Playtest results for Kigi (which may need a new theme)

I've had these very loose prototypes floating in my workshop for months and never really settled on a proper set of rules for them. I knew that I wanted it to be an "organic" game, free from a grid. I also knew I wanted it to be a game that produces a pretty picture when the game is over. Something that draws a crowd as it is played.

But finally I just decided I'd whip together the minimum viable rules I could think of, just to get it down on the table and actually in action.

The Deck

For context, there are 45 numbered cards. Each has a branch formation along with dragonflies, butterflies, red flowers and/or pink flowers in various combinations. There is roughly an equal amount of each across the deck, but I randomized their distribution. Each card also has one of five family crests, nine of each crest randomly distributed across the deck. Again, I was really aiming for an organic feel here.

How to Play

In the game, players cultivating a grove of trees, one tree in front of each of player. On your turn, you draw a card and add it to any tree. You simply place your card such that it appears to branch from the tree. Now trace the path from that card down the limb all the way down to the trunk. If your card is the highest numbered card in that limb, you can score. You score 1 point for each flower or bug on that limb that matches the card you just placed.
  • You may only overlap one card at a time.
  • You may not completely obscure an animal or crest.
  • You may not move a card once it is placed.
The game continues in this manner until the whole deck has run out of cards. Then players get bonus points. Gather up all the cards in your tree and count how many of each family crest you possess. You earn 10 points if you have the most of a family crest. 

Pretty, but Awkward Visuals: Playtesters liked the prototype art, but it needs graphic design adjustments to make branching more easy to do. It's best for the "trunk" of each card to bleed off the corners rather than the sides, so you have a broader range of rotation. However, those awkward cards did come in handy as a spatial block for opponents. Leaving a few in the deck might be handy.

Make Crests and Ranks Obvious: Instead of one family crest and one number on the corner, which may be obscured, I'm going to make a small wallpaper pattern which has the number and crest as a sort of polka dot pattern in the background. Instead of sequential numbers, I think I'll try breaking up each crest into their own sequence of ranks from 1-9. In this way, I can use a set of dots or other symbol to represent rank instead of a number, which may be obscured depending on orientation.

Scoring Works Fine: Ultimately top 3 scores range in the 50s for a 4-player game, which is better than I expected for an arbitrary set of rules with a mostly randomized distribution of "suits" across an oddly sized deck. Sometimes a minimum viable product is worth bringing to the table, I guess.

Similarities to Other Games: There was a good decision space in scoring immediate points for yourself by growing an opponent's tree or keeping a family crest on your tree even if it didn't score points right now. There was some Carcassonne-like feeling of being hemmed in to a small set of placement options, some of which may not score points immediately but which could prove useful later. Arranging the cards makes you feel like you're really cultivating a pretty garden or a bonsai tree. The organic card placement also reminds me of String Railway, too.

New Theme?
Overall good findings. I'm not sure this theme works for the game. Often there were situations when a player wanted to play a card which made sense mechanically, but which visually didn't make sense. A branch that grows down curving below the trunk? Perfectly legal, it just didn't make sense with the theme.

I could simply make a rule that you can't grow below the trunk, which is fine, or I could change the theme so this is a non-issue. Rivers? Tunnels? I'm not sure. Either way, I'm happy that the mechanisms themselves proved sound and playable.

If I do change the theme to rivers, I might revive the River Ancient theme a bit. Not sure yet. Your thoughts?

Typopolis, or "Capitol City," a word-building city-building game

I've been noodling that Sudoku-based city-builder in which players create a grid of buildings, but there may be no duplicates in a row or column. Each building corresponds to a special action whose strength is commensurate with the length of that row or column. There is a tension between taking a weakened action now or risking the opportunity for that action entirely.

I whipped up these mockup cards this weekend, which I often do when I only have the scarcest ideas for a game and I need to see how the information might look on a real card. I decided to use letters instead of numbers since they're less intimidating, but could still be used in an understood sequential ranking system if necessary.

However, I quickly realized that the real value of using letters was that I could use the actual names as the cost of that building. Instead of acquiring bricks and mortar, you need to assemble the letters. Thus, multipurpose cards. Along the left side of the card are a randomized mix of letters. You must spend the right letters to erect a building.

Vowels might be a problem, so I think I'll make them all wild cards. You can spend any letter to count as a vowel, but you must have the necessary consonants. To build a Cafe, you must spend C, F, and enough letters to fill in the remaining two vowels. (If you're lucky, this could be as little as one card.) To build a Factory, you must spend F, C, T, R, Y, and three more letters. So a very expensive building indeed.

Generally speaking, erecting a building in the city lets you do a special action, with boosts for having synergistic adjacency. A Factory is more potent when it is built on a row with other industrial buildings. A Cafe is stronger when it's near a residential area. These are just generalities for now, but I did take some time to brainstorm a set of buildings to narrow down for a final assortment.

ApartmentsThis counts as 3 residential buildings.
BankDraw 1 card from the deck into your hand.
CafeYou may immediately build 1 building.
DockDraw 2 cards from the deck, take 1 into your hand, and discard the rest.
FactoryTake 1 building from the city into your hand.
HotelCounts as 1 residential and 1 business building.
LakeOnly residential buildings may be built adjacent to Lake.
MallThis counts as 3 business buildings.
OfficesOnly business buildings may be built adjacent to Offices.
ParkSurrounding residential buildings get +1 bonus.
QuarryYou may place is building on top of any building in the city.
RestaurantCounts as 1 business and 1 culture building.
SchoolYour next building costs 1 fewer letters.
TheaterSurrounding culture buildings get +1 bonus.
UniversityThis counts as 3 culture buildings.
VillageCounts as 1 residential and 1 culture building.
WarehouseSurrounding business buildings get +1 bonus.
ZooOnly culture buildings may be built adjacent to Zoo.

That's the loose idea anyway. This will likely be a late 2014 or early 2015 release at the earliest. I've got enough on my plate as it is. :)

Gen Con Exclusive Discount on all Smart Play Games

If you're going to Gen Con this week, visit the good folks from DriveThruRPG / DriveThruCards in booth 1103. There you can grab one of these cards with an exclusive discount code.

That code is applicable to all Smart Play Games and many more products on It expires September 1st, so use it while you can! Don't forget, LIGHT RAIL still has an early bird discount so you can get an even steeper deal on my latest game!

P.S. I won't be at the show, so please share pics and tweet @danielsolis if you spot any of my games being played in the big room. Thanks!

Update on Chinese edition of Koi Pond!

The Chinese edition of Koi Pond is going quite well. It will be published by Creative Tree and available in mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. It will include the Moon Temple expansion and the two promo cards and somehow a big giant playmat is involved. They sent me a sample this week and wow this thing is huge. Are all playmats this big normally?

It's pretty dang sweet and I look forward to seeing how this develops. If Koi Pond does well, it might break into a new model for me: Release affordable POD games in English for a domestic audience, then license translation rights to bigger publishers in south Asia and Europe. A bit premature for that kind of thinking, but still worth keeping in mind for the future.

According to Creative Tree, the Chinese name of the game is is "JinLi." There is an old Chinese legend about the beautiful and courageous fish "JinLi" (or "koi"). If they jump over the Chinese Dragon Gate, they become real dragons and fly into the sky. Sounds cool to me. :)

Modular Complexity in Solar Senate

Wow, super busy during the tail end of convention season, but I'm still squeezing in playtest time for Solar Senate though! Here's an update:

I haven't made any changes to the game since a few weeks ago. I've played this latest iteration several more times with different players over the last couple weeks to good response. But I still haven't tested any "advanced" variants. I just can't shake the feeling that my impulse to add endgame bonuses or special actions would make a rather elegant game needlessly complex.

Discussion drifted to the topic of "modular complexity," in which a game is perfectly functional even if you ignore one particular way of scoring points or remove one particular component. For example learning to play Carcassonne without the farm scoring or adding any of the expansions.

Exploring that idea a bit, I tested the game with a simpler orthogonal variation. You couldn't place or capture diagonally. That was actually easier to understand, but harder to play. It felt very much like playing classic Carcassonne. Way fewer long-term strategic options and fewer opportunities for turnarounds. Still worthwhile as an introductory "level 0" for new players who have trouble playing spatial games.

As for special powers and whatnot, I'm going to keep that in check until it's time for an expansion. What I will add as an optional add-on in the base game are "Bills" which you're trying to pass by arranging the board in a certain pattern. I'm going to lift a trick from Monsoon Market by giving each Bill varying levels of rewards based on accuracy to the given pattern.

Some senators will have symbols on them indicating a committee to which they belong. Each committee is named after an astrological sign, such as Aquarius Committee, Capricorn Committee, and so on. Each committee presides over a particular segment of governance, like space travel or resource distribution. Bills require you to get senators of a particular committee together in one row. The closer you can do that, the better. For example

Drill for Ice in Oort Cloud
3 Aquarius, 2 Ares
  • Straight Line, Facing You: +3 pts
  • Straight Line: +2 pts
  • Contiguous Group: +1 pt

So that's what I've been testing lately. It's coming along nicely!

July 2014 Sales Report

In the spirit of transparency, I release my print-on-demand card game sales numbers every month. When I started out releasing games this way, I didn't have any metric against which I could compare my performance. So here's how July went...

It was bananas.

First, some background: When I was just starting out, the advice from DriveThruCards told me to price my games at whatever price I wanted, but to imply that it was marked down a couple bucks from some arbitrarily higher price. I thought "that's silly, surely customers are wise to that old trick by now." For a long time I resisted that tactic, just setting all of my games at a flat price.

However, the success of my tiny Origins-timed promotion and my new early bird discount contributed to quite a recovery from a weak second quarter. Given that performance, I thought it would be worth a shot to participate in the Christmas in July event. I was skeptical that it would help, but I thought I'd at least make up some banners and promote the event for my own products. If this event didn't work, I didn't want it to be for my lack of effort.

Twitter ad for Christmas in July sale

Wow, am I eating humble pie today. I don't know why I was so reluctant to heed the pricing advice all those months ago. I'm pleased to say July was the best month's performance of the year. Huge spikes in overall sales, gross income, and net earnings all around.

  • Monsoon Market is the first product to outsell Koi Pond in its first full month.
  • Despite only being available two days, Light Rail out-performed almost every other product's opening month.
  • Overall sales volume was double June's, and June was already the peak of the year.
Let's take a look at the charts.
Volume of Sales (Ignore that May spike. It was a bulk order of promo cards.)

Gross Sales Income
And here are the raw numbers, sales growth or decline noted in green or red beside each listing.

5x Bird Bucks +0
38x Koi Pond: A Coy Card Game +18
27x Koi Pond: Four Walls (Promo Card 2) +18
28x Koi Pond: Four Winds (Promo Card 1) +9
24x Koi Pond: Moon Temple +23
23x Light Rail (new!)
58x Monsoon Market +40
13x Nine Lives Card Game +0
9x Penny Farthing Catapult -4
14x Regime +1
27x Suspense: the Card Game +18 
8x Ten Pen +0

284 Total Sold (Over double last month!)
$2,073.50 Gross Sales
$485.79 Earnings

Grand Totals for 2014 (to date)
1223 Products Sold
$5,895.98 Gross Sales
$1,803.13 Earnings

Now, I've been through enough recessions to keep my excitement in check. Basically these last two months compensate for second quarter's sluggish numbers. So while I'm optimistic about the future, I know better than to expect this kind of meteoric growth forever. There will be ups and downs to come, but I'm glad my long-term plan seems to be working. See you next month!

Light Rail is now on DriveThruCards!

I'm happy to announce my newest game LIGHT RAIL is now live on DriveThruCards! It's a route-building game about rival companies vying to take credit for a futuristic city's brand new light rail network. Definite inspiration from my love of Carcassonne, Cable Car, and Tsuro. I hope you enjoy it! Here are some preview pics:

Another great print job from DriveThruCards! Get your copy of LIGHT RAIL now! As with all my new products, there is an early bird discount that will end as soon as my next product goes live. Catch this train while you can!

Solar Senate Progress Report

I playtested the heck out of Solar Senate (formerly Alien Embassy, formerly Spheres of Influence) formerly at last night's Game Designers of Carolina meeting at Gamer's Armory. Still not sure if that theme is working for me, but at least we got some hard mechanics 97% operational. For some background, check out this tag. Here were the changes that I think I'll keep in the final form of the game.

  • This is purely a head-to-head 2p thinkie game.
  • Each player has their own identical deck of cards, comprised of cards numbered 1-5 in a reverse triangle distribution. (1x5, 2x4, 3x3, 4x2, 5x1)
  • Each player has one color-coded token.
  • The first player draws two random cards from her deck as her starting hand.
  • The second player keeps his 5 and draws one random card from his deck.

That's the setup. Now here are the gameplay notes. Most of this will be familiar to anyone following this game's development. New stuff is in red.

  • On your turn, you play one card to the table with the arrow facing you to indicate your ownership of those cards.
  • There are two ways to turn an opponent's card towards you:
    • Greater Sum: If you bracket a line of an opponent's cards with two of your own and your bracketing cards are a greater sum than the cards being bracketed, you turn all of the opponent's cards towards you.
    • Identical Cards: If you bracket a line of an opponent's cards with two of your own cards that are identical to each other, then all the opponent's bracketed cards turn towards you. (Even if their sum is greater.) The cost is that you must then discard the card you played this turn.
  • Place your token onto the card you just played. If it is discarded, then place your token to the side of the play area.
  • A card with a token on it cannot be turned. This keeps the back-and-forth steamrolling of the first-player advantage to a minimum.
  • Draw a card from the top of your deck into your hand. This ends your turn.
  • Continue in this manner until each player has one card left in their hands and end the game.
  • Whoever has the most cards facing themselves wins the game. If tied, count the ranks of your cards and whoever has the highest total wins.

Much of the playtesting was focused on identifying and mitigating the first-player advantage. Anyone who has played Othello/Reversi knows how frustrating it is to be so hampered at every turn by your opponent's immediate aggressive response. I need to test this out a bit more and see if I can squeeze in the thematic Bills I'd proposed a while back. That might be the little thematic nudge that actually makes the game more than just a Reversi variant.

Christmas in July Sale! 25% off all my games!

For the next few days, get 25% off ALL of my games! These deals are just ridiculous: 25% off Monsoon Market's already low early bird discount. Koi Pond for super cheap $11! Suspense for $3! If you've been waiting to bundle your purchases to save on shipping, now is the time.

A note: I'm still waiting for the proof of Light Rail to come in, so I can't guarantee it'll be available before the sale is over. Even if not, it'll still have the standard early bird discount, so look out for that in coming days!

Go shop now!

Spatula, a Silly Game Idea People Seem to Like

I was talking over some challenges with a current design with my wife over breakfast. I'm working on Solar Senate and I wanted to avoid any mechanisms that called for players to pick up cards. Picking up cards from a hard flat surface is a pain in the butt and often marks the edges of the card in the process. I try to make the physicality of cards a feature of play, or at least not an obstacle.

Then I got to thinking about this very old game idea I had during a bout of brainstorming dexterity games that could be played with only cards. The game was called "Spatula." It was a real-time dexterity game similar in structure to La Boca. You can see the basic gameplay in the vine above. It goes like this:

  • There is a big pile of food cards in the middle of the table called your grill. Food cards have a raw side and a cooked side.
  • There are plates on the edge of the table awaiting specific combinations of food, like "bacon and eggs."
  • You have one card in your hand; it is your spatula. Your job is to flip a food card with your spatula from the raw side to the cooked side and lift cooked food over to the plates that are on the edge of the table.
  • The faster you can complete a plate, the more cash you get in tips. The player with the most tips after 3 shifts (rounds) wins.

After actually testing this out a bit at home, I was wary of further development. Ten Pen has its fans, but its sales performance tells me that dexterity games might not be the best product for a POD market. Seems like a more of a mass market retail opportunity. But then I saw the response on Twitter to this vine from yesterday and I'm actually considering it now. I've got plenty of stock food art I can use. Might be worth a shot. I'll report back on this soon.
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.