Monday, January 16

Newcastle Gamers!

2017's strong start is continuing :-)

During the week I spent time on Codename: Vacuum, working out a new card mix and designing a new version in my head which will hopefully improve on some of the problems with the last version (from early 2015!). At the same time I was continuing to work on my German language Windows Phone app and got a five-star review for my BGG Last Plays app (now the new version is in the store). I think I'm close to the point where I can put out a beta version out for the German language app for feedback - I'm going to run a private beta first to see if I can work out some of the kinks. That's probably only a week or two away. I've been meaning to finish this one for a couple of years, so that's quite a big deal!

But that's not the best bit, on top of all that I made it to Newcastle Gamers for the first time in six months! Newcastle Gamers is on at least twice a month and yet last year for a variety of reasons I only made it along once, in July. When I turned up on Saturday it was the busiest I'd ever seen it and I had to wait a short while for a game. When a table finished they invited me to join them and then asked what I wanted to play. I was happy to play anything in the cupboard (except Fluxx!) or I could teach any of the games I'd brought along: Ave Caesar, Gipsy King, Hansa Teutonica and Zombology.

The group wanted to try Zombology, so we played a game and after that they felt like they understood it, and wanted to play again. After John sank our desperate attempt to save humanity from the ravening hordes we opted for a third game to try and win and then Deji from the adjacent table wanted to try it, so we played a fourth time (and finally won). It wasn't until they'd had enough and wanted to move on to something else that I told them I had designed the game. The last couple of times I've played with strangers I've tried this approach, it's not blind playtesting (since I'm teaching the rules) but it does give you more honest feedback during the games, since the players aren't afraid of hurting your feelings as the designer.

They were all surprised and impressed and were asking where to get it, at which point I had to say: 'It's only available print on demand in the US and shipping is pretty expensive', which kind of killed the enthusiasm a bit.

I did ask if any of them wanted to give me their email addresses in case I made another version and they were all very keen - so I now have a mailing list of potential Zombology pre-orders. Their enjoyment and excitement was also very encouraging. I'm considering another run again!

Saturday, January 7

Promising Start

Last week I set myself some aspirations for this coming year and so far, so good. I managed to get to Newcastle Playtest on Tuesday and try out the new Zombology rules again. We played three five-player games and managed two wins and a loss. The wins were in rounds 6 and 7 out of 8, much better than the slightly freakish win in round 3 that happened last time I tried it. Generally, people thought the new rules were an improvement and Paul went so far as to send me two emails of ideas which I've yet to respond to. The new rules have the advantage that they work with the existing cards, so anyone who bought the original hand-made version from me or the print on demand version from Drive Thru Cards can play them without having to print new cards. The only thing which is wrong on the old cards is that the initial card distribution as shown on the round one turn marker has changed.

In fact, here's the new rules. Please feel free to read them, provide feedback, try them if you own the game or just comment on them in the comments section below. Any feedback gratefully appreciated! If you do get a chance to try them I would love to know the following:

  • How many players?
  • Won or lost?
  • If won, in which round?
  • How many winners?
It was my first Newcastle Playtest in months, so it was great to catch up with everyone, meet a couple of new members and try out a few of their games. Hopefully I can make it next month too!


In addition, I also made the changes I've promised a guy on BGG in my Last Plays app and published them to the store. The app now has the ability to ignore expansions (which is really useful for me), hide unplayed games (which is really useful for him) and also to filter the list of games by game name, which should be good for both of us. One of the main things I use the app for is its ability to link to the BGG page for a game so that I can quickly record a play. Filtering the list to the game I'm interested in can only make that process quicker!

Sunday, January 1

2017 Aspirations!

For the last few years I've set myself some goals at the beginning of the year (2014, 2015, 2016), I've never aced them, but last year was weak, especially where games design and blogging were concerned.

2016 In Review

My new job, which I started in October 2015, took up a lot more time than I was expecting. It was my first time leading a team of any reasonable size and so I had a lot to learn in terms of leadership, budgeting, strategy and people management. On top of all that I ended up doing a lot more travel than I was originally expecting (four trips to the US, 20-30 to Manchester - often overnighters, and a frantic week-and-a-half long tour of Taiwan, China and Japan), which sounds great if you're not doing it, but it's very tiring and all you really see is offices, airports and hotels. This led to a double whammy of less free time and wanting to spend that free time with my wife and daughter, so I had a lot less time for games design-related shenanigans. I only made it to Newcastle Gamers once (out of at least 24 opportunities) and Newcastle Playtest probably only five times our of twelve. I've not played a prototype since September!

I failed both my blogging goals, giving up regular blogging as I had very little progress to report, most of it about designing mobile apps rather than board games (I've been coding since I was ten, the lack of coding in my new day job meant I fancied doing more of it in my limited free time, to the detriment of my games design) and doing nothing in November for NaGa Demon.

Gaming was the one area I aced, I played a lot of games in 2016. This was helped by starting a games club in the office on Wednesday lunchtimes (when I'm in the country!) and my weekly games night, plus a few trips with Ian (including to the US twice and round Asia) and my trusty iPad full of games. I even played 24 new games in the year (three of those on Dec 29th - games I got for Christmas!).

I did get the hand-made limited edition of Zombology finished in January and the print on demand version up on Drive Thru Cards in March/April (copies sold to date: 3!), so that was Games Design passed, but other than thinking of some rules tweaks to Zombology I did very little games design after that.

I didn't even finish my German language app that I wanted to wrap up. I made a lot of progress on it, but it's still not even ready for a beta release. I did tweak BGG Last Plays at the end of the year though - someone on BGG with a collection of 3,500 games tried it out and found it crashed on a collection of that size, so I fixed that and tweaked a couple of other things. He's got another couple of requests and so I'll do another version of that shortly. It's still my most popular app (150 downloads - on Windows Phone!), and if you've got someone keen enough to engage with the creator you should try to keep them happy!

2017 Aspirations

Seeing as I did so badly last year I'm going to change things up this year. No goals. Just some more vague aspirations:


  • Get back into Games Design. Maybe Codename: Vacuum (I've a few ideas floating around in my head - it's probably been a couple of years since I last touched it, so maybe that distance will help when I come back to it)
  • Blog when I have something to say. No regular weekly schedule, just talk when I've something worth discussing. Hopefully at least once a month.
  • Code. It's been a passion of mine since I was a little kid and my day job for 13 of the last 16 years. Release apps. Enjoy it.
  • Game. I only managed 36/52 possible Games Nights due to my travel schedule, but I want to game on Wednesday evenings at home, at work during Games Club, on the iPad on trips and also try to get to Newcastle Gamers and Newcastle Playtest more.


Fingers crossed...

Monday, November 7

I Need Your Help...

... if you own a first edition copy of Zombology. I'm getting close to finalising the second edition rules, but there's a couple of things I need to test the hell out of:

  • Win/loss ratios for different numbers of players
  • A couple of Army Perimeter options

And I'm struggling to find the time to do it all myself - that's where you come in! I missed Newcastle Playtest again last week (and I'll be in Japan during the next one), and have volunteered to babysit for a friend next weekend which means I'll miss Newcastle Gamers too. I'm going to be restarting playtesting in the office at lunchtime, but by itself that would take ages to get the required testing done.

The second edition rules can be played with the first edition cards, so I'm enlisting the help of those of you who have the first edition and fancy helping out to try out the new rules. As mentioned a few weeks ago, the initial starting hands have changed (so the set-up described on the first edition first round card will be wrong) and the Guru rules have changed quite significantly.

In addition, there's a couple of different Army Perimeter options I'd like to try out:

  • Single use (same as the first edition) - when targeted by a Overrun you can choose to discard it and block the Overrun or keep it and suffer the Overrun (that's what it says in the rules linked to above).
  • Permanent - Using it doesn't force you to discard it, so it protects you from multiple Overruns for the rest of the game.

I feel the single use Army Perimeter is a bit under-powered, the Permanent option might be an improvement (or it might totally break the game!).

I'd appreciate any feedback you can provide - in particular, the number of players, won or lost and in which round the win happened if it did.

Monday, October 24

A Goal I Might Hit

This year has been a weird one. My new job has required a lot more travel than I originally expected and as I result I've had a lot less time to spend with my family and on my hobbies of board game design and Windows Phone app programming. Up to this point I've only managed to make it to one of the bi-monthly Newcastle Gamers and I've missed loads of the Newcastle Playtest sessions too. With little to talk about I've cut back on blogging and NaGa DeMon is looking unlikely at this point too.

As a result, the goals I set myself at the beginning of the year are mostly looking impossible with the exception of the 366 plays (nailed it already!). So it was good to get down to York this weekend and spend a weekend with Paul and his family. I used to attend Paul's bi-weekly games night when I lived in York and he has a much larger collection of games than I do, so this was a perfect opportunity to get a few new-to-me games under my belt towards my 24 new-to-me games this year goal.

As it was, Paul was quite ill and I was knackered, so our late night gaming never materialised, but we did manage Rhino Hero (9 times!) and Imhotep, plus a load of games I already knew during the days. Rhino Hero and Imhotep took me to 21 out of 24 new-to-me games, so I just need three more  before the end of the year. That's a possibility, especially if I make it to Newcastle Gamers next month.

It was great to see them all and get some games in. We played Istanbul, Port Royal (still firmly on my wishlist), WobBally, Loopie Louie, Jenga and BANG! The Dice Game. A great weekend.

I've now got only eight days until the start of November with no real plan for NaGa DeMon. This is compounded by the fact that I'm off to Asia for a week and a half for work on the 26th Nov, so I'll miss the end of the month and want to focus on my family before I go. I think NaGa DeMon this year is a bust :-(

Monday, October 17

In The Early Hours

I spent last week in the US again (second time in three weeks!), this time visiting towns north, west and south-west of Boston.

As before I was pretty jetlagged, waking up very early in the morning (between 3 and 4:40am). But rather than just lie in bed face down trying to get back to sleep unsuccessfully for a few hours I chose instead to spend the time productively. I practiced my German and Portuguese on Duolingo, read books and also finished the first draft of the new Zombology rules, incorporating my friend Mal's excellent grammar and clarity-improving feedback and a bunch of illustrated examples to clarify the finer points of the rules.

Mal has offered to go through the finished rules with me for a final proof read so hopefully the final version should be complete in a week or so, once we've found some time to sit down together and read through this version. In the meantime, if any of you fancy trying out the new rules or providing any feedback on their clarity, style or completeness it would be much appreciated. You can get the new rules here (and here are the old ones for comparison).

The only substantive changes to the rules are the set up for 3/4/5 player games (so the setup guide on the first round card is not the same as the previously published version) and the rules around Gurus and failed cards. This means that the new version is playable with the previously published cards :-)

I've also had a chance recently to get back to my German language Windows Phone app. I've been adding a lot more vocabulary, so it's slowly becoming more useful.

Next weekend I'm down in York visiting my friend Paul. I hope to get some gaming in, including a few new to me games :-)

Monday, September 19

Gaming With a Four Year Old

This week I'm off to America for work (I'm writing this at 5am in an airport cafe!), and I'm intending to spend a decent chunk of the early hours that I will have free due to jet lag laying out the new rules for Zombology v2. I've honed them and now my mate Mal (who has a far deeper grasp of English grammar than I do) is going through them with a fine toothed comb weeding out a few extraneous words and fixing all my errors.

In the last week The Daughter and I have spent a lot more time gaming than previously so seeing as I have no progress to report yet, I thought I'd talk about that instead.

Since she was three we've played a bunch of the Orchard Toys games with her: Lunchbox Game, The Cupcake Game, The Ladybird Game, Monster Dominoes and more recently Shopping List (which is essentially a rebranded Lunchbox Game). She's enjoyed a few of those (not so much Ladybirds, but Cupcakes was very popular for a while) and a couple of more dexterity based games: Hungry, Hungry Hippos and Elefun.

These games have been entertaining enough and she's enjoyed them, but there's very little in the way of decisions to be made (in fact The Cupcake Game is entirely predetermined by the shuffle of the cupcake deck), so there's not been much preparation for real games.

I was determined not to force her into playing real (i.e. my) games too early as I didn't want to put her off, but then a few months ago I read a post on BGG about how much fun a four year old son was have with Carcassonne, just because there were choices to be made ('it's like a jigsaw puzzle but I can put the pieces in lots of places'). So I soften my stance a bit.

The Daughter and I started playing a cut down version of Carcassonne - no scoring, no farmers, just taking it in turns to place tiles and optionally add meeples in legal places. She really enjoys it ('Carcassonne is my favourite game of all I want to play it every day with you Daddy'), but she still doesn't have the attention span to play through the full set of tiles, so we just play until she gets bored (20-50 tiles in). Because there's no points involved she often helps me ('I'll add this to your city Daddy to make it bigger'), but she knows what she's doing and she's enjoying it, which is the important bit.

We've also played a few rounds of Martian Dice together, not tracking the scores between rounds, just taking it in turns playing a round and noting the points we got for that round. She's enjoying that too.

This week I bought Animal upon Animal (Tier auf Tier) and The Wife suggested getting Dobble Kids too. She wasn't ready for Tier auf Tier, we started playing a game but she wasn't really engaging with it at all so I've stowed that for later, but she loves Dobble. We've played it loads of times already, and we've only had it a week. I can see that being a huge hit for months to come.

With all this real gaming going on she's now showing a lot more interest in my games. Frequently asking questions about the pictures on the boxes racked up in our Games (Dining) Room. Fun times ahead!