Puzzle Day Kickstarter Round-up!

Happy (Inter)National Puzzle Day, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!

As I explained on Tuesday, today is a day dedicated to all things puzzly, and lots of puzzlers are joining the celebration!

For instance, our friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles are running a timed Word Seek challenge and encouraging solvers to share pics of themselves doing the challenge on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram using the hashtag #PDPPuzzleDayChallenge!

And, in the spirit of the day, I thought I’d do a crowdfunding round-up of some of the interesting puzzly projects on Kickstarter right now.

First off, I want to talk about Unspeakable Words, a Scrabble-style word-building game with a dash of H.P. Lovecraft.

The game went out of print a while ago, and remaining copies have been in high demand since the game was featured on Wil Wheaton’s board game webseries TableTop. The goal is to print a deluxe version of the game (originally allowing for seven players instead of six, but with several stretch goals reached, they’ve expanded to eight!), with additional stretch goals allowing for better game components.

Now, this is already a Kickstarter success story, because the game funded the first day, so you’re guaranteed to see a finished game before it hits stores.

For a taste of something different, Facets is a wood-and-magnets constructing puzzle toy that allows you to make various shapes based on the Platonic solids. Whether you’re interested in 3-D geometry or just like wooden building toys with a twist, Facets is right up your alley.

Facets has just crossed its funding goal with less than two weeks to go, and it looks like this might be the start of the next generation of Tinker Toys-style constructing toys.

Now, there are a LOT of other campaigns I could mention, like the small 3-D printed puzzle ship (pictured above) or this campaign to make the fake game Cones of Dunshire from NBC’s Parks and Recreation a real Settlers of Catan-style game, but I want to focus on one campaign that’s using puzzles to spread a deeper message.

Alyssa’s Puzzle Project is the brainchild of a young lady named Alyssa who is 12 years old and wants to educate the world — and her fellow students — about the dangers of moral and governmental corruption. So she’s created an awareness-building activity around a jigsaw puzzle, designed for classrooms and students to assemble together. It’s symbolic group problem-solving to raise awareness and spark conversation.

You can read more about Alyssa’s project and her ambitious goals here.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the phenomenal success of Exploding Kittens, a strategy card game that launched with a goal of $10,000 and has raised over 4 MILLION dollars in its first eight days.

It is now the most backed Kickstarter campaign in history, with more than 100,000 backers, and the sky truly appears to be the limit for this card game based on art from The Oatmeal.

I’ve been watching and funding Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns for a few years now, and I (and the rest of the world) have never seen anything like it.

Did I miss any puzzly Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaigns you’ve seen launched recently, fellow puzzlers? Let me know!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

It’s Follow-Up Friday: Library Gaming edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to return to the subject of puzzle-game holidays!

[Once again, a board game brings a family together…]

In the past I’ve written plenty about International TableTop Day, the holiday dedicated to social gaming and puzzling. But did you know that in less than two weeks, another puzzle-game holiday arrives?

That’s right, November 15 is International Games Day, an event organized by the American Library Association “to celebrate the mutually-reinforcing power of play and learning.”

From the I Love Libraries website:

Libraries are about sharing culture and information, and games are a form of culture that you often have to share – you often can’t experience them without another player!

They’re also good for brain health, and foster important life skills like socialization, theory of mind and systems literacy. Plus, they’re fun!

Whether video games, tabletop games, social games or other kinds of games, they’re all a part of culture whose importance is only becoming clearer with time. And that means we need to foster the kind of smart engagement that libraries support, for games as well as books.

And while International TableTop Day is synonymous with board games, card games, and roleplaying games, International Games Day encompasses all of the above and more, including online videogames, trivia games, and any other games you can think of.

It’s a terrific opportunity to come out to support both games and your local library, and maybe make a few new friends along the way!

Let us know if you’ll be participating in International Games Day, PuzzleNationers! We’d love to see pictures and hear all about it!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

It’s Follow-Up Friday (in color!)

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

For those new to PuzzleNation Blog, Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and update the PuzzleNation audience on how these projects are doing and what these people have been up to in the meantime.

And today, I thought I’d mention a curious and clever board game development I stumbled across recently.

One of the most popular games from our recent TableTop Day event was Qwirkle.

A wonderful tile game featuring different colors and symbols, Qwirkle follows in the strategy and pattern-matching tradition of Uno and Mexican Train dominoes.

Unfortunately, my fellow puzzlers and I quickly discovered that the colors chosen for the game are difficult for colorblind players to tell apart. And in a game where you don’t want to show other players your tiles before you play them, it becomes much harder to tell the different between red and orange tiles, which is a crucial distinction during gameplay.

Thankfully, a software developer and board game fan named Joe Michael McDonald took it upon himself to design a colorblind-friendly color palette for Qwirkle.

qwirklecolorblind

[On the left is the standard Qwirkle color options. On the right is McDonald’s colorblind-friendly variant.]

It’s a terrific example of player ingenuity solving an unforeseen problem and opening up the game to a whole new audience.

Kudos to you, sir. Here’s hoping more games offer a colorblind-friendly variant very soon.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

It’s Follow-Up Friday: TableTop Day Edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

For those new to PuzzleNation Blog, Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and update the PuzzleNation audience on how these projects are doing and what these people have been up to in the meantime.

And today, I’m following up on all the International TableTop Day goodness we got up to this week.

The PuzzleNation offices weren’t open on April 5 for the actual TableTop Day, so we celebrated a few days late with an event on Tuesday, and we invited our pals from Penny/Dell Puzzles to join us in all the puzzly game activities we had planned.

Here’s the table of available games for play that day! Everything from one-player brain teasers from ThinkFun (like Rush Hour and the Sudoku-inspired Chocolate Fix) to bigger group games like Apples to Apples and Scattergories, and everything in between! (Including previously reviewed games like Castellan, Pink Hijinks, ROFL!, Fluxx: The Board Game, and Loonacy!)

Here, fellow puzzlers partake in a spirited round of Apples to Apples, the perfect way to blow off a little steam at work after a long morning of puzzlesmithing.

Furiously contested games of Bananagrams and Qwirkle were conducted at either end of our play area, and both were big hits with attendees.

I even had the opportunity to test my mettle against Penny/Dell’s well-traveled Corin the Puzzle Bear in a few rounds of Jenga.

While he beat me handily in two straight games, the tide soon turned against him in round three.

We had a pretty decent turnout overall, and everyone who attended had fun. What more can you ask for, really? (Other than more excuses to play games during work, that is…)

I hope your International TableTop Day was just as enjoyable. As Wil Wheaton says on his YouTube show TableTop, play more games!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

A day for puzzles and games galore!

This Saturday April 5 marks the second annual International TableTop Day.

For the uninitiated, International TableTop Day was the brainchild of Internet superstars and gaming devotees Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day, known for their YouTube series TableTop.

While on the surface, International TableTop Day is a day to celebrate board games, card games, roleplaying games, dice games, and any other games and activities played around a table, the true spirit of the day is the socializing and communal gameplay that comes from sitting around a table with friends and loved ones, leaving phones and distractions behind, and enjoying a game.

Like last year, this year’s TableTop Day is a truly worldwide event, with game stores, hobby shops, and many businesses opening their doors and offering space for friends and strangers alike to play games. On the TableTop Day website, a map cataloguing events across the world on April 5th has over two THOUSAND events and counting listed!

While the PuzzleNation offices aren’t open on April 5, I will definitely be celebrating the day at home with family and friends; we’ve got several terrific games lined up to play, including Qwirkle, 12 Days, Gravwell, Scattergories, and a few others to be determined.

Not only that, but the following week, in the spirit of International TableTop Day, the PuzzleNation crew will be getting together with our friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles and hosting a belated TableTop Day event for our fellow puzzlers.

Let us know what you’ll be playing for International TableTop Day! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr, and make sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games! (They’re perfect for sparking some communal puzzling!)

And, most of all, simply enjoy a game with friends and loved ones. Happy International TableTop Day everyone!

5 Questions with Andrew Hackard of Munchkin

Welcome to another edition of PuzzleNation Blog’s interview feature, 5 Questions!

We’re reaching out to puzzle constructors, video game writers and designers, board game creators, writers, filmmakers, musicians, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life, talking to people who make puzzles and people who enjoy them in the hopes of exploring the puzzle community as a whole.

And I’m overjoyed to have Andrew Hackard as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

(Andrew oversees a session of Munchkin for a younger group of puzzlers at Gen Con. Intended for adults, Munchkin can also be a great intro to both card games and roleplaying for younger gamers.)

Munchkin is a hilarious send-up of the classic roleplaying scenario: the dungeon romp. Encouraging players to team up to battle monsters (and betray each other as often as possible for the sake of treasure), it’s a marvelous mix of puzzly strategy and luck. With numerous expansions covering everything from pop culture to the apocalypse, Munchkin has become one of the standard-bearers for the modern board game and card game industries.

And when it comes to all things Munchkin, Andrew Hackard is your go-to guy. As the Munchkin Czar for Steve Jackson Games, he oversees the brand as a whole — at this point, he’s practically synonymous with Munchkin — and helps to offer a unified vision of the franchise while guiding it into new, unexpected territory.

Andrew was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!

5 Questions for Andrew Hackard

1.) Everyone hopes for a great job title, something that’ll look sharp and impressive on a business card. Your title is Munchkin Czar. Can you tell us what that entails? Also, why “czar” and not something like “wrangler” or “overlord” or “almighty omnipotent entity and big cheese”?

It’s a little daunting to realize that out of seven billion people, I am the only one to have this job title. (If that’s not true, please don’t tell me.) It certainly does get me into some interesting conversations when I hand out my business card!

When Steve and Phil rehired me, back in 2009, Steve’s first thought for a title was “Brand Manager” — in fact, I have some cards with that title that I give to people who regularly wear neckties and sport coats. But Steve quickly decided that he didn’t know what a Brand Manager did, and he knew what he wanted ME to do — oversee all the day-to-day mundane operations of the Munchkin line, so that his time was freed up to write games rather than tracking sales figures and planning reprints and fussing with spreadsheets. For whatever reason, “Czar” was the title we came up with. It has the advantage of being both impressive and vague!

Over the past five years (!!!), my job has evolved considerably, and now I’m doing quite a bit of Munchkin design work myself, enough that we’ve started talking about maybe hiring *me* a Brand Manager to track sales figures and fuss with spreadsheets!

(Just a few of the Munchkin game sets and expansions that have been released.)

2.) How do you decide what the next theme or expansion will be for Munchkin? Are there any favorite cards or additions that really sold you on a given idea? Is there anything that, as a board/card game fan yourself, you loved bringing to the Munchkin universe?

We’ve published six new base Munchkin games since I started, and every one of them was different. (The next one, Munchkin Adventure Time, will be the most different of all, because we *aren’t* publishing it; our pals at USAopoly are doing the heavy lifting of design and development, and they’re knocking it out of the park!) Munchkin Zombies came about because we were trying to figure out what we hadn’t done yet, and all of us simultaneously said, “ZOMBIES!”

Munchkin Apocalypse grew out of a desire to commemorate (i.e., mock) the 2012 hysteria. Munchkin Legends was a set lots of our fans had suggested, and it worked well as a new fantasy set when we needed one. Our licensed sets (Axe Cop, Conan, Pathfinder) have all been targets of opportunity, and every one has been both a challenge and a blast to work on — all for different reasons.

So far, I think the most fun I’ve had designing a Munchkin set was Munchkin Apocalypse, because the Seal mechanic was completely new and a real design challenge. The first version we tried was way too hard — playtesters almost universally said it felt like they were fighting the game, not the monsters (and not the other players).

After a couple of disheartening playtest sessions, we went back and completely retooled the set, and ultimately came up with a game that I’m extremely proud of. I would be remiss not to give John Kovalic a shout-out for his outstanding art on Apocalypse, and of course on so many other Munchkin sets over the years. (Look at the Pathfinder cover!)

(The Pathfinder cover, along with the Munchkin version. Look at it!)

3.) You’ve also had a hand in guiding GURPS — short for Generic Universal RolePlaying System — as well as developing the most recent addition of Ogre. All of these projects involve longstanding legacies and expansive rule sets that must be quite a puzzle to work with. How do you mix and match the needs of the player with the high expectations involved?

To correct a minor misconception, my involvement with Ogre was more as a Kickstarter consultant than an Ogre developer — and there are times I wish I’d been a much louder consultant. (But wow, it’s an amazing achievement in game design and production!) Other than that, all I did for Ogre was keep the Munchkin train on the tracks so we could afford to print the sucker.

With GURPS, I was fantastically lucky to work with the best RPG line editor in the business, Sean “Dr. Kromm” Punch. Kromm took care of all the rules issues and made sure that the manuscripts were consistent with the rules that had gone before. That freed me up to worry about issues of text quality, book production, and of course scheduling.

I’m really proud of the work that Kromm and his team did on GURPS, especially on the Fourth Edition launch — editing the entire Basic Set was six months of hard work, but having him there to consult made it go so much easier.

It’s no exaggeration to say that my work on GURPS Fourth Edition was invaluable when I undertook to revise the rules and cards over the entire Munchkin line in late 2009 and 2010. We had decided to upgrade the visuals on the core Munchkin game, to use full-color art instead of the shades of brown that it used to be, and as long as we were going to be changing the set that much, we decided we could afford to sand down a few other rough spots.

It turned out to be quite a bit more of an undertaking that we had originally planned, but the result was a more consistent set of rules (on six pages instead of four, so old, tired eyes like mine could read them!), and the removal of a few design choices that were fine as one-off jokes in 2001 when Munchkin was a stand-alone game, but had started to become VERY frequently asked questions in 2009 when there were nine Munchkin core games and a dozen expansion sets. We thought about calling this a new edition, but it really wasn’t — it was just a refinishing job on the existing game. Ultimately, we compromised and updated the rule version number to 1.5 (with a tip of the hat to D&D in the process).

A lot of the updates we made in ’09 have helped shape the new sets — I think Steve and I both have a clearer understanding of the “Munchkin engine” than we did before that process started. The sets starting with Munchkin Zombies have been a lot more internally consistent, I think, because now we know when a rule doesn’t “feel like Munchkin.” Which is not to say that the earlier sets were bad — far from it! — just that the work of looking at every single card taught us a lot about the game. I certainly hope Steve would agree!

4.) What’s next for Andrew Hackard?

At the time of writing this, we’ve just sent Munchkin Apocalypse 2 to print (it’ll be out in the spring of 2014) and I’ve finished writing a couple of expansion sets for later next year. We have several booster packs planned for 2014, and a few surprises, too! Our biggest news, though, is that Steve, Phil, Ross Jepson (our Director of Sales), and I sat down for an all-day meeting in Dallas during BoardGameGeek Con, and we not only planned out the entire 2014-2015 schedule, we even started putting some things on the board for 2016!

I wish I could tell you about all the Munchkiny goodness coming down the pike, but I have been sworn to secrecy. Suffice it to say that I think our fans will be very pleased indeed, both with the new games coming out and the new support for some classics that haven’t seen a lot of love lately. As long as we don’t start competing with ourselves, we’ll be fine.

I’m also working on a couple of *new* goodies in the Munchkin sphere, one planned for late 2014 and one for 2015, and I’m really looking forward to being able to talk more about them as their release time draws closer. Right before our holiday break, I got the go-ahead to dust off something *non*-Munchkin that I’d been working on awhile back, so I’ll get a chance to stretch my skills in a whole new direction as well.

I expect 2014 to be an amazing year for me, personally, as well as for fans of Munchkin and of Steve Jackson Games in general.

5.) If you could give the readers, writers, aspiring game designers, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

Wil Wheaton talks about being an advocate for what you love, not a detractor for what you hate, and I think that’s very important. Gaming is a huge field and getting bigger all the time, and life’s too short to get into arguments about taste.

Have fun playing what you like, be a positive spokesman when someone expresses interest in what you’re playing, and try new games when you get the chance, because you never know when you’ll find your next favorite game — or when you’ll teach someone THEIR favorite new game.

For the aspiring designers out there, my best advice is simple: play games. Play LOTS of games. Take notes on the rules you like and the rules you don’t, and think really hard about why those rules were designed the way they were. (Don’t be surprised when the answer is, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” That’s how Munchkin started!) If you’ve never studied technical writing, consider taking an introductory class at your local community college, because rule writing IS technical writing. If you confuse the players, they won’t play your game.

Go to conventions, if you can afford it; you’ll never get a better chance to show your game prototype to people who are eager to see the next hot new thing, and you may get a chance to meet and schmooze your favorite game designers, if you’re polite and well-groomed and willing to buy the first round.

(Seriously, the game industry is more welcoming than many others — we all started out as gamers ourselves, after all, and the list of fan-to-pro success stories is half a century long and growing every year.)

Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about — having a good time with your friends. Keep that in mind, and you’ll be far ahead of the game.

Many thanks to Andrew for his time. Check out all things Munchkin on the Steve Jackson Games website, and be sure to follow Andrew on Twitter (@redpenofdoom)! As a fan, I cannot wait to see what he and the Munchkin team come up with next.

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! You can like us on Facebookfollow us on Twitter, cruise our boards on Pinterest, check out our Tumblr, download our puzzle apps and iBooks, play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!