to place furniture in a room and incorporating the principals of Feng Shui.
  • Luna, Robin Hunicke and Brad Fotsch of Funomena @funomena – Luna is a VR game with music and flowers.
  • Freeways, Justin Smith from Captain Games @manbearcar – A game about drawing freeway lanes and making efficient paths.
  • La Tabla, Chaim Gingold and Luke Iannini @tablaviva – An open source table and projector combination with lots of exciting possibilities for interaction and play.

Of these, I was most surprised by Baba is You. It won two IGF awards, so I guess I wasn’t the only one. I have already downloaded the game jam version from Itch, and played through all the levels. I am definitely going to pick up the full thing when it launches on steam.

I have also been following Dynamicland when I can, and I’d be interested in hearing about the relationship between La Tabla and it. I know that some of the people involved are or were involved in both, but that’s about it. Maybe I can interrogate someone about it at Eyeo Festival in a couple of months. La Tabla is on github, and I’m pretty tempted to put together a table so I can play with it myself.

Game Idea A Day – Retrospective

As should be obvious to anyone following along, (or stumbling onto this series), I basically quit doing the weekly summaries for my “game idea a week” project back in July. There are probably a lot of reasons I suppose, but mainly I got busy. I had 19 daily journal entries in August, so I didn’t fall off doing them entirely. But if I didn’t have time for the daily journal entries, I definitely didn’t have time for the Friday recaps. (Which always took longer than I’ll admit to myself to write.)

Anyway, I felt I should write something here. I’m still going to keep this project going through the end of the year, and I want to write a recap of the entire year at some point, summarizing the number of entries, frequency of certain types, and generally just doing some meta-creative analysis.

Game Idea a Day – Week 28

Almost every week, I get to Friday, and before I start writing this post I’m thinking “wow, the ideas for this week were not very good, this is going to be a hard post to write”, but then I start looking at them, and it’s never as dire as I imagine. (Even bad ideas often have some merit!)

Also, I missed another day this week, and I’m thinking now that even if I skip one day a week, that’s alright. I don’t want this project to stress me out. (And I’ve got plenty of other stuff I should be working on.)

7/8 – I thought a bit about an augmented reality game in VR. So there is a virtual environment, and you put on a “headset” in the game, that then changes some aspect of the environment (either how it looks, or by changing it).

7/9 – Missed a day.

7/10 – A game where you are a walking flower, with littler flowers for eyes, and you collect flower petals to open doors that looks like giant flowers.

Maybe this was inspired by my donut on donut idea from the previous week. I guess idea inception was a theme for the week, since my next idea was basically the same thing for hats:

7/11 – A hat collecting puzzle game. A game where you put hats on cute furry animals. A game where hats are currency. A game with hats on top of hats on top of hats. A game where hats indicate status and occupation and stealing a person’s hat is tantamount to stealing their identity. A game with hats as achievement badges. A game with hats for guns. A game with hats to indicate belts in a hat-based kung-fu with hat-katas and hat-hand to hat-hand combat. Hattastrophie.

7/12 – A game inspired by some conversations on slack about Pokémon Go and “skinner box game mechanics”, labeled simply, Skinner Box: The Game. A game that attempts to recreate a Skinner box like experience as closely as possible. You are a rat in a cage. You have a single button and you are being conditioned to press it.

7/13 – Some thoughts on the milieu/setting/premise for a game set on the construction site for a giant city-sized building. The thing has been “under construction” for hundreds of years and the entire process has been meant to be self-sustaining from the beginning, so you have folks whose job it is to make food for the folks whose job it is to make concrete, etc.

7/14 – A game inspired by packing a moving truck full of boxes. Essentially you have a bunch of different boxes and you have to fit them into a truck. I was imagining this as a VR game, because I think it’s more fun if you have the 3D perspective on it. You could have a bunch of different sized trucks and scenarios. Maybe it starts out just packing trunks of cars getting ready to go on vacation.

Game Idea a Day – Week 27

My game ideas from the first week in July:

7/1 – A sort of turret game where you control the angle, thrust, and explosion intensity of fireworks. Your goal is to line the trails up with stars in the sky above. Maybe this is in VR and you have to also line up your gaze at the right angle too.

7/2 – Had the revelation that it might be worth prototyping the playground games I’ve worked on in the Vive. My original journal entry for the playground games were written back in November 2014, so I’ve been thinking about these for a long time. This idea could use another entry (or two), since there are at least a few different games that could be evaluated whether they would “work” in the Vive, and how.

7/3 – A game you play with keys and locks. Maybe this is a match-2 game. The twist is that there is only one match on the board for each other tile. So it’s actually a lot like the match trivia games I made for Moai, with a sort of fantasy skin. Maybe there are also chests or safes, and any lock next to it is assumed to go with it. Once all the locks are open, the save opens and gives you a powerup, or maybe just another key that you need to proceed.

7/4 – You know how you can play “giant monopoly” at a bunch of different board game conventions? A lot of publishers have giant versions of their board games, and you can even buy some of them commercially. (Giant Jenga and giant connect-four are both playable at the recently opened Up Down arcade in Minneapolis). Anyway, this idea is basically just that you could play those giant versions in VR without having to have enough space for them. I was looking at my shelf of board games when I had this idea, and in particular imagining the game Spiel, (which is a pyramid of dice), and how fun it would be to walk around that game, and throw giant dice around.

7/5 – A VR relaxation/exercise game called Sway. The main game input mechanic is the name of the game. You progress “forward” by moving your weight from foot to foot, swaying back and forth. The game will also prompt you to look left right, up down, for neck stretches, and to swing your arms or spiral them, essentially doing upper body stretches.

Donut on Donut7/6 – As you can see to the right, I spent a bit of time this week (a few hours so far) prototyping a game from this entry. Some friends and fellow MN gamedevs recently conceived and built The Donutron, and I was basically lamenting the fact that there aren’t (yet) any games made for it specifically involving donuts. So this idea is just that you are a donut, rolling around a giant donut, collecting donuts. I’m soliciting feedback on a name for the game. Here are the possible names so far: Donutworld, The Little Donut, Space-Time Donut, It Came Frosting Space!, Planet Donut, Donut Moon, Space Case Donut Race, TorusTime, DonutFall, DonutGame, Donutroid, Donut Donut Donut!, Donut on Donut (on Donut?), Donut Eat Donut, Yo Donut, I heard you like Donuts!, Donut Moon. I’m leaning toward Donut on Donut, or Donut Eat Donut.

7/7 – A few different one-line game ideas yesterday: An open world board game (open in terms of you can do anything at any time). Game where your body is melting as the timer mechanic. Game where your feet are rats and you can’t really control where they go without cheese. Game where the world is a bicycle tire. Game where you are made of lava and melt / burn everything you touch. Game where you head is a book and you have to fill it with words.