Tag Archives: Board Games

10×10 Challenge 2017 April Update

I mentioned at the beginning of the year that my wife Barbara and I completed the 365 Challenge in 2016, in which we recorded 365 board game plays over the course of the year (100 different games in total). That was fun, but we decided to go in a different direction for 2017, the 10×10 Challenge (10 by 10).

The particular challenge we’ve adopted is what’s known on BoardGameGeek as a “hardcore” challenge. We picked 10 different games at the beginning of the year, and we set a goal for ourselves to play each of them at least 10 times over the course of the year. We’re approaching the rules as follows:

  • Only plays after we officially set up the challenge on BoardGameGeek count (we set it up on January 3, by which time we had already played one of the games twice – but those plays don’t count).
  • Only plays with the actual, physical board game itself count. We don’t count any plays of apps or other virtual or online implementations of these games (note that these can be counted for BGG, but we’re not counting them).
  • We’re only counting games that the two of us play together. So, if I play with other friends but not Barbara, I don’t count that.
  • That said, it’s fine if we have more than just the two of us playing.
  • Only completed games count.

With those parameters, we picked our list of 10 games at the beginning of the year based partly on games we just love and games that we don’t yet know very well and that we want to explore more. We didn’t put a ton of thought into the list – we just looked at our collection and picked some games. All of them are pretty meaty – we didn’t pick any fillers. But frankly, that’s because we like playing pretty substantial games together more than we enjoy most fillers.

The list

Our choices are as follows:

A Feast for Odin: We acquired this in December 2016, and we played it nine times in that month, plus two more plays at the beginning of January before setting up the 10×10 Challenge. We like it a lot, so we knew we would want to play it at least 10 more times.

Agricola: Our second Uwe Rosenberg-designed game on the list, Agricola is our favorite game of all time. When we first got it in 2007 or 2008 (before I was on BGG, so before I was logging plays), we played it literally at least once a day for months. We loved Agricola so much that some friends made us custom animals out of Sculpey (this was before the game came with animeeples). Definitely one to play a bunch in 2017!

Alchemy Bazaar: I put this Michael Iachini design on the list (yes, my own game) in part because I knew I would be playtesting it during the early part of the year, and in part because I thought there might be a chance the published version would be coming out during the year. I don’t think that latter part is going to happen, but I still have a nice prototype that I want to keep playing and testing.

Amerigo: A super-fun Stefan Feld design, and the first of two games on this list that we hadn’t actually played yet when we made the list. Yes, sight unseen (well, box unopened), we put this on the 10×10 so that we would get it played. Happily, we love it.

Fresco: This is a game we’ve had for a long time, really enjoyed when we first got it, and then just haven’t played at all in years. We put Fresco on the 10×10 as an excuse to just get it back to the table. We didn’t realize when we added it to the list how odd the two-player rules are, so this is one we tend to grab more often when we have more players.

Pandemic Legacy: We were a few months into the campaign for Season 1 at the beginning of the year, and we knew we wanted to finish the campaign. There’s a chance we will finish before we get our 10th play in 2017, in which case I guess we’ll just have to play December some extra times, or else count Season 2 plays or something.

Scythe: This is the second game that we put on the 10×10 list without having actually played it beforehand. I had just heard so many great things about Scythe, and I’ve so thoroughly enjoyed all of Jame Stegmaier’s previous publications that I felt confident we would want to play a lot of Scythe.

Terra Mystica: I think this is probably our number two most favorite game of all time (behind Agricola), so it was an easy inclusion on this list.

Trajan: We discovered Trajan at BGG Con 2016, and we were just so enamoured of it right away. It had to go on the list.

Twilight Struggle: Barbara was the one who said we should include this one, which surprised me. We played it a bunch previously, and while we both like it, Barbara tends to find it very stressful. It’s also the longest play-time for two players of all the games on the list. But hey, she picked it, and that’s cool with me!

Status update

So, how are we doing as of the end of April? Well, we’re a third of the way into the year, and we are just over a third of the way through the challenge. We’ve logged 35 out of the 100 plays that we need to get.

Every game has been played at least twice (Fresco being the only one at two so far). Only one game has been played five times (Pandemic Legacy). The rest are all at three or four plays.

I’m logging my plays using the excellent BG Stats app for the iPhone, which now keeps track of challenges as well. I’m updating the BGG geeklist for the challenge as I go. And I also splurged and got a physical 10×10 Challenge tracker board from the excellent Daft Concepts Etsy shop. Amazingly, my cats haven’t sent the meeples flying yet (yeah, “yet” is right).

 

I’ll check in a couple more times over the course of the year, but I feel pretty good about our pace on this challenge! Are you doing any challenges this year? How are they going so far?

Crescendo mechanic

A discussion on Reddit a little while ago pointed out a common mechanic (or mechanism, if you prefer) that many games use, but which lacks a name. I love this mechanic, and I call it the crescendo mechanic. Once I started looking for it, I saw it in more places than I expected.

Crescendo is an Italian word meaning “growing” and it usually shows up in music to tell the musician to gradually get louder. The long “greater than” sign that appears below the music staff in the image above is the crescendo symbol, and it is telling the reader to go from “mezzo forte” (medium loud) to “forte” (loud) over the course of a few notes.

In board games, the crescendo mechanic means that something the players could choose gets bigger or more valuable the longer it goes unchosen. If you pass over it, some resources or points get added to it so that it becomes more attractive to choose in the future.

Examples of crescendo mechanics

No Thanks: If a player doesn’t want to take the card, they must put a chip on it. The card keeps gathering chips until someone agrees to take it, at which point they get to keep the chips.

Image credit: Sampo Sikiö on BoardGameGeek

Agricola: Certain resource collection spaces get more and more resources on them with each passing turn, until a player eventually spends an action to take all of them.

Image credit: Robin REEVE on BoardGameGeek

Puerto Rico: Every role that does not get selected in a round gets a coin on it. Whenever a player takes a role, they get all of the coins that have accumulated on it.

Image credit: Miquel Garcia on BoardGameGeek

Small World: If you don’t want a particular race/class combination, you can put a coin on it to pass over it to move on to the next one. Whenever a race/class combo is taken by a player, that player gets the coins on it. I’ll note that Daniel Solis talked about this specific type of crescendo mechanic in 2014 as “pay to pick.”

Image credit: Manuel Pombeiro on BoardGameGeek

Alchemy Bazaar: The longer a shop has gone unchosen, the more valuable the goods it will pay to the player who eventually chooses it (liquid, then metal, then gem).

Why Crescendo is a great mechanic

There are several reasons that I love the crescendo mechanic, reasons that explain why it shows up so many places.

Feeling of building. Players love to feel like they are building something in a game. With the crescendo mechanic, you get some of that building feeling as a choice gets better and better. And it can lead to memorable moments: “Wow, I can’t believe you let me get nine wood from that spot in Agricola!”

Press your luck. In many games with crescendo elements, you might be willing to take the choice at its current value, but you might decide to “let it ride” and hope that you can take it later, when it’s even more valuable. This adds some great tension to the game and gets the players to judge one another – are you going to take this if I let it get more valuable, or do you want something else even more?

Automatic balancing. Figuring out exactly the right cost or reward for every game element can be extremely difficult for a game designer. The crescendo mechanic lets the designer put choices in front of the players at a low value and let the players decide when the choice is valuable enough to take.

Rewards skill. Crescendo is a very low-luck mechanic. A player who is better at figuring out what one choice is worth relative to another is going to do very well in games with crescendo elements. It’s a bit of a “shopping” mechanic: How good does the item have to be before it’s a good deal for the price? This gives players a great deal of control over their fortunes.

Other implementations?

I have a feeling that crescendo is a mechanic that shows up in subtle ways in all sorts of games. Does a drafting game where your first set of cards might come back to you have a bit of a crescendo element to it (take this good card now, or take a different good card plus the original one if it comes back)? Are there games where players choose where to crescendo, making only one possible choice among many more valuable when they choose something else? How else might crescendo be used in the future?

I’d love to hear about other interesting uses of crescendo in games. Definitely let me know if you’ve seen some good ones, either here or on Twitter.

Michael Iachini, @ClayCrucible on Twitter

State of Clay Crucible Games, Spring 2017

Over on Reddit, someone asked me about the status of a game they remember I was working on a couple of years ago, and that made me realize that it might be fun and informative for me to write a “state of the company” post, focused on where my various designs stand right now. Let’s dive in!

Chaos & Alchemy: Out of print, still available from some retailers

This was my first ever game design, and the game that inspired the name of my company (Clay Crucible was one of my favorite cards from the game). I published the first edition in 2012, and Game Salute published the second edition in 2014.

The rights to publish Chaos & Alchemy have now reverted to me, but I don’t have any plans to do anything with them. You can still typically find copies of the second edition on Amazon or the BGG marketplace for somewhere around MSRP.

Otters: Available via print-on-demand

Otters was my second published game, which was also the first Kickstarter campaign I ran on my own. This was quite a pleasant experience, start to finish! It’s a simple game, aimed at kids, with cute pictures of otters on the cards. The Kickstarter campaign exceeded the funding goal, and I delivered rewards ahead of the promised date.

Now the game lives on in a print-on-demand format from DriveThruCards. I’ve just added a printed tuck box to the game there, which should make for a much nicer overall product.

Alchemy Bazaar: Under development by Grey Fox Games

As I wrote back in 2014, Grey Fox Games signed Alchemy Bazaar for publication. The company went through some changes in the intervening years which led to Alchemy Bazaar being slower to see print than originally expected, but they are now actively developing it. I don’t know when to expect it to actually come out, but let’s say “someday.” Probably within the next year, I’m guessing.

Everest: Technically unsigned, maybe will be published by Grey Fox Games

Everest is in an odd little limbo. I wrote about this in that same 2014 blog post. Randy from Foxtrot Games put me in contact with Shane from Grey Fox Games due to Shane’s interest in Everest. I showed Shane both Everest and Alchemy Bazaar at Gen Con 2014, and Shane liked them both. He wanted to do Alchemy Bazaar first, and that’s the only game we have a contract for. But Everest might come from Grey Fox someday, I suppose. <shrug>

Fibercraft: Forthcoming in 2017 from Clay Crucible Games

As I wrote recently, Fibercraft is my newest game, and I’m planning to publish this one myself. Stay tuned!

 

And now for the really obscure games:

Gods & Champions: Shelved

This was my second game design attempt, started during NaGaDeMon 2012. I wanted to build a card game where you had a Champion that you were adding powers to, but each round the Champions could be swapped around,

Mansion Builder: Shelved

I put up three designer diary posts about this game, and I continued developing it for several months past the final diary post (my last version of the game is dated July 2014 and the last blog post was April 2014). I took it to a local convention for playtesting, and it went okay, but not well enough for me to get passionate about polishing it.

This was also about the time that I decided I needed to spend more time with my wife and less time developing and playtesting games, so I intentionally backed off for a while.

Robo Battle: Shelved, almost certainly forever

I never blogged about this game, but I demo it at a couple of local conventions. The funny story here is that it has been totally superseded by Mechs vs. Minions.

A little known fact about MvM is that it was based on an older, never widely published game called Weapons of Zombie Destruction. That game was designed by Stone Librande, who is a friend of a friend of mine. Our common friend had a copy of WZD that I played back when I lived in San Francisco.

I always though WZD was an interesting game, so I started designing Robo Battle as my own twist on it. I didn’t get especially far, but then last year Mechs vs. Minions came out. I’m definitely not going to be able to compete with that! So, Robo Battle is on the trash heap.

Corporate Rivalry: Shelved

This is one you would only know about if you closely followed my tweets in early 2016. I enjoy Twilight Struggle, but I would love to capture a similar experience in a shorter play-time. So, I started designing my own twist on it, where the two players are rival corporations trying to gain market share in a region. A game like this needs a strong theme in order to direct the development, I think, and I don’t have that theme yet. I could see coming back to this one someday.

Clay Crucible Catan: Freely available!

This isn’t really a full-on design, but just a one-page printout to modify the rules of Catan (aka Settlers of Catan) to remove the luck of the dice. It’s basically a mash-up of Concordia and Catan. Honestly, I don’t think this one gets enough love, especially because I regularly see people complaining about how the dice can wreck a well-played game of Catan. Take out the dice!

 

So there you have it: The state of all of my games that have gotten at least as far as the prototype stage, as of spring 2017. Do any of the shelved games pique your interest? Have you seen any of these out in the wild? I’d love to hear about it!

Michael Iachini – @ClayCrucible on Twitter

Two of my games have been picked up for publication!

This post has been a long time coming, but I’m thrilled that things are settled to the point that I can talk about them publicly.

The big message: Two of my unpublished game designs, Everest and Alchemy Bazaar, have been picked up for publication by Grey Fox Games. Woo hoo!

Now, things are a long way from the end point right now, and there can be a lot of changes between today and the day that you can buy these games in a store. The contracts aren’t signed yet (though they’re pretty close to being done), and Grey Fox Games will be doing some development work on both games, which could mean different names, different themes, etc. But they have agreed that they want to publish both of these games in the next few years!

In case you couldn’t tell, I’m excited about this. Let me tell you how I got here.

From Foxtrot to Grey Fox

The story of my connection to Grey Fox Games goes back to Gen Con 2013 and a different publisher entirely, Foxtrot Games. Specifically, the man behind Foxtrot Games, Randy Hoyt.

Randy was one of the publishers who attended the first Publisher Speed Dating event at Gen Con 2013. I was there for two separate one-hour sessions: One of them showing off Everest and the other showing off Alchemy Bazaar. Randy had apparently seen me talking about Alchemy Bazaar online and was specifically interested in checking it out at Speed Dating.

I wrote in detail about this event on my old Online Dungeon Master blog last year. The part about Foxtrot Games is what I referred to in that post as “Meeting 3: Micro publisher follow-up.” Randy is a great guy, and he and I have become friends over the past year. He and his son had a lot of fun with Everest, and he was strongly considering publishing the game, even to the point of having some nice prototypes made up and sent out to playtesters. Ultimately, though, it wasn’t quite the right fit to be his company’s second game, so he decided to pass. Everest Board However, because Randy liked Everest so much, he decided to help me find a publisher. He was doing some demos of the game at BoardGameGeek Con 2013 (last November), and he got a couple of people from Grey Fox Games to sit down for a demo. They were really interested in the game, and Randy and I ultimately worked together to develop the game further for Grey Fox.

Gen Con 2014

By the time I was preparing for Gen Con this year, I had already had extensive discussions with Shane at Grey Fox, and he had already agreed that he wanted to publish Everest, though it would likely come a bit later in their production schedule. Since he and I were both going to be at Gen Con, I set up some time for us to meet Saturday afternoon to nail down the details about Everest.

First, though, I had some other publisher meetings.

Thursday morning of Gen Con I met with another publisher friend of mine who had expressed interest in Alchemy Bazaar at Gen Con 2013. We went through a demo with the updated rules, and while he liked the improvements from last year, he ultimately decided to pass on Alchemy Bazaar.

Friday evening at Gen Con I went to Publisher Speed Dating again. This time it was two hours on a single game, Alchemy Bazaar. I talked to about a dozen publishers about Alchemy Bazaar, four of whom seemed to be very interested in the game. None of them got back to me before my Saturday meeting with Grey Fox, though.

So, Saturday afternoon I met with Shane at the Grey Fox booth, and we found a table in a slightly quieter area to talk about Everest. I pulled out the prototype copy of Everest I had made for him, explained the rules, and we played through the game (which takes about 15-20 minutes). It’s a cooperative game, and we just barely lost, but it was a close call. Shane was happy with it, and we talked about further development plans (getting it in the hands of Grey Fox playtesters and such).

As we were talking, I decided that I should at least mention Alchemy Bazaar. I described the game briefly, and Shane told me that he’d like to see it. I had a prototype with me (naturally), so I brought it out and went through things in a little more detail. Shane was very intrigued, so I offered to let him take the Alchemy Bazaar prototype (I still had another one), which he eagerly did. (I also gave him a copy of Otters, because he has kids in the right age range.) Alchemy Bazaar Formula Card Back

Decision!

Fast forward a few weeks to Labor Day weekend, when out of the blue I get an email from Shane saying that he and his friends had played Alchemy Bazaar, they really liked it, and Grey Fox Games wants to publish it!

As I mentioned above, there are still a lot of details to work out. It seems likely that Alchemy Bazaar will be published first and Everest second (which is fine with me). As publisher-level playtesting moves along, we will likely try out some changes to both games. It’s entirely possible the themes might change (which is also fine with me). But if all goes according to plan, you will eventually see two of my games published by Grey Fox!

By the way, for those of you who are not yet familiar with Grey Fox Games, they’re the publishing offshoot of CoolStuffInc. They are publishing two games that have already had success on Kickstarter, Draco Magi and Conquest of Speros, with Run, Fight or Die and other games coming in the future. I’m excited to have my games in their future lineup.

I’ll keep you posted when there’s news to report (Kickstarter campaign, etc.). It will probably be a while, so be patient! 🙂

Michael Iachini, Clay Crucible Games

@ClayCrucible on Twitter

Clay Crucible Catan – A free, no-dice rule variant for Settlers of Catan

Edit 8/2/2014: Thanks to user shendrite on reddit, I’ve changed the name of this variant from Clay Crucible Settlers to the much more alliterative Clay Crucible Catan.

Today I’m sharing a simple rules variant for Settlers of Catan that I designed, called Clay Crucible Catan.

Download Clay Crucible Catan here (1 page PDF)

I’m a big fan of Klaus Teuber’s Settlers of Catan. It’s not the first modern board game I played (that would be Citadels, believe it or not, in its translation-sheet-needed form of Ohne Furcht und Adel). But when our gaming friends introduced my wife and me to Settlers, we fell in love with the game. It’s still a big hit for introducing new gamers to the hobby in our house.

One complaint that seasoned gamers sometimes have about Settlers of Catan is that the dice create too much randomness. A smart player who builds settlements on hexes with numbers like 5 and 6 and 8 and 9 should get lots of resources because those numbers should be rolled a lot… but sometimes the dice roll a streak of 3s, and weird things happen.

The publisher of the game introduced a tool to help prevent this outcome – a deck of 36 cards that reflect the “correct” distribution of each number that can be rolled on a pair of 6-sided dice. If you draw from this deck without replacing the cards you’ve drawn, you eliminate the possibility of a crazy “hot streak” for any number.

I think that’s a neat product. However, I wanted to turn resource production into an interesting decision. Rather than rolling dice or drawing a random card to decide which hexes produce resources each turn, I wanted players to have some decision-making power over production.

A solo playtest of Clay Crucible Settlers in action
A solo playtest of Clay Crucible Catan in action

The rules for Clay Crucible Catan are simple:

  • Replace the normal number circles with the numbers in the attached document (2-7, each appearing 3 times).
  • Deal the numbers out randomly, with the one caveat that you can’t have all three copies of a number surrounding the same point (just switch the last copy out for another number).
  • Give each player seven playing cards from the same suit, Ace through 7.
  • On your turn, instead of rolling dice, you choose one of your playing cards and put it on the table face up. The number you play is the number whose hexes produce resources this round. Leave that playing card on the table.
  • When your turn comes around again, you’ll play another one of your playing cards. Note that whatever numbers you’ve played before are still face-up on the table, so you can’t play those numbers again.
  • If you decide to play your Ace, this activates the knight/robber just as in regular Settlers rules, with one extra bit: You also get to pick up the playing cards you’ve previously played and put them back in your hand for future use.
  • When you play the Ace, you leave it on the table. When you play a different card next turn, you get your Ace back in your hand (so you can’t play your Ace in back to back turns).
  • Note that, since you choose when to play your Ace, you can know how many cards are in everyone’s hand (including yours) when the knight is activated.
  • Feel free to talk to the other players about which number to play. For instance, you could say, “Hey, if I play my 4, you’ll get two bricks; if I do that, would you trade me one of them for one grain?” Of course, these negotiations aren’t binding, so the person could change their mind after you decide which number to play. (You can use binding negotiations at your table if you prefer.)

The one-page PDF contains these rules (condensed) plus number squares you can cut up to use with your Settlers game (I recommend printing on card stock).

Clay Crucible Catan Rules v03

 

So far I’ve found this to be a fun variant for Settlers of Catan. I wouldn’t recommend it for new players, since the extra layer of decision-making makes Clay Crucible Catan a bit harder for people who don’t play games. But for gamers who prefer a bit less randomness in their Settlers game, this variant is a good fit.

Please let me know if you try this variant with your group – I would love to hear about it! You can leave a comment here, or email me at ClayCrucible@gmail.com.

Michael Iachini – Clay Crucible Games

@ClayCrucible on Twitter

Design Diary: Mansion Builder chapter 3 – Icons

In the first two chapters of this Design Diary (chapter 1, chapter 2) I talked about the underlying inspiration for my auction game, Mansion Builder, and the different methods of conducting the auction that I tried.

Today I’m talking about the use of icons on my game cards.

First attempt: All text

When I’m developing a new game, I start with the quickest, simplest prototype I can make (prototype early and often). This typically means that I’ll put some card names and text and numbers into an Excel spreadsheet, print them on regular paper, cut them into slips and insert those slips into sleeves with Magic cards for backing.

This also means that I’m not investing any time in making these cards look good. They need to be functional, but that’s it. They’re black and white (cheaper to print) and they have no graphics. This way, if my initial attempts reveal that my game idea just isn’t fun or it’s completely broken or I’m not inspired to work any farther on it, I haven’t wasted a bunch of time making a nice-looking prototype that I’ll just throw away.

In this vein, my first Mansion Builder cards featured all text with some numbers.

Mansion Builder text cards 1I was happy to discover that the basic game mechanics worked and were interesting. Players were bidding on Improvement cards for their mansions (the top row of cards), and then they were getting money from selling mansions with the right Improvements to the various Buyer cards (the bottom row).

The problem was that I had 12 different Improvements, and it was hard for players to scrutinize the various Buyers in order to tell which Improvements they wanted. With a bunch of cards on the table, the text became overwhelming.

Solution: Icons

I have an intermediate set of icons that I won’t show here because I don’t own the rights to them. These came from simple Google Image searches, and I wasn’t specifically looking for Creative Commons icons or anything like that.

However, I later discovered The Noun Project (discussed a bit in an earlier post), which had all of the icons I needed. The cards now look like this:

Mansion Builder icon cards 1I’ll point out that I switched from Excel to Photoshop for this version of the cards, but I did have an intermediate step where I dropped the icon images into Excel.

Beyond the icons for the improvements themselves, there are two other things I want to point out. The first is that I’m using icons with numbers for money and reputation/victory points (the “dollar bill” icons on the improvements and the “laurel wreath” icons on the buyers). This makes it clear that there are two different meanings for numbers on cards.

The second thing I want to point out is that there are two different types of numbers now. In the first iteration that you saw above, all numbers were the same – money. I soon realized that it was important to separate money (the stuff that gives players more options during the game) from victory points (the stuff that lets you win the game). I’ll write more about this in a future post, but if you make the power-giving currency the same as the game-winning currency, you tend to get a runaway leader problem.

Next steps

Having icons on the cards has made things much easier, and I’m glad The Noun Project exists (I bought the rights to use all of these icons, which was quite affordable, just a dollar or two apiece). The icons are still black and white, though, which needs to change (being able to tell which icons are which based not just on shape but also on color will help).

Michael Iachini – Clay Crucible Games

@ClayCrucible on Twitter

Design Diary: Mansion Builder chapter 2 – Auction methods

In chapter 1 of this Design Diary, I described the initial idea for my work-in-progress game design, Mansion Builder. It’s an auction game in which players are property developers, bidding in auctions to acquire ridiculous improvements for their mansions in order to satisfy the desire of oddball buyers.

The layout for my very first playtest of Mansion Builder.
The layout for my very first playtest of Mansion Builder.

One of the first issues I had to deal with: How do I want to actually conduct the auction? It’s a simultaneous auction where everybody decides how much they want to bid and then everyone reveals their bids at the same time. How did I want this to work at the table?

Well, as a designer I had a few different approaches for running simultaneous bid auctions.

Auction cards

My first thought (since it was at hand) was to go with cards. Specifically, I used regular playing cards and gave each player a set of Ace (representing 1) through 10 of a suit. When it was time to bid, everyone would choose one of their cards, put it face down in front of them, and then everyone would reveal simultaneously.

Auction Cards

This actually did work, but it had some drawbacks.

First, it limited the players to bidding up to 10. In theory, if a player has 25 money and they want to bid all of it, they should be allowed to.

Second, it created an awful lot of components. A full set of bidding cards for each player is unwieldy.

Third, if the game were played a lot, these  cards would wear unevenly. The lower numbers (5 or less) would be used the most, and could end up being marked.

Dry-erase cards

My next idea was to give each player a card with a dry-erase coating on it, along with a dry-erase marker (think Telestrations, but smaller). Everyone secretly writes their bids, then reveals simultaneously.

Auction writing

This worked okay in practice, but I still wasn’t completely happy with it.

First, depending on how sneaky players were being, it could be possible to figure out what others were writing based on the movement of their pen.

Second, it was a little bit messy with all of the dust from erasing the bids.

Closed hands

My current approach is making me happy so far. Money in the game is represented by small tokens of some sort. I’m currently using small plastic “scatter” that looks like little crystals. The clear crystals are worth 1 money each, and the amber crystals are worth 5.

Players put whatever quantity of money they want to bid in a closed fist, then all players simultaneously open their hands to reveal their bids.

Auction hand

The biggest advantage of this approach is that it’s a lot of fun. There’s a nice moment of tension when all of the players have a closed fist in the middle of the table right before the bids are revealed.

Another advantage is that it makes bookkeeping much easier. I always had tokens for money, and with the other methods the players had to reveal their bids, then reach into their supplies to fish out the right amount of money and put it back in the bank. Now they can just drop the crystals that are in their hands right into the bank pile.

End of chapter 2

So, that’s one issue solved: Closed fist auctions are going to work for Mansion Builder. Next time, I’ll talk about the challenges of designing useful playtest cards. Icons ahoy!

Michael Iachini – Clay Crucible Games

@ClayCrucible on Twitter

Interview with Michael Iachini on the Strebeck Law blog

This week I was interviewed by Zack Strebeck for his legal blog. He was interested in talking about the legal aspects of running a game company, including:

  • Why and how I set up an LLC for my game company (more on this here)
  • How I decided to go with Creative Commons photos for Otters
  • Contracts with illustrators and graphic designers
  • Contracts with publishers (Game Salute published my first game, Chaos & Alchemy)
  • General stuff about the experience of being a small publisher

Go have a look!

ZS_logo_2014_4

Part 1 of the interview

Part 2 of the interview

Michael Iachini

@ClayCrucible on Twitter

Publishers: Pay your artists!

When you’re just starting out in game design, you probably don’t have a lot of money to spare on game-related stuff. You’re going to be taking money out of your own pocket to cover the cost of paper and printer ink and card sleeves and meeples and such, just to get your game prototypes to the stage where you can test them out.

I sympathize. Really, I do.

Later on, perhaps you’ll get to the point that you have a great, playtested game that you’re ready to put on Kickstarter so that you can afford a big print run (or a small print run, as in the case of Otters). If you’re going to run a successful Kickstarter campaign, it’s going to have to look good. You’ll need some illustrations to show what your final game is going to look like. You’ll also need some great graphic design.

You don't want art like this. And I hereby release this into the public domain. Go nuts, guys!
You don’t want art like this. And I hereby release this into the public domain. Go nuts, guys!

You want backers to see you as a professional. And that’s going to cost money.

Now, you might be thinking, “Isn’t the whole point of a Kickstarter campaign to raise money that I obviously don’t have? How can I pay for art and graphic design before running a Kickstarter campaign?”

And here’s where you have to face a hard truth:

You’ll need to invest some of your own personal money into your game before you’re ready to take it to Kickstarter.

Lesson 1: Don’t ask professionals for free art

You might be tempted to ask talented people to work for free. Please don’t.

Palette icon by James Fenton
Palette icon by James Fenton

Now, if it’s a close friend or family member who just wants to help you, that’s fine. But please don’t work your network to find someone you’re vaguely connected to who has artistic ability and then ask them to donate their time and energy for nothing.

Lesson 2: Don’t ask professionals to work now for post-Kickstarter payment

This is the one that inspired this post. A game designer was asking for referrals to professional artists who would work now and get paid if the designer’s Kickstarter campaign is successful.

That’s a big if. What happens if the campaign does not succeed? The artist gets nothing.

Public domain money bag icon
Public domain money bag icon

Now, if you have an artist who wants an equity stake in your project, that’s open to negotiation. Maybe they are interested in getting, say, 10% of the Kickstarter gross or an actual share in your game publication business or something. That way they share on the potential upside, too.

But if you have an artist who would charge, say, $500 for the work you want done, it’s not cool to ask them to do the work now and pay them if (and only if) your Kickstarter succeeds. You’re the one taking the business risk here – don’t ask the artist to take that risk for no upside.

Lesson 3: Don’t steal art

I hope that this one doesn’t need to be reiterated, but we live in the era of the internet, and it’s easy to use creative works that you don’t have the rights to. Do a Google image search, and you’ll find tons of awesome artwork that’s ready for downloading and dropping into your game.

Burglar icon by Joab Penalva
Burglar icon by Joab Penalva

If you’re putting together a first draft prototype that will only ever be seen by your close personal friends and family, then this is okay. But if you plan to show your prototype online, let alone print it for money, you can only use art that you own the rights to.

This means that you either pay to commission or license art from a professional, or you find art that you’re legitimately allowed to use without paying for it (such as public domain or Creative Commons commercial-use art). Don’t just use an awesome image because it’s there if it’s not yours to use.

Why should I care?

One of the criticisms I faced when I called out a designer who was trying to get artists to work for potential post-Kickstarter payment was that the question of work terms was between the project creator and the artist. If the creator could find artists willing to work for the hope of payment, that’s between the creator and the artist, right? Why was I butting in?

Well, I think that all of us in the (relatively small) game design community have a duty to make it a better place. I want a community where artists feel welcomed and respected, not one where they feel like they’re going to get screwed over at any moment. I want to foster a feeling of respect all around, and standing quietly while a fellow designer engages in business practices that I find unethical doesn’t build the community that I want to see.

Community icon by Wilson Joseph
Community icon by Wilson Joseph

We’re all in this together – designers, artists, gamers and everyone else. Let’s make the gaming community a better place.

Pay your artists.

Michael Iachini – Clay Crucible Games

@ClayCrucible on Twitter

P.S. You may have noticed that the illustrations accompanying this post are icons. These are from the excellent Noun Project, which has tons and tons of icons that are available either in the public domain or in a Creative Commons commercial-use license (hence the attributions in the captions). And if you want to use the CC-licensed icons without attribution, you can buy the rights for $1.99 per icon (or $1 per icon if you buy 10 at a time or 50 at a time or whatever). Great site – go check it out!

Design Diary: Mansion Builder, chapter 1

I haven’t written a full designer diary on a game since my first game, Chaos & Alchemy. I think it’s time I started up again.

I’m in the early playtesting stages right now for a game that I’m tentatively calling Mansion Builder. It’s going well enough that I think it’s worth writing about. So here we go!

Theme Idea: Building… something

The original idea for Mansion Builder came from reflecting on the idea that players like building something during the course of a game. You build a farm and a resource engine in Agricola. You build a rail network in Ticket to Ride. You build a plot quest engine in Lords of Waterdeep. You build a laboratory in Chaos & Alchemy.

Agricola board - photo courtesy of Henrique Poyatos
Agricola board – photo courtesy of Henrique Poyatos

Building stuff is fun and rewarding. So why not build a literal building? I decided I wanted to make a game about building houses, with a comedic touch. I wanted players to build ridiculous mansions with over-the-top features like solid gold bathtubs and heliports.

I could envision this game with some cute cartoon illustrations of crazy home improvements on cards. It was a concept that got me excited.

Mechanic idea: Different types of workers

When I first started pondering Mansion Builder, I had been playing a lot of Keyflower. This is a game that features several different colors of meeples and uses them as a type of currency.

Keyflower meeples - Photo courtesy of Meoples Magazine
Keyflower meeples – Photo courtesy of Meoples Magazine

I started thinking that I could have different colored meeples in Mansion Builder, representing different worker skills. I could have tons of specialties like masons, electricians, carpenters, plumbers, drywall hangers, painters, landscapers, etc. I could instead have a few basic classes of workers: Regular, skilled, master. And then I could have various improvements that had costs of materials and also costs of labor, with the players bidding for all of these things.

I quickly realized, before I even got to the point of putting anything on paper, that this was way more complicated than I wanted Mansion Builder to be.

Mechanic idea: Pooled auction

In thinking about the varied workers idea, I started thinking about how players would get those workers, and I liked the idea of some sort of auction. Once I abandoned the variety of workers, I decided I wanted to focus on the auction mechanism.

Players would now bid on various improvements that were offered by contractors. This would be done in a pooled auction.

A pooled auction is a rather uncommon type of auction. Bidders all bid simultaneously. Each bidder pays however much he or she bid. The highest bidder gets first pick of the items that are for sale. The second highest bidder gets second pick, and so on. Everyone gets something, and the players are effectively bidding on choice order.

I was familiar with this type of auction from my days as an economist back in graduate school. As a matter of fact, my lone academic publication in economics was a paper I co-authored with one of my professors, Tim Salmon. He did most of the work, honestly; I mainly built and ran the experiment software that we used to put undergraduates through various auction games, while Tim did the theoretical work and the actual writing. If you’re looking for some heavy academic writing on the topic, you can find the paper here.

The main graph from my paper. Bidder behavior in pooled auctions is interesting.
The main graph from my paper. Bidder behavior in pooled auctions is interesting.

How it would work

Mansion Builder will proceed in a series of rounds. In each round, there are a number of improvement cards up for auction.

Players will bid in a pooled auction, with the winner getting first choice of the improvements, second place getting second choice, and so on.

Any improvement that is not selected is “sweetened” for the next round (probably putting money on it), and then new improvements are revealed.

At some point, players will be able to sell their improvements to various buyers who want various combinations of improvements. If you sell a buyer a house that has all of the improvements the buyer wants, you get bonus money.

The player with the most money at the end of the game would win.

Next steps

I’ve described the initial playtest version of Mansion Builder above, but I can tell you that there were some issues I had to deal with right away. How will the physical realities of the auction work? Is having the winner determined by money a problem? (Hint: Yes, it is.) How exactly do these buyer cards work?

I’ll leave those questions for the next entry in my Design Diary: Mansion Builder series.

And shameless plug time: My kid-friendly card game, Otters, is still on Kickstarter at this very moment. It’s fully funded, so you can get a copy if you want one! The campaign runs through February 27, 2014.

Michael Iachini

@ClayCrucible on Twitter