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.


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.


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”?


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.


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.