Category: Meta

June 2018 Wrapup

What happened in June? Lots of things!

First up, June’s blog posts! I had a lot I was really proud of here. First of all, in the academic blogging, I wrote about how autoethnography is important to help erase base assumptions about the perfection of objectivity. I wrote about Hyrule Warriors and how it contributes to some of our worst feelings of awful nerd garbage. I also wrote two posts exploring Arrested Development, split between the old and new versions, and even two fun history posts about The Winged Hussars and the Saigo Rebellion.

We did hit an interesting milestone, though. As of tomorrow’s post (which is a Story Pile post, hence doing this today), I will have posted daily on this blog, non stop, for an entire year.There have been some hiccups, but they’re all scheduling problems – times when a blog post was in the queue and didn’t happen. Beyond that, here is a grid of dots all nicely lined up.This month’s shirt design was a little bit of an afterthought – I haven’t been playing around with shirt designs too much. Still, it was the ten year anniversary of the infamous loss meme, and I felt it would be a nice easy thing to commemorate. Also, it made Ettin laugh, which really is all the incentive I need to do something silly these days.

You can get this shirt on my Redbubble. I would be deeply surprised if anyone did.

What about the monthly game content? Well, here’s where fingers are crossed and breath is held. As I write this, I’m waiting on the last bits of art from artists for the Nyarr. Any collaborative work is slower and more complicated than anything else, but, here’s hoping in the next few days I can come back and change this to indicate we got this launched within June.

This month’s video project, on the other hand, was a video exploring Ziggurat, a wonderful game I got for free, and how it had a fundamentally different philosophy to Hexen, the game it’s most compared to.

The big lesson of this game was how ‘play overlaid with spoken essay and visual aids’ could come together reasonably nicely! With a little more forward planning I think I could really make something of this style.

It was the last few weeks of teaching and marking for the first semester, which means as of right now I’m not employed, which is a bummer. If you have any work for graphic or game design or the like, let me know!

I also did a bit more academic blogging, and got through some more books, or chunks thereof for my PhD. There’s been a sort of restructure for that, meaning that I’m doing more longer reads of the works to keep pace with my supervisor, so instead of trying to do a surface impression of a host of books I’m instead able to give in-depth reading on chapters at a time.

June is also a month of birthdays! Fox had one, as did one of her family members, and one of mine. During this, I had a few cooking experiments, which I’ll write about later when I’m more comfortable with the experience of what I did. There’s a certain silly incestuousness of recipes, really – I got the recipes off the internet, why should I retell you about them? Did I do anything major to change them? Probably not worth it. Still, if I find something I think is worth reading, I’ll get onto that.

Anyway, if you’re keeping track, July is going to feature a series of Story Pile entries focused on Kamen Rider W, so if you were hanging out for those essays, here we go. I did want to make them as video essays, but I don’t yet have the material, and I didn’t want to leave it longer.

I wonder if it’s a bad idea to turn articles into videos. I mean that’s what I do already – I write an article for reading, and then put a video to it. So I don’t like, avoid that. Anyway, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

May 2018 Wrapup

And now here we are at the end of May!

Daily posts again! This month’s favourite articles include The Whole Sort Of General Mish Mosh Of Confrontation, Helping You Write When You Can’t Write, and my review of Far Cry 4. Also this month I started making blog posts more directly from my PhD readings.

This month’s t-shirt is a pair of shirts – both designed to evoke the old TMs of Pokemon games. You can get them both on Redbubble!

Game launched? May’s game was The Roads To Springdell here at Invincible Ink and DriveThruCards! This time, it’s a gentle, pastoral trick-taking builder game, where you can make your own little town build up out of nothing.

Springdell is another game made possible by Patreon, thanks to people helping to finance the stock art I purchased from Anabal Casis.

This month’s video is honestly a bit weak, but it’s weak for a reason. Most of my videos so far have been some variety of a slide show, and I haven’t gotten into the habit of recording video of every game I play yet. This meant that when I was done with a game, reinstalling it and getting footage of it was basically another week’s work, time I didn’t have. Instead, I assigned myself a goal, to produce a video in four hours.

It’s weak and it’s inconsistant but I learned a lot from the tools. So I’m happy with that.

As always, this work is being financed, in part by my Patreon! As before, this is a way you can get tailored content for you! We’ve got a possible thing happening over there for patrons about getting copies of games for free or expanded copies of games for the print-and-players.

This month I started recording how often I ate fast food, how often I had no-meat meals, and tried to arrange so that once a week, I had a non-meat day. It’s been interesting and honestly, kind of fun so far.

Thoughts on Ethical Jealousy

These past few months I’ve been stewing on the idea of ethical jealousy. There’s this notion that’s been haunting the world of criticism, pretty much since the dawn of the webcomic era, that the work of the critic is echoed with the notional frailty of jealousy. Anyone who examines a creative work, there’s always something of an assumption, is doing it out of a sadness at their own inability to create such a thing themselves.

Now I don’t think that jealousy is never a factor in criticism but I think it is very much not the factor people think it is. In my case, specifically, though, I do know there are times when I swallow jealousy at a work. I don’t really do long-form critiques of some things, knowing that I can’t trust myself to separate my envy of the work from the work.

I don’t think that everything we think of as a vice has to be seen that way. I don’t think I have to see the wish, the yearning to have done something, to be able to do something, as an evil. It’s, in a way, a valuing – I can see the value in that thing, and wish that I had had some hand in it. A healthier way, a more ideal way, would be to see the creation and its existence as worthy, in and of itself – but I see the admission of envy, the acceptance of jealousy, to be in part a step towards that more blessed autumnal state.

And so, when I see myself jealous, I admit it; I accept it; and I seek to not let that jealousy corrode my appreciation, but in its admission, be disempowered. Do not let that you want become a poison that depletes your ability to appreciate what a thing is.

April 2018 Wrapup

What happened in April?

Blog news, we had a daily blog post. My backlog dipped low but I brought it back up again. We had our regular segments – Weekly MTG, Game Pile and Story Pile. Of my April articles I’m most proud of my write-up of Planescape Torment, my hypothesis on Bright, and my guide on writing a Light Novel. The Light Novel jam has another month so if you want to get onto it, hey, you can do that!

We had another shirt design, or rather, we had four.

These four Harry Potter designs, Basic, Extra, Boring and Evil are inspired from a multimedia franchise that I’m pretty sure has no legitimate reason to actually sue me.

I launched a game, again, Downspout this time. Here at Invincible Ink, and here at DriveThruCards. It’s like PVP Pipe-Dream!

My video project got snarled up a bit, so I didn’t make the two videos I was hoping to make – a history of the Ur-Quan and an episode of Making Fun – but instead, I put together a final capstone video of me playing The Swindle. I’m thinking I’ll move on to playing Dishonored 2 again next, since I can’t get Fox readily to commentate on it.

On a life side of things, classes and work finally got sorted out to the point I had a stable work situation. I had a birthday, I got some nice new knives, and I got to grade some of my students’ cool ideas for making games. I read a bunch of books for my degree and I wrote a bunch about them too. I also wrote about my PhD thesis idea, here.


All Fools Day

I don’t really have a joke here.

Someone I know, Andi McClure, traditionally avoids online presences entirely on April 1. The idea is to treat the internet as something to occasionally avoid, to deactivate and best examine the world in light of separation from that common and nearly-essential service. The day, April 1, is a really good day to avoid using the internet, because it’s a day that most things that connect to the internet try to use to lie to you.

To this end, I have this expression of a promise: I’m not going to do anything silly on April 1st. I think I generally try and be funny most of the time, and treating April 1 as some sort of big deal time for Corporate Branded Whackiness just tends to lead to things that are more annoying than actually funny.

Of course, you’re probably reading this on March 31st, because America is in the past. Bear in mind any news you see tomorrow might be just nonsense.

March 2018 Wrapup

Hey, here’s the end of March – and now how’d that go?

As before, we had a daily blog post. In this month I’m particularly proud . This is while meeting the three regular segments, Game Pile, MTG, and Story Pile.

I’m really happy with the t-shirt design for this month too. It’s called ALL DOGS ARE COMMUNISTS, and you can get it on Redbubble and Teepublic. Redbubble stickers are pretty cheap if you like the design but don’t want to ship, like, a shirt.

I did this design in a day, and it’s my first really proud-of-it-proper piece of art done entirely with my tablet, rather than using vectors to define a clear outline. I hope you like this comrade doggo and they brighten your day.

Game launched? Burning Daylight, here at Invincible Ink and DriveThruCards! It’s a hand management game where you get to control your own little gang of grungy solarpunk heroes, against a fascist city that seeks to assert its way on a world that doesn’t want them any more!

Burning Daylight marks three milestones. One, it’s a game I consider substantial. Several of our games are designed to be lightweight and fun, like Foxtail or C-QNS or even Winston’s Archive. Burning Daylight is a game with some lore and a multi-turn system for playing and advanced rules. I wanted to make sure that we weren’t just releasing the easier types of games to make, but instead releasing a good mix. Basically, I want to make sure we release a few Fabricators and Sector 86 along with our simpler games.

Secondary to that, it’s just a game I’ve been working on a while and iterated on a lot. I’m going to do a history of the design for Patreon (which will be posted here, for free), because it seems to me an interesting project.

And third, it’s one of the first games I’ve made where I could afford to pay both for the game’s art (which is Stock) but also for consultancy fees, and send promotional copies out! This was enabled in part by you, on Patreon, so thank you so much.

Making video was another one, which I fulfilled early in the month; another episode about Magic: The Gathering.

As always, this work is being financed, in part by my Patreon! Over there, we did our first Bundle Sale and I floated the idea of making a simple ‘game a month’ tier, where for, like, $15 or $20, depending on how shipping costs work out, I just send you a game each month. We’re still feeling it out, but please, feel free to become part of the conversation.

On a personal life front, well, I had some medical woes, and some payment woes, but I’ve also now got some work at the Uni that seems to fit with my like, life schedule really well, and kind of uniquely needs my skillset of ‘check this thing out, can you make it work, and then tell us how we can make it work.’ That’s pretty neat. I’ve also been teaching, and I love doing that.

I did get some news about my diet, which is more embarassing than anything else (ie, ‘don’t eat all the pasta’, and other stuff I should know already), and I hung out with my family some more. I’m taking care of myself.

Also this is the first month I’ve had lately where I haven’t been itching for the next month’s game release. We might have a simpler game up next, or maybe we’ll have a surprise that comes out of nowhere. I don’t know. We’ll see!

February 2018 Wrapup

And now with the last day of February, what was that month like?

As before, we had a daily blog post. In this month I’m particularly proud of The Power of Hate, The Art Of Your Normal, and Monsters.

Our three regular segments – Weekly MTG, Game Pile and Story Pile – posts? Check!

T-Shirt design? Check, here’s DON’T NEED NO REASON, on Redbubble and Teepublic.

Game launched? Winston’s Archive, here at Invincible Ink and DriveThruCards! It’s a two-plus player drafting game where you’re both sorting books, full of silly joke book titles!

I really like Winston’s Archive because rather than use the drafting as part of some greater, more complicated play of the game, the game is the drafting. It’s also a useful system to understand, and taught me a lot about distribution in games and catch-up mechanisms. You should check it out!

Video? Episode 7 of Making Fun went up! Episode 8 will be coming, hopefully, and we’ll talk about some mechanics.

I launched my Patreon! This is a way you, the people who enjoy this work, can kick me a dollar or two a month in exchange for more content. This is a way you can request Micropodcasts, and partake in bundle sales, which I’m still getting a handle on.

In this month I also started some casual work for the uni (after some paperwork snafus, which led to more paperwork snafus), shifted my PhD to part-time, started to work on teaching game making at the uni, and spent more time with my family.

Talen Lee is now on Patreon!

DEEP breath.

Hey folks! Do you like the stuff I do? Do you like that I write about games, Magic: the Gathering, media and everything else? Do you like my guides on how to make your own games, or terminology in games that we don’t use well? Do you want to give me guidance on stuff you want to hear me talk about? Do you want to buy some of our games, but find the shipping costs or the schedule intimidating? Do you want to see me do more podcasting and video stuff? Well, I have some great news for you, because you can now directly incentivise my work and consider yourself invested in it directly, thanks to a Patreon!

My intention is still to make as much of my work free as possible – if I use the Patreon as a content footing, it will be almost entirely for early releases or the sort of miscellaneous poll-or-feedback kind of questions I sometimes use Twitter for. I’m charging it per month rather than per product, and will include such things as group sales and bundle rates for our games.

So please, check it out, and if you can’t afford it, don’t worry about it! If you don’t want to do it, because you think I’m not worth paying for, well, dang, hurtful, jeeze. What’d I do to you? Unless you’re Ryan ██████, I know why you have it out for me.

Anyway, please please please: Check it out.

Check Talen Lee out on Patreon!

January 2018 Wrapup!

How’d January go?

Daily blog posts? Check.

Weekly MTG, Game Pile and Story Pile posts? Check!

T-Shirt design? Check, here’s EWOKS ARE COOL, on Redbubble and Teepublic.

Game launched? LFG – Looking For Group, here at Invincible Ink and DriveThruCards!

Video? Well it’s been made but it hasn’t been launched

Also on this month was a long weekend of D&D, AGDQ, my first PhD meeting and our three-day long weekend at Can-Con!

2018 Going Forward!

Let’s mark out some clear, distinct, achievable goals.

  • One completed game design a month.
  • One t-shirt design a month.
  • Daily blog posts, with weekly entries for:
    • a Magic The Gathering article
    • a Game Pile article
    • a Story Pile article
  • A video a month

That seems doable to me. What makes this complicated, though is that I’m also going to be doing a PhD. So… that might transform my workload. We’ll have to see.

So why do I bring this up? Well, first, laying it out like this is a good way to make sure I have a plan. I’ve found making something of what I do accountable is important. The other thing is, I’m going to spend January looking into launching a Patreon, which will be about:

  • work-in-progress stuff on game designs
  • group sales of games where if I can get 20~ people interested, I’ll send out bulk copies of games without postage
  • voting and contributions directly on future game content
  • raising money to hire artists!

There. That’s it. Stated. A plan.

I can’t necessarily weasel out of this easily. Weasily? We’ll see.

Announcing: Decemberween 2017!

I had a whole month of writing planned about December, which has all just been bumped to January. I don’t think anyone’s going to be spending their December trying hard to crack some personal puzzle about how to make paper look torn, or looking for a project that’s just waiting for the right artist to bring it to life.

In this month, we’re going to continue Game Pile, weekly TV and weekly MTG articles, as normal – but in the intervening days? It’s all going to be me telling you about something a friend does that I think is cool. No long-form articles or big goofy work, just sincere, honest appreciation for the work of people I love.

Amerimanga Covers II

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!

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, and the From The Rooftops 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.

2016’s Lessons Of Gaming #19: 181-190

181. Game Term – Quarterbacking

QUARTERBACKING is the propensity of players in cooperative games to try and run other people’s turns ‘the best way. ‘ It’s obnoxious.

182. Market Success

A lesson to learn for when you are frustrated as a developer at your lack of commercial success: Success is largely random. You will not do succeed based on the quality of your work, but shitty work is more likely to fail. Also, when you move in circles where people expect to pay for things, things are different – look at the kickstarter crowd for examples.

183. Your Niche Moistens

Yes, you can make games about your personal fetishes or niche interests. I mean, Kojima did it and people think he’s a genius.

184. More Representation Easily

If you give players character cards, and they don’t NEED a back, put an identical card face w/a different gender look on that face. This does get a bit binarist but giving players even modest gender choice beats Here Are Seven Dudes And Tits, The Girl.

185. We Are Way Too Happy About Colonialism!?

We got a lot of games about the ‘age of sail’ ie, colonialism and slavery, that kinda don’t want to talk about it. Maybe talk about it. Shout out to Kemet for flat out stating one of the power bases is slavery, and making that type of power in-manual ‘White Power’

186. What Can Games be About

One game idea I’ve had lying around for a while now is Worse Than Hitler, which is ostensibly blackjack but is also meant to help express how every country in the world has committed genocides and there’s a problem with us just blaming Hitler. People hear this idea, and then, usually, say oh, no, that shouldn’t exist, because that’s a subject games shouldn’t touch.

They’re just wrong – it might be I shouldn’t be the one to make that game, but the principle is wrong. Saying ‘we shouldn’t make games about that’ is like saying ‘we shouldn’t make documentaries about that. ‘ It’s limiting what games can do. Now, ‘you shouldn’t make a game about that because you’re a stupid clod’ that I can buy and I think I’ve probably said it.

187. The Continued Adventures of Tits The Girl

If your cast of player characters has only one of anything, that person has to bear the weight of who they are. So if you have Seven Swordsman And Tits The Girl, the assumption is Tits is ‘normal’ for girls in this game world.

188. Deck Builder Blues

Deck builders give up a painful amount of space to your starter cards, and that’s PER PLAYER

189. Capitalism Kills

Lots of trading games assume people can’t work together sincerely and the mechanics reflect that. Which is shitty as hell. Even monopoly has the random ‘well fuck, guess we weren’t expecting that’ cards, even if they’re rarely tangible.

190. Getting Cute, Getting Paid

Cute is not the opposite of serious. Cute is not the opposite of deep. Looking good is not oppositional to being fun. A game is not more serious because it looks like a wall calendar. There really isn’t any excuse for making the art objects we make of our games look ugly any more.

2016’s Lessons Of Gaming #18: 171-180

171. Shared Space Create Shared Learning

Players having overlapping goals or mechanics is SUPER USEFUL during learning phases. They can teach one another/learn from one another.

172. For Rachel

Put a gay robot in, just ‘cos.

173. Alphabets Are Not Everybets

Look up the language form known as Abugida, like Inuktitut:

When you design codes and hidden information there’s a powerful urge to use the basic structure of the language you already know. This is why aliens in most games still have decimal number systems despite having like, six fingers or whatever. Not only is Inuktitut totally sweet but it’s a way of concealing language that will broaden most players’ worldviews as they learn it.

174. Remember Card Real Estate

Cards can flip over and rotate, giving them potentially 8 states you can track easily. MTG’s werewolves handle transforming cards SUPER DUPER WELL, and Fury of Dracula’s decks use their cardbacks well too.

175. Noob Effects

If you want to design ‘magic the gathering, but without manascrew’ look up those who came before you and failed: The WoW CCG and VS. Both games were designed by MTG pros to try and reduce ‘noob effects’ and ‘be more skill rewarding.’ Turns out that’s actually kinda a bad system for getting new players into your game

176. Experiments In Learning – Dirt

Make a game by drawing on the dirt with a stick. There are at least two well known games that can play this way. Work with little.

177. Replacing Variables Changes Games

Battleship is basically a bingo variant. It replaces a random variable with a player working off hidden information.

178. Don’t Relinquish Limits Easily

Resource systems are a way to control players. So be super careful with anything that circumvents that resource system


179. Creepiness

IT IS SO EASY TO DESIGN YOUR GAME THAT ENABLES PEOPLE TO BE CREEPY! Hidden information games particularly! Don’t do this! try to make sure your rules are NICE AND CLEAR about DON’T BE CREEPY at people! Think about the kind of questions and interactions your game entices people to have. Creepy is Always Bad, okay?

180. Examine Game Parts

Conventional d6es have each opposing face add up to 7. You can design around ‘the missing face’ of a dice with this information. This also means that the range of the total numbers on a rolled dice is 15-20, which is pleasantly round.

2016’s Lessons Of Gaming #17: 161-170

161. Failure Teaches Function

You may not like the people who nitpick games, but nitpicking how games fail is a useful lesson both in not what to do, but also how to see through a design to the end. You’ll often find most bad designs come from places of unexpected confusion or someone failing to pay attention all the way to the end. With that in mind, dismantling how games fucked up can help you be a better maker. Your homework is the 3. 0 D&D Spelldancer.

162. Your Undocumented Resources

Every game taps two undocumented resources: player mind space and player time. These two resources relate to one another. Too much load slows things down and players will play slower. Too little time and players will default to FUCK IT, THAT’LL DO. Some games try to offload material on the table with material in the mind – like tracking scores and currencies. Doing that will slow players down, too – meaning it eats into your time.

163. Design To Your Strengths

Early on I recommend finding the thing you want to do the least of (art, systems, content), and designing the game to minimise it. If you don’t like making art, you can skip out on it, make a game which is all text. If you don’t like making rules, you could go art-heavy. If you make music, you can make games about playing with the music.

164. Remix Remix

Pursuant to modding, making variants of games is fine. You can’t borrow art assets or copy rules text, but the rules themselves, sure. Indeed, if you’re a fan of public domain and remix culture, board games are one of the purer forms of it that still exist.

If you want to make a game inspired by Secret Hitler, for example, remember that Secret Hitler derives from Resistance, which derives from Werewolf, which derives from Mafia. Game mechanics aren’t something you owe money for.

165. Respect Playtesters

Some players want to push systems until they break. These are good playtesters. You need to know where the fences are weak. Note that because a player can tell there’s a problem doesn’t mean that that player knows the best way to fix it.

166. Make Mine Mythic

Balance is a myth but it’s an important myth. City of Heroes was one of the best games I ever played and its balance was somewhere on the far side of ridiculous. Arcanaville was a goddamn science-prophet when she said ‘the balance of this game is mostly about keeping us from going too far outside the fences, not keeping us inside the fence.’

Players are often only playing against themselves. They’re playing against the game, and against their tolerance to keep playing with your friends. Soft games, games where the conflict is a bit unimportant, tend to get some guff, but don’t forget that there are players of all varieties, and some games want players who won’t push them, and some players are looking for that.

167. Access Over All

If usability or accessability are hurting your aesthetic, the aesthetic must give.

168. Print-And-Play Testing

If you’re doing print-and-play, make a black-and-white version of everything and see if it looks like garbage ass. A lot of Print-and-play folk only have a black and white printer after all

169. Your Tools Are Okay

Word is Good Enough. Google Docs is Good Enough. GIMP is Good Enough. The best tools for any job are the tools you’re comfortable using. Anyone who wants to tell you ‘you SHOULD make in <THING>’ on principle are probably wrong. Try it and experiment, but you’re not obligated.

170. Learning Split

When designing asymmetrical games, recognise you’ll have to teach the game twice. The board game VAST takes this problem and winches it up to the nines: There are SIX DIFFERENT RULESETS, and no players overlap.

When two players understand the same sets of rules for the common parts of the game, you make playing it faster and easier. Magic: The Gathering plays smartly here, where the core of the game, both players understand and it’s in both player’s best interests for it to have integrity.

2016’s Lessons Of Gaming #16: 151-160

151. Practice With Small Spaces

Explaining magic cards verbally to a podcast requires you to get good at shorthanding or being explicitly clear. Posting for Twitter asks you to cram a lot of information into a small space and not waste any. This is useful for learning tight wordings. If you can’t fit the core game loop of your game on a page, it’s probably too complicated. Pare it down and see if you can get that core game down.

152. Promoting Yourself Venues

Twitter doesn’t SEEM to be particularly good for promoting your work, to me, so far. Video reviews seem to do a lot of business. Print-on-Demand games are on some big reviewers’ blacklists. That’s not the core of it, though – I’m still investigating some sources (and indeed, research into this is part of what held me up here!).

153. Promoting Yourself Costs

My budget for promoting my games is limited to ‘attending conventions. ‘ I have paid for literally no advertising. This means that my experience is going to be different if you do have money to spend on things like packaging, artists, etc. On the other hand, I hear from people who pay for advertising it’s not really all that valuable – you’re usually better off using that money to get your product in front of reviewers and trusting their audience but I can’t guarantee that either.

154.  Know Your Own Values

I keep my values as a designer foremost whenever I’m stuck at some point on the design of a game. I want to respect my players and their feelings. I want my games to be available for people who like to play them. I don’t want people to buy games of mine that are bad for them. I don’t want to impose my games in their home spaces, for example. I don’t want to make players pay more for product where some components are redundant and unnecessary

Kingdom Death,

155. Making Is Nice

Creating things is such a nice feeling. I probably will never be commercially successful at this but I love doing it so much. I realised that even as I work towards making this into a thing I do for money, the process of making is without doubt, fun.

156. Structural Simplicity

In terms of ease of design, Solo > Symmetrical PVP > Asymmetrical PVP > Symmetrical Co-Op > Asymmetrical Co-Op.

157. Room for Masterminds

In Asymmetrical Co-op, there’s room for a ‘mastermind’ role for players who aren’t confident yet, to learn the game: Someone who is not at risk but can provide information to the other players by peeking under cards, for example

158. Paul Booth’s Unstructure

Particularly ornate games want to create this thing called ‘Unstructure.’ Unstructure is from ‘Paratextuality in Board Games,’ the book. Worth a read, but lemme try and summarise here: Unstructure is the feeling the game doesn’t have rules you can divine, WITHOUT being random-seeming. Cause-and-effect of varying impact. The bigger and more elaborate your game, the more likely you have unstructure. But it’s a precarious balancing act to maintain. Consider Mass Effect Romances, where the mass of flags and variables collapses down into ‘be nice’ or ‘don’t be nice. ‘

159. Verisimillitude

Games are about our illusion of how things should happen, not about realism. ‘Realism’ is usually an excuse.

160. Don’t Make Fallible Votes

If your game has a vote system in it, you absolutely have to have a tie-breaker. Even ‘too many failed votes end the game’ works.

2016’s Lessons Of Gaming #15: 141-150

141. Review Mechanistic Language

Look at the spell fireball from 2ed D&D, 3e, 3. 5 and 4ed. There’s a clear evolution of relationship to language at work. The earliest versions of the games are even a little bit culty, a little bit aware that they know how the things are meant to work (‘you throw a ball of fire that explodes’) but then have a hard time rendering that rule mechanically so players can both get it and not have to spend a lot of time getting weird about it. This is sort of a weird cousin to rules lawyering; you’re giving people tools and they, as characters in a universe, are going to want to use those tools.

You can see the way these things are shaped by the kind of players that got involved. Look at how long it took before there was a standard format – and early versions of 3.0 D&D even strangled themselves down trying to ensure that ‘fireball’ had a sort of specific limit of effects until 3.5 came in and said ‘no, look, it’s just following these standard, templateable pieces.’

This is something that revisions can get you, along with a willingness to approach mechanics as mechanics rather than trying to make each of them special exceptions.

142. Attend to the Interplay of Mechanics and Thematics

Sometimes you’ll find a mechanical shift invites a thematic shift. Introducing knockouts may introduce a more violent tone, for example. Today I had to consider a good punny name and set it aside because it was too nice and pastoral for a game that includes the ability to buy huge gun turrets. Check that your theme and mechanics interlock – and if you find your new mechanics, meant to make a system work suddenly shift the tone of a game, go with it.

Look into the example of wither in Magic: The Gathering. Wither was originally made to be a ‘softer’ form of combat for the Lorwyn magic block, with the idea that it made combat kind of pillowy, instead of people dying. The problem is, wither wound up being super brutal and when examined, felt a lot more like scarring and burning, resulting in it being part of the tone of the sequel set, Shadowmoor, which was more creepy storybook.

143. It’s Okay For Your Game To Be Easy

People play games for a lot of reasons and one of them is therapeutic – being able to feel in control and happy. This ties back to earlier: Empathy for players is crucial to making your game better. You may find that your game doesn’t do what you want it to do, but you might find that that lesson is best implemented in the next game, and you can finish this one first.

144. The Small Audience

There are a lot of games you wouldn’t bother playing that have people who love them. Solitaire has endured, for example. Try not to think in terms of ‘nobody wants that’ and more in terms of ‘I don’t want that’. You’ll accommodate new ideas more honestly. Also, it’ll make you more likely to think in terms of who will want this rather than I don’t think anyone will want this.

145. Extremely Niche And Extremely Close

It’s fine to design games for your needs and wants, by the way. Print-on-Demand is a space that forgives extremely niche ideas. There’s a wealth of nice number-games with procedural structures, or knockoff and variant versions of games that already exist. Heck, you know Werewolf and its many copies and clones? Every one of those clones can be seen as a different take on the access for that original game, or an exploratory effort. You can do that! Even if you’re just trying to get an idea for how you’d word cards, structure them, put art down on cards etcetera.

Niches can run narrow in Print-on-Demand. I mean, The Beast is one of the weirdest game ideas I’ve ever seen.

146. Duplicating Demonstrates Dullness

Thing is, though, once you’ve got your eye in, once you’re trying out a lot of ideas and new expressions, if the main thing I know about you after playing your games is the Other Games you’ve played, your game design is probably boring.


147. Trope Frameworks

This is what we in media studies sometimes call schema. War games have different frameworks to hunting games, to zombie survival games, despite the fact all three are ultimately about getting in position to shoot a thing.

Consider the war game probably doesn’t care about tracking ammo at all. In the Hunting game, ammo can be replenished, but it’s more of a timer there to keep you from unloading too much too fast. Zombie game, though, there the ammunition is precious, and it may even be possible that the gun breaks.

Use mechanics to reinforce theme. The War game isn’t about micromanaging soldiers, who take care of that themselves; The zombie game on the other hand is all about falling the fuck apart and being desperate. Every shot used is precious. So, when you have your theme, consider if your mechanics are reinforcing it or opposing it.

148. Getting Smart

Technologically advanced isn’t the same thing as interesting

, T. I. M. E Stories,

149. No Swearing!

I swear a lot, but broadly speaking your rules shouldn’t swear if you can avoid it. Even if your theme is kinda cussy, like The Botch, or stuff like The Walking Dead. This may sound silly, right? Thing is, there’s a strong board game culture across youth groups and church groups. If you make your language ‘too hard’ for those groups, you can push them away, and they may otherwise love your game.

150. Doing Your Math Homework Is Useful

Do you need help with the rudimentary mathematics that drive the tension in hidden information games? It’s time for some game theory. More specifically, the simplest hidden information game, basically, is the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Tic-tac-toe is procedural. Games like Euchre work on making thoughtful choices based on mathematically available information.

If you don’t like math, that’s fine, but if you’re looking for structures to build in, math will build that for you.

2016’s Lessons Of Gaming #14: 131-140

131. Materiality Tip

White or pale cardbacks are the worst especially in bluffing games. They’re incredibly easy to unintentionally mark. If you’re going to make a game like this, make it small, so there’s not a lot of stressed shuffling.

132. Diegesis

Consider diegetically the game pieces. A game about high schoolers will have different needs than a game about high schooler mermaids. For example, mermaids can all ‘fly’ by our standards. Does a car have the same symbolism of freedom to them?

133. Been There, Liberated That

If you’re going to make a game about WW2, maybe consider any battlefield at all except Normandy?

134. Been There, Liberated That, With Other People

pursuant to 133. Maybe also consider there were people other than the Americans there?

135. Hard Lines

Simple, bold shapes can do the work of more complicated artwork and is comparatively attainable, like with The Suits:

136. Don’t Be Fatphobic

If your game has fat people in it and they’re only there to be mocked, you’re a piece of shit.

137. Winning’s Not A Drug

Resolutions of games aren’t as important as you think. Some games, the winner is basically meaningless to any but the most competitive.

Apples to Apples is an example, Charades is another. I learned this with Crowdfund This: For some games, people care about the doing.

138. 69+69

Twice as nice.

138.5. Make Rules Readable

Jokes are fine, and you should feel free to put them in rules, but don’t let those jokes make rules ambiguous.

139. The Purpose Of A Game

Absolutely core to what you’re doing as a game designer is trying to create a machine that creates a story. This means understanding stories is important, and so is understanding machinery.

140. The Purpose of A Roleplaying Game

RPG design is a step above that: It is [A Machine That Makes [A Machine That [Makes A Story. ]]]

2016’s Lessons Of Gaming #13: 121-130

121. Assumptions in Structure

Reconsider your turn structure. If players need a chance to react to one another, or care about a pool of limited resources in a shared space, turn-by-turn works; But if players are all drawing out of a common pool, then building their own thing like say Galaxy Trucker, simultaneous play is fine. The lure of simultaneous play is players are engaged with their own work, then you have a theatrical moment where they go ‘wait what’ later.

On the other hand, games like Tales of the Arabian Nights and Dread of Winter make a great use of other players during someone’s turn – they don’t have to worry about their own turn and can instead join the ridiculous things happening to another player.

122. Resources I Use – Drive To Work

Mark Rosewater’s Drive To Work podcast is a really useful resource, even if I disagree with his definition of ‘game.’ You don’t need to be paying attention to Magic: The Gathering to get this stuff, though you really, really should. Particularly interesting are the discussions of ‘failures’ like the Tribal type.

123. Don’t Hide Your Theme

Being up-front about what your game is about is a better way to get people to play it than being coy. It also works out better for people who are easily distressed. If you’re making a horror game, people will prefer to immerse in that experience then have it jump out at them.

Consider; Dead of Winter doesn’t hide its apocalyptic bleakness. Despite this, there is still horror that you have to discover. Players don’t go into it thinking this game about starving to death in the frozen wastes probably won’t have any nasty surprises.

124. Trigger Warnings

TRIGGER WARNINGS ON YOUR CONTENT MAKES IT MORE ACCESSIBLE. Players who think spoilers ruin their enjoyment are straight up wrong, we have done testing on this. Trigger Warnings are a no-loss addition, and as a bonus, you piss off people who are just total shits about things that don’t affect them.

125. Remember Your Baselines

If you want to make a war game you need to be able to prove it would not better serve as Warhammer house rules. This sounds like sarcasm, but: So many miniatures wargames are just reskins of ‘this is how Warhammer SHOULD play’ home rulesets.

126. Include More Of Your Interests

The broader your interests and more instinctive your curiosity, the more stuff you’ll be able to apply to making your games.

127. Fuzzy Spaces

Human interpreters are very hard to program but they’re also very good at covering up cracks in the rules. You don’t need to tell players how to do things like ‘negotiate deals’ or ‘choose a player to exile’ – players can do that smoothly.

128. Editors Matter

RPG Design: If you’re making a game book, hire a fuckin’ editor and care a lot about your reader’s experience


129. Glossaries Matter

Glossaries are good to give short primers on rules players are PRETTY SURE OF, not the first place to introduce them


130. Math Matters

If your game math ever requires (brackets+(order of operations * averages)), you have fucked up


2016’s Lessons Of Gaming #12: 111-120

111. Advertise, Advertise, Advertise

Don’t pass up opportunities to get people’s eyes on your products, like HEY GO LOOK AT THIS TOTAL STRANGERS.

See the funny thing is, I wrote that a few months ago, because a friend regularly reminds me that I don’t advertise my own work enough. I did it in this thread a few times and not one of them converted to a purchase within the time frame.

Clearly, gotta advertise more.

112. You Can Make Games

I may not get more likes than this so here’s the big one. Here’s the king hit. YOU CAN MAKE GAMES. This time last year I had BASICALLY NO experience making games. In one year, I made about FIFTEEN You Can Make Games Too. You don’t need to do presentation. You don’t need to do aesthetics. You don’t even need to write formal rules. But you can sit down, with pieces of card, scribble on them, and you can MAKE A GAME. And I WANT YOU TO.

Right Now, we’ve got a Lot Of Guys Like Me making shit. That’s fine but hey look at that we have the same five nerd boy fantasies repeating.  You will find all sorts of weird, cool, interesting game ideas when you reach even the tiniest step out of Orcs Vs Spacemen Zombies You can make games with dice and cardboard and paper and pens and glue and tape and THAT IS AWESOME and YOU CAN DO IT. Want to take it to the next level? Free graphics programs. Free template tools. Free text editors and pdf exporters and stock art – YOU CAN.

And if fuckin’ ANYONE wants to tell you that You Don’t Have The Qualifications or You Don’t Belong in making games? I will fight them.

This idea turned out to be so important to me it formed the bedrock of my final thesis and a semester of teaching. You can make games.

113. Folding Prototypes

You know what’s super great for 3d prototypes? Oragami skills. Folding distinct pieces with stiff card can be v. Quick. There are TONS of resources for simple origami techniques out there.

114. The Basic Aesthetic Option

When in doubt, white text, black outline, or black text with white outline. It’s practical and it’s everywhere because it works.

115. What Doesn’t Belong

Most games wind up being boring because there’s an under-examined system in there ‘just because. ‘ Roll-and-move is a great example of this. Does your game benefit from random movement? Does it just slow shit down? You should be able to explain to yourself why you’re doing any of the things you’re doing.

116. Roll-And-Move

‘We wanted to slow things down’ is a perfectly fine thing to want in your game, btw.

117. Repeating the Game Loop

Some games like Poker or Skull are relatively dull in a single experience but become exciting in aggregate. Make sure to try out your mechanic in iterated groups with carrying-over score. You may find they’re more interesting that way.

118. Feedback To Seek

The worst feedback you can get is ‘I dunno, seems fine. ‘ If you get this a lot, it’s not your tester though, it’s on you. If things ‘seem fine’ then nothing’s giving a strong emotional reaction, whether it’s ‘this sucks’ or ‘this is awesome.’

119. Procedural Pals

Befriend bot-makers. Random, procedural computer generation can give you large sets of information or assets to curate. They can also make some types of game assets, like permutations of one another, easier to get.

120. A Permutation Resource!

I use this Permutation Calculator for a lot of the permutation/set math I need to do ‘cos I’m bad at combinatorics.