Board Gaming · Interview · Worker Placement Month

Interview with Dan Hallagan, Designer of Obsession, and GIVEAWAY!

I had a good friend of mine raise my awareness about Obsession when it was running its Kickstarter campaign. It caught my eye because the theme was unique and, with my background in English/Literature (including taking an entire course focused around Victorian Literature!), it was really interesting to me. So when I was thinking about worker placement games releasing soon, I really wanted to highlight this one. Thankfully, Dan was willing to answer some interview questions for me about the game, and has graciously offered to provide a copy to give away (see the bottom of the post and/or the Giveaways link at the top of the page to enter the contest). So here’s a little summary of info about the game, followed by his excellent interview.


Obsession, designed by Dan Hallagan. Published by Kayenta Games. 1-4 Players, 30-90 Minutes. 3.60 Weight Rating on BGG.

Description from the publisher:

You are the head of a respected but troubled family estate in mid-19th century Victorian England. After several lean decades, family fortunes are looking up! Your goal is to improve your estate so as to be in better standing with the truly influential families in Derbyshire.

Obsession is a game of 16 to 20 turns where players build a deck of Victorian gentry (British social upper class), renovate their estate by acquiring building tiles from a centralized builders’ market, and manipulate an extensive service staff of butlers, housekeepers, underbutlers, maids, valets, and footmen utilizing a novel worker placement mechanic. Successfully hosting prestigious social activities such as Fox Hunts, Music Recitals, Billiards, Political Debates, and Grand Balls increases a player’s wealth, reputation, and connections among the elite.

Each turn, players choose a building tile representing a room or outdoor space in and around their 19th century British country house. The tile chosen dictates the event that can be hosted and the guests to be invited. Players must carefully plan, however, to have the proper staff available to service the event and support guests as needed. The reward for success is new investment opportunities, permitting further renovation of the estate (acquisition of more valuable/powerful building tiles), an increase in reputation in the county, an expanding circle of influential acquaintances, and a larger and highly-trained domestic staff.

Throughout the game, a competitive courtship for the hand of the most eligible young gentleman and lady in the county presents specific renovation and reputation objectives. The player who best meets these objectives while accumulating victory points will win the hand of the wealthy love interest and the game.


  1. Let’s talk about the first thing I noticed when I saw Obsession’s box: it has the style of a Victorian novel that I might find in paperback form at my local bookstore. I absolutely love it! What inspired the 19th Century setting for your game? Are there any Victorian-era books, movies, or shows that helped to inspire the theme of this game?
  • As for the box, I did indeed pattern it after the “classics” version of a Jane Austen book cover in my library.
  • I grew up playing Dungeons and Dragons in the 1970s and 80s and stopped gaming as I moved on in life. About 5 years ago, a friend persuaded me there was a new breed of board game that was a cut above Monopoly. He recommended Dominion and 7 Wonders, which simply blew me away. I had no idea such games existed. My family also became addicted, with my sons dragging me in the direction of fantasy and space. My wife and daughter did not share an interest in such fantasy/creature/battle-driven memes, and so I conceived an idea to pursue a theme my wife and daughter did love: Pride and Prejudice and Downton Abbey. I split the difference between Regency and Edwardian England, settling at last in the Victorian 1860s.
  1. Obsession is your first published game listed on BGG. Was this game your first design, or have there been others that haven’t seen the light of day yet?
  • I first attempted a fantasy game (it is still a project), but when my brother (an avid gamer) heard of the Obsession concept, he insisted I pursue it. He believed (and I agree) that it filled a neglected niche in gaming: a heavier Euro with a romantic theme. All other such games we researched were lighter, and my family likes deeply strategic games.
  1. Let’s talk about the design process for a moment. What were some of the most challenging things that you ran into while designing the game? Did you hit any major snags during playtesting that made you have to overhaul any aspects of the game?
  • Oh my. I hit more major snags than I can count. The game as originally conceived in few ways resembles the production version of Obsession. Here’s a comparison between the earliest player board and the final one!


  • The most challenging “mechanics” issue I faced was when I had to eliminate EVENTS from the game, which I felt were intensely thematic; events like illness, inheritance, war, favorable laws, fire, death, etc. The problem was they introduced too much randomness into the game; for example, the most skillful play could be devastated by a fire in the player’s manor house. The game really started to take off and reach its final form when I stopped taking major changes personally and focused on the “elegance” of the gameplay.
  • But the largest issue of all was that my prototype reviewed by Rahdo was judged during the crowdfunding campaign to be ugly. This was a hard blow for my ego. I had been so obsessed (pun intended!) by making the mechanics as elegant as possible, that I never thought to give my utilitarian design a facelift before the Kickstarter. After about 48 hours of denial, I reached out to the backers in the campaign and asked them to help me redesign the game completely. It was a difficult but powerful experience, and I owe a debt of gratitude for the support and advice from backers and for the refreshing optimism and sense of community one finds everywhere in the world of board games. Now Obsession is gorgeous; the box art just got recognized for its design, and the game got premium upgrade after premium upgrade, so much so that it now weights 6.5 pounds! Here are the custom meeples (the workers) that came about as part of that project:


  1. The theme has been heralded so far for its integration with the game’s mechanics. For a reader unfamiliar with the game, could you expand a little on how those tie together?
  • When I play other games, I do not like game mechanics that have no thematic basis. I played Panamax yesterday, and even though the theme is strong and unique in that game, most of the actions are completely arbitrary. It’s still a good game, but I think arbitrary mechanics jolt a player out of the theme. One purpose of playing a game is to be transported to a different time and place; clunky, non-thematic mechanics are jarring and hurt that experience. For Obsession, I created a 28-page Glossary which, in part, is designed to show the coherent connection between mechanics and theme. That Glossary includes a history of the love interests in the game and gives thematic reasons for all pieces, icons, and actions. Here is an example (excerpt) from the Glossary:


  1. Were there mechanics that you originally wanted in the game that had to be scrapped because they didn’t work well thematically?
  • The above referenced EVENTS had to be scrapped because they didn’t work well…but they were intensely thematic. I had another mechanic where dice were used to enable a player to host activities (you can see that in the “old” player board above); there was no reason for using dice (other than I love dice manipulation mechanics), and that mechanic had to go because the inherent randomness made no thematic sense. Here’s a prototype tile from that early design phase side by side with the final version:
  1. You’ve married two of our favorite mechanics into the game: deckbuilding and worker placement. Were those always planned to be a part of the game, or did they come about over the course of testing and design? Were there any other games out there that you looked toward for inspiration while designing Obsession?
  • They are favorites of mine, as well, and those mechanics have always been part of the game. However, I changed the deckbuilding from a blind draw (a la Dominion) to active hand management, and that turned out to be a revolutionary improvement. Also, I am proud that I think I’ve invented a worker placement mechanic: players must manage their workers (bulter, housekeeper, underbutler, valets, lady’s maids, footmen) so that they are available to provide service (placement) for both activities hosted and guests invited, and such workers are mandatory. Stated differently, you have a service staff that is busily about the maintaining the country estate and performing the usual domestic chores. These workers cycle in and out of availability. When an elaborate soirée is hosted, the player must manipulate the availability of their domestic servants so that the demands of something like a Music Recital or Grand Ball can be hosted with the style and elegance demanded by the Victorian social elite. So not only does a player place six different types of workers to obtain benefits, they must maintain the right mix of those workers and have them available at the right time…or social events cannot be hosted and reputation will suffer! Here is an example of the workers supporting an Afternoon Ride:


  • Dominion inspired the deckbuilding and Stone Age inspired the worker placement on cards. Obsession has moved very, very far away from any Dominion-like mechanic, but the Stone Age mechanic is similar.
  1. Let’s talk solitaire play for a moment: was that always intended to be part of the game, or was it something added over the course of the Kickstarter campaign? I see there are varying levels of difficulty – is this a beat-your-own-score style of experience or is there a win-loss condition to overcome?
  • Honestly, it was added just before the Kickstarter campaign. I had no idea there was such a robust Solitaire community out there, but I learned quickly. However, when I made a move to add it, it was a natural. The central gameplay mechanic of Obsession is the hosting of events, which is an action that takes place independent of one’s competitors. As a result, Obsession naturally lends itself to solitary play. And once I perfected that, I had a wonderful tool for playtesting; whereas I usually had to round up playtesters, now I could bang out a half dozen Solitaire games to test a variation.
  • It is definitely a win-loss Solitaire game. You choose a Solitaire opponent, and that base score is augmented by events during the game. The player’s actions can lead to the Solitaire opponent being harder and harder to beat. It works very well.
  1. Thank you for your time! How can people learn more about you, Kayenta Games, and Obsession: Pride, Intrigue, & Prejudice in Victorian England?
  • My pleasure! Great questions, very insightful. Five tons (!) of games just made it onto two ships headed for the US and UK (EU), and they will reach port in about 5 weeks (ETA, ~ 9/24). Until that time, I am offering discounted pre-orders with fixed shipping. When fulfillment begins, the game will be available online. Details are at and I am happy to answer any questions directly at Thank you!


Giveaway link:

Obsession Board Game Giveaway

Board Gaming · Interview · Worker Placement Month

Interview with Richard Breese + Giveaway!

Welcome back, readers! Today I have the pleasure of sharing an interview I conducted with none other than Richard Breese, designer of Reef Encounter and the Key-series of games (among others). He is commonly associated with being the first to design a game using Worker Placement as a mechanic, so without Richard there might never have been games such as Agricola to hit the market. Maybe Uwe Rosenberg would be bagging groceries instead of forcing us to feed our workers and heat our homes in games!

In my few interactions with him so far, I’ve found Richard to be a fantastic guy. I’m genuinely honored that he agreed to answer a few questions, and I wanted to share these with all of you in celebration of Worker Placement month. Also, as an added bonus, I’m giving away a few copies of the Keymelequin promo for Keyflower! You can enter for that down at the bottom of this post and don’t worry…this won’t be the last giveaway happening this month!


  • Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed, Richard! Let’s start off by having you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started in designing board games.

Thank you for the invitation and for your interest in my games. I currently live part time in Stratford upon Avon, famous for being the birthplace of William Shakespeare, and part time in London. I trained as an accountant and as well as designing board games I am Finance Director for a commercial property development company. I have three sons who live nearby. I’ve always enjoyed playing games. I was lucky that my parents had a few when I was young, including, Chess, Chinese Chequers, Cluedo, Draughts, Mah Jong, Monopoly, Risk, Wild Life (Peter Ryhiner ), etc. and I’m sure that they sparked my initial interest in games and designing. From the age of about 10, I then tried to develop my own games. One was a wild life game that I mention on the box notes of Inhabit the Earth (2015). Then later, after I’d discovered D&D, I created a game that was based on the movement of the different character classes. That got simplified into an abstract game which became my first published game Chamelequin (1989).

  • One of your earliest designs was Keywood, the first entry into what would become the Key series of games. Tell us a little about that game, how it came to be, and how that inspired a continued series of games in that same Key-verse.

Keywood (1995) came about as an entry into a design competition run by Sumo, one of the first board game magazines, and became the winning entry. I created 200 hand-made copies, which amazingly have now sold for as much as $1,200 on Ebay! I first discovered ‘German’ (now known as ‘Euro’) games when in 1991 I visited Spiel for the first time in order to promote Chamelequin. I loved that these German games were accessible, positive, had fun themes, were family friendly and were more skill than luck based. I resolved to try to create a similar game and the design competition which acted as an incentive came at the right moment. I needed a name for my new game, which was based on a land with a benevolent ruler. At the 1991 Spiel I had chance to meet and play a game with American gamer Keywood Cheves and he was he personification of the character I had envisaged as ruling the land. I used his name and happily when he found out he was quite chuffed and actually bought six copies! A good investment! The land the game was set in became the Keydom (1998) – the second game in the ‘Key’ series. I was fortunate that the ‘Key’ part of the name was convenient and useful prefix.

  • Keydom was the next title and is widely viewed as the game that started the Worker Placement mechanic for games. How did the idea for that mechanic come about? What struggles did it present in the design process?

Klaus Teuber’s seminal game Settlers of Catan, the Euro game that transformed the world of gaming, particularly in the US, was published in 1995. I enjoyed Settlers, but was not fond of the luck factors inherent in the dice rolling. I wanted to achieve the same effect but without the dice, just by direct placement of the workers on the board. This became the central mechanic in Keydom, which as you mentioned, is now recognised as the first worker placement game.

To quote Stewart Woods in his impressive chronicle of the development of Eurogames entitled ‘Eurogames’ (2012): ‘… worker placement first appeared … in Richard Breese’s Keydom. In Keydom, players allocate a number of worker tokens to areas of the board that provide a variety of resources and actions. While any player may place as many tokens as they wish on most of these spaces, hidden values on the underside of the tokens are subsequently used to determine who receives benefit from the space.’ Woods goes on to note that ‘Breese employed the worker placement mechanic in a purer form in his later game Keythedral (2002)’.

Keydom was re-issued by Hans im Glück (HiG) as Morgenland and Rio Grande as Aladdin’s Dragons and befitted greatly from the input of Bernd Brunoffer and his team at HiG. They refined the game end conditions, but the worker placement mechanic remained the same in principle.

  • For someone who has never played a game in the Key series, what would they be able to expect to find in terms of common traits among the games in that series?

The traits are those that I enjoy in games. In particular player interaction is indirect, i.e. through the game mechanism, not of ‘take that’ nature directly between players. Actions are constructive, generating a positive feeling, not negative, conflict driven or destructive. The aim is to damage another player by making a good move for yourself. There will be a small amount of luck only. Players will be allowed do things, as I try not to restrict options. There is a family friendly medieval theme (with the exception of the present day Key to the City – London (2016)).

  • How has the Worker Placement mechanic evolved in your own designs since that first implementation? Which of your games would you say is the most unique in regards to using Worker Placement?

I try to introduce something new in each of my new games. In Keydom the number value of the worker placed was important. In Keythedral there is an adjacency restriction whereby workers can only work in fields adjacent to their cottage. In Keyflower the twist is the requirement to match the colour of workers already played. In Keyper the joining and laying down opportunities are introduced. I think the Worker Placement mechanisms in both Keyflower and Keyper are used in unique ways. In particular I like the way that in Keyper, running out of keyples can be beneficial in giving you lucrative lay down opportunities.

  • Keyflower is a title in the BGG Top 50 and is widely considered to be the best game in the Key series. I personally love and enjoy that bidding mechanic in the game and the scarceness of the green keyples (at least at the start of the game!). Did the success of this game surprise you? What is it about this game that you feel makes it unique from other games, both in the Worker Placement genre and in the Key series of games?

From the play testing with Sebastian Bleasdale I felt confident that Keyflower had the possibilities of being well received. I think the introduction of the expansions, the Merchants expansion in particular, make the game very engaging. Keythedral also reached the BGG top 100 when it was released. I think all of the Key games are unique in their own ways. With Keyflower I think it is the bidding with the same coloured keyples (workers/meeples) mechanism which makes the game shine. Also there are lots of possible actions and the tile mix means each game will be different with its own set of challenges. The game is positive as players are building their village and creating opportunities and combinations. Also players are not locked out of actions as they can use other player’s tiles, but at the cost of sacrificing one or more of their keyples.

  • Let’s shift gears for a moment. Here at Cardboard Clash, I focus a lot on how games play with 2-players. My understanding is that all of your game designs are playtested extensively at that player count, which is something I really appreciate as a gamer who often plays against my spouse. What are some of the games you’ve designed that you feel play best at 2?

Yes, that’s right. I enjoy two player games with the shorter down time and the fact that you are pitted against an individual, without other players interfering. Keyflower would be at the top of my list, particularly with the Merchants expansion. I also enjoy Keyper. It plays differently as there is often not a lot of joining with two players and the game becomes a lot more tactical. Reef Encounter (2004) is also a favourite and plays well with two.

  • Keyper recently released and has been getting a lot of high praise. I’ve heard several mention this is the best Key game since Keyflower, and talk about the unique board-folding mechanic in there and how it integrates well into the game. Where did the folding mechanism come from and what challenges did you encounter in designing a game to use that?

I initially encountered the folding board being promoted as an advertising aide at a trade show. I was convinced there was a game there, but it took about three years of to think of a combination of mechanics – worker placement, joining and laying down keyples – that I was happy with. I wanted everything to be positive, and I particularly like the mechanic that allows players to benefit from playing their keyples quickly and gaining extra turns. So when you join, not only do you get extra resources or actions, you also gain an extra turn later in the season (or reduce those of your opponents).

I very much wanted to minimise the AP (analysis paralysis) that the board permutations could give rise to and gave a lot of thought to this issue. That is why in the game you only manipulate the board three times, at the end of spring, summer and autumn and also, on each occasion, the choice is restricted to only four different alternatives. In addition players manipulate the boards simultaneously, which minimises the down time. All of the possible permutations are given in the rule book.

  • My understanding is that the next game in the series is Key Flow, which is a card-based game. What can you tell us about this game and what makes it unique from the ones that have come before it?

Key Flow is a joint design with Sebastian Bleasdale and Ian Vincent. The idea for the game was conceived by one of my long standing play testers Ian, who wanted to design a version of Keyflower that he could be Sebastian and me at! Originally the game had square cards similar to the Settlers card game. Then Sebastian proposed that we adopt the two row village layout, with keyple cards activating building cards in the top row. The card drafting mechanism is similar to Seven Wonders. But the keyple card activation is very different, with a different colour of keyple card used in each season. The game has been very well received in demonstrations.

After the Gathering gaming convention this year American game designer Ralph H Anderson wrote on Facebook ‘I got to play this [Key Flow] brilliant game both at last year’s and this year’s Gathering of Friends (with subsequent improvements over the interim). I concur with Scott Alden [Founder of BGG] and will add it is a fast and elegant implementation from the board game to the card game. I always enjoy sitting down to a game with Richard Breese and particularly when it is one of his own.’ Scott added: ‘So awesome! And just to clarify I still love Keyflower! But I can see myself playing this [Key Flow] one a lot more.

  • I assume that you’ve got another project or two in the pipeline after Key Flow. Is there anything you can tell us about what might be coming in 2019 or 2020 from you?

Due to popular demand I’m planning a re-issue of Key Market at the end of 2018/early 2019.

I‘m currently working on a Keyper expansion, which is likely to take a modular approach. There are new country tiles – including some rather extreme tiles known as the Leader and the Partner`, a new folding country board, fish meeples and sea creature tiles and a new ‘Fresh Fish’ board. There is also a season board which introduces the rather mind blowing concept of non-coterminous player seasons.

My games generally take at least a couple of years from conception to be ready for publication and the 2020 game is also taking shape in the background.

  • Thank you so much for all of your time, Richard! If someone wanted to learn more about you, find you online, or order some of your games where could they go?

My pleasure and good questions. One day I will create a website, but life is too busy and at the moment and I prefer to spend my time designing the games. The best place to visit is my profile on Boardgamegeek, which links to all my published games. I announce my new games on BGG and on Facebook first, where I am happy to be befriended by interested gamers. The recent R&D games are generally available and are distributed by Game Salute in the US and by Huch elsewhere.

Thanks again for your interest and questions.


Cardboard Clash Keyflower: Keymelequin Giveaway

Board Gaming · Interview · Worker Placement Month

Interview with Isaac Childres, designer of Gloomhaven

I was fortunate enough to have Isaac respond back after reaching out to him about an interview. My intent was to have it be focused around Worker Placement, as when I first heard about Founders of Gloomhaven that was one of the advertised mechanics. It still has that mechanic listed, although (as you’ll see), he hesitates to even consider it a key piece of the game. Regardless, I hope you enjoy this excellent interview, and come back again soon as I continue to kick off Worker Placement month with reviews of Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia and Keyper, an interview with Richard Breese, and a giveaway for some Keyflower promos!


  1.    Let’s start off by talking a little bit about your history with board games. What games did you play early on in the hobby? Were there any that stood out from the others and really made you want to look more into board games?

I started as most people start with Settlers of Catan, but it wasn’t until I started playing Puerto Rico and Agricola that I really wanted to get deeper in the hobby, as those sort of dice-less engine-building Euros are really what I enjoy.

  1.       What made you decide one day that you wanted to design a game? Was it something that you grew up tinkering with and eventually matured into something larger, or was it a passion you discovered later in life?

Definitely later in life. The more I got into the hobby, the more my brain started filling up with my own ideas, so I decided to pursue them.

  1.       Let’s talk about Forge War. Everything about this game drew me in, from the name and the box art to the “mini-game” aspect of mining to the forging of weapons that get equipped to complete quests. Was this one of your first game designs? Where did the idea for this game come from?

Yes, this was my first design. Two concepts that I really wanted to explore in the design were, 1. Incorporating a spatial reasoning component into an economic Euro. This was inspired by Trajan and its Mancala mechanism, and came through in the mining of resources. 2. Incorporating time-delayed rewards that encouraged long-term planning. This was inspired by Tzolkin and the way worker actions get better the farther along the wheels they move, and came through with the quest management, constantly having to advance and add resources to your quests to see them succeed.

  1.       What challenges did you encounter in the process of designing Forge War? Did the epic mode present different challenges to design than the standard, shorter game?

Well, the shorter game was a solution to the main challenge of the epic game, which was that it took too long to play. It is a great, epic experience, but I felt it needed a version that wasn’t 6 hours long. This was also my first design, so when I started I had no idea what I was doing. It wasn’t until I learned that every piece to the game should have a valuable purpose, and that every decision a player makes should be meaningful, that I was able to turn it into something great.

  1.       You followed that game up in a big way, quite literally. Your second release was Gloomhaven, which currently sits at #1 on the BGG rankings and on so many Top 10 lists. What motivated you to pursue such a large project as your second release? What has surprised you most about the overall reaction to this game?

I never really intended Gloomhaven to be so large. It is just what emerged from what I wanted to do. I needed all of that content to build a real world that players could inhabit and enjoy for a long time. Just the overwhelming positive reaction was the most surprising. I knew it was a good game, but #1 on BGG was far beyond my expectations, and we are still selling out giant print runs of the game. Everyone is so excited about it, it just blows my mind.

  1.       One of the things that people enjoy about Dungeon Crawlers is that experience of feeling like they are a part of that character, and watching them grow and progress over a narrative arc from a weak adventurer into a full-fledged killing machine. I imagine that this choice, more than any other in the game, has led to some fairly passionate messages being sent your way! What inspired the decision to have characters retire in the Gloomhaven campaign rather than to have them infinitely level up along the way?

Because of the length of the campaign, I realized early on that players would probably get tired of playing the same thing over and over. Plus I wanted to make this variety of characters, so I actively wanted to encourage players to switch from one character to the next. That’s really all the retirement system is – encouraging players to try something new.

  1. Founders of Gloomhaven will obviously capture attention just from its name and the association with Gloomhaven. Can you tell us a little about Founders of Gloomhaven: kind of the who/what/how version of the game for players.

Founders is a competitive city-building, logistics game that tells the story of how Gloomhaven was built. Players will take turns playing from a limited hand of cards to place resources out onto a shared board, combine those resources into better ones, and then connect them to prestige buildings to earn points. Also every action your opponents take influences what you can do, so there is a very large amount of player interaction.

  1. I understand that the game itself has some aspect of Worker Placement that remains within its mechanics. You also integrated some Worker Placement into Forge War. Is that a mechanic you enjoy playing? Are there some Worker Placement games that have inspired you as a designer?

Worker placement is really just a specific way of doing action selection. In Founders, that’s really all it amounts to – if you build houses, you are able to take specific special actions when you would normally only get to take a basic action. I hesitate to even call it worker-placement because it is not a particularly good example of it. I think worker-placement really thrives when there is a scarcity of actions and resources, but there is also a diversity of actions to give players some avenue of hope even when their plans are blocked. I don’t think anyone’s ever done it better than Agricola. Action spaces in Founders are not necessarily scarce, though, and they are not meant to be. They are just there to provide a diversity of choices as a reward for delivering resources to different buildings.

  1. I know things are likely subject to change, but can you tell us a little about what you’re working on next?

Now I am spending all my free time on a big Gloomhaven expansion. I still have no idea how long it will take to complete, though.

  1. Finally, where can people find and interact with you on social media, order your games, sign up to keep up-to-date with your latest releases, and more?

People can find me on Twitter @Cephalofair, and the third printing of Gloomhaven should still be available in stores for a limited time. Founders will be coming out next month. And you can sign up for my monthly newsletter here:

Board Gaming · Interview · Solo Gaming · Solo Month

Interview with Carla Kopp from Weird Giraffe Games

You may have noticed the sharp decline in daily posts to close out the month. It was ambitious to try and do a post per day. Early on, it was nice because I had gotten 3-4 posts ahead in the queue and a decent number of posts were dependent upon other people providing most of the content via interviews, features, etc. And then the burnout hit. It hit hard. Content creator friends know what I’m talking about. I needed to separate for a short time and get some Lord of the Rings-based solo gaming to reset myself. Let’s just say I’ll never try a post-per-day idea again, no matter how fun that was.

Today I am closing out the month with the final interview, this time with the talented Carla Kopp from Weird Giraffe Games. I had the pleasure of working with her a little on the solo mode for Stellar Leap, playtesting it and providing some feedback along the way. I was beyond impressed with the execution in the solo mode for Fire in the Library. I’ve reviewed the solo experience for both, based on prototypes, previously.

But enough about me. Let’s let Carla take the reins and do the talking.


1)Let’s start with some background history. How did Weird Giraffe Games come about? Where did you get the idea for your first game, Super Hack Override?

Weird Giraffe Games came around mostly due to us having the idea of Super Hack Override. The idea for that came from attending Dragon Con. During the convention, we spent a lot of time waiting in lines and a friend I was with brought Love Letter. I figured out a way to make Love Letter easier to play while standing in line, by playing your discards face out instead of in a discard pile. I had some free time while waiting for another panel to start and had decided to go to a panel on How to Design a Board Game. One of the main points in the panel was that anyone can make a board game, just start with note cards!

On the way home from the convention, I had that idea that you just need notecards to create a board game and that there should be more games for playing while standing in line and so my friends and I brainstormed what this game would be. Afterwards, I took all the notes from the car ride, got some notecards, and started making cards. The first playtest worked surprisingly well, I wanted to keep going and making the game better, so eventually Weird Giraffe Games was formed!


2)What did you learn from that first game design/Kickstarter that you implemented when designing and running the campaign for Stellar Leap?

One of the major things I learned from the Super Hack Override campaign was to participate in interviews. I participated in a few for Super Hack Override after the campaign started, but I decided to make more of an effort to do so with Stellar Leap. I further learned in the Stellar Leap campaign that I should try to organize all the interviews before the campaign and did that with Fire in the Library and ended up with more interviews for Fire in the Library than for either of my previous two campaigns and most of them happened before the campaign even began, which meant I was able to focus a lot more on that campaign than I had with my previous ones.

I also learned about the power of conventions, as I had gone to Gen Con and met a number of great people right before the Super Hack Override campaign. I decided to try and attend more conventions, as they’re great for meeting people and creating relationships that can last years.

3)Your last two games, Stellar Leap and Fire in the Library, both have solo modes included in the game. What made you decide to design a way to play each of these solo?

My first Kickstarter was Super Hack Override and during that Kickstarter, I was asked about making a solo version of the game. Before this, as I hadn’t really known much about solo games. I told the backer that I would try to design a solo variant for Super Hack Override, but I didn’t know where to start so I did some research on how different solo variants worked. With this research, I designed a solo variant for Stellar Leap and was surprised by just how well it turned out! I did get a lot of help from you with refining and making the solo variant a lot better than it otherwise would have been. After seeing a positive response from both reviewers and backers to Stellar Leap’s solo variant, it seemed natural to try and add a solo variant to Fire in the Library, as well. I’ve actually made it one of my company goals to have a solo variant with every game that we release that can have a good solo variant. It’s not only good from a business stand point, but also a fun design challenge.

 4)Which of the two was the more challenging solo mode to design? What made it difficult?

Stellar Leap was by far harder to design, mostly because it was my first time designing a solo variant and I didn’t have a lot of experience with solo games, so I had to do a lot of research and a lot of talking to others. It wasn’t too difficult to design, but it did require some iteration as I learned as I iterated what a good solo variant was. I went with an AI player and I knew that it should be simple and fast to play the AI turn, but one thing I didn’t know was that it would be better to not have the AI player’s score easily known. Stellar Leap is a 4X game and having the score be somewhat easy to calculate meant that you might take an extra 20 seconds per turn to see who was winning, which definitely doesn’t add to the fun.

I learned a lot with the design and development of the solo variant for Stellar Leap and I was able to apply that to the design of the Fire in the Library solo variants and they came together a lot faster.

 5)Now that you’ve done those games and added solo play, have you considered going back to Super Hack Override and making that have solo play? How do you envision that might function?

Definitely! It’s been one of my goals from the beginning. I think I’d have either an AI player or a race to get to a certain number of points within a certain number of turns. For the AI, I think I’d have it be simple and have the AI draw two cards and play one, based on how many points the other player has.

6) What are the next projects we can look forward to from Weird Giraffe Games? Get us excited about what comes next!

I’m really excited about a number of projects! I have a few of my own designs that are currently in progress. First is Recursive, which is a code learning game about the coding concept of Recursion. It has both cooperative and competitive game modes and will hopefully teach real coding concepts while also being a fun, puzzle-y game. The Fire in the Library Animal Expansion is also on it’s way to being a great addition to the base game, with having a number of additional tools to increase strategy and replayability and a new event system that changes up gameplay after specific tokens are drawn. Another game that is in the works is a pick up and deliver game based on the gondolas in Venice.

In the more near future, we also have Totemic, which is a set collection rondel based movement game about building totem poles. Each totem has two different types which are used for set collection, an ability, and a number of victory points, so you have many options for how to choose the totem pole that you create.

We have a few more games and partnerships in the works that I can’t reveal quite yet, but there’s a lot more to come from Weird Giraffe Games!

 7)Finally, where can people go to find out more about your games, or to find you on social media, etc?

FacebookWeird Giraffe Games


InstagramWeird Giraffe Games

KickstarterWeird Giraffe Games

Board Gaming · Interview · Solo Gaming · Solo Month

Interview with Todd Sanders, designer of Mr. Cabbagehead’s Garden


I was fortunate enough to corner Todd Sanders and, after much begging and pleading, he was gracious enough to answer a few questions before disappearing back into his garden.

In all seriousness, Todd was a fantastic candidate for the interview and was really awesome to interact with. If you haven’t already, go check out Mr. Cabbagehead’s Garden on Kickstarter!


  1. You’ve been designing board games for many years now. How did you get started in game design and tell us about the first game you completed?

I began by redesigning older games and I’m most known for my re-visions of Barbarian Prince (over 3000 downloads on and for Hammer of Thor. Both of these were originally released in the early 1980s, long before computers or better printing techniques and there is a mystique about them, but both are long out of print and therefore inaccessible to most players.

Barbarian Prince is one a lot of people wish would be reprinted. You play a barbarian trying to find gold to save your kingdom, wandering a map of various terrain types, rolling dice to find events and encounters on various tables. It combines aspects of war-games, RPGs and Choose Your Own Adventure style games. I completely redesigned the entire map, created new rule and events books and a series of player sheets and counters to give the game a better scope. It took me a couple of months to complete but I think the changes make it feel more like a modern game.

Hammer of Thor is a very strange game from around ‘83 that can apparently support between 1 and 65 players, although 1 or 2 players is probably best. You play viking gods and visit locations throughout the nine realms encountering various types of creatures and humans. You combat these beings and in turn can make them part of your clan. The game mainly uses cards (which were originally badly printed on construction paper) and a large map of Yggdrasil, the world tree of viking myth. My work included redesigning (and correcting the errors of) over 720 cards, designing 1100 counters and I updated/redrew the map. On top of this I completely rewrote the rulebook to remove a huge number of errors in the original text and updated the language for modern boardgamers.
It was over 6 months work and I really didn’t design anything for many months afterwards because the task left me exhausted.

For both games what appealed to me was the challenge of taking older games and giving them a fresh modern look. As a graphic designer I am attracted to projects where a design overhaul can give a value and prominence to games in our history that are overlooked by many. For Barbarian Prince I also wanted a copy to play and this was a fun way for me to make that happen.

From there I entered several of the designer contests that the Print and Play community sponsors and slowly began learning to process of design games. There are several of these contests every year on BGG. The Solitaire PnP contest (every summer), the PnP Wargame contest, the 18 card contest, and the Mint Tin contest where all components must fit inside of an Altoids tin. In the past there have also been game contests with constraints like only using dice, fitting the game on a single sheet of paper, or only being able to use 9 cards.

My first true, and complex, game was Aether Captains which used dice as sections of a steampunk zeppelin war ship. It was a solo game that eventually had a number of expansions and then a whole series of other games within the same narrative universe. It was not a game really about rolling dice (though D12s are involved in combat) but in simulating sections of ships where you would rotate the dice to show damage, like a very slow movie

  1. Many of your game designs are soloable games and play in the 10-30 minute range. Is that a design sweet spot for you? What about those two criteria appeal to you as a designer?

Yes I enjoy this niche I have found myself in – solo games that play quickly. It is an avenue of interest because it affords me the ability to combine really rich graphics and narratives with the structure of game play. I like to design AI systems that are an aggregate of small mechanics which, when added up, simulate the logic and/or randomness of a real player.

  1. It is also worth noting that you are a frequent participant in the game design contests run here on BGG. What is your favorite thing about participating in these contests?

I mostly participate in the Solo Game contest now because that one is near and dear to me and I do not have as much time as I once did (Many of my games are now being published and I am the graphic designer on those as well as the game designer and it takes a lot of time to design and prepare the files to be printed)

My favorite thing is the community of course. Dedicated designers helping each other with advice and playtests and sharing artwork and such. We are a strong community of helpful people.

  1. During those design contests, how does the feedback you get from playtesters help shape the final product of a game? Is there a game, in particular, that really evolved because of that contest feedback?

I would say that Pulp Detective is the game which has benefitted most from playtesters. That game began as an 18 card contest entry (18 cards, no dice or any markers) and has evolved into its current form of 60 cards, an expansion, 7 dice and a handful of counters. The game had a good structure to it but was too random because I was trying to do too much with only 18 cards. Playtesters stuck with me and helped expand the concept and provide ideas to build on.

  1. If a solo player has never played a Todd Sanders game before, which of your games would you recommend they look at, and what about those might interest the gamer?

My strongest solo game and one that is the most fun is Mr. Cabbagehead’s Garden which will be on Kickstarter this month but the PNP version is still available. Others I would suggest are The Draugr and Six Sons of the Sultan which do not take much to craft (Six Sons of the Sultan can in fact be printed as a single page). My Maiden in the Forest game which only uses 18 cards is also a favorite of people who have tried my games out . It takes 10 minutes to set up and play but it tough to beat.

  1. Some of your games, such as Mr. Cabbagehead’s Garden and The Draugr, seem to get mentioned frequently by solo PnP gamers. What games that you’ve designed surprised you in how well they’ve been received? Are there any that haven’t been played or talked about often that we should be sure to check out?

I think Mr. Cabbagehead’s Garden was a surprise. Initially to me because of how quickly the game came together when designing it and how robust the narrative and humor became. When I presented it on my design forum there was a lot of early and strong interest.

I think one slightly more neglected is The Tain which I feel is one of the best 2 player games I have designed. It is a wargame without a hex map, without counters and one man against an army. I put a lot of new ideas into that game and think it is very aesthetically appealing.

  1. I understand the files for The Court of Xiang Chi has just become available again for download, which is something that I’ve seen some excitement over. Tell me a little bit about that game.

This was another game that came together quickly and was inspired by all the great artwork I found of Kabuki theater costumes. It is a game about adjacencies. You place cards in a grid, often on top of previously placed cards. Card actions trigger based on other cards showing in the grid. There is a loose auction mechanic for buying cards from the center row and some Daemons to fight.

  1. You just recently had a game fund on Kickstarter: Pulp Detective. Tell us a little bit about that game. Did you design the solo aspect first, or the 2-player aspect? How does the solo experience differ from the 2-player experience?

The solo game has a long long history (over 2 years in development) The game was originally designed for an 18 card contest and eventually grew well beyond that. At its heart it is a dice management game with the goal of finding the criminal who has committed a heinous crime. There are a number of detectives, criminals and sidekicks included so there are lots of different matchups of actions available.

My publisher – Alban Viard of Alban Viard Game Studios- requested the two player version and we eventually created both a cooperative and a competitive option, as well as 4 Police Inspectors to choose from as characters

  1. I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to simply admire the artwork that you put into your games. Do you design a game around the artwork/theme you have in mind, or design the art after you’ve hammered down the mechanics and theme of a game?

I tend to work on both the structure and mechanics of the game while doing the artwork. It’s a very organic process and both elements grow together. I am not an ‘artist’ artist, meaning I don’t really draw or illustrate anything by hand ever, I do all my work on the computer using InDesign and Photoshop, often using those applications as you would Adobe Illustrator (but I don’t own a copy of that).

Early on I tended to do redesigns of earlier games. In taking apart another designer’s work and re-visioning it, you learn the inner workings of the mechanics and how the game is put together, thereby learning something about the design process. I suppose the best thing I have learned is to be open with my work and let people interact with it as it is being designed. Everyone has different experiences and knowledge. Their input can only make a game stronger, especially since one tends to design in a bubble so you can quickly convince yourself that something works. This is because in your head it does, but you often find that once you write rules other people find holes in this logic as you didn’t impart that understanding within the framework of the game itself.

  1. Finally, what advice would you give to someone wanting to someday design a solo game?

Read rule sets. Download as many as you can from BGG and learn how designers structure their games and how they explain them in the rules they write.

  1. Thank you for your time! Where can people find out more about what you’re working on and find you online?

Twitter is probably the best place – I am @lackriver over there

And my design forum on BGG –

And lastly my complete list of all games I have designed or re-designed –

Board Gaming · Interview · Solo Gaming · Solo Month · Uncategorized

Interview with Tristan Hall

As solo month is starting to wind down, I am turning the focus onto more of the people in the community. First up is Tristan Hall, designer of great games such as Gloom of Kilforth and 1066, Tears to Many Mothers. He also has his own game company, Hall or Nothing Productions. He’s a great guy and a great designer, recently getting voted into the BGG 1-Player Guild Hall of Fame as a designer.


  1. You started off your solo design career making new, but unofficial, content for the Lord of the Rings LCG core set. What inspired you to design those and what did you learn in the process?

Yes, The Lord of the Rings LCG just blew me away. A brilliant design, beautiful art, addictive gameplay, the whole package. And right back there at its launch we were all eager for new content, but it was several months before the adventure packs started landing so the community was limited to the three scenarios that came in the core box. I wanted to stretch the value of the core set using as many existing components as possible to keep barrier to entry low for other players, and I had some ideas I wanted to see in the game, so I popped my creative hat on, and the geek community seemed to embrace my Ninjadorg (my boardgamegeek handle) scenarios. They were downloaded tens of thousands of times and the positive feedback from other gamers made me realise an important lesson: people might be interested in the geeky stuff I design.

  1. I understand you’ve had your hand in designing other things beyond Lord of the Rings LCG stuff (apart from your own games by Hall or Nothing Productions). What else have you contributed and what inspired you to create them?

Well, I’d often been developing fanmade stuff for other games like the Dungeons & Dragons Adventure System Games (Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon), Fortune and Glory, A Touch of Evil, and Arkham Horror, and also redesigning old games like Sorcerer’s Cave and Mystic Wood – just putting things into those games that I’d like to see really, or in the case of the older games trying to give them a fresh, colourful polish. I don’t really think of myself in this way but rereading some of these games/projects right now I suppose I’m probably a bit of a tinkerer.

  1. Gloom of Kilforth has been a smashing success among the solo gaming community. Did you anticipate the level of success that this game has found? What has surprised you the most?

Thank you. I did not anticipate any real success for Gloom of Kilforth originally. What surprised me the most was that we actually funded originally – it took us 27 days out of a 30 day Kickstarter to reach our funding goal for the first print run, so it was a squeaker! Fantasy games with the scale of ambition as GoK are rare but were much more rare back in 2015, and that both hindered and helped us, because people were taking a big chance on this huge game even getting made (at that time I had no other official games to my name), but I think that’s also what made it such an enticing prospect too, like, could we pull it off successfully? And a few years later here we are, and I’m absolutely delighted with the reception the game has received.

  1. What challenges did you encounter in designing/marketing/manufacturing of such a massive game as your first published game? Did any of the content you worked on prior to Gloom of Kilforth help you be more successful?

All of the design work I’d previously dabbled in was tested to its limits – it would probably be easier to list all the elements that were not a challenge! If I had one tip for new designers it would be to start smaller and more sensibly before working your way up to the bigger games. Otherwise you might find yourself juggling setting up your own business (whilst working full time), accounts, legal, logistics, international shipping, foreign manufacturing, sleep loss, community building and Kickstarter management, all whilst corralling together a gorgeous soundscape and 300 unique images to build your world, oh yes, with a smattering of game design thrown in too…

  1. Shifting gears to the game I was so hyped about: 1066, Tears to Many Mothers. That was quite a change, from a massive fantasy game to a small 1-2 player historical wargame. What inspired you to produce this game?

There was a sense of wanting to prove I’m not a one trick pony I guess, but the events of 1066 had a huge impact on me as a kid, and those stories have stayed with me my whole life. I loved the idea of a beautiful card game like Magic or LotR that taught a little bit about history too, so maybe players would take a little ken away from the game with them, instead of say, memorising the stats for a Shivan Dragon or Pikachu. Most history games set in the period of 1066 are quite dry, hex and chit affairs so I wanted to give history a sexy update, with slick, easy to learn mechanics and sweet art, and try to make these incredible true stories as appealing to others as they are to me.

  1. How does the solo play in 1066 differ from the competitive 2-player experience of the game? Which design came first: the 2-player or the solitaire?

The 2-player game came first, and originally I wasn’t convinced about the solo version of the game being possible, but then I started playing games with detailed automa rules (like Scythe and Labyrinth) and seeing some of the incredible work being put out by creative members of the One Player Guild to deliver solo version of multiplayer games, which was something I already had a little experience in too. One of our chief play-testers Paul Ibbs had some really great ideas about how to implement an AI for 1066 that didn’t require sheets of rules and flow charts, and so I worked with him to flesh these out, and I’m really pleased with our results.

  1. I know at one point you were talking about exploring more battles with the 1066 system. Is that still the case? What are the top candidates to appear next?

Having buried my nose in history books for the past couple of months I’m in the thick of the design process for “1565, St Elmo’s Pay” which uses the same mechanics as 1066, Tears to Many Mothers (and therefore will be cross-compatible) to recreate the Siege of Malta. My friends, family and distributors have all advised against it because very few people have heard about this incredibly important battle for the Mediterranean – which is kinda like a latter day ‘300 Spartans’ – but, hey, they said the same about 1066. So let’s see how it goes on Kickstarter next year…

  1. Let’s talk Lifeform briefly! What can a solo gamer expect for their gaming experience if they go and do a late pledge to get the game?

Lifeform is a masterful homage to the movie Alien: a game about an unstoppable space creature hunting down and slaying a team of ill-equipped, space-faring miners aboard a labyrinthine ship. It was created by legendary designer Mark Chaplin, whose work on Aliens: This Time It’s War, The Thing, Revolver and Invaders has impressed me enormously over the years. As soon as I played it I wanted to be involved as publisher, and I twisted Mark’s arm to come up with a set of solo rules too, to appease us ravenous solo players. The expansion he came up with is a completely bespoke take on the game, where the odds are stacked against you as you play a single crew member trying to make it off the ship alive, all the while being stalked inexorably by this horrific space god. I really can’t wait to see what gamers think when it lands.

  1. Why did you decide to publish Lifeform? How did you go about making sure it had the solo experience that you’re becoming known for?

I’d been following its development on BGG for years and kept nudging Mark to let me play it. Eventually he came to stay at ours for a weekend when our group played it solidly and fell in love. He was weighing up publisher offers and I threw my hat into the ring because I saw a great game that I wanted to be a part of. I think one of the key selling points for him was that through our company he could have complete creative control without having to re-theme the game or tone it down to appease his publisher. I made sure Mark had plenty of time to make the solo rules robust whilst I wrapped up the work on 1066, so we waited until that project was safely off to the printers before launching the Kickstarter for Lifeform.

  1. Speaking of being known for solo gaming, why do you choose to make sure your games play solitaire as well as at other player counts? Are there any unique challenges in refining that solo experience to make sure it is just right?

There are LOTS of reasons to play solo games (I wrote an article on this for the UKGE magazine last year) and I play a LOT of solo games. Like, mostly solo. Our group meets once a week, but I play almost every day. So that’s at the forefront of my mind when developing my own games. And over the last few decades I’ve gone from being laughed at on forums for asking about or developing solo play rules for games, to joining various online guilds with tens of thousands of members dedicated to solo gaming, and these days it seems nary a Kickstarter goes by without including solo rules of some sort. The landscape has changed for the better, and it feels great to be a part of that. Sure it requires extra work in the development process, but if you’re going to make something epic you have to do it right.

  1. What else is on the horizon for Tristan Hall and/or Hall or Nothing Productions that a solo gamer might be interested in knowing about?

Apart from the aforementioned “1565, St Elmo’s Pay” next year we also have the sequel to Gloom of Kilforth – “Touch of Death” – Kickstarting at the end of this year, and next year will also see the reveal of our upcoming horror game “Sublime Dark”, which tries a few new things and I hope will again fill a unique niche. I could go on, but we have to keep some surprises up our sleeves, right?

  1. Finally, if people want to stalk you on BGG/Twitter/etc. and keep on top of what you’re working on, get news for when your next projects go live or need playtesters, etc. where can they find you?
  • Twitter @ninjadorg
  • BGG ninjadorg
  • Our #BoardChitless podcast on soundcloud, youtube and iTunes
  • And come join the Facebook groups for Gloom of Kilforth, Lifeform, and 1066, Tears to Many Mothers

Thanks for having me, and happy gaming! 🙂

Board Gaming · Interview · Solo Gaming · Solo Month

Interview with Giles Pound from Both Sides of My Table

Today we’re shifting gears a little and having an interview from a guy in England who only covers solo gaming on his blog. That’s right, I managed to corner Giles Pound from Both Sides of My Table for a few minutes to get some insightful and interesting answers out of him. He definitely has a unique style of writing that can be entertaining and enlightening at the same time, so be sure to check out what he’s up to (links at the end of the post):


1. The industry is full of content creators who try to grab and review as much content as they can. What inspired you to focus solely on solitaire play?

Oooooh…starting with the most trixy of questions…it was almost by chance that I chose solo gaming. By that I mean that pretty much all the games I have are, in some way or other, solo games or solo variants so it was inevitable that this would be my focus. It really all started when I did a write up for Hall or Nothing’s Gloom of Kilforth landed on my table last October (2017) and I felt compelled to share the game experience. I hadn’t set out with any goal or focus…and although there are numerous reviewers, both written and video, that I have followed for several years, I didn’t think of this as a conscious attempt to be one of them…it was something that emerged from my meandering narrative.

2. What lessons have you learned since your first blog post?

I’m mot sure I have learnt any lessons…not that I am arrogant and think I know everything…more along the lines of me continuing to make blunders. There are internal battles I have to learn to overcome such as the vast number of games coming on to the market and, having almost zero gaming budget, knowing I can never keep up with the ‘new’. Sadly this means that I have to accept that I will never be a ’current’reviewer. I mostly write about games I feel inspired to write about on that particular day and waffle on in my own way (some folks enjoy that, which is great, and I have listened to what little feedback I have been given to improve things, but being a solo gamer and very much an outsider of a very large, established network of gaming types, I find my self just muddling along in my own way.

3. What is your favorite thing about solo gaming? How about the solo gaming community?

Solo gaming is the only opportunity I have of finding sensible conversation…no that’s not strictly true…me, myself and I frequently break down into heated discussions over even simple things like which game to actually play next. Playing solo firstly means I can play where, when, for as long and as often as I get a gaming urge without the need for travelling great distances (I live in a rural area and 20 odd miles away from the nearest gaming meet up) As I like solo variants of multiplayer games, I get to experience that multiplayer game without the fuss of organising meets ups with people who want to play the same game. As for the community…sadly I have mixed feelings here. i have experienced some unpleasant, very Alpha gaming attitudes on the likes of kickstarter comments sections and especially on BGG (this latter shocked me because I thought joining the player guild would be a fun experience…I was mistaken and rarely visit BGG there days unless I go to a game’s page to find out info)…but the solo gaming type people I have come to know on witter, of all places, are lovely supportive people so it is not all bad.

4. What are some of the games you’ve played that blew way past your expectations? What was it about those games that bumped them up a few notches on that die-roll rating?

I get a great buzz from many games and get so many different experiences from the fairly broad range of games I own. The first that blew me away was Gloom of Kilforth. So many elements coming together perfectly for my tastes. Superb art from Ania, High end fantasy, very much a sandbox exploration adventure experience, ease of play and story telling. Oh and having met Tristan couple of times along the way to the projects journey to fulfilment, ade it a more personal game…absolute top bloke…oh and Mrs Ninjadoerg too, Francesca Hall’s amazing OST…I just love games that have their own sound track. There has been a similar feeling with frank West’s City of Kings…a very different game but still a great experience. I was impressed by Rise to Nobility but I am saving that for a later answer. GMT games have several that are just a wonderful experience to play too. These, however, are somewhat ponderous in the undertaking. Liberty or d=Death and Labyrinth Awakening are heavy going but brilliant…and the Bot action flowcharts really present a difficult opponent…mustn’t forget Fields of Fire. A proper solo wargame at squad operation level…a minefield of. Rule book but a game that actually plays very well. I die so many times but still come back for more (although I have not intentionally, not written a less than positive review on any game, this is down to the fact that there are only 3 game purchases I have been disappointed with…none of which have a solo variant and 2/3 have already been dispatched to a location other than my shelf…I am quite selective, thorough in researching a title before I buy)

5. If someone is newer to solo gaming, what are some first games you would recommend they try? This could include PnP games, published games, etc.

New to solo gaming…eeeek. I am not sure how to advise without knowing what the player wants from solo gaming. PnP is a cheap option if someone is happy crafting their own components…I have a shed load of PnP from simple card games to several of Hollandspiel Games titles to a giant playtest of Gandhi (upcoming COIN game).. if they are not new to gaming I would suggest looking for a multiplayer game that has a good solo variant so that id solo is not for them, at least there is a game that can be taken to group night but again actual titles would be very much dependant on then level of complexity they would be looking for. Have I skirted the question sufficiently without committing myself? The Exiled:Siege, Zephyr Winds of Change (Portal Dragon), Robinson Crusoe Cursed Isle (Z Man), Tau Ceti (Outer Limits), Liberty or Death & Labyrinth Awakening (GMT), Dwarves:The Saga (Pegasus Spiele), Gloom of Kilforth (Hall or Nothing) 21 days (Erik Winkelmann) and Tuscany(Stonemier Games) all excellent solo variants. Pure solo games I think Nemo’s War (VP Games although this has an added , slightly contrived co-op variant), Fields of Fire (GMT) and Charlemagne Master of Europe (Hollandspiele) are great examples.

6. Who are some of your favorite solo designers that you’d recommend other solo gamers go and stalk? Let’s raise some awareness about the excellent work they do!

I don’t really have a particular favourite designer as such. I would not go and buy a game just because a particular name is on it. The game needs to fit first and foremost. That said, I would recommend stalking Tristan Hall….no don’t do that…appreciate his work but I would never suggest stalking…mind you I do at cons he is attending…lol. Frank West is a great guy, very accommodating and worthy of attention as is NigelKennington (designer of Carcosa…A Cthulhu like carcasonne game but with a great solo variant that, in my view is actually better than the multiplayer original)…a great chap to chat to at cons. Andrew Harman of Yay games (not really solo but still worthy of a mention), the delightful folks at Estonian 2d6EE Games are producing some great smaller scale games many of which are soloable or, after I put some pressure on them, have introduced solo modes to their up and coming Dwarven Traders) and Laurie Philips (designer of the COIN Tribes’ Revolt that gives a GMT COIN game experience in just nine cards… is currently working on Bots to make this fully soloable)

7. Let’s talk mechanics for a moment: What mechanics, such as worker placement or deck building, are guaranteed to catch your interest? What ones might have a harder time convincing you to try them?

What catches my attention? Often a theme or art style grabs me first…then I have to scrutinise it with a fine scroot…to see if the concept/gameplay is something that would appeal to my inner gamer…so there is no particular system/mechanic that instantly draws me in. A good use of mechanics to help consolidate a theme helps bring a game to the top of the ‘notice me’ pilea. I do so hate, with a growing passion, a standard, dull, mediocre mechanic that has some glossy franchised veneer pated all over it to sell a mundane product with out any consideration made for creating a real link between the theme and how the game plays. I generally don’t like deckbuilders. I don’t object to an element of deck building/manipulation but, and as popular as Dominion is, I am not a huge fan. I regret trading it now, but I used to like Rune Age with the expansion…I think, perhaps, because it had more than just building a deck to score VP’s…and I do like that whole Rune world the created. (Not on a solo gaming theme but I am not a huge word game fan but have been impressed by Paper Back (bought for Mrs P who is a massive word game fan)….aaaaaah! I like a wordy deckbuilder! I will be tossed into the firey pit of damnation for such a crime!…Length and Wit (Tinderbox Entertainment) is also a wordgame I like, using laser cut wooden tiles and letter dice….sooo tactile. Very much a push your luck affair but no down time) Aah! I just remembered I hate auction/bidding but fortunately that doesn’t find its way into solo play much…but that would be the area where hard sell would be required to win me over. A bidding solo!

8. What sort of experience do you look for in a solo game (such as a beat-your-high-score, etc.)? Why?

Hahaaaa! You said those ‘hateful’ few words. Beat your Own Score. What a completely pointless wast of cardboard. I most definitely require a purpose for playing a game and beating my own score just isn’t the incentive to bring me back for a second play. Rise to Nobility (Final Frontier) has simply but cleverly introduced a way around this in their worker placement game. They have a deck of random solo win objectives. There is a varying in total to achieve but also certain criterion set down to enable victory. Now there is a purpose. Each game plays very differently as the goals are different with each play. They are very difficult to achieve but do force you to use different parts of the gameboard you might otherwise avoid in multiplayer. The Automa in Tuscany is really a basic blocker mechanic added to the beat your own solo game but it has been so well constructed that it really messes with your strategies and the whole game is complex, think on your feet a race against the ever increasing VP score of Automa (it nicely introduces a difficulty scaling too) So what do I look for in a solo game? A- Purpose. Why am I doing what I am doing? Are the mechanics relative to the theme? B- Theme. I like a coherent theme that links to A (if it is a purely abstract game, then let it be purely abstract and be gone you pretentious glossy veneers) C- Excitement/Adventure. A narrative or story telling. By that I do not mean as part of the game/role play but the gameplay itself tells a story D- A sense of achievement. I don’t want a game to be so easy that it doesn’t challenge me but also not so incredibly complex or difficult that success is nigh on impossible. A challenge that when it is finally overcome, fills me with a feeling of deep satisfaction.

9. Finally, since you are a fellow content creator, what are some other reviewers, etc. that solo gamers should go and read/watch/listen to that touch upon solo gaming?

Off the top of my head I would recommend Beyond Solitaire & Shiny Happy Meeples for both video & blog ’must’ viewing. As for blogs themselves Single Handed & jambalayaplaysgames. For Video playthroughs Catweazel is most entertaining, Rolling Solo, Solomode Games, Solo McLaughlin, One Stop Co-op Shop and obviously Sir Ricky of Royal- Box of Delights

10. Where can people find Both Sides of My Table?

Both Sides of My Table is in the most rural of deepest Shropshire, UK…but is much easier to find at and there is a facebook page/group where notifications of new items are announced


Thank you so much to Giles for his time answering these questions. Be sure to check out what he’s been doing over at Both Sides of My Table, as he’s covered a pretty extensive number of solo-worthy games in a short span of time! And if you appreciate his work, be sure to check out his Patreon page as well:


Board Gaming · Interview · Solo Month

Interview with Scott Allen, Designer of Pocket Landships

If you missed it, yesterday I did a highlight of just some of the games that Scott Allen has designed. Be sure to check those out, as they are all available to print out and play! He was also kind enough to answer some questions for me, and so here is our interview:


  1. What inspired you to design games playable only as a solitaire experience?

As I think back, I have to credit Todd Sanders for designing so many great solo print ‘n play games. I think sort of subconsciously, he probably inspired me, or at least demonstrated that a game designer can be successful by designing primarily solo games.

In addition, it was sort of following a natural flow:

  • Most of my game designs are for contests. For those contests, solo games are easier for people to playtest – since they don’t need to recruit other people to play some unknown game they just printed out. This means in most contests, the solo game designs get played more.
  • As a designer, it’s easier for me to playtest the design if it is a solo game.
  1. You’ve done several 9-card nanogame designs. What do you enjoy about designing for that format? What are some of the unique challenges that come from having only 9 cards?

Four things I enjoy about the 9-card nanogame design contests are:

  • The design constraint. As a designer, I struggle with a wide open “canvas” of no design constraints. I think putting constraints on a design is a good thing. And maybe (as I think about it more), it’s sort of a defense mechanism too. If I can only use 9 cards, you can’t expect me to design the next Gloomhaven, or Scythe, or Spirit Island, or whatever. So, in that way, I can design a game with less pressure of it being compared to a “real” game.
  • The ease of modifying your own game as the design progresses. I’ve designed one larger board game (Highlands, with a game board, a player mat, and 2 decks of cards), and as you are designing a game like that, at least once you get past the hand written prototypes, making changes takes a lot of effort, and that may discourage you from making changes you know you should make. In a 9 card game, the whole game fits on one sheet of paper, so there is very little effort in changing the game.
  • The ease of playtesting other designers games. I want to be a good “citizen” in the design contests, and that means playing other designers’ games. With only 9 cards, that’s easy to do, so I am able to playtest a lot more games than in some of the bigger format contests.
  • It’s a very well run contest (run by “Kingspud” Joseph Propati) with a very good community of designers participating, so it’s just a pleasure to spend time with those folks and help them with their designs as they help me with mine.

The unique challenge is the obvious one – how to fit a fun, engaging game in only 9 cards. So, it usually leads to double sided cards, multi-use cards, and other inventive solutions. It forces the designer to be creative, and I think that is a good thing.

  1. What about the Mint Tin design contest, which you’ve done a few times now as well. What do you enjoy about designing for that format? What are some of the unique challenges that come from having such a small footprint for components?

The answers are probably the same as the 9 card contest: design constraint, ease of modifying the small footprint game, ease of playtesting other games, and a well run contest by “R4D6”.

The interesting constraint is balancing components: more dice means less room for cubes, or cards, or whatever. So, it’s a constraint the designer has more control over, which makes it interesting. If I want 40 cards, that means I’ll only have room for a few cubes and probably no dice. If I want a lot of dice, I will have to limit the number or size of the cards.

This contest also is special for me because it was the first BGG design contest I participated in back in 2015.

  1. Falcon Master was a game that caught my attention from the title. What inspired you to design a game around falconry? Did you have to do a lot of research in the process of designing that game?

The original inspiration for the game was actually another entry in the same contest (the 2016 Solitaire PnP contest – which is another of my 3 favorite design contests on BGG, expertly run by Chris Hansen). The game is called Artisans, by Chris Alton “The Painted Goblin”. In that solo game, the player collects materials, then builds items for victory points. I wanted to take that one step further somehow – collect material, build an item, then use the item to score points. I bounced around a few ideas, then settled on falconry. I am not a falconer, but have always admired that hobby/sport/lifestyle from a distance.

fALCONI didn’t HAVE to do a lot of research, I GOT to do a lot of research while designing this game. In other words, it wasn’t a chore, it was very enjoyable. For example, one source was the “Book of Saint Albans” from 1486 which lists a hierarchy of falcons based on the falconer’s social status – from a priest to a poor man to a young man to a squire, etc. So, I used that hierarchy to rank the falcons used in the game.

  1. I understand you’ve signed your first game, Pocket Landship, to get published. Walk us through that experience of finding out your game was going to get published.


Pocket Landship (a 9 card contest game) has sort of struck a chord with a lot of people, and that is very flattering to me. Last time I checked, I think people from something like 22 countries around the world have rated the game, commented on the game, or recorded plays on BGG.

When I saw that a new game publishing company, Side Room Games, was looking for games to publish, I figured that of my game designs, Pocket Landship probably has the best chance of success. My thought process specifically with submitting to Side Room games was just “They are just starting out, and I have never had a game published before, so maybe we’ll be a good fit for each other.” Pocket Landship is a small game, so I thought working with a smaller publisher would be a logical way to go.

So, I submitted the game to Side Room Games in early December. From there, it wasn’t all of a sudden I got signed, it was more gradual. Dustin Culbertson made first contact with me through e-mail. We had some good discussions about the game, then he introduced me to other members of the Side Room Games team. They took the time to get to know the game, and poke and prod, and ask questions, and suggest improvements, which I appreciated.

In early January, I received sort of a verbal commitment from Dustin, then a few weeks later we had both signed the agreement.

It’s been great working with Side Room Games to improve and expand the game, and I’m sure my involvement will continue in the months ahead.

  1. What can you share with us about the design of the published version of Pocket Landship (name, setting, changes from the PnP version, Kickstarter date, etc.)

The base mechanics from Pocket Landship are definitely still the core of the game, but we’re adding in some ship/player powers as well as some new enemy types. The original Pocket Landship game was 9 cards, then I made an expansion, “Pocket Landship: The Second Front” that added 9 more cards. I would guess that the published game will be in the 25-35 card range, and we are planning on larger tarot size cards with professional art and graphic design as well. The solo game is shaping up as 3 player cards versus 9 enemy cards.

Another planned change that I am looking forward to is a 2 player co-op mode – two player vehicles (3 cards each) against probably 12 enemies.

When I started designing the original game, I was thinking of a World War 2 tank theme. But, as I was searching for public domain art to use for the game, I stumbled on World War 1 tank art by Muirhead Bone. So, it was sort of by accident that the theme (and name) of this game is related to World War 1. But, Pocket Landship is not a historical WWI game. It’s not Great Britain against Germany, it’s not based on a specific battle. I read that in total, Germany only deployed about 20 tanks in World War 1, so tank battles during that war were not common. So, in a way Pocket Landship has always been set in sort of a fantasy or alternative reality. So, we are planning on continuing that a bit.

I enjoy some steampunk styles and art, but I think it’s a setting that is getting pretty saturated. So, we basically just continued down the timeline: What’s after the steampunk era and World War 1? Dieselpunk – think of it as an alternatives 1920s – 1940s where internal combustion engines have replaced the steam power from steampunk. So, our plan is to have the game set in a dieselpunk style world with the player commanding an airship (or aership, or aeroplane, etc.), and the enemy as some sort of automatons, robots, etc.

There’a a bit of a risk with this plan, right? We can’t call the game Pocket Landship anymore, since there won’t be landships in the game. And, if the main draw of the game was the theme, we’re changing that as well. Side Room Games and I believe that there is more to the popularity of Pocket Landship than the setting, so we hope the gaming public sees that as well and enjoys the new theme, vehicles, and enemies.

The working title for the to be published game is “Pocket Airships”, although that is not finalized.

There is not a firm Kickstarter launch date, but Side Room Games is planning for this fall.

  1. Highlands is a game that, according to its description, was inspired by Scythe. What aspects of Scythe do you feel this game captured? How did you decide to use Chess game pieces as part of the design? Beyond those who love Scythe, who else would be the intended audience for this unique game?


Scythe is my favorite board game, and what I like most about it is the combination of:

  • Simple choices each turn (move, build, upgrade, etc.), but a lot of depth in the decision making by the player
  • The tactile satisfaction of moving the miniatures around the board, and even moving a cube from the top part of the player board to the bottom
  • Multiple paths to victory

So, those are the main parts of Scythe that I tried to capture in Highlands.

In my opinion the biggest (maybe the only) drawback to Scythe as a solo game is its size and set up time. All those cool mechs and cubes, and bits, and 5 decks of cards, and coins naturally take a while to set up. That’s not a big deal in a multiplayer game, but for solo, it’s more than I prefer. So, for Highlands there are only 2 decks of cards: one is like the objective deck, and the other is like a combination of the encounter deck, automa deck, and combat card deck.

Ever since I stumbled upon the Lewis chessmen, I have been fascinated by them: made my Vikings or descendants of Vikings probably in the 1100’s, discovered in Scotland in the 1800’s. So, I couldn’t resist using them to get that tactile miniature sensation in a PnP game. And, since they were discovered in Scotland, I thought that setting the game in 1100’s or so Scotland was a great choice.

In Highlands, the King piece is like the character piece in Scythe. The Queen and Bishop are more similar to buildings (immovable, un-attackable), the Knight and Rook are similar to mechs in Scythe, and the Pawns are like workers.


My original design was actually played on a chessboard, and I still like that idea. I imagine bringing a deck of custom cards and a player mat on vacation, and if your destination (bed & breakfast, AirBnB, Aunt Edna’s, etc.) has a chess set, you are all set to play a game.

  1. The Count of Nine is part of the current contest running for the 9 card microgame contest on BGG. You’ve designed a game that is definable as a eurogame with just 9 cards, no other components, and is a solo game. Tell me more about the idea to make the game and the struggles to do so with just 9 cards and nothing else.


It comes back to that word I’ve used a lot: constraints. Before the 9 card contest this year, there was a lot of discussion on expanding the number of components allowed (which is fine), but I just decided to go in the opposite direction. So, I just piled constraint on top of constraint: a solo eurogame seemed like a fun challenge, then on top of that, no components.


The struggle was fitting a whole euro game onto 9 cards. I did it by using both sides of the cards, and splitting each side of the card into 4 sections: 2 structures and 2 resources. So, on the front sides of the cards, there are a total of 18 structures to choose from and 18 resources available to build them. Then, when a card is discarded, it is flipped so the player has access to the resources and structures on the back side of the cards too.

  1. What advice would you give to someone wanting to try their hand at designing a solo game, especially for one of these great BGG contests?

If you want to participate in BGG contests as a designer, start now as a playtester. There is almost always at least one contest going on. So, go playtest a few games, give feedback. You’ll be helping other designers, but it will also help you see what’s all involved in the contests: designing a game that works, that’s fun, that people want to play, art, graphic design, writing rules, answering questions on the forum, etc.

Specifically for solo games, the designer usually has to make sure to design in tension. In multi-player games, the other players typically provide the tension. In solo games, the designer needs to add in the tension. That could be some sort of timer (a certain number of turns), or some sort of AI (artificial intelligence). For example, in Highlands, the enemy moving in to surround your castle provides the tension while you as the player is trying to move around and earn victory points.

  1. Finally, where can people go to find out more about the games you’ve designed, to get updates on Pocket Landship, and just to find you on social media in order to keep up with what you’re working on next?

The easiest place to find my games is My designer page that contains all my finished designs is at:

Boardgamegeek members can contact me directly via “geekmail” (private message).

I don’t have a social media presence for my game designs, since up until a few weeks ago, I didn’t need one. So, I will just point you to Side Room Games:





Board Gaming · Interview · Solo Month

Interview with Janice at Wren Games

Janice was kind enough to answer some interview questions for me. If you missed it, be sure to check out my review of Assembly, the first release coming up from Wren Games.

Check out the launch of their game, Assembly, on Kickstarter the 24th of May. This link will take you right to it: 


Who we are

Wren Games consists of the wife and husband team Janice and Stu. They live in the UK with their 2 young daughters, lots of fish and Inca the cat.


  1. My first impression of Assembly happened before I ever cut a single component. It came in the form of the rulebook, and the fantastic flavor text sprinkled throughout. It was memorable enough to really hook me in to the game and the theme. Which came first: the game/mechanics or the theme? What challenges did you encounter when trying to tie them both together?


In Assembly, the mechanisms most definitely came first. I seem to dream up my games when I’m in a half-awake / half-asleep state at night. I already had The Maiden Voyage at a prototype stage and I love the clock-like layout and I wanted to re-use this in Assembly. That’s when the idea came of matching tokens to cards with a limited set of commands. I wrote everything down on my phone then promptly fell asleep. In the morning I woke early, excited to get my new design down on paper and started prototyping it. Before Stu was even out if bed I had the basic mechanisms sorted, which is pretty lucky given it was an entry into the BGG Mint Tin Design Contest where deadlines are strict.


But with regards to theme, Stu and I both have a soft spot for sci-fi so in some ways the theme came first; Assembly was always going to be a sci-fi game. However, the original story behind Assembly is somewhat different to the current one.


I work in engineering and requirements can change frequently – you have to be really firm about locking them down. Originally the story was that you were assembling spaceships at a factory but every now and again the customer requirements would change resulting in everything moving around. That was over a year ago and Assembly mostly laid dormant due to me trying to balance work full-time with being a mum to a 1 year old, leaving me with little time for game design. Then, in October last year, I went on maternity leave again. I was determined to finish the games we had started. Assembly was the simplest and closest to completion so we decided this would be our first one to finish. My first task was to re-write the story as I decided this was a bit too technical (and tongue in cheek) for your average gamer. After another half-asleep brainwave, I came up with the idea of a virus and building a ship to escape. The main challenge was getting the story short and to the point but with enough detail to tie every mechanic to a story element. It’s been through rewrites until it has evolved into what you read today.


Story in games is really important to me – so even though at its core, Assembly could be thought of as a simple abstract game, I wanted to tie everything together with story elements. Story helps you remember things, in this case we’re using it to help you remember the rules. We want to design games that are easy to learn and remember – story helps us do that.


  1. Assembly was an entry into the 2016 Mint Tin design contest on BGG. Did the idea for the game come about because of the contest, or was the contest a way to get this idea you had in your head into a prototype form? What were some of the challenges in designing a game to fit that footprint?


When I designed Assembly, I was still relatively new to game design. I had one partially completed game to my name and that was it. I was determined to do something else. I wanted to do something smaller that we could finish to give us more confidence in finishing our first, more ambitious, labour of love. I saw the BGG Design Contest as an opportunity to help me finish a game (I also entered a game into the Children’s PnP Contest in 2016).


The biggest challenge when designing a game with such a small foot print is the rulebook! There’s not much space to write the rules so you have to keep it simple and to the point. I was quite chuffed when Assembly was voted as the Best Written Rulebook but looking back, I think I perhaps ‘streamlined’ my it too much. It’s since grown in size but seems understandable which is the most important thing. Once again, the rulebook has been one of my biggest challenges as I didn’t want it driving the size of the box!


  1. I understand that you designed Assembly as a solo game first, and then added in a 2nd player option. Why did you choose to start with solo first?


As Assembly is essentially a puzzle, getting the puzzle working was key to the successful development of the game. The puzzle itself doesn’t change at higher player counts, just the parameters so refining as a solo game made my life easier – it’s so much easier to get a game working when playing solo! But why then also make it 2-player?


Stu and I both love Shadi Torbey’s Oniverse games. We love the fact that they work well both solo and cooperatively with 2-players with just a few tweaks. We wanted Assembly to be like that.


Once I was happy with Assembly’s solo game, I started working on how I could tweak it to work with 2 players, not only in terms of balance but also how the players could interact when playing and feel an involved part of the game. Limited communication adds an extra dimension to the puzzle (and reduces alpha player issues) so it seemed an obvious choice. But there’s a fine line between sitting in silence, each playing your own solo game, and playing together, engaged and cooperatively.


I realised from the playtesting that this ‘line’ is different for different people and that most people want to play strictly to the official rules. So we recently revised the communications rules to ‘give permission’ to include the option to talk openly about everything apart from what’s in your hand. Games are meant to be fun, and we want people to have fun playing. However, if restricting communication is what you like doing, then do that!


  1. What value did Assembly gain from the playtesting and feedback of the Mint Tin design contest? Would you enter another contest like that in the future?


I think the main advantage of participating in any BGG contest is the community atmosphere. You have willing playtesters at the ready. They help validate that you have something and in return you do the same for them. It’s also great to see other people’s design process – as I don’t get to many (read any) design groups – this really is the closest I get. The contests allowed me to ‘meet’ a number of helpful designers from around the world who each offered constructive and useful feedback. I also got to play some very cool PnP games and help other designers.


Would I enter another one? I’m not sure. I now have 2 young children and that makes working to the strict contest deadlines quite difficult, particularly when my kids often want mummy and only mummy will do! But I think the main issue isn’t the development of my own idea but helping others with theirs, especially playtesting them. In these contests you get out what you can put in and I don’t feel I can put enough in at this point in my life. I’m hoping to go back to work part-time rather than full-time in the autumn and my eldest will then be at pre-school during the mornings so perhaps I’ll then have some time. I have several ideas that I want to pursue and maybe one of these contests will be the right platform to get me to push one through quickly, so maybe I’ll enter one again.


  1. I understand that Assembly is the first, but not the only, game on the horizon from Wren Games. Tell us more about the next games in your queue!


We have 3 games that are at the advanced prototype stage, i.e. rules written, basic concept proven and at least 1 round of blind playtesting completed.


The first is Assembly, which is coming to Kickstarter on the 24th May. We’re pretty happy with it and have recently developed a mini-expansion called ‘Glitches’ which adds an extra layer of challenge. I’ve also an idea for another mini-expansion but that is a bit more complex and will need some additional development – we’ll just have to wait and see how that one goes but it’ll probably be released as a PnP for playtesting at some point.


The Maiden Voyage is technically our first game design, although we put it on hold in favour of Assembly as we knew we could finish Assembly more quickly as it’s a less complex game. The Maiden Voyage has a higher player count (1-5 players) and longer play time (60-90 minutes). It could be described as a thematic sci-fi strategy game that straddles both Ameritrash and Euro game types (including a diverse range of mechanisms such as a random event deck in parallel with resource and hand management). Once again, this game is cooperative and rich in story! I’m currently working with Cardboard Edison to help push this game forward as part of the Jellybean Scholarship for Game Designers and I’m hoping that The Maiden Voyage will be available for playtesting again in a few months’ time.


The final game is a children’s game called Inca the Tinker: Tales of a Mischievous Cat. This was an entry into the 2016 BGG Children’s PnP Contest and is a children’s (3+) story-telling and matching game with an introductory blocking mechanism. It was initially developed in less than 2 weeks, so it’s a bit rough around the edges but seems to work okay. I’m not sure what to do with this game yet as I’m not sure if it is good enough and I don’t know many kids of the right age group, although I’ll be able to playtest with my daughter in about 6 months! Anyway, I’m keen to get more people playtesting this one. Just go to our website and you’ll find a link to a form to request the PnP files.


We also have another 4 ideas at the concept phase. 3 of them have been tested but all need significant refinement. The basic concept works but they aren’t elegant. The theme for all of them is set, but the detailed story needs refinement. Of these 4, one is competitive and a variant on a traditional card game, another is a dice set matching / puzzle game (primarily solo but potential for a coop), the next is a medium-weight coop with an interesting dice mechanic and the final one is a solo game with a quite unique theme. Whether any of these get beyond the concept stage is still to be seen but we’re not developing them further until we’ve got Assembly finished! I’m working on a one in, one out method as it’s important to finish things!


  1. Where can people go to keep up with the progress of these next game designs? Any open playtesting opportunities?


If you want to find out more about our games and future playtesting opportunities, sign up to our mailing list as we always let our subscribes know of playtesting opportunities. You can also look at the ‘Playtesting’ link on our webpage for current opportunities.




  1. Finally, you are a husband/wife design team. Tell us about the process of designing games together, especially solo modes. Do you each have different tastes/styles in games? Do you have different strengths in testing and design that complement each other?


I am the main designer of the two of us but without Stu the games wouldn’t be as refined as they are. Our process is pretty simple and quite repetitive. I come up with the basic idea, prototype it up and make sure it works. I then talk it through with Stu who points out all the things I forgot to consider! We then work out how to fix it together before I prototype it up again. I do a lot of design iterations through solo playtesting. After each major change I test it out on Stu who once again points out everything I’ve forgotten, that’s confusing or could be simplified. And then the cycle continues.


Stu is the big solo gamer between us and it is him who drives the requirements for the solo game variants. His pet hate is when a game forces you to play multiple characters. He likes to immerse himself in the game and he feels he can only do this properly by being a single character. It was therefore important to us to have an independent solo version not one that is just a ‘play multiple characters’ copout!


In terms of games – we have many similar game tastes as well as many different ones. I sit slightly more on the Euro side of the scale whereas Stu is much more into his minis. Minis can actually put me off a game! However, where we both come together is that we both like our games to have a strong theme and we both prefer cooperative play. This is therefore the driving force behind most of our game designs.

Board Gaming · Interview · Solo Month

Interview with Morten Monrad Pedersen

The top person I wanted to interview for solo month was Morten from Automa Factory. Back when this month was nothing but a distant idea, I knew this had to be one piece of content I fought hard to earn. Luckily for me, Morten is a fantastic guy and was more than happy to answer a few questions!


  1. Tell us about your earliest experiences with solo gaming. What were the first games that really hooked you on playing solo games?

When my son was born and my friends were also having children I found that it became hard to get the gaming group together. Since I loved board games I wanted to find a way to still get to play and even though I thought solo gaming a bit weird, I gave it a shot and bought Lord of the Rings LCG.

To my great surprise I loved it.

My next game was Dawn of the Zeds and it was even better because of it’s tension and gameplay that nailed the feel of being in a zombie movie.

After those two I was hooked and have played around 140 solo games since then with thousands of plays total.

  1. Your first game design, Endless Nightmare, is a game that cannot be won by the player. What inspired that unique approach?

It was a purely thematic design decision. Nightmares can often have a feeling of despair and I tried to convey that feel by letting the player know that no matter what he’d be caught by the monster.

  1. Board Game Geek has several print and play contests that are held annually. The early days of your blog covered the contest – what inspired you to cover the contest? How has it changed over the years, from your perspective?

I participated in the 2013 contest with my first public design (Endless Nightmare) and I loved participating. The community was fantastic, even though we were competitors, the feeling was one of camaraderie and we spent tons of time helping each other. I learned a lot from that (and got my BGG avatar).

That great experience and all the contest games I played made it a no-brainer to write about the contest. This included blog posts about specific games and I also did a series of interviews with designers from the contest.

After the first two or three years lack of time made me stop playing the games from the contest, but I continued doing a series of semi-standardized interviews each year and I plan to do the same in 2018.

From my perspective the contest hasn’t changed all that much, which in my opinion is a good thing, since it does what it should do very well: It builds a great community and, helps enthusiasts do what they love and become better at it. It also produces great free games for the rest of us. I think that the contest has been an important step for many to go from gamer to having their work published by a publisher.

People who’ve followed the contest more closely than me in recent years, might very well disagree with me, though, on whether it has evolved significantly.

  1. What are some of the entries, over the years, that have stood out to you? I’m sure there are readers who would love to check them out!

Maquis is my favorite. It’s a great and tense worker placement game built from the ground up for solo play. It was the first time I saw that and I think it’s still rare.

It has a novel system where your workers must be able to get back to your base at the end of the turn, which enemy patrols can prevent. You can make a (almost) safe path back by forming chains of workers, but that restricts your options and the amount of useful actions you can do each turn, which is a problem, since you’re on a tight clock. This creates agonizing decisions where you must decide between risk and efficiency.

Crafting the game is easy: Print one A4/legal page with the game board, print and cut 16 cards (if I remember correctly), and add in some meeples and cubes.

As it happens, Maquis was a core inspiration for my first solo mode (Viticulture Automa).

Next on my list is X-Hour: Xenostrike. It’s a study in efficient game design. It takes the put-out-the-fires-while-accomplishing-your-overall-goal genre (e.g. Pandemic) and condenses it to its core without compromising the fun and tough trade-off decisions of that genre.

X-Hour is even simpler to craft than Maquis: Print a single page and add some meeples and cubes (if I remember correctly).

  1. Let’s talk the Automa. How did that design get started? How has the process in designing an Automa changed for you over the years?

During the playtesting of the Tuscany expansion for Jamey Stegmaier’s Viticulture some playtesters suggested that the game should have a solo mode. Jamey and I had exchanged something like a thousand emails, since the Kickstarter for Viticulture, so Jamey knew me and from those mails and my blog he knew that I was into solo game design.

Because of this, he asked me whether I wanted to have a go at a Viticulture solo mode and as someone who dreamt about getting involved in the industry and loved game design I jumped at the chance.

As mentioned when I talked about Maquis, that game was an inspiration for the solo mode bot (called “the Automa”) I made. I also got inspiration for how to handle the game’s turn order system from one of the playtesters, Todd Schoening, who was one of those who suggested making a solo mode.

As anything I’ve done in game design the Viticulture Automa was a team effort, not only in the sense of getting inspiration from other people, but also in the sense that I had Jose Manuel López-Cepero and Jamey Stegmaier as advisors.

As to how my approach has changed over the years, it has been a process of gradual refinement, where I’ve striven to become more and more clear on what I think is important for solo mode bots instead of going by gut feeling.

Three years ago I had gotten to the point where I could formulate my design approach ( as a few core ideas such as making the bot mimic the core interactions of the game and nothing else.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve started phrasing the approach as building an empty shell that the player bumps into in the places where he would bump into another human player. For a human player there’d be a lot of stuff behind the shell, but for an Automa, the shell is empty.

Apart from that the main evolution of the Automas has been in expanding our toolbox. The Viticulture Automa didn’t really play the game, but introduced the idea of an “Automa Deck” of cards, where you draw one card per turn which decides one or more actions for the Automa.

The next Automa we worked on was for Euphoria. For that one, we had two Automas at once and they played the game to a small extent, including scoring when taking the same actions that makes a human player score.

Before finishing the Euphoria Automa, we got derailed by making a dual Automa for Between Two Cities. The Automas played the game but in a simplified manner and the actions specified by the Automa deck were more varied and complex.

Scythe led us to make a standard pattern for the Automa’s actions, which we extended in Gaia Project. In the latter we introduced a dual card system where one card determines the action taken and the other provides the tiebreakers needed so that we can have more variation in a small deck.

For Gaia Project we also created a system where the Automa deck increases over time, but never includes all the cards in the game. This creates a feel of the Automa gradually formulating a strategy during the game and that strategy varies from one game to the other.

Another development in our approach is that we’ve added support for using the Automas in multiplayer games and allowing multiple Automas, so that players can get the game to the player count they find ideal.

Based on this evolution and a gradual crystallization of the Automa design principles I’m working on a new guide to what Automas are and how to make them.

  1. What has been the most challenging Automa design so far? What made it tough and how did you overcome those obstacles?

I think that the Automa for Scythe was the hardest one. Coming up with a system for moving the Automa’s units around the board in a sensible manner, while keeping it smooth for the player running the Automa was a huge challenge and took a lot of iterations and playtesting. Apart from our own playtesting we had more than 300 external playtests to help us get the Automa right.

  1. What can we look forward to seeing from Automa Factory in the rest of 2018 and/or 2019?

In the last few months we’ve finished the Automa for the third Scythe expansion, The Rise of Fenris, as well as Automas for two other games from Stonemaier Games, which I’m not allowed to talk about yet. In case you follow the Stonemaier newsletters it’s the codenames “Peregrine” and “Eat a Shoe”.

Right now, we’re working on an expansion for Euphoria, which will include a dual Automa system that allows solo play and boosting the player count for two human players.

We’re also work intermittently on a game I’ve designed (Forest of The Shadow) which mixes Endless Nightmare, Onirim, and some new stuff. This takes second seat to our solo modes, because the latter pays while it’s uncertain whether the former will ever get published and since I’ve gone part time in Automa Factory I need to earn money from my design work to get the bills paid.

Apart from that we hope to have a Patchwork solo mode released as a promo and we’re working on or are in talks about solo modes for three other games, that would likely be released in the first half of 2019. We have the luxury of being asked to do more projects than we have the time for.

  1. What advice would you give to board game designers when looking to come up with a solo variant for their game?

My own approach to solo modes can be condensed to:

  1. Make bots that mimic the core interactions of the game,
  2. but does nothing else. E.g. in Viticulture the Automa blocks action spaces which is a core interaction in that game, but it doesn’t build structures or make wine since that isn’t a point of interaction.
  3. Never require the player to make decisions on behalf of the bot.
  4. Retain the core game experience.

It’s important to consider that the human player has to learn the solo rules in addition to the game rules, which means that the solo rules should be as simple as possible. Similarly, the player has to spend time to handle the solo mode and since most players prefer to spend time on their own turn instead of that of the bot, the bot needs to be as streamlined as possible without sacrificing the feel of the game.

I’ve written a guide to my approach for making solo modes ( as well as several accompanying posts (

  1. Where can people go to learn more about Automa Factory, the man behind the Automa design, and the blog you operate?

I keep meaning to make a home page for Automa Factory, but I also keep failing to find the time for that and I’ve only got to the point where is a single page with a signup box for a newsletter i recently set up.

The main source of information is my blog Thematic Solitaires for the Spare Time Challenged ( and the interviews I’ve participated in ( – this interview is of course the best source of info 😊.