Category: Meta

Nevermind the Dust

If you’ve not noticed, there’s been some changes around here. Minor stuff, just keeping on top of things like giving the blog compression, fixing up its themes. There’s more stuff in the pipeline, but here’s the quick stuff:

  • Blogging More Often – I’ve been trying to make sure I blog daily about something of some size or substance. There are some more whimsical mid-pieces, but mostly, I want this to be a consistant source of interest
  • Blogging More Prettily – Look at all those pictures! I’ve been trying to get in the habit of including visuals in my work more now.
  • Blogging On Suggestions – I want to write about things you want to hear about. This is in part because I like the challenge but also because I like the idea of you getting something to read that interests and intrigues you
  • Blogging Tools – There’s a bunch of stuff behind the scenes here that I’ve just never considered trying out, and it means that the blogs I’ve been doing in the past have been trying to solve problems in really ugly ways. Now we get things like decklist and card popups and good integration of video and whatnot.
  • Blogging About Academia – I did a degree in this stuff, and I’m looking to do a PhD in it – why exactly wouldn’t I want to share what I’ve learned? One of the problems Academia even has is we’re bad at explaining things to people who didn’t do the same courses. This seems a good practice.
  • Blogging Better – I don’t know if you knew this but the old category system I was using was kind of like not using a system at all. Now I’ve gone back, taken all the uncategorised posts and put them in appropriate categories; there’s more proper use of the meta category to be about posting on the blog itself, and the new space Media to talk a bit more about, well, media.

So that’s the basics. Hope you’ve been appreciating the #content so far!

Amerimanga Covers

There’s a super specific genre of shitpost I do on twitter that I can only really describe as deeply sarcastic fake Amerimanga cover art. I’ve done enough of them now that I sort of feel I should archive some of them in one spot. Here’s a fold! Continue reading

About Talen

Hi folks! I’m Talen Lee, an Australian game designer, and this is my Blog! Chances are you’re looking to contact me, so real quick, you can @ me:

  • Via Email: talen[at]
  • Via Twitter

I use this avatar on online spaces when I can, and I look a bit more like Generic Male Caucasian Nerd Model Number Three (Ponytail Potato).

I make stuff. That’s a super nebulous thing to say, isn’t it, especially these days? Let’s explain a little:

I make games!  I make card and board games as part of Invincible Ink, a small independent game development group that’s interested in making games that respect your intelligence, respect your time, and respect your space.

I write about games! I blog here reviews of games, or talk about game lore and things that games do that mean something to me. I look at and consider games both as critical pieces, and as consumer products, with a deliberate effort to avoid the 7/10 ranking problem, and instead look at what makes games good for you.

I write about making games! I’ve taught University classes on making games, and have a whole host of thoughts about how that’s a good thing in general. I talk about how to make things, and I believe in your ability to make them, too!

I write fiction! I’ve written a bunch of books, at least one of which is good enough that I’m willing to let you pay me for it! It’s about teen assassins murdering the heck out of some terrible people, in a wealthy city at the heart of a great empire!

I write about lots of things, too! I talk about voting systems, about books and movies, and about my academic research into games and fandom and why we can take that stuff seriously. I’m even branching into doing this sort of thing on Youtube, or solo podcasting!

I design shirts! I do graphic designs, which are often byproducts of other designs for card games! If you’re looking for a sort of super specific joke, I may have put it on a shirt where you can go buy it!

I make robots! Twitter robots that do silly things combining text! I try to keep my robots all tidy on this one list so you can check them out there.

I podcast! I’m part of the Downloadable Concept podcast, with more on the way.

I tweet a lot! And I mean a lot! I tumbl, too, if you’d rather read my blog posts there!

If you’re super curious, I have an old legacy website with a bunch of art I did when I was … wow, like, nineteen? Holy heck. Anyway, you can check it out here, if that’s your thing.


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2016’s Lessons Of Gaming #26: 251-260+

251. Recognise What Computers Can Do, And You Can’t

No, you can’t just fucking translate Hearthstone to physical cards and no it’s not a good idea to fucking try, oh my god. Hearthstone is a videogame that borrows mechanical concept space from physical cards but it’s SO bad an idea to try and duplicate physically. Look at the WoW CCG for how awkward things are like ‘using counters to track damage every turn for every card’

252. Mashup Pitching

Considering odd stories as inspiration yields exciting pitches: SMOKY AND THE BANDIT is a HIDDEN MOVEMENT ASYMMETRICAL RACE GAME.

253. Look Into Fonts More

Fonts: Tall, straight, narrow fonts look really swank they are also dyslexia-hostile. Basically if your font makes d and b and p and q look just like one another rotated, it’s harder for dyslexic people to read. Sadly, one of the best, most available fonts for fixing this problem is Comic Sans

254. Avoid Comic Sans

Never use comic sans.

Even as a fucking joke.

Comic sans will get you whined at endlessly by font nerds and let me tell you that is a whine that punches through all antiwhine measures.

255. Shuffling Vs Bottoming (Stop Giggling)

Do you expect a player to go through their entire deck in your game? Consider ‘shuffle in’ vs ‘put to the bottom’ in that context.

256. Trust Artists And Pay Them

As an Indie, don’t haggle with artists. Odds are close to 100% they’re undervaluing themselves. if you are a multinational company with lots of money to spend on gaming, well, Mr AEG, pay artists more.

257. Oral Rules Vs Written Rules

MOST of the people who play your game will not learn it from the RULES, but from a player who DID. So your rules are usually going to be, as it were, a photocopy of an explanation. What makes this harder to deal with is that you can’t rely on a verbal explanation! You need to design your rules that anyone can pick them up, and that they can then communicate them to players in short, explanatory sentences. Designing good rules is REALLY hard, and worth practicing.

258. Unbearable Silence

Games that require silence/an absence of communication have to be very engaging throughout the whole silent period. Also it kinda breaks the learning process of the game if players know they can’t talk at all, so cooperative silence beats competitive

259. Don’t Add Clutter

Players will have tokens, dice, and coins if you’re pitching at an Established Gamer style. Adding them can be just adding clutter. I learned this year that players have a super weird grossout reaction to using and handling real-currency coins I have no idea why. It’s a shame, because using pennies as game counters seems an actual valid use for the damn things.

260. Holy Hell How Long Is This?

Jesus christ, you people. Anyway, mode switching works best if the two modes have an easily understood difference. Like the Runepriest in D&D 4ed? Is basically ‘Switch between A and B’ but if you’re, say, a werewolf shifting between wolf and hunk? Or even like, a penguin, turning around from white-face to black-back would be good. The metaphor conveys the mechanism.

260.5. Bonus: Hey, Remember Tits The Girl?

It applies with aliens as well, and with whole class structures in games about combat or building character types. So, here’s the obvious, simple thing: Don’t gender classes, don’t race-link classes, and work on sexual dimorphism in your alien races.

2016’s Lessons Of Gaming #25: 241-250

241. Hotline Why Am I

There aren’t enough Sunset Noir games. It’s the aesthetic you can see in games like Hotline Miami and Drive and I really dig it. Consider if you like that flavour of vile neon and summer haze, see what you can do in that.

242. Encourage People, Seek Things That Encourage You

Being encouraged is, to me, super important. I would often float ideas to people, see people express disinterest or dislike, and bail. I’m lucky, I seem to have a kajillion bad ideas I can sift through and refine, but finding people who will try shit out is super important. So, be nice to the people who are helping you, just as a general rule. Playtesters, artists, other developers you share ideas with

243. Err On High Contrast

Bright colours, clear contrasts. Printed material doesn’t look the same as stuff on a screen, so go vibrant. Muddy is bad.

244. Take Notes!


I’ve noticed an explosion in my notebooks and I’m seriously considering starting Bullet Journaling just to get into good habits of tracking information and building up a library of notes I can reference later.

245. And Then Double-Check Those Notes

Revisit notebooks a few months later. You’ll find your old ideas were a bit bad but now you have new tools to approach them.

246. Freeing From The Marble

A big part of new game design is finding the Shit That Doesn’t Work and carving space away from it. Negative design space as it were. If you’re Mark Rosewater and you have a team and a company backing you, this stops being true. But I’m talking about respecting your limits.

247. Learning How To Make Structure

Daniel Solis provides a really excellent video on designing card faces here:


Right now you get a lot of mileage out of ‘GAME, but with CTHULHU. ‘ Do this, but with other pulp stuff.




248.5. Pro Twitter Bonus Tip

Twitter will almost always get you at least a pity like for LESBIAN BIKER GANGS

249. Remember People Need To Carry Your Game!

Think of storage solutions. The LCG ‘one big box you can put expansions in’ is optimistic but kinda asshole to do up front.

250. Crowded Spaces

There are SO MANY 18XX games out right now that branding a new one has a serious problem of not duplicating another game’s year. Some clever dick went to UR 1830 BC, but that is a deep-sunk well and there’s a lot of Expectations. No 18XX game I know of, as yet, has a mechanic for clearing out the corpses of the Chinese slaves you used to build the railroads

2016’s Lessons Of Gaming #24: 231-240

231. Reward The Collector Instinct

Players like collecting sets of things. Even if the mechanical incentive to do so isn’t really there. It’ll happen.

232. Reward Player Impulses

Following 231, trying to fight how players generally behave is a losing battle. If players keep playing it wrong, try changing rules. This is one of Maro’s favourite points and he has the Time Spiral anecdote to back it up — efforts to make Suspend cards obviously unusable after casting confused players, so they just went ‘heck with it.’

233. Slim Rules, Strong Theme

The more pages your rulebook has, the more of an arduous task it is to learn. The BIGGER your rulebook is, the more difficult it seems. The Botch’s rulebook is a little a6 wee thing and it’s still pretty big.

234. Structuring Rule Writing

Three phrases to recoil from in writing your rules:

  • “Unless”
  • “In this case”
  • “Except if”

They’re sometimes necessary, BUT: If a player’s first impression, or first summary, is ‘I have to do subclause cf2 subreferences’ it’s a real bad look and puts people off. Try to structure your rules to avoid this kind of thing – introduce the broadest rule, then when things are established, then add the exceptions.

235. Start From Victory

Write your rulebook backwards. Start with how people win, and work backwards until you’re at setup.

236. Double Check Your Start

Pursuant 235, once you do that, leave it alone, come back to it, and see if that worked.

237. Evoke The Feel

Players’ first impression of your game should not be how tight the rules are or whatever, but ‘what this game lets me feel like.’ Relatedly, be super careful of describing your own game as ‘exciting’ or ‘hilarious’ on first parse. See if other people say that. This may be my low self esteem talking, mind you, I’m very shy of calling my own work ‘good’ thanks to my upbringing. You may differ.

238. Hard Is Fine

It’s totally fine to make a game nobody wins, often. Just understand the more unsatisfying play-throughs are, the less likely iteration. So if you want to kill all the players semi-randomly, make setting up again fast, make the play experience fast.

239. Let Me Outta Here!

A bailing mechanic is useful. Sometimes a player will just want to Burn Everything Down and get out. You can make that a mechanic. Consider zombie games where each player who dies becomes part of the opposition to speed up the end.

240. Inadequate Communication

Games like Mysterium thrive on limiting player communication then TRYING to communicate with a shitty method. This is a lot like Pass-The-Parcel wearing mittens, but it’s a good idea! Players individualise each game, just like charades.

2016’s Lessons Of Gaming #23: 221-230

221. Critical Spread

I watch a lot of review videos, and not just of games. Critique and commentary about other media forms is jammed with useful insights. Look at movie reviews that talk about cinematography.

222. Number Types

Prime Numbers don’t neatly fit into each other. If units move in prime values it can reduce collisions. Of course, you might want collisions.

223. Vanilla Matters

With some types of games, you need a mix of ‘boring and easily understood’ components and ‘interesting, spicy components.’ Magic: The Gathering is full of critters that don’t have abilities because they make up that ‘boring and easily understood group.’

There’s always an urge to make Everything Exciting. Resist it. You might be loading your players up with Too Much To Remember.

224. Dead Player Walking

In games with open information it’s sometimes possible players might have won or lost and it’s obvious to YOU, but not THEM. This is, again, part of player load. If no player notices a win state, you might have made that too complicated to grasp.

225. Use The Inhuman

Inhuman actors don’t have to have human expressions which can make them easier/more inherently funny/more threatening. A game about controlling a skeleton vs a game about controlling a bear, for example

226. Simple Structure Doesn’t Force Simple System

Your turns don’t need to be complex structurally to be full of interesting decisions. In The Botch, on your turn, you have 3 options: An Action, A Swap, or a Look. Turns are STILL super difficult to pick through. Dominion has three actions by default – Action, Buy, Cleanup. It’s still super complicated.


it’s 100% okay if a playtester doesn’t like your game. If only one playtester likes your game. If only you like your game. Remember, this is Print On Demand. If anywhere can handle a game for Me And The Five People Like Me, this place can

228. Easter Egg Jokes

If the jokes are unobtrusive and you don’t NEED to get them, you plant rewards for players who DO get them.

229. Recover, Not Reset

Recovery mechanics are good but reset mechanics are the WORST version of recovery. The worst example of this is from one of the worst games I’ve ever seen, OneUpManShip, which players can reset at will.

230. The Incongruous Stealth

Stealth conventionally is a mechanic for circumventing challenges. This presents a problem in team spaces: D&D has really bad stealth because one player avoiding a fight just means they miss out on 40-120 minutes of The Other Players’ Fun. Not just rewards, but just the sheer TIME involved.

2016’s Lessons Of Gaming #22: 211-220

211. Cheap Experiences Easily Obtained

Pursuant to 210, this is a big boon of digital distribution. If your game is a booklet/printable game, single-shot play is palatable.

212. Remember Players Default

If you break a big, common rule from your genre, you need to reinforce it or players will default to the ‘normal’ way. Like, how many of you learned to play Monopoly without auctions or with free parking?

213. Being Inclusive

Inclusivity is easier than you think. Consider this example, showing a cis character vs that same character if she was trans:

You don’t need to be an expert in gender studies to simply not cut off areas where players can feel connected.

214. Give Up On What Doesn’t Work

Be willing to iterate. Bad looks will give way to better looks if you’re willing to make big shifts:

215. Advertising Is Hard

I made ads, and how-to-play videos, which did not do a good job of advertising my work.

The main thing I heard from people I asked is they wanted to see LET’S PLAY videos, which I can’t make. Yet.

216. Disparate Identity

You can get good results drawing together different pieces.

217. Single Cards’ Values

You can also use a single card to track a small score for a game that you want to iterate a BIT.

218. Double Check Your Game Name

Google your game name! Say it aloud! Say it to people! And change it if it sounds awful! Don’t be stuck with a bad name! And if you think it’s a great name really double check it because you don’t want to be attached to something that sucks layer!

219. Concept Anatomy

I made a bunch of these to try and explain sets of things. They’re good exercises and get you into the aesthetic techniques.

220. Your Work Reflects You, And

The people you love inform the things you make.

I would not have thought of ‘Javert x Major Kusanagi,’ or ‘enby coder dealing with health insurance’ or ‘vocaloid emergent AI’ on my own.


2016’s Lessons Of Gaming #21: 201-210

201. Remember Advice Comes From Sources

This is my advice, and what I’ve learned. It doesn’t necessarily apply to you. I’m sure you can find people who disagree. Particularly, the rules don’t seem to apply to Vlaada Cvhatil or Reiner Knizier, who are. . . productive monsters

202. Expanding Classics

A lot of good games use the basis of ‘classic’ card games and then add ‘not boring’. Blackjack is a push-your-luck, skull is poker; Pyramid is a kind of resource allocation, solitaire a kind of area control. You can build out on these. Heck, you can build a lot – look at how Samurai Spirits is basically an upgraded version of Blackjack.

203. Let’s Not, With The Genocide

When you make games about two warring forces, try not to make one of them a side that genocides things or people. Like it’s just not a good look.

204. Each Enemy Is A Puzzle

When you make monsters for games, are they boring as soon as you know how they work? Then you’ve probably made a nilbog. Nilbogs, from original D&D were goblins, backwards, and you had to heal them to kill them. They were frustrating and irritating, BUT as soon as you knew the trick to how they worked, they were boring, and just had to be picked out like rabbit turds in coco puffs

205. Trust Designers

Assume well of designers when you’re analysing their games. Assume they chose to do things rather than did things ‘cos they’re stupid. Not to say they can’t make mistakes or stupid things, but if you assume they had a reason it can be easier to explain things

206. Reference Pool

People will use other games as a reference point and that’s okay. So, it’s a bit like Netrunner,

207. I Believe In You

I encourage you like this because I am pretty confident you DON’T have creative infrastructure around you, don’t have good habits yet. I will hold out ‘Do Not over-scope’ and ‘make small things to start with’ as good principles, but odds are good, you’ll ignore it. But it’s important to me that you at least understand there’s something coming, there’s a future you can reach for where you Make Things If You Want To.

208. The Weird Copyright Of Emoji

EMOJI ARE THE WILD GODDAMN WEST. They exist somewhere between art and font and their usability is really uncertain. You can put them in your game, sure, but if you want to give payment/attribution to the creator. . . good luck finding them? This is not true of Unicode, which is usually included in your font or public domain. Unicode has lots of nice, useful symbols to it. This falls under ‘don’t reinvent the wheel:’ All the classical card symbols, a number of arrows and some expression are in unicode

209. Test Your Funny

You’re not as funny as you think you are just because your friends find you funny. Don’t push it in your rulebooks. Rules are hard to write, comedy is hard to write. Be damn careful about trying to do both at once.

210. Disposable Experiences Are Okay

A game doesn’t HAVE to be repeatable. Some games, like mysteries or horror, work best if you can only play them ‘once’ cleanly.

2016’s Lessons Of Gaming #20: 191-200

191. Scope! Scope Scope Scope!

Fuckin’ don’t make your first project like “Mage Knight But Dark Souls With a TCG.” Make your first project the _smallest possible thing you can_. You don’t need an epic world. You don’t need booster expansions. Start making a small thing and you will learn from that to make a slightly less-small thing. You can’t just JUMP into the sky and figure you’ll fly.

192. Crossplatform Cards

You can learn good things trying to translate videogames to board games just, like, please stop translating the boring shit.

193. Idea: Transforming Robots

A robot built out of cards that you flip over to transform into a different mode, but also, Cards that socket into other cards.

194. Doing Your Math

Players don’t need to know the math YOU did, they need to know the math THEY have to DO. Your back work can be ugly as sin and hard as diamonds and it’s OKAY if you never ask players to multiply prime numbers or some nonsense. (Unless your game is LITERALLY about doing crypto in which case. . . fascinating, and well done and I’m curious?)

195. Reasons For Players

Games almost always benefit from players having a reason to LIE, a reason to WANT, and a reason to COOPERATE. All at once. Funnily enough this is why you have lots of games about crime and politics (which is crime with a suit). Players wondering ‘are you lying’ is so much more handleable a problem than players asking ‘is anyone lying at all’

196. Box Air Has Some Purpose

Tight inlays and packed boxes can look nice but it makes packing the game up more annoying. Be mindful of that interaction. I know I harp on how boxes being too empty is a problem but there’s some value for flexibility.

197. The Continued Continued Adventures of Tits The Girl

If you have a variety of women in your character lineup, check if they’re all The Conventionally Hot One. Blizzard had this problem with Overwatch, where until Zarya showed up, everyone was just a very clear, typical example of Curvy Femme.

198. Relax The Stressors

Redirecting the focus point of an existing game can transform it. Mafia De Cuba is Werewolf If You Could Just Take Shit Easy.

199. Hidden Role Games

Werewolf-style hidden role games are fun and pack a lot into a small space right now but reviewers seem to be Very Fucking Sick Of Them. I say that even though I’m in the middle of making one of them.

200. Sharing And Listening

jesus christ,, 200? Really? Fuck me. ANYWAY, you can’t have all the good ideas yourself. It’s worth your time to share ideas and listen.

You can’t exclusively own mechanics. Copyright can’t apply to ‘methods of keeping books. ‘ Sharing and learning from other games is okay.