“Award Winning” Game Designer

Once, in a group of other game designers working to get our first designs signed by publishers (i.e.: unpublished designers), someone asked “what do you all call yourselves, since you’re not published? I’m struggling with what to call myself when people ask.”

Ever the smartass, I quipped “I think all of us who design games should go with ‘Game Designer’. But once I’m published, I’ll transition to ‘Published Game Designer’, and hopefully soon after to ‘Prolific Game Designer’ ;)”

In that vein, I’m excited to belatedly announce, with tongue firmly in cheek, that I’m officially an “Award Winning Game Designer”

A while back, Atlas Games ran a design contest for games that used their Letter Head deck. It’s a quite clever deck of alphabet cards, with a cryptographic (English) frequency distribution of letter counts of cards and their point values. The effect of this is that almost any 5- or 7- card hand is almost guaranteed to have an English word in it. It’s a pretty fun effect when dealing out test hands. So I did some brainstorming and threw my hat in the ring.

I came up with a little ditty about Shakespearean wordplay, which I called Draw! Beat Down Their Weapons! And it turns out the contest judges liked it! I was one of the winners, and D! BDTW! is included in the downloadable content for customers who have bought Letter Head decks!


You can read about the contest, Letter Head, and access the PDF with all the winning designs here!

Protospiel Ann Arbor 2017

Take out that Storm Generator at all costs!

Protospiel Ann Arbor, the testing event that launched a thousand other testing events, is an easy stop on the annual circuit for me, (though I sometimes end up missing the anniversary party for one of my favorite Colorado breweries 😟), since I can combine with a visit to my hometown and the fam.

I’ve written about it before (maybe thrice), and got in a great set of tests this year as well — I got Valour tested, got a not-yet-public project I’m working on with Josh Sprung beat to hell, and got my new card drafting/bluffing game Potemkin Empire to the table twice: the second test was a great opportunity to shore up some issues that presented strongly in the first test. Fixed a runaway leader problem, and doubled down on the parts of the game players said were the most fun.

It really feels like Valour is rounding a final corner; the game only overstayed it’s welcome by one single Gaul turn this time, and a two hour playtest (Yay! Hit my target duration!) prompted a full hour of discussion among the players. Felt really good.

Josh and I also got some good news about an externality we were waiting on for our not-yet-public project, which I’ll either be talking about soon, or continuing not to talk about… So cloak & dagger🕵🗡!

Now that we’re over a hundred words into this post, what I really wanted to discuss was the Protospiel “Karma” system, which, as you might imagine from a gathering of game designers, is a set of casual game mechanics governing how the event itself run. How meta!

The crux of the system (the primary resource, if you will…) is time; The economy of time is how it’s spent on your designs, and how your time is spent on others’ designs. Since that’s zero-sum on its own, there’s a little bit of give in the system, and it’s overall purpose is to prevent people from being total moochers, rather than landing in an exactly perfect balance by the end of the weekend.

An all-truthful build strategy in Potemkin Empire v2 is no match for a wildly imbalanced protection mechanic.

If you test a one hour, five player game first thing in the morning, (a total of five person-hours) you ought to sit in on other players’ games for the next five hours. Pretty rad system. And if you’re doing the math on  above and wondering how I possibly got all that in in a three-day event, and still came anywhere close to achieving a karmic balance, a secondary part of designer registration is that you can bring along free “tester” attendees — one day my dad came by to check it out, and play a few games, so his time in-game helps push the needle to balance out my scale.

It’s pretty cool, and seems quite equitable if everyone is honoring the rules. I’m working on gathering a critical mass of designers for a playtesting ring in Boulder, and if I get a group together, I’ll definitely be using a system like this to keep it fair.

Lots of games this weekend!

Big weekend for gaming! I hit the trifecta on Sunday: Worked on my game, Valour; tried out a new game; taught an old favorite.

Got all the components for Valour uploaded to The Game Crafter, so now I’m ready to start sending out blind test prototype copies to those far-flung fans who have been asking to give it a try! This week is also your last chance to get on the Valour mailing list if you want the February update!

Then, got a chance to try out A Study in Emerald (2ed), a Sherlock Holmes / Lovecraft crossover game (…I know, right???) which just came out with its second edition. The rules were dense, and there was a lot that may have been peripheral, but overall, it combined several modern game mechanics in a really elegant way. None of us at the table had ever played before, so I think the strategy began to dawn on everyone just as The Old Ones were cinching a victory, but I would absolutely play this one again. See my friend Dave’s review, which was based on this play session.

Afterward, I introduced a group of (mostly) new players to Battlestar Galactica — one of my perennial favorites. I love how well it captures the tension of the series: The paranoia about Cylons among the humans, and the continual panic while fending off attacking ships. I do tend to forget the rules for most of this, like space combat and details around warping the ship around, since it’s usually tabled so infrequently, AND because, in my opinion, all of that ‘stuff’ in this is merely backdrop for the real game: sowing mistrust among the humans, and throwing Cylons out the airlock. I knew my feeble poker skills left me out of my league with this crowd after the following exchange (which I know won’t make sense if you haven’t played… but count that as one more reason to try it):

Nick: “You’re card-counting the Destiny Deck, aren’t you?”
Megan: “Of course I am.”
Nick: “HOW??”

Cylons ended up winning by a hair, but only because an ‘outed’ Cylon served up a crisis card to the still-hidden Cylon who was able to use it to drain the final Population from the Human fleet 😐 Good stuff!

I’m working on a slightly larger post where I’m going to put a stake in the ground around some game design concepts, but it’s going to require a little more research than most of my posts based on experiential learnings. So count this week as a multi-game “review” week 🙂

A Study in Emerald: Worth a try if you can get your hands on a copy, but I’d recommend playing with others who have all either never played, or are all experienced. N00bs would get worked by even second-time players.

Battlestar Galactica: Why haven’t you played this yet?? If you’re in Boulder and want to give this a go, hit me up and we’ll try and get it tabled 🙂

Valour’s “Divine Mandate”


Dumnorix’s successor as chieftain of the Aedui is a playable character in Valour!

Last night, I headed to Denver to see one of my favorite bands live — Eluveitie. Their “Folk Metal” brings elements from Celtic tradition into the metal genre; for real: There’s a woman in the band who can simultaneously play the hurdy-gurdy and headbang. No joke.

One of their most popular albums, Helvetios, was my soundtrack when training for the Highland Games (both times), but most importantly for this post, working on Valour. Embarrassingly, it took a number of episodes of Eluveitie-fueled late-night hacking through Valour rules and/or Creative Suite documents of boards and cards to realize that the album is actually also a retelling of the Gallic War, just like Valour.

The album’s track list includes so many of the same references as Valour that I’m clearly an idiot for not picking up on it sooner: Helvetios, Alesia, Uxellodunon…! But once I realized this, it definitely became official. Any time I go heads-down to push through to a milestone, this is what I put on.

I don’t go to many concerts, but when Songkick told me these guys were coming to town, I bought tickets that minute, from my phone, at the bar at Root Down in the Denver airport. While the show would have been a sick way to get pumped for this year’s Highland Games, the timing actually ended up being perfect.

Sometimes a concert gets you right in the feelers in a way that seems cheesy to relate in retrospect; but that’s exactly what happened to me last night. I attended the show with a hardcore ‘fuck it’ attitude, as part of a recent attempt at slaying my mammoth. After forty-five minutes in the mosh pit (in a kilt), I was sufficiently out of my comfort zone to start thinking about the deeper questions about life and all that shit.

Eluveitie’s false-finale is a song called Alesia, an alternately brutal and wistful retelling of The Battle of Alesia, fabled turning point of the Gallic war, when Gaul’s defeat became inevitable. In my shields-down state, the sadness and loss in this song really got to me. I spaced out through the encore, and left the show trying desperately to hold on to the feelings that hearing Alesia live had invoked, in the face of driving all the way home, and sleeping in so I wouldn’t pass out at work today. I had something important to remember.

My conclusion was this: the world needs Valour to ship. The profound sense of loss expressed by Eluveitie, and the historic indignation of Terry Jones can’t be expressed in enough different media, to enough varied audiences. No matter what setbacks or obstacles: This must happen.

ps: I’d be incredibly pumped if the band were to see this post, or hear about the board game. If you could share this, or the tweet I sent during the show, that would be so cool :D.

Featured on BLDRPPL

BLDRPPL_squareRecently my friend Sean Helvey asked me to participate in his upstart podcasting project, BLDRPPL. While he iterates on the exact format, his consistent overarching theme is is “people you admire in Boulder”.

As he and I were discussing the episode I would be on, he asked me to invite someone who fit that criteria. After some deliberation, I decided the person I ought to bring with me was Jared Kohlmann. Jared owns an incredible camera-equipment rental company called Pro Photo Rental, and participated in the GoRuck Challenge with me. All around incredible dude.

We met at the Rapt Media office, and I blabbed at the mic, while everyone else tried to get a word in edgewise. Jared had some incredible insights on life, business, and pushing yourself.

I mentioned BLDRPPL on my podcast rundown two weeks ago, and it’s definitely one I’d recommend going back and starting at the beginning when you jump in (there are only a few episodes yet, so that’s a pretty easy lift… for now).

Go check out my episode, then subscribe and start working on the backlog! Worth your time!

Thanks Sean & Briana for having me on, and thanks for joining, Jared!

What if You Took a Week Off Every 7th Week? by seanwes

I recently added the seanwes podcast to my weekly lineup, and it doesn’t disappoint. (Least of all in the theme music category). I first discovered him when I went looking for a lettering class to gift Andrea for Christmas last year. (The course wasn’t ready at the time… so that didn’t work out, but I’m glad I’m on his mailing list now).

One recent post/email/episode struck a chord with me, and I’ve been giving it more and more thought since it came out. Take a read, I’ll wait:

What if You Took a Week Off Every 7th Week? by seanwes.

Pretty interesting idea, right? I found it quite compelling. Unfortunately, even with our Startup “No policy” Vacation policy at Rapt, I don’t think I can swing it at the moment. Definitely something I’ll be exploring in the future the next time I’m fully in charge of my own schedule.

My Podcast Playlist

After a nudge from Andrea, I jumped into Podcasts with both feet. I listen to them at 1.5x speed, so even my brief commute gives ample time to cover quite a bit of ground each week. Here’s a quick rundown on my Podcasts list and why I listen to each:

  1. NPR 7am ET News Summary ~5 minutes long daily, and keeps me more up to speed on: Ukraine/Russia, ISIS, Ferguson, etc. than if I spent lots of time reading news.
  2. NPR Topics: Story of the day Totally eclectic selection of topics, which is great for experiencing things outside my culture bubble.
  3. Freakonomics Taking a critical look at incentive structures in every day life, host Stephen Dubner puts many experiences in a new light.
  4. NPR: Planet Money Really genius reporting on all sorts of financial quirks of the modern day, along with analysis of how we got here. I wish I’d started listening in time to get a squirrel t-shirt.
  5. Radiolab Eclectic audio production and a tabula rasa approach to investigation from hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich make this make this a really unique gem.
  6. You Need a Budget (YNAB) It’s no secret that I love YNAB. YNAB CEO and podcast host Jesse Mecham provides periodic nuggets for staying the course.
  7. Science Friday Great recap of the scientific advances from the previous week. Its like IFLS before there was IFLS.
  8. The Moth Personal stories told live on stage with no notes. Great glimpse into the lives and experiences of others.
  9. This American Life The radio classic, without the FCC putting the lockdown on swearing.
  10. The Skinner Co. Network JRD Skinner’s flash fiction, in a cleverly cohesive universe. There’s more, but you’re going to have to listen and follow along to experience it.
  11. BLDRPPL Sean Helvey and Briana May’s freshman podcasting effort takes a tour of the unique Boulder scene. While you’re catching up on back episodes, keep a listen out for the episode I’m featured in!
  12. StarTalk Radio Neil deGrasse Tyson might be one of the most important scientists alive today, a spiritual successor to Carl Sagan as mass-market educator. This podcast is a mix of interviews with celebrities who are also nerds and socratic-style answering of questions culled from the internet.
  13. The Human Business Way (transitioned to:) The Owner’s Mind with Chris Brogan One of podcasting’s pioneers interviews business leaders and people with great insights.
  14. NPR: TED Radio Hour There have been so many great TED and TEDx talks, it’s almost impossible to keep up with them all. On the radio hour, they combine interviews with speakers with clips from their talks.
  15. Savage Lovecast Dan Savage has been running an advice column in Seattle’s “The Stranger” for years, and offers a really great, progressive view of relationship advice and
  16. seanwes Hand letterer-turned-passion entrepreneur Sean McCabe brings insightful advice on freelancing, brand-building, and delivering value twice a week. Not sure how he does it.
  17. Board Game University Famed board game reviewer Tom Vasal interviews board game designers about their successes and failures in the board gaming industry, and asks each to dispense “one piece of advice for an aspiring designer”. Great info as I work on Valour.
  18. StartUp Alex Blumberg, the creative force behind Planet Money and This American Life has set out on his own, and is recording all the details of starting a business that us startup junkies take for granted, but is really refreshing to hear about from the outside.
  19. The Paleo Solution — Robb Wolf No bullshit discussions of nutrition, fitness, and everything in between.
  20. Serial A spinoff of This American Life, host Sarah Koenig is dedicating an entire season to uncovering details of a crime committed in 1999 that has lots of unanswered questions.
  21. Swedish Survival Phrases Fun crash course in basic Swedish as I gear up for a 2015 trip to Sweden.
  22. Manager Tools Basics Super cheesy title, but great info if you’re taking on your first management role.

I’ve only gone back and ‘caught up’ on past episodes of some of these (Freakonomics, YNAB), and a few I jumped in right as they were getting kicked off (Serial, StartUp, BLDRPPL).

Hopefully you discover something new and interesting to you! If you have a favorite you think I should be listening to as well, post to comments!

Asana Instagantt Chrome Plugin

Asana Instagantt Chrome Plugin in action!I’ve been using Asana for a while to manage my personal to-do list, as well as projects for Flightless.co, and I’m really liking it. I have a few gripes, but that’s probably better covered in another post.

Recently, I tried out the Instagantt<->Asana  integration, and it’s really awesome. In fact, it actually remedies one of my complaints with Asana for timeline management. After playing around, however, my laziness got the best of me, and I was annoyed that I had to open Instagantt separately (#FirstWorldProblems, amirite?).

I decided Asana needed a link to open Instagantt directly from the Tasks dashboard, so I wrote an Asana Instagantt Chrome plugin that would inject one 🙂

It’s really simple, but gets the job done. It also shows some basics (and one or two not-so-basics) of Chrome Plugin building, if you’ve been thinking about writing one yourself. Take a look at the code on Github.

Update: “Open Instagantt from Asana” is now available in the Chrome Webstore!

The Book List

An old friend recently asked for a reading list reco after I made an offhanded reference to Bacigalupi’s Wind Up Girl. Here’s my top 5, a combination of perennial favorites and some new hotness, presented in no particular order:

* Wool —Hugh Howey
* Anathem — Neal Stephenson
* The Windup Girl — Paolo Bacigalupi
* Cryptonomicon — Neal Stephenson
* The Forever War — Joe Haldeman

And I have to include this, because I love the premise, setting, characters, and storyline, but it didn’t make the list because my memory of it is a little tarnished when (in my opinion) the ending falls a little flat:

* The Difference Engine — Bruce Sterling and William Gibson

I guess these all have a sci-fi flavor to them in one way or another. Maybe I’ll do another Book List for other genres.