Tag Archives: Greg Daigle

playing catchup: my Gathering of Friends

April is always a whirlwind month for me and this April was no exception.

The big event, of course, was Alan Moon’s Gathering of Friends, a 10 day, invite-only game con, held annually in Niagara Falls, NY, and hosted by legendary game designer Alan R Moon. This was my 5th year (wow, how can it have been five years?), and my longest stay yet – I attended for the full 10 days.



As is my preference, I played more prototypes than published games and the published games I played tended to be small, light games. I’ll attempt to highlight a few games I enjoyed that haven’t been heavily covered elsewhere.


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Playing SHADOW THRONE by Teale Fristoe at #gof2015

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SHADOW THRONE, by Teale Fristoe, is an intriguing card-drafting game. A step or two above Phil Walker-Harding’s SUSHI GO! in complexity, with a dark fantasy theme, SHADOW THRONE is a little meatier, adding some welcome player interaction to a style of game that often lacks it.



LOONEY QUEST, by Laurent Escoffier and David Franck, is the best attempt I’ve seen at converting a video game experience to the tabletop. In it, players exercise hand-eye coordination to plot paths, enclose objects, and pinpoint targets on a series of video game-like level maps by drawing on a clear acetate sheet. Players then then check their accuracy by overlaying their acetates on the screen map to see how accurate they were. We were especially taken by how the game box itself was used in play, both as the “console” and as an ingenious method of tracking scores.


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Playing ABRACA…WHAT? with wizards! #gof2015

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ABRACA…WHAT?, by Gun-Hee Kim, is an entertaining game of wizards attempting to deduce the unknown spells they carry by trying to cast them! It has been compared to Alex Randolph’s classic deduction game CODE 777, and the comparison is apt. ABRACA…WHAT? takes the basic deduction structure of CODE 777 and overlays a lighthearted magical combat system that encourages more than a little play acting and silliness.



Play testing prototypes is always one of my favorite activities at any game con, and I played quite a few good ones here. My dear friend Greg Daigle, designer of HAWAII, always brings a clutch of his smartly designed, beautiful prototypes, and I look forward to playing them each year. He has a couple this year, including a pirate game, that were very promising.


One bare-bones prototype that got quite a lot of play over the week, was Vlaada Chvátil’s early prototype of a very clever word game code named CODENAMES. This is one of those “why didn’t I think of that?” kind of games that is so simple and engaging it’s amazing nobody’s done it before. This is sure to become a classic with the right development, and Vlaada has the design chops to pull that off.


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Play testing #LXIX at #gof2015

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I got a few good play tests in of my own game, LXIX: THE YEAR OF FOUR EMPERORS. Lots of positive response from some very well-respected designers, and with their input I’ve found a couple final tweaks that should put the finishing touches on it. I sent LXIX home with a world class publisher, who will assess it over the summer. I have high hopes for this game.



What makes The Gathering truly wonderful are the friendly, generous attendees.  This year, even more so than in years past, I connected with so many new people and made new friendships, and reconnected with those friends from Gatherings past. It really feels like a family reunion.

One of my favorite moments was during my very last moments at the Gathering and didn’t involve any games at all. It was the Monday morning after the final day, when we last few stragglers were finally trickling out of the hotel. I had packed my luggage and game bags into my vehicle and checked out before stopping into the hotel Starbucks to grab a coffee and a breakfast sandwich for the road, when I ran into CAYLUS designer, William Attia.

I’d played a couple of games with William during the week, including an intense play test of LXIX, and had a nice conversation over a long lunch with him and Greg Daigle. I had gotten to know this quiet, reserved fellow, so it was with pleasure and friendship that I met his greeting and wished him safe travels, as I was about to begin my long drive back to Madison.

William had a sandwich of his own and his ever-present cup of tea, so when he suggested that, surely, I had a few minutes to sit with him and eat before driving, I couldn’t resist. We breakfasted and talked about what books we were reading. He avowed a passion for the classics, and we talked a while about Jules Verne’s oeuvre and the more and less successful games based on his novels.

At last, our sandwiches finished, I could responsibly delay no longer. It was good bye until next year, or the unlikely event that he should find himself traveling in Wisconsin.

It was a delightful conclusion to my Gathering week and a fond memory.


Bonus Link: Check out my friend Nick Bentley’s excellent abstract game CATCHUP on iOS.


fourth 4P update and final thoughts


Last Friday I drove to Chicago for a play test jam with my old pals Jeph Stahl and Greg Daigle, both sharp, successful, highly-respected designers. We all had new games we were eager to get on the table and dig into. I’d brought along Dungeon of Doom, with the hopes of fitting in a fourth play test session in January, to complete the 4P challenge.

Jeph and Greg are both familiar with an earlier version of this game and were eager to see what I’d cooked up for this new iteration, so I set it up and we got right to work. Jeph quickly zeroed in on a flaw I’d missed in earlier play tests and we worked through several iterations that afternoon, looking for just the right fix.


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Play testing Dungeon of #Doom!

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Throughout that afternoon, there was an issue we kept dancing around. I’d changed the resolution of the original risk-reward mechanism in this new  version of the game and it just didn’t feel right. It had lost the tension that made the original so much fun. We proposed and tested several changes, but at the end it was apparent they were little more than band-aids.

Most of my changes from the earlier game were good, positive gains in the system, but this one was a mistake. I further confirmed this feeling in a play test this Tuesday at my Board Games & Beer game night. It was simply lacking that spark. Fortunately, swapping back to the original risk-reward mechanism (or something closer to it) is an easy fix.

Dungeon of Doom isn’t a finished game, but there is definitely a light at the end of this tunnel. I’ve got a clear goal for my next few play tests, and I think I can wrap this game up over the next couple of months.



I designed a game and play tested it four times in January. I’m very proud of that accomplishment.



4P reactions

I designed a game and play tested it four times in January. I’m very proud of that accomplishment. I’m incredibly happy with the progress I made with the design and I’m excited by the possibilities I see in it. I think people will have a lot of fun with it.

Four play test sessions in, and I’ve had breakthroughs and revelations in each. I have  a solid system to build on and most of the heavy lifting is done. My next step will be to write a rules outline to hang words on. Then; more play testing, more play testing, more play testing.



4P Lessons Learned

Play testing

The first play test of a rough design should be with other designers. You’ll have a lot of rough edges to work around and designers are best equipped to deal with warts on a game. Additionally, play test with players in your target audience early in your game’s development. They’re the people you’re designing for. If you listen carefully, they will help you make the game you want to design into a game they want to play.


Don’t worry about making your prototype pretty, as long as it’s functional and clear. If it needs art, borrow it online from games with similar themes or settings. Don’t reinvent the wheel. You’re going to be making a lot of changes as the game progresses. Don’t make anything you’d feel bad about tearing up and throwing away. Your modus operandi in the early stages is rapid iteration. Get it built and get it on the table. Fail faster!

The Big 4P Takeaway

I had a  lot of fun with the 4P challenge, but my biggest 4P takeaway? I had four play test sessions in January! That’s one play test session each week. It felt practically decadent. It was wonderful! I’d love to continue that pace. I’m going to try to make that happen.

picturing a round house

I always mean to take more photos at Roundhouse, but I’m always too engrossed with whatever it is we’re doing. Here are a few moments I did manage to capture.

I drove to Roundhouse Wednesday night, with my good friend Jeph Stahl. We stopped on the way at Dark Horse Brewing Co for a late meal and a beer. The Dark Horse brew pub has a well-worn, comfortable atmosphere and the biggest collection of mug-club mugs in the country. Andrea the waitress thought Jeph might be a werewolf.


inappropriate ice cream cone
The local ice cream parlor is run by our generous host’s family. The flavor of the week when we’re in town is usually lemon: my favorite! James’ brother was working the counter when we arrived, and made me an extra-extra large lemon cone. It was way more than I could finish!


Sure, there’s plenty of nutritious food and drink, but Roundhouse Retreat is also for play testing! Here, Chris Young contemplates his next action in my game, LXIX: YEAR OF FOUR EMPERORS, while James Kyle looks on.


Sometimes, players in LXIX can surge ahead with big scoring leaps while others struggle to catch them, as this final scoring shows: red is 37 points ahead of black! The discussion after this game led to a really great suggestion from Greg Daigle that will help to even out these kinds of point spreads. A couple more play tests and I think this game will be ready to send off to a publisher.


I never pass up a chance to play test the latest game in the Birth of America series. Here, Greg Daigle and designer Beau Beckett face off as the French against the British, represented by James Kyle and me. They got an early flush of Native reinforcements, so James and I enacted a risky third-round double-Truce play to force an early end, and took three flags to make it 4 to 2. Due to my own tactical blunder in not leaving a unit to cover the back door, Greg and Beau were able sweep a massive army in and re-take a critical location, and won another location on the final roll of the die to win the game. Agony! Such a good game! Jeph and Beau had this one in heavy play test rotation all weekend, hammering out some exciting new rules not seen in the first two games.


You never know what kind of wild life will show up at the Roundhouse. This year, we had a juvenile hawk we nicknamed ‘Crazy Hawk’ stalking and attacking his reflection in the house windows every morning, while a momma deer and her tiny fawn browsed in the back yard. Previous years featured an angry gopher and more spiders than I care to consider.


We got the word that absent Roundhouse alumn Dave Chalker’s fun game HEAT had finally funded on Kickstarter and took a quick break from the dice game design challenge to send him a virtual congrats!

There’s still time to back Dave’s game HEAT on Kickstarter!

Update: Dave’s game HEAT was successfully funded!