Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Designer Diary: ALIEN: Fate of the Nostromo

 Happy ALIEN day! For this special day, I thought I'd share how the ALIEN: Fate of the Nostromo board game was created!

In spring of 2020, I was contacted by Ravensburger about their available licenses. I'm fortunate to be on a list of game creators that are offered the opportunity to pitch game ideas to the publisher. ALIEN was on the list and as I'm a big fan of the sci-fi thriller, I knew I had to give it my best shot!

I ended up pitching two concepts - one based on the 1979 movie and an original idea set in the ALIEN universe around the time of the original movie. Ravensburger's response to both concepts were positive - and they asked me if I could combine the two ideas: Take the game mechanics from the original idea's pitch but base the game on the setting of the original film. When I said that I could, I was asked for a more detailed example of the game. Grabbing some components from other games I had in my collection, I set to work putting together a prototype!

Ravensburger had a few requests for the design: they were excited about the "Jump scare" deck mentioned in the pitch, so I had to explain how that worked...

...and I was asked to not have player elimination or a traitor mechanic in the game design. I said "you do realize this is a movie with player elimination and a traitor mechanic, right?" They replied "You'll figure something out." So instead, I came up with a fear mechanic - the more frightened you got, the less you could do. If you were ever "too scared" to do anything, the game was over.

And of course, Jonesy had to make an appearance in the game. However, I didn't want him to be a player character or a first-player token. Instead, I wanted him to act as he did in the film - causing jump scares to the player and even being a source of frustration until the player could capture him in the cat-carrier.

Once all of the pieces were in place, my family playtested the game over and over and over again. This was one of the happy side-effects of the global pandemic - a captive playtesting group!
My family was a great help and my kids dubbed the ALIEN miniature "Alan" - enjoying making him "grab" the astronaut miniatures that were stand-in for the player characters. Note the "Ash" miniature stand-in that became a standee in the final game.

Meanwhile, Ravensburger's Steve Warner was leading the remote playtesting efforts on the game. They came up with some of the game's better improvements - turning the jump scare deck into tokens, and splitting the board into two "levels" of the ship.
This prototype image shows several ideas that were discarded including individual "fear" for each character, a die used to determine the Alien's location (which was meant to be in the shape of the classic egg) and a meter that increased the Alien's speed and lethal-ness as it increased. This is all part of the iterative design process - you try ideas, they either don't work or don't improve the game, so you come up with something else.

Another funny moment during development: I'm friends with sculptor Brian Dugas and we were DMing each other about what projects we were working on - without telling each other what projects we were working on. I deduced that he was working on the minis for ALIEN and said "Hey! I'm designing that game!" We both had a good laugh and I'm glad that Brian was on the project - he's super-talented and it's always great to work with friends.

Like I mentioned, the board was constantly changing as the game developed. These are just a few of the configurations we played with over the course of development. But, I'm pleased with what we ended up with - it follows the structure of the ship as seen in the movie but still allows for interesting movement and gameplay. Also, I love the little details - especially the "acid drip" that is on both levels of the ship map.

Another happy moment was when we learned we could use the likenesses of the actors. This isn't always the case - but having portraits and the other components painted by Stefen Koidl, Studio Hive and Vlad Rodriguez really made the game come alive.

The icing on the cake was the Jonesy "jump scare" that greets you when you open the box. I give full credit to Steve and Ravensburger for that one. It was a highlight of the production and a memorable moment for those who bought the game.

ALIEN: Fate of the Nostromo came out in the summer of 2021 and I couldn't be more proud to have designed the game!


Thursday, March 2, 2023

Designer Diary: The one that got away.

 This week, Disney released this teaser poster from the upcoming Haunted Mansion movie.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a pre-screening of the movie and without violating my NDA, let's just say that Mansion fans will be pleased. After watching the film, it reminded me of a board game that I had designed based on the classic theme park attraction. 

Back in 2018, I was invited by a publisher to pitch ideas based on licenses they had access to. One of them was Disney. Because I am a big Disney theme park fan and a bigger Haunted Mansion fan, I asked them "since they had the Disney license, did this mean that they had the rights to make games based on the theme park attractions?" They admitted that they hadn't thought about it and asked. When they came back finally came back with a "yes", I went to work on several pitches based on theme park attractions including the Haunted Mansion. 

This is the pitch deck I sent them:

As you can see from the pitch, I wanted to make a game that could be slightly scary, slightly fun just like the attraction. As you can tell, I took my inspiration (and more than a few components) from another of my favorite games: Betrayal at House on the Hill. 

I had always noticed that when gamers complained about BaHotH, they often mentioned how they love the exploration half of the game they disliked the traitor half of the game. 


Taking that complaint in mind, my design emphasized the exploration but rather than making one player become the bad guy, the villain would be the ghostly bride who - with the use of cards - chased you around the house. If she caught you, you would get a "death certificate" - you couldn't win if you had one. You had to visit Madame Leota in her seance chamber to remove it. 

Fun Note: I originally made The Hatbox Ghost the villain of the game, but I figured that not enough people knew who he was. That will change when the new movie comes out. ;)


You also couldn't leave the Mansion if you had ghosts following you - inspired by the quote "Beware of Hitchhiking Ghosts, they may try to follow you home" - so you need to appease them by finding items in the house that they want.

The publisher was excited about my pitch and asked for a prototype to evaluate. I leapt at the opportunity although I always clarify to the publisher that this is just a "crude model" rather than the art and design of the final game. I even designed a box!

Both the publisher (and by their reports, the licensor) was excited about my pitch and the prototype... but in 2020 I was informed that the Haunted Mansion license went to another publisher who made a very different style of game.

Needless to say, I was disappointed that this didn't happen as I love the Haunted Mansion and would still love to have a game based on it published. Maybe I'll take my own advice and "Make my own damn Haunted Mansion" game someday.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Announcing YOUR TURN! The Guide to Great Tabletop Game Design!


Well, the cat's out of the bag!

I've been writing a new book about tabletop game design called YOUR TURN! The guide to great tabletop game design which is being published by my friends at Wiley & Sons!

 It's like my other books - LEVEL UP! The guide to great video game design and SWIPE THIS! The guide to touchscreen game design - but this one is about analog/board games!

Not only do I share all of my experiences, tips and tricks about professionally designing tabletop games but you'll also learn the history of these genres, the mechanisms that you can use for your own games and how to pitch your game to publishers... or publish it yourself using crowdfunding!

YOUR TURN! features hundreds of original illustrations that I have drawn myself! And best of all, you will learn how to design SIX TABLETOP GAMES of different genres that you can play for yourself!

I can't wait for you to read YOUR TURN! and take your turn designing tabletop games! You can pre-order YOUR TURN! either at or at the website or look for it this summer at your favorite book seller!

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Texas Chainsaw Massacre game pre-order!

 I receieved this message from my friends at Trick or Treat Studios!



We are excited to announce the Officially Licensed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Game! A new tabletop game of horror from designer Scott Rogers, illustrated by Terry Wolfinger. 


The players' van has run out of gas, leaving them stranded and at the mercy of the Slaughter family! Work together and push your luck to escape! Preorder Now!

I had a lot of fun designing this game, I hope you enjoy playing it!

Watch Gamemaster for FREE!


In 2020, I was fortunate to be involved with a documentary film about board games entitled Gamemaster

If you've never seen it before, it's available for FREE on Kanopy and Tubi.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Board Game contract advice from Not-A-Lawyer


Recently, someone asked me "what needs to be in a board game contract"?

Negotiating a contract as a board game designer/inventor can be a tricky thing, especially if you've had no formal training in business - like me. But I have had to negotiate my own contracts in the past and have created a list of topics that you want to make sure are in your own contract:

1) Your advance. How much is it? How far from contract signing will you get paid? Does it come out of royalty? Do you still keep it if game doesn't get made?

2: Your Royalty Rate. How much is it (2-10% is average)? How often do you get paid? Is there a minimum that the game must sell to get issued a royalty check or does it roll over to next period? Does the rate increase if more than a set # of games are sold?

3) You advance/royalty on reprint copies or international translated copies. Do you get an advance or royalty for each language the game is translated into? If there is a second edition (or more) does your royalty rate go up?

4) 1st right of refusal for expansions, second editions, etc. Do you get "first crack" at any new material based on the core game? Do you get an advance/royalty on those derivative products? Do you get your name on the box/in the credits as the originator of the base game?

5) Kickstarter/electronic sales royalty. Often the prod. run printed for Kickstarter is different than those for traditional distribution. What % of the KS do you get (it should be higher than your normal royalty). The same is true for any games sold via Amazon, etc.

6) What is the payment schedule? How often do you get paid? What happens if there is a missed payment? What is the minimum that the publisher will pay? Is it paid electronically or via check?

7) Comps. How many copies of the game do you receive? I usually ask for a case or 6 copies. These are great for self-promotion, friends and family gifts, as well as a copy for your own library.

8) Credits. How are you credited? (be firm on which title you get - this is the #1 way pubs may "screw" you) Where are you credited? If possible, always on the box - front is preferable. But also demand to be listed in the manual and on the BGG website.

9) Rights reversion. If you are licensing your game (which is better than selling it) when do they revert back to you? What reverts back to you: design only or the art and other assets created for the game? Do you own the title too?

10) Additional copies of game. Do you have the option to buy more copies of your game from the publisher? Is it at wholesale price? lower than wholesale? Can you buy remaining stock if game stops being sold?

I suggest negotiating things like video game rights, toy rights, clothing rights, etc. into a different contract as they are moderately to severely different things from your board game. Your rights in your contract should focus on the board game and any "ancillary" products (like game mats, KS stretch goals, etc.)

Keep in mind that I'm not a lawyer. These are just the information and knowledge that I've picked up over negotiating contracts on my own and making mistakes, but I'm getting better at it. 

I wish you the best of luck!

Thursday, December 2, 2021

15 step to making and selling a board game

I teach a tabletop game design class and while I have lots of experience to share through anecdotal stories, sometimes they appreciates a good ol' fashioned list to help guide them through a process. Here are the fifteen steps that I follow when designing and selling a board game:

Step 1. Ideation. Come up with idea - make copious notes about theme and game play. Research related games and subject matter. Try to expand your search beyond obvious sources like Wikipedia and Google. Dive deeper and take note of words and concepts mentioned in other sources to expand your search. Or read a couple of books on the subject. Become an expert on the topic! If you put it to use, all of that knowledge will only improve your game!

Step 2. Assemble. Gather components that you think you'll need and see how well they work together. You can get them from anywhere. Other games, toy stores, internet shops. This is a big part of the fun for me. Once I get them all together, I ask myself "Is it a thing?" even before I ask myself "Is it a game?" I find this type of play really gets my creative process going. Try to give yourself a target during this process such as "I want to make a story telling game that uses dice and tokens" or "I want to make a game where little spaceships race around the galaxy carrying cargo" - see what components and player's actions would be the most fun for the actions you want to happen.

Step 3. Solo Playtesting. Start play testing your systems to see if they are "doing what you want them to do." You don't need to create an entire game to test a single system. If you have an unique combat, movement, auction, scoring or other system, why not try it out on its own first? Then, when it is doing what you need it to do, connect it to the rest of your game.
Step 4. First Public Prototype. Build a physical and/or create a digital prototype of your game. Use assets from your physical game to recreate your game on Tabletop Simulator or some other digital game playing tool. The prototype can still be very rough at this stage but you might want to consider having some components that can help get your story or theme across. I always have one "component of quality" in my prototypes to give the players an idea of what I will be shooting for.

Step 5. Play with Game Designers. Play your prototype with "trusted friends" with the intention of "breaking" it. I find that my fellow game designers are the best at this. They understand game systems so you don't have to explain to them how things are suppose to work. They can mentally apply theme to your game to help them quickly understand what type of story or game play you are presenting. Most importantly, they have an imagination, so they can visual your game at this early stage. If something breaks, fix it right there and try it out! I find that my fellow game designers are very flexible, so don't worry about confusing them with changes made during the game. They'll adapt!

Step 6. Pretty things up. Once you've nailed down your game's core rules and what components you will need to play the game, it's time to bring art up to a level that you are not embarrassed by. Some designers argue that you shouldn't spend money at this stage, but I feel that the less "imagination" your player has to use, the better they will understand what you are going for thematically or components-wise. Feel free to use Google images and pictures from other sources at this stage. As long as you aren't using them in your final game (you will always want original art and graphics for that) then you won't be violating any copyrights or creator's rights. 
If you check out my prototypes (there are many pictures of them in this article), they are just "pretty enough" to get my ideas across. I've had some publishers compliment me on how nice my prototypes look, but I always laugh because the art and graphic design will most likely have to be totally redone for the final game!

Step 7. Get the word out! Start sharing your game on social media so people can become aware of it! Photograph some nice images of your prototype and your "trusted friends" playing it. Describe how to play the game. Discuss your development of the game and get your audience involved so they can cheer you on and be ready to buy the game when it becomes available! Create a webpage or register it on BoardGameGeek to have a place to post photos and for interested people (such as publishers) to check out your game.

Step 8. More playtesting! Share your game at play testing events - both physical and virtual. Your fellow gamers have played lots of games so they can compare what they like and don't like in your game to those other games. They might not always be able to articulate what they like or don't like about a game as well as a game designer can, so be prepared to try to coax the information out of them - in the nicest way possible. A good rule of thumb - if enough players complain about something in your game, it's an issue that needs to be fixed.

9. Quotes! Start getting quotes from printers about the cost of your game. Don't forget to include the box and the rule book in your quote. Going through this process will help you reevaluate the contents of your game. Are there any components that could be left out, saved for an expansion or made out of a different material? This is called determining the "Minimum Viable Product" and it's a great exercise to do, even if you aren't ready to self-publish your game. Some publishers are looking for games "in the $20 range" and if your game costs more, then they won't be interested. (Panda is just one of the many great companies that you can request a quote from!) A good rule of thumb is that your MSRP (manufacturer's suggested retail price) should be 5X the cost of the game. So, if you want to sell your game for $30, your production cost should be $6 a unit.

10. Rules. By now, you should have gotten enough feedback and know what components will be in your game to start writing the final rule book. If you are having trouble starting, I suggest using a recording device to describe how to play your game. Transcribe your description and use that as the foundation of your rule book. Don't forget a picture is worth 1000 words so put them into your rules so players know what components are in your game, illustrate any possibly confusing rules or interactions and don't forget to give yourself (and your playtesters) credit!
11. The Pitch! A pitch is a brief description of your game that will capture the attention and curiosity of the audience. You'll want to be able to quickly and efficiently communicate your game concept to both play testers and publishers. For example, my pitch for Who's Hue (which was published as Pantone the Game) was "A card game in which you create classic characters using colorful cards and clever clues!" (Alliteration helps me remember a pitch.) Your pitch should answer the following questions (which defers depending on the genre of the game) "What genre is the game play?" (Card game, miniatures game, dice game, etc.) "What theme is the game?" (Horror, Fantasy, Abstract, etc.) "What is the player doing?" (ie. game play) "Who is the player?" (are they themselves (party game) or are they a character?) The shorter and more intriguing your pitch is, the more likely it will capture the imagination of the audience. You can watch me pitch my games HERE and HERE.

12. Get ready to sell! Now that you have a playable game, a decent looking prototype and you have honed your pitch, it's time to promote it! There are two things every game designer needs to sell their game: a sell-sheet and a game play video. You can learn all about making sell-sheets HERE, HERE and HERE. Making a video, while somewhat daunting, doesn't need to be anything more complex that you playing a sample turn or round of your game, narrating what you are doing and why it is fun. My advice for making a video - 1. Describing how to play a game is like telling a story. Start with the premise, who the player is and how they can win. Then show what the player controls (a hand of cards, some dice, a mini with stats, etc.) and go from there. Show how the player interacts with the "world" of the game until they reach the goal. Keep it to 5 minutes or less (shorter is always better) You can watch a few of my own play-through videos HERE and HERE

13. Choose your own adventure. At this point you have a decision to make. Do you want to sell/license your game or publish it yourself?

13a. Publisher? Investigate which publishers would be a "good fit" for the game - send sell sheet, set up appointments/video pitches. Selling your game means that you get a flat fee for the game. It also means that you will give up all control to a publisher. They can change it however they wish. Licensing your game means that you will get an advance on the game (anywhere from $500 - $5K) and a royalty based on sales (anywhere from 2% to 50%) Usually, the licensor (that's you) will still be involved in the game's development process. It might be lightly - helping playtest and making design revisions - or you might work with the publisher as a partner, being heavily involved in bringing the game to market


13b. Self-Publishing? Publishing the game yourself is even more work. Are you prepared to not just continue developing the game but marketing it, contacting oversea printers, distribution companies, the press, reach out to game stores all around the country or world to sell your game? Do you have space in your house or garage to store thousands of copies of your game?

And if you want to sell your game on Kickstarter or Indiegogo or some other crowd-funding platform, you now have even more work ahead of you! You need to build an audience way ahead of time. Then you have to get all of the components together for the Kickstarter. This includes making a video about the game, creating art for the page, sending prototypes of your game to reviewers who will (hopefully) record a positive review of your game, deal with fulfillment companies. Do you offer your game to oversea buyers? Do you market your game on a website or some other media? How do you deal with dissatisfied customers? Self-publishing is SO MUCH work and my hat is off to anyone who "does it themselves".

14. More Exposure! There's an old saying: "Luck is when preparation meets opportunity." You get lucky by getting your game out there and letting people know about it. Attend speed-dating events to get your game in-front of the world. Promote your work on social media. Don't be afraid to share your game (no one is going to "steal it" - we're all too busy making our own games!) Promote your game at convention and in-between play test sessions take meetings with publishers to introduce them to your game. More often than not, these meetings won't result in a sale (it's very rare to walk away from a meeting with a publisher with a deal) so don't get discouraged! It's just as important to make friends at these meetings as it is to show that you are a talented designer. You never know where a meeting with someone will lead!
15. Start all over again! By this point game is either sold or there is no interest in it. If you've sold your game, then congratulations! If you aren't having my "luck" selling it, access what might be wrong with game - ask your playtesters or publishers during meetings why they aren't interested in it. Keep honing your game until it's something that someone might want to buy. Worse comes to worst, shelf your game. Start working on something else. Repeat steps 1-14
I hope you found these steps helpful! Good luck in making and selling your own games!