Dwarven Smithy: Kickstarter Recommendation

Dwarven Smithy is game for 2-4 players, from Flatworks Gaming, in which the players try to earn the most gold by selling minerals, runes, and gems, as well as powerful items they crafted from those resources.  Players must make the most efficient use of the limited space in their Workshop, Market, Apprentices, and Tool areas while also managing their hands and staying aware of the warehouse inventory.  The game continues until one player crafts their fourth King’s Item or either the Guild or Resource deck is depleted.  Following end game scoring, players compare their gold with the player possessing the most being declared the winner!


Rather than go through an in-depth rules explanation here, I will give more of a gameplay overview and explain what it is that I like about Dwarven Smithy and why I think it is a project worth backing!  For a complete look at the rules Flatworks Gaming has put together some excellent tutorial videos on YouTube.   Just follow these links for those interested in watching the videos: https://youtu.be/e_tcZvDtS10 for part one and https://youtu.be/WYjSh2Mwxqg for part two.



Game Play Overview

By far the most important key to understanding how to play Dwarven Smithy is to familiarize oneself with the player card that each player will have in front of them.  All players receive an identical player card and place it in the center of what will be their personal game space.  Each area comes with its own rules and spatial limitations and how each player manages these conditions will play a large part in whether they are successful or not.

Understanding the player card and the four areas it indicates: Workshop, Apprentice, Market, and Tools are the key to learning the game.

During the course of the game each of these areas will only be allowed to contain a certain number of cards at any given time.  The Workshop may have up to seven cards in it at anytime, the Market four, two Apprentices and two Tools.  Managing the spatial restrictions of these areas is one of the main challenges and an interesting feature of Dwarven Smithy.  The game would be easy with unlimited space, but as it is quite limited, and careful planning is required to be as efficient as possible while pursuing your goals.

Once everyone has a player card, they also receive 15 gold coins and draw their starting 6 cards.  The cards in the game are divided into two decks: Resource and Guild, and players draw four resource cards and two Guild Cards.  Play begins with the shortest person going first, although I assume that a randomly determined starting player would be ok as well.

A player’s turn consists of the following phases:

Refine:  Any unrefined resources in the player’s Workshop are turned to their refined orientation.

Complete:  Any Guild in a player’s workshop that have been placed atop the needed resources are now completed.

Action:  Players may take and repeat a number of actions during this phase:

  • Play a Card – Place a card from hand either in the Market or Workshop.
  • Discard a Card From the Market – Place a Guild Card in the discard pile from the player’s Market.
  • Move/Swap a Card – The player can use this action to move cards within their play area.
  • Sell a Resource Card to the Warehouse – Place a card from your market on top of the Warehouse and take its sell price in gold coins from the bank.
  • Buy a Resource card from the Warehouse – Pay the desired card’s buy price plus one coin for every card on top of and place the card in the player’s Market or Workshop.
  • Buy a Card from a Market – Pay the buy price of the desired card to the player in whose Market it resides and then place the card into your Market or Workshop.
  • Craft or Hire a Guild Card-  Place the Guild Card on top of the required resources in the Workshop (remembering it counts towards the limit of seven cards) with the intention of completing it next turn.

Draw:  The player draws up to four cards in any combination from the two decks without exceeding the hand limit of six cards

Play continues until one player completes their fourth King’s Item or either deck is depleted.  Players then sell everything left in their Markets and gain bonuses for having the most valuable King’s Item in each category.  The player with most gold coins wins!

The goodies you get in the box!



My Thoughts

I really enjoyed Dwarven Smithy as did all those with whom I played.  It was a little tricky at first to pick up some of the intricacies involved in manipulating one’s tableau, but once we grasp it play accelerated dramatically.  I would also say that it is a game that players will get significantly better at with more plays.  As players become more familiar with the contents of both the decks it will become much easier to create strategies with a proper understanding of each card’s value.  I am fine with this. To be honest prefer games that cannot be mastered in a single play.  As such, I am happy to report that Dwarven Smithy has sufficient depth to allow players to grow into the game.

While I liked Dwarven Smithy overall, there were two mechanical standouts that I thought really made it special.  The first being function of the Market in player areas.  Not only can a player sell resources from it for cash or discard Guild Cards to free up space, but cards placed there may be purchased by other players.  This is interesting for a couple of reasons.  Given that space is so limited, players will occasionally find themselves forced to move things into their markets to make room.  This offers an observant opponent the opportunity to sabotage that player’s future plans by purchasing the resources and placing in their Workshop.  Even if a player does not buy the item for vindictive reasons it is still a tough decision what to expose to purchase by other players just to make temporary space in one’s Workshop.  In addition to this, players store each of their completed King’s Items facedown in one of their four Market space permanently.  This slows down any run away leader syndrome as the closer a player gets to winning the less space they have available to work with.  These two factors cause the Market in Dwarven Smithy to create a great deal of tension and difficult decisions that add greatly to the overall experience!

Secondly, the Warehouse aspect of the game is great!  This could have easily just been another discard pile from which players could pick the top or any card and pay the cost to do so.  However, the fact that every Resource card in the game that is sold off by players is stacked there and the increase to their cost creates some very interesting decisions as well as a thematic feel.  Adding one to the buy cost of a card for each one on top of it can make one think very carefully about the order in which they place cards in the Warehouse after selling them.  Perhaps, you only sold them for short-term cash flow or to free up space on your tableau with the full intention of using it later.  Do you want to bury it under other cards you maybe selling in the current turn to discourage other players from buying it, but in doing so increase the future cost for yourself should you want it back? Do you buy something sold by another player that you don’t even need right now in anticipation of using it later before the cost increases from it being buried under more cards?  Tough decisions and really good stuff!  On a side note, I found the massive spread of cards in the Warehouse to thematically simulate mining as players dug through it looking for the resource they needed.  This is obviously thematic in a way that anyone considering a game called Dwarven Smithy can understand!

In conclusion, I found Dwarven Smithy to be an enjoyable and reasonably strategic card game accessible to mid weight gamers.  It takes a little while to play, but that accelerates as player become more familiar with the system and I am sure it moves even faster as players gain a better understanding of the strategies.  Given the skill level the game seems able to support, players should have plenty of room to explore and grow with multiple plays, which certainly adds value to buying a copy.  If you are in the market for a fun game that will test your ability to manage both a tightly constricted tableau as well as the cards in your hand Dwarven Smithy will likely be a hit for you!


Path of Light and Shadow: Kickstarter Recommendation

Path of Light and Shadow is a new game designed by the trio of Travis Chance, Nick Little, and Jonathan Gilmour in which players engage in a struggle to dominate the realm as the heirs of once great houses.  The methods by which each player attempts to achieve this goal are largely up to them, as they may be as merciful or cruel as they wish while reaping both the benefits and drawbacks that come with either. Do you have what it takes to crush your enemies and claim the realm by right of conquest?  Choose your path, but choose wisely as only one will lead to victory!

The Kickstarter campaign for Path of Light and Shadow begins on Tuesday May 9th and is being run by the well-known publisher Indie Boards and Cards.  This should reasonably remove any concern potential backers may have about the reliability of the people running the project, as it is a first-rate operation.  Rather than give a full rules explanation, I will instead give an overview of the mechanics and gameplay that make this such an interesting game.

Game Overview

The realm over which the players are battling!

The Path of Light and Shadow is played over the course of three years(rounds) with each round being made up of four game turns.  At the end of each year players will earn points based on the current state of the board position.

Each player gets one turn during each game turn, that is made up of their main phase, when most of the action takes place, and an end phase during which recruiting occurs.

During a players Main Phase they may move their leader, build a structure (advance on the tech tree), use and action ability(shown on cards), recruit an ally if the conditions are met cull cards from their deck and gain cruelty, promote a card, and attempt to conquer a province.  These actions may be performed in any order to the player’s best advantage, and some may be performed multiple times.


During a player’s End Phase they resolve any end of turn abilities they may have and then recruit.  The player must recruit a card from the deck that matches the type of province their leader is in and may recruit a second one from the same deck to increase their merciful rating by one.

That is the basic turn structure.  Pretty standard stuff in many ways, but the standouts are the impact of the culling in regards to cruelty, the recruiting and its effect on mercy, and a very interesting combat system.

As the name of the game implies there are two major paths that players may pursue in the game.  One of those main paths is cruelty and it is done by culling cards from one’s deck.  Most cards have a strength value and it may be used to cull (remove) other cards from the player’s hand or discard pile.  Each card culled increases the player’s cruelty by one.  Mechanically this thins a player’s deck and improves their draws.  Thematically, this represents a cruel leader who only keeps the strongest and most fanatically devoted to the cause.  Taking this path allows the player to push their cruelty to a level where certain cards grant benefits for such behavior!

The other primary path is that of the merciful leader.  While there are a number of ways to boost a player’s mercy, the most straightforward is to recruit an extra card during the End of Turn Phase.  Much like culling for cruelty, this is interesting both thematically and mechanically.  Mechanically, the player grows their deck and weakens the average strength of their draws, but as many cards provide end of game victory points it can improve their chances for victory.  Thematically, it shows a leader who accepts all who flock to the banner and attempts to rise to power through creating as large a coalition as possible.

Both of these features are integral to the game and a player should commit to one or the other as the middle is a terrible place to be.  As Machiavelli said you can generally be loved or feared and it the Path of Light and Shadow either is effective, but you must choose one!

Lastly is the unique combat system which is also linked with the terrific 3D towers that represent the strength and value of the castle in a province.  Unlike most area control games an empty province is not free for the taking.  Each province already has an existing stronghold and its strength and value are determined by the number of pips on the tower pieces in the province.  Even if it is not controlled by another player, it must be still be conquered to bring it under one’s sway.  Even more interesting is that doing so may very well result in damage being done to the towers and reducing its future strength and value!  This is awesome! I have never played a game that employed such a mechanic despite it being such an intuitive and realistic outcome of a battle.

Not destroying the province one conquers is important not only for its eventual point value but also for the defensive value it provides should another player try to take it.  This is because an attacking player declares it chooses a number of cards from hand, places them facedown, and declares the number of cards that are being used to conquer.  If the defender has any cards in hand capable of a defense they may now be declared.  Both players, resolve any battle abilities on their cards, calculate their strength and roll a number of battle dice to modify their strength.  The defender also adds in the number of pips on the tower in the province being defended and the player with the highest total wins.

This is just a brief overview of the combat system, but I assure you it is great!  There is a sense of unknown on the part of both players that creates tension.  The attacker has to worry about going too strong and potentially causing damage to the prize, but also deal with the danger of attacking too weakly if the defender has enough cards in hand to react.  Mix in the custom die rolls and there is an opportunity for some wild outcomes depending how much risk you are willing to take.  I say risk you are willing to take, because despite the number of unknowns a player can be cautious and almost guarantee victory if they want to wait for the right conditions.  However, time is tight and fortune favors, and sometimes crushes, the bold and a well-timed gamble can really pay off!

At the end of the 12th turn players once again score the pips on their castles and receive bonus for controlling multiple provinces of the same type, as well as any influence value on cards in their decks, influence for their allies, any points for structures they have built.  The player with the highest point total is the victor!

My Impression

I am a big fan of this game!  Path of Light and Shadow is fascinating because it is full of new takes on familiar mechanics.  It is absolutely an area control game, or as those of us who love them like to say, “a dudes on the map game.”  Yet, each player will only ever have one actual dude on the map!   All players begin the game with a near identical deck of cards that will be augmented over the course of the game as cards are mercifully recruited or cruelly culled.  Yet, it is in almost no way a traditional deckbuilding game.  It is more of deck and hand management game, where a player’s deck is representative of his civilization/faction and the strategy it is pursuing towards victory.  There is a tech tree through which players are able to enhance their faction and customize the strategy they wish to follow.  Yet, this is no run of the mill civilization building game that takes countless hours to play and effectively renders itself unplayable in the process (more on this later).  It is most certainly a game about conquering lands and battling the other players.  Yet, unlike many such games the players will be forced to choose a moral path where they will either mercifully renew the lands that they liberate and seek to defend or cruelly and wantonly destroy everything leaving a wake of destruction for all to contend with. This is a game about decisions and the consequences that a leader must face as a result of those decisions.


Merciful or cruel…Which will you be?

I mentioned earlier, as the name implies, it is game with two primary paths.  However, there are numerous ways to pursue both of those paths creating many different ways to play.  The word that I think best describes it is…room.  There is so much room in this game to explore that it calls to a player like me!  I love games that allow players to experiment with a wide array of play styles and Path of Light and Shadow completely delivers in this regard.

Another great thing about the game, and one that makes my previous observation possible, is that it plays in a very reasonable amount of time.  You can have as much “room” in a game as you want, but if it takes 10 hours to play no one will dare to explore creative strategies as time invested is too great to take such chances and possibly ruin your experience.  The Path of Light and Shadow plays in about 90 to 120 minutes, and I felt engaged the entire time.  It is possible they have achieved one of the Holy Grails of game design…a civ game(sort of) with a with manageable play time!

Promote weaker cards into stronger ones!

Players simply have so many options from the factions on which they focus, the structures they build, promoting their weaker cards or cruelly culling them, and whether to defend powerful castles or watch the world burn that the Path of Light and Shadow will demand many plays to even begin unlocking all of its secrets!   I would advise caution to those who dislike direct conflict or games of a hardcore nature, as it can be quite punishing, but for all others it is a must have!  It is because of this that I give it my highest recommendation and urge those with tastes like mine to back it on Kickstarter or seek it out when it reaches retail!  It is a great game that offers an epic experience and tons of fun for those brave enough to conquer it!


Game Design: Family Think & Make Workshop

I recently gave a presentation about tabletop game design at Perry Meridian Junior High School as part of their series of Think and Make Workshops.  These events are run by their wonderful librarian, Leslie Preddy, and with the help of a few dedicated volunteers.  One of the school’s math teachers and resident gaming expert, Doc Rissel, also took part in the presentation by teaching the audience about strategy and tactics as well as how to make variants of existing games.



For my part, I gave a short speech about my personal background with gaming, game design, and powerful lessons I have learned that I believe can help aspiring game designers or creators in general.  I followed this up by creating a basic board game template and then allowed the students to customize their own copies thematically so each student left with unique copy of a game they played a part in creating.

I began my presentation with some background on how I became a gamer, which is of course the foundation of how I wound up designing games.  I explained that it all began by angering my grandpa!  The first game I can remember playing was Checkers with my Mom’s father.  He taught me when I was about 5 years old and much to the surprise of all, but especially his, I crushed him!  Pa was not pleased.  In fact he displeased enough that he not only never played Checkers with me again, but to the best of my knowledge never played Checkers with anyone ever again!  While he may have done a poor job teaching me sportsmanship, he had awakened my love and talent for games that endures undiminished to this day!  Thanks Pa, who knows what would have happened if you never taught me Checkers!

I explained that Checkers led me to learn Chess, Poker, Chinese Checkers, and countless other games at a very young age.  I discovered Rpgs in my teens and played more advanced board games like Axis and Allies and true hobby games like Battletech until the bomb dropped.  The bomb in question was Magic: the Gathering which, aside from Poker utterly dominated my gaming life from 17 until nearly 30.  I explained that the near decade and a half of Magic was my doctorate in learning iterative design and understanding the interactions of game mechanics, even though I did not yet know it to be the case.

It was only after I had given up Magic and discovered modern board games in around 2006-2007 that I slowly began to feel the itch to design a game of my own.  After playing modern classics such as:  Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Puerto Rico, Power Grid, Ticket to Ride, and so many more I began to believe that it might be something I could do.  For the next few years I played at being a game designer, but did not really put in the work needed to actually accomplish my goal.  I would test once in a blue moon and make countless changes, but never really got down to business.  That is until I saw a video that made it all so clear to me exactly how I had to proceed!  This video, and its message, was the first piece of advice to my young audience.  I recommended they watch it.  I recommend you watch it.  I recommend everyone who thinks they might ever try to make or do anything creative!


Fail Faster

This the most powerful advice I have ever received in my life!  It made it possible for me take the partially formed Legacy Wars game idea I had and mercilessly pound it into the ground with my testers and eventual publisher V3G until it emerged as Strife: Legacy of the Eternals and realize my dream of becoming a game designer!  This helped me to overcome my fear of showing people something that wasn’t ready by allowing me to understand that doing so was the only way it ever would be ready!  It seems obvious, but it is not.  Apply the concept of failing faster to your creative endeavors, games or anything else, and they will start you moving down the right path!

“You can do anything, but not everything.” – David Allen.

This was my second piece of advice/wisdom to the kids.  During the run-up to Strife, their were a number of friends and some even in the industry who strongly advised me to self publish and run the Kickstarter myself.  While considering my options I remembered this quote and helped me make up my mind.  I realized that the extent of my game industry talents were working on a game and applying the fundamentals of iterative design and that was it!  I knew nothing of art direction, producing a product, running a Kickstarter campaign, graphic design, shipping a product globally, warehousing or any of the other important skills/knowledge sets that going into making a game or any product for that matter.  Now I am a smart guy, and I believe that I could learn how to do any of these things or at least how to hire out to skilled people who could, but I did not think that trying to do so on the fly while also designing my first game was the right time to do so.  Yes I could do anything, but not everything and I had to prioritize my goal to match with the skills I possess.  I wanted to design a game.  Out of all of the aforementioned skills this was the one that I felt I most possessed.  I knew that I would be best served focusing on that goal alone and that having a publisher handle all of those other concerns was the way for me to go.  I may someday run my own Kickstarter, as I have learned, and continue to learn so much from the great people with whom I have worked, but I truly do not know, as all I really want to do is design games.  I have no doubt that my design would suffer or at least my pace would be greatly reduced if I had to juggle everything else at the same time.

“Haters gonna hate.”

I am the furthest thing in the world from a fan of rap or hip-hop, but this saying is an absolute truism that all creators need to understand.  So much of what stands in the way of people creating a game or whatever their dream may be is tied up in the fear that someone will hate it.  I want to put your mind at ease…someone will definitely hate it!  Think of your favorite food…someone hates it.  Think of your favorite movie…someone hates it.  Think of anything in all the world that you think is wonderful and amazing…someone out there hates it!  So, given that there is a 100% chance that someone will hate what ever it is that you create there really is nothing to fear is there?  People are going to hate what you make for legitimate reasons in that it is simply not to their taste, which is fair.  Unfortunately people are also going to hate what you make for completely illegitimate reasons because they don’t even understand what is, which I find somewhat less fair.

To illustrate this point to the audience I read to them some of the most interesting reviews of my game Strife:  Legacy of the Eternals. It is designed to have a very low amount of luck and is as a result almost entirely a game of skill.  Some reviews back this fact up by referring to it as, “Card Chess” and “A challenging game with virtually zero luck.”  While some of the reviews and ratings are from people who simply do not enjoy that kind of game, which is a perfectly valid opinion, but there were also others.  Others who said things like, “This game is totally random with no skill at all,” and “Strife is a game that seems like it requires skill, but is really all luck.” The vast majority of the people who did not enjoy Strife fully acknowledged that is was a low luck high skill game, but not their preferred type of game, but as you can see some people did not even recognize what the game was about, but they knew they hated it.  This will happen no matter what you make and rather than worry about it you should embrace it and be freed from your fear.  After all, no matter what you do haters gonna hate!

Clackasaur vs Ninja Squirrels

My second part of the presentation was to help the kids in attendance make a game that they could take home with them.  During the week leading up to the event I designed a simple battle game where a “Big Monster” would be trying to steal the “Valuables” of “Type of Small Animals.”

This is the picture of the board and set up.

In my case I used a crab token that my step-daughter Katie gave me as part of a Christmas present full of prototyping materials as inspiration for my monster, Clackasaur.  Ninja Squirrels are my small animals and they are trying to defend their valuable, cotton candies, from the rampaging Clackasaur.  Obviously, this is ridiculous, but that was part of the point of the exercise.  It allowed the kids to use their imaginations when filling in the theme they wanted the game to be and understand that a game can really be about anything.  The Fail Faster video mentions this when it explains the silly concepts some of the world’s most iconic games have, such as:

Mario Brothers: Is about plumbers on drugs.

Sonic the Hedgehog:  Is about a blue hedgehog in sneakers that can run really fast.

Gears of War:  Is about linebackers fighting bugs with chainsaw guns.

They even go on to explain that Angry Birds, launching birds at pigs in castles, made a billion dollars!  It is about perfectly implementing your concept in an entertaining manner instead of coming up with the perfect concept.

The kids really enjoyed this part of the presentation and I will list below some of my favorite titles and valuables they came up with:

  • Locoraptor vs Elven Bunnies for the pieces of the Scepter
  • Big Joe  vs  Tiny Lizards for the Crickets
  • Ronster vs Flying Mice for the Cheese
  • Hydrasius vs Invisible Chipmunks for the Golden Strawberries
  • Giant Raccoon Vs Armored Turtles for the Iron Ingots
  • Dragonzilla vs Ninja Wasps for the Divinity Logs


A game in progress!

There were several others, but as you can see they let their imaginations run wild and we got some unique takes on the game from these young minds!

After customizing the attack cards in their battle decks to thematically represent the creatures they had chosen, everyone played their games.  I am happy to report that the results were reasonably balanced, as I heard stories of both animals and monsters winning, but most of all everyone having fun.

As the event came to a close four Gen Con passes, that had been generously donated, were awarded two at a time by random drawing.  I was given the honor/curse of drawing names, and as such was able to both fulfil and crush the hopes and dreams of the attendees.  I answered any questions the departing crowd had, with the most interesting coming from a young man who first told me I was awesome, always good way to get my attention, and then desperately pleaded to do some playtesting for me in the future.  When I told him to subscribe to this blog so I would have his email if I needed to reach him for testing he was super excited!  Leslie, thanked me profusely and told me the kids loved it and that I had been elevated to hero status.  She also gave me a little card containing a present I had not expected.

All in all, it was quite an evening.  A presentation like this is exactly the sort of assignment I would have skipped when I was in school, as I have long had terrible fear of public speaking due to my extreme introversion, and now here I was volunteering to do it as an adult!  Young me would be shocked to learn of such a future, but as the say, “What long strange trip its been.”  I must confess that most of my encounters with the education system as a step-parent and in general have left me disillusioned and cynical about its current state.  However, it must be said that Leslie and Doc are incredible educators, who are passionate about bringing unique experiences to their students that will broaden both their knowledge base and their minds!  It was inspiring to see such dedication and a great pleasure to help them in the small way I was able.  We need more like them!

In closing, I am glad to say that it was a positive experience for all involved including myself.  I originally offered to volunteer as a favor to a friend who teaches at the school, but after meeting Leslie and Doc found myself becoming more excited about the event.  It was truly a case of stepping out of my comfort zone, and although it made me nervous I feel the better for it.  You should try it sometime.  You may find it an excellent opportunity to learn something even as you teach others!



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How to Win New Games By Playing Like My Wife

What is the only thing better than trying out an exciting new tabletop game?  Winning the first time you try out an exciting new tabletop game!  “Easier said than done,” you might say.  After all, depending on the complexity of a game it can be quite challenging to form any sort of coherent strategy with such a limited understanding of it.  This would seemingly result in a relative crap shoot as to who will win if the entire group is made up of novices.  I am here to tell you this notion is wrong!  By carefully observing the behavior of an expert new game winner I have solved this riddle for the ages by copying her method.  Who is this nigh unstoppable force of nature at winning new games you might ask? It’s my wife…the one and only Mrs. Heather Hamm!

Frequent readers of Life in Games will have surely heard me talk about Heather and some may have even read one of her occasional guest posts that can be found under the heading, Wife in Games.  For those of you not familiar with her it is important to realize she is a skilled, but relatively casual gamer who tends to shy away from the heaviest games or those with too much direct conflict.  Despite being more casual and drawn to somewhat less ruthless games or styles of play she has an incredible track record of winning, or nearly winning games that all of the players are playing for the first time.  How can this be?

First, a little background on the topic.  Heather and I have been married since September of 2008 and she has gone to every Gen Con with me since that year, while we were just engaged.  Every year I make a list of new or new to us, games that I believe we would both enjoy and try to seek out as many as we can during the con.  It is not uncommon for a few of our friends, often some of my very hardcore gaming buddies, to join us in these games.  When this same group plays games at home, ones we have played many times before, she is often competitive, but seldom wins.  We tend to simply be more familiar with the game and due to that greater understanding we are able to form optimized strategies that usually results in one of us winning.  However, a year or two ago, she and I noticed that she was winning about half of the new games we played every year at Gen Con even though we were with the same four or five people as at home.  Even if you account for the unfamiliarity with new games as a balancing factor, a 50% win rate year after year against people who usually beat you is quite surprising and more than just luck.  I have often thought my own win rate to be somewhat suppressed in this situation because I tend to be the rule reader and game teacher.  Having to constantly reference the rulebook for myself and others takes my attention from the game and hampers my ability to play.  This generally does not bother me, as Gen Con represent a rare occasion where I play with a much more casual attitude and focus more on having a good time then trying to win at all costs.  Still, I knew there was no way that this was the only explanation, especially since it only applied to me, and not the other players at the table.


Heather implementing an aggressive strategy during our first Gen Con together!


The answer  came to us one day when she and I were discussing the difference between tactics and strategy.  I am very strategic by nature.  I formulate a specific strategy and then employ the necessary tactics to implement that strategy.  She tend to be more of a pure tactical thinker.  Excellent at making the best decision in the moment, but not as strong at the long-term detailed planning.  As such, she usually picks a very basic strategy, that may very well be far from optimal, and then focuses a 100% of effort on that one plan.  It turns out that this is incredibly effective for winning games being played for the first time by your group, even if the rest of the group tends to be more hardcore than you.  In fact, their own hardcore nature may even work against them!

The most hardcore players are prone to trying to create an optimal strategy even when they are too unfamiliar with a game to do so.  This natural urge can cause them to make a number of mistakes that they would not make after a few plays.  Whether a result of ego or the force of habit, this often places these hardcore players at a disadvantage when playing games for the first time.  This provides exactly the opening Heather’s style of play requires to have a very high success rate!  Rather then fumble about trying to act like she knows the game perfectly, she picks an element of the game that offers decent value and applies laser-like focus to it and often wins as a result!


The Stone Age board being setup.


After considering her track record of success, I decided to give this play style a try in a recent game of Stone Age in the Indy Gaming Series.  I had never played, and neither had one of the other players, with the third having only played three times over a number of years.  After a shortened practice game, to familiarize ourselves with the rules, which I lost terribly, I activated the Heather Plan!  I proceeded to play a very low risk, highly focused strategy that virtually ignored entire elements of the game.  I felt really good as the game was progressing.  I had a sense of comfort from not trying to over think something I did not fully understand and when the final scores were totaled, I had won!  Eureka!  Not only had I won the game, but I had successfully field tested our theory regarding her tremendous success playing new games!

So, if you and your group are all trying out a new game, and you want to win, I strongly recommend giving the Heather Plan a go.  It is officially my new strategy for such occasions and I expect that I will racking up quite a few more first time wins!  Even though it might cost me a few extra dirty looks from Heather for stealing her move, it’s totally worth it!



Don’t forget tell your stories in the comments, subscribe to Life in Games, and follow me on social media for more gaming content!  To learn more about the Wife in Games herself, checkout Heather’s blog Story of a Better Me!

What’s New and What’s Coming.

Hello everyone!  It has been far too long since I have posted here, but that is all about to change.  I have not written as I have been giving a lot of thought over the past few months about the direction that I want to take with Life in Games.  When I started this site, I covered all aspects of my gaming life, but transitioned heavily into the world of reviewing games.  I reviewed both games in my collection and games that were to be released or Kickstarted in the near future.  Before long this became the primary source of my content and I like to think I provided objective information about all the games I have reviewed.  I was never anything but honest, and even in the event I disliked a game it was my goal to inform as to why rather than to be cruel.  However, as my gaming life has changed more and more over the last couple of years my time and interest for doing reviews has greatly diminished and as a result so has my content production.

I still play a ton of games for recreation, but the time once spent on reviews has now been filled more and more with designing games of my own.  Having a full-time job and a family only leaves so much time for game playing and that is filled with gaming with friends and playtesting.  I simply do not have the time to review games anymore and especially those reviews that come with a deadline from the publisher.  This is ok.  I have accepted it and am now ready to move on in a new direction with my articles.  Given that the site is called Life in Games, it only makes sense that the content would change as my gaming life does as well.

Going forward, much of the content here will be directed toward game design, stories about gaming, events that I attend, or super cool projects that I am aware of and want to spread the word about.

The articles on game design will range from updates about my current projects, methods and processes I use, and helpful resources that I discover.  It will be a mixture of excitement for my games and a resource that I hope will help other aspiring designers!


The box for my upcoming game, Legendary Creatures!



The stories about gaming will remain much the same as they always have.  The occasional tale from the IGS (Indy Game Series) to which I still belong and any cool story that occurs while playing games with friends or strangers alike!

For events that I go to, I will report on those I attend in a formal capacity for Life in Games or as game designer as well as those where I am simply there to play games and have fun!

Lastly, as part of my adventures in the game industry I have met and reconnected with some amazingly creative people and if I am made aware of a great project I will write about it.  These will not be reviews in the cold analytical manner I used to write, but the musing of a fellow gamer/fan who cannot wait to see these games get made.  I will still be completely honest regarding such games, an will never engage in shilling, but if I am writing about a game now it will be because I am genuinely excited for its release!

I am very excited to start posting here again and sharing all of my experiences in the gaming world with all of you!  Feel free to find the Life in Games page on Facebook, hit me up on Twitter, or comment on this site.  I would love to connect and hear all about your gaming stories as well!  Happy gaming and stay tuned for big news!

Jul 31

Gen Con Is Coming: A Wife in Games Guest Post


This article was originally posted at storyofabetterme.wordpress.com/


As I look through the memories of Facebook this morning, I realize that this day in 2015, we were at GenCon. Dubbed the “best four days in gaming”, it is truly a nerd girl’s paradise! There are plenty of costumes to admire (and yes, there is Wonder Woman shirt for every day of the con, buuutttt, this year I have my tiara to wear with them – HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!), fantastic fantasy and nerd art, but my pull is the endless rooms and infinite piles of games…  it is a great place to let my geek flag fly!

Although I joke about being a nerd, or a geek, or gamer girl, I really do pride myself on my intelligence, and as you know, part of the campaign of #becomingabetterme does have to do with the full me, not just the physical… and gaming is a fantastic way to exercise your mind. I do not consider myself a strategic game as much as I do a tactical gamer, but by playing different styles of games, with a laundry list of different mechanics, I am getting better. That is not to say I am as good as the group of friends that we game with, but I can hold my own against them in several of the games we do play.

Just like with exercising your body you have to make sure that your brain cells are fully charged to keep the synapses firing… FOOD. Food in important. I did mention this was a convention, so by definition, it will be at a convention center, which is not the best place for food. Dried out burgers, greasy pizza, and “what is that really” chicken sandwiches, not exactly what one would consider healthy.

Knowing this is what we are looking at, I had a nice conversation with my hubs about how this was not going to work for me, we decided to make a trip to Fresh Thyme and get some healthy snacks to keep us fueled and alert. I am sooo ready! SO. READY.

I know this isn’t really like my traditional posts, but as this event gets closer for me, the more excited I get, and I am really just using this post as a reminder that I can still remain on my journey and enjoy all the nerdiness that life has to offer.





As I look through the memories of Facebook this morning, I realize that this day in 2015, we were at GenCon. Dubbed the “best four days in gaming”, it is truly a nerd girl’s paradise! There are plenty of costumes to admire (and yes, there is Wonder Woman shirt for every day of the con, buuutttt, this year I have my tiara to wear with them – HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!), fantastic fantasy and nerd art, but my pull is the endless rooms and infinite piles of games…  it is a great place to let my geek flag fly!

Although I joke about being a nerd, or a geek, or gamer girl, I really do pride myself on my intelligence, and as you know, part of the campaign of #becomingabetterme does have to do with the full me, not just the physical… and gaming is a fantastic way to exercise your mind. I do not consider myself a strategic game as much as I do a tactical gamer, but by playing different styles of games, with a laundry list of different mechanics, I am getting better. That is not to say I am as good as the group of friends that we game with, but I can hold my own against them in several of the games we do play.

Just like with exercising your body you have to make sure that your brain cells are fully charged to keep the synapses firing… FOOD. Food in important. I did mention this was a convention, so by definition, it will be at a convention center, which is not the best place for food. Dried out burgers, greasy pizza, and “what is that really” chicken sandwiches, not exactly what one would consider healthy.

Knowing this is what we are looking at, I had a nice conversation with my hubs about how this was not going to work for me, we decided to make a trip to Fresh Thyme and get some healthy snacks to keep us fueled and alert. I am sooo ready! SO. READY.

I know this isn’t really like my traditional posts, but as this event gets closer for me, the more excited I get, and I am really just using this post as a reminder that I can still remain on my journey and enjoy all the nerdiness that life has to offer.

As I look through the memories of Facebook this morning, I realize that this day in 2015, we were at GenCon. Dubbed the “best four days in gaming”, it is truly a nerd girl’s paradise! There are plenty of costumes to admire (and yes, there is Wonder Woman shirt for every day of the con, buuutttt, this year I have my tiara to wear with them – HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!), fantastic fantasy and nerd art, but my pull is the endless rooms and infinite piles of games…  it is a great place to let my geek flag fly!

Although I joke about being a nerd, or a geek, or gamer girl, I really do pride myself on my intelligence, and as you know, part of the campaign of #becomingabetterme does have to do with the full me, not just the physical… and gaming is a fantastic way to exercise your mind. I do not consider myself a strategic game as much as I do a tactical gamer, but by playing different styles of games, with a laundry list of different mechanics, I am getting better. That is not to say I am as good as the group of friends that we game with, but I can hold my own against them in several of the games we do play.

Just like with exercising your body you have to make sure that your brain cells are fully charged to keep the synapses firing… FOOD. Food in important. I did mention this was a convention, so by definition, it will be at a convention center, which is not the best place for food. Dried out burgers, greasy pizza, and “what is that really” chicken sandwiches, not exactly what one would consider healthy.

Knowing this is what we are looking at, I had a nice conversation with my hubs about how this was not going to work for me, we decided to make a trip to Fresh Thyme and get some healthy snacks to keep us fueled and alert. I am sooo ready! SO. READY.

I know this isn’t really like my traditional posts, but as this event gets closer for me, the more excited I get, and I am really just using this post as a reminder that I can still remain on my journey and enjoy all the nerdiness that life has to offer.



Consider visiting Heather’s blog, Story of a Better Me, for tons of great content!

Jun 30

Whelps to Wyrms: Description and Review

Whelps to Wyrms, designed by Rick Perez, is the latest offering from Lamp Light Games and is a game for 2-5 players. The players take on the role of dragons striving to acquire the greatest hoard of gold in the realm.  Everyone begins the game controlling a relatively weak dragon whelp, but as they gain experience from doing what dragons do best: eating livestock (and people), destroying structures, and exploring unknown lands, they will grow in strength and power possibly even reaching the status of Wyrm!  With careful planning, strategic use of your unique dragon powers, and a little luck you can emerge as the richest and most feared dragon in all the realm!


The copy that I received was a late stage prototype with a few rough edges, having neither the final rules nor components. As such the final product may well differ to some degree from what I describe in this article.  However, based on my two previous experiences with Lamp Light Games I am quite confident these concerns will be more than addressed by the final product.


Game Overview


The player sheet for the mighty Red Dragon!

The player sheet for the mighty Red Dragon!


Players begin the game by taking the game sheet for one of the five dragons:  Red, Blue, Black, Green, or White.  At the start of the game they are a lowly whelp  with all dragons beginning in the center hex of the board, the Nest.  The nest is then surrounded by a number of hex tiles equal to the player count, plus one.  These tiles are made up of four terrain types: Plains, Mountains, Forests, and Lakes.  The first three have their own improvement decks and one from the appropriate deck is place on each of these.  Lakes may not be improved and require extra movement to fly across.  Next, shuffle the objective cards and place a number equal to the player count face up in a display.  Now, take the top nine cards objective cards and place them face down in an objective draw pile.  Lastly, randomly determine a first player and give them the starting player marker.


The player sheet for the chilling White Dragon!

The player sheet for the chilling White Dragon!


Each round of the game is made up of a number of phases:

Ready Phase: The starting player token is passed to the right, the top card of the objective deck is revealed, and camps/farms receive their livestock/gold.

Action Phase: Players now take their turns beginning with the starting player and progressing in clockwise order.  A player may move a dragon a number of spaces up to its speed and perform a number of actions based on its current size.  Actions may be used to do the following:

  • Attack-The dragon may make a combat roll against a lair, slayer, or another dragon.
  • Eat-The dragon may consume a creature on its current hex which awards experience points.
  • Search-If on a hex that does not currently have an improvement, the player draws the top card from the appropriate deck and places it on the hex, gaining one experience.
  • Explore-The dragon reveals a new hex and places it on an unoccupied edge of its current tile, gaining one experience.
  • Raze-The dragon may spend both actions to remove an improvement from its current space rewarding the dragon with gold and freeing up the space to be searched again.
  • Skill-The dragon may utilize one of its powers that require an activation that has been purchased with experience points.
  • Pass-Players may end their turn while still in possession of unspent actions, to gain one experience for each such action.

At any point during a player’s turn, as a free action, experience points may be used to purchase powers on the dragon’s “ability tree” and/or increase its size.  If this results in the dragon gaining additional action cubes, they may be spent on this turn.  It is important to note that, players may only purchase powers of a lower or equal level to the current size of their dragon and only those which the player has all of the earlier versions.  Players may also take any objective cards in the display whose conditions they have met.

Slayer Phase:  In each round after the first, the current holder of the starting player token draws the top card of the Slayer deck and places it in play.  In addition, all slayers are moved during this phase, either towards dragons to harm them or away in an effort to deny points for defeating them.  After all slayers have been resolved, the round is over and play returns to the Ready Phase.

During the game, combat may occur with slayer or other dragons.  In the event that a dragon takes a wound from combat they roll a six sided die and place a marker on the correspondingly numbered action space on their player board.  That action may not be taken until the dragon heals.  If there was already a token on that action an additional token is placed on top making it even more difficult to regain that action.


Play continues until there is not an objective card to reveal during the  Ready Phase.  At this time, players receive gold from their completed objectives, any they may earn from the end game objectives, and combine it the gold they have on hand.  The player with largest amount of gold is the winner!


The modular board spreading out from the nest.

The modular board spreading out from the nest.


My Review

Whelps to Wyrms is an interesting game in that it places players in a dragon’s scales for a change, and they discover that their goals are much the same as the adventurers players are accustomed to playing…loot and experience!  Whelps to Wyrms is fairly easy game to grasp with its straightforward mechanics and relatively basic goals, but the large number of possible outcomes in tiles and improvements creates an array of challenging tactical decisions.  Overall, my fellow players and I thoroughly enjoyed the game, both for its theme and mechanics.

From a mechanical standpoint, I always enjoy a nice modular board, and especially one that grows the world during the course of the game.  This, along with the improvement tiles, really works in tandem with the exploration/adventure elements of the theme in a wonderful way.  I also liked the manner in which the starting player token is moved around the table, by making the previously last player the new starting player with play then continuing in clockwise manner.  This maybe less important with fewer players, but with five it met with approval from everyone.  The wound system was also a fairly original take on such a thing, and although random, I rather enjoyed the chance to gamble on what might get damage if I wanted to raze one of the auto-wounding improvements.  It allowed me to decide how much risk I wished to face and make that decision based on whether or not I thought the reward was worth it or not.  This is the correct use of randomness!

While the mechanics are solid, it is in its theme where Whelps to Wyrms really shines.  The simple, yet genius idea of having players start out with a small dragon piece and replace it with larger ones as it grows is great!  I know, in the grand scheme of things this seems like nothing, but it helps players feel a true sense of progress as they advance and it really adds to the immersive nature of this game.  Speaking of immersion, the skill tree allows players to customize their already unique dragon both for flavor and strategic reasons.  The mixture growing your dragon’s size and skills really gives the game a great feel.  Even if a player loses, they can still have fun by realizing how far their dragon has come!


From little whelp to mighty wyrm!

From little whelp to mighty wyrm!


There was very little that I disliked about Whelps to Wyrms, and those things that I did mostly fall under the umbrella of personal taste.  That being said, there were a few issues that I feel are worth mentioning.

Perhaps it was due to playing with the full five players, but the objective cards seemed to dry up very quickly.  I am not sure what could be done about this, as they are also used for a round timer.  It just seemed like the initial display was quickly gobbled up and then they trickled in one at a time from then on.

I also could not help but feel that the dragons, while unique, pretty much have a baked in strategy or two for each.  This is fine, and they do offer a different play experience, but it makes the game far more tactical than strategic.  Your strategy will mostly be dictated by your dragon, but there will plenty of short term decisions to keep things very interesting.

In Conclusion

I really enjoyed Whelps to Wyrms as did those with whom I played.  Everyone agreed that it was fun to play as the dragons rampaging throughout the realm!  Even those who lost commented how they enjoyed the feeling of progress derived from growing their dragon and advancing its powers.  As a light to medium weight game with room for some strategy, tons of tactical decisions, that provides feelings of adventure, and offers tremendous re-playability due to the modular nature of its board, Whelps to Wyrms is a great success!  If those are features that appeal to you or your gaming group, I recommend adding it to your hoard!





Let it be known to all readers and government officials alike, that Life in Games received a free copy of this game for the purpose of providing an objective review.  No further compensation of any sort changed hands between myself and the publisher.


Whelps to Wyrms is live on Kickstarter now!


Feb 15

How an Idea Becomes Reality







During the most recent update the Strife: Shadows and Steam Kickstarter campaign, Jake from Vision 3 Games showed the process an idea goes through on its way to becoming a fully realized card.  Even as the game’s designer, I was not fully aware of how this worked and thought it was fascinating!  I decided this is just the sort of inside baseball game junkies love, and chose to share it here as a blog post.  Obviously, if you like what you see, checkout our Kickstarter which is running for about another week!  Either way, thanks for reading!


Curious as to how we develop our amazing artwork? Well it really relies on the magic of our artists, but we thought we’d show you with the process we just went though with Claudio for our first Event card: A Race for Resources.

The first thing that happens (after Chris makes sure the rules are buttoned up of course!) is that we’ll send a brief description over to the artist, along with the rule(s) and a working title. For these event cards, we definitely let the artists take the reigns and creatively interpret them. For this card, we sent the following,:

Race for Resources – Combat always begins at the location with the highest base vp value. If there are multiple locations tied for the highest base vp value, combat begins on the one located furthest from the location deck.
Concept: possibly an airship race between two airships? Or a locomotive vs an airship?

So what happens next? Claudio sends us three quick sketches. These are just to show form and function, as well as establish a color palette for the scene. Here’s what he sent:

Initial concept sketches from Claudio.
Initial concept sketches from Claudio.

From there, we bounce it around a bit internally, and make a call on what direction we like best, along with any comments or revisions we might think necessary. We’ll send feedback to the artist, who’ll take it back for another slightly-more-polished pass.

For this card, we gravitated to the bottom one after a little debate, but felt that we didn’t want it to look like one of the airships was capsizing. We also noted that we wanted to convey speed, not just a leisurely jaunt. So how’d Claudio take that feedback and run with it?

Claudio's second draft of the chosen concept.
Claudio’s second draft of the chosen concept.

You can clearly see he’s emphasized speed more, added details and played with the coloring. That horizon is looking stellar in the background! From here, we’ll give any more feedback as necessary. On this particular piece of art, it wasn’t. “Move forward!” was the cry. So how’d the final illustration end up? Check it out:

Final artwork from Claudio.
Final artwork from Claudio.

Stunning, isn’t it! We’re constantly amazed by Claudio’s efforts. Simply outstanding. But we’re not done yet! There’s still one more crucial step – graphic design and layout.

We’ll take this final artwork and lay it into our Event Card template, and make any adjustments we need to on the overall color balance or contrast on the artwork, while accounting for the cropping we need to fit all the rules text in there.

Final "A Race for Resource" card layout.
Final “A Race for Resource” card layout.

And there you have it. A card ready for the printer! The entire process takes roughly about 2-3 days. As you can see, there’s a lot of effort and love poured into each card. Here at V3G we pride ourselves on the quality of our games, and we hope it shows!




Feb 04

Strife: Shadows and Steam-Designer vs Publisher Showdown





I recently dropped by V3G HQ to battle Jake Leeman,, the publisher of my Strife series of games, in a head to head, take no prisoners, epic grudge match in Strife: Shadows and Steam!  Despite some early technical difficulties, the video below shows nearly the entire game. For those of your who have never heard of the Strife series, this will be a quick introduction.  For those of you who have, it will a look into how the new set works and how a full match plays out.  Enjoy, and let me know what you think!



Remember, Strife: Shadows and Steam is currently up on Kickstarter.  If you are interested in learning more click on the widget below!








Jan 31

Strife: Shadows and Steam overview and Introduction

This video is a brief discussion of some differences between Strife: Legacy of the Eternals and the Strife: Shadows and Steam.  It also delves into elements of strategy for the new set and gives an overview of the champions. Strife: Shadows and Steam is currently on Kickstarter here.  Enjoy, and let me know what you think!


Jan 27

Nightmare Forest: Dead Run: Description and Review


Nightmare Forest:  Dead Run, by Dave Killingsworth of SolarFlare Games, is a game in which players are campers racing to escape a forest that has suddenly become overrun by undead animals hungry for their brains. Fight crazy zombie animals, cut through the underbrush, sabotage your former friends, gather weapons, and when all else fails…rely on the luck of the dice!  Only one, or none, will survive in this mad cap scramble to be the first out of the Nightmare Forest…will it be you?

Note*  The version that I played and that is reviewed here was a late stage prototype and as such it was not judged on the artwork, components, or graphic presentation as all of these are subject to change.

Game Overview

The players are racing to be the first to make it from the campground (starting area) out of the forest (past level four).  The first to do so is the winner.  It is also possible that no one will make it out of the forest alive, and in this case there is no winner.





The play area is set up with one column of forest cards per player.  Each column has two rows of level one cards, level two cards, level three cards, and one row of level four cards.  These cards are placed face down and represent the path that each player is on during the game.  While there are different types of cards amongst these, they are primarily made up of undead animals that players must defeat to advance toward the exit of the forest.  As the players progress from level to level the zombies increase in difficulty to defeat with the final row being the most challenging by far!

Gear for killing zombie animals!

Gear for killing zombie animals!

In addition to encountering zombies, players will also likely acquire gear during their journey to the exit of the forest.  The items tend to be fairly standard zombie fighting paraphilia (Shotguns, chain saws, machetes, etc…), with a few nice comedic exceptions, like the hot dog skewer!  As a life-long camper, this one in particular, warms my heart!  Players may either make use of this gear to hasten their escape or throw it at players ahead of them in order to delay those who are further along.

The primary mechanics are dice pool management and press your luck.  How a player chooses to allocate their dice each turn will increase or decrease their odds of success for whatever actions they choose to undertake.  How thin a player chooses to spread himself across various options is a large part of the press your luck element.

The first player to defeat their level 4 zombie escapes to the road and wins the game.  All other players are left to be transformed into another mindless flesh-eating undead monster.

My Review

Nightmare Forest: Dead Run is a relatively light, highly accessible game that is valuable as a filler or fun for families, particularly those introducing kids to the horror genre. It is in the role where the game works best and is highly successful.  Although it is far lighter than most games I would play now days, I would have absolutely loved this game as a kid.  Playing with my parents on a camping trip, would have been a blast with just the right amount of creepiness thrown in to add to the fun.  My wife, also really enjoyed playing it and although she is a seasoned gamer, this could bode well for those who are always seeking to convert their significant other to our hobby.  If they already have a toe in the geeky world of horror or a dark sense of humor Nightmare Forest could be just the gateway they have been looking for.

Given the game’s nature, dice and random set up of fixed paths, there is certainly a great deal chance involved in the outcome.  However, a player does have a number of options at their disposal to try to mitigate chance’s role.  Under normal circumstances, I am strongly opposed to a large luck factor in a game, but I find press your luck mechanics to be a slightly different animal.  They are in effect gambling, and like in most gambling games one can simply make the best decision based on the odds, game state, the facts at hand, and hope for the best.  If it does not work out, the game is short enough that it will not ruin one’s evening.

Another plus, is the dark sense of humor that pervades every part of Nightmare Forrest.  All of the cards contain flavor text that ranges from the macabre to the downright hilarious.  The numerous puns and pop language references really add to the mood of the game and keep everyone laughing as the merciless horde of zombie animals closes in.

I was particularly fond of the rulebook's motif!

I was particularly fond of the rulebook’s motif!


In Conclusion

Nightmare Forest: Dead Run provides a darkly humorous gaming experience for those new to the hobby or those looking for an easy going game to throw some dice and share a laugh.  If you are a hardcore gamer, who abhors chance and views hardnosed competition as the primary purpose of games, this one is probably not for you.  However, if you prefer games that are lighthearted escapes to be shared with friends and family, then you will likely enjoy Nightmare Forest: Dead Run very much!



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