More Machete Madness

Posted on July 13, 2016 By


Earlier this summer, I wrote that I’d be sharing the Star Wars movies with my family in the now-classic Machete Order. I also promised to let you know how it went… then dropped the ball until now.

I found I didn’t miss Episode I at all. And I don’t know if it was the context, or just the fact I hadn’t seen it since it was in theaters, but Episode II wasn’t as bad as I remembered. Oh, it still wasn’t good. It was, in fact, rather stupid, but it was pretty, the action scenes were fun, and it did a good job of setting up Anniken as willing to cross every line in order to save Padme in Episode III.

My daughters enjoyed the movies and didn’t seem to realize or care that the prequels weren’t up to the bar set by the originals. And that’s fine. I restrained myself from pointing out the worst parts of Episodes II and III. Well, mostly. I might have said something about how foolish it was for the Jedi Council to blindly accept a clone army created as part of a secret plot a decade earlier. (“Oh, what a shiny wooden horse! Bring it here. And we don’t even know where it came from — how exciting!”)

Out of curiosity, I asked Thing One if she realized that Senator Palpatine was Darth Sidious. To my surprise, she said no. I’m guessing that’s the case for lots of kids who saw the prequels first, or didn’t make the connection between Sidious and the Emperor. I’ll be curious to see her reaction if she watches the prequels again knowing that the kindly old politician is actually a Sith schemer.

My final surprise was how much my two year-old son got into the movies. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised; flashing lasers, explosions, and bright colors are appealing on a primal level. Also, he’s in his “trucks, tractors, and robots” phase, and Star Wars, with its spaceships, vehicles, and droids definitely scratches that itch.

Overall, I’d have to recommend the Machete Order. It was a positive experience that elevated both Episode II and Episode VI, and helped tell a cohesive story.


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Spider Plan

Posted on July 6, 2016 By


Weeks ago, I promised to work up what the Spider Siege board game looks like from the perspective of the spider player. It’s got to be different from the human players, right?

While those two-legged meatbags scurry across the board trying to gobble up resources like iron, food, and population in order to create and maintain their armies, their eight-legged adversaries are ignoring such logistics and simply conquering the realm. Right?

Um. Yes?

I’ll be honest. After spending more time than I’d like to admit pondering the spider-side of the game, I’m not entirely satisfied with what I’ve come up with. But it’s better to have something you can test (even if it’s not perfect) than to spend still more time coming up with something you think is perfect (because it’s not).

So ready or not, I’m pulling the trigger on this spider-plan.

Spider Cardsspider_card

While human players draw resource cards for each of their resource spaces, the spider player draws spider cards for each space the spiders occupy. (This encourages you, as the spider player, to spread your units out as much as you can.)

Spider cards have up to three bits of information on them:

  • Power Value
  • Magic Value
  • Spider Type

I’m thinking they always a Power value (probably 1-3), but the others don’t show up on every card.

Spider Actions

Like human players, the spider player can spend cards from hand to pay for the actions listed on his or her command sheet. Unlike human players, those actions are more restricted in terms of where they can take place. New recruits, for example, need to enter play where you have a nest, and new nests can only be spawned where you have a minimum of three units.

Here, check it out:


Hmm. Actually… this should work. It’s close enough to the human player experience that it doesn’t seem completely disconnected, but different enough to seem like its own thing. I feel better about it now than I did when I started writing it up.

Not to jinx it, but we might be ready to prototype this game.


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Advanced Factions & Actions

Posted on July 4, 2016 By


Happy Independence Day to all my American readers! And happy “Putting Up With Americans Day” to everyone else!

Before I dedicate myself to the over-eating and celebratory explosions for which our founding fathers fought, I’d like to take a few minutes to revisit the economy of the Spider Siege board game. (The founding fathers have no recorded thoughts on the subject, but I’d like to think they’d be opposed to freedom-hating giant spiders.)

When we last discussed such things, it was in terms of how expensive different units should be. On that lovely “menu” of costs (see above), I also included a section for “actions,” but never explained how they work.


Actions are resolved pretty much the same as recruiting units. You spend resource cards from your hand to pay for them, and they do what they say they do. Only, instead of putting units on the board, they affect the board in unique and interesting ways.

For example, the first action, “Move,” is something we’ve discussed before: Spend Food to move units on a 1-to-1 basis.

The fun part about actions is that they vary by player.


Each player has his or her own faction. (Most of these are human factions, but remember that there’s a spider faction too, for which I still need to solidify the economy.)

Different factions have different types of units. One might have a bunch of archers, while another might have cavalry.

Likewise, they have different actions. The archer faction might have something like:

Arrow Barrage: Spend 4 Metal and choose a space adjacent to at least one of your Archers. Destroy all enemies in that space.

Or the cavalry team might have:

Charge!: Spend 2 Food per unit in a space to move those units into an adjacent space and attack all enemies there. All your Cavalry units get +1 Attack during that attack.

Okay, these are just off the top of my head, but you get the idea. Each faction has its own list of units you can play and actions you can take, based on that faction’s particular schtick.

(Hmm… maybe I should go ahead and design those factions next. It’s one more way to put off working on the spider player’s economy, which is turning out to be more of a headache than I’d expected.)

Enough spidery stuff for now! Go forth and declare you independence from something!

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Grammar of Game Design

Posted on June 27, 2016 By

By Tjo3ya - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

While noodling around on some more ideas for Spider Siege, I found myself pondering the game’s verbs and nouns. This let to further noodling, which I’m doing right now, and sharing with you.

Verbs are the actions that players take when playing a game:

  • Play a card.
  • Score a point.
  • Move a unit.
  • Deal 10 points of Jello damage to your opponent.

Nouns are typically the objects of those player actions. These are game elements that are in play on the table, such as:

  • units,
  • cards,
  • abstract pools of resources, or
  • the players themselves.

(Okay, I’m not sure if the players themselves count as nouns. It probably depends on the game. But I’m just trying to be thorough.)

Of course, seizing any opportunity to wield my English degree, I must now extend the metaphor to include some more parts of speech.

Adjectives are how you differentiate different types of nouns:

  • Melee, Ranged, or Magical Units
  • Land, Creature, or Artifact Cards
  • Small, Medium, or Large Bowls of Jello

Which I guess means adverbs are how you differentiate different types of verbs:

  • Move a unit aggressively (attack) or defensively (retreat)
  • Deal fire, water, or Jello damage
  • Score a red, green, or yellow point.

Hmmm. Not sure this “adverb” thing works so well. Each modified verb could be its own verb. “Attack” and “defend” certainly seem like their own verbs.

Meh. Whatever. This whole “grammar” thing is just a metaphor to help identify the different parts of a game system, and should only be used insofar as it helps you make a better game anyway.

While I was originally thinking about this in terms of tabletop games, it works really well for video games too. In that case, I’d say that nouns are things that appear on screen (player avatars, levels, enemies, etc.), and verbs are the player’s inputs (walk, run, jump, shoot, talk, etc.). Such things are truly valuable in video game design because when programming them, you need to have a list of everything that must be included. If I don’t put “jump” on the verb list in my design doc, the programmer won’t programming jumping.

I didn’t invent the grammar metaphor, and don’t know who did. Probably a Magic designer. But I hope that my noodling around with the idea can help your own game design efforts.


Game Design     , ,

The Cost of Killing Spiders – Part 2

Posted on June 24, 2016 By


“So we’re spending these ‘points’ of resources on units,” says my hypothetical reader, picking up the conversation from where it dropped earlier this week. “What does that get us? How many points is each type of unit worth?”

It’s at this point I admit that early prototyping is as much art as science. Ideally, there’s a formula for such things waiting to be formulated, playtested, and perfected. Truly I hope that there is; formulas make my life easier. But for now, all we have a baseline and a rough guide.

The baseline I’m working from is the weakest unit, the Milita. I want it to cost 1 Population. Thematically, you’re recruiting Joe Farmer, handing him a sharp stick, and pointing him at the invading spider army. He’s not very effective, but he costs you nothing in terms of training or equipment.

1 Population is worth 1 “point,” so this is what we’re looking at for our base:

Militia: +0 Attack, 3 Defense, 1 Life, no special abilities / Cost: 1 pt.

The next “level” of unit is what I’m generically calling the Soldier. His stats are a bit better, reflecting some training and oh, I don’t know, a sword or spear or something. So I’m thinking he should cost a Population and a Metal, which puts him at 3 points.

Soldier: +0 Attack, 4 Defense, 1 Life, simple special ability like “On a 6, deal +1 damage” / Cost: 3 pts.

(Game Design Note: I expect this to be the bread-and-butter unit of most armies. As such, I kept the Attack at +0 because adding even a small modifier can be cumbersome when you’re rolling multiple dice.)

At the top tier are the Specialists. These probably vary from one player faction to another, and players probably have different types of Specialists to choose from within their own ranks, but I reckon they’re all better than Soldiers. Most require Milk to pay for them, but some might just need a lot of Metal or Population. If they cost 1 Population, 1 Metal, and 1 Milk, they’re worth 6 points. Some surely cost more, but this seems a good place to start.

Specialist: +1 Attack, 4 Defense, 2 Life, some sweet special ability / Cost: 6 pts

That seems really expensive, especially compared to the Militia. But then I remember that the original concept of the game included trading, and I’m okay with it. Your heroic Spider Slayer costs 5 Metal but you only have 1 Metal? Trade some of that Milk you’ve been hoarding to the player next to you; she’d love to give you some of her Metal in exchange.

So now we’ve got a board, a combat system with basic units, and a basic economy. Looks like we’re ready to build a prototype and — oh. Oh, right.

I still need to figure out how the game works for the spider player.

Oh, we could just have the spiders use the same resource system as the humans, but that feels wrong. Thematically, the spiders might have an interest in resource, but those resources don’t drive their war-making efforts. Besides, in an asymmetrical game, the two sides should play asymmetrically.

I’ve got a couple ideas for this. I’ll let them germinate over the weekend and see what sprouts next week.

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The Cost of Killing Spiders

Posted on June 20, 2016 By


In today’s episode of “Turning Spider Siege into a Real Game,” we’ll be looking at the intersection of board resources, unit value, and econom — wait! Where are you going? I promise, it’s not nearly as dull or confusing as I’m making it sound.

Okay, let’s try this again.

This is a war game, right? With different types of units, some of which are better than others. Better units should “cost more,” but since we don’t have a universal currency in the game, it’s going to take a little brain-work to figure out how that’s going to function.

Let’s start by looking at how to “pay for stuff,” i.e., resources on the board.

Rare resources are more valuable than those that are more common. (That’s the “supply” part of the classic “supply and demand” gimmick.)

As we established earlier, our rarities look like this:

  • Food is the most common resource, since it’s produced by Fields, of which there are 15 on the board.
  • Population is #2, with 12 Villages on the board.
  • Metal is third most common, with 9 Mines.
  • Milk of the Earth is the rarest resources, bubbling up from just 6 Milk Caves.

I’m going to remove Food from the equation since it’s mainly spent on moving dudes, not making dudes.

So ignoring Food and going strictly on scarcity, our resource values look like this:

  • Population is worth 1 point.
  • Metal is worth 2 points.
  • Milk is worth 3 points.

“Um… points?” you may ask. “Why are you adding yet another resource, on top of the stuff on the board?

“Because we need to have a universal currency,” I answer. “This way, we can balance units and game effects on one scale across the whole game. And yeah, it might look like it’s just added complication right now, but this is the sausage-making part. The players won’t see this messy underside; they’ll just see a bunch of balanced units that cost varying amounts of Population, Metal, and Milk.”

“Ah,” you may say, still skeptical. “So different units cost different numbers of points?”


You may nod, letting it sink in.

“So what do these units look like?” you may ask. “What do we get for our points’ worth of resource?”

I glance at my watch and grimace. “We’re out of time today, but I’ll totally show you if you stick around for the next blog entry.”

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A Unit of Awesome

Posted on June 17, 2016 By


I’ve been spending some time this week pondering how to put the war into the Spider Siege war game. As I mentioned on Monday, it’s complex because combat and economy are (not unlike the real world) totally connected. Okay, yes, better units should cost more, but in order to do that, I need to know what “better” looks like, and how much cost is “more.”

Order of Battle

First things first! If we’re going to give units stats, we need to know how combat works, so we know what stats to use and how they affect things. Here’s the first draft of combat rules for Spider Siege:

At the end of a player’s turn, if that player has units in the same space as an opponent, the opposing units must battle.

Both players roll one die for each of their units in the fight. The players then take turns assigning their dice to their respective units.

When you assign a die to a unit, you activate that unit. An activated unit can’t be activated again.

When you activate a unit, it attacks an opposing unit of your choice. To attack…

  • Add the value of the die to your unit’s Attack score.
  • If this total meets or beats the opposing unit’s Defense score, the defender takes a wound.
  • If a unit takes a number of wounds equal to its Life score, it is destroyed. (If it has a die on it, that die is set aside.)

When all units that haven’t been destroyed are activated, the battle is over. Remove all wounds from any remaining units. To determine the winner of the battle, add up the remaining dice on both sides of the battle. The player with the highest total of dice is the winner. (Ties go to the attacker because aggressive play is more fun than realism.)

The losing side must retreat into an adjacent space that is empty or occupied only by friendly units. If there is nowhere to retreat to, all those units are destroyed.


Stats for the Stat God!

As you can see above, units have three stats: Attack, Defense, and Life. Your average “Dude with a stick” has zero Attack, 3 Defense, and 1 Life. Most units have only 1 Life, since tracking wounds on lots of guys is a hassle.

Some units also have special abilities that are triggered when they’re assigned certain die values. For example, if you assign a Priestess of Trax a die with the value of 6, she not only attacks with that 6, but also heals a wound off of a friendly unit.

(Game Design Note: Special abilities are triggered by high rolls, giving us that “Hoody-hoo!” moment of rolling a crit – you not only succeed, but you do something awesome too. But I’m considering switching it to low rolls, which gives us more interesting tactical decisions. If a unit’s special is triggered on a roll of a 1, you might assign it that terrible roll even though that means its attack misses, in order to use its ability. I’ll play it as written for now, but will keep this idea in mind.)


Now that we know how the combat system works and what the units’ stats are, we can figure out how much each of those units costs. That will take some math, some guesswork, and more time than I have right now. I’ll meet you back here next week and we’ll see how it turns out.


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Posted on June 13, 2016 By


After working up the game board for Spider Siege, I went back to the original design docs to see what I needed to do next. That’s when I remembered: oh, right, my war game didn’t actually have any way to resolve battles.

What I did have was a checklist of stuff I wanted to include in the combat system:

  • Dice
  • Different types of combat units
  • Single-round battle resolution

The first bullet point was easy enough to deal with: “Let’s use six-sided dice,” I announced to my cat, who was wondering why I was designing games and not putting food in his bowl.

“Let’s roll one die per combatant. Yes, it’s a cliche. Yes, it might mean too many dice, But it’s a good place to start.”

The cat nodded, then gestured towards his bowl.

The second item, though… Different types of units? That was — that is — a real rabbit hole of a design challenge.

You see, it’s all connected:

  • Different types of units have different stats.
  • What are those stats? How do they relate to the dice?
  • Units with better stats need to have higher costs.
  • What’s the basic economy? How much is a unit of “population” or “metal” worth?

All these things — dice mechanics, unit stats, resource economy — are interwoven in a way that makes it hard to focus on just one thing while ignoring the rest.

I’ll be diving down that rabbit hole this week. But first, I should feed this cat.

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Web of Pinsperation

Posted on June 10, 2016 By


(Get it? Pinterest + Inspiration = Pinsperation! I’m so clever I think I’ll go play in traffic.)

Earlier this week, I showed off Eric Lofgren‘s awesome-creepy spider designs for Empire of Venom & Silk. Eventually, I expect to have similar original designs for the various types of characters and landmark locations.

But for now, I’ll just refer you to the Pinterest board I’m using to collect cool, inspirational imagery. (Don’t worry, arachnophobes, it’s not all pictures of spiders.)

Speaking of arachnophobes… as I start transitioning EVS from A Fun Idea to An Actual Product, I wonder how much its spidery imagery will keep people from even looking at it. How about you, person-who-hates-spiders? Would your phobia keep you from checking out a Venom & Silk game or book? Let me know in all the usual places!

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Visions of Venom & Silk

Posted on June 7, 2016 By


One thing that truly defines a storyworld’s setting is its unique imagery. This is something I’ve been wrestling with in regards to Empire of Venom & Silk: as a low fantasy, bronze age setting, it inherently looks similar to many other such settings. It needs something unique, that looks like nothing else. And obviously, that something should be its giant freaking spiders.

The problem with giant spiders, however, is that every fantasy setting has them. For EVS, I needed a spider that looked truly unique.

Enter artist Eric Lofgren. I’ve worked with Eric on numerous projects over the years, and I really like his creature designs. So when I realized I’d need to commission some unique spider imagery, his was the first name that came to mind.


Eric’s first sketch gave me a couple options. I decided to go with the top design because it was more threatening than its counterpart with the spindlier legs.

For the next pass, I told him, “I love the ‘helmet’ look of the head. I’d love to see more details (spikes? horns? Carapace plates? something cool I’m not thinking of?) that identify the beast as not just A Spider, but as a specific spider from a specific setting”… and just turned him loose to go crazy.


I was pleased with the results. I really liked the “horned crown” look of the head, and asked him to duplicate that look on the spider’s abdomen. Since real spiders’ abdomens are smooth, I figured giving ours more texture would make it stand out as “not just another spider.”


Oh yeah, that’s the ticket!

The distinctive face, along with the thorny abdomen and plated legs, give this thing an aura of weirdness that suggests that it’s not exactly a spider, but a alien thing that just happens to look sort of like a spider.

I think I’ve found my spider.

If you like the look of Eric’s stuff, check out his website, his regularly-updated Facebook gallery, and his collection of art that’s available for licensing.

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