Game Designs

Amongst my other vices, I dabble in board game design. A few of my designs are currently available from Nestorgames, others are listed on BGG (my designer page is here), and still others are buried deep in Ai Ai. Here is quick introduction to my games...

The Good Stuff

Of the many games I have designed, these are my favourites.


Image About Notes
Crosshairs (2010)
Nestorgames version (Out of Print)
BGG Entry
Ai Ai report
Play in Ai Ai
Play on Tabletop Simulator
3D print & play
The central concept is simple; if two enemy planes are shooting at a plane, it is destroyed. Add cloud cover, multiple planes per side and the possibility of complex manoeuvering, and you have a pure stratety aerial combat game. Sadly, this is out of print at present, but will hopefully be back soon.
Crosshairs was a finalist in the BoardGameGeek Best Combinatorial 2-player Game of 2011/2012 award
"Manages to be sufficiently evocative of dogfighting (with planes, not with dogs) that you can forget you're playing a combinatorial abstract strategy game. The learning curve is good, it plays quickly, and (thanks in part to the clouds) it has excellent replayability." - getareaction, BGG
"I was looking for a simple aerial combat game, found Wings of War too fiddly, and then saw this: how can such a simple idea work so well? The playing modes for 3-4 players are a welcome bonus!" - franchi, BGG
Sleepers
Nestorgames version
BGG Entry
Sleepers balances bluff and strategy to create an intense 30-minute battle. There are multiple goals, all of which are viable win conditions.

Sleepers started life as a hex variant where players either (a) put down two tiles (face-down), one belonging to each player; or (b) flipped a face-down tile, taking another turn if it was their colour. Sadly, that didn't work too well; but it sat in the back of my mind, and eventually became the backbone of the game once the theme came along. This is a shoulders-of-giants game; once I had the basic mechanics down pat, I looked at a lot of other games for inspiration when choosing powers and goals that combo well together (honorable mentions include Magic: the Gathering (morphing in particular), Samurai, and Mentalis). The biggest challenge was squeezing the tiles down to a set that allowed lots of combos, yet still made all goals attainable.

On the subject of theme, we (I?) tend to think of the French Resistance as a single organization, but it wasn't anything like that. There were many revolutionary groups, each with different goals and motivations. You can read more here.
"A delightful little game. Interesting spatial combos, bluff, spatial competition. All of that in a short playing time (and in a very portable package). Highly recommended." - trapeeze, BGG
"I loved this game the first time I played and more I play, the better it gets." - lizlam, BGG
"An abstract with theme! Who knew? Great game with a lot of nerve wracking choices. Tons of replayability!" - TedW, BGG
Four (2012)
Published by Nestorgames
BGG Entry
Ai Ai report
Play in Ai Ai
Play on Tabletop Simulator
This is actually my third attempt to create a game based on the four colour theorem; Chroma was attempt #2. Attempt #1 was something like numberlink, where players attempted to make chains of each colour with certain constraints; it never worked as a game, sadly.
Four won (along with Veletas) the BoardGameGeek Best Combinatorial 2-player Game of 2013 award
Knight Line (2013)
Published by Nestorgames
BGG Entry
Ai Ai report
Play in Ai Ai
A boardless stacking game, based around knight moves; a deep game with minimalist equipment.
Knight Line won 4th place in the BoardGameGeek Best Combinatorial 2-player Game of 2013 award
Web of Flies (2010)
Published by Nestorgames
BGG Entry
Ai Ai report - flies
Ai Ai report - Rocks
Play in Ai Ai
The first iteration of this game was a card game called Box of Spiders, which I designed for a card game competition.
(BoF was, itself, inspired by a magazine article on commercial uses of spider silk, which pointed out that if you start with a box of spiders, it isn't long before you end up with a box containing one big, mean looking spider. But I digress.)
The game was fun, with a feel similar to DVONN, but the endgame was somewhat lacking. After the competition, I played the game a few more times, and realised that it would work better on a hexagonal grid, and thus Web of Flies was born.
Mutton (2009)
Published by Nestorgames
BGG Entry
Play on boardspace.net
Play on pbmserv
Android (play store)
Cameron's Mutton page
Review by Tom Vasel
In collaboration with Cameron Browne.
I designed this game primarily for Rosie, my wife. She likes sheep, and mastermind; which is what got me thinking about the initial design. I was also playing a lot of Texas hold-'em at the time, so I wanted to combine the deduction element with the ability to bluff.
Anyhow, the initial design had the farmer moving the sheep, and felt rather flat - the sheep got split up as much as possible, and didn't feel very sheeplike at all; this also made the farmer's job far to easy. Sheepishly, I put the game aside, until Cameron Browne came along... he designed the graphics, and even found the lego sheep design used in the prototypes; with his help, I found the missing element - obvious in retrospect - the wolf moves the sheep. With this simple change, the sheep tend to huddle together, and the farmer has to work much harder to identify the wolves.
I love the way that the theme works; the wolves seem to prowl around the edge of the flock, while the sheep huddle in nervous bunches. The farmer gets more and more nervous, until he suddenly goes berserk. Lots of tension, and a nice mix of deduction and bluff.
No problem if you don't like it - I didn't design it for you ;)
CheAOsS (2011)
BGG Entry
Play in Ai Ai
Chaos Chess. In this chaotic game, a piece's movement is determined by a combination of (a) its colour, and (b) the colour of the square it is standing on. A large number of possible pieces means that no two games will be the same. The Ai Ai implementation is combinatorial, but the rules as written start with the piece powers unknown, and force the players to explore.
CheAOsS has not been published, but all necessary files for Print & Play are available on BoardGameGeek.
Furl (2020)
Ai Ai report (Hex)
Ai Ai report (Square)
Play in Ai Ai
Furl is a race game, with unusual movement. Each turn, a player either furls(gathers up a row of their pieces into a stack), or unfurls (sows the pieces in a straight line), possibly capturing in the last space. In this sense, you can think of it as a mancala variant, but I think of it as a tentacle rising up and crashing down.
Low vs High (2018)
Ai Ai report
Play in Ai Ai
This started off as a game where the players were trying to assemble rainbows, either forwards or backwards.
This was very confusing, so I added numbers.
Then I realised that the colours weren't necessary, and the game wasn't limited to a 7x7 board.
That's the way game design goes sometimes; I left the colours in the Ai Ai implementation for sentimental reasons; but you could play with number or letter tiles if so inclined.
Itsy (2020)
Ai Ai report
Play in Ai Ai
Start with go, distill it down to its essence using the Symple protocol, and you have Itsy. The rules are very short:
A group is a maximal set of orthogonally adjacent pieces of a single colour. Groups can never merge.
Each turn, in order:
- Grow: Add a piece adjacent to each of your existing groups
- Spawn: Add a piece to the board, forming a new group.
If you cannot complete your turn (usually because a group is surrounded), you lose.
Genius Loci (2013)
Nestorgames version (Out of Print)
BGG Entry
Ai Ai report
Play in Ai Ai
This game is inspired by the "Activator Piece" discussions in the BGG abstract games forums. This is the purest game I could devise – the men do not move at all, unless an activator allows them to do so; the theme of spirits demanding sacrifices came naturally from the mechanics. Plus, it seems I like killing stuff!
Genius Loci was a finalist in the BoardGameGeek Best Combinatorial 2-player Game of 2014 award
Knight Light (2020)
Ai Ai report
Play in Ai Ai
This is a reworking of Kight Line for a print and play collection, which ended up different enough to be its own game. There are no stacks, movement follows the 12* protocol, and a line of 5 rather than 4 is required to win.
SLLUG (2020)
Ai Ai report
Play in Ai Ai
SLLUG is taken from the even more unwieldy "Slitherlink-like Game", Slitherlink being my favourite logic puzzle. The game itself ended up a majority scoring game much closer to Libraria than Slitherlink, but it is what it is!
Dotty Boxes (2020)
Ai Ai report
Play in Ai Ai
Dotty Boxes is a fusion of Dots and Boxes and the collect-me scoring systems seen in modern eurogames. The opening phases will have similar strategy to dots and boxes, but as the game progresses you'll have to balance quantity against quality.
Actiles (2009)
BGG Entry
In collaboration with Cameron Browne.
Actiles stands for "Action tiles". This is a seemingly simple game played with just four tiles; but it will melt your brain.
The print&play files are available on the boardgamegeek page.



Family Games & Eurogames

These games are generally lighter and fluffier than the games above, and considerations other than skill are likely to determine the winner.

Image About Notes
Swish
BGG
An collaboration with Cameron Browne.
A continuous space strategy game for 2-4 players; fish parts designed by Cameron Browne.
Time Gradient
BGG Entry
A simple card game with strategic bluffing and a strong time travel theme. There was almost a commercial version!
Time Gradient won this Traditional Card Games Design Contest over on BoardGameGeek.
It's also mentioned on Wikipedia
The Easter Bunny Game
BGG Entry
This is a family pick-up and deliver game that I designed for the kids. The deliverables are Cadbury's Mini-Eggs. All necessary files to play should be in the BGG files section (note: the board looks a bit weird on the BGG file section, but is fine when downloaded).
Elf Defense
BGG Entry
This is a tower defense Christmas themed game, which accommodates any number of players via a circle of death mechanism. It captures the true spirit of Christmas; greed.
Rebel Moon Defense
Nestorgames Version
BGG
Review by Tom Vasel
In collaboration with Cameron Browne.
This is a homage to many tower defense computer games. Admire the chaos bomb wrapped in Mandelbrot shields!
Turtle Thumb Tussle
BGG Entry
Manual dexterity game in the strictest sense; think twister for fingers!
Story Dice
BGG Entry
Roll the dice; tell a story using the results. There's a very similar commercial game, but I got there first!
Cosmic Convention
BGG Entry
Long, long ago, Rosie and I got married, and instead of the traditional reception we had a games convention; Consummation. We designed this metagame (inspired by Cosmic Encounter) for use at our wedding convention - small metapowers for use inside and outside of the games.
They also saw use in TowerCon in Blackpool, and perhaps some other places.
Mithril Miners
BGG Entry
Competition game. This is actually a mean and nasty game masquerading as a co-op!



Shoulders of Giants and All That

"Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different." [“The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism”, T. S. Elliot, 1920]

The following are variants of existing games; if these happen to be good, then the credit should probably go to the original designer, not me!

Image About Notes
Chess Line (2020)
Play in Ai Ai
Round about 1984, a game called Tic Tac Chess by Michael Waitsman was published in Omni magazine. It's interesting, but is a game of not losing; with perfect play, the game will never end.

I set out to change that; I modified the piece movement rules, added other pieces, and allowed asymmetric matchups. There are now around 400 different combinations, many of them decisive and most of them balanced on a knife-edge.

Possibly the most interesting game you can play on a 3x3 board and lots of replay value!
Isolation Chess (2020)
Play in Ai Ai
Chess for the modern age.
Leaping (2020)
Ai Ai report
Play in Ai Ai
This is my variation of H. J. R. Murray's variation of the Victorian game Leapfrog. It's considerably faster, with more nuanced scoring.
Quantum Chess (2000)
Listed in the Encyclopedia of Chess Variants
Play in Zillions of Games
Chess Variants Entry
"This is my costume. I'm a homicidal maniac. They look just like everyone else" — Wednesday Addams

This chess variant starts off normally, but goes crazy in the middle and endgame.
Standard chess rules, with the following change: Any unit that is not observed (attacked or defended) may move to any unobserved empty space.
Hexi (2000)
Play in Zillions of Games
A hexagonal variant of Don Green's masterpiece, Octi.
Unfair, Intercardinal family (2015)
BGG (Unfair)
BGG Entry (Intercardinal)
BGG Entry (Intercardinal X)
BGG (Intercardinal Yavalath)
Play in Ai Ai
Inspired by Gomoku (and in one case, Yavalath), these games all look at different ways of breaking symmetry.
Unfair: white must make a line of 4, black must make a line of 7. Orthogonal lines only.
Intercardinal: a line of 4 wins in the N/S axis, 5 in the E/W axis.
Intercardinal X: a line of 6 wins orthogonally, 5 diagonally.
Intercardinal Yavalath: a line of 4 orthogonally wins, but a line of 3 diagonally loses.
Magnetic Go (2017)
Play in Ai Ai
Like coloured pieces repel, unlike colours attract.



The Slush Pile

Games with a strong core, that need a little something extra to make them tier 1 games.

Image About Notes
Underdog (2020)
Ai Ai report
Play in Ai Ai
This is an experimental 3-player game which tries to avoid kingmaking issues.
Each turn, move one of your pieces to a neighbouring space containing an enemy piece; that piece is captured. The turn now passes to the player with the fewest pieces; if there is a tie for fewest pieces, your turn continues.
When all players pass, each player calculates their score as follows: first, scores the number of pieces you have left on the board; then for each enemy, multiply by the number of pieces you have captured belonging to that enemy.
Claustrophobia (2020)
Ai Ai report
Play in Ai Ai
This is apparently a partisan arc geography game. Each path can only be traversed once, last to move wins; the huge number of connections at the start of the game mean that the opening is completely opaque (to me at least), though the AI seems to manage to find good moves.
Tavener's Time Travel Tic Tac Toe (2018)
Play in Ai Ai
So, we all make mistakes; what if you could go back and move your piece to a better space? That's the idea behind this game. It is achieved by a simple operation that can be applied to any strict placement game - by transforming undifferentiated pieces into numbered piece, it becomes easy to see when a piece was placed, and therefore how expensive it is to move.
In its current form the game is flawed; but there is a unique idea in there just looking for the right game!
Snowpaque (2015)
Play in Ai Ai
Play in Ludii
Created 2015 for my Christmas Ai Ai release, this is a very simple impartial game that results in a design vaguely reminiscent of a snowflake.
The name is a fusion of snowflake and opaque - for the strategy is opaque indeed!
Chroma (2008)
BGG Entry
Play on Richard Rognlie's pbmserv
Cameron Browne's Chroma page
Based on the four colour theorem, and in collaboration with Cameron Browne; what makes this work is the fixed move order, which allows players to plan ahead and prevents this from being a cold game. Where it fails a little, is that the game can end quickly with much of the board unused.
Arrows (2017)
Ai Ai report
Play in Ai Ai
An experiment with directional pieces. Each turn, place a piece so it points to at least one empty space; if it points towards a friendly piece, you lose.
Arrows2 (2017)
Ai Ai report
Play in Ai Ai
An experiment with directional pieces. Each turn, rotate a piece or capture by moving in the direction you're pointing. A distant relative of Crosshairs.
Merx (2016)
Play in Ai Ai
At this point, I have no idea how this game came to be! Pieces are impartial, but movement and capture isn't. Odds are, the AI can play this a lot better than you can.
XMas Lights (2017)
Play in Ai Ai
Another Christmas game, this one from 2017. It's pretty, but the moving xmas tree lights confuse mere mortals; the AI will crush you.
Still, I'm sure I'll be rewarded when the AIs take over.
Wizball (2018)
Play in Ai Ai
An attempt to combine Phutball and Vault to create a dynamic goal scoring game with crazy combos. It has balance issues at the moment, though.
Curio
BGG Entry
Play on Richard Rognlie's pbmserv
In collaboration with Cameron Browne.
A game of hidden information with a strong deductive element.
Sphex (2011)
Nestorgames version
BGG Entry
In collaboration with Cameron Browne.
This simple connection game is part of the Shibumi project; the name Sphex is derived from Square Pyramidal Hex.
Spoing (2011)
Nestorgames version
BGG Entry
This is a game I designed for Cameron Browne's Shibumi project. It has the dubious distinction of not requiring any stacking :).
Accretion/Rapid Cooling
Play in Ai Ai
A set of linked games where the pieces get progressively unwieldy until no more moves are possible. Playable, but a bit dull.



The Morgue

The following are unfinished experiments, mediocre, or just plain bad. A lot were created for competitions in the BGG forums. One or two may damage your sanity. Play at your own risk!

Image About Notes
Chains (2018)
Play in Ai Ai
A chain is a non-branched collection of pieces; make a chain of length N to win. I can't tell if there is much of a game here or not - there are certainly some tactics around the edge of the board that allow you to kill a chain, but it's hard to stop the first player from continually extending their line to a win. The AI is really bad, though, so it's hard to be sure of anything without seeing strong human play.
Triangline 4 (2018)
Play in Ai Ai
I wonderd why no one ever made games on triangle boards. Now I know.
Arenario
BGG Entry
Created for a competition, it's a rummy variant with a theme of gladiatorial combat.
Box of Spiders
BGG Entry
This game eventually turned into Web of Flies, which is much better.
Box of Spiders cane 4th in this Traditional Card Games Design Contest over on BoardGameGeek (Time Gradient came first).
Colour Race
BGG Entry
Another competition entry. Interesting mechanism, but too hard to visualise the movement.
Construction Whist
BGG Entry
Competition game (card game). I don't even remember designing this one!
Cuboid
BGG Entry
Designed for nestortiles.
Die!nosaurs
BGG Entry
Competition game (dice based).
Leave Nothing Behind
BGG Entry
Competition game (card based).
Pangolin Pandemonium
BGG Entry
Competition game (card game). Card game involving pangolins rolling up and down hills. There may be an interesting eurogame in there somewhere, but this wasn't it!
Zombie Death Suns Ate My Planet
BGG Entry
Competition game (dice). Beautiful plumage, but the parrot is dead.