Score Tracker Layout: Snake vs. Graph

(Source: BGG, James Clarke's fan-made Seasons score board.)

Just a general FYI for score tracker layout. Generally score trackers fall into two groups.

"Snake" score tracks follow a serpentine S-shaped path. The "Snake" is best to represent a step-by-step journey, often for games with small increments of scoring happening somewhat frequently. If you use a snake, make sure it's clear that you have a path to follow. You don't want to arrange the spaces in a grid, which implies the Graph layout below.

"Graph" score tracks that are arranged in a grid, with rows of ten spaces each. If you use a graph, you'll gain a lot of fans among engineers and mathematicians. This is much more abstract, but can be extremely useful for jumping double-digit increments at a time, especially in endgame scoring with lots of bookkeeping.

(Edit: For more, Geoff Engelstein covered some of this on Dice Tower Episode 398 at 7:15.)

And as always, make sure each space is numbered. Not just the 5s and 10s. Hope that helps with your tabletop graphic design!

Creating vs. Curating in Trickster


Trickster is an odd blend of tactical take-that, a sliver of push-your-luck, and a fondant icing of theme holding the whole thing together. I've been actively developing Trickster: Fantasy and several other Trickster decks for a while now. The core game is a very nice canvas on which to play all sorts of little mechanical effects.


Creating
In the development process, I brainstormed a big list of powers on this live doc. Most of those were developed in the absence of theme per se. They're mainly just shaking out the possible permutations of moving a card:
  • from (your/opponent's/anyone's/the) (hand/collection/discard/trick/deck) 
  • to (your/opponent's/anyone's/the) (hand/collection/discard/trick/deck)
Plus some miscellaneous card effects that might be fun form a purely mechanical standpoint. This was all a very rote process without much inspiring "story" behind the powers.

The strength of the Fantasy deck is that each hero's power just makes sense to most players. Of course the Mage makes cards vanish to the discard pile. Of course the Rogue sneaks in cards from one player's collection to another. Of course the Druid makes cards "grow" to double their normal size.

I don't want each Trickster deck to just be a hodgepodge of seven poorly considered card effects. I want each to be its own entirely valid set of seven mutually interactive powers, with unique emergent complexity. I expect each Trickster deck to be its own possible gateway to the entire franchise. Each should stand up to that task.

This is where curating comes in.



Curating
That's where assessing each deck's art on its own terms has been very necessary. I have to look at the art, assess the first impressions that each character gives players, and build powers around those first impressions. Let's take a look at a few characters from the Symbiosis deck. (Steve Sanders was very generous to let me use art from his world in this deck, so first I want to thank him for that.)


Playtesters first thought, absent of any other cues, was that character appears to have some remote control drone. She should be able to deliver information secretly from one place to another? That might be best mechanically represented as passing a card from one hand to another. A modified, slightly more aggressive version of the Bard's power from the Fantasy deck.

Again, in the absence of other cues, playtesters thought this little creature was some kind of speeder bike and this character was a traveler of some kind. They thought she might be good at speeding up the game a bit, emptying hands that much faster. When you play this card, you must play another legal card. That could be a tactical maneuver to force yourself to take the trick or to just empty your hand.

Things just get a little weirder from here, but it's around this point when I realize I should have a stronger emphasis on the concept of symbiosis. Perhaps other effects are modified by how many of that same character you have in your collection, Guildhall style? It's worth exploring, and might further solidify the connection between the Symbiosis universe and these cards.

But that's the difference between brainstorming and curating here. Coming up with all sorts of powers is easy enough, but cutting them down to a set of seven mutually supporting and thematically related powers is the tricky thing. It's fun, though! Certainly the most fun I've had developing a game in a long time. I look forward to sharing more. :)

Update on Heir to Europa

In the year 10,000, the throne of EUROPA sits empty without a clear successor.
A series of elegant psychic contests will sway the loyalty of the world’s Factions.
Whoever can accurately predict the tide of public opinion will become HEIR TO EUROPA.
 
I'm happy to say Heir to Europa went out for print proofing last Monday. In about a week and a half, Nick Ferris and I will each receive test copies of the complete deck with rules and cards for approval.

Given DriveThruCards' past record of high quality printing, I'm pretty confident we'll be ready to flip the switch shortly thereafter and have the game available for sale before the end of April. I definitely hope it'll be the big star of the second quarter for DriveThruCards. Lots of good buzz about this game from the last UnPub.

I'm also sending out review copies in about a week, so I'll be reaching out to a few board game media peeps to get their contact info. Hope all of you dig it!

A La Kart playtests - UnPub Mini at Atomic Empire


The Game Designers of Carolina held a great UnPub Mini event at Atomic Empire last Saturday. This is the third year for an UnPub Mini at Atomic Empire, the second organized by GDoC, and it's grown each year. We had fifteen designers with full tables for nearly the entire event.

(Photo Source: Matt Wolfe)

My plan for playtesting A La Kart was to run two concurrent two-player demos of Fish vs. Chips at the AutoBun and Sugar vs. Spice at the Sundae Speedway. I made significant edits to Fish's deck after March's extensive outside playtesting revealed how overpowered it was.



I made some minor tweaks to the other decks as well, and kept track of win rates for each deck over the whole day. Sugar and Spice went back and forth a lot over the day, with minimal repeated final scores. That says to me a lot is riding on each player's decision and a little bit of luck, so I feel pretty good about where they stand now. Here is my handwritten record.


I found some odd results at first in Fish vs. Chips. The first two games had the exact same scores. Like, exactly. I made some edits over the course of the day to hopefully break that pattern and luckily I was able to get them closer to parity, but Fish still didn't win most of the time. Fish vs. Chips had some odd patterns where 21 point and 25 point final scores appeared three times each. 11 appeared twice as well. Despite tweaking the decks towards the end of the day, that pattern persisted, which tells me a lot of this comes from how the Autobun course scores.

I also compiled a few comments from the anonymous feedback forms:

  • Different characters was fun. It was cool that there were different themed race-tracks also, if I got into the game it\'s the kind of thing I would buy the extra tracks for.
  • More clear instructions
  • It didn't feel terribly strategic, maybe because there were so few cards & they were all pretty similar. Felt a little go-fishy in that sense. I had a few cards at a time & it was always really obvious which one to play. (high or low, or middle if I didn't care). Partially could be because of the "beeping" to move faster... maybe if there was more time to think, I would have noticed some tricks that I missed? I didn't feel like the cards for burying, scraping, etc. really had time to matter. Time in the sense of, there aren't that many turns in a game. I'm not sure how to make it feel more strategic to me. Also: take my feedback with a grain of salt, I spend way too much time playing abstract strategy, so maybe my expectations are tainted.
  • It was a really cute theme & concept. Would definitely feel comfortable playing with my 30yr old friends, or with my daughter in a few years when she\'s old enough to play it. The game is coming along great & seems like it\'s really close to completion :) Great job!
  • As suger, playing against spice, felt there were too few opportunities to buff steering, thus lowering my chances of winning desired card. 
  • Theme is fun and unique, cards were well designed with good art and keywords for easy learning. 
  • Could be a bit more tweaking with making the asymmetrical decks more equal. The defensive decks seem to have more of a learning curve. 
  • It\'s quick, it\'s not \"pay to win\" (MtG), it\'s strategy based and still randomly generated. Each game is a new course. 
  • Very fun! Might be nice to add a few more action cards to sugar\'s deck to balance it out a little bit more, I felt like almost every card almost was an engine card aside from maybe two or three.
  • Maybe make the decks slightly larger, so there are more choices left at the end, but at the same time the limit adds some strategy.
  • Knowing the numbers of the remaining cards makes what choices you opponent predictable, but the effects can add surprise 
  • Create a system to display each players current scoreboard, it will lend to strategy. I really like that the art in the game features non-sexualized images of women. 
  • Love the artwork associated, love the food puns. game play was fairly balanced, second game would be better for both players so that you know all of your cards for aviable.
  •  Needs a LOT of racer for replay ability sake. Different tracks only matter so much.
  •  Put out one course at a time instead of all three at once
  • The theme is a blast and the way each deck plays very differently is super cool        
Overall verdict is that folks love the theme, but the decks need more variety and the game needs to be easier to learn. Doing both is going to be tricky.

I must be getting older because I used to be able to run demos non-stop for a full eight-hour-day. I had to tap out two hours early because I was just spent. Apologies to anyone I missed that evening! It was a great, productive event and I even got to squeeze in one test of Trickster: Fantasy before I left. It was a lot of fun!

Kigi debuts at the Tokyo Game Market on 5/5!


GameField just announced that the Japanese edition of Kigi will debut at the upcoming Tokyo Game Market on May 5! It's so cool seeing how quickly this little print-on-demand game has grown in popularity. It was by far the fastest seller in the recent Spring Sale, moving over twice as much as the second-place seller. I'm just glad people enjoy it!

Smart Play Games Spring Sale Extended!



I was very very smart and scheduled a big spring sale over a holiday weekend, when many would be away from their computers. Oops!

Well, my poor sense of scheduling is your gain! I'm extending the Spring Sale at Smart Play Games through Saturday April 11, which just so happens to overlap with Tabletop Day! You have a few more days to pick up a bunch of great little card games.

So far the top sellers have been Kigi, Koi Pond, and Light Rail. Check them out and many others for super-cheap prices this week!

Tabletop Day Coin Design


The kind folks at Campaign Coins asked me a few months ago to design a special commemorative coin for Tabletop Day. You can see the meeple-licious results above. You can find this commemorative coin in three colors, Copper, Silver, and Gold, but only in the promotional Tabletop Day kit at your local Tabletop Day event this Saturday April 11!

Trickster Card Back


My plan for the Trickster line is to have the same seven suits across the entire line. When new decks are released, I just put out seven new characters arrayed across those universal suits, so you can combine characters from different genres and IPs.

That means I need a universal card back that would remain evergreen across the whole line. I didn't want to get stuck in the "Deckmaster" situation, where the card back has obsolete branding elements locked in perpetuity. I decided to follow the example of Pairs, and lift elements from classic card backs.

I just whipped the above card back up over the weekend, pulled together from a bunch of stock Victorian floral patterns and vintage labels. It feels a bit slapdash, with some odd gaps and tangents floating around, but it's sufficient for a prototype.

25% off all Smart Play Games


Spring is in the air at Smart Play Games! For a limited time, all of my card games are 25% off. Convention season is coming fast, so this is the perfect time to fill your pockets with over a dozen great games, including latest hit Kigi!

Kigi is the game of pretty trees and tricky choices. Players use overlapping cards to "grow" trees across the table, filling the branches with colorful flowers, butterflies, and dragonflies. Check out this video tutorial to learn how to play!

Please spread the word about this offer, as it ends after April 7. Thank you so much for your support!

Smart Play Games Sales Report - Q1 2015

Smart-Play-Games---Sales-Report

It's transparency time again for Smart Play Games! I think it's important to be open about how my business runs and how much it earns. When I began this experiment in high-intensity print-on-demand publishing, I had no real sense of what "success" looked like. But I knew it would depend on others jumping into this market as well. But with such an opaque business model, if anyone else wanted to start their own print-on-demand releases, I figured it would be best to show what goes on behind the curtain.


Get on with it!
All that said, here are the raw numbers for this quarter. Top 3 sellers each month are highlighted.

MonthProductTotal SoldGross SalesEarnings
1/1/2015Arf!4$32.96$9.74
1/1/2015Bird Bucks2$13.98$2.44
1/1/2015Kigi17$156.69$47.99
1/1/2015Koi Pond: A Coy Card Game19$199.47$29.48
1/1/2015Koi Pond: Four Walls (Promo Card 2)6$5.94$3.82
1/1/2015Koi Pond: Four Winds (Promo Card 1)6$5.94$3.82
1/1/2015Koi Pond: Moon Temple12$75.88$22.43
1/1/2015Light Rail8$83.92$30.24
1/1/2015Light Rail: Downtown2$12.98$3.39
1/1/2015Monsoon Market10$103.88$19.03
1/1/2015Nine Lives Card Game3$27.97$8.88
1/1/2015Penny Farthing Catapult1$9.99$3.36
1/1/2015Regime3$29.65$1.85
1/1/2015Solar Senate3$25.23$8.04
1/1/2015Suspense: The Card Game14$59.26$19.66
1/1/2015Ten Pen1$9.99$3.35

SUBTOTAL:111$853.73$217.51
2/1/2015Arf!4$35.96$9.74
2/1/2015Bird Bucks1$6.99$1.22
2/1/2015Kigi16$153.84$51.18
2/1/2015Koi Pond: A Coy Card Game11$117.89$18.02
2/1/2015Koi Pond: Four Walls (Promo Card 2)6$5.94$3.82
2/1/2015Koi Pond: Four Winds (Promo Card 1)6$5.94$3.82
2/1/2015Koi Pond: Moon Temple7$44.93$13.08
2/1/2015Light Rail6$63.94$22.68
2/1/2015Light Rail: Downtown2$11.98$3.39
2/1/2015Monsoon Market6$62.94$12.68
2/1/2015Nine Lives Card Game1$9.99$2.96
2/1/2015Regime2$20.98$1.85
2/1/2015Solar Senate1$9.99$4.02
2/1/2015Suspense: The Card Game3$12.97$4.45
2/1/2015Ten Pen1$9.99$3.35

SUBTOTAL:73$574.27$156.28
3/1/2015Arf!3$26.97$7.31
3/1/2015Kigi52$503.91$163.15
3/1/2015Koi Pond: A Coy Card Game23$243.43$36.04
3/1/2015Koi Pond: Four Walls (Promo Card 2)12$11.88$7.64
3/1/2015Koi Pond: Four Winds (Promo Card 1)12$11.88$7.64
3/1/2015Koi Pond: Moon Temple13$81.87$24.30
3/1/2015Light Rail12$123.48$41.58
3/1/2015Light Rail: Downtown2$13.98$3.39
3/1/2015Monsoon Market9$94.89$16.91
3/1/2015Nine Lives Card Game4$39.96$11.84
3/1/2015Regime3$30.97$2.77
3/1/2015Solar Senate1$10.99$4.02
3/1/2015Suspense: The Card Game4$16.96$5.94

SUBTOTAL:150$1,211.17$332.53

Grand Totals:334$2,639.17$706.31

A Slight Change to the Schedule
2014 was a wild year, full of expected pitfalls (low media attention, narrow distribution), fantastic benefits (fast release, limitless inventory), and happy surprises (international licenses). I was releasing new print-on-demand card games each month, along with sales reports that reviewed the previous 30ish days' performance. Those were popular, but took a fair bit of time out of my usual working day. Doing a job, then talking about the job sort of became two jobs. Kinda meta.

This year is a little different, with my focus on long-term projects like Heir to Europa, A La Kart, and Trickster. In fact, I didn't even release new product this quarter! Publicly, it feels like I've gone from warp speed to a screeching halt, but it's only because so much of the development is now local to my area or confined to playtest mailing lists.

So, I'm following the example of Evil Hat Productions and scaling back my sales reports to once a quarter, so you get a better long-tail view of how my little venture is doing.

Kigi Grows in Spring
Kigi quintupled the last two months' sales in just the last ten dasy. I don't know whether it was my posting the youtube tutorial, announcing the Japanese license, or Antoine Bauza publicly purchasing six copies, but wow that's impressive. I've already had five international publishers express interest in the game, which is just bonkers to me. Yowza!

Franchises Keeps Swimming
One of the big challenges facing POD is the high price of shipping. It compels thrifty shoppers to hold off on their purchases until they can make a big bundle order. Koi Pond is unique in my catalog for having two promo cards and a full-on supplement. Having readymade impulse add-ons may be helping keep Koi Pond afloat in the long-term. That's what is giving me more incentive to release game franchises like Trickster and A La Kart: Games that can be purchased as standalone units, or bundle-ordered for better deal on shipping. Then again, Light Rail's Downtown expansion hasn't really performed well, so I should approach this direction carefully.

Dabbling in Paid Advertising
I gave Twitter ads a shot in January, hoping to lift a slumping post-holiday sales period. Unfortunately they didn't perform all that well, even after some adjustments to focus on desktop browsers within the continental United States. I may revisit this in the future with video ads, but for now I'm sticking to "organic" marketing. In other words, tweeting a lot. :P

What's in the Lab?
The past few months have been focused primarily on playtesting A La Kart, editing Heir to Europa, and planning Trickster.
  • A La Kart: With over 60 volunteers on the mailing list, and a cartel of excellent playtesters across the world, the March playtest session was fantastic. Each groups' feedback has been immensely valuable and I'm looking forward to taking A La Kart back into the garage for some retooling. Look for this release in a few months.
  • Heir to Europa: We just posted the rules PDF for Heir to Europa here for your perusal, which is the last step before we go into proper production. Again, feedback here has been great with surprisingly few typos or ambiguities to address. Condensing an eight page rulebook into eight cards was a challenge, but definitely successful. Look for this release in a matter of weeks.
  • Trickster: This game has developed shockingly fast from a paper-thin mechanism to a full-blown light strategy card game for fans of Pairs and Love Letter. It plays as well with 3 players as it does for 7. Lots of plans for decks coming up! I'm very excited about this line's potential. The first release may leapfrog A La Kart by a few months.
And that about covers Q1 2015 for Smart Play Games! Hope this was interesting for you! Feel free to ask any questions!
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.