Seth Ben-Ezra reviews [Happy Birthday, Robot!]

Game designer Seth Ben-Ezra reviews Happy Birthday, Robot! after playing it with his kids. It’s a pretty in-depth review, covering the basics of play but also a lot of thoughts on the game design itself. I’m glad the instructions and presentation all made Seth feel confident in being able to teach the game to others.

At GenCon, I realized the great joy of designing “teachable games,” or games that could easily be passed on by literal word-of-mouth or simple example. That’s a subject for another post though. Meanwhile, check out Seth’s review!

[Happy Birthday, Robot!] Mega Man vs. Dresden Files

Anders Smith just posted two Happy Birthday Robot stories he created while playing in 2-player mode with his brother. The first is sort of a prequel to Mega Man:

“Happy Birthday, Robot!”
“How are you feeling?” asks Dr. Light.
“A little nervous,” replies Cut-man.
“What if the others all laugh at my blades?”
Dr. Light shakes his head, smiling in ignorance.
“You are a perfect creation – the ones who laugh just don’t understand!”
“You’ll show them all!” he concludes, “Just ask Dr. Wiley!”
“He has a wonderful present behind this door.”
“With his help, and mine, why, you’ll change the world!”
So Cut-man stepped through to meet his destiny.

And the next story is based on the Dresden Files, using a new opening sentence.

“I need help, Harry Dresden!”
Harry sighed, “Why did it have to be gnomes?”
But Harry was certain they must be stopped.
Chicago’s lawns were doomed to wilt otherwise.
Bob told Harry gnomes were afraid of flamingos.
“Real ones aren’t cheap,” said Harry. “Where can I get them in January in Chicago?”
“You don’t want real ones, harry; plastic ones work best – living plastic.”
“Wouldn’t that create a scourge of demon flamingos to menace Chicago?”
“Of course not – that’s what the Celtic black dogs are for, afterward!”
“Now once you’re done with them, you’ll probably need a hag…” Harry stopped Bob at this point.
Harry wondered if the lawns of Chicago weren’t better served by inaction, and sighed again.
Michael suggested calling a gopher-removal expert.

I love how silly these stories can get while still being somewhat coherent. Thanks for posting them, Anders!

A Bear Swarm would be very noisy.

Interviews with Daniel Solis
Apparently, word didn’t spread far enough at GenCon that I can spew forth ad nauseum. Rob Justice of the Bear Swarm podcast also interviewed me during that magical weekend. You can listen to the interview here.

During this interview, I mention a sign language fluency game called Where Are Your Keys? Jen Dixon of the Walking Eye recorded our session of WAYK, facilitated by James Brown. I’ll post a link to the video as soon as it goes up and talk a little more about it then.

[Happy Birthday, Robot!] Review on Critical-Hits!

I am squeeing over Gerald Cameron’s review of Happy Birthday, Robot! Definitely some of the nicest things anyone’s ever said about the game.

“Simple Rules – Made for Anyone to Learn From”
“A Thing of Beauty – An Invitation to Creativity”
“All in all, the game would fit into any child’s book collection, and doesn’t seem that out of place in a collection of roleplaying games, either.”

You can read the rest of Gerald Cameron’s review on Squee. ^_^

[Embargo] App for Android Beta (0.8)

» Download: Embargo.apk

Embargo is a strategic board game of breaking barriers. Move your pieces any distance horizontally or vertically. If two pieces share the same row or column, a wall is formed between them that no pieces can pass through. Your goal is to get all your pieces to your opponent’s corner. See complete rules here.

Now Embargo is available for Android phones! This is version 0.8. Consider it an open playable beta. Two players can play by passing the phone back and forth. Hit the ‘back’ button to undo your last move. It undoes one move only. Online multiplayer and vs AI will come in a later version.

This app comes to you thanks to Mark Sherry. You may recognize Mark Sherry from the credits in Happy Birthday, Robot! He was very generous with his math/programming skills during HBR’s development and that generosity continues here. Thanks so much, Mark!

Here’s a QR code for your camera phone:


First free book to Kids Need To Game!

Thanks so much to the most recent backers and pre-orderers (including the $1 backer ^_~ )!

Because of these generous folks, we can send the first free copy of Happy Birthday, Robot! to Kids Need To Game. There are two more copies ready to send to this great cause as soon as we reach the next pre-order milestones. Each pre-order gets more free games to kids in need.

Thanks again and spread the word about Happy Birthday, Robot!

[Do] Pilgrims of Justice League and Star Trek

In response to my call for pop culture-inspired pilgrims, Marc Majcher posted his take on the cast of classic Star Trek:

Pilgrim Randy Conductor gets in trouble by chasing after girls, and helps people by getting everybody to work together.

Pilgrim Stoic Owl gets in trouble by holding back his feelings, and helps people by dispensing wisdom.

Pilgrim Grumpy Needle gets in trouble by making sarcastic remarks all the time, and helps people by making them feel better when they’re sick.

Pilgrim Confident Wrench gets in trouble by overestimating his abilities, and helps people by fixing things for them.

Liz Hooper offered her interpretation of Batman and Robin:

Pilgrim Lonely Gadget gets in trouble by trying to do everything by himself, he helps people by using his clever inventions.

Pilgrim Lonely Gadget’s compatriot, Pilgrim Cocky Tumbler gets in trouble by thinking he can handle things he can’t, he helps people by using his gymnastic skills as a martial art.

And Jonathan Korman went the whole nine yards, creating the entire Justice League:

Pilgrim Noble Stone gets in trouble by being too earnest, and helps people by being strong.

Pilgrim Spooky Toolbox gets in trouble attracting crazy people, and helps people by always being prepared.

Pilgrim Haughty Shield gets in trouble by ignoring what people expect of her, and helps people by getting them to tell the truth.

Pilgrim Goofy Wheel gets in trouble by joking around, and helps people by rushing to where he’s needed.

Pilgrim Fierce Wing gets in trouble by jumping in without thinking, and helps people by fighting monsters.

Pilgrim Serious Ring gets in trouble by ordering people around, and helps people by making things they need.

Pilgrim Lonely Smoke gets in trouble by feeling out of place, and helps people by being thoughtful.

Thanks, peeps!  Got any pop culture pilgrims of your own? Share them in the comments. 🙂

Quantum of Solis 2010

I’ll be working in Durham, NC the first week of November. There are a lot of folks in the Durham area who I’d like to hang out with. This is a fortunate coincidence!

On Friday, November 5, let’s all get a big table at Tyler’s Taproom at around 7pm. We’ll have some food, drinks, laughs and maybe some gaming if we’re not too beat.

Comment if you can make it. Hope to see you there!

Free Games to Libraries and Schools

We’re giving away a free Print+PDF bundle to the first ten libraries, schools or after school programs who sign up.

If you know a US library, school or after school program that would like to have a free copy of Happy Birthday, Robot!, send me a message through kickstarter or on twitter @danielsolis. (You can see examples of HBR in the classroom here and here.) In your message, please include:

  • Shipping address for your library, school or organization to send the book when it’s printed in a few months (Sorry, this offer is only available in the US for now.)
  • Email to send the PDF when it’s available in May.
  • Whether your organization would prefer to remain anonymous.

There are only 10 offers available right now, so it’ll be on a first come, first serve basis. I’ll update this post as soon as I get signups in my inbox.

1: Children Youth and Family Collaborative – COVERED!
2: Derrick Thomas Academy – COVERED!
3: [Anonymous] – COVERED!
4: North Plainfield School District – COVERED!
5: Nacogdoches Public Library – COVERED!
6: Oklahoma City Public Library – COVERED!
7: Norman Public Library – COVERED!
8: Lab School – COVERED!
9: Highline High School – COVERED!
10: New Orleans Center for Creative Arts – COVERED!

Each of the next ten print+pdf preorders will cover the costs of producing and shipping a free bundle to each library, school or after school program. When a pre-order comes in, I’ll note the institution as “COVERED” in the list above.

Flying off the Shelves!

That is Happy Birthday, Robot! On an actual game store shelf! Not just any game store either, but Endgame, which consistently sets a high bar for what a game store can be. Now here’s the big news: All copies at Endgame sold out on the first day.

The proprietor, Chris Hanrahan, was kind enough to send along some info about the buyers.

– People buying it for there “as too young kids” so they could play it when they were older.

– People buying it because this was a “first in class type of game, and they wanted a copy of it.” (Meaning, they had never seen anything like it before, and wanted it in their collection.

– One person very specifically interested in taking it to use and advise other people who home school their kids. It sounds like he worked for some type of collective who researches this type of thing, and then shares the information with other homeschool teachers.

– People buying it as gifts for friends with kids.

– People with kids old enough to play it with,

It has HUGE wide appeal as you can see 🙂

Apparently so! 😀

Free Font: Marain Script

Here’s a new free font for you to install: Marain Script. It’s my first one! I’ll be using it in Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple.

I used a web service called Fontifier, so the quality works best at small sizes. At large sizes, you see the slight pixelated corners the web service creates. At small sizes, those pixelated corners just look like a grainy texture that fits an alphabet written by a brush. Hey, happy accidents!

The letterforms are based on the Marain alphabet, from Iain M. Banks’ “Culture” novels. In those novels, the spacefaring Culture use the Marain alphabet because each character is unique and can be read in any rotation. That seemed to make sense for use in Do, since the monks and pilgrims are not bound by gravity either.

» Download MarainScript.tff Creative Commons License
Marain Script by Daniel Solis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

» More about Marain
» More about the Culture novels
» More about Fontifier

[In the Lab] Belle of the Ball

The Belle invites you to attend a most festivitous, celebratious, ostentaneous party! All guests should be on their best behavior! Seriously. Behave. Belle of the Ball is a saucy Victorianic tile game. Invite guests to a grand party and score points by entertaining the Belle.

» Development Status: Definitely Alpha. See notes at bottom of post.

Stuff You Need
2-4 Players
Download and cut out these tiles and tokens.

You’ll also need a 7×7 grid like this (Click to embiggen):

Lastly, you’ll need a paper and pencil to keep track of each player’s current score.

The Guest Tiles
The Belle enjoys inviting both peasantry and nobility, delighting in the culture-clashing mayhem that ensues. Some guests are loud boors, others are known to get into fights, and more than a handful are known philanderers.

On each Guest tile, you’ll see the distinct family crest for the Goatsbury, Lordhurtz, Richminster, Dundifax, Boarbottom and Crawhole families. On the lower left or lower right, you’ll see symbols representing what that guest is doing at the party.
Flirt: Eat: Dance: Snub:

The Belles
There are five Belles, each with their own effects on how you play the game.

Lady Lara Lately’s Libatious Luncheon
If this is your first time playing, use Lady Lara as your Belle to learn the basic game.

Sally Swansea’s Saucy Soiree
On your turn, inviting a Guest with a [Flirt] earns you 1 point.
At the end of the party, each Honored Guest with a [Flirt] earns +1 point.

Felicia Fawsley’s Felicitous Feast
Inviting a Guest with a [Eat] earns the player 1 point.
At the end of the party, each Honored Guest with a [Eat] earns +1 point.

Ruby Rosen’s Receptious Riot
Inviting a Guest with a [Dance] earns the player 1 point.
At the end of the party, each Honored Guest with a [Dance] earns +1 point.

Alexandra Avendale’s Aloof Affair
Inviting a Guest with a [Snub] earns the player 1 point.
At the end of the party, each Honored Guest with a [Snub] earns +1 point.

How to Play
Set Up
Step 1: Choose a Belle to be in the center of the Ballroom. Each Belle favors different behaviors at her party. In play, this means some tiles will be worth more points than others and some slight tweaks to the rules may be enacted for this game. Set aside all other Belles for the rest of the game.

Step 2: Shuffle the Guest tiles and keep them face down. If you are playing with only two players, remove the tiles marked with a star at the bottom. If you are playing with three or four players, use the full deck. If you are playing with two players, the guest deck will have 36 tiles. With three or four players, the deck will have 66 tiles.

Step 3: Deal four tiles to each player. Do not reveal your tiles to the other players.

Turn Order
Play proceeds with each player taking a turn, starting with the youngest player and continuing clockwise around the table.

On your turn…
Step 1: Draw a Guest Tile from the deck.

Step 2: Inviting a Guest: Take a tile from your hand and put it on the board. Your tile must be next to another tile that is already on the board, either vertically or horizontally, but not diagonally. If you’re playing a two-player game, you may only place tiles in the lighter spaces of the ballroom. If you’re playing with three or four players, you can place the Belle on any space in the ballroom.

In this example, the green checks note places where you may legally place a tile on your turn in a two-player game. The purple checks note places where you may legally place a tile in a three- or four-player game.

Step 3: Score Points: If your Belle is Lady Lara, you can skip this step. Otherwise, you score points by inviting guests with symbols noted by your Belle.

For example, in Felicia Fawsley’s Felicitous Feast, you will gain one point whenever you invite a guest with [Eat].

Honored Guests
Throughout the game, you use the family tokens to keep track of Honored Guests of the ball. The Honored Guests are the smallest group of guests for each family. A group is comprised any tiles from the same family that are next to each other horizontally, vertically or diagonally. A group may be as small as one guest.
 Keep the family token on the smallest group of guests for that family.

For example, the Honored Goatsbury Guests are currently a group of three Goatsburys highlighted below:

You put down another Goatsbury on the board, completely separate from that group. That single tile is now the smallest Goatsbury group, so it is now the Honored Guest. Move the Goatsbury token to that tile.

If at some point this new group grows to three Goatsburys, they will still be the Honored Goatsbury Guests.

If the new group grows to four or more Goatsburys, then it is nor longer the smallest group on the board and the token would move back to that first group.

If this situation occurs and there are multiple groups that tie for being the smallest, then the current player chooses which group to Honor.

End of the Party
The game ends when the ballroom is full of guests.

Step 1: Determine each family’s point value: Each family is worth a different number of points, based on the number of Honored Guests from that family. For example, if the family has 1 Honored Guest, that family is worth 1 point. If the family has 2 Honored Guests, that family is worth 2 points, and so on.

Step 2: Reveal the tiles in your hand and score points for the Honored Guests if you have a tile of that family in your hand. If you have multiple tiles of the same family, score those Honored Guests again. 
In other words, you get points equal to the size of the smallest group multiplied by the number of matching tiles in your hand.

For example, the game has just ended. The players currently have these scores:

Player 1 has 3 points.
Player 2 has 2 points.
Player 3 has 4 points.
Player 4 has 4 points.

The board at the end of the game looks like this:

Boarbottom is worth 3 points, because it has three Honored Guests.
Lordhurtz is worth 1 point, because it has one Honored Guest.
Richminster is worth 3 points.
Dundifax is worth 1 point.
Crawhole is worth 2 points.
Goatsbury is worth 3 points.

Tallying up each player’s tiles and points:
Player 1 adds 8 points. New Total: 11
Player 2 adds 8 points. New Total: 10
Player 3 adds 8 points. New Total: 12
Player 4 adds 4 points. New Total: 8

Step 3: If your Belle is Lady Lara Lately, you can skip this step. Otherwise, your Belle makes some tiles more valuable.

For example, in Sally Swansea’s Saucy Soiree each Honored Guest with a [Flirt] is worth an additional point. Let’s look at the board again:

Boarbottom is worth +1 point, because one Honored Guest has a [Flirt] symbol.
Lordhurtz is worth +1.
Richminster is worth +1
Dundifax is worth +0.
Crawhole is worth +0.
Goatsbury is worth +1.

Player 1 adds 3 points. New total: 14
Player 2 adds 4 points. New total: 14
Player 3 adds 2 points. New total: 14
Player 4 has 1 points. New total: 9

So yes, all that rigamarole just to produce a three-way tie. I think adding one more card to each family will reduce the chances of this happening, though.

In the current distribution, no players had any Crawholes or Boarbottoms. That significantly reduced the chances of there being wider point spreads in the endgame.

I also think making the Belles more persnickety will help. Perhaps decoupling the in-play point scoring from the endgame point scoring. That seems less of an issue than the basic distribution of tiles, though.

The Big Announcement

Now that we’ve reached 100 backers, it’s time to lift the curtain on something we’ve had in the works. When this project first kicked off, Evil Hat Productions ( offered to sponsor whatever amount we fell short of our fundraising goal by. Thanks to your enthusiastic generosity, that just wasn’t necessary. But Evil Hat has stayed interested since that point, looking at ways we can work together to make sure Happy Birthday Robot reaches as many fans — and kids — as it possibly can.

Today, I can confirm that with Evil Hat’s help, Happy Birthday Robot’s first printing will run over 500 copies, making it possible for the game to have a broader reach — getting into game stores, schools, and libraries as well as direct to fans on the web. Once the book is released, copies will be available for purchase through Evil Hat and through Evil Hat’s distribution partners (Indie Press Revolution, Alliance, Esdevium, and others).

As far as branding goes, Happy Birthday Robot will still be under a “Smart Play Games” label. From one perspective, Evil Hat is stepping in as an “angel” partner, covering any remaining financial risk and making sure that the book stays in print. From another perspective, Smart Play Games is hiring Evil Hat to do the publication job, handling all that messy business stuff so I can focus on supporting the game and the fans.

So that’s the big surprise! Happy Birthday Robot will be on game store shelves, thanks to the help of Evil Hat Productions.

[In the Lab] X.O.K.O. – SageFight as a Scott Pilgrim LARP

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Huh. You know what? #SageFight could be an engine for a Scott Pilgrim LARP.less than a minute ago via Echofon

So yeah, about that…

Tentative Title: X.O.K.O.

Inspiration: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Premise: Epic love and silly fights among the youth of an unnamed city. Each player’s character is trying to be in a relationship with another character, but is thwarted by their exes. Each player is assigned to another player as their love interest. Each player also has two other players who are their exes. (So, in total, you have pre-existing relationships to three other players.) No one can fulfill their romantic ending until both people engage in two fights. (I’m sure I’m missing some serious bugs in the logistics of this relationship map.) If you have already done your fights, you can team up with your SO to complete their fights.

Situation: A big going-away party for a mutual friend. All the characters’ baggage and lingering history will be settled tonight. Other party guests who are not involved in the drama will serve as timekeepers and referees during the fights.

Names: In the spirit of “Knives Chow,” “Ramona Flowers,” and “Scott Pilgrim,” every character has name like that. Find random objects in your house, add a normal first name to that. Julia Pen, Graham Book, Quinn Cup, Emily Bat, Kevin Curtain, etc.

Structure: The game begins with a few minutes of free RP, but quickly the fights begin. A fight begins with one player calling out a character’s name and challenging them to a fight. (For example, “QUINN CUP! I CHALLENGE YOU TO A FIGHT!”) The challenged player responds by deciding the type of fight, of which there are several including Duel, Melee, Clan vs. Clan, etc. (For example, “I ACCEPT YOUR CHALLENGE, KEVIN CURTAIN! A DUEL!”)

One Fight at a Time: Only one fight happens at a time. When a fight is over, neither of those players may be called out until another pair have had a turn to fight.

Power-Ups: Somewhere in the middle of all this, it would be cool to introduce a number of meta-fight coupons like “GET A LIFE: Turn in this coupon to re-do a fight.” or “IN A MINUTE: Turn in this coupon to postpone a fight.” or “MY WAY: Turn in this coupon to set the terms of a fight when you challenge someone else.”

BOSS BATTLE: I love the idea of all this drama leading up to an epic boss battle of some kind, between all the players and a big baddie’s gang of minions. Dunno what those minions would be doing in the rest of the party though, so it might not work.

There are plenty of logistics to work out in general. As Graham notes below, when fights actually matter, the stakes are raised. However, I hope this is mitigated somewhat because everyone is trying to achieve their romantic ending by engaging in two fights. It’s simply getting into those two fights that matters, not necessarily winning them.

This is one of those odd projects because I’m not so much into LARPing, at least insofar as I’ve experienced the “LA” in boffer LARPs or the “RP” in Vampire LARPs. Boffer stuff feels so cumbersome. Speaking in-character is sooo awkward. (Again, these are all my own perspectives.) This comes close to a happy middle ground for me, at least in my head.

Sent these ideas to other people and they came back with a lot of good advice.

Quinn immediately tossed out a bunch of ideas:

–An achievement system (most duels, last one out, first one out, win a 2 versus 1)
–XP system (maybe just a ticket punch system for duels won, withe XP letting you purchase perks)
–perks sytem (modifiers to a combat, that let you alter the rules of a combat in some way)
–factions and faction goal system (a few sides to the conflict and allow players to chase overall goal to increase faction reputation)

And HM posted a TON of ideas on the official SageFight page. This one seems to have potential:

Ninja Vanish: pose — legs together, standing straight, arms down, wrists crossed in front of waist, head bowed; effect — you are invisible and cannot be touched. On the next ‘fight’ freeze, you may exit the scene without losing.

Graham cautioned about transitioning SageFight into a game where the stakes matter:

Who determines when a move has ended? Let’s say that I accuse you of moving, suddenly, after your move finished and tapping me on the back of the hand. You thought you were just completing your move. How do we resolve that?

What happens if I am very tall? Can I avoid fights simply by holding my hands in the air?

I run up to you when you’re having a conversation with someone else and tap you on the hand. Did you just lose a fight?
What happens if I am very tall? Can I avoid fights simply by holding my hands in the air?

I run up to you when you’re having a conversation with someone else and tap you on the hand. Did you just lose a fight?

These questions probably sound stupid, but that’s the problem: there’s a difference in perspective. When you make fights matter, either to a narrative or to a competitive player, the rules start to matter too.

Kevin advised stepping away from past LARP models:

LARPING in America has gone on undeveloped since people started doing it in the 70s. Seriously, there has been zero innovation. People are still using the first draft of thirty year old rules. It’s like the dark ages.

Europe did the opposite, it evolved the form so far that it’s another activity entirely, and now is unrecognizable from it’s origins. Just another beast entirely.

I think the less you avow yourself of those forms the better off you’ll be. And that’s not usually my advise to any creative, but in this case a knowledge vacuum might be helpful.

By contrast, Emily had recommended some references:

Neat! It seems like it would make a great mechanic. Esp. since it works for big groups, which can take a long time and be a hassle. Lisa Padol was involved with writing the Ghost Fu game. She’d be another good person to talk to about this.

Julia also suggested GhostFu: The Jade Emperor’s Celestial Tournament:

Check out some of the larp descriptions at Intercon this year. Movement, dance, singing, scavenger hunts, etc., are all possible in parlor larps. I’m working on a larp now about secret societies and cannibals that incorporates food (vegan meat substitutes dressed up as human meat and personalized fortune cookies) as part of the mechanics. Parlor larps are often mechanics light, and improv heavy. There are stricter ones, of course. I played in Vampire: The Requiem based larp that was not quite just the table top game with costumes, but it was close. It was successful if you liked the system, which ultimately I didn’t care much for, but I had fun until the system drove me nuts.

So yeah, this is a huge can of worms. 😛 For me, the toughest part of designing a tabletop RPG is the RP. I can handle the G pretty well, but it’s the fluffiness of RP that gets me every time. With LARP, it seems to be even MORE focused on that fluffy, ill-defined type of non-mechanized interaction.

Cover Concept 3

Click to embiggen.

Getting closer to the final cover design. I just haven’t settled on that back cover text. Am I selling the right things? Should I be highlighting other aspects of the game more prominently?

Happy Halloween from 3rdº!

You know, despite “Art Director” being the first thing on this blog’s description, I spend very little time talking about my day job. Mostly that’s because ongoing projects are usually supa-secret, but half the fun of working at Third Degree is the culture. For example, Halloween.

We try to go all out each year’s themed costumes. Previous themes were Post-Apocalypse and Mad Men. This year, we went old school. Classic pre-1970s movie monsters.

That’s my boss. She’s so dramatic.

Brett’s the suffocating man. 😛

Can I get a hand over here?

See more in the Flickr set.

» Third Degree
» Third Degree Creative Blog

Design Diary: “New” starts, but does not finish. [Part 3]

Spoiler: I didn’t end up using Mark’s idea in Do, as awesome as it was. Here are some reasons why, completely unrelated to the quality of the idea itself.

Explain your rules better before changing them.
It takes some experience before you can recognize the difference between a poorly designed rule and a poorly explained rule. Assuming you do know the difference, be aware of the temptation to add new rules to fix a perceived bug. It could be fixed just as easily by offering strategy or style advice as a non-instructional sidebar. That is what I ended up doing in Do. Instead of adding the new rules for stone usage and naming, I just asked my players for their advice and tips on picking good names.

Stick to your goal.
This is probably one I’m most guilty of breaking and why Do has taken such a long time to finish. I started with a loose desire to emulate some aspects of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Gradually that morphed into a number of different goals for the game, but none fully concrete. In the end, it was developing Happy Birthday, Robot! that gave me an achievable goal for Do‘s development. Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple is a storytelling game. It’s not a role-playing game. And that is okay. Now that I know what being “done” looked like, I just have to get there.

Better is the enemy of done.
As many smart folks said already. When you work on a project a long time, it is tempting to look at a new idea as the solution that will finally bring it to an end. However, a better unfinished game is never as good as a flawed finished game.

What you’re working on is not the last thing you’ll work on.
If you don’t use every idea you have right now, those ideas are not lost to the ether. In this case, Mark’s idea lives on in an email conversation, a blog post, or a future supplement for Do. It is important to write down and save your ideas, but also share them with others. If you really feel this idea is a good, share it. Let other people comment and contribute. You can always pick it up again later for a future game, but even if you don’t, at least you shared something you’re excited about.

A great idea can start a project, but only work can finish it.
Or, in other words, “Shiny starts, but rarely finishes.” To put it more cruelly, a shiny new idea can send you right back to the drawing board. The longer you work on a project, the more tempting it is to add ideas you come across later on. Each new idea is a detour along that project’s development. It leads you in a new direction, maybe, but it probably doesn’t get you closer to an endpoint.

The solution that gives you more work might not be a solution.
Some designers like to say that if you’re trying to solve a design problem by adding stuff, you’re not really solving the problem. It’s only be streamlining and minimizing that you will find a solution. I don’t know if I would be that hardline about it, but certainly it’s a red flag if your latest new shiny idea is one that prolongs the timeline by an extra month, then six, then twelve, and so on.

But now I’m beginning to repeat myself, so here are some smart people talking about this stuff.

» Ryan Macklin: The Siren Song of Cool
» Ryan Macklin and Paul Tevis: Cool Revisited
» Brilliant Gameologists: Gamers Are Lazy SOBs (BS)
» Jared Sorensen: Better is the enemy of done.


Pip•Pip is a strategic board game of conversion and compromise. It is inspired in equal parts by Sudoku and Triple Triad. The game usually comes down to the wire, with the winner achieving victory by the skin of his teeth. I hope you enjoy it!


There are two players, both with a handful of six-sided dice. One player has light dice, the other has dark dice. Determine randomly who goes first.


On your turn, roll a die and place it on a space within a 4×4 grid in the middle of a chessboard, making sure that the result you rolled is still facing up as you put it in place. Also make sure that the die is squared with the grid of the chess board, not diagonal or anything crazy like that.

The Store

After you roll, if you don’t like the result, you can set that die aside and keep it in your store. Then you roll another die and place it on the board or put that one in your store too. You may only keep up to three dice in your store in this manner.

When you have dice in your store, you may either roll a die on your turn as normal or instead pull a die from the store and place it on the board.

The store must be empty by the end of the game, so that means if you have three dice in the store, your last three moves must be spent using dice that you have previously discarded and which your opponent has expected you to use eventually.


If you place the die in a space horizontally or vertically adjacent to an opponent’s die, check the numbers on the two dice that are facing each other. Not the numbers on top of the dice, but rather the numbers on the sides of the dice that are adjacent to each other.

If your number is equal to or lower than your opponent’s number, nothing happens. If the number on your die is greater, your opponent’s die is converted to your color. Conversion only occurs between dice that are horizontally or vertically adjacent to one another, not diagonal.

When an opponent’s piece is converted, replace it with a die of your color, making sure that it has the same number facing up and the same orientation that your opponent’s die had.

In the example above, the blue die is placed next to a yellow die. The blue die has a 6 facing the yellow’s 5, meaning the yellow die is converted to blue.


Continue placing dice and converting die colors in this manner until all the spaces in the 4×4 area are filled. Once this occurs, the game is over and the players tally their scores.

The light player counts numbers on top of the light dice that are on the light spaces and adds them up for their final score.

The dark player counts numbers on top of the dark dice that are on the dark spaces and adds them up for their final score.

Whoever has the highest total wins.

Talkin’ Game Design on Voice of the Revolution

Interviews with Daniel Solis
So Brennan Taylor’s like “Hey, wanna talk on Voice of the Revolution?”

And I’m like, “Whaa? You wanna listen to me gabber on about hozzawatzitz?”

And he’s like… “Yeh.”


You can listen to my gibbering nonsense on episode 45 starting 18:03.

[In the Lab] An Organic Pente Kind of Thing

Here are the basic rules thus far:

2 Players
Each player has a set of 15 stones.
Each player, on their first turn, puts their stones on the table. The first two stones must not touch each other.

Put a stone on the table touching another stone. A stone cannot touch more than two other stones, so lines start growing across the table. Your stone will go at the end of one of these lines.

If a pair of stones is sandwiched between two stones of another color, that pair is removed from the table and returned to the player. You do NOT keep captured pieces. Any loose stones remaining after a capture can be the beginning of a new line.

The game ends when one player runs out of stones.

I wanted a 2-player abstract playable at a restaurant with the little sugar packets they usually have available. Usually, they’ll have your choice of plain sugar and an artificial sweetener. But no board and no other gaming props available, so anything as complex as Hive won’t work. I also want to avoid a dexterity game, since those tend to get messy and I’d hate to make a busser clean up after gamers. 😛

The mechanics right now show interesting emergent properties, like creating organic lines across a table. Also, pieces you capture end up back in possession of your opponent. With limited supply of stones, this could be interesting strategic tension.

I haven’t quite figured out a good victory condition, though. Perhaps these mechanics should change, too.

Thoughts on a good victory condition or something to make this a little more interesting?

[Happy Birthday, Robot!] Sold out at GenCon!

I’m happy to report (if you haven’t already seen from the many tweets) that Happy Birthday, Robot! sold out at GenCon. If you missed your chance to get it at the con, you can order it from Evil Hat or from your friendly local game store.

There is some other big news about HBR coming down the pike, but it’ll have to wait a few weeks for details. In the meantime, I’ll post stories from GenCon throughout the week.

Rob Donoghue on Split Decision and Rich Dice

Rob Donoghue lays out his throbbing brainmeats for Split Decision. Check it out for his thoughts on why narration should follow dice rolls with a system like this, the ways it can map to Paul Tevis’ discussion of “but,” and the important lessons of Gerald Cameron’s Principles of Dice Games.

…if the dice chosen reflect behavior and that behavior is not reflected in the narration then you can end up with situations where the fiction has you saving kittens but the dice say you’re showing a callous disregard for all life. If making the choice in the dice means making a choice in the fiction, then the fiction needs time to reflect it.

All this and more at the links below.

» Rob Donoghue: Rich Dice Extravaganza
» Paul Tevis: Insert your own “but” joke here
» Gerald Cameron: Four Principles of Dice Game Design

Happy Birthday, Robot!

Buy Happy Birthday, Robot! at these fine establishments:

  • Evil Hat 
  • Indie Press Revolution 
  • Drive-Thru RPG 
  • RPGNow 

Happy Birthday, Robot! is a storytelling party game for clever kids, gamer parents and fun classrooms. You and your friends tell a story about Robot. Robot meets new friends and learns new things about the world. Robot’s world can be different each time you play, but the story always begins the same way: “Happy Birthday, Robot!”

Ennie Awards: Nominated for Best Game, Best New Game, Best Production Values, and Product of the Year!

Happy Birthday Robot is the only game that sits on my desk at work, and that includes the ones I publish.” – James Wallis

“All in all, the game would fit into any child’s book collection, and doesn’t seem that out of place in a collection of roleplaying games, either.” – Gerald Cameron on Critical-Hits

“If you are a gamer with children, you should buy this game to play with them. If you are a gamer without children, I still think that you will enjoy this game. It’s light, frivolous, and highly entertaining.” – Seth Ben-Ezra

“This game is delightful… Fun to read and gorgeous… charmingly illustrated by the talented Rin Aiello.” – Rick Evans on DriveThruRPG

“Any game that can credibly survive the input of an over-caffinated/over-sugared 7 yr old has serious chops. This one’s a winner, folks.”
– Chad Underkoffler

Sample Stories
Here are some stories that came from actual players. The stories are very different from each other because each group was different. Sometimes they’re pretty silly… Okay, they’re all pretty silly… but still lots of fun to make. You can make your own story each time you play Happy Birthday, Robot!


“Happy Birthday, Robot!”

“Congratulations, you get to become a real boy!”

The Professor cheerfully continues: “One catch: A boy must take your place!”

Robot knows Bobby wants to be a robot, but he is grounded.

But it’s Bobby’s birthday and he loudly wishes real hard.

Professor hears Bobby’s wish to become a real robot.

Professor convinces Bobby’s parents to unground him and allow the procedure, but it might be temporary.

Bobby and Robot sit in the Switcheroo Machine, but it sputters loudly.

Robot waits anxiously while Professor kicks it back to life.

Bobby becomes Robot, Robot becomes Bobby, and Professor says with joy: Hello, Nobel Prize!

Bobby likes flying around town with Robot’s very shiny rocket legs.

Robot likes eating pizza and playing with Bobby’s little brother.

Bobby misses pizza. Robot misses flying. They switch back.


Happy Birthday, Robot!

Robot awakens and sings until the sun sets.

Sad and lonely, Robot’s song echoes, hauntingly, but something answers his song.

Surprised, Robot gleefully answers the song and intently listens to… a duck!

“Will you be my friend forever?” Duck asks hopefully, and Robot nods enthusiastically.

Duck dances a happy interpretive jig, and Robot begins singing to everybody.

Nobody answered Robot’s call for new friends until a quacking pig flew by.

Pig quacked a greeting song, and Duck and Robot were happy, but then everyone slept.

Robot, Duck and Pig snore-quacked loudly and everyone dreamed they were happy robots flying together with stars.

Everyone except Robot slept until the wee morning, and Duck and Pig made breakfast for sad Robot.

Sad Robot was happy he had friends like these.

But Robot still could not fly.

That night Pig and Duck taught him.

(From Colin Creitz, John Daniels and Kathy Daniels)


Happy Birthday, Robot!

Robot is very small, but has big heart.

Robot misses friend Melissa, and she misses him as well.

Robot finds Melissa at the Spaceport and Melissa is crying because her dolly is missing.

Robot knows where dolly is, but cannot reach her without John’s help.

Robot asks John for help and John takes Melissa and Robot up into his spaceship.

Robot is very excited, but still needs help to find Melissa’s lost dolly.

John, Melissa and Robot all see dolly and she’s almost in reach of the spaceship!

John says “Hold on tight!” and pushes the throttle to the max!

The spaceship goes ZOOM! and dolly is recovered, much to Melissa’s relief.

With John’s help, Robot saves the day.

(From Ryan Macklin & Justin Smith)


Happy Birthday, Robot!

Robot laughs and dances the tango, but by himself.

Robot’s presents and the ponies are missing, but he isn’t too worried.

Robot thinks his friends–all but Natasha–rode the ponies away to the hills.

Maybe Natasha, being a jerk, hid Robot’s presents for a terrible surprise, but Robot loves her anyway.

But now, Natasha comes bounding out of her cave, shouts “surprise,” throws confetti, and hugs Robot sweetly.

ROBOT: Are you teaching me a lesson that I shouldn’t care about presents?

ROBOT: Or are you just being a big MEANIE?!?!


(From Steve Lawson)


Happy Birthday, Robot!

There was a robot, but he was rusty.

So, for his birthday, he cried oil tears.

Robot ran faster than ever before.

He ran home and found rust-removal spray.

Robot took a rust removal shower and scrubbed himself shiny.

Robot felt better than ever, so he baked his favorite cake.

Robot put candles on his cake and lit them.

Robot looked and closed his eyes, but his cake moved.

Robot screamed and his cake jumped, screaming “don’t eat me!”

Robot was confused, but agreed, and they sat and talked and laughed.

Robot was going to wish for more friends before the cake came alive.

Now, he didn’t have to.

And Robot never cried again.

(From Marc Majcher, Kristin Firth and Ben Johnson)


Happy Birthday, Robot!

Robot’s family of kittens has gathered many balls of yarn.

Robot’s kittens want milk, but they also want to hunt!

“Ack!” says Robot. “I’m made of tuna cans!”

Robot finds a bush of catnip nearby and quickly knits several tiny toy mice.

Robot thinks this was a good first day of kitten school.

Robot’s a cool cat!

(From Megan Raley and Daniel Solis)

[Do] Schedule of Games

This looks like my schedule for the next couple weeks.

Sunday Afternoons
Sep 19, 26, Oct 3
3pm CST
Players: Shane, Nolan, Marc

Sunday Evenings
Sep 19, Oct 3, 10
9pm CST
Players: Anders, Jamie, David

Monday Evenings
Sep 20, 27, Oct 4
7pm CST
Players: Jenn, Mark

Tuesday Evenings
Sep 21, 28, Oct 5
7pm CST
Players: Brett, Ro, Megan

Saturday Evenings
Sep 25, Oct 2, 16
7pm CST
Players: Matt, Raven

Wow! It’s going to be a busy few weeks.

[Happy Birthday, Robot!] Special Guest: Isaiah Mustafa

Anders Smith just posted this Happy Birthday, Robot! story on

Happy Birthday, Robot!

Robot sings songs and I like him too, but he smells.

He doesn’t wear Robot deodorant and he eats stinky socks.

Robot says: “Yummy socks! Mmmm!” and rubs his tummy, but suddenly, in burst Isaiah Mustafah!

“Robot, you should smell like me, like a man, but you don’t – look at me!”

“I’m on a can, made of gold – where are you? You’re in space!”

Robot, now very confused, plays lots of smelly sounding songs.

He dreams of being a shiny chrome robot Isaiah Mustafah, but gold-plated…

On a can. “I’m a horse!” And then Robot buys Old Spice, but it explodes!

Robot flew out into space, except he was already there, but he’s a bird.

He’s a magical Robot with chrome and gold wings on fire!

Robot streaks across the sky in nothing but his undies with Spiderman on them.

Spiderman hangs on for dear life, “My spidey sense is tingling!”

Funny how the stories told by grown-ups often make less sense than the stories told by kids. 😛

[SageFight] Fight to the Fun at PAX and Dragon*Con

J.R. Blackwell, famous photographer and accomplished duelist, puts forth some new doctrines for this fine, ancient tradition.

I went to a party this weekend and challenged six people to a duel. I am a sagefighting dueling whirlwind. It combines my talent for reading faces with my talent for not falling down. I can’t wait to challenge other sagefighters to honorable duels to the fun.

That’s right, you read that right – DUELS TO THE FUN – THIS DOESN’T END UNTIL YOU HAVE FUN!

We agreed “Fight to the Fun” is a great tagline. So, everyone going to PAX or Dragon*Con this weekend, start a SageFight Melee or Duel with your friends. (Remember: Be safe. Trim your fingernails.)

Post your pics and videos! I’ll make a graphic like these for you, too.

» J.R. Blackwell’s Livejournal
» Original Photo Source

BONUS! New SageFight pics at GenCon 2010.

Donating free books to Kids Need To Game.

The first 24 hours were so successful, the goal was met and then some. Your enthusiasm exceeded my wildest expectations. That visceral urge to meet a clear, tangible goal is now resolved sooner than I thought.

But there are still 60+ days until the funds are actually pooled together to print the books. Unfortunately, there are also lots of people who want to pre-order, but see that the goal has been met and think they missed their chance. (Which is not the case, as the last seven backers can tell you.)

So, that leaves an interesting and happy dilemma. How do we spread the word that you can still pledge and pre-order PDFs and PDF+Book bundles? The answer came from Purple Pawn’s recent blog post discussing the charity Kids Need to Game.

[Teacher] Brian has been running an after school games club for 1st through 9th graders at his school in Denmark. […]
“I have been able to document, with information given to me by several of the teachers and parents, that almost 60% of the active participants in the gaming club have actually improved in problem-solving skills and reading comprehension since starting with us.”

Sounds like a great cause to me, and definitely in line with the goals of Happy Birthday, Robot! So, I’m happy to announce the following:

When the pledges reach $1,500, I’ll be donating a first edition of the book to Kids Need To Game.

When they reach, $1,650, I’ll donate another first edition book.

When they reach, $1,800, I’ll donate one more book.

After that, if May 31st is still a long ways out, I’ll seek out any other game/kid charities to donate books to. So if you’ve already backed, I thank you and encourage you to spread the word to your friends about this offer. Kids Need To Game is a great cause and hopefully we can spread our good fortune to them. Thanks!

— Daniel

Design Diary: “New” starts, but does not finish. [Part 2]


Mark Sherry suggested a really interesting idea that would solve a small problem in Do. I had some apprehensions, for a few reasons.

Firstly, and probably most important, we’re really late in the development process here. Ryan’s already edited the first round of drafts and we are pushing towards and end-of-year deadline to get the text finalized. That isn’t even counting how long the game has been informally developing over the years. (Long enough that I had deep concerns about Do being perceived as vaporware.)

Secondly, this solution would call for me to double a portion of the writing workload. My goal is to write one page for each step of play. That is a fairly straightforward model. Write a simple instruction for that step. Give an example of that step. Offer advice and inspiration for that step in the sidebars.

The only place where that model breaks is that one step in particular has a number of branching paths. The first branch is whether your pilgrim is in trouble or out of trouble at the time you take this step. The next branch depends on whether you keep zero, one, two or three stones. That’s eight total paths for this step. No biggie. I will just write one page for each. Eight pages, four double-page spreads. Not a ridiculous amount of real estate in the book for what is probably the most critical phase of gameplay.

In short, here are the branching paths as they stand now:

Is your pilgrim in trouble? [Y/N]
How many stones did you keep? [0/1/2/3]

However, if I were to implement this cool idea, I’d add a third branch:

What color were those stones? [Black/White]

Thus doubling again the number of pages devoted to this one step. Sixteen pages, eight double-page spreads. Not necessarily a problem in itself, but there is a certain point where you have to draw the line when you’re managing a project like this. You’ll see my line tomorrow.

Kristin’s [Happy Birthday, Robot!] session at GenCon

I was very lucky to have two great volunteers running Happy Birthday, Robot! at GenCon 2010. Kristin and Marc actually played HBR shortly after I released the first draft as a Google Doc last year, so they were quite experienced with the game already.

Anyhoo, Kristin ran HBR at the Embassy Suites for a trio of players we gathered up from the lobby. This is the story they created together.

Thanks, Kristin!