Archive for April 2013

Game Design Tools and Collaboration

One of the most important things to figure out up front when working with multiple people on anything — even if it’s just two people — is the manner in which you will collaborate.

How are you going to know who’s working on what?  How are you going to manage the editing process?  How will you know when to do what?  Who’s keeping a schedule, etc.?

We’re no different.  As a program manager I work on getting various people to march to a single drum all the time and tried instituting the same things here.


  • We have a low (ok, $0) budget and so want to make use of as many freely available tools as possible.
  • We want to document everything so as not to lose things but don’t want to go cray with the documentation as that’s dull and potentially painful.
  • Josh doesn’t like anything hard or mathy so it shouldn’t be hard or mathy.  (tee hee)


We use a combo of Google Docs/Drive and Dropbox.  We use Dropbox in conjunction with our illustrators so that they have an easy way to share their work with us.

We use GoogleDrive to create and store structured documents.  We have a template for the initial draft of game rules and a spreadsheet template with various sheets to get a game concept we’ve created into a protype-able state as quickly as possible.

The Spreadsheet Template To Rule Them All

  • Project Tab: The spreadsheet has a project plan template in the first sheet so that we can commit to dates on common tasks.  It’s pre-populated with tasks that we ended up putting together while making our first game.It also makes use of conditional formatting rules and some formulae so that if we are approaching (or missing dates) little status fields will change colors and make us feel appropriately bad — or at least remind us that we should follow the dates and/or change them.
  • Player/Character Tab: While not used for all games, this tab has some default columns to track data for the characters in a game.  This tab is also linked to several pivot table tabs and a play tester data collection tab so that I can quickly get a view of the variables associated with characters, those that are played in play test games, the number of times a game is played with Character X, and won, etc.  There’s a lot of information one can get if you take the time to record it.
  • Card Tabs: Our template has several tabs, some of which won’t get used, so that we can fill out the card types and have names, descriptions, comments on art, references to file names, etc.  There’s even some calculation based on the card-size and TheGameCrafter rates so that we can estimate the cost of the prototype while making the game.
  • Other Tabs: We have tab to capture FAQs as we play test our games so that we have something for our website and/or rules documents. We have one to capture Kickstarter reward levels and potential expansion ideas related to the game.

You can have whatever you want in your template. The main point of this post is to ensure that you give yourself a place to capture things.  Figure out the structure and formatting of a document (or template going forward) as you go.  That’s what we did.

And be sure to take some time to update the template if there’s something you’d like not to lose, or just remind yourself during the design of the next game.  As the keeper of the template, when we encounter something that I know isn’t in the template, I’ll go back and add it so that it’s not lost.

Our day jobs have given us proficiency with and access to Adobe’s Creative Suite and in my next post I’ll talk about how we use this template to semi-automate card creation for these games using InDesign and our GoogleDrive spreadsheet template.

Review by Josh: Article 27

Article 27 Board Game box

Article 27: Because everyone should have the power to veto.

Article 27 was recently introduced into my regular gaming group and has since become a favorite. Let’s have a look as to why.


In Article 27, each player will take the role of a UN Security Council member (U.S., England, Russia, France, etc.) and whose goal will be to have the most Influence Points by game end. Influence Points are gained (and spent as bribes) throughout the game during each negotiation phase.


Each player starts with 12 Influence Points, a player mat with screen, their appropriate Face Tokens (used to place atop bribes and distinguish them from others), an “Approve” and “Reject” token, and each player will draw a Hidden Agenda token (kept secret from others of course)

The player who last made a public speech will begin the game as Secretary General and will be given the gavel and the 5-minute timer.

Depending on number of players in the game, face-down color-coded tokens will be placed on the main game board. Each of these will have a symbol on the front that may or may not help a player gain bonus Influence Points at the end of the game, if they have a matching Hidden Agenda token.

How a Round Works:

Every round, players will draw 5 tokens from a bag, starting with the Secretary General of the round. These tokens are privately placed behind player screens, and chronologically in the order they are drawn atop the 5 placeholders on each player mat. Each placeholder has a point value associated with it, where, if that particular color token is incorporated into a Proposal for the round, that player receives or loses the corresponding value of Influence Points. The values are as follows from left-to-right: +5, +3, +1, -2, -4. The tokens drawn can be one of 5 colors: red, blue, green, yellow, and black. A face-down token from each color on the main game board will now be revealed to show its symbol. If a symbol matches that of a player’s Hidden Agenda token, it may influence whether they want that color token to be incorporated into the round’s Proposal or not—regardless of whether it appears on their 5 drawn color tokens behind their screen.

Once all players have drawn their 5 tokens, the Secretary General begins the round of negotiation by banging the gavel and flipping the timer. They have five minutes to deliberate on a proposal before voting must happen. The Secretary General is particularly invested in having the round’s Proposal pass because there are 5 extra Influence Points on the line for them if it passes—none if it fails or is vetoed by another player.

In the following five minutes, players can beg, threaten vetoes (which cost 5 points to kill the Proposal), and bribe other players into accepting or rejecting or bribe the Secretary General himself into including or omitting certain color tokens from the Proposal. Bribes are placed on the appropriate player’s mat in the corresponding section, with the bribing player’s face token atop the bribe (as multiple bribes can be placed, it is important to know who placed what). Bribes MUST be honored if the appropriate action is taken by a bribed player (such as voting to pass a bill, abstaining, rejecting, etc.) But, while bribes may be placed onto a player’s mat to influence their decisions, they DO NOT amount to an acceptance. If a player is bribed 3 points to vote YES on a Proposal but they vote NO instead, the 3 Points are returned to the bribing player.

When five minutes are up, or the Secretary General calls for a vote to close earlier by banging the gavel, it is time for players to accept, reject, abstain, or veto a proposal. Vetoes cost 5 Influence Points. All players will take their voting tokens in their hands, secretly select one, and hold it inward with a closed fist. Once everyone has done so, fists are opened, and votes are counted. A MAJORITY is needed to pass a Proposal. Ties are considered failure.

If a Proposal passes, the colored tokens that were included in the Proposal by the Secretary General, are placed face-up in the scoring area of the board. Tokens not included are placed face-down in the scoring area. This area makes things easy for players to count any tokens matching their Hidden Agenda at the end of the game.

The gavel and Secretary responsibilites passes to the player on their left once everyone has scored their appropriate points, and placed their 5 drawn tokens bag into the bag. Play continues until everyone has had a turn being the Secretary General, or in the case of a 3-player game, everyone will be the gavel-wielder twice.


  • It is nice to have a game with so much player interaction. It is truly a negotiation game, with little else to distract.
  • Game length is roughly 45 minutes. It accommodates 3-6 players.
  • Learning curve is not bad. Stronghold also did a great job with their rulebook and it was not necessary to consult very often upon learning.
  • Excellent components, quality, and a very thorough rulebook is concise, colorful, and clear.
  • Great replayability. Lots of different token combinations each round will ensure that none is like the one before it.


  • I have found it rare (only 1 instance in 5 games played) that a Proposal was voted down. Typically, the players I have played with have found it more beneficial to simply spend 5 points on a veto to swindle others out of many more points for the round if the Proposal is not going their way. Not only does it seem not worthwhile to vote to reject instead of veto, but I have yet to see somebody abstain. These seem like under-utilized features to me.
  • The yellow-colored Agenda-related tokens are EXTREMELY hard to see. I am normally not bothered by things like this, but it is truly difficult to see the symbol on the yellow tokens. As such, I have drawn over them with permanent black marker. The only component mis-step in the game that I can think of.
  • I have found no personal problem with the 5 values displayed on each player mat (the numbers +5 thru -4) but others have argued that the current values allow for everyone to gain 3 points per round if every color is included, so why not do it each time? I find that a silly question. It’s not a co-op game. Why would you want to have everyone win? lol. I would never pass a Proposal with all 5 tokens involved.

Article 27 Rating: 8.5 out of 10 (Highly Enjoyable)

I really enjoy this game and imagine it will be a staple in our gaming group. Everyone I played with liked this game. Nobody hates this game. It was pleasantly surprising to have everyone embrace a negotiation political game that typically my group finds dull. Stronghold has done an excellent job with Article 27 and I encourage you to try it out, if not own it.