Nationals Debrief

From Friday 21st to Sunday 23rd of April we were busily trading at the Student Nationals1)a wargaming and roleplaying convention hosted by UK universities – well, busily some of the time.

Even more so than any other convention we’ve been to, Student Nationals has a very sporadic sort of trading cycle – during the big gaming blocks that take up most of the day there are only a handful of people available to visit the traders hall, while large numbers of customers tend to turn up all at once at lunchtime and in the evenings.

The Hosts

This year’s Nationals was the first ever to be hosted by Nottingham university, and they did an admirable job of organising things – but they also made some significant errors. I’ll stick to stuff related to trade, as I didn’t really get to see any of the rest of the con:

The Good

  • Volunteers from the Nottingham team were willing and able to help unload goods from vehicle to trade hall. (Far from vital but certainly useful)
  • The trade hall itself was in an airy, well-lit room, and had the appropriate number of traders for its size
  • There was relatively little overlap in the set of traders – with what overlap there was being in core aspects of the tabletop hobbies.


The Bad

  • The trade hall was prone to overheating – it was structured similarly to a greenhouse, which made running a stall continuously somewhat unhealthy.
  • The organisers failed to account for the human frailty of the traders, planning for the trade hall to be open for 14 hours on Saturday, as well as 7 hours Friday and 10 hours on Sunday.



As mentioned above, Nationals unavoidably has long periods of downtime for traders, which means a lot of time just sitting, thinking and chatting – it’s generally not the best idea to pull out a laptop or book while manning a stall – and combined with that we had a couple of two hour car journeys.

During that time we discussed a number of future projects, but there are three things that stand out in my mind:

  • A Mechbuilding Game: combining deckbuilding with worker placement, this game would involve building a mech while also recruiting new crew into your deck with different advantages when played.
  • A game of conquest and betrayal – where the players may co-operate or betray each other, but the victory conditions are different depending on whether the team as a whole wins or loses.
  • Moving the next line of Concept Cards to Modern Day, with Cyberpunk and Supers expansions.
    • As part of this, having stretch goals on the Kickstarter to make future decks – that aren’t rolled into that kickstarter. Instead, stretch goal decks would get their own project, after delivery.



We sold a lot of stock at Nationals, both of Concept Cards and of the 3D Total Games products we’ve been stocking (“Escape the Nightmare” and “404: Law Not Found”) but more importantly (in my mind) we met a lot of fans of Concept Cards, people who’d either backed the early Kickstarters or bought a few last year, and now wanted to pick up the rest – it’s always encouraging to know that those who have used some of our decks want the rest.

We also made a significant wholesale deal with another trader there: within the next few days we should have Concept Cards available for purchase on Apprentice Games

Next monday I’ll be back with a little more information on the Modern Day Concept Cards ideas.

Be Well


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References   [ + ]

1. a wargaming and roleplaying convention hosted by UK universities

Clash of Blades and Conventions

Sarah of Avandy showing her skills

Sarah of Avandy showing her skills


As promised, today I’m talking about Clash of Blades – the eldest of all of Artemis Games projects, though one that is as yet unpublished. If you haven’t read it already, consider taking a look at my first post on the subject.

It’s taken a lot of work to get to a state in which I’m happy with it, but aside from the art it’s finally there. With the example of the Emperor’s Hand Kickstarter we now know that we, as Artemis Games, aren’t ready to source sufficient art, advertising and general graphical quality to run a proper Kickstarter for Clash of Blades, at least not one that will allow it to reach its full potential.

We work best in text, and our social networks are mainly on the roleplaying side of the tabletop gaming hobbies, so we need far more active marketing skills and push to bring a card game to bear, and while we all firmly believe the game is capable of selling itself, in the end that’s not enough – it’s a game that we feel could be great, rather than good, and we fully intend to ensure it is.

To that end, we’ve decided that we’re going to pitch it to publishers, rather than simply crowdfunding it. Depending on what publisher picks it up1)While it’s possible that none will, I believe that to be rather unlikely it may still go through Kickstarter as a way to prove that the demand exists and to promote the game to a wider audience.

In order to sell the game to publishers, I will be attending UK Games Expo – and applying to pitch at both the Wyvern’s Lair and the Meet-the-makers Speed Dating

The earlier deadline is for Wyvern’s Lair – with submissions closing Wednesday – and for that I need to submit a <100 word summary of the game, with at most one image. Here is the current draft:

Clash of Blades is a two player expandable card game that simulates the flow of a swordfight while maintaining a constant level of tactical play; using “time” as its only resource.

Players choose from a hand of five cards an Attack, Defence or Stunt that they wish to perform, and play it onto a time-track, with the two players moves ticking down the track together.

With their deck serving as their life total the players need just two decks and a time-track to play, while the discard-damage mechanic ensures they always have choice in how to act or react.

Student Nationals in Nottingham

Speaking of conventions, we’re going to be trading at one next weekend – (April 21st to 23rd) the Student Nationals, a wargaming and roleplaying convention hosted in a different UK university each year. I’m sure we’ll see some of you there.

I make no promises as to the update for next Monday – we’ll be recovering from the convention – but we hope to have some interesting things to tell you by the Tuesday

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References   [ + ]

1. While it’s possible that none will, I believe that to be rather unlikely

Emperor’s Hand – A Design Story (& Print+Play)

Comple 0.8asmall

Emperor’s Hand is a young game, born this very year. Speaking as someone who’s been working on the same (unreleased) game for over half a decade, that’s a very quick turnaround.

The game is in some ways finished, but in other ways not. The deepest problem with it is that it only truly works in the 3-5 player range, a rather

So, here’s a run-through of how the game came to be. You may want to take a look at the print and play to fully understand the details described.

The Spark of Inspiration

The simple answer to “what inspired this game?” is this contest on TheGameCrafter (which we didn’t enter due to the unfinished state of the game’s artwork) and its linked video on Trick-Taking mechanics, but without context that doesn’t really give the right idea of what happened.

To me, inspiration is about a spark that starts a fire burning inside my mind, illuminating a new idea – It’s a single moment of thought that grows into something more – but it is nothing without fuel.

In this case the fuel was something I’d been pondering for a while – the Wu Xing and the way it connects the five elements in a pair of cycles, perfect for tie-breaking or creating a set of mystical relationships.

That interest came partly from looking at the number of clones of Magic, including some that cloned it all the way down to the colour pie. But that’s another story.

So, the spark landed in potent fuel – what about using the asymmetric relationships to make a trick-taking game where the trump was neither constant nor changing, but was found in the relationship between the suits?

Designing the Game

The inspiration in place, the game was still somewhat empty – it was a simple rock-paper-scissors-lizard-spock scenario, a single mechanic, along with a strong theme.

So I started to delve a little deeper into the theme – yes, every element can be said to trump two of the others (the one that creates it, and the one it destroys) but those two relationships are fundamentally different, and a good game could reflect that fact.

That’s where the idea of having positive and negative elemental modifiers on each card came into play. The first thought that followed this was that it could, potentially, be used so that every card had a unique combination of modifiers (from +5/-0 to +0/-5) ensuring that no card was always superior to any other card – but this resulted in the modifiers having an overwhelming impact, so we decided to go with the simplified +3/-0 to +0/-3 that the cards now have – accepting that a few cards would be strictly superior to their neighbours.

With that in place we had a playable, and somewhat fun, game simply by going round the table playing cards in turns. But it wasn’t great – it was mediocre. So we started looking for ways to improve it, making it both more tactical and (vitally) more fun.

The quickest way to find new tricks for a game is to look at old designs, whether your own or others, and draw from them. If possible, looking for solutions that were both:

1) Aimed at the same problem; &

2) Successful in solving it.

In the case of Emperor’s Hand the most immediate problem was Kingmaking – the last person to play in each hand was the most likely to win, but they always knew whether or not they would win, and if they couldn’t (due to not having the right card) they weren’t just throwing away a worthless card – the modifiers from their card could well tip the balance between the other players, deciding who won. Not a fun situation to be in.

This was a new problem for us – but it belonged to a broader category of problems: People who play later knowing too much. That broader category has a common solution that can almost always be applied in card games – simultaneous (face-down) play – so we applied that solution…

We didn’t even need to playtest the face-down play to realise that it caused a big problem in turn; it removed all the information, meaning that every round the starting environment was identical, with nothing to inform the choice. We needed something to differentiate one round from the next, an element in play before the face-down stage, and there were two elegant ways to do that:

1) Reveal and discard the top card of the deck each round, counting that card’s element as being in play; or

2) Have one of the players play face up, and then the rest play face down – so there’s a first player but no last player.

We’d used the first option before, and it worked, but it didn’t feel quite right for this game, so I decided to try option 2 and, in order to kill two birds with one stone, I made the player who played face up be the player who won the previous hand – thereby making it less likely to have overwhelming victories, even when there’s a significant skill gap.

The last decision we made purely in what I think of as the design phase was creating the dragons. The dragons were a way to add further variety to the game, without significantly increasing the complexity – and they are effectively free in terms of printing costs. 1)A Note on Numbers

Throughout the design process, we often looked at the possibility of using an 88 card deck, due to the positive associations of that number in Chinese culture. It may seem odd, therefore, that we eventually settled on a 54 card deck, as 4 is an unlucky number connected with death. While in part this number of cards was a sacrifice to practicality (88 would be more apt, but it required complicating the game) we did take a look at the aesthetic meanings – while 4 itself is unlucky, 54 isn’t, because 5 has a connection with “no”, making 54 “no death” – not always a good thing, but rarely a bad one

The design on the dragons took a few steps – we had four cards to work with, so using the four cardinal directions (North, South, East and West) seemed obvious, and they correspond neatly to Up, Down, Right and Left. Up and down were trivial – doubling the bonuses and penalties from the elements makes for a significant departure of tactics while accentuating (rather than damaging) the core gameplay.

Right and Left also had immediate connections – the player’s to your right and left – but those were less easily applied. We started with the principle that the cards should never cancel out, so the two had to interact with your neighbours in different ways. Passing cards wasn’t a huge leap, though the first draft passed the cards whole hand – which proved to be somewhat meaningless, so we switched to passing a single card. Playing for another player on the other hand was something unusual, but it’s a trick that often works – making players play to lose is often a fun twist.

DragonEast DragonWest

There’s much more to the game – and still more changes to come before the final version – but these are the elements that I’d count as the original design. I’ll talk about the changes since then later.

Next week, however, will be talking about Jigsaw Fantasy

Until then, Be Well


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References   [ + ]

1. A Note on Numbers

Throughout the design process, we often looked at the possibility of using an 88 card deck, due to the positive associations of that number in Chinese culture. It may seem odd, therefore, that we eventually settled on a 54 card deck, as 4 is an unlucky number connected with death. While in part this number of cards was a sacrifice to practicality (88 would be more apt, but it required complicating the game) we did take a look at the aesthetic meanings – while 4 itself is unlucky, 54 isn’t, because 5 has a connection with “no”, making 54 “no death” – not always a good thing, but rarely a bad one

Jigsaw Fantasy – With Freebies

Monstrous Mondays has had its first month, and I hope you enjoyed it, but to avoid burnout April’s going to have a somewhat different focus – each Monday we’ll be talking about a different one of our ongoing or upcoming projects, plans and/or products.

This week it’s Jigsaw Fantasy that’s on the agenda

jigsaw logo colour transp bearowl

What is Jigsaw Fantasy?

Jigsaw Fantasy is our monthly series of RPG setting elements on Patreon, a stream of releases aimed at middling to experienced GMs lacking either the time or the energy to create every aspect of the world they’re running – or who simply want a little extra inspiration to help them on their way.

Each release is between 18 and 22 pages long and details a region, set of characters, or organisation in sufficient detail to provide fodder for at least half a dozen game sessions.

Why is it Unique?

There are a lot of RPG setting pieces out there, but Jigsaw Fantasy takes its name from its unique trick – Jigsaw Links.

Each Jigsaw Piece includes a set of footnotes explaining how to link it in to other pieces of writing, including established settings, mythology, and our other creations – making it easier for a GM to fit it into their own world by providing context on how things can be clicked together.

Take a Look

In addition to the Patreon you can learn more by checking out the two free releases of Jigsaw Fantasy – The Wandering Tavern and our April Fools release “My Little Yeti Ranch

Next week we’ll be looking at Emperor’s Hand – a card game that has been brought home for redevelopment to expand its player range from 3-6 to 2-8.

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