Making a Lost Island

Lost Island Board

This weekend was my wife's birthday, and the thing she really wanted to do was pursue a big arts and crafts project with our friends. She loves making things with people, so this was a golden opportunity to make another board game with Fimo playing pieces, using the cardboard hexes I bought near the start of the year.

So I designed the board game, named Lost Island, on Friday night while she was out at a Zero 7 gig, and we made the pieces on Saturday afternoon. We were playing it within 24 hours of my starting the game design. It turned out really nicely, and was good fun to play. It's been made in the style of a pulp adventure movie, something like the Doug McLure monster island flicks The Land that Time Forgot (1975) and The People that Time Forgot (1977), or Ray Harryhausen's Mysterious Island (1961).


The Fimo playing pieces are especially cute - my favourite is probably the Yeti.

If anyone is interested in a write up of this game (in the manner I did previously for Black Sun), do let me know, and also whether you want the designer's notes as well as the components and rules. I think it would be possible to make this game with square tiles instead of hexes, if anyone is foolhardy enough to want to make their own game set. I won't have time before December, but I'm happy to do it if there's a genuine interest.

(Incidentally, Doug McLure is one of the real life actors that Troy McLure in The Simpsons is pastiched from - his catalogue of cheesey movies is truly a phenomenon. He died in 1995).

Black Sun: Rules

Black Sun is a custom-made hex boardgame, made earlier this year. This is one of a set of three posts about the game.

These are the rules for the boardgame Black Sun. There is still some shakedown going on with this game, so these should not necessarily be considered final. If you are consumed by temporary insanity and build your own Black Sun set, feel free to play how you like!

I will start with the rules as they appear on the reference cards, then go into further detail.



1. Place Sun


2. Add all 3 Gas Giants to 5 Space hexes


3. Lay out 6 of 8 in a ring around the Sun

4. Use Space hexes to move Gas Giants 2 away

Moving the first Gas Giant


After moving all Gas Giants


                                  5. Shuffle all Planets with 6 Asteroids & 15 Space Hexes

6. Deal to fill a 5-wide hex pattern

After the inner ring of 6 hexes is added


After the outer ring 12 of hexes is added

7. Add 5 hexes to complete each Gas Giant’s orbit

Five hexes added to one Gas Giant's orbit


All hexes added to Gas Giant orbits

                                    If any Gas Giant has no planets added:

Setup098. Roll dice (re-roll if no Planet indicated)
9. Replace Planet rolled with Space hex
10. Shuffle Planet into hexes from Gas Giant’s orbit and redeal


An example of a completed stellar system

Once that is done:

11. Deal 1 Starting Faction card to each player
12. Each player may decide to draw again, until everyone is happy with their Starting Faction
13. Give each player:

  • All the Ship Counters indicated on their Starting Faction card
  • A Ship Card for each type of ship they control
  • A set of Faction cards (Rebel/Allied/Rogue/Hunted)

14. Roll dice; highest roll starts

Initial placement:

15. Each player takes turns to place some or all of their ships in a single hex.
16. Placement continues around the table a second time.

At this point, the game is ready to begin, starting with the player who rolled highest.

Turn Sequence

1. Roll Dice
     Change Status of Planet Rolled

          If no Crisis anywhere:
                  Status changed to Crisis
                  Status changed to Need

      (If already Need, becomes Crisis)

2. Change Faction (optional)
     Can select one of the other Faction cards to modify scoring conditions.

3. Move One Fleet (Max. 3 Ships)
     May move other player’s ships in fleet if they are willing of Captured.

4. Raid
     May carry out one Raid:

     a. Locate ships, if necessary (see below)
     b. Roll Attack Dice; 5 or 6 = Hit
     c. Each ship can take Hits = Dice; defender decides which dice are lost.
     d. Either (or both) players may retreat one hex,
          otherwise continue rolling Attack Dice

5. Need/Crisis/Scoring
    Player may remove any Need or Crisis counters on the planets
    they have ships at, and scores any points they have earned
    during their Turn.

End Conditions

  • Short game = 10 points
  • Long game = 20 points

Each other player gets one more Turn after the first player has reached the target score.

Detailed Rules

Placing Ships into Hexes

It is important to understand how Ships are placed in this game:

Hex_with_ships1. The first Ship in a hex goes in the centre
2. Any subsequent Ships go along the outside edges; these are considered to be in a Blockade position.

In the picture shown, the Allied General has a Destroyer in the centre of the hex, and three Destroyers in Blockade positions.

Raid_same2_2Each Faction can have a Ship in the centre of any hex (so the most number of Ships in any hex is 12 – one Ship of each Faction in the centre, and six Blockading ships, which could belong to any Faction).

In this picture, the Rebel and Alliance player each has four Ships in the same hex.



Where is a Blockading Ship?

When a Ship is in a Blockading position, there must be a Ship of the same Faction in the centre of the hex. For the purposes of movement, the Blockading ship is treated as being in the same hex as the Ship in the centre.

In some instances, a Ship in a Blockading position could be in one of two different hexes. This happens if both the hexes that border its edge have a Ship of the same player in them. When this happens, the Blockading Ship can be treated as being in either hex. The controlling player always makes the decision as to which hex such a Ship is in.


There are 3 Suns to choose from – the players can decide randomly, or by mutual consent which Sun to use. The differences between the different Suns is discussed in the Hexes section.

Each game will have between 1 and 3 Gas Giants, because of the way they are selected.

If a game has fewer than 3 Gas Giants, not all hexes will be used in setup.


Ordinarily, there are two rounds of placement. Each player can add their Ships to any Hex on the table that has room. Every hex can have any number of Ships belonging to different factions in the centre, but there are only 6 Blockade positions (edges) and all factions ‘share’ these spaces.

Medics: the Medics Guild gets an extra round of placement after everyone else.
Smuggler: the Lone Smuggler Captain may place her ship in the first round, then move it somewhere else in the second round, if she wishes.

Die Roll, Needs & Crisis

Each Planet hex always has one of three Status conditions:

  • Normal: there is no counter present.
  • Need: there is a (yellow) Need counter present. Certain Factions will score points for removing this counter in the last phase of their turn.
  • Crisis: there is a (red) Crisis counter present. Certain Factions will score points for: (1) removing this counter in the last phase of their turn (2) having a ship present at Planets with a Crisis

The Status of one Planet changes at the start of each player’s Turn, during the Die Roll phase.

If there are no Crisis counters on the board, then the die roll will place a Crisis counter.
If there is at least one Crisis counter, place a Need counter.

However, if the Planet rolled already has a Need or Crisis counter, its Status changes to the other kind. That is, if you roll a Planet which has a Need counter on it, change that Planet to having a Crisis counter.

If a number is rolled for which there is no Planet (for instance, there is no Planet 3, 4, 17 or 18 in any game) ignore the Die Roll and place no counters.


After resolving the die roll, a player has the option on their turn of changing Faction.
They may become:

  • Allied
  • Rebel
  • Rogue
  • Hunted

In general, they keep their original scoring conditions and abilities, but will gain additional scoring conditions for their new faction.

Rebel Commander/Alliance General: when these change faction they lose their ability to score points for destroying Allied or Rebel ships respectively. They only have these abilities when they have no additional Faction card, or if their Faction card matches their original Faction.

Faction cards can make any player Rebel or Alliance. Even the Alliance General can become Rebel, and the Rebel Commander can become Allied. However, no Rebel player (whether the Rebel Commander, or Rebel by Faction card) can become Allied directly. They must first become Rogue or Hunted; then they may become Allied.

Whatever a player’s current Faction, they can change to a new Faction next turn. However, no Rebel player can become Allied directly, and similarly no Hunted player can become Rogue directly.

Note that other players do not affect these changes. The Rebel Commander has no control over who becomes Rebel, and the Allied General equally has no control over who becomes Allied!

Once a player has taken on a Faction with a Faction card, they may never go back to not having a Faction card.


Every time the player takes their move, they move one Fleet. A Fleet is defined as up to three Ships which depart from the same hex.

The Ships moved can belong to a different player, if they are willing, or if the Ship in question has been Captured.

The slowest Move of any Ship in a Fleet determines how far that Fleet can move. The move costs are as follows:

  • It takes one move to enter into any hex.
  • Additionally, each Blockade a Fleet runs (each hex-edge they cross with a Ship placed upon it) takes one move.

A Ship may not move somewhere if it has insufficient Movement i.e. if your Fleet’s movement would terminate at a Blockade, that is an illegal move and cannot be made.

Rebel: the Rebel player may move two Fleets. The second Fleet movement cannot involve any Ships involved in the first Fleet movement.

Here is an example of a move:


The Lone Smuggler Captain moves her freighter from its starting position.

The destination is the far side of the Alliance Ships.

Move one hex
(move cost 1)

Total move: 1

Enter second hex (move cost 2; one for the hex, 1 for crossing the blockade)

Total move: 3

Enter third hex (move cost 1)

Total move: 4


There are several types of hex:

  • Yellow Sun, Gas Giant: these hexes may never be entered by any Ship, but because their edges are also the edges of other hexes they can be Blockaded.
  • White Dwarf: Ships may enter this hex, but may not remain here.
  • Gas Giants: Ships may enter these hexes, but they may not remain here.
  • Planets: each Planet has a number by it. This determines when Need and Crisis tokens are positioned. Any Ship in the centre of a Planet Hex is considered to be ‘at the Planet’ and can remove Need or Crisis tokens at the end of the turn. (But not every faction scores for doing so). Ships in the Blockade positions around a Planet are not at the Planet and cannot remove Need or Crisis tokens.
  • Asteroids: any Ship entering an Asteroid hex ends its movement immediately.
  • Space: these have no special properties.


Each player may declare one Raid after they have finished moving:

Raid_adjShips in the centre of a hex can Raid a single Blockading Ship on the edge of their hex.

In this picture, the Rebel Destroyer can Raid the Alliance Destroyer on the hex edge between the two hexes. No other Ships can be involved in this Raid.

Ships that occupy a hex with other ships may Raid all the other Ships in that hex

  • In this picture, the Rebel player has moved one Destroyer and two Carriers into the neighbouring hex (a move of 2, since it costs one to cross the Blockade).

Raid_same2_1Because the Rebel player gets two Fleet movements, they can actually move all four of their Ships into this hex.

All 8 ships will be involved in this Raid.

However, with a total Fight of 5 versus a Fight of 8, the Rebel player is likely to get creamed in this Raid.

Third party ships may choose to participate in same hex raids, if they are in Blockade positions around the hex.

If multiple players are involved in a Raid, each player decides which player’s Ships are damaged by any Hits they score.

Alliance General: the Battleship has a special ability allowing it to participate in any Raid that takes place in any hex neighbouring its position. This makes it exceptionally dangerous. This ability can be used to assist in a Raid, or to initiate a Raid. Either way, whenever the Battleship is involved, it is a legitimate target for anyone else participating in the Raid.

Locating Ships

The Lone Smuggler Captain and Gang of Brigands have special abilities that allow them to escape enemy raids.

Whenever a Ship says ‘requires X Moves to locate’ this means a player may only involve that Ship in a Raid if they have Ships with a total Move value equal to or in excess of that value in the same hex.

For example, a Raider requires 5 Moves to locate at Planets, or 7 at Asteroids. Therefore, 2 Cruisers (Move 3) can locate the Raider at a Planet, but it takes 3 Cruisers to locate it at Asteroids.

Roll Attack Dice (Resolving Raids)

Basically, Raids involve a lot of dice being rolled (one for each point of Fight for the ships involved), with each player trying to roll 5’s and 6’s in order to remove enemy dice.

It is not necessary to determine where damage is caused until the end of the Raid, which happens when one side has no dice left, or either player Retreats.

At the end of the Raid, each player looks at how many dice they lost, and compares this to their ships. Damage after one Raid does not carry over into future raids. All Ships are considered fully repaired after each Raid.

It is possible to take lost dice on bigger Ships in order to prevent loses.

For example, the Rebel Commander sends two Destroyers up against the Allied General’s Battleship. At the end of the Raid, the Rebel Commander has lost 3 of his 4 dice, and the other player has lost 2 of her 6 dice. The Rebel Commander must lose one of his Destroyers, but the other can retreat safely. The Battleship can happily absorb the 2 dice of damage.

Tip: never purposefully Raid if you will have fewer dice than your opponent. If you enter with the same number of dice, you will have a 50-50 chance of victory. To give yourself the best chance of victory, move as many ships as possible into position! If you don't have enough firepower to win in a toe-to-toe fight, consider engaging in ship-to-ship Raids instead.


After each round of dice in a Raid, either or both players may Retreat.

A Retreat is an extra Fleet movement of 1 move, to a neighbouring hex. Because this is a move of 1, the Fleet may not pass through a Blockade.

If there is a blockade around all edges, or around all edges that do not lead to Suns or Gas Giants (i.e. there is nowhere that can be retreated to) the retreating vessels are destroyed.

Note that this is a way to get an extra 1 move; the player must survive at least one round of dice before they can Retreat, however.


When a ship which is marked with an asterisk on its Ship Card is ‘destroyed’ (i.e. loses all its dice) it is Captured by the other player. Captured Ships are removed from the board and given to the player who Captured them.

Captured ships can be moved to other locations, simply by moving any of the Ships present when it was Captured to another hex, then returning the Captured Ship to the board at that hex. Ignore the Move values of Captured Ships; the Fleet moving the Captured Ship moves normally, irrespective of the Move value of any Captured Ships it might be transporting, and the Captured Ship does not count towards the 3-ship limit for Fleet movement.

If this is not done, the Ship is returned to the hex in which it was Captured at the end of the Capturing player’s next turn. (That is, the player who has lost the Ship must have one turn without this Ship).

Lone Smuggler Captain: because the Smuggler has only one Ship, she effectively loses her turn when her Ship is Captured. However, she may still roll the dice and change the Status of a Planet.

It is possible to ‘Capture’ one’s own ships. For instance, the Medsat has a Move of 0. The only way it moves is if it is Captured. Therefore, the Medics Guild player can use an Ambunaut to ‘Capture’ a Medsat, then move it to a new location on their next turn. This is called Towing. Note that you must use your Raid to Capture a Ship.

Special Abilities

The following are the special abilities of Factions:

  • Spend 1 Point to take a second Turn
    This allows the Smuggler to discard 1 Point in order to take a second Turn. Note that they may only take a second Turn, they may not then use this ability to take a third Turn.
  • You get 3 initial placements
    This is described in the rules on Placements, above. In essence, after everyone else has completed their Placements, the Medics Guild player may have one more Placement. (This allows them to place each of their Medsats in a different hex).
  • May Move Two Fleets
    The Rebel player can move up to 6 Ships, in 2 separate Fleet movements. The same Ship cannot participate in both Fleet movements. 

 The following are the special abilities of Ships:

  •  Requires X Moves to Locate
    See rules on Locating Ships, above.
  • Skip Turn: Rebuild all Raiders
    While the Secret Base survives, the Gang of Brigands player may skip their entire turn (including the Dice Roll) to place all their Raiders back on the board at the Secret Base.
  • Skip Turn: Rebuild 1 Ambunaut
    The Medics Guild player may skip their entire turn (including the Dice roll) to place one Ambunaut in the same hex as any Medsat.
  • If Destroyed, Place 1 Need
    If a Transport is destroyed at a Planet, place a Need counter at that Planet.

    If there is already a Need or Crisis counter at that Planet, or the Transport is destroyed somewhere other than a Planet, the player who controls the Transport may place a Need counter at any Planet that does not already have a Need or Crisis counter.
  • If Destroyed, Place 1 Crisis
    If an Ambunaut is destroyed at a Planet, place a Need counter at that Planet.

    If there is already a Need or Crisis counter at that Planet, or the Ambunaut is destroyed somewhere other than a Planet, the player who controls the Ambunaut may place a Need counter at any Planet that does not already have a Need or Crisis counter.
  • May declare Amnesty
    The Medics Guild player may use this ability any time a Raid occurs in a hex where a Medsat is located. In effect, the Medics Guild player may cause any Raid to immediately stop. Any damage already rolled is applied, but otherwise the Raid simply stops and there is no Retreat.
  • May Sacrifice to negate Damage
    If an Ambunaut is in the same hex as a Raid, the controlling player can ‘Sacrifice’ the Ambunaut after any round of dice rolling. All damage caused by any side during that round of dice rolling is ignored.

    The Ambunaut’s other ability (to place 1 Crisis when destroyed) does apply in cases where the Ambunaut is Sacrificed.
  • Can engage in Raids in neighbouring hexes
    The Battleship kicks ass in seven different hexes at once. If it engages in a Raid in a neighbouring hex as a third party participant (see Raid, above), players may choose to apply their damage to the Battleship, even though it is not strictly in the same hex.


The following is a breakdown of each of the scoring conditions:

  • Need = 1 Point
    If the player has a Ship at a Planet with a Need counter at the end of their Turn, they may remove the Need token and score 1 Point.
  • Crisis = 1 Point
    As above, but for Crisis counters.
  • Run Blockade = 1 Point
    If the player makes a move which crosses a Blockade, that is worth 1 point. If they make a move that crosses two different Blockades, that is worth 2 points.
  • Raid Transport = 1 Point
    If the player engages in a Raid which has 1 or more Transports involved, they score 1 Point for each Transport involved. They do not have to destroy the Transports to score the points.
  • Raid Any Ship = 1 Point
    As above, but the ships can be any kind. Ships with this ability (those of a player who has changed Faction to ‘Hunted’) are an attractive target to other players. A player who destroys such a Ship scores points equal to the Fight value (number of dice) of the Ship destroyed.
  • Destroy Alliance/Rebel Ship = Points value
    The Points value of a Ship is equal to its Fight value (number of dice). A Ship is considered Allied if the controlling player is Allied, and is considered Rebel if the controlling player is Rebel.
  • Crisis Turn = 1 Point
    This is the basic scoring ability of the Rebel player. They will score 1 point if at the end of their turn they have a Rebel Ship in the same hex as a Crisis. Ships in Blockading positions are considered to be in both their neighbouring hexes for the purposes of determining if they are in the same hex as a Crisis.

    If there are no Crisis counters, no points are scored. If there are multiple Crisis counters, the Rebel player need only have a Ship at one of them.

    (Ships belonging to other players who have become Rebel via a Faction card do count for the purposes of determining a Crisis Turn).

  • Peaceful Turn = 1 Point
    This is the basic scoring ability of the Allied player. They will score 1 point if at the end of their turn they have an Allied Ship in the same hex as a Crisis. As above, Ships in Blockading positions are considered to be in both hexes. If there are no Crisis counters, this is also worth 1 point. If there are multiple Crisis counters, however, the Allied player must have a Ship at all of them.

    (Ships belonging to other players who have become Allied via a Faction card do count for the purposes of determining a Crisis Turn).


The most likely rolled planets are hexes 10 and 11, therefore these will be the centre of attention in most games.

The least likely rolled planets are the Terrestrial Trinaries (5 and 16), followed by the Terrestrial Binaries (6, 7, 14, 15).

Optional Rules

Necessity Variant

Players can only remove Need and Crisis tokens if they score points for doing so. (This may be required in highly competitive groups in order to prevent too much 'Scorched Earth' play).

Manual Setup Variant

After the Gas Giants have been placed, deal all the remaining hexes to the players. Each player takes turns in placing hexes during set up. 

Loaning Variant

Any player may ‘loan’ their Ships to other players. This is always allowed by the rules, as any Ship can be moved by consent, and third parties can participate in Raids where they have Ships present. However, to make the game run more smoothly, this variant allows players to formally ‘lend’ their Ships to another player. They may ask for them back on any future turn.

Story Variant

Each game ‘belongs’ to player who is randomly chosen at start (highest roll on 3 dice): the game is that player's story. The game ends when this player reaches the goal score, is eliminated, or decides the game should end. This is an unusual rule, but it allows for more narrative play as the story need not end prematurely.

Black Sun: Components

Black Sun is a custom-made hex boardgame, made earlier this year. This is one of a set of three posts about the game.

These are the components for the boardgame Black Sun. This game does not exist in a commercial form, so if you want to try playing it, you’ll need to make or jury-rig the following components. Alternatively, you could make a digital version.  I am happy for anyone to do so provided they do not commercially exploit the game, which remains copyrighted to me.


The hexes in my set were made by spray painting, flecking, hand-painting and then varnishing some 90 mm custom made hexes, which were laser cut from 100 micron (1 mm) cardstock.

The game uses:


3 Suns (Yellow Sun, Red Giant, White Dwarf)


3 Gas Giants


6 Terrestrial Planets (numbered 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and13)


4 Terrestrial Binary Planets (numbered 6, 7, 14 and 15)


2 Terrestrial Trinary Planets (numbered 5 and 6)


6 Asteroids


15 Space


My set actually has 24 Space hexes. It’s not a bad idea to make more than you need. 

Starting Faction Cards

In my set, these are hand-written on 3.5” x 2.25” white Dutch Ivory board cards. Each card specifies:

     Name of the player’s Faction
     Names and numbers of all ships this Faction controls
     Scoring conditions for this Faction
     Special Ability, if any

Ships which are indestructible are marked with an asterisk.

Lone Smuggler Captain


1 Freighter *

Need = 1 Point
Run Blockade = 1 Point

Spend 1 Point to take a second Turn

Gang of Brigands

3 Raiders
1 Secret Base

Need = 1 Point
Raid Transport = 1 Point

Syndics of the Merchant Guild

8 Transports
1 Yacht *

Need = 1 Point

Medics Guild

3 Ambunauts
3 Medsats *

Crisis = 1 Point

You get 3 initial placements

Rebel Commander

7 Carriers
3 Destroyers

Crisis Turn = 1 Point
     (i.e. 1 point at the end of turn if there is a Rebel ship at a Crisis)
Destroy Alliance Ship = Points value

May Move Two Fleets

Alliance General

7 Destroyers
1 Battleship

Peaceful Turn = 1 Point
     (i.e. 1 point at the end of turn if there is an
Alliance ship at each Crisis, or no Crisis)
Destroy Rebel Ship = Points value

Ship Cards

In my set, these are hand-written on 3.5” x 2.25” white Dutch Ivory board cards. Each card specifies:

     Name of the Ship
     Special Ability, if any

Ships which are indestructible are marked with an asterisk.


Requires 5 Moves to Locate at Planets
             or 7 Moves in Asteroids

Move 4, Fight 2 *


Requires 5 Moves to Locate at Planets
             or 7 Moves at Asteroids

Move 3, Fight 1

Secret Base

Skip Turn: Rebuild all Raiders
Requires 7 Moves to locate
           or 10 Moves in Asteroids

Move 2, Fight 3


If Destroyed, Place 1 Need

Move 2, Fight 1


 Move 4, Fight 0 *


Skip Turn: Rebuild 1 Ambunaut
May declare Amnesty

Move 0, Fight 0 *


If Destroyed, Place 1 Crisis
May Sacrifice to negate Damage

Move 3, Fight 0

Destroyer (2 copies; one for the Alliance General, one for the Rebel Commander)

Move 2, Fight 2


Move 3, Fight 1


Can engage in Raids in neighbouring hexes

Move 1, Fight 6

Faction Cards

These cards allow players to alter their scoring conditions during the game. In my set, these are hand-written on 3.5” x 2.25” white Dutch Ivory board cards. Each card specifies:

      Name of the Faction
      Additional scoring conditions for this Faction
     Restrictions, if any

Each player needs one of each Faction cards. In my set, Rebel/Allied are on different sides of the same card, and Rogue/Hunted are on different sides of another card.


Destroy Allied Ship = Points value

You cannot become Allied
You cannot Raid other Rebels


Destroy Rebel Ship = Points value

You cannot Raid other Allied


Run Blockade = 1 Point

If any other player Destroys or Captures any of your ships, they score 1 Point


Raid any Ship = 1 Point

If any other player Destroys or Captures any of your ships, they score Points value
You cannot become Rogue


I haven’t found my perfect set of counters yet. What I’d like is some kind of counter that can be Yellow on one side and Red on the other, so that Status changes can be affected by just flipping over the counter. I’m guessing we’ll eventually have to make something suitable.

Need Counters

You will need about a dozen (ideally yellow) Need counters.

Crisis Counters

You will need about half a dozen (ideally red) Crisis counters.


You will need a mechanism of scoring up to 10 points per player.

Oh yes, and one more thing...


Twelve six-sided dice is recommended, although you may need up to eighteen in the most titanic of space battles.

Any questions about the components, feel free to ask! 

Black Sun: Annotated Notes

Black Sun is a custom-made hex boardgame, made earlier this year. This is one of a set of three posts about the game.

This one covers how the game was created, focussing on a direct transcript of the notes in the notebook used to plan the game, allong with some annotations for clarity. It is probably only of interest to you if you want to look at the design process behind the game. You may prefer to read the rules before looking at the designer's notes.

use Fimo to make sets of pieces; placement and position of pieces is all the game, along with a scoring track with events. Set in stellar system – pieces shuffle…

Comments: I stuck very closely to this premise. I threw out the idea of a scoring track with events, and went for scoring counters in the end because it was simpler. Reading this again, I’m thinking of bringing back the scoring track, though, as the scoring counters are a touch clumsy.

Next, I began thinking about which hex pieces I would need:

Yellow Sun Red Giant White Dwarf
Terrestrial Planet x 3
Terrestrial Binary
Terrestrial Trinary
Gas Giant x 3
Asteroid Cluster x 6

Comments: There is a diagram here of the basic shape of the board, so I could count the number of hexes that would be needed. I went straight to how the board would be set up, as I knew this would have to be simple if the game was going to be fast enough to play:


1. Place sun
2. Add Gas Giants to 5 Space Hexes
3. Lay out in ring (6 of 8)
4. Use space hexes to move GG’s 2 away
5. Remove six centre space hexes
6. Shuffle all remaining hexes
7. Deal to fill 3-wide hex pattern
8. Add (up to) 3 hexes to complete each Gas Giants orbits

Comments: There were a couple of diagrams to accompany this setup description. I’m impressed at just how similar the final setup was! The only significant difference is that the hex pattern is five hexes across, not seven as originally envisioned, and it is necessary to add 5 hexes to a Gas Giant not 3 because of this.

There followed a revised list of required hexes:

3 Suns (use 1) – Sun, Red Giant, White Dwarf
6 Terrestrial Planets
4 Terrestrial Binary
2 Terrestrial Trinary
3 Gas Giant
6 Asteroid Cluster
24 Space

Comments: Just decided recently to remove 9 Space hexes, making it 15 Space hexes. Other than that, this is how the final game went. The reason for the overestimate of space hexes (I have only just realised) was that I was originally looking at a 7-wide hex pattern, not a 5-wide hex pattern, and this required more hexes.

I then began thinking about the factions the player would be able to play. This went around for a while before settling down.

Factions – Types

 Battle – can fight
Relief Supply – cannot be fought
Rogue – mercenary thief

Military – get many units, one powerful and slow
Supply – get many units, all weak
Rogue – get few units, all fast, or one unit fast and strong

Race & Class


Captain – 1 ship, fast and powerful
General – very many ships (slow and reasonably powerful) + 1 big ship
7 destroyers + 1 battleship
Medic – many ships, fast but weak
4 ships + 3 medsats
Governor – few ships, good quality + 1 planet 

Comments: The Governor didn't make it to the final game.

There are some scribbled notes at the bottom of the page as I started to think about the properties of the ships.. I started to work on a points value system for balancing their values, which was eventually abandoned.

Indestructible (x3)
Fight (1), (2), (3)
Move (1), (2), (3), (4)
Move 0 = ½

Cost = m x f [x4]

24 points per side

Comments: There followed some attempts to employ this system, which failed. It was too rigid. Balancing by instinct, and then adjusting in the final game became the new order of business. However, you this formal balancing process undoubtedly did influence the final distribution of pieces and their attributes.

Captain: move 3, fight 2, indestructible (24)
General: 5 x destroyer (m2, f2) (20)
1 x battleship (m1, f4) (4)
Medic: 3 x medsat (m0, f0), indestructible
4 x rescuers (m4, f0)
Rebel: 7 gunboats (m1, f1)
3 destroyers (m2, f2)
Dictator: move 2, fight ??

Comments: And now the first attempt to tabulate this data


Military Factions

Loyalists (General) 7 destroyers (m2, f2), 1 battleship (m1, f6)
Rebels (General) 7 squadrons carriers (m3, f1), 3 destroyers (m2, f2)

Supply Factions
3 ambunauts (m3, f0), 3 medsats (m0, f0*)
Syndic 8 transports (m2, f1), 1 yacht (m4, f0*)

Rogue Factions

Smugglers – Lone 1 freighter (m4, f2*)
Smugglers – Gang 4 cutters (m3, f1), 1 gunsat (m0, f3)

* = indestructible

Attack on D6 – 5 or 6 is a Hit
Can survive as many Hits as Dice
Defending player chooses casualties.

 Indestructible ships are Captured, not destroyed. Player misses a turn, then escapes.

Comments: See how the combat system appeared after the stats for the vessels. I must have already been thinking about something like this, but not crystallised which particular approach I was going to take. The idea of having indestructible ships was one of my favourite aspects of the design – it really changes how you play when you know your ship cannot be destroyed, only captured.

Most of these stats are the same as in the final version. The most noticeable difference is the Gang of Smugglers (Gang of Brigands in the final version) have a Secret Base which can move, not a gunsat as it says above, and only have 3 ships instead of 4, and they were eventually called Raiders, not Cutters.


Each blocking ship of the same number of dice of fewer adds 1 more cost. If can’t move clear, fight all.

Each blocking ship of more dice interdicts.

Comments: There’s a diagram here which shows the idea. In the end, checking to see if a ship has more dice than the moving ship was removed (to save time as much as anything else) so the final rule was that every ship that you cross over adds 1 to your movement cost. This won’t make too much sense until you see it illustrated, but you can see it clearly in the rules (which follow or precede, depending whether you are reading this on RSS or on my blogsite).

The basic idea being espoused here is that players can ‘blockade’ areas by putting their ships in the way, thus adding to the number of moves that the other players have to make to get their.

On the next page, the names of the factions reach their final versions:

Alliance General Blue Military
Rebel Commander Orange/Red Military
Syndics of the Merchant Guild White Guild
Medics Guild Green Guild
Lone Smuggler Captain Grey Rogue
Gang of Brigands Black Rogue

 Comments: Final colours end up with the Merchant Guild being yellow, the Gang of Brigands being metallic grey and the Lone Smuggler Captain being purple. Next, I start thinking about the scoring mechanics. I know that it will require a system of tokens with a simple rubric to govern how they are used.



Red Crisis counter = need supplies/relief
Yellow Need counter = need supplies

Military vessel enters orbit = Need
Any vessel destroyed = Crisis
When a Supply vessel leaves orbit = Need

Military 0 --> Need Need --> Crisis
Supply Crisis
--> x (Need --> x)

Smuggler Need --> x Can carry Crisis tokens

Or just one type of counter?

Comments: This is nothing like how it eventually worked. It was just too complicated. I drew up a state transition diagram for the above system, thought about it, and concluded it was much too complicated for a game that I wanted to be playable in less than an hour. At the bottom of the page, I hit upon a better solution:

Each planet has number

2, 3, 4, 5, 6, (7), 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 = 11
3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, (10), (11), 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 = 16

Roll 3d6 to place Need
If already Needy, causes Crisis

Comments: There’s a big tick mark by this, and this is how it works in the final game. Each planet is assigned a number; each turn you roll to change a token – adding a Need or, in the event of hitting a planet which already has a need, changing it to a Crisis.

The number lists are the numbers that can be rolled on 2d6 and 3d6 respectively, with the most likely to be rolled numbers circled (bracketed here).

Next, I start thinking about scoring:

Rebel scores 1 point cause Crisis (turn need to crisis)
Military destroy 1 rebel = score 1 point (can relieve crisis +1)
Medics: relieve Crisis = 2 points
Syndics: relieve Need = 1 point
Smuggler: relieve Need = 1 point, run blockade = 1 point

10 to win

Smugglers & Medics win DOESN’T end game

Comments: this is pretty close to the final version. 10 points is a win in the final game, and the last three scoring conditions are pretty much as they were. There was much thought about the scoring on the next few pages though.

At this point, there is a revised version of the faction table, which I won’t reproduce as it is very close to the previous version, except it incorporates the final names and colour schemes and the new Secret Base attributes – move 2, fight 3.

Military (peace): +2 point for blockading crisis for 1 turn

Comments: The term ‘blockade’ here needs explaining. The game allows for ships to be placed both inside hexes and around the edges of hexes. I think this is the point that I begin to formalise this aspect. When a ship is on a hex edge, it is considered a blockade, and it costs +1 move to cross the blockade. The smuggler also gains a point for running blockades.

There follows a Venn diagram with Alliance, Rebel and Smuggler in three interlocking circles. I’m not sure what this was about; probably a tool for helping me think about any combinations that wouldn’t work.

Alliance:  Blockade Crisis or Destroy Rebel/Smuggler
Rebel:  Need
--> Crisis or Destroy Alliance
Medics: Crisis or Sacrifice
Syndics: Need
Smugglers:  Need or run Blockade

Comments: This next section shows how I identified a problem with the game, namely that the Alliance and Medic player requires either the Rebel player (to make new Crisis counters) or an alternative source of Crisis counters. I start fishing around for ways to add Crisis counters.

Syndics: always work
Smugglers: always work
Alliance: Requires Rebels or source of Crisis
Medics: Requires Rebels or source of Crisis
Rebels: always work

If no Rebels, 6 = Crisis?

Comments: And then, the solution hits me:

When no Crisis, next die roll causes Crisis

Comments: This turned out to be the missing element for the Need and Crisis counters to work. In other words, when rolling the dice, if there are no Crisis counters, a Crisis is placed, otherwise a Need is placed. This removed the dependency problems described above, and pretty much completed the basic mechanics.  (The Rebel  player lost its effect of turning Needs into Crisis counters at this point too).

The only remaining notes are the final scoring conditions for each faction:


Destroy Rebel Ship = Points value
Peaceful Turn = 1 point (i.e. no Crisis without ship present)
Destroy Smugglers Ship = Points value


Destroy Alliance Ship = Points Value
Crisis Turn = 2 points


Need = 1 point


Crisis = 2 points
Sacrifice = 1 point


Need = 1 point
Run Blockade = 1 point


Need = 1 point
Raid Transport = 1 point

Comments: There were some slight changes in the final game. The Alliance player doesn’t get points for destroying the Smuggler’s ship; it’s indestructible, so it would be captured, meaning the Alliance player would just be constantly picking on the poor smuggler. The ‘Crisis Turn’ (meaning a turn with a Rebel ship at a Crisis) is only worth 1 point in the final version. The Medics do not get a point for sacrificing their ambunaut – but instead, when an ambunaut is destroyed, they get to place a Crisis token. And although Crises were worth 2 points for the Medics Guild, this has recently been changed to being worth only 1 point. I think the original fear was that there wouldn’t be many Crisis tokens, but of course the rule requiring a Crisis token to be placed if there isn’t one on the board changed this.

Overall Comments: looking back over my design notes for this one, it’s apparent it went very smoothly. The only hold up was in determining exactly how the Crisis/Need counters and scoring for each faction would inter-relate. Everything else just sort of fell into place naturally. Undoubtedly, the fact that I have made so many card and boardgames in the past made this one easier to develop.

Those who are interested in the process should feel free to ask questions! I’ll be happy to discuss it further.

My So Called Games

As feared, this week has not permitted the luxury of working on any serious posts. So, as my last post before my trip to India, here's some highly esoteric nonsense: a record of my (mostly unpublished) board, card and tabletop RPGs. No videogame content here, so if that's what you're into you can move along to greener pastures!

I want to start by saying I have a clear memory of when I fell in love with the idea of making games. I'm not sure how old I was - between 3 and 5, I think. I remember boxes of some breakfast cereal or other that had 'Dr. Who' games printed on the back of the box. Dead simple roll-and-move path chases, you know the kind of thing (I presume Candyland is in this vein, but it doesn't exist outside of the US that I know of). It was apparent to me that making games was quite easy - and that it was something that I really wanted to do. It was more than twenty years later that I discovered how to make money doing it, though.

I have omitted from this list various games which were never finished, or didn't work particular well, or that I have forgotten entirely. To include everything would be a monumental effort - and a complete waste of my time and yours!

I hope a few people find this in some way interesting!


Sting (1982)

I think this is my first game, but I could be wrong. This was a platform conversion from the arcade to the playground - it was based upon the Tank game in the original Tron (Bally Midway, 1982).

Playgrounds in the UK and elsewhere have 'tramlines' painted upon them for sporting games. Because there are often different sets for basketball, tennis and so forth, they form a lattice of interconnecting lines and intersections.

The basis of the game was as follows. One or two players are the Prey. They can run or walk along the lines in any means they wish, and change direction freely. They are chased by all the other players who are the Hunters - Prey is eliminated if tagged by a Hunter, and there are always at least twice as many Hunters as Prey. The Hunters are restricted in two ways: (1) they must walk. (2) they cannot turn around; they must walk forward turning only at junction nodes between lines.

This game worked fantastically well, and was lots of fun for both prey and hunters.

Joust (1982)

Another arcade to playground conversion, this time of one of my favourite arcade games of all time, Joust (Williams, 1982). This one just requires a large area which is bounded on all four sides in some way, and has a clear dividing line about a third or a quarter along its length.

The basis of the arcade game is that in a collision between two combatants, whomever is higher wins. In the playground version, one end of the playground is 'top' and one is the ground. Players start on the ground and run around freely in the space. They try to tag each other - whoever is closer to the 'top' of the play area wins in a tag, and the other player is out.

You may already be thinking that you just go and camp at the 'top' end of the play area. Well, this is where that dividing line in the upper third of the field comes in. Players may only stay above this line for the count of ten, which they do out loud (as bit like the Indian game of Kabbadi).

This makes camping at or below the line dangerous - as 'raiders' will escape from pursuit by running into the top end of the field - and hence eventually come plummeting out of the top end near the end of their count of ten, taking out anyone who happens to be in their way.

Basically, every game of Joust was a group of people running around madly like flies, and lunging at other players if they came close and were 'higher' - but when you're 10 what could be more fun!

Warrior (1983)

My first tabletop RPG. Here is the whole of the rules. All characters and monsters are expressed as a single number (Power). Characters begin by rolling 3d6 for their starting Power. Combat (the only part of the rules) is resolved by rolling one six sided die for every 10 points of Power (minimum 1). Health is equal to Power, and is decreased by the damage rolled in combat. Also, rolling a six is an instant kill (although players are not affected by this, only monsters). I think more powerful monsters could survive a number of instant kills equal to the number of dice they can roll. Finally, your Power increases by 1 for each 10 points of monster Power slain.

Dead simple game, but hey, I was only 11.

Arena (1984)

My first remembered boardgame. This one is a classic, although I don't believe I have any extant parts for it. Players control a team of about 4 condemned convicts who battle to the death in a square-grid arena with walls and doors. Random events were resolved with a die with red and yellow dots in one of those things you press down and it goes ker-chuk (stolen from another less interesting game). Red is a kill or success, yellow is a failure.

Scattered around the Arena are equipment pods. When a convict reaches a pod, they draw a card. Most are equipment items, which include weapons, explosives and droid parts; some are 'Draw Two' or 'Draw Three' cards, and there is also a Trap! card which blows up the equipment pod.

Explosions are the most important part of the game, represented by cardboard cutout circles in two sizes - small (covers one square) and large (covers about nine). Everything under an explosion circle is destroyed - convicts, equipment and walls/doors.

Two things kept the game interesting. Firstly, the explosion counters were fun - small explosions could be used as short cuts through walls, and large explosions could be used to take out convicts behind walls. Secondly, the droid parts: remote control (you need two RC cards: give one to a convict, and one is dropped with other equipment to control it - usually making remote detonated bombs), brain pod (gives you an extra player), manipulators (allows an RC or brain pod to use equipment) and tracks (allows equipment to move when controlled by an RC or brain pod).

I did try and remake the game in the 1990's but I think it was more fun when I was 12.

Life (1983)

A conventional card game created in an eight hour coach journey to the Lake District. It's simple to learn, and quite good fun to play. The rules can be found here.

Outlands (1984)

My first sci-fi tabletop RPG. The original rules were a mess, cobbled together from many different sources, and the first campaign spent weeks making the ship and its crew, and then came to an end in the first seassion because silly play destroyed the ship. But there was something of value here, and I was to make several future editions. More on this later.

Scarab (1985?)

Another conventional card game. I don't know why I haven't written the rules for this out at any point. It's unusual, as players must discard in order to pick up: discard a face card and draw only one, or a 2-10 in order to draw two cards. The goal is to get hold of all four aces. This is achieved by trying to collect a set of four value cards to 'burn' another player and steal their aces, or to collect sets of three face cards to 'steal' the ace of that suit.

What makes this game interesting is the card limit, and how you avoid it. You can have 10 cards, but no more - but you can conceal your number of cards by any means you like as long as you're honest when challenged. You gamble when you accuse someone - because if you're wrong you get burned. But get it right, and they're burned and you get their aces.

You can choose to go to sleep, which means you don't have to play cards, and can pick up cards that other players discard. There is a strict hierarchy which determines who must play if everyone goes to sleep.

It's hard to get this game across in an informal description, but despite an often long end game, this is surprisingly good fun. Last played just last year, so it still has some legs.

The Music Game Thing (1989, first printing 1993)
This is the classic highly competitive card-based boardgame which has a special place in the heart of a few of my friends, who played it extensively. In essence, you own a music label, purchase artists, and then release singles and albums or go on tours.

The game is paced by a deck of twelve month cards, each of which has special abilities: concerts are worth more in the summer, for instance. There is a sense of progress, as an artist's Fame increases from successful singles and albums, which in turn gives them bonuses on die rolls, and allows them to play bigger venues - and eventually attempt the world tour.

What made the game were the binding verbal deals and the Disaster! card (which causes a player to discard their entire hand) and the Sabotage! card (which cancels any other card). Almost all games seemed to devolve into a series of deals centred about the playing or not playing of these two cards at some point - classically, the person with Sabotage would blackmail whomever had the World Tour into a share of the profits, for instance.

The rules are, I confess, a bit of a mess, containing too many ad hoc solutions to problems (such as limits to number of singles and album cards in hand) but the game still manages to be fun - and everyone loves the Christmas Single battles that happen at the end of each year!

The rules and card templates are available online.

Avatar (1992, first printing 1993)
My first published RPG, produced using funds from the role playing society I chaired at University, and distributed free to members of that society. A second edition was funded by me and sold in tiny numbers, but had a much nicer cover and comb binding (the original has a glue binding which fell apart all too easily).

The game is packed full of reasonably innovative rules, although character generation is a touch complex - although there is a computer tool to take the hassle out of it.

Each campaign begins with what is known as the World Building Game, in which the players participate in the creation of the game world using a semi-formal set of mechanics. This not only created some intriguing settings, but ensured the players were emotionally and intellectually invested in the world. The Avatar campaigns are among my favourites that I ran (and I ran a lot of different campaigns - two a week in the 90’s).

Another striking aspect of Avatar was that to play a mage is to begin a descent into madness. You can have as much power as you like as a mage - it will just quicken your plummet into insanity. This led to some excellent opportunities for role play.

The rules are now available free online (although I still have printed copies of the game which are free to good homes - provided I can hand it to you in person, as I don't want to have to mail them).

The computer character generation tool is also available online.

Outlands 4th Edition (first printing 1994)
This is a massively detailed sci fi RPG, which is nonetheless easy to play. The complexity comes from the vast number of embedded rules which constitute both miniature games (singularity shots - the means by which ships travel through space - can be a challenging and fun game in themselves) and embedded mechanics for building vehicles, droids, animals, starships and stellar systems. Even generating a character is a game - as the player works through each year of the characters life, making career decisions and making friends and enemies.

The goal of Outlands was to create a gestalt sci fi role playing game incorporating classic elements of different sci fi settings in the same way that D&D was built around combining elements of classic fantasy games. However, the background of Outlands is more coherent, in my opinion.

Discovering that races cannot be copyrighted allowed the game to include the Fremen (from 'Dune') as a race, and the game is also influenced by the setting of 'Alien' and 'Aliens' (although there are no alien races at all), the space western 'Outland', and also the Walter Jon Williams book 'Angel Station'.

It was also influenced by many cyberpunk novels, and included a wide selection of futuristic wetware enhancements. For instance, one can copy one's personality into software, and then use that software to run drones. There's no DRM on your own consciousness, so you can have many different copies of your engrams running at once, provided you have sufficiently complex computer.

My favourite tabletop RPG campaign of all time - nicknamed "Space Dallas" - was an Outlands game. There was no combat in that game, as I recall. The players were all members of the Tetsuyama family, the owners of a moderately wealthy corporation, and the story was all about the family politics. At one point, one of the players was reduced to tears by a genuinely heartbreaking family crisis. Truly wonderful.

This one has never been made available online, and is completely out of print. One day, I want to make a cRPG out of the mechanics, although I doubt it will ever happen. I still use the chapter on making stellar systems as a reference, as it was based upon one of the Astrophysics courses I took at University.

Corruption (1994?)
This is a card-based boardgame similar to The Music Game Thingy, but based around the US presidential election. Each player is a presidential candidate, and accumulates Influence cards (affecting different voting demographics) and Policy cards (including the Vague Promises policy) by playing face down cards representing personal secrets. Other players then try to uncover scandals in these personal cards in order to ruin their rival's careers.

Culminating in the final state-by-state election race, I like this one even more than The Music Game Thingy. The rules are much tighter for a start, although it is still a highly cut-throat and competitive game.

Completely out of print, the files might still exist somewhere. 

Star Fleet Empires (1994?)
Task Force Games, who published Star Fleet Battles, own a bastard 'Star Trek' license having purchased the rights to the classic 'Star Trek' vessels from Franz Joseph who drew the blueprints. At some point in the early 1990's (I think it was in 1994, but can't be bothered to rummage through my diaries to check) they ran a game design competition.

I entered two games. This one, Star Fleet Empires, was fantastic fun, but fairly conventional. It's similar to games like Twilight Imperium but it plays much faster and more tightly. Some of the mechanics were reused in a later game, Final Frontier.

Star Fleet Officers (1994?)
This is the other game I entered into the Task Force Games competition - and it won! This was the first concrete evidence I had that my game designs were actually quite good. For some reason, the fact that many of my friends had enjoyed playing them did not convince me.

A fast and silly game, players are space officers who collect Plot Devices in order to attempt various Missions to earn promotions. Missions are resolved as an auction: players bid against other players, basically vying to see how far they can push their luck.

The auction mechanic was so good, I reused it in a later game, Legends.

Eternal Champion Trading Card Game (1995)
This was never printed. Mike gave me his agent's card after a reading of his novel Blood in Manchester, but his agent just said flatly that all game rights were with Chaosium. I decided not to pursue it with them because, frankly, it was already too late to be moving into the trading card game market, and although the prototype was fun to play there were a million possible Eternal Champion games, and no reason for Chaosium to prefer mine over one they could devise themselves.

Shifter (1993, first printing 1996)
This one is a bug nuts crazy tabletop RPG game which could only be enjoyed by sci fi geeks. Players are interdimensional demolition experts who travel back in time to destroy any timelines which threaten the far future from which they hail.

Your character (known as a shifter) can be literally anything - a sentient pig (such as Barry Oink the Third), a talking toaster or an Elvis clone. There are four classes - the skilled Teknics, superpowered Psykers, infintely clever Seers or the undefeatable combat gods known as Gaunts. Shifters use technology to host their consciousness in the bodies of any creature in any timeline - and the timelines get very silly at times.

Almost every game eventually results in one or more shifters "going rogue" and then being hunted down by the other players until their probability of existence (the closest thing to health in the game) is exhausted. There's much use of spurious time powers - if things don't work out the way you want, just rewind time a few minutes and try again!

Fast paced, manic and ludicrous in the extreme, I still have a soft spot for this, despite its unpolished feel. I also have quite a few copies of the game which are free to a good home subject to my not having to mail them.

The game is also freely available online.

Underwear (1997)
This is my favourite conventional card game, and I still play it to this day. Good fun with several players, it's also a highly competitive game when played head to head. The game is about trying to go out by playing all your cards, while denying your opponents the chance to do so, and also 'stealing' piles of cards for bonus points.

The rules are available online, along with an explanation of its rather odd name, and I will happily teach it to anyone who wants to learn a new card game.

Biff (1998)
This is a storytelling conventional card game, in which players play different fantastical empires battling it out for supremacy. The rules, which are available online, were written while I was in Amsterdam with friends and so are somewhat... erm... unusual.

Contract (1998)
I thought this was going to be the last tabletop RPG I made. A good friend of mine who has been in all my favourite tabletop RPG campaigns expressed his desire for an RPG which boiled the mechanics down to their essence. So, over the space of one drunken night, we conceived Contract, which ignores all the aleatory elements of RPGs (i.e. dice rolls) and instead concentrates on facilitating storytelling.

Character generation is the process of drawing up a character 'contract' which both player and GM agree to, and players act in the game by playing 'chips' of different colours representing the degree of success. The GM returns these chips to the player according to how in character they feel the player has been.

I still occasionally (well, very rarely) run Call of Cthulhu one-offs using Contract and jellybeans for sanity.

The rules - which fit onto the back of the character sheet - are available online.

Final Frontier (1998?)
This is a clever remake of Star Fleet Empires, designed using the 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' universe. I wanted to get the license from Paramount and market this as a hobbygame, but I never managed to find anyone in Paramount who would return my emails so it never happened.

Although the game plays slightly too slowly (3-4 hours a game), it's basic play of moving starships between different systems in the pursuit of secret goals is extremely satisfying, and it has numerous nice touches including little furry Tribble counters which I found in a craft shop in Knoxville.

I feel you can already see my game design skills getting sharper with this game.

Alpha Strike (1998?)
I had completely forgotten this, which is a starship combat game using only a conventional deck of cards. I don't even know if it's ever been played. The only reason I'm even mentioning it is because the rules are available online. If anyone gives it a try, please let me know how it plays!

Guild of Thieves (1999)
This is a dead simple card game which uses a trick from stage magic to create a puzzle, which the players then compete to be the first to solve. I haven't played it in years, but I seem to remember it was good fun. The rules are available online.

Legends (2000)
This is perhaps my favourite game. Using the auction mechanics from Star Fleet Officers, players engage in heroic fantasy quests, trying to collect certain classes of cards to win (for instance, the Minotaur Shaman needs a Title, a Friend, a Treasure and a Spell to win, I think).

Fluid, fast paced play, a satisfying sense of progress as the player acquires new cards (as each one improves their statistics) and a real sense of adventure make this one of the gems in my irrelevant back catalogue.

This was also one of the first "three hour games" - games that were made in their entirety in just three hours total. Most three hour games are drawn on Dutch Ivory Board cards, which I keep in stock at all times.

A revised version of the original cards was made recently, although only handmade versions of this game exist. I often travel with it, so if you fancy a game at some point, it might be a possibility.

Micronauts (2000)
As I mentioned before, I thought that Contract would be the end of my tabletop RPG games - but I had one more in me. I had wanted to make the Micronauts RPG since I first started making games. I absolutely adored the Bill Mantlo/Michael Golden Marvel comics based on this classic Mego toy line (I had the toys as a kid too). I also loved the more mature Peter B. Gillis comics that followed on (The New Voyages). They were imaginative space opera, brimming over with silly fun.

Although named after the Micronaut toys and comics, the game can be used to play any space opera setting.

I think the motivation for this was the dawning realisation that while one can factor dice out of RPGs, rolling dice is actually a lot of fun! That, and fulfilling my lifelong dream of putting together a Micronauts RPG.

I never tried to publish it because of the legal insanity involving the collapse of Mego in the 1970's and other complex intellectual property Gordian knots, but you can find the entire game (which has pleasantly short rules) online.

Cluedope (2001)
This is just a rip off of Cluedo but with characters and locations based around my friends and an utterly silly board. Made on a whim. It might be the only boardgame I made during the stressful early years while I was getting International Hobo off the ground.

B-Movie (2003?)
Another three hour game, based on an earlier unfinished game called Hollyweird. In essence, players run movie studies and attempt to gather the Stars, Locations and Props required to shoot various types of scene: Disaster, Rescue, Love Scene, Escape and Climax.

Most overtly competitive elements were factored out: to play well is to strike good deals with the other studios in order to borrow their stars and so forth. Good fun, but players who thrive on competition feel somewhat unsatisfied with it.

Heads & Tails (2004)
Yet another three hour game, this one made in a hotel room in Amsterdam. In essence, you start as an amoeba and gradually acquire heads, bodies and tails in order to evolve into the most complex organism you can. The silly drawings which you line up to make the creatures can be quite entertaining, but it's the speed of play which has kept this one in circulation, as a game is over in 30 minutes or less.

Black Sun (2005)
Which brings us to Black Sun, which I have written about recently, and for which I will publish both the rules and the design process that created those rules sometime in the future, if I can find the time.


If anything is apparent from this catalogue of obscurity, it is that making games is in my blood and it is a fortunate happenstance indeed that I have ended up in a job which pays me for doing so. Perhaps, it was inevitable that I would end up here. Certainly, I am grateful to have found my place in the world.

If I have a lesson for anyone who wants to make games, it is that there is no substitute for experience. Make games... make lots of games... make lots of different games - and have fun doing it! I know I did.

No idea if I will have time to blog while I'm in India, but if not I'll be back in a little over a week.

Take care!


Entertaible_2Well, we all knew it was coming, but we didn't know it would have such a terrible name: Phillip's Entertaible.  It's a dynamic boardgame platform using a 30" LCD touchscreen table. I wonder what the price point will be... I also wonder if it will be host to anything other than Monotony and its kin.  I'd love to work on hobbygames for it, but I'm sceptical of the market value of doing so!

With thanks to Dan for pointing it out to me!

What I Did On My Holidays

Well, I'm back to work and back to blogging... I'm not going to have a great deal of time to blog this week, and next week I'm in India giving a keynote at the NASSCOM conference in Hyderabad and furthering my business connections in the country, so who knows if there will be any bloggery pokery then. There are various interesting things waiting in my blognebula, and a few slightly insane ones; they will emerge in due time I'm sure.

Over the Winter Festivals I have had nothing to do with games whatsoever (apart from completing the flight school in San Andreas for a friend who was stuck on one task and dearly wanted the attack helicopter). However, I spent my birthday (January 1st, which has the benefit of always being a holiday) creating the hexes for my Black Sun boardgame. This was a marvellous way to spend the day, and the finished result is leaps and bounds more attractive than any boardgame I've made before.

Blacksun2Here's a picture of the hexes in action, along with the Fimo playing pieces I crafted a few weeks back for the game. The hexes were spray painted black with a plastic-based paint, flecked with white paint to create a starfield effect and then handpainted by myself, my wife and my friends with the planetary and other bodies necessary. Finally, the hexes were varnished to help protect them from wear and tear.

The game itself is unusual and deserves some brief mention. Each player is assigned one of six different faction cards, which assigns them a fleet of ships, varying from nine ships in the case of the Alliance General (blue), to a single ship in the case of the Lone Smuggler Captain (purple). Each faction varies in its scoring mechanics, and each ship has different properties, but these are the only traits which define the game.

In essence, Need and Crisis tokens appear on the board at certain planets according to a die roll (akin to the resource roll in Settlers of Catan). Needs represent economic opportunities - factions such as the Smuggler Captain, the Gang of Brigands and the Syndics of the Merchants Guild score points for going to planets with Needs and removing the token. Crisis tokens represent political instability - factions such as the Alliance and the Rebels have a vested interest in control of planets undergoing a crisis, while the Medics Guild scores for removing Crises. Most factions also have additional scoring conditions - the Brigands score for raiding Transports, for instance.

Because the factions are different in each game, and the board is different for each game, the tensions and play of each game are radically different - for instance, the role of the Alliance varies according to whether or not there is a Rebel faction as well. And even if no-one starts playing the Rebel Commander, players can change their faction during the game by adopting one of four different faction cards as their 'new' alignment - Allied, Rebel, Rogue and Hunted. These faction cards are essential because of the dynamicism of the core play: players can find that their scoring conditions are slower than the pace of the game, but strategic switching of factions allows the player to acquire new scoring methods.

Another unusual element is that some of the ships are 'indestructible'. For instance, the Lone Smuggler Captain gets only one ship (the Black Sun of the games' title), but this plucky freighter cannot be destroyed. Instead, after a lost battle it is captured, causing the player to miss a turn. This causes this faction to play in a radically different manner to, say, the Rebels - whose eight ships are fragile, and once destroyed remain gone forever. I haven't played the Smuggler yet, but I'm looking forward to it.

Blacksun1_1I'm thrilled with the way the game plays. It has a hint of the complexity of decisions inherent to a hobbygame, but is coupled with an accessible storytelling element which allows players to enjoy the natural play of the game if they prefer. The extreme asymetry of the pieces creates unusual and dynamic play, and best of all the game takes only 30-90 minutes to play.

It is a secret truth of boardgame design that the shorter the play time, the more likely the game is to be played. The world is littered with the bones of boardgames which take more than two hours to play - I really enjoyed the Dune CCG (which I bought wholesale for peanuts as it didn't sell very well), but it took eight or more hours to play a game - who but a student has the time! The phenomenal success of Magic the Gathering is rooted in the fact the game can be played in less than 30 minutes (although this is not the only factor, of course).

Anyway, you'll never actually get to play Black Sun, because there's only one set in existence, and I'm probably too wed to the videogames business to try and go back to boardgames now, but still, I'm sure you read about all sorts of games that you'll never actually play... I know I do.

There's no doubt in my mind that my game design skills have continued to improve over the years. Looking back at my older boardgames there is much of value (and I know some of my friends miss the highly agonistic play I used to focus upon), but there were also numerous problems which I did not see as such at the time. I might at some point write a brief history of my unreleased boardgames; I'm not sure if this would actually interest people or not, but it would be nice to have a record of them before my neurons go soft and I forget everything.

Brief thanks to Snarkmarket and Nongames for trackingback to the Paidia post. I'm delighted that  the latter site exists (all hail diversity of play!) and the former site has the most beautiful blog design I've ever seen - it makes me feel guilty for reading the artless RSS feed!

I wonder if I have time for a quick trackback of my own before I have to get to work...

Cardboard Hexes

Does anyone know where I can get blank cardboard hexes, about 8-9 cm (3 inches) diameter, on thick enough cardboard to tesselate naturally (think Settlers of Catan hexes)? I don't want to have to pay to have a specialist die cutter made.


Carcassonnecover167x240_1Played my first game of Carcassonne last night. This is a German-made "designer game" (I dislike that term, but it has persisted) with an even more abstracted basis than Settlers of Catan. The core mechanics are beautifully concieved, and the game supports a wide variety of ludic play styles; the game supports agonistic play, with a fair component of alea, but there is also simple mimicry in the building of the landscape. A real strength of this sort of abstract game is when it is designed for agonistic play but supports co-operation in its internal economy as a natural consequence of the simplicity of its mechanics.

It has several of the traits required to make a successful boardgame - it can be played in less than an hour, it supports a good number of players with no change in the play time (2-5 players, but works just as well heads up as in a larger group), you can learn to play in minutes, the turn sequence is trivial, and the aleatory element is sufficient to allow anyone a chance of winning, but not so large as to undermine player skill as a key factor. Plus, the pieces are satisfying to play with - the wooden "meeple" counters, like the settlements and cities in Klaus Teuber's masterwork, are deliciously tactile. The absence of a setup phase (an unavoidable overhead in Settlers) also smooths the play experience.Ga_board_carcassonne2_3

At a comfortable price point, I would suggest that anyone who enjoys hobby games, and especially those looking for boardgames which can be played by non-hobby gamers, will not regret picking up a copy of Carcassonne.

Settlers of Catan: The Versatility of Elegant Design

The Settlers of Catan is one of those games that never quite goes away. True, we go through phases of playing it frequently, and we equally go through phases of not playing it at all, but it's one of those board games, like Mah Jong (BMJA rules, preferably), which never goes away entirely from my life. I think we've been playing it for ten years now. What strikes me, however, is that the way that we play is probably quite different from the way other people play the game - and indeed, that part of the beauty of the game design is that it so readily lends itself to different ways of playing with just a slight tweak to the rules.

The rules as they are written, the spirit of Klaus Teuber's original game, is a highly agonistic, competitive game. Resources are short relative to the number of players (in four player games), and so there is a cut-throat competition to expand or die. This suits the playing style of a lot of different players, and with the potential to be played strategically or tactically, the game has the potential to appeal to anyone for whom Type 1 or Type 2 play is enjoyable.

However, a few trivial changes, and the game suddenly becomes a less hostile, more amiable play experience, suitable for Type 3 play (and either way, because it is a board game and therefore inherently participatory, there is potential for Type 4 play - although we find our modified form is generally more welcoming to a wider variety of players).

The key differences to the way we play are two meta-rules. The first of these is a common house rule, 'burning', which allows you to take back roads or settlements at the end of the chain for a refund of half their resource value. Thus, dead roads can be 'moved' at the cost of half of the resources. I picked this house rule off the internet near the beginning of my time playing the game, and it has stuck. It lets off some of the agonistic pressure, as you can make changes after the fact, and it eases the stress of first road placement, because you don't have to worry about 'dead' roads.

Plus, the burning rule increases the availability of resources, thus making the game play faster. Anything you can do to increase the income and circulation of resources speeds up the game pace, and the second house rule we play with is to eliminate or alter the role of the robber. In the standard game, the robber shuts down the production of the hex it is placed on - it's inherently a competitive (agonistic) element. Change this element, and you produce a friendlier "more Type 3 Wanderer" game, plus you can increase resource production thus making the game flow more easily.

The classic meta-rule we have preferred is to play with the Market, which replaces the Robber. When a 7 is rolled, the player who rolled it gets to trade one card with a pool of five known as the Market. At the start, this is one of each resource. In the early game, the wood and brick often go (depending on the layout of the map), in the later game, sheep, wheat and ore get taken. Either way, trading with the market tends to help most of the time. And because it replaces the Robber (which blocks production), resource acquisition remains evenly paced.

Last night we experimented with the placement of the robber adding one extra resource production to the hex it was placed upon, when that hex's number is rolled. This worked fine, for the most part, but it was still disappointing to roll a 7, because what you want in this game is more resources to build more things, and a 7 means no-one gets any new resources.

I think next time we'll play, we'll make it such that on a 7 you can place the Robber wherever you wish, and when a 7 is next rolled, the hex the Robber is on produces. (Then, you can move the Robber elsewhere, if you wish). Less of a bandit, more of a Migrant Worker, perhaps - when you place it, you are choosing a future payout. "Come to my country, Migrant Worker, and farm sheep for me."

It speaks highly of the elegance of the core design of this game that it is so resilient to change. That we can play it for ten years, and although the core mechanics have remained unchanged, we continue to enjoy tinkering with the meta-rules and so forth to change the way the game plays. In part, this is because the core mechanics are so perfectly abstracted - they contain only what is needed to support play, nothing more and nothing less. This is the epitome of elegant design; it is also what we call tight design - all included elements support the core concept. (It should be noted that the expansions do allow for greater variety, and we are fond of Seafarers of Catan, but the basic game is still perhaps the most elegant).

The way our group plays the game is a strange semi-co-operative, semi-competitive game. Each player is building their own independent economy, but there is some considerable interaction with the other players - both in terms of trade, trade pacts ("I'll help you build roads to that port, in return for free use of it on your turns"), agreeing amicable solutions to land disputes ("I'll build away from your coastal road if you let me settle on that mountain") - and the occasional territorial 'war' when someone decides to act against the common interest. It is not the standard highly competitive game - and I think that these days I would struggle to enjoy to play the game in that way. But the way we play works for a highly diverse set of play styles, and I have not yet found a player who hasn't been able to enjoy it this way (even if the staunchly Type 1 players would greatly prefer the outright bloodshed of the conventional rules).

It is a testament to just how good the core design for this game is that it offers such versatility. I welcome and invite comments from other Settlers of Catan players about their house rules, and the nature of the play experience with those rules - especially when those house rules have been used to 'soften' the competitiveness of the experience, thus making the game more welcoming to more diverse players.