Category Archives: Design Diary

#NaGaDeMon Update: Listen Up

The #NaGaDeMon truck rolls on, creative juices continue to boil away and my wee game gets closer to being finished. If you’re unaware of what NaGaDeMon is, here’s the deal: much like NaNoWriMo where people are given the challenge to write a 50,000 word first draft of novel from scratch, this is a month long task through the month of November where those who take part make a brand new game from the ground up. From the original concept to a finished working game in thirty days – and as I’ve found out, this is not as easy as you may think.

In my last update, I talked about the idea I had for a space exploration game involving a stack of double-sided hex tiles and a big ol’ pile of small plastic cylinders. The name of the game is Pocket Universe and players travel around the tiles, revealing more and more of the board as they move about, collecting resources and either stashing them back at their base for points or using them to perform special actions. Since that last post I’ve played it a lot and – in all honesty – reckon that it’s a pretty good game. Of course, I would say that. I’ve designed it. I’m proud of it. The trick is to get other people to try it out and let me know what they think.

Anyone who does anything vaguely creative has to learn one thing very early: how to accept criticism graciously and not let it upset you. Whether it’s writing, making music, painting or – yes – making games, you’ve got to be willing to listen to what people say about your creation. If they like it, great! It’s always lovely to hear them praise what you have made. What you also need to do is give as much time to those who have negative things to say about what you’ve made and, more importantly, act upon their advice. It’s fine to ignore the ones who just say “that’s crap” and offer nothing else, but if people have ideas? Listen.

You don’t have to act on everything but you should always consider what they have to say.

I actually managed to get the files for Pocket Universe out to ten different people and groups to playtest it for me, and the feedback has been great. Yes, it’s been splendid hearing from folks who’ve played it and enjoyed it… but what I’ve found even better is the reports I’ve had back from those who’ve played it and have suggested what can be done to improve the game experience. I want to make the best thing I can, a fun game that offers a level of challenge to all who play it. In particular, I’ve had some great assistance from Newcastle Gamers’ Gareth and Robert who frankly ripped my rules to shreds – but you know… that’s exactly what needs to happen.

Gareth printed out *all* the tiles on thick card stock. It looks... pretty awesome.

In my last update I mentioned that I’m not fantastic at rules. I need them to be looked at so I can go back and fix things, sew up holes, clarify points that need clearing up – nothing is perfect first time around. The game is still essentially the same but the rules are now so much better – streamlined, simplified and (best of all) not fussy. I still don’t think that they’re finished but it’s certainly getting much closer.

What I’ve also done is add a new element to the game, again under suggestion from playtesters. Each player now has a special ability that affects everyone else, such as taking over a wormhole so they can collect a toll from other users or upgrading the resources on a single planet. It just adds an extra level to the game that can give players an advantage – assuming that it’s used at the correct time. I’m still ironing out the kinks with it (especially with how they’re allocated at the start of play) but there’s still time. There’s still ten days left of #NaGaDeMon. I can do this.



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#NaGaDeMon Update: Cut It Out!

So, National Game Design Month (also known as NaGaDeMon) trundles on and the ideas keep on ticking over. If you have no clue what I’m talking about you can get a heads-up here but the shortform version is this; design a brand new game of whatever stripe you please in the month of November, bringing it from concept to a fully playable version in those thirty days. We’re not looking for perfection, just something that works and you’ll happily play with someone else. I’ve heard tales of anything from 2-player dice games to full on RPG systems being created; my idea is kind of pitched halfway between that.

I wanted to create a simple tile based game that is playable in about 30-40 minutes for up to four players. After scribbling a load of notes down for the first couple of days, ideas began to coagulate and come together as I kicked off with some basic concepts of theme and how the game would work. Realising that it would be pretty boring if it was just moving around a board, I came up with a scoring system that seemed pretty solid. Still, the game wasn’t entirely there, but I wanted to get something solid down and began writing the rules.

I have to admit, I’m not the best at rules creation, but this time around seemed to go reasonably well. Even now (after a couple of revisions) I’m not entirely happy with them, but I have faith that it’ll come together. Actually, getting the rules on paper – or on screen at least – helped a lot in getting my mind straight on how things should work. After completing the first draft, I now knew how the engine of the game would run. Players control a small spaceship that flies around a universe made up of two-sided hex tiles, seeking four types of resources that are worth different amounts of points (5, 3, 2 and 1) dependent on their rarity. A set amount of actions per turn let the players move around the board, hopefully revealing new planets for them to raid for resources that they stash back at their bases. Whoever has the highest points total at the end wins (yes, I know, very traditional).

So far, so… OK. It wasn’t “good” yet. I felt there was something missing. I wanted an element of conflict in there – it’s no fun having a bunch of players flying around all happy and lovely, sharing space in a smiley fashion. I needed a backstory, so I came up with a little tale of four races who were looking to keep ahead of the others. Initially working together, they came up with a device called the Pocket Universe Generation System (I’d been looking at videos of boggly-eyed Pugs being odd – amazing where inspiration comes from) and finally I had a name for my little creation: Pocket Universe.

The conflict element came from players being able to spend their collected resources on attacking each other (as well as a bunch of other special abilities that encourage exploration). I still think there’s work to do on this, but a few playtests in and this system seems to work. Sure, people can choose to just race about and collect resources for points, but there’s much more fun in going around shooting people in the butt.

Yes, there has been playtesting. In fact, I’m pretty happy with the first version of the game I’ve made up – a couple of evenings of some highly amateurish Photoshop work and lots of cutting and sticking saw the creation of a set of sixty double-sided tiles and some player boards…

Another fast-paced Saturday evening. The glamorous life of game design!

(Note to future self: Always make sure you have enough glue. Running out with 20 tiles left to make is VERY annoying.)

The following day, I had a full set completed. For resources tokens I raided an old Risk set, grabbing four different colours to represent the precious elements of the Pocket Universe. For playing pieces, four different coloured houses from a Monopoly Junior box will have to do for now until I can find some spaceships in the correct colours!

After playing a few games and seeing what worked (and more importantly, what didn’t) I did another rules revision and asked on Twitter for external playtesters. At this moment I have ten different people and groups signed up, many of whom are providing some excellent feedback – rules are still being replaced and rewritten, the main thing being clarifications of the more vague areas. I honestly think I’m on to something with this game and am thoroughly enjoying the creative process – with a few tweaks I reckon Pocket Universe could be a winner.

The current version of the game, set up for four players to go explorin'.

For now though, it’s more playing, more fixing any issues that come up and more making it perfect. I’ve got a few more ideas of things to bring in to the game – I’d love to bring the four races in there a bit more, for example – but there’s still three weeks of #NaGaDeMon to go. Who knows what will happen between now and the end?

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Creative Juices: Time for #NaGaDeMon


Flicking about on Twitter today, it seems like the whole internet is throwing itself into one of two things. People are either going mental for Movember, the practice of growing moustaches for charity (good work to all involved) or going headlong into NaNoWriMo. If you don’t know about NaNoWriMo, I’d suggest you head over to and do some investigating. It’s basically a month long spurt to create a piece of writing of at least 50,000 words. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be that good – the challenge is to actually show yourself that you’ve got the beans to stick with the project and complete it.

I admit that I actually tried NaNoWriMo last year. I was religiously tapping away on my keyboard every day, working away not on a novel but a new RPG system that I’d called Flow. I was doing alright actually, about 15,000 words down… when suddenly my desktop computer (nicknamed The Beast) died, never to power up again. I didn’t have the heart to go on, all those words lost.

Twelve months on and I still don’t see myself writing that many words. However, I do have another project in mind – #NaGaDeMon

I stumbled across it at the Peril Planet site and I am totally up for it. At last, a project that I could feasibly finish! Most gamers will know what a Naga Demon is (especially if they’ve dabbled in D&D or World of Warcraft) but this one is a little different. Standing for National Game Design Month, you have one simple aim: design, build and play a brand new game from scratch in the space of thirty days.

Here are the full rules as laid down by Peril Planet:

Create the game in November. It can be based on ideas, notes and other resources, but the putting together of the game should occur during the month.

Finish the game in November. Complete the game! A complete game should have everything required to play – no hand-waving (“Oh, I’ll make those cards later”) allowed! In the case of an RPG this means rules for character generation, resolving conflict, experience, and setting. Boardgames will need the actual board, pawns, cards and/or other objects gathered or created. Wargames will require rules for all the pertinent action and probably a couple of army / force lists (and you will obviously need some armies to battle with when it comes time to play the game!).

Play the game in November. It doesn’t matter whether you play your game in the garage with your mates, on line with a stranger, with your Nan over a cup of tea, or by yourself in the attic – just play it at least once!

Talk about your experience. Either during November or after, talk about what you did; share the game with others; blog about the process; tell everyone how awesome you did or how epic your failure was. What’s the point of creating your own game if you don’t tell everyone about it!

(Cheers to the folks over there for laying them out so eloquently.)

So that’s it. I’ll be taking part in #NaGaDeMon and coming up with a brand new game in one month and document my adventures each week. It could be fun, it could be terrible, but at least it’ll be vaguely interesting (I hope). If you’re up for joining in the fun as well, post below; I think we’ll need all the help we can get…


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Game Design Diary – Part Three: Back to Square One

It’s been a little while since I last wrote about the game that myself and Mark Rivera (from the splendid Boardgames in Blighty) are working on. While we’d not forgotten about it, it was certainly on the backburner as other stuff took precedence, most notably the UK Games Expo. The pair of us (and Chris from Unboxed!) worked like dogs as we interviewed the cream of UK designers, ran a wide range panels, talked about games and (shock) even got to play a couple. We also managed to coerce a few people to try out the prototype version of Espionage (the working title of our project) and got plenty of interesting feedback. Other folks playing your creation is always a weird thing. It’s like sending your child out into the world and worrying that everyone thinks it’s an ugly idiot.

Espionage wasn’t an ugly idiot, thankfully – but it wasn’t as good as we wanted it to be. Looking at it objectively, there’s far too much going on that’s utterly superfluous while other areas need more added. Money, which we reckoned was an important aspect of the game, turned out to be quite redundant as it was far too easy to come by and there wasn’t actually much to spend it on. On the other hand, many players thought that it didn’t feel like there were enough locations to move around on the board. This was something I tried to fix by adding spaces between the actual locations but again that didn’t feel quite right. Game design is hard.

People who tried out the game also had plenty of good things to say about it, but these issues needed dealing with – and that’s a lot of work. Now, we’ve not binned the project, but Mark and I have decided to aim for something a little more stripped down, I suppose. Looking at what we had, it feels like we’d bitten off more than we could handle. There was an awful lot of stuff going on in Espionage, but there were certainly plenty of aspects we liked. It’s time to take a step back and aim for something that we’re happy with, that works well but won’t melt players’ brains.

A couple of weeks back Mark came to me with a concept for a card game. We’re still going for the cloak and dagger theme of spycraft in the early 20th Century, but as we’re working strictly with cards instead of several million pieces we’re having to take an entirely different approach. The new idea (codenamed Ace of Spies) is a game were you’re able set your own targets. You decide what Missions you’re aiming to complete, done by collecting various necessary components. Agents, Tools, Intelligence and Locations are all needed to complete Missions of varying difficulty – and the more specific the mission, the harder it will be to collect the cards required. Easy Missions will – of course – be simple to complete but will only get you a small amount of points. The more difficult the Mission, the greater the reward – and there’s also plenty of bonuses out there too. However, if you fail to complete the mission by the end of the game, you’re penalised and points are taken away from your total. We’re looking to have a couple of different ways to approach the game as well that will hopefully provide different playing experiences.

There’s also the ability to scupper your opposition with the inclusion of Intervention cards (another element from our original idea). We’re aiming for a truly interactive experience with as much opportunity to attack others as possible. All we need to do it playtest the thing into the ground and make sure it’s as good as we hope! The next few days will see me working on basic card design (the text of which has already been written up on The World’s Biggest Spreadsheet – and I hate using Excel), spending far too much money on blank playing cards and ink cartridges, and swearing at typographical errors. Then it’s on to playtesting, honing and – inspired by the words of Tim Gunn – making it work.

Game design, hey? Like I said, it’s hard – but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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The Story of Espionage – Part Two: Coming Together

So here’s part two of me and Mark’s Designer Diary for our new project, Espionage. This time around, Mark takes the lead and explains exactly what our game is about… If you’ve missed Part One, click here to read it!


As you would have noticed from previous posts here and on Michael Fox’s Little Metal Dog Show, he and I are designing a board game called Espionage.

We have been putting in a lot of time and energy into the design and are now at the point where we can begin the process of play testing. Thankfully we already have volunteers to do this and I have already sent out files to them.

Its all very exciting and frightening as we open the doors to others to have a peek! Is the game perfect? Not at all. But play testing will help us to get it into (hopefully…) a condition to interest publishers. We are confident that we have a good theme – pre-World War 1 spies in London. We also are very focused and committed that Espionage will be a gateway game, suitable to all types of gamers and non-gamers with, simple, concise rules. A game to be played in roughly 30-45 minutes. Most of all, we think it will be fun!

Main premise of Espionage

Espionage is a light-hearted team based game for 2, 4 or 6 players, set in London in the period prior to the breakout of the First World War.

The players take on the roles of German Intelligence Agents or British Counter-Intelligence Agents who carry out various “Missions” to gather or prevent the gathering of military intelligence in one of the world’s most important cities. To win the game, Players gain victory points by completing missions as described by Mission cards they collect.  There are two types of victories.

Team victory – the team with the most victory points wins

Ace of Spies – The individual with the single highest total of victory points is proclaimed Ace of Spies!

Missions are completed by traveling to different locations in London using travel cards that indicate how many locations can be travelled through in a single turn.  Players can use Intervention cards to prevent other players from accomplishing their missions.  There are only 10 rounds so the players will be under pressure to complete as many missions in their hand as possible, also knowing that any uncompleted missions will count against their victory point total.

Game Process

A game of Espionage consists of 10 Rounds where all players each take their turn

Each Round has the following steps – All players

Choose the starting player

Draw Mission/Intervention cards

Draw up to three Travel cards from the Travel Card deck

Draw FIVE Shillings for Agency Travel Expenses

Individual Players in turn order do the following

Move your Hansom Cab player token and Place Start and Finish Mission Tokens as appropriate

Players can end movement on a Special Ability space to collect a Special Ability

Other players can play Intervention cards during another player’s turn

Play then passes to next player.

Last turn is at the end of 10 Rounds when the last player completes their turn actions.

End Game Phase – All Players turn over their alignment cards to reveal which alignment will be rewarded with Mission Victory Points

The winning team has the highest total of Victory Points.

The Ace of Spies is the player with the highest total of Victory Points earned.

I’ve included some images created by Michael here of our play test, in other words, very rough draft materials to give everyone a sense of the look and feel. Of course, this will change as we move along but for now, its a prototype.

Prototype London Map

Mission Card - British players complete the green missions, German players the red.

Character card - each one has a little flavour text and start location.

So far, we are generally happy with our rules as a starting point. Its been hard work and very interesting and enjoyable. We have also managed to find how best to collaborate in terms of using our strengths, skills and experiences.It has been really a rewarding exercise and who knows, we may just have something here!


Michael here again!

So, this is pretty much the sum of what we’ve been working on these past few months. Obviously both Mark and myself have full time jobs so this is something we’re plugging away with in our spare time. There’s been lots of early mornings, especially at the weekends, where I’ve dragged myself out of bed and huddled over the computer armed only with coffee and BBC Radio 5 Live attempting to get things rolling.

As you can tell from the images above, graphic design is far from my strong point. The basic look that you see is actually much better than the first shambling attempts I made – these are at least legible. However, every time I do something different on Photoshop, it’s a learning experience – slow learning admittedly, but I’m making progress nonetheless. I’m quite sure that other stuff is being forgotten as I make room for these new skills, but that’s the tradeoff I make!

Mark has been amazing. The idea originally came from him and the rules are kind of his responsibility, so blame him if they’re broken! Seriously though, he’s rewritten and rejigged them more times than you know. The original ruleset has, through our regular discussions, morphed into something that actually feels like a solid engine – but now the fun begins: playtesting. Frankly I’m bleedin’ terrified. I get worried enough about sending each episode of the show out into the ether, so having people check out something real and solid that I’ve had a hand in creating is utterly horrifying… Here’s hoping the feedback is OK. If you see a copy of Espionage around and you get to try it, please be constructive!

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