Read the new here. Don’t wait until the end, spread the word now. Also, tell people they can get a single game for $1.
There’s no reason not to get involved at that level.
Read the new here. Don’t wait until the end, spread the word now. Also, tell people they can get a single game for $1.
There’s no reason not to get involved at that level.
Just in time for the holidays, I’ve created and released three unofficial expansions to a famous, horrible, offensive, ‘you know what it is’ card game. The cards are print versions, not those ridiculous paper PDF things. Gross.
Each deck has a theme and includes 75 cards (55 white and 20 non-white cards) on premium paper.
Cards Against Humility is themed around events and people that/who embarrass us. Grandma kissing you in front of your friends would be an example, though it didn’t make the final cut, though watching porn with grandma in the room did.
Finally, my favorite of the series is Cards Against Stupidity. This is just the kind of stuff that drives me nuts (and probably you, too). Seriously annoying and stupid things and people. My favorite from the deck is probably people who shave off their eyebrows and draw them back in with a sharpie pen. If you’re going to get one, get this one.
I’m sure there times I’ve reviewed a game, or posted a screed and you wondered, “what is he doing?”
Well. Sometimes I give general game design advice. Or writing advice. Or graphic design advice. And no matter what you are doing, there are specific rules to HOW and WHY you do things. All forms of design adhere to the same rules. There are hierarchies of how information is presented, form and function marrying well, and legibility, among others. Within these rules are various techniques for achieving your ends. Two typefaces might contrast one another, in order to make the information appear different or stand out from one another, for instance.
This isn’t a workshop, so I’m not going to list everything. Just know, that anyone working in design, knows there are rules, even if they don’t know everything there is to know.
(I’m still learning)Previously, I talked about this in how to make character sheets for a roleplaying game. Design is a crucial element, but often character sheets are an after thought. Today, I’m going to use one of my favorite board games as an example of how NOT to design card frames for your games.Ready?Disclaimer: Splendor is a brilliant card/board game. Genius. It did not need a veneer. It is so obviously themeless, that it could have just been numbers on a card. But I think modern eruo-gamers wouldn’t have liked it and wouldn’t have played it if it didn’t have the jewelry leitmotif slapped on it. And it is just slapped on. Again. The game is genius. Go play it.This is what a typical card looks like in Splendor.
And here is what this game information means.
Without explaining the rules, the card cost is the single most important piece of information on a card. It is what you look at for over 50% of the game. Once purchased, the ‘in game bonus’ becomes the most important piece of information on THAT card, but not on ALL cards. Finally, the VP is only important at the toward the end of the game as you need 15 points to win.
The art is never important. It is merely a game affectation.
Now. The first thing I would have done with these cards is removed the art. There’s a small amount of thematic cues to the card based on the card back (level 1 is mines, level 2 is jewelers, and level 3 is cities), but this is mostly superfluous information. But, presuming we keep the art in, the design here is just messy and incoherent.
First off, the art is the largest piece of information and it’s useless.
Second, the other three elements are relatively the same size, positioned in each of the corners, and not all that amazing. Seriously. The typeface for the numbers looks like the first free one out of the box. The in game bonus in the top right is one of five different colored gems. It’s fine for what it does, no complaint, but it doesn’t need to be as big as the card cost icons.When I’m playing the game, I’m looking at three things. How many gems I have (tell me what I can buy), how many gems my opponents have (i.e. what they can buy), and the card cost of each card. And while the information is easily legible, it’s the same size on the card as the other two pieces of information (in order to give room for the superfluous art).
Now. I’ve worked at enough game companies to know that sometimes the art directors aren’t gamers. Or at least, they don’t always play the games. Hell. I’ve been hired by people to make cards without know HOW to play the games. So, I always ask them to provide a hierarchy of information so I know what’s important and what’s not. And I’ve actually dropped out of projects while fighting production managers who didn’t even understand their own product.
(“You’re not selling the art. You’re selling a game.” I would say.)
Now. Had I been hired to make these card frames (and the art had already been ordered, as I presume was the case here), this is how I would have handled the card frame sketch (before doing any real work).
Notice how the card art is screened behind the information and the card costs are FRONT AND CENTER. This is purposeful. I’ve played the game now, I know what I need to know while playing it. The in game bonus is still at the top right, because that gives me a discount on all future purchases. I definitely want that information handy. And the VP is tucked at the bottom right, because I don’t need that shouting at me.Now. You’re thinking, but if I fan my cards on top of one another, the VP is hidden under the other cards. And you’re right. This would be hurt my ability to play the game. So. I’d make this change.
Everything in it’s place, everything easy to read, and the art still adding ‘visual texture’ to these abstract game, while not interfering with the gameplay. This is so brain-dead simple, I don’t know why people continue to make games that mess this up.
[Aside: All this card art, and they still ordered a separate piece of art for the cover that doesn’t appear on any of the cards and has zero thematic value. What a waste of money. All that said, it’s selling really well for them. So good on them.]
Okay. So Splendor isn’t the only game that has these kind of headaches.
In fact, I deal with companies all the time who don’t want to spend money on art or icons or anything, but still want to look like Ticket to Ride. And there’s no way to do it with the cavalcade of data that’s sprawled across the game.
Here’s a card frame I made for a game that had almost zero art budget. No lie, I had to order b/w art and make it look like it was colored. I had to use an inordinate about of textures and I had to to present the information in such a way that the card text and icons wasn’t fighting the rest of the game.
I won’t defend how the style of this game harkens back to how games were made in the 1970s, but this publisher’s material plays like old school products, so I think it’s a match in that regard. But. Most importantly, it’s clean. Title and art are not important during play. In fact, if I had my way, that information would be on the bottom of the card. But that’s too revolutionary for words. Once the card is on the table, people only have to read one of those columns as the game text in front of them. Everything is explained immediately.
I’m working on a board game here soon called 100 A.D. We’ll be kickstarting it early next year. The game design is mine and the card frame design will be mine as well. The art will be kept to a minimum because the information on the cards is so important to play.
(You’ll see what I mean in a few months.)
But when I do it, I’ll link back to this art and show you an example of me putting my money where my mouth is. In the mean time, stop putting information on card frames in the wrong order.
This PSA brought to you by the Kellogg Foundation, Price-Waterhouse Cooper, and 1d6. Never underestimate the value of designing a game around a dice type that everyone already has.
There are now 20 games in the Protocol series and a bunch of updates, including spotlights on specific games.
The last couple of nights I’ve been busy with non-essential writing. [Sorry. I happens sometimes.] Inspiration hits and I don’t have a lot of willpower. I’ve made two new PDFs that are system neutral.
One is another addition to the Alphabet Soup line of pdfs that includes Lexicons and 1d100 charts. This one is about guilds, providing political fodder for fantasy campaigns. Heck. A little work and these could be corporations in a cyberpunk game.
The other one is a new line of PDFs that I’m developing — essentially fantasy worlds on one page. The first was written by Chrystal Andros about a world of decadent monarch who plunder their own family’s wealth. There will definitely be more of these in the series.
Traditional roleplaying games are about adventure. And adventure is a key ingredient for understanding why so many gamers balk at the idea of playing something ‘different.’ I could talk/write for hours about gamers who say, “that game is weird” when they mean, “That game is not about an adventure. What do I do in it?” In fact, many people keep calling their products roleplaying games, even when they aren’t because the phrase roleplaying game is so indelibly linked to adventure gaming.
What do you do in D&D? Go on quests to find treasure.
What do you do in Traveler? Go to outer space and hunt down bad guys and treasure.
What do you do in Deadlands? KIll outlaws and zombies and zombie outlaws and take their ghost rock (treasure).
What do you do in Shadowrun? I have no idea. Pretend it’s not D&D with guns?
All snark aside, our expectations of what we’re going to do in a game suggests that if a game is outside the comfort zone of adventure, killing werewolves with AKs, or exploring unknown worlds, it becomes hard to understand “what will I be doing in this game?”
• • •
For whatever reason — and I don’t have a good answer here, perhaps maladroit teens with social anxiety — adventure games are about people with no past, no human relationships, and no connection to anything other than the present. Save the prince? We better do it now. Sneak passed the guards? We don’t have time to do anything but kill him and get inside.
Just once I’d like to see the PCs investigate who the guard is, follow him home, and then have a private conversation with him there about how much it’ll cost to sneak into the tower at night. Or even better, dig up some dirt on him or leverage a favor.
• • •
If I wrote the back text of a game book that reads:
“Welcome to the Lands of Arnas. The World has been broken. A cataclysm has befallen the land and the people suffer. Wild beasts roam the earth. The sun has turned black. An ancient evil has awoken. The end times are now.”
There would be no question in your mind what you’d be doing in the game, despite the fact that the game doesn’t say, you’re adventurers trying to heal the land. But what if you bought it, got it home, and realized it was the setting for a love story? Or a human drama piece about barons and warlords vying for power? What if I told you the game was about five children with the power to unmake creation, who haven’t been born yet? Or the gods would grant the world a reprieve if the PCs could only decide which of them should die?
All of a sudden, you’re confused about what you’ve just bought into. It’s not about overland travel, riddles, treasure, and goblin tactics? What is this game?
None of these questions are wrong, by the way. But there’s a convenient perspective that roleplaying games are adventure games, because a 40-year pedigree of game design has found one element of dungeons and dragons to riff on… killing people and taking their stuff — you know this meme as murder hobos.
There are a dozen ways to interprets what is going on in this picture (as it relates to games).
Now. There’s nothing wrong with playing games about killing stuff. In fact, I like those kinds of games, too. But I like lots of games. And I want the things I do to matter. Why can’t I save the village and then fall for someone in the village I just saved? Or maybe fall for someone in the village, which is my impetus for saving the village in the first place. What if I’m from that village and I know everyone there. Of course I’m vested in saving it now.
Which brings us to games about human relationships. Adventure games rarely get passed the “how do you know each other?” question to express ideas beyond, “we all like gold.” But modern games are growing more complex than that. How people are related to one another is a fundamental question to nearly every non-traditional game. Fiasco spends 90 minutes before the game starts answering this question.
[Protocol does it in 10 minutes. Plug.]
Characters can love one another in games. We can develop stronger bonds and assume a past between characters with a simple 5-10 minute chat before the game starts, as we build the foundation of the story. I’ve run entire sessions of Vampire and Blue Planet that were just about the back story. I once ran a Vampire campaign and the first six sessions, the characters were still human and hadn’t turned yet.
And unlike traditional games where we worry about “Where are we camping tonight?” and a 1000 other moments of minutia, characters can have romantic relationships without ever exploring the awkwardness of describing their sexual congress. We just assume it’s something that happens.
Which bring us to another strange part of gaming: Love. Now. I won’t get into a debate about love just being chemicals in the brain trying to tie us into secure relationships that are beneficial biologically and that romantic love is just a made up thing. The fact is, 99% of humans understand that love is something they can’t control and it’s a vital part of the human condition.
We dedicate almost all of our energy to attracting people to us. We want them to smell our hair, or notice our bodies, or our eyes, or our talents. Or whatever. Even when love isn’t sexual, it’s still a base human desire to be wanted and needed. And yet, we never explore it in games. We build this realistic worlds, argue about halfling movement rates, debate whether or not dwarven women have beards, list every f**king item in our backpacks, and build feat trees for our characters so we’ll know what we can do at level 9.
But talk about love during the game?
And it makes no sense. Now. I know most of my gamer friends are hairy men with bad breath and the last thing I want to do is roleplay a scene with them about lizardfolk copulation, but it’s kind of stupid that we can’t.
Or can we?
I’ll do and say a lot of things at the game table with people I trust that I would never publish. Look over my games. They are all about human drama, but not a single one is about sex. Unless you make it about that. For all my posturing in this post, I don’t think roleplaying games should be about sex. Call it my puritanical upbringing, but there’s a division between everything else we do in our lives… and sex.
Which is so hypocritical, I know.
We can encourage players to take on the roles of other genders (including TG characters in the latest editions of some games), and yet we can’t get to this place where gender even matters, because the games we play about everything but relationships. And I’m not saying you game like this, but find a page in any mainstream RPG that addresses human relationships on a deeper level than, “Why are you together?” and I’ll send you a free PDF about robots who hate each other.
It’s easy to say, “Well roleplaying games aren’t supposed to be that realistic.” And to you I say, “What are you doing reading a post about love and sex in roleplaying games if that’s your point of view?” Some gamers can’t play a female character because it’s “too weird,” but playing a dwarf from an alien culture and physiology is just fine?!? It’s no wonder we discount the value of human emotion and relationships in roleplaying games, we don’t know what being human is.
Check out Walking Dead Season 1 and 2 by TellTale games for more examples of real human relationships in games.
As always, my endings are awkward.
It’s been a strange month. But who cares about that? Let’s get into it…
I hope by now that people have a sense that I am no-nonsense and straight-forward. My writing style is concise, emulating my lack of patience for noise. People taking too long to say what they mean and obfuscating their true intentions behind pandering marketing and ‘perfect-timing’ posts is the worst. In fact, anything disingenuous irks me.
But the past two years of game designer have been an education in just how obvious the noise in marketing is more important than the product. Or at least, more important than I would like it to be.
Recently, I had a conversation of what it’s going to take for Post World Games to start being successful (that’s right kids, I really don’t make a passable living at the moment). I got a lot of amazing advice. Really. I’m not being sarcastic or anything. I listened. I fought it all. But I listened.
Over the past month, I really haven’t wanted to work. I’ve completed over 60 projects this year, so I’m due a break. But it’s more than that. The work continues and I love what I do. But I’m tired of the fight to “get more sales.” This isn’t the 1950s and I can’t just be a successful author without self-promotion.
But. I hate self-promotion. I hate it so much, I have probably mentioned it about 200 times in the last two years.
I could go on about it, but I won’t.
Asking someone to do something they don’t like or aren’t good at won’t net good results.
And generating ‘community interest’ in a disingenuous way doesn’t mean you’re going to be making good games.
I write what I want. And when I want to. It’s a horrible business model, but it’s honest. I’m not working on a zombie game because zombies are hip. I’m working on a zombie game because Anthony and I stumbled upon a genius idea that I’m sure rpg.net fans will hate. That’s an example. I’m not going to digress about zombies.
So. As the end of 2014 approaches, I continue to work on games, plan my kickstarters, and look toward a different philosophy in 2015. More posts. Less games. More community, I guess. But in a way that I am comfortable doing.
Which brings me to the present. There are about 50 to 200 people who are just amazing supporters of my work. The latest kickstarter made 2750 in its first day. Great for a company of my size. But apparently, it could have done more. Apparently, if I was on google+ and rpg.net and all these groups all over the net, community-building I would be doing better. I would have had a 10k day or something. I see other games on kickstarter generating a lot of buzz and I wonder if the quality ever matches the funding results. I don’t back them, so I don’t know.
I still believe in the artistry end of what we do. I don’t make Apocalypse World hacks because AW is popular. I make what I think is a good marriage of style and substance; function and form. So. I want to keep making good stuff. I don’t want to spend 6 hours a day talking about what I’m making.
Yesterday was a slow day on the new Kickstater. After a 2750 dollar day, I saw $1 in backing on day 2. That’s a strange slowing down on backers. So instead of racing around making myself crazy, I used the day to finish up two of the new Protocol Games. I’m always going to focus on making better games for everyone. That’s something you can expect. If you know a better, smarter path to help me build more ‘community’ around the Protocol system — and I’m convinced it should be as popular as Fiasco — I’m all ears. I know there are dozens and dozens of designers in the same boat I am in — working hard and wondering why the results aren’t there. None of them put out 60 products this year (instead sarcastic grin), but we all share the same commonality of getting anyone to notice what we are doing.
Anyway. Before this becomes a soapbox/pity party, I should sign off. Once again, I need to thank all the people who are supporting my efforts. My inbox is always open to chatting about games. Also, there’s a comment box below. Use it.
There’s art, a video, lots of descriptions. Really. You should just go to the page.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Company: Post World Games
Contact: jim pinto
The 2015 Release of Bastille Day
Post World Games has announced 15 new games in the Protocol Game series, all with a new a cleaner new look, streamlined rules, more examples of play, and advice to help even the most novice player. This new series is paired with a new Kickstarter, launching November 17th. The kickstarter includes stretch goals for more games in the series, exclusive rewards, a special edition deck of cards, and guest writers.
The Protocol Game series is a ground-breaking look at story roleplaying games. Taking the scene-framing style and making it approachable and adaptable for all players, the game ensures that everyone gets equal say in the game, regardless of skill level or confidence. And the range of over 30 games in the present catalog means there something for everyone.
And they’re only $4 each and cheaper by the dozen.
The original series of Protocols are available through drivethrurpg.com and postworldgames.com. The new kickstarter launches mid-November. In the mean-time, here’s a preview link to the project.
As we near the end of the year, I am absolutely stunned by the volume of work I produced this year, and still didn’t hit most of the goals. I wanted to have my Sci Fi game out this year (also using the Dramatic Game Engine), as well as start the teasing for a game called Banesidhe (which is about two years in the making — on and off). And now I’m announcing more games, while I still have 11 Toolcards decks to do.
And. To top it all off, I am running another Protocol Kickstarter of 15-25 more games before the end of this month.
You will all get the memo.
But that’s not all, I have two more Carcass expansions planned and I am still a partner in Souljar Games, which is taking more and more of my time. Care to feel my heart rate?
So. Here is my attempt to walk you through what is coming next and which order you can expect them.
The Protocol Kickstarter is next. There’s a preview link here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/218255739/691337492?token=e2997681. It launches on November 18 or 19.
While that’s going on, I’ll be designing and finishing some of the Toolcards decks from the previous KS, writing on Bastille Day, playtesting the Dramatic Game Engine some more, and revealing some updates of what we’re doing with it. Bastille Day will be an early 2015 promotion, with release in the middle of the year. Anthony Moro and I are working on it together, so if it’s late, it’s because the rules are late (me). I hope to have weekly updates about our progress on Bastille Day.
Finally, in between all that I want to finish the Carcass companion book — An Abattoir of Flies, which adds a lot of information that probably should have been in the core book. I know. I know. But I wrote the game in two weeks. It was an experiment. And when it’s time to do a second edition, it will be a massive book filled with great ideas and advice.
The Carcass: Unearthed is already done and coming soon. It’s a collection of five pseudo-paranormal character classes. They can be played collectively or just peppered into your existing Carcass games.
Let’s see. I’m making two more board games for Souljar Games between now and GenCon, and there’s talk of another Cairn book (which I’ll be doing the graphics for) and maybe a deck of Cairn cards. I don’t feel comfortable making Souljar announcements, since we haven’t finalized everything yet. But I can tell you it’s keeping me busy.
Did I forget anything?