Looking over the many ‘Best of 2016’ lists being posted on Twitter and BGG, I couldn’t help but be inspired to return to my oft-neglected blog and write about my game design adventures in 2016, and what 2017 holds in store. I have a lot of ideas and goals for next year, and although I doubt that I will achieve (or even attempt!) most of them, perhaps there are some ideas in here that you, the reader, may find useful for yourself!
Despite what was going on in the rest of the world, 2016 was actually a really good year for me, both in my day job (I managed to secure a new fellowship that gives me a lot of freedom and independence, while allowing me to stay in Cambridge) and in game designing.
This year saw the release of my fourth standalone game, Costa Rica, designed with Brett J. Gilbert and published by Mayfair and Lookout Games. It’s probably the most ‘family’ style game I’ve released thus far, and I was really happy with how it came out in the end. While it can be quite a gentle game at times, I’m glad there is still some chances to really mess with your opponents if you want – I always like to look out for ways I can strand other player’s expeditions. It was the first time to work with Klemens Franz as well, which was very exciting! Brett and I got to demo the game at Spiel in Essen in October this year, and it was a lot of fun playing with their giant version!
I also attended the Nuremberg Toy Fair in February, and the UK Games Expo in June – it was incredible to see the change of the latter as it was held in the NEC halls for the first time! Its hard to believe that only 5 years earlier I attended my first UKGE in its last years at a Masonic Lodge in the centre of Birmingham, and this year they had over 25000 visitors. I doff my cap to the organisers on their passion and organisation to make this the event that it is. As more and more publishers come, I now will have another convention deadline to make sure I have enough prototypes ready to pitch!
Speaking of pitching, a memorable part of this year was going to Essen with so many members of the Cambridge Playtest group, each with their own meetings and games to pitch. I believe I counted 8 of us in all, and I look forward to seeing many more games being released from this talented group of designers in the future! Much like UKGE, the growth of this group over the past 5 years seems almost unbelievable, given its humble beginnings when Brett and I would meet at a pub by ourselves once a week. I am very lucky to be part of such a great community in my home town.
Another highlight of the year was staying with Bruno Cathala in his home for a wonderful weekend in February, enjoying good food, wine, games and most importantly good company! Bruno and I have started working on a few games in collaboration, and hopefully one of them might be ready sometime this year (fingers crossed!). I can’t say enough good things about Bruno – his humour, hospitality and remarkable game design mind all made this stay immensely enjoyable (and the cheese. It just makes everything better). Furthermore, I got to actually play some games, and get the scoop on some future Cathala releases – from Dice Stars, to an Abyss expansion and Yamatai (which is amazing – very much looking forward to playing it once it is released!). Thank you Bruno!
Next year is looking like it will be quite a bumper crop for me in terms of new releases, after keeping to a game a year since 2013. I hope that people will enjoy the games as much as I’ve enjoyed designing them!
Light and Dark, AEG (with Trevor Benjamin)
This is my first codesign with Cambridge designer Trevor Benjamin (whose first game, Dice Heist, I would certainly recommend you check out!), and will be published by AEG sometime in Q1 2017. It is a very simple 2 player disc flicking game that arose out of Trevor trying to adapt a game his young daughter wanted to play, but that was far too complex. So he took its components and made something on the spot! This was followed by a quick 30 minute lunch together at the pub – and then the game was pretty much done! Sometimes everything just slots into place very quickly (and it helped that Trevor had already done all the hard work!).
I never thought I would help design a dexterity game, but here I am! It’s a lot of silly fun packed into 5-10 minutes, that can played by pretty much anyone.
Light and Dark Website at AEG
Light and Dark Page on BGG
Pyramids, IELLO (with Brett Gilbert)
About 3 years ago Brett and I decided to try designing some smaller card games, mainly to have something ready to pitch at Nuremberg Toy Fair – with such a small gap between Essen in late October and the Toy Fair in early February (with Christmas in between!) its often quite hard to come up with new games and get them done in time. Pyramids is the first game we designed of this type. At its core the game is a building game, with players using cards to either build their pyramid, obelisk or tomb. In each you are trying to maximise your placement of the different coloured blocks, as well as the special symbols that score you bonus points if they are in the correct monument. We’ve always really enjoyed it, and are really excited to see it in the hands of players almost 3 years after inception. The game should be released Q1-Q2 this year.
Pyramids Page on BGG
Diesel Demolition Derby, LudiCreations
DDD started life as Aether Duels, a 18 card drafting microgame that was destined for Brett’s Good Little Games website. I can’t quite remember why it never got added to the site, but nonetheless I pitched it to many publishers over the past 3 years or so, with little success. That is, until I showed it to Iraklis at LudiCreations at Essen 2015 – he loved it! From there we’ve been working on the game for a year or so, introducing more cards so that the game could be played by up to 6 players (now that there were no constraints to make it a microgame) and working on some additional ways to spice up gameplay. I’m really happy with how it has ended up, and the theme of a dieselpunk setting with robot teams battling each other is really fun. If you like Sushi Go and its ilk, but want a more interactive game where you can blow up, steal and block your opponent’s cards, all in 15 minutes, then this one is for you. There is no definite release date yet, but hopefully it will be sometime in 2017.
Diesel Demolition Page on BGG
Pioneer Days, Tasty Minstrel Games (with Chris Marling)
Pioneer Days is the second game to result from a collaboration with another Cambridge-based designer, Chris Marling, after Empire Engine in 2014. It comes out of us wanting to make a more thematic game, but also a meatier game that suited our shared love of eurostyle games. I’m not sure which came first, but the core mechanism of dice drafting with undrafted dice contributing towards disasters that affect all players soon found a home in the dangers of the Wild West – think Oregon Trail the boardgame. You lead a caravan of pioneers towards a new home in the frontier, dealing with raids, famine, disease and storms – all the while hoping to score some points by the end of the game. I think it balances a nice medium-weight eurogame of dice selection and strategy with some interesting interaction with other players through your collective management of the disasters, and hopefully will find a good home with players! There is no definite release date for this one either, but fingers crossed it will come out in 2017.
Pioneer Days Page on BGG
Professor Evil and the Castle of Treasures (working title) (with Brett Gilbert)
This is our first big box cooperative game with Brett and I have worked on together, and I think it might be the game I am most looking forward to seeing in the flesh this year (hopefully). It is of a similar weight to Forbidden Island, with a theme akin to Scooby Doo meets Carmen Sandiego, as a team of intrepid adventures seek to liberate lost treasures stolen away by the not-so-nefarious Professor Evil. I won’t announce the publisher now, as the game hasn’t been officially announced, but I can say they are a publisher known for making very beautiful games, and I am truly excited to see what they do with the game. Again, the hope is that it will be released in 2017, but as with all things, things may change.
City Cards (working title) (with Brett Gilbert)
This is the second card game designed with Brett where we tried to pack in a slightly meatier game into 110 cards, this time taking Sim City as an inspiration. The hope is this game will be released at Essen 2017, but the theme is very likely to change, so I won’t say too much about this one for now.
Snowdonia: China-Tibet line (working title) (with Tony Boydell)
It might be a bit cheeky talking about this here, but I have designed another scenario for Snowdonia (following the Trans-Australian Railway scenario that was released in 2015), this time set in the building of the railway with the highest altitude in the world – the line that links China with Tibet. This is definitely an expert-level scenario for the game, introducing a new resource (Oxygen), which players need to use to even take basic actions (or use more of to perform better actions). I haven’t talked with Tony for a little while, but there may be a chance that Surprised Stare Games will release it in 2017, no promises though!
- I have been very inspired by the work of Mark Brown with Game Maker’s Toolkit, a Youtube series that delves into the design of video games, so much so that I am considering trying my hand at some more slightly academic articles about various facets of game design that could do with the long view. For example, tracing the evolution of different mechanisms over the years through different games is particularly fascinating to me, as is a possible article on everything you can do with a certain component. I haven’t tried my hand at longer forms of writing in games (although this is something I do regularly in scientific research), so this might be a fun direction to head in. Let me know if this is something you would be interested in reading!
- Brett and I have been talking about the future Good Little Games for some time, and whether there could be a way we could revive the site with some new games. The problem is always one of priorities – why should we work on these microgames when we have so many other games to work on? However, Patreon is a phenomenon that has come into being since GLG’s inception, and could provide an interesting way of supporting our work with the site. We’re currently working on a few new games that fit the microgame formula, and if all goes well, you can look ahead to some new free print and play games to appear on GLG sometime in 2017 (and maybe even an accompanying Patreon…). If anyone has thoughts or feedback about this idea – do let us know here or on Twitter!
- Cannes Game Festival! I’ve booked my tickets to attend the Cannes Games Festival in 2017 for the first time, and I am thoroughly looking forward to checking it out. I’m a big fan of the way French publishers approach their games, and this will be a great chance to see everything that is going on in that industry. It will also be a good chance to pitch to some new publishers hopefully. Huge thanks to Marc Pacquin (co-designer of Yamatai), for helping me with accommodation!
- More games! There are still a lot of irons in the fire with various publishers, contracts signed for 2018 and beyond, and game ideas I haven’t even started working on yet. Of course, Nuremberg is only a month away, so I should probably get to it!
If you got this far – well done! I think you’ve earned yourself a good rest (or a strong drink). Thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings, and I wish you all the best for 2017 and beyond.