Archive for the 'Stage One' Category

Stage One: Volume 1-1

September 23, 2012

Getting closer.

Stage One: Tracking Progress

December 18, 2011

Stage One is a short anthology of video game-inspired tabletop games that I’m organizing. This post collects all the current information about it and will be updates with its current status.


Original submission guidelines
List of submitted drafts
– Initial reviewing (Stage 1-1, Stage 1-2, Stage 1-3)


Games with Submitted “Final” Drafts (** = edited and returned to author)

If you have a new draft and are ready to progress to this stage (editing and layout), submit a link in the comments below or email me your most recent version.

– Fall of the Titans**
– Heavy is the Head

Games with Invitations (* = tentatively accepted)

If you’ve received an invitation to submit your draft to the anthology, I will add your game here. Send me a comment or email to let me know if you have tentatively accepted. All contributors will maintain all rights to their games and even get full rights to the results of the editorial and layout work that I do for your game. I just get rights to release your game as part of the initial 200-copy print run of the anthology. Anything else will have to be negotiated later.

– Roguish (Evan Silberman)*
– Fall of the Titans (Scott Slomiany)*
– Differences (Jackson Tegu)*
– Half of Everything is Luck (Mike Olson)*
– Heavy is the Head (Simon Carryer)*

Games being Revised

This is a list of games that I know the designers are continuing to work on and still tentatively plan to release as part of Stage One (either the first anthology or maybe a second, later one). If you think you should be on or off this list, let me know in comments or over email.

– Resident Evil+ (Michael Wight)
– Return to Maniac Mansion (Nick Wedig)
– Fortunes and Thieves (Steve Hickey)
– Dragon and Warrior (Orion Canning)
– Lost Colony (Mendel Schmiedekamp)

Games of Unknown Status

These are games where I haven’t heard anything in particular from the author or read about any ongoing work on a forum or blog. If you think your game should be in another category, let me know.

– An Analog Tribute to Gauntlet (Christopher Weeks)
– A Few More Heroes (Stephen Bretall)
– Scrabblenauts (Nick Wedig)
– Naughty Duck’s Dream Adventure (A.D. Henderson)
– Pokemon Paper Edition (Robert Bruce)
– Paperboy Unleashed (Lorenzo Trenti)

Games Not Pursuing the Anthology

These are games that are pursuing independent publication or which the author has decided to stop working on, at least for now. That’s totally cool and I definitely support anything people want or don’t want to do with their games! Let me know if your game should be added to this category, just so I can make sure I don’t miss any. You’re welcome, of course, to resume working towards participation at any time.

– Mushroom Kingdom Stories (Hans Chung-Otterson)
– The Fissure (Trevor Waldorf)

Stage One: Reviewing 1-3

December 17, 2011

Last batch! Watch out for the Bullet Bills! Thanks to everyone for making this event so awesome, and I apologize deeply for not getting to this last set of reviews sooner. Now I’m excited to play these and work on putting the anthology together in the new year!

13. Half of Everything is Luck (Goldeneye): Mike Olson

This game is straight-up terrific. Since it’s a solo game, you should play try it out right now, if you haven’t already. Mike has had strong showings in the past couple years of Game Chef, but, despite his excellent design skills, I was admittedly skeptical about a Goldeneye-inspired game. While I played the multi-player shootout for countless hours, I’m not generally a huge first-person-shooter fan. However, Mike knocked this one out of the park. Using college-ruled paper to measure distance to objectives is genius, plus it gives the game a strong crafty, DIY feel. The guards act like guards in shooters: it doesn’t matter how many times you hit them, you need to hit them in a very specific way to kill them, which is hilarious. Both the first level, the dam, and the outline of stage two (“The Facility”) are evocative and sound exciting to play. There are a few weaknesses in the text — notably, a couple of the examples are confusing to read, the opposite of what you want in an example — but, along with the Shadow of the Colossus-inspired game, this really takes solo tabletop play in an interesting direction that I hope we can keep exploring. Even the name of this game is great, simply reeking of Brosnan-era James Bond. There are sections of this that’ll need more playtesting and analysis from hardcore min-maxing gearheads to ensure they’re challenging but not impossible, but this game definitely gets an invitation.

14. Lost Colony (Alpha Centauri): Mendel Schmiedekamp

Parts of this remind me of a game I playtested some years back, maybe an early draft of Mars Colony (?), crossed with the line-drawing mechanic from It’s Complicated. Overall, it’s pretty successful, though I feel like I’d need to play it to get a better sense of what the experience would be like, because it’s hard to tell just from the rules. I’m left with a few practical questions — what is the “T” in the technologies after stage zero? how do we decide what later technologies actually are, since they are semi-random associations of keys? do Wonders or civilizational changes mean anything? — my main concern is about the imaginative content of play, or the lack thereof, which isn’t really specified much in the short text. I can see this game going either way: fleshing out moves into imaginative encounters (not quite scenes, more vignettes or montages) that involve a few players, or being much more like a light strategic boardgame, where you make your move, interpret it, and then move on. Either way, it’d be nice to have a stronger sense from the designer which is preferable or if a mixture of approaches — depending on player preferences — is also doable. Overall, though, I think it’s ready for internal playtesting and maybe a bit of outside playtesting to see if it measures up to the designer’s vision in practice and (importantly) can sustain interest after the first stage or two. Nine stages, the number recommended in the text, seems like a lot.

15. Pokemon Paper Edition (Pokemon): Robert Bruce

I’m probably one of the only people in the world who owns a copy of the Pokemon Jr. Adventure Game, Set 1: Pokemon Emergency!, though I think it was actually recommended to me by Jason Morningstar (?). It was the only box set published by WOTC in a planned line of Pokemon tabletop RPGs for kids. Robert, you really need to find a copy of this game and play it, because you’ve created a game that’s remarkably similar — no surprise, considering the source material! — though yours captures certain aspects of Pokemon better, especially the elemental interactions between Pokemon. Overall I have two main concerns: (1) as with Mushroom Kingdom Adventures, will this game still be grabbing and enthralling when it’s about “MegaPets” (or whatever) and their owners, rather than Pokemon trainers; and (2) rather than having all the Pokemon in a separate appendix (when everything was supposed to fit on two pages), I’d like to see them worked directly into the text. If both those issues are resolved, then I think we can start talking about the next steps. Removing the Nintendo IP while maintaining interest is going to take a bit of thought and work, so I’d just like to see what this game looks like then before we move forward, assuming Robert’s still interested in being part of the anthology.

16. Heavy is the Head (Civilis/zation): Simon Carryer

This is another game that’s seen some play since the contest ended. Trying to model Civilization (yes, we spell it with a zed in the U.S.) is a brilliant, ambitious goal — like with Alpha Centauri — and I think Simon takes a good shot at it, though there are a few remaining issues. It’s essentially an Apocalypse World hack for 2 players, but one player — the one in charge of the main civilization — seems like they will be having much more fun than the other. While I like a lot of what’s going on, I keep thinking that it would be much more fun if it was re-framed as a multi-player game where each player controlled a neighboring civilization on the same map. The choices made by a single player, after all, seem much more interesting when viewed in comparison with different choices made by other players. You wouldn’t necessarily need 5-6 PC civilizations, but maybe 2-3 plus a couple other NPC civilizations. Ultimately, this may not be the direction the designer wants to go. From reading some of the playtest comments, it sounds like Simon might be exploring other ways in which to make Player Two’s role more active. Overall, this still needs a bit more polishing and playtesting before it’s ready to submit to the anthology, but I hope that ultimately happens because it’s a great take on a genre that’s only been partially explored in tabletop RPGs before. The politics grid is an especially neat thing and I hope that it has a more central presence in the final version. The way Civilization views human history in a social darwinist fashion is all kinds of problematic, but it’s definitely something worth capturing and messing with in a game like this.

17. Paperboy Unleashed (Paperboy): Lorenzo Trenti

Wow, I will admit, this is not at all what I expected from a Paperboy-inspired game. Lorenzo really took the premise and ran with it! I really like how the paperboy is de-personalized: no one player plays him, but you collectively determine his fate, which seems reminiscent of the faceless protagonists of early video games (and some later ones: Link and Masterchief are still like that). The lists of good and bad encounters are classic (“breakdancer”) and overall the game reads almost like a tabletop parody of experimental Nordic larp / Jeepform. You describe encounters, roll dice, and either take harm or not (symbolically ripping up a sheet of newspaper if you take harm), and have encounters with the Grim Reaper, all the while trying to learn lessons from the harm you’ve taken so you can overcome death itself. It’s wacky and dark and kinda hilarious at the same time, just due to the absurdity of the juxtaposition of mortal doom and an 8-bit kid on a bike. I’m honestly not sure where Lorenzo should go with this but I double dare anyone to play it and hopefully some actual play experiences will illuminate things further. In any event, I hope it turns out to be a blast in practice, because it’s utterly insane and would be great to have in the anthology.

18. The Fissure (Guild Wars): Trevor Waldorf

As with the other video games that I didn’t have much background in, I spent some time watching Guild Wars footage on Youtube, so I could say some intelligent things about this game. I’m not sure it helped that much in this case, though, since the action seems to occur mostly in the abstract, not connected that closely to fictional events. The mechanics take place in real-time, which is neat, but involve rolling d8s over and over again until you match the role made by another player (modified, I think, by your class). I guess this symbolizes that you need the cooperation of other players to accomplish anything? But then once one pair of players have made their rolls, the last player just attempts to tie their previous roll. Once you pass a set number of different types of rolls at your current location, you can move to a new location and do it all over again. Overall, the map structure is cool, but the actual fictional things that you are attempting to do seem to be a bit lost in all this rolling, though the descriptions of the objectives on the map locations are actually pretty interesting. They just need to connect more closely to what the players are actually doing in play. Also, I can’t figure out from the rules how you actually take damage. Does it happen when you haven’t rolled a match in 30 seconds? Players can make a lot of rolls in 30 seconds, though, so it doesn’t seem likely to happen. In any event, this definitely needs some internal playtesting to iron out some of the kinks and allow the designer to see what parts of their vision came through and what parts need some work. Some good ideas, but not quite there yet.

Stage One: Reviewing 1-2

November 24, 2011

It’s time to head into the underground! Doo-doo doo-doo doo-doo (ba-dum bum chsh)! Sorry for the delay in getting to these. I’ll try to get the last batch up imminently.

7. Return to Maniac Mansion (Maniac Mansion): Nick Wedig

There’s some really clever things in this game. While it doesn’t show up until the last paragraph, the idea that you would “improvize a cutscene” after every swath of play is great and very Maniac Mansion-y. Unfortunately, it’s kinda left at that. Likewise, the mixture of shared and unique verbs for structuring moves in the game is nice, because it makes every player able to uniquely contribute. In general, the guidelines for the players is strong, though there’s minimal advice on creating proper characters. The mansion guidelines have the potential to be super awesome but fall slightly short. I really like having a limited set of responses and having to choose between them before passing the cards to a new player; that’s gold. I worry a little bit about players “spamming” the mansion until they get a response they like, but there’s probably some way around that. Like, if the situation hasn’t changed significantly, maybe the mansion can re-issue the same response: “No, that still doesn’t work.” The real missing piece, though, is guidance on how to create mansion rooms and puzzles for the characters to solve. If they’re just emergent from play, they’re likely to be haphazard and even dumber than you’d like. Putting a hamster in the microwave is par for the Maniac Mansion course, but you shouldn’t be able to use a chicken to get out of handcuffs. That said, if this was fleshed out a bit more (maybe including a map of the mansion that was gradually exposed over play?), I could see this game being really fun and campy. Seems like there should also be strict player turns, like a board game, which doesn’t really come out in this version of the rules. Honestly, the “LucasArts internal memo” format didn’t do that much for me, once I got the joke. I’d much prefer a straight up “Maniacal Estates” setup. Hopefully Nick is still excited about this one, because it could be super cool, with a bit of work. Playtest, clarify, and resubmit!

8. Scrabblenauts (Scribblenauts): Nick Wedig

I couldn’t get the first page of this game to print, which was a bit annoying, but the game itself is sharp. Right off the bat, I’m a bit worried about the “invoke traits to draw tiles” mechanic, especially since anyone can invoke any trait or relationship at any time. [quick rant] In my experience, trait invocation mostly works when it’s closed connected to fictional positioning: you can only invoke the traits that are appropriate to the situation and sometimes have to position your character fictionally in order to achieve trait-appropriateness. There’s no sign of that here, which can lead to the problems often encountered in Once Upon a Time or Wushu, where people go out of their way to incorporate details that don’t really make sense, artificially twisting the narrative. [/quick rant] This issue might be especially weird in this game, because the chief form of action is spelling words, so it’s not clear what you can do to invoke traits anyway. Maybe Nick is imagining something different here and I’m just not seeing it! That seems likely. In any event, the main action is top-notch, using Scrabble letters to spell out solutions to problems. I don’t know what to say besides that it’s super great. The stage one challenge is great too (Tall Tower, Vicious Goblin, Locked Door, Wizard), with the difficulty of those words established by their total letter score. I would really like to see a version of this game with (1) a different/clarified drawing mechanic, even just “if you can’t/don’t want to make a word, draw!” and (2) no GM. The words kinda play themselves, yeah? And the difficulties are established by the words. So the GM’s role seems pretty minimal. You just need a few “stage two” guidelines for generating new words and situations and, bam, the game runs itself. Like the last game, I feel like this one is playtest, clarify, and resubmit, but it feels closer to being done. Really, I feel like I could quickly implement #1 and #2 above and be ready to play right now. Still, that may not be the direction Nick wants to head. If it is, though, he can have an invitation right now; otherwise, I want to see where this goes.

9. Differences (6 Differences): Jackson Tegu

This game is hard to write detailed comments about, not because it doesn’t deserve them or is “too experimental” but because we haven’t yet developed the vocabulary to be able to talk about and critique games like this. Maybe the Nordic folks have that vocabulary! I don’t feel like I do yet. This game is terrific; it’s surprising both in its inspiration (point-and-click Flash art!) and in its execution (live action still lifes!). It certainly rose to the challenge by picking a game that “only works as an electronic game” and reframing it so it works in meatspace. It uses video games to ask questions about what games are and what they can be. Awesome! The only mechanical suggestion I have is that there should be some micro-reward for completing the games. Like: “When you beat stage one, high-five! When you beat stage two, eat gelato!” Something like that. Invitation extended!

10. Fortunes and Thieves (Uncharted): Steve Hickey

Uncharted, yeah! That’ll be awesome! There’s a mysterious opening salvo that hints at connections between Cibola, Somali pirates, and Mexican narcos. Sweet! And the love/hate connections you build with other fortune hunters are great. Rockin’! And then the game itself… is basically 4E-style skill challenges, with a few changes. What? You totally had me hooked here, Steve; what happened? There’s not even much guidance for setting up good challenges, so the GM apparently has to wing it. Maybe if there were some examples of play or something to liven this up, I could get excited about it. As it is, it’s all mechanics and not especially evocative. I also kept looking for some way for there to be real and interesting consequences for failing a challenge, but didn’t spot those either; you just get a harder challenges you’re even more likely to fail than the last one, which sounds like it could lead to a failure spiral. Also, once you finally find the initial treasure, it’s not necessarily related to the opening salvo about golden cities, East African piracy, and drug cartels. Follow through with your setup, Steve; give me some hint of where this is going! Hint at bigger things! In any event, I was totally sold on the premise and the setup, but the overall play guidelines still needs some work to follow through on the promise and excitement of the early paragraphs. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that this eventually shows back up in a format that rocks socks.

11. Dragon and Warrior (Dragon Warrior): Orion Canning

I don’t have a lot of background in Dragon Warrior, but (1) a bunch of other folks seemed excited about this game, (2) the initial descriptions are amazing — Though these friendships are new and uncertain, you’re pretty sure you can walk into their houses and take their stuff, and (3) it advertises itself as a hack of Silver & White, a game I can’t say enough good things about, so I went in expecting something pretty solid. There’s a lot of good stuff here, but it doesn’t feel like it all fits together quite yet. For one thing, unlike in Silver & White, the responsibilities of the different players are not all equally interesting. The player with the “Treasure” card really gets the short end of the stick, because they don’t control any characters, unlike the Monster, People, and Dragon Warrior players. Even then, the Monster and People players only play NPCs when the Dragon Warrior is in certain places. Orion seems to realize that the Dragon Warrior has the most interesting role, because he has the players take turns as the Dragon Warrior. However, I would recommend maybe not having the roles rotate in initial playtesting, so you can ensure all four roles are good. Maybe you don’t need four? What about three? Or even two? This may be a place where the Silver & White influence isn’t necessarily helping. The mechanics for fighting and such seem decent, though not especially exciting, aside from the fun choice of Attack, Item, Spell, or Run every turn. Finally the game has some trouble fitting into the “stage one” concept, partially because the rules are fairly general, applying to every level after the first as well. For the anthology, I would prefer a more focused approach where Orion detailed the missions in the first town and then left future towns up to the players to create. Overall, this game feels like it needs some initial playtesting to help pare it down and focus it on the core experience. There’s a huge amount of content here in small type! And that’s great for an initial draft, but it needs to be a bit tighter and more direct going forward, I think. Once some revisions are made and the game plays really well, right out the gate, it’ll be ready for more detail-oriented work.

12. Naughty Duck’s Dream Adventure (DuckTales): A.D. Henderson

There’s a lot to like here. This game clearly comes from a love of its source material, especially when it remarks that Scribner McMallard is “known for his racecars, lazers, and aeroplanes.” However, as I continued deeper into the game, it struck me that — like Mushroom Kingdom Stories — it’s inspired more by the media around the video game (in this case the original DuckTales cartoon) than the video game itself. Otherwise there’d be much more pogo-sticking and less pulpy adventure. Now, I loves me some DuckTales; I can yell “quack-a-roodie!” with the best of them! But it does drift away from the focus of the contest a bit. But let’s judge this as a DuckTales cartoon game: “Danger Master” (yay!), species-related gifts (hmm… does it matter that Scrooge is a duck, really?), a signature gadget (Huey, Duey, and Louie have… their ballcaps?), great stat names (yay!), treasure-map-based play (yay!), terrific short, punchy guidelines and examples for creating a map and encounters — if it’s a desert, draw sand-blasted ruins, frightful wastes with little animal skulls in them, or a mysterious oasis (super yay!), and a somewhat confusing but relatively straightforward resolution system involving collecting three types of gems (mmm… alright). As with Fortunes and Thieves, I’m much more sold on the premise and setup than the resolution system itself, though maybe some additional examples would help increase my excitement. That said, the lack of video-game-specific inspiration here makes me a bit concerned about including in the anthology, at least as currently written. Andy should consider if what he really wants to make is a tribute to the DuckTales cartoon. If so, then — by blatherskite! — that’s what he should do, and the anthology may be irrelevant. In any case, it’s probably time for this to get played, so Andy can get first-hand experience with it and reactions from players on whether the mechanics are engaging.

Stage One: Reviewing 1-1

November 19, 2011

I’ve divided the eighteen Stage One games into three sets of six games each, so the reviews won’t be in one long post. That works nicely with the Mario Bros. tradition of breaking stage one into 1-1, 1-2, and 1-3. I’m going to try to keep these reviews relatively short and to-the-point, providing additional feedback to games when/if they accept an invitation to be part of the (first?) Stage One anthology booklet or at the request of individual designers.

1. An Analog Tribute to Gauntlet (Gauntlet): Christopher Weeks

This game cleverly mimicks the random and arbitrary nature of arcade games. I tracked down some video footage of the older Gauntlet games, which was helpful as I’ve only played the newer 3-D remake. And, man, it totally nails the frantic axe-throwing, food-seeking, and running-like-a-headless-chicken aspects. It was also helpful because the current text leaves out some critical information, like what characters’ starting scores are (600 health, 0 stress, 0 score, I assume). Other concerns include: the confusing description of the only example of play (paragraph 3), the difficulty of easily spotting when the score reaches a multiple of 16384, and a larger concern of… is this actually fun to play, beyond reveling in the ruthless ribbing of Gauntlet? Players just randomly increment their stats until certain conditions are reached. It would certainly be hilariously thrilling the first time, as long as you had the right crowd. So, some smart ideas, but I think this one either needs some deep reworking to be a good fit for the anthology or — more likely — should just embrace what it is, be shared with the right audiences in a slightly revised and clarified form, and not worry too much about print. People will either get it or they won’t, right?

2. Resident Evil+ (Resident Evil): Mike / Gremlin Legions

First off, the layout here is top-notch, which definitely helps in organizing and effectively transmitting the rules and tone. The rules are more complex than many of the games here, but the presentation keeps them from being overwhelming. Overall, the rules suggest a semi-generic dungeony game, but they look fun and reasonably solid. The example locations are straight-up terrific, but unfortunately take up a lot of space for something that’ll mostly be useful in later stages. There’s some classic Resident Evil stuff I miss too. Could the game be for GM + 2 players (male and female PCs), who are sometimes together and sometimes split up? Where are the ominous trinkets and clues to collect? Shouldn’t you be able to investigate a thing more closely, so the GM can give you a creepy description of it? Rules-wise, with 5 effort dice and 1/3 chance of success, you’re averaging slightly less than 2 successes, which makes failure seem pretty unlikely, especially if you use resources. I was going to suggest letting players cooperate on certain things, but that might require reworking the dice to make the game significantly more difficult. Overall, though, this game seems ready for initial playtesting and revisions, just to make sure the play experience matches what the rules intend. After that, it’s definitely ready for an invitation to the more intense editing and play that lead up to publication. So… let’s call that playtest and resubmit, I guess? Looking forward to this one. I’ve been playing the Resident Evil remake for the Gamecube lately, and sometimes it’s so creepy that I have to stop for a while.

3. A Few More Heroes (No More Heroes): Stephen Bretall

This game reminds me of a cross between Scarlet Wake and Ammo: Revenant War, both of which are fun shooty/fighty games where you take out a bunch of random dudes. I really dig the Beatles-inspired bad guys too and, even more, the overall descriptive setup: assassinating people to make rent. Way rad. The concerns I have are mostly about the lack of clear instructions about how you use the “cool junk that’s more important than rent” (like rage-induced superpowers) and how sustainably fun the carnage is, even if you just play through the first stage. I mean, by the end of the game, you’ll have slaughtered 10d10 thugs per player, which is a lot of mindless killing without something else to keep players’ interest. Even Ammo has the cool tactile feel of popping dice out of your first with your thumb, which feels really great, as you’re mowing down random faceless dudes. I guess there’s that 3:16 thing, where you can compete with the other players for most kills, which probably helps some. I guess I want something else to help hook me into the carnage, but I’m not sure what. Maybe some way to engage with the environment, like the parking lot or the penthouse, in a way that makes them feel different? Overall, though, this seems pretty solid and it ready to be played and tweaked based on that experience. So, playtest, clarify, and resubmit.

4. Roguish (Rogue): Evan Silberman

This game is either genius or incomplete and I’m going to lean towards “genius” — though I showed it to another indie game designer and they went with “incomplete.” Specifically, the really stand-out aspect of this game is its complete disregard for expectations in its dirt-simple, nearly resolution-free system for fighting monsters. You hit a monster, it hits you back, and this continues until one of you is dead (no dice). Monsters can take 1-2 hits, with bigger ones taking more, and PCs record damage by scribbling on their card (when it’s covered in scribbles, they’re dead). Legendary monsters kill you instantly unless you use fictional positioning to make it not so, likely with the help of some of the magical loot you’ve picked up. Dungeon- and monster-arranging is automated, as in Roguelikes or, more recently, Castle Ravenloft. Honestly, I am super in-love with this game partially because I know just the crowd of people to play it with: folks who will totally appreciate its minimalist, arbitrary nature. I definitely want to try this out in play, to make sure it has all the guidelines needed for it to work well, but, man, this game feels done to me. Invitation extended!

5. Shadow of Colossus (Shadow of the Colossus): Scott Slomiany

I love nearly everything about this game. Representing the giant golem as a flowchart is a fantastic decision and the rules are very clear and spot-on. A few thoughts: (1) It will eventually need a new name and a different name for the protagonist for copyright reasons, maybe “Giantkiller” for both? (2) It should really support both solo and 2-player play, drawing cards randomly for the colossus, like the dealer does in backjack. For bigger beasts in later levels, I can even imagine a few slayers working together on the same golem. (3) “Rest” is not quite the right term for that move, I don’t think. Really, it seems like the slayer is taking the time to assess his options, bid his time, and wait for the right moment. After all, if you “Rest” as turn 1, you climb up on the golem’s hand, presumably because he tried to smash you and you jumped on, or because you waited for him to come by. (4) The game needs a few more words about the special rules for later golems and how to set up their flowcharts. Other than that, yeah, it needs to be played, but it seems totally ready to go. Invitation extended!

6. Mushroom Kingdom Stories (Super Mario Bros.): Hans Chung-Otterson

The setup here is pretty brilliant, rolling some dice onto the map and having them generating situations. Also, the use of actual coins is super great and fitting for a Mario-inspired game. Some concerns I have: (1) If we file the serial numbers off here, will it still be compelling and will it feel like a Mario game? Like, if it’s a “portal to the Wacky Zone” instead of a “warp pipe to Minus World,” will it still excite us to play? I think that really depends on making the descriptions compelling and Mario-esque without drawing heavily on other IP. (2) Compared to other games in this batch, I feel like I have less of an idea how this game will feel in play from reading the text. There aren’t any examples and some of the language — especially “embodying” tags and roadblocks — are less than clear and might be wishy-washy in play without firmer guidelines. (3) Overall, the game seems inspired by the overall ethos and elements of Mario-related media, but it’s much less inspired by the gameplay of those games or any specific title, at least as far as I can tell. That’s why I linked to a video of Paper Mario, because I couldn’t really think of any Mario games that felt quite like this, where you resolve problems rather than just jumping on things and grabbing coins and powerups. Even in the newer games like Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy, you generally resolve problems for other characters by doing what Mario does: jumping on things and grabbing coins and powerups. Consequently, I feel like this game might be stronger if it picked a specific Mario game to be inspired by, even if it keeps a more exploratory and problem-solving approach, rather than being more a tribute to Mario games as a whole. In the end, I think this game needs some work if it’s going to be a part of the anthology, both to remove Nintendo IP and to focus it more on the type of experience it wants to help players’ create, which some playtesting and examples would contribute greatly to, I think.

STAGE -1: Reviewing “All Cosmos”

November 8, 2011

This is a review of All Cosmos (inspired by Katamari Damacy) by Jonathan Walton, i.e. myself. I’m reviewing my own game first to demonstrate the invitation process that follows this event, which is a bit like the peer-review process for a journal (“revise and resubmit!”), except open and public.

What’s Great

Katamari Damacy is an amazing and innovative game! A brave, terrific choice.

The overall setup is pretty solid, reminiscent of the way you “shift up” in die size in Formula D, but instead modeling how your Katamari gets bigger and allows you to pick up larger objects. Sweet! Also, just the fact that you’re rolling your dice into other dice has a very Katamari-like feel. Everything rolls!

Additionally, it’s great that the game actually gives you a concrete reason to buy a scoop of dice from the Chessex booth. People do that anyway, so why not take advantage of the dice fetish that already exists!

What Needs Work

Without the missing tables and bonus rules for combining certain objects, it’s hard to know whether the exact objects you collect will matter at all to the game, which is a mixed bag. The exact objects only matter in certain missions in Katamari, but having the game constantly tell you the wacky things you’re picking up is a key part of the experience and enjoyment of the video game.

Overall, though, there are larger issues, especially relating to the implementation of the “Stage One” concept. This feels like a general Katamari simulator, rather than the first stage of a larger experience that emulates the core of Katamari gameplay. Rather than having the table represent a whole host of random objects to pick up, it might be better to have a playmat that you can print out, representing an early Katamari stage (the kid’s bedroom is classic!). Then, you could subdivide it into regions (under the bed, on the desk, on the bookshelf, etc.) and have the actual objects you pick up — when you hit different dice — listed on the playmat instead of having to look them up in tables.

That streamlining of the experience could be applied elsewhere too. Having to re-roll the dice you have the possibility of grabbing seems like an unnecessary step. The dice have already been rolled when you throw them out on the table/playmat in the first place, right? Even if the playmat requires placing dice in certain areas, you can roll them before placing, giving them results that are “fixed” before play begins. Then, when the players roll their Katamari dice across the table/playmat, you can go ahead and grab any touching dice that have a lower number than what you rolled, glancing at the sheet to see what they represent (a rubberband! a matchbox car!) and writing them down in your collection before it becomes the next player’s turn.

Really, if you wanted to streamline it further, the “bonus rules” for combinations could take the form of a Bingo-style sheet where you check off things as you pick them up, rather than writing them down. You could even move the object list off the playmat (which will be covered in dice, making it hard to read) and onto a playcard or something that each player has. So you got a 3, 3, 4 in the region “top of the bed” and you cross off those numbers on your playcard and see that you now have two themometers and a thimble. That saves the players a lot of writing and makes the game quicker, which is critical for making the silliness sustainable. It’s harder to be silly for long stretches of time, through a lot of waiting.

For the “Stage Two” section then (not included in this game), you could offer some thoughts about how to create a playmat and playcards for the next level up (inside a house, in a front yard, whatever). This is just one suggestion of the direction the game could go in — the author may hate the idea of playmats and playcards — but I think it illustrates what the game needs to fit better into the “Stage One” concept and be of-a-type with the other games in the booklet anthology.

Invitation Status

Revise and resubmit! As it stands, this game doesn’t seem ready to begin hardcore playtesting and editing, since (1) it’s not really complete, (2) it doesn’t really follow the “Stage One” concept, (3) it doesn’t sound thrilling and exciting quite yet, and (4) the mechanics could use some streamlining to reduce redundant rolling and unnecessary mechanical steps. The overall structure and mechanics of the game are sound, but it needs a bit more work first: some more design to make a complete draft, some internal playtesting, some better-designed materials to make play easier and more exciting, and some rethinking of the bigger picture to fit with the “Stage One” premise.

All Cosmos: Last-Minute STAGE ONE Entry

November 7, 2011

Here’s something that just hit me:

1. Each player brings their own unique set of “adventure game” dice, d4 to d20.

2. Roll a whole bunch of other random dice on the table, like the “scoop-worth” you can buy from Chessex at conventions.

3. Take turns doing the following:

A. Starting with your d4, roll your die onto the playing space, trying to get it to touch a bunch of other dice. You’re going to want to do this strategically, as you’ll see in a minute.

B. Pick up your die and whatever dice are touching it. Roll these together separately off to the side.

C. If your dice rolls higher than some of the other dice, SUCCESS! You’ve captured them! Place them in your personal stash, away from the play space, and return the others to the central pool, just rolling them back onto the table.

D. Pass the turn to the next player and, while they’re going, roll your dice on MASSIVE TABLE NOT INCLUDED to figure out what you captured. This table is subdivided by your current die size, so start with the d4 tables. Maybe you captured a thumbtack or a pack of chewing gum!

E. If you’ve collected objects equal to the faces on your current die, CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve increased your die size! On your next turn, roll the die from your set that’s one step bigger: d4 > d6 > d8 > d10 > d12 > d20.

4. You win the game if you expand your rolling die past d20 (rolling up 20 dice with a d20) or if you have the largest collection of stuff when all the dice are removed from the table (or, whenever you decide to stop).

5. It is recommended that, whenever they roll, players are required to hum or sing the themesong to Katamari Damacy.

6. There are SECRET BONUS rules for what happens when you get a bunch of the same thing (i.e. multiple cows) or complementary items (toothbrush and toothpaste).


November 7, 2011

I’ve updated the game list again, after getting up this morning. I’ll still accept any others that trickle in during the next little bit. I know Shreyas was working on a Minecraft game, but I don’t know if he’s seen the end of the tunnel or not. I made some good progress on stage one of Super Farmhand, my Zelda-inspired game, but I’ll have to post that later. Maybe it’ll be done by the time I’m done reviewing.

All these games look terrific and exciting, folks. Some of them I want to play right now. I’ll try to send out comments and invitations as soon as I can. I’ll aim for at least one review a day, to try to put myself on track to finish in a reasonable time. In the meantime, let us know if any of these get played and how they went! Don’t wait for me!

There may be too many good games here for a single booklet-sized anthology, but that’s a good problem to have. Let’s cross that bridge when we get to it, if enough people accept invitations and are excited about publishing these collectively.

Stage One: The Games

November 6, 2011

Here’s all the games from the event:

  1. An Analog Tribute to Gauntlet (Gauntlet): Christopher Weeks
  2. Resident Evil+ (Resident Evil): Mike / Gremlin Legions
  3. A Few More Heroes (No More Heroes): Stephen Bretall
  4. Roguish (Rogue): Evan Silberman
  5. Shadow of Colossus (Shadow of the Colossus): Scott Slomiany
  6. Mushroom Kingdom Stories (Super Mario Bros.): Hans Chung-Otterson
  7. Return to Maniac Mansion (Maniac Mansion): Nick Wedig
  8. Scrabblenauts (Scribblenauts): Nick Wedig
  9. Differences (6 Differences): Jackson Tegu
  10. Fortunes and Thieves (Uncharted): Steve Hickey
  11. Dragon and Warrior (Dragon Warrior): Orion Canning
  12. Naughty Duck’s Dream Adventure (DuckTales): A.D. Henderson
  13. Half of Everything is Luck (Goldeneye): Mike Olson
  14. Lost Colony (Alpha Centauri): Mendel Schmiedekamp
  15. Pokemon Paper Edition (Pokemon): Robert Bruce
  16. Heavy is the Head (Civilis/zation): Simon Carryer
  17. Paperboy Unleashed (Paperboy): Lorenzo Trenti
  18. The Fissure (Guild Wars): Trevor Waldorf
  19. A Quiet and Dark Place (Silent Hill): Jesse Burneko
  20. Assassins and Templars (Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood): Parker D. Hicks

And my own video game-inspired games, which might end up being included in the anthologies:

STAGE ONE: An Autumn Invitational

October 26, 2011

In an attempt to reinvigorate my drive to work on game stuff, I’m doing a thing.


0. Anyone can participate (the “invitation” part comes later).

1. Pick one of your favorite video games.

2. Create an “analog” game that distills the essence of it, but…

3. Only include the guidelines for playing STAGE ONE or LEVEL ONE (whatever that is).

4. At the end of your rules, briefly describe how the players might create their own STAGE TWO+.

5. Fit everything onto the front and back of a single sheet of paper.

6. Do this by Sunday, November 6, linking it here.


A. I will read and give feedback on all submitted games. I will attempt to play some or all of them.

B. I will also tell the authors what additional work is needed before they will be invited to join a very short anthology (3-8 games?) called STAGE ONE, probably printed as a Scoutbook, which will be Kickstarted/Gogo’d when the booklet is completed (assuming enough people accept the invitations) and distributed at/near cost. Contributors get free copies and rights to their games forever.

C. Games who accept my invitations get played and edited hard, with compassion but little mercy. If we have too many games, we can either try to organize a second booklet or come up with some other plan.

D. This is indie games, so you can always give me the finger and do whatever else you want to with your work, at any time.

E. We all benefit from awesome, tight little games that are great for playing with new audiences.