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!

Monday, September 12


This week I made it to Newcastle Playtest for the first time since April! It was a great evening - good to see the guys and catch up and also check in with their games designs. First we had a couple of games of The Book of the Dead, a fantastic little timed game from Paul Scott. We played it for almost the first time back in April and I loved it, and I was delighted to see that it was just as much fun this time round (by now with much nicer art!). Paul is thinking of Kickstarting it reasonably soon I believe. We ended with Galactic Contractors, one of Dan's that had improved greatly since my last play.

In between those we played a couple of games of Zombology, but with some slightly different rules. I'd played it a couple of times recently at work during our lunchtime games club and the rules explanation and then the confusion around hands of different sizes going round made me think I needed to do something about the Guru rules. I had an idea a couple of weeks ago that I tried out one lunchtime and that idea has since evolved in my head into a more streamlined idea. It has the double bonus of simplifying the Guru and failed cards rules and simultaneously getting rid of the uneven hand size too.

It worked pretty well, we played a seven player and then an eight player game (I think!) and won both. Everyone thought it was an improvement on the old rules, but we won both games, the first one in round three! The fastest win I'd seen in the previous 100-odd games was round five. So there's a chance it's suddenly much easier. I can't think how that would be true, but I need to play a load more games to get some empirical data.

During the week I've been working on the rules for a second edition taking the rules from the handmade limited edition as a starting point. I've changed the Guru rules as mentioned above which simplify things quite a bit and I've also tried to cut down on the word count. The rules sheet for the first version looked like a fairly intimidating wall of text, which considering it's not too complicated a game is a bit disappointing. It was so wordy once I'd covered off the rules and tried to make sure all the grey areas were clearly explained that there was no room for diagrammatic examples :-(

So this week I've been trying to pare the rules down a bit. The rules changes removed quite a lot of 'if this then that otherwise something else' and then I went through trying to cut out all the places where my natural loquacity had made things unnecessarily wordy. I've managed to shave off nearly 300 of 1844 words which, when I lay them out in InDesign, will hopefully free up some space for more diagrams and examples.

I'm not expecting to get much done this week - I've a work night out on Tuesday, Games Night on Wednesday, I've got to get stuff ready for a trip to America next week for work and I also want to spend some time with my family before I go.

But next week I'm in America all week so I'll probably have the hours of 3am to 7am every day to spend on sorting out the new rules in InDesign. Gotta love jet lag.

The good news is that the new rules don't require any new components - they work with the cards as published in the first version. The only slight exception is that the cards dealt in the first round have changed slightly, so the cheat sheet on the first round marker is now out of date.

Monday, August 22

Zombology: Round Three?

So as I alluded to last week, I'm considering another print run of Zombology. I've played the game a few times recently with people (before telling them I was the designer) and I reckon I could have probably sold a copy there and then if I had one. 'I'm sorry, it's only currently available in the US, shipping to the UK is very expensive and the pound has just collapsed', hasn't sold me many copies!

It would be nice to have a few copies around to flog and for Zombology to have a wider audience than the friends, family, playtesters and Reiver Games fans who got one of the thirty copies of the original print run. 

So what would Zombology Round Three look like? I'm speaking to the printers of the original run, getting quotes for runs around 100 copies. I'd want to change the spec slightly: 


The rules were printed on paper that was too thick really, and the cards were so thick that once they'd been laminated they didn't quite fit in the box tray. I've got a proof from the printer on slightly thinner card - I've got to cut them out and check that they still feel thick enough for use during the game.


I'm considering a slight change to the rules too. There's a situation where a player plays a card that's not valid and if the Guru has been claimed by one of the players the card goes to Guru owner's next hand. This means that one of the hands is now bigger than the rest, which is pretty confusing. Instead, I'm thinking that failed cards always go to the middle of the table, regardless of whether the Guru has been claimed or not. The Guru owner can then, before each round return a Therapy card from their hand to the centre of the table to draw a Therapy card that is the same suit as one of their Gurus from the centre of the table. That way the hands all stay the same size.


The art is pretty basic, because my skills aren't great in that area. However, it's a similar sort of game to 6 Nimmt! which also has basic art, so I'm not considering overhauling it. However, that being said, there's room for improvement, so I'd like to tweak it. There's a few fixes I made for the Drive Thru Cards version that would need applying to the hand made one, mostly around making text more legible, plus the Army Perimeter is pretty bland, so I've some ideas to improve that. 

Last week I got some proofs from the printer for the thinner cards and got information from BGG about advertising costs. I also asked a poll on BGG to see if there's any interest in hand-made games on KickStarter.

This week I have four hours on trains going to and from my biannual hospital visit for my clinical trial, so I might start doing some of the art improvements on the off chance this goes somewhere.

Monday, August 15

4,000 Plays!

I joined BGG back in February 2006, when I was considering publishing Border Reivers. I finally got around to publishing Border Reivers in July that year, and started recording the games I played on BGG in August that year. In fact, Friday was the tenth anniversary of my first recorded game on BGG (it was one of five plays of Border Reivers that day at The Cast Are Dice in Stoke on Trent, the first convention I attended as a publisher).

Over the last ten years I've managed to rack up 4,000 plays on BGG - my 4,000th was Zombology at our lunchtime games club in the office last Wednesday. It's nice that the 4,000 are bookended by plays of games I've designed :-)

That's an average of 400 games a year or over one game a day for ten years! In fact, it's actually more than that, seeing as I didn't record plays of prototypes during my Reiver Games days and I only started recording mobile plays with humans a couple of years ago.

Clearly board gaming is a huge part of my life. There are six games I've recorded at least 100 plays of: unpublished prototypes, Carcassonne, Race for the Galaxy, 7 Wonders, Magic: The Gathering and It's Alive! and to be honest the numbers for Magic, unpublished prototypes and to a lesser degree Carcassonne are actually much higher than that, as I played them a lot before starting to record games. I've played over 500 different games during that period.

Here's to loads more gaming in the future!

In other news, I've been recently frustrated that Zombology is only available really in the US and Canada at the moment through Drive Thru Cards. There have been a couple of occasions when I could probably have sold a copy if I had one on me, and saying 'you can get it in the US for $12 plus $16 shipping' is not going to lead to any widespread adoption. It turns out I'm still rubbish at marketing though, so if I was got to do a reprint I'd need to seriously up my game at promotion, and maybe go down the KickStarter route, despite my previous KickStarter reticence.