Getting Ready to Move to Corpus Cristi

We have been working on this for a long time and we are getting ready to go down to the Texas Gulf Coast. Of course we are looking at places that are near the beach in area to the North of Corpus Cristi. We have already started to narrow down the search, in fact you can do a lot of that over the internet. You can not make a final decision without seeing a place, but you can learn enough to eliminate the places which clearly do make the cut. If you click here you can go and find the power companies that are available in any place in Texas. Continue reading “Getting Ready to Move to Corpus Cristi”

Coupling Money and Victory Points in Mansa Musa

3064351634_2985f244c7_zSo plenty of games make earning the most money your winning condition. Plenty of games make earning victory points your winning condition. Some games combine the two into one unit of currency. Others include both money and VP, but each focuses on short-term and long-term goals, often at odds with each other.

In Mansa Musa, I was initially thinking of doing the latter, money being what gives you mobility across the map but not in itself leading to victory. Instead, I’m kind of doing this wobbly halfway thing that is inspired by Jaipur‘s bonus tokens. Imagine a set of currency as follows:

There are $1 bills, $3 bills, $6 bills. Each individual bill has a victory point value assigned to it on the back. In play, each denomination is shuffled and sorted into its own stacks as the general supply. You only ever see the money side of each bill. You only ever look at the VP side of the bills at the very end of the game. Say for example there are nine bills in each denomination, the bills’ hidden VP values would be as follows.

$1      $3      $6
1p      4p      8p
1p      4p      8p
1p      4p      9p
1p      5p      9p
2p      5p      9p
2p      5p    10p
2p      6p    10p
3p      6p    10p
3p      6p    10p

In other words, four of the $1 bills are worth 1p, three are worth 2p, and so on. As you earn money, you also earn victory points, but it’s never entirely clear how many points you’ve earned. Collecting lots of money is still clearly a good goal though.

The tension comes when you upgrade to a higher denomination or decide to keep lower denominations. Higher denominations offer much higher point values, but also make your short-term assets less liquid. Suddenly, making change for a $6 actually has tactical importance. You could accidentally be trading 10 VP for 6.

I think balancing this mechanic with some other methods of publicly visible point acquisition will make Mansa Musa a very interesting experience for economic gamers. Now, the perennial question: Has this peculiar money-and-victory-point mechanic been done before?

Early Thoughts on Pecos Bill’s Tornado Rodeo


I’m gradually getting into the groove of designing and developing several card games at once, so long as they’re relatively simple mechanics with some interesting endgame scoring mechanisms. At the moment, I’ve still got this idea for a reverse-drafting game that emulates a tornado in the middle of the table, picking up debris and dropping it onto each player.

At first the idea seemed way too gruesome for my catalog, but I think I can soften it by adding a cartoonish Old West theme centered around the Pecos Bill folktale. Each player is a tornado wrangler, trying to tame tornadoes in the open plains. Collect the cows, pigs, chickens and other farm animals from the tornado, but watch out for cacti, rattlesnakes and scorpions!

Tornado Cards
I’m imagining a deck of cards that feature several cartoony animals tossed about in the whipping winds of a tornado. Along the bottom of each card is a contract, showing a specific combination of animals for which you will earn bonus points at the end of the game.

Each player begins with a tableau of cards in front of them. Everyone takes turns at the same time. On your turn, you may do one of the following:

  • Add one card from the tableau to your hand, then pass it to the right. OR
  • If your hand has at least three cards, collect your current hand of cards and set it face-down in a score pile.

If the player to your left collected cards, you’ll start with an empty hand and must do the first action noted above.

Endgame and Scoring
The game ends when one player’s tableau is empty. Scores are based on the following:

  • Majority of Cows: X per cow
  • Majority of Pigs: Y per pig
  • Majority of Chickens: Z per chicken
  • Fewest Scorpions: Y per scorpion
  • Fewest Cacti: Z per Cactus

Also score bonus points for any contracts in your score pile that are satisfied.

Next Steps
I’ll need to find an artist keen on drawing tornado-tossed farm animals. Hm!

The Curse of Cragbridge: I Did an OSR Thing…


I released a Labyrinth Lord compatible adventure called The Curse of Cragbridge over at RPGNow and DriveThru RPG. Currently, the book is PDF only, and Pay What You Want. From proceeds, I plan to do a digest-sized print edition (if there’s interest) with updated art and maps. Additionally, if interest is there, I plan to go level-by-level into theSunken City of Xerichen and its Prisons of the Demigods. Stay tuned for conversion information for other game systems!

Here’s the blurb:


Cursed Cragbridge!
Prison of Sprits Betrayed!
A Labyrinth Lord compatible Adventure for Characters level 1-3. 

For five hundred years, Cragbridge has stood abandoned and cursed. Within lurk the haunts and spirits of those that served Lord and Lady Etheril. Some of these ghosts inhabit the forms of strange insect creatures, while others guard tombs deep beneath the shattered bridge tower.

Recently, the good knight Sir Dougal Skavok disappeared in the ruins, and when the search party returned, they too were missing a few members. But, they carried strange treasures found there: coins marked with a double-headed raven, gemstones of great value, and other ornate and gilded items. They also spoke of the curses and haunts that lurk under the ruins of Cragbridge!

Featuring all original monsters, two unique magic items and a hell of a lot of fun.

This purchase includes three PDF versions: a standard pdf, a “two-up” pdf with two pages per printed page, and a booklet format pdf. 

So, if you like Labyrinth Lord and you like creepy haunted towers, and you LOVE Pay What You Want, trip on over to RPGNow or DriveThruRPG and pick them up.

While you’re there, pick up +Daniel Bishop’s PWYW Labyrinth Lord mega-dungeon starter (I swear we didn’t plan this):  The Dungeon of Crows.

Gen Con Exclusive Discount on all Smart Play Games


If you’re going to Gen Con this week, visit the good folks from DriveThruRPG / DriveThruCards in booth 1103. There you can grab one of these cards with an exclusive discount code.

Smart Play Games Gen Con Promo Card

That code is applicable to all Smart Play Games and many more products on It expires September 1st, so use it while you can! Don’t forget, LIGHT RAIL still has an early bird discount so you can get an even steeper deal on my latest game!

P.S. I won’t be at the show, so please share pics and tweet @danielsolis if you spot any of my games being played in the big room. Thanks!

Typopolis, or “Capitol City,” a word-building city-building game


I’ve been noodling that Sudoku-based city-builder in which players create a grid of buildings, but there may be no duplicates in a row or column. Each building corresponds to a special action whose strength is commensurate with the length of that row or column. There is a tension between taking a weakened action now or risking the opportunity for that action entirely.

I whipped up these mockup cards this weekend, which I often do when I only have the scarcest ideas for a game and I need to see how the information might look on a real card. I decided to use letters instead of numbers since they’re less intimidating, but could still be used in an understood sequential ranking system if necessary.

However, I quickly realized that the real value of using letters was that I could use the actual names as the cost of that building. Instead of acquiring bricks and mortar, you need to assemble the letters. Thus, multipurpose cards. Along the left side of the card are a randomized mix of letters. You must spend the right letters to erect a building.

Vowels might be a problem, so I think I’ll make them all wild cards. You can spend any letter to count as a vowel, but you must have the necessary consonants. To build a Cafe, you must spend C, F, and enough letters to fill in the remaining two vowels. (If you’re lucky, this could be as little as one card.) To build a Factory, you must spend F, C, T, R, Y, and three more letters. So a very expensive building indeed.

Generally speaking, erecting a building in the city lets you do a special action, with boosts for having synergistic adjacency. A Factory is more potent when it is built on a row with other industrial buildings. A Cafe is stronger when it’s near a residential area. These are just generalities for now, but I did take some time to brainstorm a set of buildings to narrow down for a final assortment.

Apartments This counts as 3 residential buildings.
Bank Draw 1 card from the deck into your hand.
Cafe You may immediately build 1 building.
Dock Draw 2 cards from the deck, take 1 into your hand, and discard the rest.
Factory Take 1 building from the city into your hand.
Hotel Counts as 1 residential and 1 business building.
Lake Only residential buildings may be built adjacent to Lake.
Mall This counts as 3 business buildings.
Offices Only business buildings may be built adjacent to Offices.
Park Surrounding residential buildings get +1 bonus.
Quarry You may place is building on top of any building in the city.
Restaurant Counts as 1 business and 1 culture building.
School Your next building costs 1 fewer letters.
Theater Surrounding culture buildings get +1 bonus.
University This counts as 3 culture buildings.
Village Counts as 1 residential and 1 culture building.
Warehouse Surrounding business buildings get +1 bonus.
Zoo Only culture buildings may be built adjacent to Zoo.

That’s the loose idea anyway. This will likely be a late 2014 or early 2015 release at the earliest. I’ve got enough on my plate as it is.

Playtest results for Kigi (which may need a new theme)

2014-08-19 10.00.49

I’ve had these very loose prototypes floating in my workshop for months and never really settled on a proper set of rules for them. I knew that I wanted it to be an “organic” game, free from a grid. I also knew I wanted it to be a game that produces a pretty picture when the game is over. Something that draws a crowd as it is played.

But finally I just decided I’d whip together the minimum viable rules I could think of, just to get it down on the table and actually in action.

The Deck

For context, there are 45 numbered cards. Each has a branch formation along with dragonflies, butterflies, red flowers and/or pink flowers in various combinations. There is roughly an equal amount of each across the deck, but I randomized their distribution. Each card also has one of five family crests, nine of each crest randomly distributed across the deck. Again, I was really aiming for an organic feel here.

How to Play

In the game, players cultivating a grove of trees, one tree in front of each of player. On your turn, you draw a card and add it to any tree. You simply place your card such that it appears to branch from the tree. Now trace the path from that card down the limb all the way down to the trunk. If your card is the highest numbered card in that limb, you can score. You score 1 point for each flower or bug on that limb that matches the card you just placed.

  • You may only overlap one card at a time.
  • You may not completely obscure an animal or crest.
  • You may not move a card once it is placed.

The game continues in this manner until the whole deck has run out of cards. Then players get bonus points. Gather up all the cards in your tree and count how many of each family crest you possess. You earn 10 points if you have the most of a family crest.

2014-08-19 10.01.03

Pretty, but Awkward Visuals: Playtesters liked the prototype art, but it needs graphic design adjustments to make branching more easy to do. It’s best for the “trunk” of each card to bleed off the corners rather than the sides, so you have a broader range of rotation. However, those awkward cards did come in handy as a spatial block for opponents. Leaving a few in the deck might be handy.

Make Crests and Ranks Obvious: Instead of one family crest and one number on the corner, which may be obscured, I’m going to make a small wallpaper pattern which has the number and crest as a sort of polka dot pattern in the background. Instead of sequential numbers, I think I’ll try breaking up each crest into their own sequence of ranks from 1-9. In this way, I can use a set of dots or other symbol to represent rank instead of a number, which may be obscured depending on orientation.

Scoring Works Fine: Ultimately top 3 scores range in the 50s for a 4-player game, which is better than I expected for an arbitrary set of rules with a mostly randomized distribution of “suits” across an oddly sized deck. Sometimes a minimum viable product is worth bringing to the table, I guess.

Similarities to Other Games: There was a good decision space in scoring immediate points for yourself by growing an opponent’s tree or keeping a family crest on your tree even if it didn’t score points right now. There was some Carcassonne-like feeling of being hemmed in to a small set of placement options, some of which may not score points immediately but which could prove useful later. Arranging the cards makes you feel like you’re really cultivating a pretty garden or a bonsai tree. The organic card placement also reminds me of String Railway, too.

2014-08-19 10.01.19

New Theme?
Overall good findings. I’m not sure this theme works for the game. Often there were situations when a player wanted to play a card which made sense mechanically, but which visually didn’t make sense. A branch that grows down curving below the trunk? Perfectly legal, it just didn’t make sense with the theme.

I could simply make a rule that you can’t grow below the trunk, which is fine, or I could change the theme so this is a non-issue. Rivers? Tunnels? I’m not sure. Either way, I’m happy that the mechanisms themselves proved sound and playable.

If I do change the theme to rivers, I might revive the River Ancient theme a bit. Not sure yet. Your thoughts?

Smart Play Games News: Post-GenCon Sale, Brazilian Light Rail, Solar Senate Cover


You can tell when I’ve had a busy month when I don’t post so much, so here’s a bunch of news in one big roundup!

(Photo by Ashley Humphries)

Gen Con 2014 Report
Reports from DriveThruCards booth say there was a LOT of activity this year. Though they decided not to do any retail sales this year, there were still plenty of walk-ups who had heard about my games and grabbing discount code coupons. DTC has been generous enough to extend the discount code for everyone to use: SP2014GC for 25% off all my games!

Light Rail Cover

Light Rail to be Published in Brazil
FunBox Jogos has just agreed to publish Light Rail in Portuguese! You may recognize FunBox as the Brazilian publishers of the most striking edition of COUP on the market. Really lovely sense of design and art direction on that team, so I look forward to seeing what they can do for Light Rail.

Solar Senate Cover 3c

Solar Senate Cover Reveal
Because this month has been so busy, Solar Senate may be about a week late to launch, but for now check out the cover! I went through a lot of revisions trying to capture the theme of the game without implying it was a 4x galactic conquest game. It’s definitely a two-player abstract. Look for rules preview to be posted shortly on my Twitter feed.

What a difference color schemes make in Kigi


One of the persistent issues I have in Kigi playtesting is that players naturally want to grow branches below the implied horizon. There is no rule against it and sometimes the shape of branches just makes that formation most logical. I have two solutions.

The first, shown above, is to start trees from the edge of the table so that it is physically impossible to grow branches below the horizon. That’s a simple, elegant, understandable solution. Sadly, it took a  long time for me to figure that out and lots of exploring alternate themes to make it work.

See, I first tried changing the whole perspective of the game to a top-down view.

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 9.27.05 AM

This worked mechanically, but didn’t really look like a recognizable tree anymore. I explored several different themes where these patterns and organic paths would make sense. First I started with a river.

Screen Shot 2014-08-24 at 9.56.28 AM

Pretty bland at the moment, but I could see it working. Alas, this was an unpopular choice among Twitter followers, so I asked for suggestions. I didn’t really get any consistent recommendations, but here’s a sampling.

Screen Shot 2014-08-24 at 10.40.29 AM

Screen Shot 2014-08-24 at 10.45.22 AM Screen Shot 2014-08-24 at 10.51.19 AM Screen Shot 2014-08-24 at 11.02.26 AM Screen Shot 2014-08-24 at 11.05.23 AM

That’s Martian canals, ant tunnels, kintsugi, lava flows, and lightning. Amongst all of these it seemed easiest to come up with scoring themes around ant tunnels (various chambers with picnic foods), kintsugi (little glazed characters), and of course the river (animal herds and settlements). I still personally like the look of the River, especially if it had some cute animals in a children’s book illustration style.

I’ll stick with the tree for now, using the rule noted at the top of the post. I do this a lot, taking wild detours in game development only to return to a far simpler solution that requires much less work. It’s all worth it in the end if it makes a stronger game though.

Stop Telling Stories or How to Design for the OSR

TLDR: Make a world. Put interesting stuff in it. Some stuff is really bad. Some stuff is really good. It’s hard to tell the difference until characters start messing with them. The DM and players tell the stories, not you.

Before I puff myself up as an authority and thus put myself out there for ridicule, let me start with the most controversial aspect of OSR adventure design.

It’s Not Your Game.

If you’re designing for the OSR, the first thing you have to realize is that the game does not belong to you. It belongs to the DM, the players and their characters. The DM is going to take your carefully crafted magical thing and hammer it to fit with an encounter from Against the Giants, and a random table from the d30 Sandbox Companion, a neighborhood generator from Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad, an NPC based on Private Hudson from Aliens, and a thousand other things of the DM’s own design. And when the players guide their characters into Undersewers of the Mole Gods, they are going to take your perfectly balanced, story-relevant encounters, ball them up, shake out all the XP and gold, and pitch them over their shoulders. All that’s going to be left is the story that the players and the DM tell years later, swigging beers at the Ram Brewery after their last con game. You get part of that story, but you don’t get to tell it.

Have Lots of Things for the Murderhoboes to Mess With

The OSR adventure is not a pre-scripted adventure path with a natural story arc balancing every character role into session-digestible chunks. An OSR adventure is a collection of evocative structures thrown down on a map, some with connections, and others just hanging out there. Your job, as a designer (and I believe it’s your only job) is to build the structures that the characters and DM can pour their stories into. Some of these structures have solid foundations, like an NPC with a detailed backstory, concrete motivations and secret weaknesses. Some may be paper-thin props that when viewed from another angle are nothing more than a blanket fort. Designers use this all the time – an evocative sentence or two to describe a building in a town or a locale on an overland hexmap.

The point is, the characters need stuff to mess with (and typically to destroy). Can there be connections? Sure! There’s a spy in town investigating the cult that gathers at a nearby dolmen every dark-of-moon. Why is the spy there? Who does she work for? Where is her safe house? These questions help to build further structures, thin or solid, but they are not steps in a process for “solving the story.” All of these structures coalesce into a mini-world that may be as small as the town where the spy resides or as large as a galaxy.

Some of the Things are Horrifyingly Bad. Some of the Things Are Amazingly Good. It’s Impossible to Tell the Difference.

Players aren’t interested unless their characters are simultaneously threatened with horrible death and unimaginable wealth and power. And they aren’t going to stay interested if they can tell the difference.

The bad things need to appear to be horrifyingly bad. Do you throw up “Goblins (3); rusty short swords” or eyes that gleam in the darkness, faint gibbering and the scrape of metal on stone? What are we fighting? What’s its “power level?” Is there any benefit to pitting my beloved Ussa-La the Space Princess against this unknown danger? Do I take the shiny without checking for traps? Or do I risk taking the time to be careful with the constant threat of another horror coming around the corner and trying to eat me?

Piles of treasure, eldritch artifacts, a shiny new space ship, level up… All of these things drive players to put their characters into terribly dangerous situations. And, they’ll do the same thing just for a rumor of these things. A grizzled yazirian holding court in a dusty cantina swears that the UPF ditched a super-secret spy ship on the prison planet of Holeefuckdontcomehere 9S. Not only is it packed with amazingly cool gear, there’s a case with a million credits stowed in a weapons locker. The planet? Nah! I’m sure it’s mostly deserted.

As a designer, make every fight a trepidation. Make running away regretful. You are not in the business of balance. Rewards are not parceled out in commiserate-with-dangers-engaged precision. Uncertainty. Every threat need not be insurmountable, but the threat should appear to be significant. Uncertainty.

And some of the threats should be insurmountable, especially with the stats and things on the player’s character sheet. Some rewards should be wildly overpowering and “unbalancing” to the game.

It is uncertainty that adds all the tension to the game. It is player ingenuity that leads to its greatest triumphs. And both of these keep the players coming back for more. There’s something amazing out there, and even though there may be horrifyingly bad things guarding it and even though the amazing thing may not be as awesome as rumored, I will go into this world and find out.

Your only job is to build that world.

Obfuscation without Hidden Information: A Mechanism for Carcassonne Farm Fans

Bv9jdV2IgAMIZHCLots of people don’t like the farms in Carcassonne because they’re hard to see in play, but I’ve never had a problem with it and I love playing with them. We’re a rare breed, we farming fans. I thought it would be funny if there were an area majority game mechanism that was designed to be obfuscated despite being clearly visible on the table with no hidden information.

See those cards? Each has a 5×5 grid with a blank center cell. When you play a card to the table, you place it orthogonally adjacent to another card, thus creating an organic playing area. The red and blue dots indicate the presence of Red or Blue influence on the indicated card.



The grid is designed to be relative to the card just placed, not as part of an objective 5×5 grid. In this simplified example, this card adds 1 Blue to the card above and to the left; it also adds 1 Red to the card below and to the left.

At the end of the round, whoever has majority on a card will collect it into a scoring pile.


You can use dice or cubes or coins to keep track of the ongoing balance between Red and Blue on the cards, but they aren’t technically necessary. That’s the part that I think will only appeal to hardcore farm players. It’s sort of a perception contest to see who can keep track of overlapping majorities across an entire field of play.

But let’s take this a step further! Let’s add some weird symbols to the grid.


How about multiple dots on a cell, to indicate that much more presence on the indicted card? Sure!


Xs mean you reduce the presence of any color on the indicated card by 1. If there is no presence on it, then remove the card entirely!


Turning arrows mean you must rotate the indicated card by 180º. Using these effectively is a real test of perception amongst skilled players.

So yeah, that’s the idea. I have zero ideas for a theme though. Help me out!