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 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.



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.