Interview on the Cardboard Architects Podcast

Cardboard Architects PodcastI was invited to be on the Cardboard Architects Podcast recently. The hosts, Chris and Joe, are also hobbyist board game designers who love to talk shop.

The conversation is relatively brief by podcast standards — right around 40 minutes. But it covers a wide range of territory, and was an easy, fun chat with a couple of guys that really like this topic. These types of conversation are still my favorite part of this hobby.

You can check listen to the interview at BGG (link). If you’re already a podcast consumer via iTunes, Podcast Addict, and the like, search for “Cardboard Architects”.

Free 8-pack of Square Repeating Textures – Beach Rocks

River Rock Beach TextureI love being out in nature, and sometimes while I’m there, I’ll take pictures. Often, the pictures are just close-ups of specific natural features, like rocks, grass, bark, water, etc. I’ve worked out a trick for turning some of these pictures into repeating textures that could be used for website backgrounds or game textures.

The first set is a collection of pebbles, rocks and rock surfaces found near large bodies of water. I took the pictures over the past few years, while on vacations to the Big Island of Hawaii and on the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota.

Each of the 8 files is 2048 pixels square and can be tiled next to itself to create a seamless larger image. They are large files, though, so you will likely want to reduce their dimensions and file sizes to make them more useful as website backgrounds or background textures for games. In fact, feel free to adjust/manipulate them as needed to make them work for you. Please read the READ ME file included in the ZIP to get the full usage/attribution terms.

You can download the full ZIP file here (~27MB): Square Repeating Textures - Beach Rocks (59)

Here’s a sample of the 8 textures:

Samples of the 8 "Beach Rocks" Textures

Finding a Missing Land: How It All Started

Leatherbound Book on PlanksI distinctly remember the “aha!” moment I had on one particular day when I was in my third year at college. I had checked-out a few old history books from the library (yes — I did go into the library now and then) to do research for a paper I was writing at the time. Of course, the paper was due in a couple of days and I was way behind the proper curve for researching and writing a paper of this type, so I had been trading normal sleeping hours for homework time.

The books spanned a wide range of the middle ages and were filled with old maps and stories about travels throughout the known world. I’m not sure if it was the sleep deprivation or the frightening amounts of coffee I had consumed that evening, but I started seeing some unmistakable patterns. Although it was never fully described nor drawn on a map, I became certain that there was once a large land area located in what is now the middle of the Atlantic ocean. Continue reading

My Game Design Duct Tape: Multi-Use Cards

Examples of multi-use cardsWhile I try to do something different in each game I design, and I try to let the theme of the game drive what mechanisms are used, I do have some common tendencies … and most obvious of them is my love of multi-use cards.

As a player, I love to have options, flexibility, room for creativity to use whatever my current resources are. The ability to combine things or otherwise have a choice in what a specific card is used for gives the strategy-crunching part of my brain a lot of enjoyment.

As a designer, I love the way multi-use cards can expand a design without much, if any, increase in number of components. There’s usually a bit more math and/or spreadsheet work that’s needed to make everything come together right … but that’s a trade-off I’ll take most times. Continue reading

Patience and Priorities

Beautiful Mancala BoardI like to say “I am not a patient man” — misquoting and doing a bad imitation of Forrest Gump — but that isn’t exactly true. I have a lot of patience for people — especially people closest to me, or those I am teaching or coaching. Life has a lot of ups and downs, easy times and overly-busy times, and I am usually fine taking those things as they come and dealing with whatever is at hand to get through it. Lord knows, last year was a great reminder of that for me.

Where I do have problems with patience is on creative projects that I’m working on. Everything always takes longer to actually do than I’d like it to. At the same time, I don’t like to rush things just to get them done either, because I’d rather they were “right” than “fast.” So, that means I simply have to pay for that conundrum by burning through a little frustration … Continue reading

Clever Spell-Casting in Aether Magic

Aether Magic Card Art ExamplesAs I mentioned in my previous post, the Happy Mitten team has really focused on a handful of clear goals with the games they want to publish: easy-to-learn, engaging player interaction, and allowing players to be clever. That “Magic Sauce” post focused on the player interaction, so I thought I’d write another to explain how player-cleverness comes into the game.

For those who noticed my answers to the “Foxhole Fiver” at the The Meeple Mechanic website, you’ll see that I brought up the Spell Cards as an answer to a design challenge while developing the game. They weren’t in the game at first, but shortly after switching to the spell-casters theme, we got some incredible feedback from playtesters at one of the many cons that the Happy Mitten folks played the game at. Originally, the turn cycle ended after your Aether produced some Elements. The collection of Elements were then scored at the end of the game. But players (rightfully so) wanted something more … they wanted to be able to actually cast spells — and the spell cards were born.

The spell cards do a number of things in the game … Continue reading

The Magic Sauce in Aether Magic Player Interactions

Aether Magic on KickstarterIf you’ve listened to or read any of the player commentary about Aether Magic — like the player quotes on the Kickstarter page, or this succinct review on BGG — you will see a lot of references to player interaction, bidding/bartering, engagement, etc. This interactive style of play was the main driver for this game design, and was always our touch-point to come back to as the game went through its year-long development process, once signed by Happy Mitten Games.

Engaging player interaction, gateway-style accessibility, and allowing players to make clever plays are three of the pillars that the Happy Mitten team continued to stress throughout that process. In choosing a very familiar, comfortable theme like “magi casting spells,” they knew they would be able to get an artist, such as Jacqui Davis, to knock it out of the park (and as you can see, she definitely did!), but that it would also allow these mechanics to shine through.

Here’s my take on how the bidding works and why it adds so much to the game … Continue reading

The Weird, Bio-Rhythmic Nature of My Creative Process

"Biorhythm cycles over a 66-day period" by Life of Riley at  Wikimedia CommonsSomething I referred to in my previous post was what I termed “the weird, bio-rhythmic nature of my creative process.” For the most part, I work in natural bursts and I have a hard time forcing creative work. I know it’s possible to teach yourself to do that — and I’ve been able to do it at times — but I’ve yet to get good or efficient at it. This means I have periods of ups and downs along the way.

I generally just let things flow in whatever way they go and try to get as much output as possible in whatever area is working. I ride that initial energy and excitement when it hits until — like a boarder on a wave approaching the shore — it simply wanes and grinds to a stop. I think this is why I always have a half-dozen-or-so projects that I consider to be my “current” projects. They are all in different phases of the design, requiring different sorts of creativity, and I let my brain push on whichever of them it grabs on to.

I sometimes think of game projects as being similar to sculpting or pottery-making … Continue reading

Interview with AJ Porfirio on Thematic Games

A.J. Porfirio of Van Ryder Games

A.J. Porfirio, the man behind Van Ryder Games

There is often a discussion of theme-versus-mechanics among board game designers. As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I wanted to get a Q&A with A.J. Porfirio, of Van Ryder Games, about this topic. So, here it is.

Matt: Howdy, AJ, great to chat with you on this topic. Of all of my game designer/publisher friends, you are the one that specifically mentions looking for and loving “thematic games” … can you give me your definition of what you mean by that term?

AJ: Thanks Matt! I’m honored that you think of me in that respect as it is basically the mission statement of my publishing company, Van Ryder Games, to publish great, highly thematic games. Locking down a definition for exactly what the term “thematic games” means would be difficult, but here is what I would say … Continue reading

Heading to Protospiel-Michigan this Weekend

Map to Protospiel, Chelsea, Michigan, July 2014Tomorrow, I leave for a pretty exciting game design related road trip. I’ll be picking up Jeff King (from All Us Geeks), Jason Glover (from Grey Gnome games), and David Sheppard (known to most as Sheppy) along the way. We’re headed to this year’s Michigan Protospiel event, where indie designers get together to test prototypes of their games with each other. While it’s always great to get games tested by a wide mix of players, getting them tested by other designers can yield espresso-like shots of great feedback you can’t get anywhere else.

King of Danger, TGC Version, Card Examples - March 2014I will be focused on testing my two Land of Danger card games — King of Danger and Danger at the Walls — along with my tile-laying, pick-up-and-deliver game set on the 1800s prairies, Abbottsville. I will also bring Magistrate along for continued testing as well.

Abbottsville, Early Playtest at Paul's Cabin, May 2014Another exciting development will be that Jeff Large from Happy Mitten Games will be there, testing my game, Aether Magic, which they will be publishing later this year. Can’t wait to watch that one being tested by Jeff and the designers there. A few of them may have played it in Milwaukee during the March 2013 Protospiel when it was still called “For Goods and Honor” … it’s undergone quite a thematic change, but the main social and production mechanics are still there.

I will try to send out tweets while the roadtrip is taking place, and throughout the weekend. So, follow me on Twitter to see how that bit of chaos works out! 😉