Crafting Additional Playing Card Suits

It isn’t much of a secret that I am fascinated by the idea of playing card suits. In fact, I’ve previously written an article on the subject. During my research into alternative suits (aside from the French hearts, spades, diamonds, and clubs, that is) I became so fascinated with the idea that I created my own set of four additional suits (being represented in a 104-card deck) which were revealed at the end of the aforementioned article. In the time since then, I have become less satisfied with these designs and more capable in my own design skills, which led me to attempt this project again.
The first thing I did was go back to my research, collecting again every attempt at a different set of suits that I had previously looked at. Then I reviewed as much additional information as I could (several comments on my previous post led me down interesting paths, and with the constant exponential increase in data on the internet, there were a myriad of options that had either been created or come to light since my previous search. Links to as many of these as possible will be provided at the end*). I then created a master document where I cut out all of the various suits I had found and aligned them with all the others for comparison purposes (I also found that, strangely, some designs seem to have been “lifted” from elsewhere, which surprises me, one would think there wouldn’t be money in doing such a thing). I then reviewed the reasons that people had listed for creating each of these additional suits (at least, those that weren’t regional variations from centuries past) and found James Robert Watson’s methodology to be what I would consider the most sound (and his designs, in my opinion, the most successful). I reviewed the elements of the standard French design for the features that made them a cohesive set, and their symbolism. I then attempted to create as many different possible shapes that utilized these features and could be made to symbolize something easily recognizable (and, if possible, similar to those of the regional Spanish, German, or Italian suits).
One of the things that I noted when reviewing the myriad of ways others had attempted this challenge was that the symbols were often either too complicated or attempting to signify something more complicated than the 4 shapes they were meant to harmonize with. Indeed, looking at the 4 suits they don’t have that much in common aside from the “obvious” derivation of the spades and hearts. Perhaps a part of their cohesiveness is familiarity. I don’t have many symbols paired together in my life the way card suits are, but there is something pleasing about the 4 of them arranged in the abstract, even though they range in complexity from two lines to six, and don’t use lines that behave in consistent manners. Upon studying these details, I laid out several rules for myself in constructing my additional suits:
  • A symbol must be made of either straight lines or simple curves.
  • A symbol must be horizontally symmetrical.
  • It is okay and, at times, preferable to have a symbol be derivative of another symbol.
  • All symbols must be easily differentiable at a glance without color being a factor.
  • A symbol may not exceed 7 lines (clubs, the previous highest, have 6).
  • A symbol must have characteristics such that it can be paired with at least one other suit and fit into a group of 4 suits.
  • A symbol must be passably recognizable as what it is attempting to symbolize.
  • A symbol must feel as if it fits with the others.
Admittedly, the last one is a bit subjective. However, during this run, cohesiveness in design was central to what I wanted to achieve. My previous attempt looked like everyone else’s, so I wanted to make something that was my own, that fit. I sketched a series of designs starting with my previous attempt and working in some of what I have found in my research. I determined that in order to visually fit in, the designs had to represent items that could be considered “timeless”. Modern mechanisms just wouldn’t fit in, and there was a reason things like flowers or swords had been chosen as suits in the past (though often not as stylized). Beyond those conscious decisions it is difficult to explain how an iterative process creates, so I will simply display the result, laid out in a way that I believe makes its connections to the source material apparent.

Board Game Creation Blogging Part 5 – Rethinking and Downsizing (w/ Making an RPG)

Where I last left off this series I was failing at Kickstarter, which was actually quite some time ago now. I’ve made two household moves and published a dozen books (of my comics) since then, among other things, so it’s kind of crazy coming back now. I definitely re-evaluated my position and have been looking into why I was unable get my game off the ground. I have made several games (and game-related items) since then, but they need some more polish before I blog about them.

I had mentioned at the end of my last post that I would be working on a smaller game; one that could more easily be kick-started for next time. And I have been (I’ve got a couple of good ones), but I thought as I was working on them, “why not go smaller? Or with less cost?” It was a hard thing to think about, especially since I’m a bit of a stickler for components (I want them to last a long time). I didn’t want to create a game that used a PoD service like the Game Crafter or one that was print-it-yourself as both of those would be “less than perfect” (don’t get me wrong, GC is a great product. I use them, and what they’re doing is really cool, but it’s a bit more expensive than I would like for the quality). It then occurred to me at some point (I will have a separate post about it) that a type of game that I would be interesting in making and that could be downloaded and printed by people easily was a role-playing game.

I had recently started trying to get more into role-playing, and since most of the major books are huge, intimidating messes (and I mean that in the best possible way, they are endearing messes) I went looking for short, simple RPGs online. And I found quite a few (22 is the number I currently have printed off in my binder, and that’s not counting all of the ones I found online). Most of them ranged from 1-10 pages, but one seems the most common length. There is a certain sense of satisfaction that I can understand would come from both writing and playing a “single-page” RPG. But none of these were exactly what I wanted. I wanted mechanics that were slightly more “intuitive” but still something you could “sink your teeth into”. I believed there was and is some room for something closer to my “perfect” version of a role-playing game, so I set about writing it.


It took me far longer to do that than I had anticipated, but that was because it ended up much longer than I had thought. Not the rules, necessarily: they’re only 5 pages (though a bit cramped at around 7,000 words), but the “everything else” that comes with making an RPG. I’ve ended up writing 27 pages full of stuff for it, and in my excitement to get my ideas down I was writing some of the later pages before finishing the “necessary” pages, which would be: rules for playing the game, rules for running the game, and some pre-built enemies to go in the game (a “3-book” structure if you will, a-la D&D but with only 5 pages for each section). My plan was to put these “core rulebooks” up online and maybe a few “supplements” (1-page extras) after that, then combine them all into a book that would be the “beta” for the game. Hopefully. people would then play it and I would be able to gather feedback and write some extra stuff for the “first edition”. I still hope to do that, but I did it a bit backwards and finished the book first (it took me far too long to write this post), so now that it’s already out in the wild (though at the moment only purchase-able through me personally) I will be putting the PDFs up for download on the site.

Core Rules Beta (PDF)

Game Master Guide Beta (PDF)

Monsters/Bestiary Beta (PDF)

Beta Character Sheet (PDF)

I’ve been using a print-on-demand service to print my comic books for a few years now; so going with them for the beta version was a simple choice. Even with them being PoD I don’t anticipate the print version of the beta getting a wide release. I think it is good and playable, but I’d like to add a little more polish before putting it up on Amazon like my comic books. Also the PoD service only does paperback books, and I do hope that after I’ve put the contents up online and gathered some feedback and done some more playtesting to get everything collected for the first edition in a hardback (or likely both formats, as I want the game to be as accessible {inexpensive} as possible), not just to look like other RPGs but because I like the feel and longevity of a good hardback. In any case I’ve put the beta files up, and I hope you use them, play the game and let me know what you think.

Board Game Creation Blogging Part 4 – Failing and Analyzing

After working on my game for about 10 months, I did start a Kickstarter, and it didn’t work. I can admit that. I had read all of the blog posts I could find (which I have found wasn’t nearly all of them that exist) and prepared as much as I, and only I, could. It just being me, I made quite a few mistakes. This started with me letting my large, wonderful game get in the way of the sound business decision of starting with a smaller game that was more cost effective. I let how much I liked my current game affect my judgement too much, and decided to go with that one instead. All the while my better judgment was in the back of my head, and I said “I’ll get to those little games later.”

Not to say that the failure was all my fault due to ignorance. I did quite a lot of research, and was very prepared for a Kickstarter… two years ago. (Speculation:) You see, board games are one of the areas where Kickstarter shines (and movies, but Indiegogo is better for that). And because board games can do so well on Kickstarter, many board game companies have adopted a Kickstarter-based model, even when an audience for the project is assured. With so many big name (that should be in quotes because board game companies aren’t big) companies on Kickstarter at the moment, the days of an “Original Kickstarter”-style campaign are very much over. The bar has been raised very high, and none of the blogs that I read (again, not necessarily the correct blogs) gave the amount of importance that some factors in doing a Kickstarter require.

Again, part of this is my fault. I started without the money, or a way to make the money, necessary to start the project (and yes, you do need money for prototypes, previews, and advertising). Also, starting with a smaller game would have been good. Getting to know the community and what people expect is a must. And by a must I mean everything is a must. Anything you think you can get away without doing, you can’t. And since no big companies who could get away with things will be reading this, just read that line again please. If you don’t do everything right that is expected of a Kickstarter project, especially for board games, you’ll get burned, because people who support projects on Kickstarter have gotten burned, and they now don’t trust you. I suspect that Kickstarter will soon become the realm of purely established companies (at least in the board game realm). As demand for better games grows higher and profit margins stay the same (in games they are very low, with very high risk) companies will want to see what works and what doesn’t. Better to pay for the artwork and prototypes to find out people don’t like it,than print 2,000 copies and hope like in the old days.

So, as a small company, you must appear at least close to the big companies in quality and preparation. All of the previews, high-quality digital artwork (which I think looks awful, personally, but apparently no one else in the entire world does), play-throughs, and advertising must be done by you in a manner that at least looks like the larger companies. The only difference between you and them must be the quantities produced. Because while companies can make Kickstarter more of a fancy pre-order system (not totally accurate, but bear with me) a small group can only make as much product as they get money.

So yes, I failed. I didn’t listen to the reason in my head, or observe the situation around me. But I think I’d rather have this failure and learning experience under my belt, than a project the just barely fails, or barely makes it, or fails at half the goal (half of my goal was what I envisioned my original goal being). Then I think I wouldn’t have learned as much.

I will return to the field sometime, with a smaller game, in a more prepared state, but that will be some time in the future, I’ll blog about it then. One of the reasons I rushed into this was because I wanted my game done before several things I knew would be coming up. Now I have time to work on them, and they are still going to stress me out. But I hope to see you in the next installments.


Board Game Creation Blogging Part 3 – Funding Method and Crowdfunding Basics

This is part 3 of Blogging About Board Game Creation. I highly recommend reading the first two (or at least one) before reading this.

After finding a manufacturer, the question becomes how to fund the production of a game. There are obviously several ways to do so. One could try to get private funding from a few wealthy friends or a convinced investment group. One could send the game to established game publishers and hope to convince them to finish development and publish it. And the final option is crowdfunding, which is in essence an updated version of first on this list.

Crowdfunding requires a lot of work but gives the greatest amount of creative freedom to the designer, while private funding and established publishers offer less work but less freedom. I like the freedom to create what I want, and at the moment, my time is a very available resource to use in the creation and production of games. So I am going with the crowdfunding option. If you have a full-time job or other responsibilities, I would suggest going the find-a-publisher route. This ensures the least amount of work on your part (though it’s still quite a lot) and eliminates the whole “find a manufacturer” phase of the operation.

I had personally decided on crowdfunding long before ever coming close to finishing the game in the prototyping process. I already owned a company, and my dream is to own a company that produces all of the things I love (i.e. all of the things I make). Now obviously I can’t manufacture the game without proper equipment, the purchase of which would raise my kickstarter goals to astronomical levels. So I thought going with raising the cash myself through a crowdfunding platform (Kickstarter) and sending them to a manufacturer that would actually listen to what I said would be the best thing, considering my situation.


Hope to see this soon

Now, I would say to determine the method of funding before looking into anything else. In this way I did write these posts out of order. But I had the idea that I would be on Kickstarter when I started my project. And I made all of my following decisions accordingly. However, at this step in the process I reevaluated what I wanted my project to be produced as, and Kickstarter still seemed like the best option for me.
Now when making a Kickstarter campaign I can say that you should have a plan for everything. And the amount of money you need to raise should be the minimum you need to get the project done. That may sound obvious but if you plan on funding part of the project yourself and some large transactions don’t go through you may be paying a lot more than you bargained for.

The types of rewards, the story, how you’re going to do the video, and anything else you want to do (advertising, press releases, etc.) should be thought about and if all goes well, completed by the time the campaign begins. Then, after you get an idea of what you’re going to do, put the idea on the website immediately and submit it for approval. This does not mean that the project must be launched shortly after it is approved, but it does mean that you can launch it at any time after it has been approved. This is not what I did and I have suffered several delays as such. The Amazon payments process takes time, and so does Kickstarter approval. Take this time, and however much more time you need, to polish up the project and make the page look nice. Send the preview link to people and get feedback, make sure that you have a quote from the manufacturer, etc. When everything is in line is the time to start the project, not before.

In the next part, I’ll talk about exactly what that all means, and how to get the most out of a Kickstarter Campaign. Though this will have to wait until mine is actually over. In the mean time, if you’d like to hear something more in depth about one of the topics previously discussed, please leave a comment telling me what it would be. Thank you for reading.

Board Game Creation Blogging Part 2 – Looking for a Manufacturer

I’m making a board game, and blogging about it. This is the second part of the process, which goes from finding a manufacturer to pricing for crowdfunding. If you are interested in the process before this, you might want to check out my earlier blog post. If something you want to know about is not covered in either part, please comment and I will try to fit it in in a future installment where I go more in depth into the process.

The process of finding a manufacturer really started before I even had the prototype, but it didn’t finish until long after. When I first went looking for manufacturers I wanted a U.S. one. I live in the U.S. and I like “made in USA” products. In this search I found very few contenders. The one that I wanted to go with was 360 Manufacturing, which makes all of the games for Hasbro, and apparently does other games, too. I say “apparently” because when I went to contact them, their “Request a Quote” form was broken. And when I emailed them I received no reply (I still haven’t gotten one and it’s been months). So I’m guessing that they either don’t care about other games (likely), don’t do them anymore (also likely) or are out of business (unlikely).

So I went back to the research board, and discovered to my dismay that making a game in the U.S. would be super expensive and have awful production times. I begrudgingly decided to have a look at Chinese manufacturers.

As you can see, China is much less attached to where I am.

As you can see, China is much less attached to where I am.

Now, there are several ways to go about having something manufactured in China. You can interface with the company directly, or going through a liaison company that will contact the manufacturer for you. Liaisoning is much easier on you, the game creator, but has a higher minimum number of games required, and higher prices overall. Interfacing with the company directly is cheaper, but puts way more work in your hands, and you can run the risk of getting a bad company that will a) Steal your game idea and take your money (or the reverse or one or the other) or b) poorly make your game and leave you with a crappy product and no legal way to get back at them.

I decided to go with directly talking to a company, because I have almost no money, and the higher order quantities would be raising the bar for my crowdfunding too far. Instead I decided to put my not-so-valuable-to-anyone-but-me time into researching what would be the best company for producing my game. I needed one that had good reviews and a tangible product set (see above for why one needs to make sure), had a relatively low minimum order, and could communicate in english relatively well (if either of us were to use google translate, that would be a mess).
In the end I decided to go with WinGo games, which had more reviews than any other company I saw (hint: if you’re reviewing a game manufacturing company, make the review easy to find) which gave me a good idea about its practices. It also had several glowing testimonials (The creator of “Gunship: First Strike” being the main one) and was relatively easy to get in contact with. It only takes one day to get emails back from them, which is amazing, and since they’re in China it’s right there when I get up in the morning. Their website is easy to navigate and fairly functional. It has a few problems but nothing too glaring. After a few emails and my idiotic showing of my lack of form-filling-out skills (they use an Excel spreadsheet) I was ready to get on to the budgeting part of the process. Really, the whole process was much easier than I thought. If I may complain, though, I’d say they do send answers back one at a time, rather than in aggregate. I know some people might be overwhelmed by a bunch of questions at once, but answering them one at a time does slow down the process.

Next time I’ll be covering the budgeting and introduction to crowdfunding parts of the process, and after that I’ll be moving into some more specific areas. Please leave comments telling me what you’d want me to write about more in depth.