Thursday, August 22, 2013

Game Design Kit

German boardgames are naturally a favorite gift I’ve enjoyed giving to friends and family back in the United States. In addition to that, I used to design an original boardgame for my two nieces as a Christmas present every year.  It’s not easy to shop for them when we live an ocean away from each other, and this was a way I could give them something personal. I also did try to theme many of the games around activities they enjoyed.

When my designs began to get published, I gave them those as gifts. Now that they are older—and very creative—I thought I would instead give them the materials to be game designers themselves.

A year and one-half ago I sent them a “game design kit” with materials ordered from Spielmaterial.  They included a blank game box, a deck of blank cards, a blank fold-out game board, a 6-color die, one large pawn, 6 normal dice in 6 colors, and large and small wooden discs and “meeples” (human-shaped figures) in 6 colors.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Two New Games, Freshly Squeezed and Uncovered

Two new games that I've been working on for many years in various versions are finally being offered to the public.

Citrus has been announced as an October Essen release from dlp-games.  It was a pleasure to develop the game further with designer/publisher Reiner Stockhausen, and I'm excited to finally have one of my games illustration by Klemens Franz, who I met for the first time in Essen.  In fact, I showed the prototype to him there, and I owe it to him for recommending it to Reiner.

Artifact, which made it to the final round of 6 in the 2009 Hippodice Competition, will also debut in October in Essen, this time from White Goblin Games. This game has also had a long development time and was my first collaboration with friend Bernd Eisenstein.

Unfortunately, I won't be attending Essen as I'm spending the year with my family in North Carolina. But I'll be there "in spirit" with the release of Citrus and Artifact! The stories behind the development will be posted on BoardgamegeekNews in the next weeks as well as here on this blog.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

"New" is the new "Nieuw"

Nieuw Amsterdam, my game released through Dutch publisher White Goblin Games last year, has now been picked up by a North American publisher.  Pandasaurus Games in the U.S. has put the game on crowdsourcing site Kickstarter which is the first time any of my games have been funded in this way. It is now over 400% funded with 12 days still to go, and that's without any huge benefits or stretch goals.  It's encouraging to see that the game's reputation speaks for itself, without any major gimmicks and extras. 

The biggest change is in the spelling of the game, with the Dutch "Nieuw" being replaced by the English "New."  Despite having a Dutch publisher for the original game, I was actually the one who insisted on using the original spelling of the colony, mainly because I liked the historical significance and thought that it would help the game stand out in Essen among hobbyists, where Latin names like Agricola and Alea Iacta Est are commonplace. I'm not at all bothered by the name change for the North American market, however, and am excited that the game will now have a wider distribution. If you are interested in the game, there are still 12 days left to pledge!  You can see my explanation of the game at Essen on BoardGameGeek.

104 Games to Play...from my Collection

On the Opinionated Gamers website, we came up with the idea of creating "bucket list" for gaming hobbyists, recommending games to try at least once in their lives.
As I wrote earlier, however, I also have a list of games I'm trying to get though, namely those that I have collected during my euphoric "first years in the hobby" when everything was new and--thanks to Berlin flea markets and department store clearance sales--relatively inexpensive.

Since that time, however, I've come to the realization that too big of a game collection is a bit overwhelming for me (not to mention my wife and children), and I have been intentionally and methodically trying out unplayed games, trading or giving away many of them afterwards.  I've also gotten rid of a few after reading the rules, deciding ahead of time that I'd rather try something else.
I wrote about my first attempts a year ago, and following is an update on which games I've enjoyed and kept, which ones I was ready to part with, and a list of the final 104 games that remain unplayed.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

POSTCARD FROM BERLIN #60: Game Design for Grade School

It's been and family have taken priority, and game design has taken up any free moments I've had apart from those.  But after teaching a classroom of 4th-6th graders about game design for a whole week, I found myself writing notes about my experience, and it soon turned into an article.  You can read my latest Postcard From Berlin on the Opinionated Gamers website.  Perhaps you'll have the opportunity to teach game design to children too!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Beautiful Dilemma

One of the main goals of game design is to present the players with dilemmas. Without them, player decisions--if there are any--will seem too obvious, and the game will lack tension.

I actually consider games without dilemmas to be more like spectator sports. Some people are perfectly content to be spectators in a game. They play Candyland or LCR just because they like to watch how things will turn out. To them, playing a game is just another alternative to watching a football game on TV. They do not have any influence on the outcome, but they are drawn in by the action. And they would rather "veg out" than be burdened by tough decisions.

I, however, am not content to be a spectator when I play games. I need to be drawn in by the interactions with the game system and the other players. A game engages its players by providing interesting decisions, in which there are no obviously correct paths to take.

"You can't always get what you want..." - Mick Jagger

The best game experience I can have is when its mechanics present me with several good options every turn. And then it hits me with a beautiful dilemma:

Each turn, I can always do something good, but I cannot do everything that I want to now.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Designing for Competitions

Advantages of Entering Competitions

Game design competitions can be helpful in many ways, especially for the hobby designer (i.e. one that does not work for a publisher or does not depend on game design income).

First, it usually provides clear boundaries as to game materials and other factors, such as target group and even theme.  These outside limits help a designer immediately focus.  I've written before about the need of self-imposed limits, when one is designing on spec rather than on a contract basis.  A competition usually has many of these limits built-in.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Tossing the Point Salad

"Welcome to the show where everything's made up and the points don't matter," Drew Carey was famous for saying at the introduction of the hit improv comedy series, Who's Line is it, Anyway? Lately, I've thought that this same phrase could apply to the that niche-within-a-niche in the boardgame market: complex Eurogames. Afterall, the exotic themes often have much less to do with the mechanics than simply to add a little color to the graphic presentation, and the points...well, there's so many of them to be had, that I can often hear Carey's voice in the back of my head each turn, exclaiming with a smile, "A thousand points for everyone!"

In the comment section of a review of prolific game designer Stefan Feld's newest gamer's game, Bora Bora, Ben McJunkin of the Opioniated Gamers used the term "Point Salad" to describe what has become a popular scoring mechanism in these complex games:

Thursday, March 14, 2013


I wrote in an earlier post on why I design games, but recently I took a moment to think about what motivates me to work on a particular design over another one.  It’s true that most designers are never short of game ideas.  I have computer files and 3-ring binders full of them, but since my job (not as a game designer) and family take priority, I only have a limited amount of free time to work on them.  So how do I decide which one to develop further?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Should Game Designers Play Other Designers’ Games?

Because our weekly playtesting group at the Spielwiese is open to anyone to participate, either as a playtester or designer, we see all kinds of prototypes.  Some new designers bring fresh and innovative ideas that challenge and inspire our core group.  More often than not, however, the “new” designs are only slight variations of games that already exist.  And more often than not, the designers have no idea that their “inventions” have existed for some time.

My advice to every one of them: ''Play other people’s games.  Lots of them.  Look at the shelves around us piled high with over a thousand games of every kind, and tell me how many of these you have played.  And if you do not have regular gaming groups to try out many of them, read about them online or watch video reviews in order to get an idea of what has already been done."

Most game designers I know have the same approach. There is one very prominent designer, however, who disagrees.