Picture Me Rolling Rules Video

Here’s my attempt at a rules video for Picture Me Rolling, a design that’s under consideration by two publishers.

For more information, check out the Games Portforlio page.

Hatch: The Ballad of Turtle Bay

Here’s a rundown of my most recent design. It’s only a few days old but is ready for playtesting already.

Name: Hatch

Specs: 2-5 players, 30 min

Mechanics: Dice Drafting, Action Retrieval, Area Control

Story: It’s baby turtle season, and all of the momma sea turtles are preparing to make their trips onto the sandy beaches of Turtle Bay to make their nests and set the conditions for their babies to hatch and make the journey to the water. In Hatch, players become one of those momma turtles and will try to successfully lay their eggs, hatch their babies, avoid those pesky predators, and reunite with them safe and sound. Players start with 6 actions that they can perform, and will use their turn to draft one of the game dice to apply to one action. The value on the die determines the degree to which each action can be taken. Once players have completed 6 rounds, the player who has united with the most of their baby sea turtles is the winner.

Status: Brand New, awaiting playtesting.

Game Profile: Smalltown

Name: Smalltown

Details: 1-5 players, Ages 8+, 30 minute playtime

Mechanics: Co-Op, Hand Management

Story: Work together with a group of City Council members to save the city of Wardell, Missouri from dying out as families and businesses begin to leave town. Use your hand of action cards to counter the attrition in Wardell.

Stage: Smalltown has been selected as one of twelve finalists for the Geekway to the West design contest in June.

Game Profile: Picture Me Rolling

Name: Picture Me Rolling

Details: 3-8 players, Ages 8+, 15 minute playtime

Mechanics: Roll-and-Write, Drawing

Story: Picture Me Rolling is a roll-and-draw party game for 3-8 players. 8 dice with different shapes and line patterns are rolled, and players try to draw a word from a card using the faces on the dice. After drawing, players try to guess each others words, and the one with the most correct guesses is the winner.

Stage: Refining and play testing, trying to get ready for the 2020 Geekway to the West design contest, in which it has been selected as one of 12 finalists.

On Diversity

Recently, Restoration Games posted a series of tweets in support of Omari Akil and BG Brothas, his publishing company, who has just released their debut game Rap Godz. Restoration applauded Omar’s work and ingenuity, while focusing on the importance of introducing his perspective as an African American into the board game industry. They communicated how much better off the industry is when we have a variety of perspectives and world views contributing and participating in the collective effort of producing excellent and engaging board games. Omari and his company’s focus on games that are themed from their lived experience as African Americans is a monumental step towards this collective effort.

This sentiment is important and has been echoed throughout the industry in various arenas. Elizabeth Hargrave, designer of Wingspan, has been vocal about the need to expand the reach of the board game industry in order to be more inclusive, particularly of female and non-binary people. Her recent success has provided her with a platform to advocate for change, and she has done an excellent job of expressing her support of female and NB designers. She has also created an analytical presentation about strategies to involve female gamers in the hobby, which I highly recommend.

As the inclusion of people from diverse racial backgrounds and gender expressions has emerged as a central issue in the gaming landscape, many of us have begun to ask the question of how we can help to be a part of the solution. I have a certain degree of access to the hobby as a designer and a frequent host of community gaming events, and I want to use that position to support non-traditional gamers and to make the industry more accessible. This intention is mirrored in many of my white male friends throughout the industry.

But, a big part of this effort of making the gaming hobby more inclusive is for white people like me to educate ourselves about the societal and systemic barriers that keep marginalized groups of people on those margins. We can’t fix a problem if we don’t understand what the problem is or where it comes from. It can be intimidating, because, speaking for myself, I was never confronted with race as a child, and have had to learn how to engage in dialogue about race and gender identity as an adult. Not being socially conditioned to have conversations on these things, or to be teachable and empathetic towards those with different experiences, means that diving into the necessary self-education on the history of inequality in this country can be intimidating. There is an ocean of history, literature, angles, and experiences that need to be processed in order for a deeper understanding to develop. But understanding the way the world works as someone who has benefited from privilege is crucial. It will equip us to be empathetic and welcoming hosts for those who don’t share our story, as we provide space for them to experience the beauty of the board game hobby.

As an industry, it’s time to embrace that. It’s more than asking our friends who are of a different racial or gender identity or expression to come to our game night. While that’s important, diving into a vigorous pursuit of self-education and self-improvement so as to understand the reason that racial and gender identity divides exist in the first place is essential. Welcoming non-white, non-binary, non-male people into white, binary, male spaces to experience what is traditionally a white, binary, male hobby isn’t necessarily the best approach and may not yield the best results. Rather, learning to create welcoming spaces, learning what that means, and supporting those who are creating new and beautiful things from fresh and diverse perspectives will be what propels this hobby into the changing landscape of this new and inclusive decade and beyond. May we all commit to that.

On Balance

I’ve come up against a bit of a wall in my game design process. I’ve become accustomed to an evolving workload that is always in flux. I typically have two or three designs I’m actively working on, two or three that I’ve stopped working on due to having finished them or having realized that they need to be abandoned, and another five to ten that I’ve begun to conceptualize, but am not actively working on. This is the balance, and ultimately the struggle, that I’ve gotten used to over the years. There’s never enough time to focus enough attention to feel like I’m making adequate progress on all of my designs, especially since I’m always juggling so many projects. But, recently I’ve begun to feel discouraged about the process itself. I’ve spent most of my design time over the last few weeks developing current designs, trying to get them to a play-testing stage. This has meant that my time conceptualizing new game ideas and concepts has slowly diminished, as I instead focus on development of designs that are somewhat far along. I’ve noticed as this has happened that I’ve missed the process of creating new things. My creative self is less engaged as I develop old established designs than it is when I sit down in front of nothing and piece together something new. I’m discovering my need to create new things in addition to refine that which I’ve already begun to create. This is a complicated task, however, as time is a limited resource. I need to work toward a balance, of using the time I have to both develop and create, to nurture that which is and bring about that which is not yet. Here’s to a season of balance.

New Design Rundown

Name: Alfrombras

Details: 2-4 players, Ages 8+, 20 minute playtime

Mechanics: Tile Laying, I Cut You Choose

Story: Make a sawdust mural in the streets of Comayagua in preparation for Semana Santa by laying tiles. Create shapes to score points. Each player gets a turn as lead player and selects which tiles are placed during the round.

Stage: Early development. Alfombras has had one public play test, with more to follow.

Name: Smalltown, USA

Details: 1-5 players, Ages 8+, 30 minute playtime

Mechanics: Co-Op, Hand Management

Story: Work together with a group of City Council members to save the city of Wardell, Missouri from dying out as families and businesses begin to leave town. Use your hand of action cards to counter the attrition in Wardell.

Stage: Early Development. Smalltown, USA is ready for it’s first play test.

Finding Meaningful Themes

I’ve recently been plugging away at a new design called Alfombras, a tile-laying game for 2-4 players who are muralists trying to complete a sawdust mural in preparation for Semana Santa in Comayaguas, Honduras. As the game has come together, it has caused me to reflect on the process of “theming” a game. I’ve discussed this before, but a big fundamental shift in my design approach was to start by designing innovative and interesting mechanisms, and finding a theme to fit, rather that starting with a theme and working backwards. Alfombras is a product of that new approach, as it started with 12 dice on my desk and developed from there. Once I had basic mechanics in place, I started looking for potential themes. I bounce a few ideas around before remembering one of my trips to Honduras when I was younger. I saw the Alfombras de Asserin first hand, and was struck by the beauty and care with which they were assembled. Once I connected that memory to the tile-laying mechanic that I had developed, it was a natural fit.

I often find myself going through this process. There are generic themes of space travel or merchants or civilization building that are fine for what they are. But, I think we’ve begun to see a major shift in game design, centered around the self-expression of the designer. I’ve themed Alfombras as such because I felt something distinct and memorable when I experienced the real thing first hand as a kid. That experience has inspired me to recreate the feeling of wonder in the game I’ve designed. Several of my designs start this way, with me looking for themes that I can relate to on a personal level.

The effect of this process may be really positive overall. I think about games like Wingspan or Sagrada; games that are fun and interesting and unorthodox in theme. I don’t know their complete stories, but I imagine that the designers of these games have gone through a similar approach of making a game that they can relate to, with a theme that they are interested in. The result is more interesting and engaging themes. People are curious about a game like Comanauts or Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr, whose themes are strange but novel. Coupled with solid gameplay mechanics, this theming approach can not only create an innovative game, but a work of inspired art. That’s my goal with my designs, to express something I feel or experience through the games I make. Alfombras may be one of those games.

Kevin Lanzing on Publishing Flash Point: Fire Rescue

One of the earliest games I played when transitioning into the game design world was called Flash Point: Fire Rescue, designed by Kevin Lanzing. Kevin, like myself, is local to Atlanta, and I reached out to him for advice on getting my first game published nearly four years ago. I’ve included his response below, as it gives a solid overview of the different channels one might go through to get published. It’s designers like Kevin that have made my efforts towards publication and success as a designer easier and more meaningful, as the accessibility and encouragement I’ve received from otherwise total strangers has been substantial and significant.

Hello Mondo,
It sounds like you are well on your way already! I have had two games published. Flash Point is by far the most successful, but I had an earlier game called “Tako Judo: The Timeless Sport of Octopus Wrestling” that was published by Blue Panther.
Both times, getting published was a stroke of luck… but I had to put in the effort to get lucky! Tako Judo was the winning entry in a game design contest. Originally the prize was only my game produced with Blue Panther’s laser wood-etching technology, but they decided it was worth publishing and I signed a contract. Flash Point: Fire Rescue was published by Indie Boards and Cards after Travis (the head of the company) contacted me out of the blue. I had not heard of him or his company prior, but apparently one of my games had made it to the Gathering of Friends in New York (Alan Moon’s annual game shindig) and several publishers had expressed an interest in it. As to how that came to be: I had been self-publishing through The Game Crafter for about five months. Only 20 games had been ordered by that point, but one came to be in the right place at the right time.
What I am saying is, I have not followed a conventional process to get from prototype to publishing contract. I have little patience for sending out letters and emails to all the publishers, preferring to tinker, self-publish, and let my games speak for themselves. Which is not to dissuade you at all! Most publishers are human beings, and will at least respond to a letter. I’m not very good at self-promotion, is what I am saying. If I had any advice, it would be: by all means reach out to publishers, but don’t limit yourself to letters and emails. Visit game conventions, and line up interviews! Enter every game design contest you can find! Self-publish with any of the services available! The goal is to make as many good impressions as you can, and one of the best ways to break through a wall is to try the path least traveled.
I don’t know if you are a Gwinnett native, but there are several gaming groups and even game-design groups in the area. Try them all on for size. For playtesting especially, it is important to have as many different people play your game. One thing I have started to do is to make a list of all the people who have played my prototypes, and ask them to provide an email. If you ever get published (or especially, if you self-publish) these are the people you will want to contact to ask for their support. Most people will agree to this, and the few that don’t never act offended.
Good luck,

Kevin Lanzing

On Inspiration

I’ve been working on a new design, tentatively called “Smalltown, USA.” It’s a cooperative game where players are City Council members trying to stave off population decline in a small American town. The game came together in what seemed like no time at all. I was driving to Charleston, SC, which is about 3 hours from our home in Atlanta. We drove through several small South Carolina towns that were in pretty bad shape; empty storefronts, abandoned buildings, crumbling infrastructure. I was saddened to see these small towns in such a state, as I imagined that they could have been thriving 30 or 40 years ago. There was this melancholy that I felt when considering the plight of small town America, as economic factors drove residents to leave for bigger cities, with only a few resilient and, perhaps, obstinate townspeople staying put. I felt the sting of remorse for what we have lost by industrialization, becoming what we have become (for better or for worse). While I didn’t draw conclusions then, and still don’t, about what is better in the big picture when it comes to the decimation of small town America, I did feel a pull to do something, to fight for the survival of these small slices of Americana, these glimpses of who we once were that inform who we have become.

In that moment, I thought up the general idea for this game. It was borne out of a emotional response to the world as I perceived it. I spent most of the rest of that car ride imagining possible mechanisms to help create the feel of fighting to keep a dying town alive, the pitfalls and the victories that residents of these forgotten places no doubt experienced. By the time we had arrived at our destination, I already had the whole game mapped out in my head. So, I got to prototyping, testing, and refining. It came swiftly.

But, that is what I love about the creative medium of board game design. We have the ability to tell a whole story, one that someone else can be immersed in and experience tangibly. As I diligently plug away at putting Smalltown, USA together, I can believe that I’m doing more than making a game. I’m telling their story. That’s unique to the medium, and something I have come to love. As I approach my designs, I’m constantly asking myself if the mechanics and game play feel like the theme attached to them. Do players feel like they’re there, working hard at trying to save some sleepy town in the middle of nowhere?

It’s a fun, life-giving process. As a descendant of Americans who founded and eventually abandoned these small towns, leaving behind their footprints and their stories, I feel a subtle responsibility to tell those stories. It won’t change the world, it won’t have any impact at all, most likely. But in telling the story we provide a chance to hold it up for examination so that we can draw conclusions about how the world is. We immortalize in legend that which is, and sometimes that which is dead and dying.