Category: Meta

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.

2016’s Lessons Of Gaming #11: 101-110

101. Look To bad Examples

OneUpManship is the first monopoly variant I’ve seen that’s actively and aggressively worse than Monopoly. No kidding. Seriously, game is gross and odious. It shows you can take a bad idea and make it worse.

102. Be Aware of the Kickstarter Environment

Do not make your first kickstarter until you have backed a few kickstarters, even if just to see how they go, and to get your stats up. Seasoned kickstarter investors skip out on kickstarters with ‘1 project, 0 backed’

103. Be Aware of Who’s Listening.

Be careful when and where you talk shit. It’s one thing for me to call OneUpManship assballs here, but on BoardGameGeek, it’s not nice. Know your audience and environment. BGG is a place to hype up games you like, be positive, be kind.

104. Beware Unecessary Mixes

Just because you like two things doesn’t mean they belong together. Big space battles across huge distances don’t need tactical movement, for example. Nitpicky load and encumbrance rules don’t really belong in games where your load can be measured in half-tons.

105. Beloved Are the Playtesters

Early on, some people will try your game with nothing in it for them, and they will give feedback these people are glorious angels

106. Look To The Public Domain

Public domain art assets are great and give you lots of options for weird or interesting game ideas.  Old maps, old biological books, historical diagrams – look at what people like Wondermark do with this kind of resource. When you pick up art from a particular period in history, that period influences and defines the work. Alt-history games can be cool! (Alt-history is like steampunk without the popular racism, at least, right now)

107. The Quandrary of Horror

Horror is SUPER HARD to do well because game rules make ‘winning’ possible, but horror tends ask ‘can we even win.’ If you can stat Cthulhu out, you may have missed the point.

108. Ingesting Conception

Watch a review video for a game you’ve not played, then try describe the game’s rules to someone else. See what stands out to them. This pair of filters mean you can often hear ideas that were never in the original work.

109. Building Legacies

Legacy games are The New Thing but if you want to delve into that mechanical space look to older campaign games like Chainmail. D&D’s earliest versions did the same kind of thing. A print-on-demand or print-and-play legacy game needs to hit that kind of standard

110. Contextualising Sources

PULP IS GOOD. There’s a reason we have a HOJILLION Cthulhu games (it’s public domain) there are TWO reasons we have a hojillion Cthulh—

Pulp gives you a pre-existing story structure, and a handful of signalling tropes you can use. The connecting tissue informs itself; Using a pre-existing story base to theme your game helps players get into the right space, and you can design your mechanics to fit that. AND DON’T THINK I JUST MEAN THE AGE OF ADVENTURE BURROUGHS STUFF. Go to Pulp Librarian and grab ten covers there that’s your game’s aesthetic. Lesbian biker satan? Okay, let’s go

2016’s Lessons Of Gaming #10: 91-100

91. Secret Identity

Sometimes I look at things and think about design space, then wonder about if anyone’s using it. For example, despite the fact that cards have two sides and superheroes often have two identities there aren’t any good superhero card games right now.


92. Film Influences

Movies have great lessons for pacing a game, about building a story and reaching a satisfying crescendo. Some games already basically follow the arc of a movie. Look to Samurai Spirits, or Risk.

93. Hiding The Purpose

Poker is pretty good at making you think it’s about having good hands. That’s part of its magic, moving cups around. Serious poker players will tell you the game is about using your behaviour as readable information and giving away as little other information as possible. Nonetheless, the game makes the hands seem important, gives them value, and the ‘real’ game emerges.

94. Broaden Your Sources

Listen to people who create even if not directly in your sphere. Even when not trying to, talking to and considering these positions and ideas of people with distinctly different life experiences (and there are a lot of those – I’m a white cis guy after all) has been useful for building and strengthening mine You’re always trying to create systems to stimulate players’ experience, and empathy is the best tool for knowing how to get there

95. Wins Or Losses

You can think of end games in terms of either a win (‘pursue this objective’) or a loss (‘which is often harder on the woman. ‘) Avoiding a movie slasher and being the Last Girl is a good example of Loss-Oriented design. Getting All The Gems is more win-oriented. Loss-focused design tends to be meaner.

96. Evens and Odds

Even numbers are good for cooperation, odd numbers are good for conflict. Players can divide things in half and feel fair, or share loads equally when there IS an equal amount to be shared. Odd numbers can’t be split equally and can’t be easily divided-and-conquered the same way, either. Look at the MTG colour wheel.

97. Clever Vs Fun

Your game can be super clever but it doesn’t matter if it’s boring.

I’m talking to you Seafall.

Always, on this point, it’s you, Seafall.

(stands over the cliffside looking down at the lava bellowing at Seafall) YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE

98. Rollercoaster moments

Automated game sections are actually totally fine, if they’re a chance for players to watch something they did unfold. Programmed games (Lords of Xidit, a lot of trump games) are a very obvious example of this. But know what does it best? Galaxy Trucker. Galaxy Trucker is one mass of impossible frantic decisions, then you put what you made onto a ghost train and let it leap out and spook you

99. Connect Your Work To Audiences

Don’t presume on audiences. You may load your game with things to try and connect it to a market but if they don’t see it, who cares? You could make Gay Cuddlepile Furry Mayhem that comes with a free handjob from Accelo and if nobody knows where to get it, they won’t buy it.

This is and has been my hardest problem. Right now, every single thing I’ve tried to get people interested in my games has failed except standing in front of them and showing them the games at conventions.

100. Scale Of Numbers

Big numbers don’t make a game more mature or serious. Bigger numbers and bigger bounds on math mostly only matters for distance. A games may have a total score start at 0 and reach 150 but if players are only ever 2-5 points away from each other, what’s the point?

2016’s Lessons Of Gaming #9: 81-90

81. Find Where You Have To Limit Players

In RPGs, players are using your system to create and express. The more tightly you limit that, the more you cut off their options. A DM of ours, @ExManus is fond of the phrase ‘your thematics are your own. ‘ and it’s proven absolutely invaluable. Do you have the right mechanical interactions that make sense? Then fuckin’ wonderful. I don’t care if you call it Nature Magic or Fae Soul.

In RPG design, consider what restrictions are necessary to make the game work. Some games have very strict, regimented settings, such as military ones. But more creative, expressive settings benefit from letting players come up with their own explanations for things. Look at where you’re using a theme when you should be using a rule, and when you’re trying to treat theme as if it is rule.

82. Knockouts Aren’t Always Bad

Knockouts – where you remove a player from the game somehow – are seen poorly, especially amongst the Euro-gaming, victory-point counting gamer crowd, but they serve the valuable purpose of freeing people from a game they can’t win any more. If you think being knocked out of a game early sucks, try being stuck playing a game you’re completely unable to win for the full duration

83. TERM: Victory Point Salad.

Some games let you do a bunch of things to accumulate ‘victory points’ and the game just checks the count of them. These games are honestly kind of best for representing big complex economic systems where things are all of dubious total value, and goals are sort of there for players to pursue individually? But a better way to follow this is using a Victory Point Salad design is best for games where you have a lot of different systems and want to give players things they can avoid.

84. TERM: Victory Point

Call them something other than Victory Points, I mean come the fuck on, VP is the most thematically dead term by now.

85. Examine your Base Assumptions

When we code symbols in games we bring a raftload of assumptions. Maybe reconsider them and open other spaces. Bats, wolves and rats are typically ‘bad’, but bears often have a nobility to them as if they’re not all just eating the same idiots.

86. Content Vs System

Games can be broken into Content and System. Some games need a lot of System and comparatively little Content (D&D, frex). Some games are system light and compensate with an enormous volume of content (Billionaire Banshee, Elevator Pitch). If you make a lot of one, you can make less of the other. Note can; that’s not to say it’s a simple 1:1 divvy.

87. Don’t Follow Fads For Fads’ Sake

I’ll use real-time play as an example but the principle holds. Real Time is the latest thing to try doing with card games, and it’s not a bad place to go but it’s also got a big problem: Many people drawn to card games are doing so because they don’t want real-time decision making. They want a turn-based pace. So there’s a quantity of board gamers who react to games like Captain Sonar as if you’re asking them to ride a rollercoaster that’s on fire

Remember, there are some people who want games to give them reliable components. Some folk wanna shuffle up some cards and maybe make a ninja dude fight someone.

88. The Easy Seat

In team games it is 100% okay to design team roles whose job is Be Boring But Useful. Some players don’t want the stressful decisions. Don’t make it essential – don’t make it so some player has to have the dull role? But let someone who wants to take an easy job get it.

89. Players Have Material Needs

Respect your players, but do so wholly. Recognise they need breaks, have other interests, have limited space and money. If I could give up on half the content of Kalash-Tar in exchange for fitting it in the Resistance box I’d take that fucking deal

90. Build Skeletons To Know How Things Run

Try and make a deck builder, a bidding game, and a hidden role game, at least just in concept space versions. If you can explain the basic rules of how those three types of games work, well and coherently, even if you never make one for real, good.

This isn’t even vaguely hard, as it is; there are tons of examples you can look at, and it’s not like boiling Resistance down to its bones is hard.

2016’s Lessons Of Gaming #8: 71-80

71. Remix Is Meaningful

You can get a good place to start with ‘Game X, But For-‘ like ‘Twilight Imperium For People With Fulltime Jobs. ‘ Resistance has a lot in common with Mafia/Werewolf, for example, with ‘Mafia, for small groups and no administrator’

72. Making Roguelikes Is Pretty Hard

You can fake procedural generation with cards but you have less customisation. It makes the game more bland to allow the pieces to fit. You will get better mileage out of telling players to create/explain things than make cards that fit together perfectly well.

73. Ensure Players Don’t Check Out

If you can, design so players do things/care about things on other players’ turns. Just watching for strategic reasons isn’t enough. MTG’s counterspells/instants are kind of the worst base version of this but at least it’s only one player’s turn (usually). Dead of Winter’s crossroads system is REALLY GOOD for this, as is Tales of the Arabian Nights’ involvement of other players as semi-DM

74. Props And Doohickeys

Do not underestimate the value of a doohickey. Players like things like crowns, fingerguns, or ridiculous titles. Resistance is very good but replace the spies with ‘covert bears’ and you change the tone in a way that can be very appealing. Games can also do this within their space, of a sudden out-of-context ‘what the heck’ kind of thing to stand out in the player’s mind: Spyfall has something of this. There’s one scenario where one character can just be a cat and has to ask questions as if they’re a cat

75. Moments of Theatre

Never underestimate the value of theatrical moments. Texas Hold ‘Em has a MAGICAL moment when players reveal their cards: It’s great. You can hide cards under other cards. You can make the moment a card flips a hammer blow. You can make players have to count down to act. HMS Dolores, btw, is REALLY good for this, with its one-two-three OH GOD WHAT JUST HAPPENED round resolution

76. It’s Okay To Be Indulgent

You’re not going to hurt your chances by making shit indulgent to what you like. If the game works and is solid, the indulgent elements will appeal to people like you and usually rarely repel people who don’t care

77. Reach Outside Of The Game For Components

Don’t underestimate the value of other components. Dog Eat Dog LITERALLY makes a player’s income into a game mechanic component (and uses it excellently).

78. The Work Abyss

Miniature war games are the MMO of indie development. You open that box you are committing to making one thing forever until you die. Or, more realistically, not completing the project and spending a lot of money on the failure. And don’t give me ‘well this miniature thing on kickstarter made a million bucks’ that’s not indie. And they’re mostly selling the ITEMS.

79. Limiting Scope In-Play

If you give players 100 options and let them play with 5 of them, consider making them swap them around. Like, imagine Charades, except once the first round’s done, people randomly get one of the first round options, and can’t repeat gestures. Players will often watch a player trying to convey secret information and think ‘I COULD DO THAT BETTER. ‘ So make ’em.

80. Listen To Women

Listen to women. Seriously. Just, like, you’re listening to me rn, listen to women more. There is so much coding bricked up in gaming and tabletop right now that guys like me don’t even realise is hostile.

2016’s Lessons Of Gaming #7: 61-70

61. Pay People For Shit.

Let me restate that: Pay People For Shit.


My game release schedule is slow because I have to workaround art absence because I can’t afford to pay artists up front for pro schedules. What art I have is either given with promise of future payment or as gifts. In both cases, those are charities.




I can’t afford lots of art so my projects don’t get to use a lot of art. That’s the fuckin’ price of doing business. Don’t ask for free shit

62. Ease Of Purchase Matters

Booklet games and ebook games are easier for people to try on a whim than card games. DOG BEAR outsells EVERYTHING I have. I think in part, this is because these games are easy and cheap to get – if you’re interested, it costs you five bucks to get it, and you get it right away. Most of my card games never sell copies online.

63. Don’t Treat Cards As Sanctified

If you do print-on-demand you can include cards that are designed to be cut up to make tokens for currency or standups.

64. Clash of Warrior Knightses

We have a lot of games about medieval warriors clashing. Feel free to make them if you want, but it’s a well-served space.

65. Hand Size

Giving players a hand of more than six or so cards can get awkward. Just like, fanning/handling that many cards is a decently big #

66. Hands Holding

Players tend (not always) to fan out cards top to bottom, right to left, showing left corners to themselves. So if you want to put easy-reference information on cards, putting it in that left corner makes it quicker to see

67. To Orthogonal Or Not

Roughly half of players recognise ‘straight line’ includes diagonals, roughly half don’t. I have no solution for this. Just be clear.

68. Tracking Variables Technique

You can track a variable on two cards, sliding up and down, ala :

I got this idea from an old version of Sushi Go, and it’s VERY USEFUL for personal information tracking. Spares people using paper.

69. Nice.

69.5. Setup Matters

The more of a pain in the ass your game is to set up the less likely people are to play it twice.

Bad Setup: Zombie 15, Dominion

Good Setup: Captain Sonar, Poker

70. Failure States Of Setup

Jesus christ, 70? Oh okay, anyway, If setting up is part of the game, you need to control it to make it interesting and not slow.


If your game is basically a pachinko machine you kick players into, and it can just fart-out and fail, speed is your friend.

2016’s Lessons Of Gaming #6: 51-60

51. Test The Mental Load

Interrupt a playtest and take a five minute break. How hard is it for the game to resume? What information got lost? The longer the game you make takes to play, the more likely people need to interrupt it for food, toilet breaks, phone calls. If your game collapses when people stop looking at it, too much of the process of the game is stuck in the players’ heads.

52. Test The Soundprint

Try to avoid game text that’ll accidentally make players say something rude or annoying aloud or often. MTG has a problem where ‘counter’ and ‘counter’ mean two different things in two different context and this cuts off design space. Similarly right now a game in development is being reworked because I don’t want players to say ‘my [character] is triggered by that’

53. Borders and Boundaries 1

You have less space than you think. Everything needs some margins, some padding between it and the things it’s near.

54. Borders and Boundaries 2

You have more space than you think. Printed material has a HUGE resolution, so you can cram in lots of pixels.

55. Flooping The Pig

Players using game language is only a problem if your game language sounds like ass spoken aloud. In RPGs this is a goddamn scourge. If you name your mechanics and use good game language, players talking ‘gamey’ should SOUND NATURAL.

56. Diversify Your Knowledge Base

Learning about how things work, things that aren’t games, gives you tools for designing games. Three things I’d recommend are traffic, voting systems and rudimentary linguistics, which all have given me interesting starts.

57. Constructive Space

Players love building things! Let them assemble a ship out of parts, build a deck, organise staff. Cards are good for this. I have a half dozen different game ideas that are just trying to give players different tiled things they can put together that they think are cool and neat.

58. Dice Pools

Dice pool games are super cool but add a challenge to the materiality of design. Custom dice are very tricky to distribute easily. Gamecrafter can do custom dice, custom faced dice, but consider that custom etched dice are like $6 each there.

59. Looking for Gateways

I use DriveThruCards because there’s almost no up-front costs and I personally have felt very cared for by the administration. They’re actually non ideal – they’re located in America and their postal rates reflect that. But Brian has been unfailingly helpful. DTC however, do not Do Your Marketing For You.

60. Stir It And Stump It

This is more a personal failing than actual advice, but: I don’t talk about my games nearly enough, at all, ever. There were people following me in December this year who had no idea I made games. Advertising my shit is hard and I’m not good at it. Be good at it. Get good at it.

So far I have yet to have anyone ever tell me I’m obnoxious about talking about my games. I am always afraid it’ll happen. Always. But it so far hasn’t. People can tune out of my content if they want to, so respect that agency and don’t stress too much about hiding what you’re doing.

2016’s Lessons Of Gaming #5: 41-50

41. Building For An Eruption

You’ll see this in games like Werewolf but moreso in games like Mysterium, where players will suddenly be allowed to talk openly about things they do, and they will explode. All WHY THE FUCK DID YOU DO THAT ON THAT TURN, WHAT THE FUCKIN— This is basically the best and I love designing things that cause this. It’s a catharsis from a mechanic. You can do this with mechanics, and they tend to be beautiful moments. It’s better in cooperative games; in competitive, it might be seen as bluffing.

42. Shuffling sucks

I mean, I like it, but every time you ask players to shuffle they all have to wait for the slowest shuffler. So don’t design a game where players need to shuffle every turn. If you do, make sure it’s a small stack. And shuffling 100+ cards? Fuck off.

43. Hands Are Not Universal

Your game will be played by people with one hand. Maybe they’re holding something. Maybe they only have one hand. Consider that.

44. Cards are material objects

You can literally throw them around. Manual dexterity games are games too. You have that option. That said, don’t make manual dexterity a ringer in an otherwise non-manual game. That works like olives in ice cream.

45. Your friends are part of who you are

Designing games thinking about them will help you empathise with different perspectives.

46. “I’ve Got A Great Idea!”

Is it ‘an edgier Cards Against Humanity?’

Fuck off.

47. Modular Mathematical Models

Cards are dice with memory. Can you replace some of your cards with a die? Can you replace a die with cards? Imagine a game of monopoly where you start with 6 movement cards and have to choose what order to move your 6, your 1. Imagine a war game where you use a handful of cards and choose when you roll well or badly. Oh wait, that exists, it’s called Malifeaux.

48. Modding is making.

There’s a bunch of academic study on this point but the long and short is ‘making mods is making games.’ Don’t sell yourself short for working within a framework that offers you advantages even as it offers you limitations. Alternate modes of Scrabble, Cluedo, Monopoly, Uno, any of that stuff is a place to start making games.

49. Ideas From Bad Jokes

Puns are SURPRISINGLY USEFUL for keeping people remembering game information, or expressing the core of a game idea. Murder Most Fowl is my favourite example, but it’s hardly alone. It also has proven really useful for explaining itself when I talk to customers; they just get it when I say it’s  game about birders committing murders. If your game explains itself quickly you get people playing quicker.

50. Know Your Monsters

Some games are what I call ‘art monsters.’ They will use as much art as you give them. Games like Star Realms, MTG, Arkham. When dealing with an art monster, you need to make a judgment call and say ‘no, you’ve fuckin’ had enough, you monster fuck.’ Some games need a ton of writing work, and will just endlessly eat more and more text you give them. Some games need endlessly intricate systems, too.

The important thing is to recognise that some projects need something to tell them to stop. You can put down those limits.

2016’s Lessons Of Gaming #4: 31-40

31. Physical Notes

Physical note-taking lets me scribble out things in relationship to one another. This is especially important when I’m making games that care a lot about numbers, having the ability to scribble sets/values helps me out. Especially when you can do it quickly; noting things down on a computer so they can be interpreted later tends to slow me down and since the process is rarely as important as the result in this kind of design that matters.

32.  Grid Paper

Grid paper is also super useful – just so you can give satisfyingly similar sizes to things as you work on them. Usually, your notes won’t matter to anyone but you. Me, I find my notes really comforting to check over when I can look at a card and tell it’s meant to be a card.

33. Scope Creeeeeep Is The Worst

Just how much of your game’s design is just throwing together a lot of things you like? (lookin’ at you, Scythe). It’s easy to make a game that’s got to have twenty systems in it at once, but making every one of them good will take you time.

When you’re working in print-on-demand, work with things you can finish first. Cat & The Mouse could be a stealth system in a bigger game, no problem. But I can build UP better than I can strip DOWN. Sometimes you’ll pare a game down and find it doesn’t have enough stuff. That’s okay. You can always add to it.

34. Materiality Is Important.

If you’re working with cards and boards, you’re dealing with actual objects people have to handle. Hecatomb is a neat game but it’s really hampered by the way that shuffling five-sided big ole cards work. The currency in Millions of Dollars feels crap and it plays into how it lasts.  If you’re dealing with a thing that tracks information, do you need to use counters or tokens for that? Can you use a single card, being turned?

When do you use a currency vs an invisible value? Magic The Gathering makes mana invisible, even though lands aren’t. Currency is best used if it’s something that gets handed over to people, make it so the object of the currency is something nice to handle. Invisible currency is fine, if it never leaves one player’s control – ‘I give you five points’ versus ‘here, have these five cards.’

A victory point tracker may have the hated term ‘victory points’ in it, but if those values from different players don’t interact, it’s a good way to track that value rather than using a currency.

35. On Sexy

There’s nothing Wrong with Sexy Games, or Sexy Stuff in Games, just know you’re doing it and why. Sexy As Default is creepy weird. You know what I’m at. A game about barbarians dueling and The Girl is in a bikini because, well, what else would we do? Knock that shit off.

36. Cats And Dogs Are Your All-Purpose Excuses For Anything.

Seriously, theming games around them is a huge cheat. You want players to be selfish, aloof dicks to one another? Your game is about cats. Players will get it. You want players to be needlessly friendly and cooperative with everyone? Make it a game about dogs.

37. Feeding Instigators

If you build your game with a PRESS BUTTON TO FUCK EVERYTHING UP mechanic, ~5% of players will slam that button every fucking time. I sometimes shorthand these players as Instigators.

It can be really useful to tap this resource of player behaviour but don’t do it carelessly. Giving the instigator an inviting button to push when things are getting boring is good; giving them something that keeps anyone from being aware or certain of what’s going to happen next is bad. Consider these effects as a bit like pulling the lever on a slot machine.

38. Theme Pulls Play

If you design your game well players will fall into the theme hard. I have seen a massive bearded man stuttering out ‘s-senpai!’ You can tell players ‘be nervous’ or the game can make them nervous.

There are lots of war games that tell you ‘this matters,’ but the reason the 40k armies get people so invested is because players being able to sculpt their own force makes it matter to them.

Put it simply: You can tell people to act as if candy is good or you can make candy taste good.

39. Look At Your Defaults

Look at the things you assume as default in characters in your game and change it to see how it feels. Put in a vegetarian character. You might find in this process, shit makes no difference to you. That’s good, it broadens your realisation of ‘normal. ‘

40. Having Enough Or Having Anything

Scrabbling for resources is okay, but scrabbling for _specific_ resources is better. I’ll use ammunition as an example, and heck, Doom (the PC game) uses this model really well. If you’re scrabbling for any ammo at all, you mostly can’t do anything while you hunt and search. In Doom, that’s… un-fun. But if you’ve got plenty of bullets but what you REALLY NEED to handle your problem is rockets, you can waste bullets while hunting rockets.

Basically you don’t want your mechanics to say ‘well, don’t bother, you can’t do shit right now. ‘


2016’s Lessons Of Gaming #3: 21-30

21. Play Simple Games.

Every game mechanic you play with is a possible game mechanic you can repurpose and reuse. Build a library. There are a lot of traditional games, like Briscola and Klondike and Freecell and Pyramid that all teach you ways cards and components can interact with one another. Look at Uno. Look at Cribbage. Can you redo Chess? Can you make Checkers interesting?

22. Themes Are Usually Pretty Shallow.

You can usually take any game and strip off its theme and still have an interesting mechanical heart. If you do that you can see different ways to use those same ideas. Bang! and Werewolf and The Resistance have similar cores, not themes. When you shift theme, you often can shift a lone mechanic to explore that.

23. Try To Design At Least One Game Which Uses Just A Standard Deck Of Cards

Do this so you can appreciate games with rules mostly in your head. These are games where the theme is explicitly resisted by the cards – whatever abstraction you choose, you’re not quite dealing with it.

24. Your Complexity Has To Live Somewhere.

Magic: The Gathering’s rules are a massive sprawl but they hide it by putting the complexity in keywords. Sentinels of the Multiverse, which doesn’t exist, tries to put all the explanation for things on rules with very little keywording or rules chunking. Magic: The Gathering is a 25-year old game that’s never stopped growing. Sentinels of the Multiverse is a pretty decent phone game.

When your game gets complicated, you have to put that complicated stuff somewhere. It can be in the manual and people reference, or it can be on the game pieces where people can check it. Recognise when you’re wasting space.

Oh and if other people are using game terms from another game to refer to your mechanics that don’t have that kind of keyword term? You probably need a term for it.

25. Recognise Ragequits

If your game is too frustrating, players will just say ‘fuck it, whatever’ and ditch it. That’s on you. not them.

26. If Players Don’t Want To Play Your Game A Second Time, You’ve Probably Made It Too Predictable/Boring.

That is, of course, not counting artwork reasons – people have an attachment to objects and if your game looks like ass, it’ll put people off. Not every game is for everyone, naturally, so that’s a factor, but if players who are Into This Thing don’t want to play again, that’s bad.

27. Print And Play Players Are So Much More Dedicated Than I Thought.

Fuckers will sleeve stuff, they will cut out 90+ cards, they will use chips and cups to make printables work. There’s a real ethic to them. There are numerous print-and-play aficionados who want the majority of their money to go to the game makers rather than publishers.

28. NEVER NEVER NEVER Use JUST COLOUR To Convey Crucial Game Information.

Your entire game will just SHAKE TO A HALT for ~10% of players. Like, access is its OWN huge umbrella, but colour is the BIGGEST one I see we make mistakes on in a big way. Blue meeples and cyan meeples? Not a good look. Red meeples and green meeples and they need to stand next to each other? Also not a good look.

Look into tokens. Flat, visible tokens with a symbolic design, then make those designs distinct.

29. Gender Stuff!

It’s invisible ink for a lot of guys who make games. Be mindful of it, you can encourage more people to play. Don’t use all guys for your examples. Don’t use Just Male pronouns for players in the rules. If the cast of your game is all dudes diegetically, why? Istanbul is a lovely game which avoids being racist and exploitative and yet it has literally no women in its art or coverage – which is one of those problems that comes up when you assume and assign a default.

30. There Is Literally No Idea Too Silly To Make Into A Game.

In 2016, I saw games about:

  • Being a Jane Austen novel protagonist
  • Dating monsters
  • Bamboo farming
  • Hacking The Man
  • Quashing Uprisings in the Colonies
  • Trading salt
  • Having the best harem of maids
  • Giant Robot Maintenance & Repair

Teaching just one semester I saw games about:

  • Betting on horse racing
  • Being the most beloved chicken
  • Growing illicit turnips
  • Being a Mary-Poppins style supernatural Nanny for toddlers including a young Lovecraft
  • Fighting the Heartless from Kingdom Hearts
  • Dismantling an enormous cybersquid
  • Pitching movies while drunk

Tabletop is the wild goddamn west. YOU DO NOT NEED TO MAKE ZOMBIE SHIT HERE

2016’s Lessons Of Gaming #2: 11-20

11. There Is No Game Idea Too Small To Be Worth Trying To Make Interesting.

The Botch is 24 cards. Pie Crimes is 20 cards. Love Letter is 16 cards. You don’t need a lot of cards to make your game worth playing. Good ideas can pack a lot of fun into a small space. Think about what you can do with a small amount of space, or if you can make a game that’s as simple as mods to another game.

12. Corollary To 11, At Drivethrucards, You Can’t Buy An Order That’s Less Than 20 Cards.

Games that are 1-5 cards can be good ‘filler’ then. Basically if you try to buy 9 cards DTC will say ‘hey, why not these products to fill your order out.’ If you like doing artwork, but don’t want to sell specific products, you can also put up say, Magic: The Gathering tokens you devise for people to use as filler.

13. You Can Patch Rules But You Can’t Patch Cards.

Players who buy your cards can’t get fixed copies very easily. If it’s on a card, you kinda have to stick to it – players who change their opinions. Write rules accordingly.

14. Oh My God Writing Rules Is So Much Harder Than You Think.

Programmers complain about their jobs but they at least get reasonably consistent interpreters. Rules is trying to code random humans. You will not be able to communicate them clearly in just one way. Text rules, diagram rules, video rules – every one of them you can make is useful.

15. Rules: Get Your Theme For The Game Down And Let It Come Out In Rule Writing.

Rules have a character voice, you can use it. The Botch is written like it wants to fight you, Middleware is written very precisely and technically. This helps with the tone of both games and at the same time can give players a feel for the rules and how precisely they need to track them.

16. Players Have Limits On What They Can Track.

Ideally, use boring things to track boring things. Counters and tokens are not particularly interesting. Having them track boring things like money or distance is fine. But if a player’s doing something super interesting like a live-or-die counter or a extra chance reroll kinda thing, put that on a card.

17. We Have Mechanics To Overcome Quarterbacking.

They are worth designing. Hidden information is the best start, BUT, Some players are just gunna quarterback and try to argue about rational actions with hidden information. Burn these players. More accurately, make it so the hidden information in anti-quarterback co-op mechanics can have a really distinct effect.

18. Moving Numbers Can Confuse Players.

try to make numbers move EITHER:

  • In one direction
  • Not Much

If your game has players tracking a value like 13+3+1+3+8+9+1 that’s awkward but okay, or 12-4+3, that’s fine too. But a value like 13+4-8+1+1+1+3-3+12 is asking players to do Harder Math and More Of It, it makes it easier to make mistakes.

19. Minimise The Opportunities For Innocents To Cheat.

In Love Letter, some cards give you actions you must do, and then react based on hidden information. An unaware player may not understand; You can design these places where a player might (for example) accidentally break the game by hiding a ‘wrong’ card. Try to avoid that.

Edit: Whoops, missed one:

20. Players Will Get Your Rules Wrong

With that in mind, try to make your game rules so they can handle some mistakes without falling into mush. In Magic: The Gathering, the game doesn’t break if you play lands over critters, or tap lands THEN pay costs. That kind of thing as acceptable ‘wrongs.’ That’s a game with a super tight set of rules, a really hard codebase for rules, and it can handle things being ‘done wrong.’ Make your rules robust.

2016’s Lessons Of Gaming #1: 1-10

Late 2016, I put together a twitter thread of random tips, thoughts and ideas based on my experience spending a year making games. To make them accessable and readable, I’ve expanded on them and posted them here and will continue to do so until I run out of the original list.


1. Time Spent Reinventing The Wheel Does Teach You How Wheels Work.

Some mechanics just work and you don’t need to mess with that. A good example is deck building. Designing a deck builder is a ‘lot of work’ and deck building works so well you don’t need to get cute with the basic mechanism. Do try building one and see what it teaches you about the process.

2. Free And Cheap Resources Are Out There. provided the art for ~110 cards from Middleware or the core of them. On there are a lot of options for game assets that are usable in card games provided you’re willing to dedicate the time to look through them. You can avoid a game looking ‘cliparty’ by making sure the game either has a lot of varied art styles or that the game has one single art style.

3. Player Attention Follows Patterns.

Just as a single example, the way players parse information on a card follows a pattern, from top to bottom. When people handle cards, their eyes follow an intuitive path down them. It’s literally the flow of information on the card. Learn it, use it. Basically the information players use the most wants to sit in the middle, and information that’s not as important sits out to the edges. Use this when you represent each card – just leaving a face mostly alone and changing one big detail in the centre will make it easier for players to know they can ignore that other information.

4. Lead Times For Print-On-Demand In Australia Are About A Month.

Finish November’s game in August so you have time to fix print problems. This is true for DriveThruCards, and mostly true for GameCrafter. If you want to work on multiple projects, view the order/lead time as development time for the next project.

5. Print-On-Demand Is SUPER CROWDED.

In the DriveThruCards store for us, some of our games have sold literally zero copies; any copies sold are to us, for physical distribution at conventions. That’s not to say the market isn’t reasonably active — when one of our projects gets attention, it gets a lot of attention. There are casual browsers but they’re swamped with options. This makes reviewers, like DiceTower and Shut up and Sit Down and their ilk generally disinterested in your work: the market is simply too crowded for them to open their doors to print-on-demand games.

6. A Lot Of That Print-On-Demand Crowding Is SUPER GARBAGE.

I have to compete with Bible collector cards using clipart and broken HTML ads. If you like that stuff fine, I mean, they’ve got kickstarters that made them a few grand, they’re ahead of me in the game. But the high quality stuff is rarer than the low quality stuff. Literally, there is a strong place here for someone who can do quality control/review and consideration for this marketplace. Hint hint.

7. You Don’t Know Enough About Fonts.

I’m not kidding, not at all. Go to font places. Build libraries of fonts. Get every free novel font you like. Get font maker’s contact info. AND KEEP YOUR FONT INFORMATION STRAIGHT. We almost had a disaster when we released a game with a font we weren’t commercially permitted to. Whenever I make a game now I save the games’ fonts in a directory with it just for ease of reference and version control.

8. Your Game Wants To Have Three Fonts AT BEST.

One for body text, one for title text, one for the logo. A gold standard font to look at for game cards that want to convey text nicely is Beleren. It’s the MTG font (almost). Do not use Beleren (as a matter of taste, not legality), but look at how it handles being made small OR large. This is a huge area to dive into but at the same time: There are special kinds of font nerds who want to chip in and give you advice for your card designs as if you’re writing a full document. There are good, basic principles of font management and text, but they are all flexible and mutable. Know what you’re trying to do.

9. Fonts: Your Logo Font Can Be As Fucky As You Want.

It’s basically a piece of visual art shaped like words, rather than ‘text. ‘ per se. A totally hecking weird logo is generally a bad idea but it’s not a dealbreaker if it makes you feel good about it.

10. Your Comfort With Your Work Matters.

You’re not going to get rich in the Print-on-Demand market. Making Perfect is not as good as Making Content — ‘content’ in this case as in ‘whatsoever state I am’ rather than ‘media churn. ‘ There is a Good Enough. It is better for you to get a bad version of something you want to exist than to never ever see that thing exist ever. The best thing about Print-on-demand card design is you’re very agile. Ideas that don’t work This Time can be implemented Next Time, and games that are appealing to two people are still games worth doing.


What Have I Been Up To

Tonight, I sat down and used the Invincible Ink blog for the first time in a while to belt out the games we’ve been making in 2017. Then, I sat down and sorted through the game projects that are cooking for the rest of the year. Then I sorted through shipping costs.

This weekend is Comic-Gong. We’ll be there, next to our buddies at Invincible Ink, and we’ll be selling stickers and bookmarks and games, games, games.

I’ve been thinking more and more lately of setting up a formal patreon, just because it’s a way to cover blogging, social media nonsense, the shirt-and-sticker designs, game design, writing about the game design, and even maybe short explanatory pieces using youtube or podcasting or whatnot.

We’ll see.

Update – NBN Woes

Just in case you were curious and didn’t catch me complaining about this on twitter, my internet connection is basically gone right now while the NBN is installed. I won’t bore you with the specifics, but if you want me for anything, best to tweet at me at @Talen_lee or send me a DM or something.

I’m sending this from a cafe with wifi.

Comments Off

Just a minor thing as I reshape this blog a little. I’ve come to the painful consideration that no, I am not in fact about to start a new hotbed of great community spaces and rather, my blog here is better used as a place to write longer-form media, serve as some kind of useful reference space, and generally, be used as an essay place, rather than a Place You Go For Daily Updates.

I’ve got a tumblr now, primarily as a useful way to share art and designs with people who share them further on. Content here will be posted there, but the content here, ideally, will be more focused on thoughtfully produced and curated work, longer form creative stuff.

I also post now on the Invincible Ink blog, so if you’re looking for commentary/discussion of my games, that’s a place to go.

Finally, I shut down the Comments section of this website. Those of you who did comment, it’s not a mark against you – it’s just that odds are good you can contact me in other ways (and there’ll be a contact page a-coming soon), and of the thousands and thousands of spam comments, roughly four a year were actually people who wanted to offer input.

Hard Drive Malarkey

Keep your stuff organised! Keep it organised in a way that works for you! Keep it organised so that when you have an idea, you know where you can throw it, to come back to it later! Even if it’s just a matter of keeping a small little sandbox on your computer which winds up being full of text files called bum.txt and boboies.txt, that’s okay, if that works for you! You don’t need perfect hierarchy version control for everything you do, you just need a system that you can lean on when the human meaty parts of your body stop working as optimally as you’d like.

Now excuse me, I gotta go comb two hard drives for some files I misplaced.

They’re not lost, shut up.

Scheduling Notice

This year my first half plan ran, roughly, as follows:

  • Release a game each month
  • Do a full-time semester at uni
  • Do the DLC Podcast on weekends
  • Try to blog consistantly, without touching on themes of distress and rage
  • Write roughly a thousand words of #wyl a week, updating the count on thursdays, before releasing at the end of the month

This last one is the current problem. See, my two most busy days at Uni are Wednesday and Thursday. I finish a full day of uni, I am not keen on the idea of sitting down and trying to get in the headspace of an angry wolf. Best to work then on my uni work.

Then, this week, some computer stuff – nothing bad – mean I have to adjust some stuff and spend time reconstructing laptop systems. Part of this meant I messed up a sync between a laptop and a blank drive, which meant my laptop went Oh well I should just delete everything!

Basically: #Wyl hopefully will be on track by the end of the week, but it won’t be going up every thursday. Also expect more posts about designs and visual things I’ve crafted.

The Plan For 2016

Last year I tried to update every single day. That’s fine, and it worked, but regularity of the content output wasn’t particularly interesting. There were a lot of pieces put out, some in the Cool Take genre, some that were just ‘hey I am busy.’ Writing every single day is good practice, but I already do that. So I’m trying to focus on making the writing better rather than just addressing the volume.

At the moment, I have three things that are going to happen on this blog, consistantly, in 2016.

Every week, I will post an update on the current word count of the #Wyl story. This update will happen each Thursday, and on the last Thursday of each month, I will release the story itself. I expect each of these stories to be around 9,000 words, but that’s a variable value. Hopefully they won’t get to be too bloated and long. This story is going to be a very pulpy, low-edit kind of narrative that tries to focus on some things that I like, rather than necessarily going for a large, grand vision. It’s going to be about a werewolf finding bad people and punching them a lot.

Every weekend is going to be dedicated to the Downloadable Concept podcast. Trying to do edits while also finding the time to write makes one or the other feel like a chore, and trust me, editing the podcast isn’t a ton of fun to start with. Basically, weekend posts are going to be exceptions rather than expectations.

Each month I’m going to try and write something in-depth, ideally multiple articles, about a single game I’ve been playing or thinking about. Tabletop games count, but for the most part I’m going to try and do more pieces that focus on getting work out there to hopefully engage you with a game I care about and have feelings about. Expect more ‘Deeper In The Pile’ style pieces, more stuff like last year’s Hotline Miami Week. I may be going with One Game Per Month for this, I don’t know.

And finally, and this is the one with the most asterisks and caveats, I will be striving to release a single, complete game, each month. That may be at the start of the month, it may be at the end of the month, it may coincide with some date in the month, whatever. The point is, there will be one title every month, under the Invincible Ink label. Some of those games will be small and some of them may be bigger. I don’t yet know. In some cases, these games are going to be the byproduct of collaborative work, which means I will get work done on them and that’s cool, but they won’t be ready for release.

This plan is currently outlined for the first four months of the year. We’ll see if we can stick it out.

So This Is Christmas…

… and what have you done?

  • Five short stories that I’m not very happy with
  • Stop-starting input on a novel that I continually feel I shouldn’t write
  • Two semesters of University, finishing my 2nd year and beginning my 3rd
  • Multiple Distinctions
  • Forty eight podcast episodes, doing all the editing myself
  • Bought, Finished, and Beaten the Swindle
  • Five conventions, each one pushing back our standard returns
  • Wrote about Hotline Miami, and Thief, and HP Lovecraft
  • Wrote about the Shrek Soundtrack and the nature of words
  • Wrote about pronouns and fundamentalism in my childhood
  • Just… just wrote a ton of shit
  • Four entire purchaseable game products
  • Supporting friends

In 2014, this time of year, I said:

I don’t know if I did it. But it’s the only option.

The Best Of 2015, I Suppose

I have no idea what of my writing is good or bad or whatever. I mean, I don’t particularly like my Death Note post, but, if you believe the statistics, it’s the most popular thing I’ve written on this site. The post that generated the most clicks in the shortest amount of time was the Gamergate-related post where I called them whiny, entitled shit-babies. Still, judging my own quality is hard, but thankfully, we have statistics and math. So this is the stuff that got the most hits this year, that was written this year, which really is more saying this is the media that Fiora or Melissa shared.

Bonus: I can look at this list and remember all the fights I had after they got posted with people who got upset by them! Counting down but not actually counting down because I can’t make <li> tags show a reverse-number list, here we go! The best of 2015!

  1. Problematic Faves. A long tweet that’s just an attempt to restate the well-known and over-done point that everyone knows already about how all media is tainted and there’s no pure thing you can enjoy so it’s totally okay for you to like that thing.
  2. Slavery Wasn’t So Bad. I delved into my fundamentalist background more often this year, which had the side effect of occasionally horrifying my friends and making conversations really awkward. Don’t worry, though, I’m not one of those atheists. I’m one of the good ones. This post was me digging into my history and drawing out that weirdly okay-with-slavery language of my childhood.
  3. Guest Post: Searching for Answers and Meaning in a Dying World. The big Guest Post of the year, this was written by Fiora as a review and meditation upon Atelier Shallie. I thought it was a very lovely piece and definitely deserves all the attention it got, and I have no snark or complaint to attach to it. It’s a lovely little piece and I’m really honoured that Fiora was okay with me sharing it here.
  4. No Godus, No Kingus. Hey, remember that well-established game developer who could walk up to one of the wealthiest companies in the world and get a job making a pipe-dream game that he didn’t have to actually do any code for? And how earlier this year he admitted that he’d basically lied to us a lot, again, but he was really sorry this time and it wouldn’t happen again and the gaming press felt really bad for doing something like holding a guy to account for his actions and the way he spent thousands of dollars. Well, here was my cool take on the matter, where I tried to underscore never believe Peter about anything.
  5. The Dad Fascist Power Fantasy. I’m not a dad, but luckily, my father is one, and it just so happens I speak Dad. Based on this experience, I’ve been able to do some study into what makes Dads engage with the most Dad of Media, and I noticed this trend towards Dad Fascism in videogames.
  6. What Requires Hate. I met Benjanun this year, watched people foaming at the mouth about shit she said years ago, and thought it was really weird that people who like science fiction and other art about transformation are insistant that a young woman has to be stuck identified with her absolute worst self. Fun fact, I know how the statistics on the hits for this one went, so I know most of the hits on this were hate-reads from people who already didn’t agree with it, and left messages telling me I’D BEEN BRAINWASHED and DON’T LISTEN TO THE BEE’S LIIIIIES which is totally a good way to make your point like a normal person.
  7. High School Sexx Education. Hey, I actually am really proud of this one! A short, simple piece about how we’re really weirdly silly about how we treat ‘gender’ in the science-discussin’ realm of the world.
  8. The Value Of A Dollar – $20. Oh and this is one of my money series, which I love to pieces. This is about Mary Rieby, or Reiby, or Reybey or whatever she wanted today, a wonderfully weird lady whose career started at ‘cross-dressing horse-thief.’
  9. The Rando Identification Guide.Yeah this is a bunch of puns on the word ‘rando’ and it made a friend of mine cry because they thought I meant them. Of course, I didn’t, and it has nothing to do with them, but people can’t help how they feel. But hey, it’s popular, so apparently lots of other people liked it? There’s a confusing fucking thing. Oh, and bonus, I got this rando behaviour from people this year!
  10. “Don’t Feed The Trolls”. Finally, this is the most popular thing I wrote this year, according to these statistics. A little post about how ‘Don’t Feed The Trolls’ is a maxim that maximally benefits the trolls.

So there we go. This is a bunch of stuff. I guess based on this next year, I need to give up on writing about videogames or designing things and instead focus on hurting my friends by sharing stories about my fundamentalist childhood in a way that makes fun of bad online behaviour. Or maybe I’ll find some group to enrage with hate-reads so I can turn their outrage into clicks that my –

oh wait, I don’t put ads on this site.

Oh well.



This is my thousandth post on my blog. As of this year I have done extensive streaks of writing. Last year I wrote extensively on multiple projects, with this year being more about expanding my skill base – working in video, audio, and animation projects.

So many times this past two months I have started to speak, only to find myself silenced by so many good reasons. This will upset a person. This isn’t my place to say. People do not like this as much as I do. If I talk about this, people will understand it differently to what I mean. If I put this out there, and nobody likes it, I will have proof of that. If I use this now I will not have it another time. This is just my emotions, and will not form a good component of a corpus that hypothetically, one day, might yield commercial work. Nobody has the context to understand why this matters and I cannot give it to them. Everyone’s angry about this thing right now, don’t talk about a related matter.

I pretty much just stopped.

Burnout isn’t really the word for it. Burnout implies that I’m tired of doing it, and I imagine the result of stopping would be relief. It wasn’t. I just felt more sad and angry and anxious, like I was being muted and not by anyone actually asking me to do it. The feeling I have so often, the feeling that echoes in my bones, is that I am radioactive; people can abide me, enjoy me even, that they can feel the glow for a bit, but that in time, I make them sick. I hurt by my presence.

Today, I made an off-handed comment about story structure.

A friend had to leave the room.

I wasn’t even trying to be cruel. I know, because I know what trying to be cruel feels like. I really enjoy that. It’s one of the things that really worries me about who I am: when tasked to be creative, the only work I make that seems to work is stuff about sex and violence, and that says a lot about how my brain’s been hammered into shape by my life. I know what it’s like to hurt people and enjoy doing so. I keep looking for targets, and in my early internet going days, I used to spend my time looking for fights.

Nowadays, I don’t get that urge out, and even when I don’t do anything about that feeling, I still hurt people. And some days I will try and give myself that tiniest feeling, and say something meanspirited about… a company. A videogame. A public personality who has no reason to ever feel anything about what I have to say, no reason to hunt me down and sue me for ten million dollars.

And yet, just the act of expressing that, just letting that element of myself out at all hurts people. People who aren’t in the room. People who aren’t involved, or addressed.

I feel it in my bones.

Going to get back into publishing a thing every day. I’ve written something every day this year – but let’s see if I can’t get back into that groove of sharing it, and putting it out there. Podcast days are getting tighter and better. Hopefully I can keep to that.

Metablog Commentary

Turns out this July, some folk are doing a Nanowrimo thing, which I am considering trying out because I have an idea that I kinda want to get done and out in one chunk and it’s not like I’m working on any other creative writing project I can share meaningfully in a large group. On the other hand, this year has been a year of failures of ideas and failures of effort so I don’t know if I want to add a broken thing to the pile. It still put me in mind of something though, and that’s just how much writing I do and how much I don’t.

I mean think about this: It is pretty fucked up that I have a blog, a blog that I pay for, without ads, which is beholden to most nobody, and yet I feel like there are things I can’t say here. In what spaces am I going to feel more like I own them, like I’m in charge?

S’fuckin’ weird. I am a damaged weirdo.

I think part of this weirdness is that there are sometimes tweet strains which I haven’t been making permanent in some way, I’ve been quietly eschewing because I feel like… I dunno, like that is twitter content? Even when that content is blatantly better to use as a blog post? But by putting it on twitter I can hope that it’ll be swept away and maybe nobody will see it. I am literally creating content and uploading it to the internet in the hopes it is missed which is basically the exact opposite reason for why I even have a Twitter account.

So I may try this month to take a few of my recent twitter strings and try to condense them here, to at least be somewhat easier to link. Who knows, maybe say some things. Not controversial things, just like, things. I’m working up to it, okay?

The Draft Bucket

I haven’t opened it up and looked into it often. Sometimes my drafts are just random subjects, with completely blank posts. I think part of that is a practice of hopeful inspiration: that whatever idea it was that inspired me to want to write about a thing will, itself, re-inspire me when I merely see the little totem of it I have left behind.

cheesegrater • Mitt Romney existed • Bayonetta’s Bum

In some cases they’re cryptic and I don’t know what they mean any more. They’re just little slivers of an idea without anything fleshing them out. They’re confusing, and remind me that I don’t really know myself as much as I might think I do. I mean, I can’t remember what I meant by a sentence when I wrote it, right?

how dare you • didn’t cry •  gamer •  asshole entitlement

There are some I don’t want to finish or post. They’re not timely any more. They’re reflective of an emotional state that doesn’t help anything. These sit in my draft bucket, reminding me that there are things I can’t say or do, opinions I can’t have. I’m really not sure what to do about these. Deleting them feels dishonest, but posting them doesn’t feel right.

pokken canon • #cancelcolbert • Allowed To Hate

Some things sit in the draft bucket because I don’t think I can flesh them out any more. They speak of an emotional state that I can’t quite grapple with. They’ve lost their window of time, I think. Really, I hesitated, and these works were lost. They’re sort of like an effort to be more than I am, to have an opinion that I feel should be respected, on something that matters. Those are things that I’m shying away from, more and more.

Maybe I’ll empty the bucket and start again. We’ll see.

Vectors of Distribution

In the stats of the year’s posts I find one of them sticking out to me.

Do You Dislike Your Voice was one of the only things I wrote in 2014 that was shared on tumblr. It didn’t get any responses, but it did get a lot of attention.

I am circling around the idea that for certain kinds of work, tumblr as an attention engine is a remarkably powerful tool. I am not sure how I feel about this. I don’t want to, as it were, dive wholeheartedly into Tumblr – it’s a place that’ll eat all your time if you want to, and it can get very insular – but it’s a way to amplify attention to your projects.

Consider this, my friends who make things. Twitter is pretty good. Tumblr seems even better.