Here is a sneak peek at the dice that will be the centerpiece of our next game Trainmaker! Trainmaker was designed by Chris Leder and will be the next game in our Small Box Series, which kicked off last year with Dig Down Dwarf!
Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a fun and safe New Years Eve! 2014 was a big year for us here at Grey Gnome Games with the releases of 4 games including Tasnia, Neptune, Four Tribes, and Dig Down Dwarf!
This year we shipped over 3500 packages and 5000 games to well over 100 different countries all over the world! That is staggering for me to grasp, but I am truly humbled.
All four of our releases this year are doing quite well. Dig Down Dwarf went from winning the Micro Game Challenge early in the year, to raising more than $50,000 on Kickstarter, and then on to 2500 units being manufactured! We are now just finishing up the shipping to backers. What a journey for just a single game.
Four Tribes launched in January and was delivered to backers in August and on time. Four Tribes has been very well received and now holds a 7.82 rating on BGG.
Tasnia and Neptune both have done quite well and we are down to our last few dozen units of each! Once those are sold, we will explore the next chapters in these games’ life. Likely, we will update some rules and re-release them directly through The Game Crafter.
2014 also saw us launch the Kickstarter for Of Dungeons Deep! This was the first game we launched in which I hired an outside artist and Derek Bacon did an amazing job! Of Dungeons Deep! is scheduled to hit US shores in April/May and has already been enjoyed by many! I already have plans for an expansion that will include a new Hero and Henchman and some new distractions in the dungeon! SCARY!
So what will 2015 hold for Grey Gnome Games?
The first order of business is to complete the fulfillment of Dig Down Dwarf. Once shipping is complete, we will focus on finishing up the details on Of Dungeons Deep! and get that game into the manufacturing phase. Once that ball is rolling, we will be able to focus on future titles!
The first game that we will be launching on Kickstarter this year will be Trainmaker. This will mark the first time we have signed a designer outside of myself and will be the second game in our “Small Box Series”. Dig Down Dwarf marks our first game in the series and all games will come in a solid and compact box for easy travel and storage. The boxes will all measure 5x5x1″ I.D. Trainmaker was designed by Chris Leder. Chris is a rising star with his smash hit Roll For It! published by Calliope Games and City of Gears, that will be published by Arcane Wonders and will be the second game in the Dice Tower Essentials Collection that now includes The Sheriff of Nottingham.
Chris is a good friend and lives about 20 minutes away from me, so the signing was a no-brainer. We are getting together quite often to put the final touches on the game, and many cool new additions have been made! Look for Trainmaker to hit Kickstarter in March/April.
I also have plans to launch yet another addition to the “Small Box Series”. This will be the game Virgin Seas. Virgin Seas is a quick playing area-control game where players take turns placing cards tactically in order to secure their hold on neutral island cards, that the players themselves place during the course of the game. There are many different types of war ships and other special cards like, Pirates, Fortresses, and Mercenaries!
Besides releasing games I also have plans to head out to both the Milwaukee and Michigan Protospiels again this year. If you have never been to a Protospiel, I highly recommend them! You do not need to be a designer to attend and you get to playtest dozens of great games in their early form. Your input as a player is listened to and you can help a designer/publisher make critical changes to their design. It is also simply a fun time to interact with friends and meat new people. Often there are 5-10 different publishers on hand looking for new games as well.
I will also be looking to head to GenCon this year as well. Details are still fuzzy as to what extent Grey Gnome Games will be there. Still debating purchasing a booth or not. Should I work or hang out and have fun? Tough choices….
In any case 2015 will likely see fewer releases from Grey Gnome Games. I am planning on just the two for now. Instead I will be more focused on producing even better products and on releasing smaller expansions for existing games. I want to release a few of these directly through The Game Crafter. One will be for Four Tribes and another for Zogar’s Gaze. Tasnia and Neptune will likely also sell out soon in their KS form, and I will look to “retire” them with updated releases on The Game Crafter as well. This will require some retooling in some cases, but I look forward to updating both of these games!
Lastly, I want to spend a bit more time adding content to my other side project Indie Conquest. IC is a live site that is geared towards helping indie game designers and already has a vast list of resources including list of Manufacturers, Publishers, Game Reviewers, and lots of other needed items. It also hosts reviews from David Taylor of indie games and other informative articles about Kickstarter, Self-Publishing, Game Mechanics, and more. Basically, I want to commit to writing an article a month about my experiences with Kickstarter and growing into a Board Game Publisher.
Well, that is about it. I hope everyone had a great 2014, and I am excited for what will be 2015.
We are HAPPY to officially release Four Tribes to the general public after a very successful Kickstarter earlier this year! For a limited time we are offering the game with free shipping within the U.S. and reduced shipping worldwide!
Moving forward all games we publish will come in two distinct box sizes. There are a couple of reasons for this.
1) I simply love small/compact games that play big and have a good theme. That will be our focus for the future. I want to publish games that I enjoy and are easy to take with me. I hate games that waste a bunch of space. No boxes full of air will be published here. I am a gamer first, and I know the pain of storing a lot of games knowing that half of the space is empty box.
2) I want uniformity. I like the idea of people being able to place our titles next to each other and having them line up nicely. A nice little library if you will. Of Dungeons Deep! will be in the Standard Box and will be the first in the series. Four Tribes is very close to this size as well. Dig Down Dwarf, which will be out soon, will be our first Small Box Game, and we have two more planned at the moment.
I just wanted to share this. One of the new Small Box games will be announced soon, and it will also mark the first time Grey Gnome Games publishes a game not created by myself. I new era is at hand!
I thought it was a good time to write a blog and discuss the design process and choices for Of Dungeons Deep! Of Dungeons Deep! has been in construction for more than one year and it started off as a much smaller game with the intend on testing some simple mechanics and it grew from there.
Of Dungeons Deep! (ODD) was first designed for the micro game challenge on The Game Crafter, which had 128 entries. I designed two games for the contest, ODD and Dig Down Dwarf. Dig Down Dwarf went on to win the contest with its simple push-your-luck design with a bit of strategy, but ODD still ended up a finalist. The main critique was that ODD only played with 2 players. This was intentional, as I was trying to design the smallest, yet strategic, dungeon crawler I could and this forced it to be a two player game at the time. When I first set out to design ODD, I had two very specific design goals in mind.
1) I wanted to make the smallest dungeon crawler out there, that also was engaging and fun. I was at the time pretty obsessed with the game Love Letter and its extremely small size and its ability to be a blast. In fact I am pretty sure the success of Love Letter had something to do with there even being a micro game challenge. So I had to limit the card size of the game and after a bit of math, I decided on 42 cards. Making a dungeon crawler with less would not afford me the ability to complete some of the things I wanted to do with the game. I ended up adding two dice for players to track their health and two more for each player to use special card attacks. Lastly, ten crystals were added to be used as power crystals and a way for players to adjust difficulty. It all fit nicely into a 72 card tuck box. Mission Complete!
2) The other goal was to be able to test out some mechanics that I had been wanting to try and this small game allowed me to do just that, and these core mechanics are still the foundation for what the game is today. Let’s look at each of these separately.
a) Blind Bidding. We have all likely played games with this mechanic, but few dungeon crawlers use it. I was inspired by another smaller game called Dungeon Raiders. In that game each player has five cards ranked from 1-5 and each level of the dungeon is made up of five dungeon cards. Players deal with each room separately and in order (left to right). Each player plays a card face down and then reveals. Higher numbers are best in most situations, but the bottom line is that I really enjoyed the simple use of bidding as it forced bluffing and in turn player interaction. When designing ODD, I borrowed the base idea from Dungeon Raiders, but instead of dealing with each dungeon card one at a time, I had players place down one of their own cards for each dungeon card and than reveal. I did not stop there. I had players repeat this process another time, so that each player would place 2 cards to each dungeon card per level of the dungeon. This extra phase of card placing really squeezed everything I could out of the bidding and bluffing in the game. Players would now get a chance to see other player’s intent before they placed their second card. This added a nice layer of depth to the game and a lot more tactics.
b) Deck-building. Now I needed a way to have players gain power and items without adding more cards to the game. Most dungeon crawlers have a separate deck for treasures or abilities. I needed to make this happen with what I already had, so I made the dungeon cards duel purpose. I borrowed this concept from the solo play game Friday. When a player would defeat an enemy that card would be rotated and added to the player’s discard pile. Players could see the treasure they were going to get, so players would try to go after the cards they wanted, or stop other players from gaining certain cards. In the end, this created a tangible and organic way for players to get more powerful throughout the coarse of the game. However, this was very subtle and the deck-building was never the focus of the game like it is in true deck-builders like Dominion or Thunderstone, but rather an elegant way to deal with the limited size of the game. It just so happened to work really well, and players really enjoyed the way they could customize their decks for future rounds.
I was quite pleased with the design and entered it into the contest. I had high hopes for the design and I was rewarded with getting into the finals only to lose to myself.
But Not All Was Perfect With the Game!
After the contest I received a lot of feedback from players and the judges. Two issues were brought up over and over again and needed to be fixed. Luckily, it was not too hard to make the adjustments needed.
Only Two Players? This was the biggest complaint. The game was really enjoyed by those that played it, but everyone wanted the game to allow for more players. This was an easy fix. I had initially designed the game for two players to reduce size, so adding more players was simply a task of adding more and different health targets for each of the monsters based on the number of players. It was at this time that I decided to make the game solo play as well. Basically if you played with two players the monsters would be easier to defeat than if you were playing with three or four players, and harder than playing solo. I added four Health Targets to each of the Dungeon Cards based on the number of players. I tested and re-tested to get it well balanced. It was an easy fix.
Not Enough Variety? Again, this was a causation of the game being a micro game at the start. Originally, you played as either a Brute Centaur (12 cards) or Alchemist Gnome (12 cards). This was fine for a few plays, but after about 5-6 plays gamers found the characters repetitive, even with adding dungeon cards to their deck. The other issue was that there was only 5 types of enemies. So even after players switch characters, for a new taste, they still ended up feeling a bit disappointed after numerous plays. It was a micro game mind you, and not really designed to be a main course. I had designed it to simply scratch that itch for a very compact experience, but I knew changes would have to be made if this game was going to go to the next level. Two big changes came.
1) The Characters. At first I had thought of simply having 4-5 characters to choose from. Each would be a deck of 12 cards. That would equate to a low ratio of cards to variety, as I would be devoting upwards of 60 cards and I would end up with only 5 choices, thus a 12:1 ratio of cards to variety. Not what I wanted. I briefly even considered simply adding more characters, up to eight, but obviously this simply added cards, and cost, without effecting the ratio. This is when I had an epiphany! I will again borrow a mechanic used by another game. That game was Smash Up! The ability to choose two separate decks and “smash” them together really is a novel idea and one of that games biggest hooks. So I went to work on this new front. At first, I was simply going to have eight decks of six cards each. This had a very high ratio of cards to variety with only using 48 cards, but having a whopping 64 combos. I almost went in this direction, until I decided on something in the middle. Two things were bothering me. 1) I did not want to completely copy Smash Up!, and 2) It did not feel 100% thematic that two equal adventures would be paired up to do some dungeon delving. Having a long history of playing RPGs and reading fantasy novels, I decided to go with a Main Hero and a Sidekick (Henchmen), to really hammer home the old fantasy theme. In the end I have gone with four Heroes and four Henchmen for the base game. This still uses 48 cards but offers up 16 combos and still feels very thematic. With each additional Hero or Henchmen that gets added to the game, the variety will increase greatly.
The Hero cards would represent the backbone of the party and the overall flavor, while the Henchmen would add character to the party to balance or enhance the abilities of the Hero. Problem solved!
2) The Dungeon Deck. This was an easier issue to solve. Simply make more Monsters and Items! The original five enemies was boosted to 12 for the base game and more items were added as well. This is easily expandable as well, by simply adding more enemies. Only 21 dungeon cards are used in any one play through of the game, so the base 28 cards offer a new experience each time you play. The more dungeons cards added down the road the better for the overall replay value of the game.
Initially I had handled all the art and graphics myself, using some public domain images and the power of graphics programs to add color and such, but I always wanted a different feel for the game and I knew that in order to accomplish this that I would have to move beyond my own capabilities. It is a humbling moment when you realize you simply cannot do it all. So the search began for the right artist. I had one in mind at the onset of this quest, but I still looked into a few others. In the end my original choice was the best option. So I reached out to Derek Bacon, an amazing illustrator who had done work in two games that a good friend of mine had published. Derek was very approachable and really seemed to be on board from the get go.
I sent him a list of Characters, Monsters, and Items. I gave a very brief one sentence description for each. I wanted a nice mixed variety of sexes and races, so that the game would appeal to all. I also wanted a nice mix of classic dungeon creatures with a couple that are not often seen. For some cards I gave Derek the green light to do whatever he wanted, and he did not disappoint. Derek seemed to love the art direction and he got to work right away. The process has been very smooth. He first sends a sketch, and this allows me a chance to ask for changes, and then the final version shows up. His work really reminds me, and others I am told, of old vintage Disney stuff. I also sense a bit of underlying darkness to the cards, a hint of Tim Burton if you will.
In the end,it has been a long road in designing and re-designing Of Dungeons Deep!, but I am veryvery pleased with the results. I held a playtest event a week before the Kickstarter launch to show off all the hard work, minus final artwork, and everyone had a blast. I am very excited to get this game into people’s hands to enjoy!