Category Archives: Boardgames

Unconditional Surrender! on BGA

I’ve been frequenting the Board Game Arena website to play boardgames online for over a year now and would heartily recommend it. It’s free to create an account, there are no ads, and you can play a whole host of boardgames with your friends or other BGA users. Some games can only be kicked off by a premium member, but all games can be played with a standard free account.

ANYWAY… I was gobsmacked to see the news that they now have a hex & counter wargame available to play. I’ve not played Unconditional Surrender before, and I must admit the 50 page rules tome is a little daunting, BUT it’s a wargame nonetheless. I hope to have a crack at it before too long…

Click here to visit the Boardgame Arena website for more info!

Pax Pamir arrives!

Oh my… What a work of art Pax Pamir is! Well worth the wait. It’s also suprisingly heavy. Probably because it’s packed to the gunnels with gaming goodness. Here’s some closeups of the coins which were a Kickstarter extra. I’m so glad I got these. They’ll definitely help create an atmosphere of intrigue.

Pax Pamir: The Great Game?

Thanks to The Men Who Would Be Kings I’ve developed an insatiable fascination for the North-West Frontier. Recently I’ve been compulsively reading Khyber by Charles Miller and have been thoroughly captivated by the farce, tragedy and international intrigue of the Great Game. Khyber’s sub-title in the front pages of the book is “The Story of an Imperial Migraine”… says it all really! I got my copy of Khyber for £2.78 and I would happily have paid ten times that for the riveting read. If you’re looking for an entertaining traverse through the NWF then do pick it up.

Anyhoo as luck would have it, I stumbled across Pax Pamir on Kickstarter. It’s a boardgame I’d never heard of before, but it looks like it captures the spirit of the shenanigans of the Great Game in Afghanistan. If this sounds like your bag, you can find out more about it here:


Ooh… my hanafuda cards have arrived from Japan. That was quick, I only ordered them last week. I got the Tengu set, cos you know, Tengu. Wow, they’re so tiny! And of course, the instructions are in Japanese, and sadly I’m not as fluent as I’d like. To the Google-cave!

Game Design Thinktank

Da Vinci Tank

Spent yesterday afternoon bashing on with some much-needed game design. We managed to sort out a lot of ideas and plans for Jailbreak Jam and a couple of variant games. The time just flew by!

  • Playtested and tweaked a new game inspired by Jailbreak Jam
  • Planned possible expansions to fit the various deck sizes of playing card manufacturers
  • Future proofing the base game so it can work with possible expansions

We’ve got a lot on the go at the mo, but the benefit of that is, we’re finding ideas and mechanisms that can be transferred between different games.

It was great to be able to bounce ideas around again! If you’re looking to get in to game design I’d definitely recommend hooking up with like-minded gamers or going along to a local game design group. If you’re stuck, try reaching out on social media to a group like the Card & Boardgame Designers Guild.

Happy gaming!

East Fife Males!

The story of our success at the recent Moray Game Jam is featured in this week’s East Fife Mail, our local newspaper. GET IN! 🙂
East Fife Mail 05/04/17

edit: Martin has since informed me that he’s actually from Cellardyke. Apologies, but I can’t keep track of all these details… I’ve got games to design! 😉

Playtesting Tips

Jailbreak Jam playtesting

At the Moray Game Jam we saw the benefits of playtesting a game that’s in development. Not only do you get to see the game come alive (which can buoy you up and be entertaining to boot), but it can give you invaluable insight into how to improve the game. We’re in the fortunate position that we’re members of a local games group so *fingers crossed* we’ll have more opportunities to playtest future versions of our game.

Here’s what we’ve learned about playtesting so far:

Playtesting Tip #1

Whatever information you verbally explain to new players before you start a game, should be in the rules. It’s a no brainer really, but we forgot to do it. Oops!

Playtesting Tip #2

Situations will arise in playtesting that you hadn’t foreseen. Game mechanisms may interact in unusual ways, or ‘desire lines’ may become apparent (that is, players’ natural ways of doing things). Make a quick note of them during play and address them afterwards. You may need to clarify or adjust a rule or possibly even include or drop a sub-game.

Playtesting Tip #3

It is highly likely that blind playtest groups (that is those folks who are learning how to play the game by themselves) will interpret your rules literally. So don’t waste everybody’s time! Read your rules as literally as you can first. Make the instructions as clear as possible so that there is no room for misinterpretation before you hand them out.

Playtesting Tip #4

Keep some kind of record of playtest data (duration, player count, feedback etc). Be prepared for negative feedback and try not to take it personally. Your mission is to gather data, not trying to convert people to your way of thinking. Discuss any feedback with your fellow game designers later.

Happy playtesting!

Moray Game Jam 2017

Moray Game Jam

Our 2-man team from our local games club, East Neuk Tabletop Games, won Best Board Game designed at the Moray Game Jam 2017 with our game ‘Jailbreak Jam’. To say I’m delighted is my understatement of the year so far! 🙂

The theme this year was “If at first you don’t succeed”. At first, we were a little surprised with the openness of this. There were so many ways you could explore the theme! But turned into a blessing as we were able to brainstorm our way through half a dozen ideas before settling on one which sounded achievable in 48 hours, and most importantly, fun!

We set ourselves some rough targets to pace ourselves through the weekend. Ideally we wanted a prototype that we could playtest by Saturday lunchtime. This would give us the rest of Saturday to tweak the rules and have it ready for the competition close at 12 noon on Sunday.

We liked the idea of a group of players repeatedly trying to escape from a prison using whatever objects they can snaffle, whilst avoiding the guards and contending with the potential dishonesty of the other inmates. The game lended itself to a fun and snappy experience with a healthy helping of schadenfreude whenever rival prisoners’ plans failed.

Firstly we planned as much of the game out on paper as we could – the titles of cards, their powers, the quantites present and their distribution across various locations in the game. In order to get a prototype up and running quickly, the first version was quite skeletal and needed a reference sheet explaining card interaction. But even this version of the game was quick and fun to play. We streamlined and edited all the cards whenever we felt it was necessary to improve the playability. Using card sleeves helped a lot because we could hotswop card details quickly.

Some gameplay elements, like trading, came and went and then came back again. We saw through playtesting that the abilility to trade cards between the players facilitated a fun experience and helped set the scene for potentially dodgy dealings behind bars.

Allies were cards that helped you out of a jam. These changed in nature across playtesting from permanent powerups to one-use only cards. This helped the game become less randomly unbalanced, and reinforced the idea of calling in a favour from your friends.

We had lots of other ideas, such as playing characters who had special abilities, but there wasn’t time to implement and test them all. So on Saturday night we locked the design down. We had an improved, playable game that was fast and fun. The final push was to write up the rules so that other people could understand them and play the game without us demonstrating how it worked.

The last thing that we had to decide was the name of the game. During the weekend there were several workshops on various aspects of game desgin. Phil Harris (Senior Narrative Designer at Bigpoint GmbH) gave a very interesting talk on ‘Engaging Play’ and at the end I asked him for his thoughts on how to come up with a great name. He suggested using the ‘Word Palace’ technique, through which you build up a list of words and phrases that are associated with the theme of your game. He said that good names often feature two words, but sometimes one word can work if it’s a compound word or a play on words. For the purposes of the competition we settled on Jailbreak Jam as it was unique and it had a nice left-right-left feel to it. However we will no doubt revisit our burgeoning Word Palace before too long!

We were over the moon when the judges announced that Jailbreak Jam was the winner of the Boardgame category of this year’s Moray Game Jam. Although Martin and I are both interested in game design, we never expected to win. I guess playing hundreds of different games over the last couple of years at our local games club probably helped to finetune our gameplay-fu!

On the drive home on Sunday we were totally buzzing with ideas. Both for refinements to the game and for other variants. The central gameplay mechanic certainly seemed to lend itself to different versions. But that’s a project for another day.

We’ll be taking our winning prototype game (and our trophy of course) to East Neuk Tabletop Games this weekend to do some blind playtesting. Hopefully the ENTs will humour us with more playtesting duties in the months to come as the game evolves into its final form!

If you’re interested in board games design but have never quite got round to it yet, then I’d definitely recommend going to a gamejam event. It’s totally fired me up!

And I have to say the Moray Game Jam was a fab experience. The venue, support and staff were 2nd to none! I’m looking forward to the next one already!

Link: Moray Game Jam website