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!



Jan 24

Design Diary: Strife Shadows and Steam






As readers of this blog know, I fulfilled my lifelong dream of becoming a published game designer in late 2014 when Strife: Legacy of the Eternals successfully funded on Kickstarter.  That story was told in two posts which can be read by following these links: Part 1 and Part 2.

This is the continuation of that story, as Strife: Shadows and Steam will be launching on Kickstarter 1/26/16.  Strife: SaS  is both an expansion and a sequel to Strife LotE, as it uses the same core mechanics and is fully integrable, while also being a standalone game in its own right.  Here is how it came into being.

Long before Strife: LotE existed it was called Legacy Wars.  After all, an aspiring designer must name his creation something, right?  While the game was taking shape I began to envision multiple sets of champions that could be used stand alone or for deckbuilding.  I do come from a heavy Magic the Gathering background, so it would be natural for me to think in this fashion.  Besides, Magic without mana-screw was one of my main inspirations!

Being the fantasy geek that I am, I stuck to that genre as I created additional champions, because it is what I know best.  As I worked on playtesting the main set of champions, I was always coming up with new abilities and thus potentially new champions for future sets and made sure to write down all of my ideas.  It was about this time that I met Jake from V3G and things began to change!

When Jake and I started to seriously discuss publishing, I told him that I had other abilities and champions in the works and he was interested.  Our first goal would be to make the base game as tight as possible and try to publish via Kickstarter.  If successful we would consider what to do with the other champions.  Jake, not being from a Magic the Gathering background thought the idea of sequels as opposed to traditional expansions would be a unique way to go.  This caused me to suggest having the game take place in a persistent world.  After all, the players were supposed to represent immortal beings, so it made sense that time would pass, the world would change, but the shadow war of the Eternals would continue.  We agreed that if we were lucky enough to ever make a second set, that would be the basic path.  Given the traditional fantasy theme of the first set, we felt that a fantasy world’s next logical step would be a form of steampunk technology.

Illusionist from Shadows and Steam with the Necromancer from Legacy of the Eternals.

Illusionist from Shadows and Steam with the Necromancer from Legacy of the Eternals.


As the finishing touches were being done to Strife: Legacy of the Eternals, I was already hard at work with my trusty lead playtester Nick Garwood, of Garwood’s Peak fame, working on Strife Shadows and Steam.  Despite having several champions waiting in the wings, I did not want to just slap a steampunk theme on them and pass it off as the plan all along.  I wanted the set to play differently and for the champions to have abilities representative of the theme.  This lead to many of the existing champions being completely redesigned or cannibalized for some abilities while others were discarded.

I wanted to add more cards using the “set aside” mechanic because it gave the feeling of powering these abilities much the way the new technology would have to be.  This idea of having powerful abilities, but at a cost was explored in the first set with the Wizard and seemed perfectly in line with how technology works.  The champions of Aerim have gained access to this new type of power, but at what cost?

I also knew I wanted to introduce tokens into the game.  The Clockwork Minion tokens and the Steam Traps help to capture the theme by being products of the technology.  The destruction tokens help to demonstrate the dangerous potential of these new developments.  However, from a mechanical standpoint, the goal was to give players an ability to reach even further into the future with their planning by seeding other face-up locations with tokens and provide them with both strategic and tactical opportunities.  If you use the Rifle Mage’s Legacy ability to place a Steam Trap on the location closest to the draw pile, it is almost like having two legacy abilities by the time it goes off.  You have your current legacy champion’s ability plus a trap.  Like all of the token related abilities, it allowed me to make even greater use of the location display to offer players more interesting decisions.

The Alchemist's home location in Shadows and Steam and the Wizard's home location in Legacy of the Eternals.

The Alchemist’s home location in Shadows and Steam and the Wizard’s home location in Legacy of the Eternals.

We turned to local writer, game designer, and author of Aerim’s lore Ryan Schoon, for advice on how to really achieve that steampunk feel.  Given that he is the head writer for the roleplaying game, Edara: A Steampunk Renaissance, we felt like he could really aid us with the theme.  He was very helpful fleshing out the steampunk element and for that I am grateful!

After tons of testing, the set had really come together in its own right. However, as the plan was for it to be playable against Strife: LotE or even for players to be able to combine cards from both sets into one deck, the real challenge was cross-set balance and making sure all possible interactions functioned properly.  Both of these factors led to yet another iteration of champion abilities as it was the most difficult phase of development.  This is largely because of the near infinite potential interactions in cross-set play.  We were essentially taking a system that was strictly symmetrical and allowing for asymmetrical play, while attempting to maintain balance and unique play styles.

It was during this phase that I started getting to see some of the illustrations from our immensely talented artist, Claudio Pilia!  Jonathan Powell blew our minds with his art for Strife: LotE and I was anxious to see what Claudio could do.  It was a conscious decision to go with a cleaner style this time as the imagery was from a more modern era.  Fictional yes, but more modern in its fictional style.  When I saw the first completed pieces, my jaw simply dropped at the quality of work!  Art holds a special place in my heart, because I have absolutely no talent of any sort in that area.  It may as well be some form a witchcraft as far as I am concerned.  I am always nervous until I see the pictures, because I can make the game work but I am completely powerless to make it beautiful.  So, when the art is as wonderful as Claudio’s, I not only experience awe but massive relief at the same time!

Finally…nearly all of the work is complete and we are preparing to launch the Kickstarter campaign for Strife: Shadows and Steam on 1/26/16!  I have done my part, Claudio his, the entire V3G team theirs and there is nothing left to do but brace for a crazy month.  Wish us luck!

*Special thanks to my wife Heather for supporting me in these crazy adventures.  I could not do it without you baby!












Jan 01

VENOM Assault: Description and Review


VENOM Assault, from Spyglass Games, is a competitive co-op deckbuilding game for 2-5 in which players rally the forces of Freedom Squadron to defeat the evil schemes of the terrorist organization VENOM.  Players work together, as they strengthen their decks and attack VENOM’s strongholds, but in the end, if VENOM is defeated there is an individual winner as well. Do you and your friends have what it take to foil the plots of VENOM?  Gear up soldier, the world needs you to find out!

*Note:  I was provided with a review copy in the relatively late stages of design. However, much of the art was not complete and it will not be judged on the graphic presentation in a negative way.  It is also possible that rules or cards may change prior to the final version, so keep that in mind.

Game Overview

At the start of the game, players select the mission that the want to play and follow its set-up requirements.  This generally involves a number of reward cards, colorful description, how many VENOM Leaders to use, and the various victory or defeat conditions for that particular scenario.  Once the board has been set, players take their starting decks of Commandos and Recruits (Basic Freedom Squadron soldiers), determine starting player, and begin the game.

The Starting player has one additional phase at the beginning of his turn where an event card is drawn.  As the name implies, events occur as a result of these cards that affect the game state including the chance to reveal a VENOM Strikes card.  These are the cards that show VENOM making progress towards achieving their nefarious ends.  If enough of these are revealed before the players can meet the victory conditions and any last chance opportunities run out, the players are defeated.  However, if the players accomplish their goal prior to this outcome the world continues to be safe for baseball, Mom, and apple pie!

Each player draws the top five cards of their deck to form a hand. In the event that a player lacks sufficient cards to complete a draw at anytime, that player simply shuffles his discard pile and takes the needed cards from the refreshed draw pile.

Next, a player enters the Recruitment Phase, in which the cards in hand are played one at a time in any order that the active player wishes and hopefully to his greatest advantage. Any abilities specific to this phase may be activated, but the primary purpose of this phase is to generate recruitment points that may be spent to acquire new soldiers, vehicles and buildings to place in ones deck.

The Tactical Phase is where a players bring the fight to one of VENOM’s many doorsteps.  The player may choose to attack a VENOM leader at one of the well themed bases around the globe.  Each VENOM leader has a Defense Rating, a Health Rating, and a Support Rating that will give the player a rough idea of what kind of trouble they might expect to have with a given leader.  Once a target is determined the Defense Meter is set, the Health meter is set and any abilities that the target leader has appropriate to the tactical phase are activated.  Now, the player chooses a combat leader, a soldier who may not have used an ability during the recruitment phase, and the decide which other cards to use as support for the attack.  This will tell the player how many combat dice they will have available to use while battling the VENOM leader.  An unsuccessful attack is simply wasted effort that allows VENOM to move closer to victory as well as pushing the player further behind in the individual contest.  A successful player receives the reward card, takes the leader card for individual VP, and resets the board with another leader and reward at that base if any are available.  This continues until VENOM has no leaders to replace, the primary base is cleared, the mission goal is achieved, or all of the above depending on the scenario being played.

After combat has been resolved and all of the abilities resolved, comes the Retirement Phase the Freedom Squadron player may choose one card in his play area to remove from the game prior to discarding and redrawing.

If the players fail to stop VENOM in time, they are defeated as a team with no winner.  If the players thwart VENOM in time they are all winners, but the player with the highest individual victory point total from rewards and leaders defeated is the individual victor.

My Review

To begin with, I will give my disclaimer regarding co-op games in general…The only way to win a co-op is not to play.  You might wonder, then why would I agree to review a game from a class that I am strongly inclined to dislike?  Simply put, I can set aside personal preferences and judge a game for what it is and not what I wish it would be.  In addition, I do believe that there are exceptions to every rule and the only way to find out is by not prejudging.  All of that being said, I enjoyed VENOM Assault a great deal!  Here is why…

Clearly a strong G.I. Joe motif!

Clearly a strong G.I. Joe motif!

First and foremost, I loved G.I. Joe as a child growing up in the 80’s and while not an officially licensed product, VENOM Assault perfectly captures the feeling of the cartoons!  I had armies of action figures and vehicles I used to wage countless battles and reenact scenes from the tv show constantly.  If this was your experience as a child I strongly recommend giving VENOM Assault a try!  While I am primarily a hardcore strategy gamer that eschews dice when possible and loathes co-ops, I must say that VENOM Assault succeeds at being thematically representative of the G.I. Joe experience. The art, that is finished, on the cards and board look as though they were pulled right out of an 80’s cartoon or comic book.  Clearly this game was designed by people with a great love for the “source” material as it shows at every level of the presentation.


Now, with theme covered, I have some thoughts on the mechanics.  In general, there is not a ton of new stuff here mechanically as the game plays very similar to many co-ops and is quite reminiscent of Marvel: Legendary with dice added.  The deckbuilding mechanics are pretty standard with one particularly innovative mechanic during the Retirement Phase.  The ability to remove on card per turn automatically is a stroke of genius!  I have not played every deck builder and cannot say for certain that this is the absolute first game to use this mechanic, but either way it should be used in all future deckbuilding games.  Being able to weed out those crappy starting cards as a play decision and shape one’s deck going forward is great!

I found the layout and symbols on the rulebook, mission cards, game cards and board to be intuitive and easy to grasp.  My wife and I learned the game from scratch in 15 minutes which is impressive even considering our veteran gamer status.  Clearly Spyglass Games did a fine job of organizing the material in a manner that makes the game accessible and enjoyable very quickly.  Always a plus!

Evil bases galore!

Evil bases galore!

As I mentioned earlier, VENOM Assault has a great deal in common with Marvel: Legendary, but it does differ in some significant ways.  One of the biggest knocks against Legendary is that it takes forever to set-up and put away based on which heroes one is using and the scenario being played.  VENOM Assault does a much better job at this by using the same hero and VENOM support decks each game while it is smaller card sets that are modified for specific missions to provide variability.  While it may lose to Legendary a bit on the massively different deck buiding opportunities available it makes up for it with the different missions and the ability to start a game much more quickly.  A worthwhile tradeoff in my opinion.

I did have a few issues and concerns that need to be addressed. The dice do frustrate me a bit, as they certainly add a degree of luck that can ruin the best laid plans, but given that this is a co-op and not a truly competitive strategy game it is less of a problem.  The actual event deck that drives the plot felt a little clunky compared to some similar games I have played, but it was certainly serviceable. In truth, I did not play all of the missions, and it is possible that on some of the more difficult ones the pace accelerates making for a more consistent progression of the storyline.  Honestly, my biggest complaint, by my reading of the rules, is the seemingly huge advantage that the first play has in the competitive side of the game.  Starting player never changes and it is very possible that the first player will have more turns than the other player or players.  I went first in all of our games and I won all of them with the game ending on my turn.  As far as I can tell, the game ends immediately upon stopping VENOM and I ended the game every time.  However, the game is co-op first and competitive second, so this will likely bother players to a greater or lesser degree based on their own preference.

In Conclusion

If you are a G.I. Joe fan who enjoys gaming, VENOM Assault is well worth taking the time to checkout.  If you are already inclined towards co-op games or semi co-op deck builders VENOM Assault is very likely a game you will enjoy.  If all of the above are applicable to your tastes, I absolutely recommend looking into their Kickstarter that launches January 5th 2016!  VENOM Assault provides a thematically engrossing experience in a familiar mechanical package with a taste of nostalgia thrown in for good measure.  I had my doubts that I would enjoy it given my opinion of most co-op games, but now I know…and knowing is half the battle!


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Nov 06

Going To A Game Design Meetup

IMG_7148After a rather long hiatus, the Indianapolis Tabletop Game Design Playtest Group will be meeting this Saturday.  These meetups are always fun, and helpful as we have several talented aspiring and published designers.  It is great to try out new games, see what everyone is working on, and get high level feedback on any of my games that may hit the table.

It was at just my second of these meetups where I encountered Jake Leeman, the designer of IncrediBrawl and head of the Vision 3 Games, who published my first game Strife:  Legacy of the Eternals.  So, as one might imagine, these meetups hold a special place in my heart!

Jake will be there tomorrow, and one of our topics of discussion will surely be the upcoming Kickstarter for Strife:  Shadows and Steam.  The picture to the left is of a champion from the new set, called the Plague Doctor.  We are very excited to launch the second set in the Strife Line, and hope to go live in mid January of 2016, following the holidays.

Obviously, I am looking forward to more Strife goodness, but there are also a number of other projects on which I am working.  These meetups taught me the importance of getting one’s games into the public eye, as you never know what might happen even in an early stage of development.  I would love to hear of any games that you have prototypes for or even crazy ideas that maybe rolling around in your head!  To get the ball rolling, here are some of my other current games and the stage of development they are in!


20151003_160741Zark is a zero luck abstract, with tentative thoughts to theming it about mythological sun gods, for 2-4 players.  It is an area majority game at its core as players earn points for having the most pieces in each area of the board at the start of their turns.  On a player’s turn, they may either move an existing piece or add a new one in any of the four spawn points that are not currently occupied by another player’s piece.  After moving (all pieces move like queens in chess) the active piece “fires” a beam in every direction.  If this would connect to any of the player’s other pieces, all opposing pieces in between are removed from play.  As with most abstracts, there is an advantage to going first.  However, this is mitigated by having players bid in the pregame how many points negative they wish to go in order to be first player.  Given that the game has a fixed point total for victory, there is an upper limit to just how deep in the hole one can go to play first and still overcome it even with perfect play…if such a thing is possible…I am looking at you computers.

So far Zark has been very well received and is at this point submitted to Greater Than Games for consideration.  Wish me luck, because this game doesn’t have any!

Killing Jenkins

20151011_132703Killing Jenkins is darkly humorous (I hope) game about a company called Widget Co, where all of the employees and the manager have despised the owner’s awful, incompetent, mini-fascist, middle management son, Jenkins Jr. for years.  They have been fantasizing about killing him, but suddenly one day, someone finally goes through with it!  This game is not about solving the crime, as everyone is glad he is dead, but rather about dumping some pretty damning Jenkins hating paraphernalia  (Bloody Golf Trophy, Receipts for Shovels, Lime, Tarps, and Jenkins Voodoo Dolls…etc.) that looks awfully bad now that he is dead.

Using a mechanic similar to the classic game of Bullshit, players attempt to empty their hands of potential evidence against themselves by dumping it on other players work stations.  Each player, takes on the role of a work place archetype: IT, Receptionist, Shipping and Receiving, Sales, and more with an ability related to said job.  Over the course of two rounds, players play cards from hand, claiming to play all of one type.  If they are unchallenged the play stands.  If they are challenged and lied, they must pick up cards from where they played and the break room.  If they told the truth, the challenger must pick up cards instead.  At the end of each round, players add up the total points in their hands and half the points on their workstation.  The player with the lowest total after both rounds wins and the player with the highest total is charged with the murder of Jenkins.

So far, the two play test sessions so far, have resulted in laughs and helpful feedback to improve the game.  Both are great!

Pork Nuggets and Pleasantries

20151017_154618Pork Nuggets and Pleasantries is game for 2-4 players who are competing to be the most successful BBQ Rib restaurant owner on the circuit.  They do this by allocating secret sauce points to modify their original recipe to fit the tastes of the local judges as much as possible with very limited resources, presentation, and a special power unique to each restaurant.  Secret sauce is used to adjust traits such as: Tenderness of meat, amount of smoke, tangy or sweet sauce, and light or heavy rub. These changes are made behind a screen as each restaurant takes great pains to keep their preparations secret. The circuit is always the same five traditional regions of BBQ:  KC, St. Louis, Texas, Memphis, and Carolina, but the order is random.  Each region has recipe preferences, so the order is important when setting one’s initial recipe as this is perfect information.  However, a deck of judges that modify the preferred local flavor a little is used to shake things up.  Players are only aware of a handful of judges at future locations and only gain information as they get closer, with more judges being revealed.  The random order of regions and manner in which the judges come out each game create a great deal of re-playability.  The player who has the lowest deviation from the final preferred local taste wins that contest and the blue ribbon.  Each other player receives a lesser ribbon based on their deviation.  The player with the most points after all five stops on the circuit wins the game.

One play test in, and the reception was positive.  However, it was a bare bones version, without the individual powers and I found it to be a little fiddly.  I also felt it is necessary to increase the scales on which the various elements of recipes are judged.  I am hoping to have the next level prototype ready for tomorrow.

Honey Badger Rampage

Honey_badger Honey Badger Rampage is a light card and dice game about being a Honey Badger and not giving a shit.  Players are Honey Badgers, who are trying to not only maintain their reputation as the fiercest creature in the world, but to prove they are the most fearless Honey Badger of all!  This is done by rampaging across the open plain encountering animals, bee hives, scientists, and all manner of other trouble that Honey Badgers are notorious for getting into.  As it is a race to a specific point total, reckless play is encouraged to a degree as is befitting a Honey Badger’s nature.  This sets up the games core idea of pressing one’s luck and balancing caution and risk taking at the same time.

While there is skill in playing the odds and your decisions do matter, this is more of a casual game where the players will get as much of kick out of the misadventures of each other as much as their successes.

Honey Badger Rampage has really been enjoyed everyone who has played it so far, even through some limited blind playtesting!  The audience for this game is primarily the non-hardcore gamer crowd and so far that is exactly who has enjoyed it.  Of course, any game with this many cards requires tons of balancing.  This is both for mechanical reasons as well as shaping the experience for the players in hope of making it as fun as possible.

Those are just a few of the games that I am working on, and all that are in a working prototype stage at this point.  I would be interested in hearing any thoughts you may have about these ideas as you never know what will be the final piece of the puzzle to make a game just right!  Thanks for reading and don’t forget to share your ideas as well!




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