Unpub this weekend!

20140509-080706.jpg

Just a quick, rather belated post today.

I’ve been preparing for a few months to attend the Unpub/Protospiel event in San Jose today. Overflow has some spiffy sell sheets and two print-on-demand decks from DriveThruCards and TheGameCrafter. I’ll post on the print/card stock quality comparison between the two at a later date.

Lots of industry folks will be attending and I’m hoping to get it in the hands of many testers and designers.

Cheers!
PT

Data Merge, Logo Design and DriveThruCards

Here’s your New Year update (and Happy President’s Day)!

Data Merge

InDesign’s Data Merge feature is amazing. Using it, I found I could create a template for card layouts and using a spreadsheet, it auto-generates each and every iteration of a set of cards. Making edits is also really easy as it simply required updating the spreadsheet and re-populating the Data Merge. Before this, I was laying out each and every individual card in a 3×3 grid using Illustrator and while I tried to make everything pixel perfect, it was only good enough for prototypes.

A side-by-side shot of using InDesign's Data Merge feature with a spreadsheet.

A side-by-side shot of using InDesign’s Data Merge feature with a spreadsheet.

All of the credit here goes to Daniel Solis and his specific blog post here. I forget how I found his blog but I’ve been following it for some time now. From art direction and graphic design to game production and game design, I find each post really useful. Daniel also hosts a Skillshare class that goes over the Data Merge in-depth in addition to other tips and techniques. While I haven’t taken it myself since my mediocre CS skills suffice, I think even just the Data Merge portion makes the class well worth it.

Fun fact, both Daniel and I come from an advertising background (he from the creative side, me from the account side).

Logo Design

In my last post, I mentioned I was in the process of making Thumbtack Games’ logo. A former classmate of mine, Namphuong (you can view her kick-butt portfolio here), graciously took on the project and I am proud to have it finally make its debut.

Thumbtack Games' logo!It took quite a few rounds of review and a couple 180s but we ended up with something I’m really happy with. One step closer.

Fun fact, similar to Daniel and myself, Namphuong also comes from an advertising background.

DriveThruCards

DriveThruCards is a POD (print-on-demand) service and was one of the options I was considering in my last post. Truly taking it heart about taking it one step at a time, I shifted mindsets and think a POD service is the better way for me to go instead of a Kickstarter campaign. I can execute using it much faster and there’s less risk since I don’t have to pay anything upfront. Kickstarter is still an option in the future but for Overflow, POD feels like the right way to go. Learning Data Merge was a huge convincing step and in the next few months, my goal is to utilize DriveThruCards to print some nice prototypes to bring to a Bay Area Unpub/Protospiel event. More on that to come!

Fun fact, DriveThruCards comes from an advert- KIDDING!

With Data Merge in my arsenal, Thumbtack’s logo finalized and DriveThruCards’ potential, it’s all becoming that much more real.

-PT

Game Development Update – 12/23/13

Apologies for going off air for quite a while. With the impending holidays, it’s been really tough to take the time and write up what’s been going on. However at the same time, with time off from work and free brain space, I find myself thinking about Thumbtack Games and Overflow quite a bit. That said, I hope this very long post makes up for it.

So, where is Overflow currently at from a game design standpoint?

Design-wise, Overflow is shaping up. I haven’t made any tweaks after the last few playtests. If anything, just some minor copy tweaks but nothing gameplay-wise. I also conducted the very first blind playtest during a lunch session at work and things went fairly smoothly.

It’s quite startling how different testers read something as small as a 3 page rulebook. Being a visual learner, I can definitely empathize with just wanting to play the game already instead of reading, but the completionist in me wouldn’t allow myself to skip over any paragraph of text! One tester skimmed through the rulebook and then decided to use the Quick Start rules to set up the game rather than the fully fleshed out ones on a later page. Thankfully, other testers were more thorough and after a few initial hiccups where I had to step in, they were able to get a few rounds of play in. The only unfortunate thing was we didn’t have enough time to completely finish a game. However, it did lead to everybody saying they like the concept and would love to play again which is always a good sign.

The results are dramatically different from a blind playtest and a regular playtest. I knew the blind one would be more of a rulebook exercise but didn’t realize how valuable the feedback would end up being. One tester caught a huge mistake in the rulebook about the overflow condition. The way I had written it, it implied overflows only happen when a player ends their turn with at least 10 blocks in the stack. However, in actuality, the field overflows when ANY column has 4 blocks or more at the end of a player’s turn.

Something I’ve been considering is a playmat to help better determine the location of the deck, discard pile, and the field with a clear line indicating the maximum it can be. I’m not completely sold on the idea yet and if anything, I’ll make a crude playmat for the next playtest to get a feel for it.

Anyways, I ended up scheduling a regular playtest with the blind playtesters to give them a more fleshed out experience. They enjoyed it and it helped remind me how much I enjoy everything around making my game which was difficult to keep in mind given the snag I hit you’ll read about below.

So where’s Overflow from a production standpoint?

Could this be the future logo for Thumbtack Games?

Could this be the future logo for Thumbtack Games?

On the production side of things, I hit a huge snag.

The long-term outlook is murky and the possibilities seem endless. Do I go out and try to pitch the game to a publisher? Do I go with a POD (print-on-demand) service where there’s less risk at the sacrifice of quality, or do I lay down a big amount to get something like 1,000 high-quality copies printed upfront? What options are there for printing, cardstock, box sizes, counter dials, etc.? Don’t even get me started on a Kickstarter, because that’s a whole ‘nother beast in terms of design, pitch video, reward levels, etc.

That all became quite overwhelming quickly so while keeping all of those future decisions in mind, I felt it best to go one step at a time. Like a carpenter, whose making stairs.

The most immediate need is business collateral, especially logos for Thumbtack Games and Overflow. While I’m ok with Photoshop, Indesign and Illustrator, my skills aren’t up to snuff with what the level of design I would want. That all means I needed to find a graphic designer. I reached out to my personal network and began looking at behance profiles. After garnering a few quotes, it quickly became apparent how much it costs to get art done for something as small as a card game.

Most tabletop kickstarters have final art in place before they start their campaign. The funds are usually raised for manufacturing and shipping. From my research and blog posts I’ve been reading, kickstarters without final art usually don’t do well. Secondly, kickstarters with large goals tend to not suceed either unless they already have a healthy community. The way I interpret these two findings is a kickstarter like mine that is using the funds with the intention of getting art created, would need a small, achievable goal. At the same time, it needs to be a goal that can pay for the art fairly.

With that in mind, I had sort of an epiphany of how to design my kickstarter. My belief is kickstarter is at its best when its tapping into the larger community to help normal people complete their dream projects that normally wouldn’t be possible without said help.

My kickstarter would raise funds to finish the game and the reward levels would be bite-sized with the highest being an opportunity to be a part of the creative process. I’m still working through the reward tiers but I’m thinking for just a few dollars, backers would obtain a print and play pdf copy of the game with its current prototype art. Moving up from there a backer could contribute just a bit more to obtain a print and play pdf copy of the game with its finished art. What about the backers that don’t want to bother printing, cutting and assembling the game themselves? Well for just a few more dollars, I’ll print, cut, assemble and ship a print and play copy myself and include card sleeves for rigidity. Finally, at the highest level, I’d give backers the option to be a part of the creative review team for Overflow. These backers would exclusively be able to vote on design choices throughout the post-kickstarter process. They would be sent surveys that ask them to weigh in on decisions like choosing a designer, font, color, illustration, etc. The majority would win and even my vote would only count as one. I think this truly taps into the heart of what kickstarter is and lets backers become a crucial part of the decisions.

Exciting stuff for sure! My plan is to flesh out this kickstarter concept and send it out to some game designer friends to review.

Thanks for making it to the bottom of this post and hey, if you want to be a part of the pre-kickstarter community, feel free to send me any and all feedback.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays.

-PT

Overflow Design Goals: Simple, less rules

As I mentioned in the introduction post, before I started design on Overflow, I wrote out several design goals. One of the pieces of advice I heard from other game designers (both video game and tabletop), was that many first projects are overly complex and can jam up a first-time game designer. Heck, even some seasoned veterans probably struggle with keeping things simple too.

The thing is, even though I knew this piece of advice, the game I originally designed before Overflow was too complex and had too many rules.

I kept getting tripped up in its intricacies and boundaries. I thought these were helping me but were actually too large for me to really pinpoint good ideas. I eventually scrapped the idea and that led me to the first Overflow design goal; simple, less rules.

I think it’s important that I lay out some context too since it might beg the question, “simpler than what?” or, “less rules than what?”

Here’s a shortlist of great games that are more complex and have more rules than Overflow:

  • Zombicide
  • Settlers of Catan
  • Cosmic Encounter
  • Puzzle Strike
  • Pathfinder

Now, here’s a list of great games that are either as simple or even simpler than Overflow, with equal or less rules:

  • Escape: Curse of the Temple
  • Boom-O
  • Bang!
  • Apples to Apples
  • Cards Against Humanity
  • Dixit

Overflow is in the middle of these two lists. It of course has a rulebook, but can easily be taught by an experienced player from memory, without ever referencing the rulebook. I drew a line in the ground and never allowed myself to cross it.

-PT

Overflow – An Introduction, Part II

It’s time to get into the details of Overflow! Disclaimer: all artwork is not final.

How clearing rows and gravity works in Overflow.

How clearing rows and gravity works in Overflow.

Object of the Game

Overflow takes place on a 3×3 (rows x columns) field that blocks fall into. Your goal is to try and overflow other players while avoiding it yourself. If you end your turn with the stack more than the maximum amount, you Overflow’d and lose 1 hit point (HP). The maximum amount allowed at any time on the field is 9 blocks. If you lose all your HP, you are eliminated from the game and the winner is the last player with HP.

Clearing Rows

Clearing rows can be done in 2 ways:

  1. Rows clear immediately when all blocks in a row are of the same color (diagonals and columns do not clear even if they’re the same color).
  2. If you empty your hand, you immediately clear any full row. If no full row exists, you clear any other row.
    • If you empty your hand during an opponent’s turn, you draw 7 and clear at the beginning of your next turn.

Whenever you clear a row, you charge your Overflow Meter by one.

Overflow Meter

As you clear rows, you are charging your Overflow Meter. Once you get to 4, your meter is fully charged and you must now choose one player to lose 1 HP. Afterwards, your meter goes back down to 0.

Gravity

At the start of the game, the deck is placed at the bottom of the stack to orient gravity. When a row is cleared or a block is placed in a column, blocks fall straight down toward the deck.

Special Blocks

  • Colorless Blocks
    • Flipped over blocks are colorless. They are immune to certain cards (Switcheroo!, Flip Flop!, Colorblind!, Can’t Touch This! and Cooties!) but are still affected by gravity. A row of colorless blocks does not clear.
  • Ultimate Blocks
    • Ultimate blocks have an extra ability. When ante’d, you may choose to use this ability.

Ongoing Effects

Some blocks have an ongoing effect that changes the game for a round of turns. They can affect other players’ turns or provide a benefit to the owner. When you play an ongoing effect, place it face up in front of you until the beginning of your next turn.

Setup the Game

  1. Shuffle all Block Cards and deal 7 to each player
  2. Give 4 Life and Overflow Meter Cards to each player
    1. Each player starts with 3 HP and 0 charges
    2. Place the deck at the bottom of the stack to orient gravity
    3. Decide who goes first, turn order goes clockwise
    4. If the deck is empty, shuffle the discard pile and flip it over to become the deck
This is how you keep track of HP and your Overflow Meter.

This is how you keep track of HP and your Overflow Meter.

Use flipped over Meter Cards to keep track of your HP and Overflow Meter. This player has 2 HP and has a fully charged Overflow Meter. Watch out!

Field Size and Panic Time!

The number of players determines what tier of Panic Time! you’re in. As players are eliminated you have to ante more. You’ll find players lose HP quicker the longer the game goes on and the more players are eliminated.

The maximum field size is always (rows x columns): 3×3

  • 5-6 players
    • Panic Time! tier 1: Ante 1
  • 3-4 players
    • Panic Time! tier 2: Ante 2
  • 2 players
    • Panic Time! tier 3: Ante 3

Turn Phases

  • Ongoing Phase
    • Execute any ongoing actions you played last turn, then discard.
    • Ante Phase
      • Depending what tier of Panic Time! you’re on, take the topmost block(s) from the deck and without looking, place it face up in a column of your choosing. (resolve any row clears immediately)
    • Add Phase
      • From your hand, add a block in a column of your choosing (resolve any row clears immediately)
    • Action Phase
      • Play an action from your hand, and then discard it.
    • End Phase
      • If the stack is overflowing at the end of your turn (10 blocks in a 4 player game), you lose 1 HP. Discard all blocks from the stack and ongoing blocks. All players then draw until they have 7 blocks (if you have more than 7, do not draw). Turn order starts with the player who just lost 1 HP. If that player was eliminated, the next player starts.

That’s it! I have my very first blind playtest scheduled for next week. A blind playtest is where first-time players learn and play using just the rulebook. I have to sit off to the side and try not to say anything. A good sign would be if I don’t have to clarify or say anything really during the test. I don’t expect that to happen at all, but it’s what I’m shooting for of course. I’m a bit nervous but pretty confident that the rulebook does a good job so I’m crossing my fingers.

Some questions I hope to have answered after the playtest:

  1. Is the rulebook easy to read? Is the game easy to learn?
  2. Did the players have fun?
  3. How many rounds/turns until players “got it”?

-PT

Overflow – An Introduction, Part I

Hey everybody! So what exactly IS Overflow?

Prototype Flip Flop card from Overflow.

Prototype Flip Flop card from Overflow.

Before I get into the details and gameplay overview, I wanted to write a little bit about where it came from and what my goals were when I started.

If you’re impatient and just want to read the official intro, it’s at the bottom. But I hope it’s interesting enough that you’ll scroll back up and read through!

Overflow started out as a project to satisfy my itch to design a game. Rather than learn a programming language or game development software on top of using newly found game design muscles, I decided to go tactile and design a card game. I fondly remember my brother teaching me how to play Magic: The Gathering on my grandma’s carpeted floor and that transitioned into a love for the Pokemon TCG. Fun fact, I am actually a West Coast semifinalist in the Pokemon TCG tournament from way back in 2000!

Anyways, while Overflow started out as a game design exercise, it’s now morphed into a game production exercise. I knew I could create a game, but it ended up better than I could have ever expected and now the real challenge is to produce it.

Overflow wasn’t my first game idea, but the moment the idea came to me, it immediately felt like the game I should be designing. The entire concept came to me in one sitting and while it’s gone through many iterations, the core has remained the same from that one moment. I was inspired by classic games like Tetris, Bejeweled and Uno, but also drew elements from Puzzle Strike, Puzzle Quest and a long-time favorite in my group of friends, Boom-O.

Before I ever put any game ideas down, I wrote down a couple game design goals. These were things I wanted my game to incorporate or avoid. Here’s the list:

  • Simple, less rules
  • Deep strategy with combos
  • Comeback-ability
  • No lameduck, no kingmaker
  • No pre-game alliances
  • No empty turns

I’m pretty confident Overflow does a good job at addressing each of these in a couple different ways. I plan to post about each goal separately (or where appropriate, together) and go in-depth into why it’s in my goals and how Overflow addresses it.

With that said, without further ado, here’s the introduction straight from the latest draft of the Overflow rulebook:

Overflow! is a card game that simulates a stacking puzzle game (i.e. Tetris, Bejeweled etc.). In this puzzle game, blocks will fall and be added by players into the shared stack. Whoever overflows the stack will lose 1 Hit Point(HP) and the winner is the last one standing. Players are able to clear rows of blocks by matching 3 of a color and to help, players can play actions that will allow them to rearrange the stack in various ways. Other actions will build or destroy the stack, relieving or adding pressure. As players are eliminated, more and more blocks fill up the stack.

-PT

Hello, world!

Welcome to the official Thumbtack Games development blog!

I am very excited to finally unveil Thumbtack Games. I’ve been hard at work for nearly a year developing my first project, Overflow. It’s a multiplayer puzzle card game that simulates a stacking puzzle game where players will fill up a shared stack and try to overflow other players while avoiding it themselves.

Stay tuned for more, we’re in for a wild ride.

-PT