Saturday, May 10, 2014

Super Showdown - Where did you have YOUR shodown part two: Greece!

This trip to Greece, several years in the making, was the perfect place to do our "Where did you have YOUR showdown" feature.  

Over the course of our trip, we visited Athens, Crete and Santorini.  We were resolved to play the game as often as possible and in as beautiful a location as possible.

So - without further adieu and with large thanks to our inspiration "Ant and Anna" who classed up the river Thames with their game play antics, here is our Greek Showdown!

First, a beautiful dusk game against my wife.  

Next, John and Jodie learn the game on a beautiful Crete patio!

Now that John had a taste for it, he destroyed me against a gorgeous ocean backdrop.  (Yes, that's a look of dismay - I wasn't sure what was worse, him winning or him tormenting me about winning...)

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Paranormal Investigation Card Game - Two Great Tastes....

...  That taste great together!

Let me take you back an exciting year ago to my entrance into the Paranormal world.  Through a good friend and creative dynamo I know I joined an organization called the Paranormal Illumination Society.  This group's mission statement is to bridge the gap between the normal and paranormal.

A noble mission, but what did that MEAN?

To me, it meant dipping my tootsies into the turbid waters of the extraordinary world we live in.  I joined to seek my own answers and my own impressions of that great big world and its mysteries, not to have someone tell me the answers they have.

Now when you put this paranormal investigation angle up against the mission and goals of Touch Paper Press and you have all of the makings of a great game.  Additionally, we had the unique challenge of creating a game that displayed the various elements of the paranormal and entertaining world.

Types of Investigators

There are believers out there who are trying to prove that the Paranormal world is true, they just want to open the door so that you can see for yourself.  The world to the believer is complicated, scary and wonderful.

Skeptics on the other hand believe in hard science and that the mystic road is one of misunderstanding and that the truth often lies in scientifically explainable events.  There are degrees of skeptics ranging from those who hope to find something to prove them wrong all the way to people who think the whole thing is silly and that the world MUST be shown that truth is a light-switch!

Frauds don't care whether an event is true or not, they are along for the ride and typically have an agenda all of their own for being involved.  Sometimes it's excitement, sometimes it's to be a part of something, but many times it's simply because there could be profit to be had.

Mediums on the other hand feel that to believe the paranormal is obvious and self evident.  They aren't even interested in proving anything to anyone necessarily.  Their goal is simple: understand the message behind the paranormal event and once understood, take the correct or appropriate actions.

Your typical investigation has all of these elements invested, which makes for a dynamic and often intense evening!

Tone and Feel

Knowing the motivation of the primary game elements was a huge hurdle, and one we felt good about.  However, we needed the tone and theme and FEEL of the game to be completely in synch.  This meant the imagery had to match perfectly.

No problem!

We instantly fell in love with the turn of the century timeframe.  It was a time of superstition, and religious dominance.  Man waged war against the paranormal and supernatural with a fervor that has since been muted by science.  Technology was developed to test the paranormal world in bizarre ways.

And the imagery, O man, the imagery.  Science fiction imagined such a peculiar future of scientific gadgets to be used to sniff out the truth.


Simply put, the game is played in three "phases".

Phase one is the deduction of which hidden mystery card you should try to reveal.  You do this by seeing one (or more) of five different cards that are face down, while your opponents see other cards, then, reading what other players are doing to determine, ultimately, where all of your cards are.  Fun!

Phase two is about getting down to the nitty gritty of revealing the cards that match your agenda and win criteria while preventing others from doing their own.

Phase three is typically preventing the fraud from winning by either running out the deck, or revealing enough mysteries to lock him out.

Best thing about the gameplay?  This game takes, on average, 7 minutes to play!

We hope you enjoy Paranormal Investigation as much as we enjoyed designing, playtesting and producing it.

Thank you!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Designer's Diary - Ninja Family Picnic

Ninja Family Picnic 

Touch Paper Press' first collaborative effort and so remarkably different from anything we've done.  A family oriented board game with enough unique elements to make it stand out to strategy minded gamers.

How did it begin?  Where is it now?  How did it get there?  Why Ninja Family Picnic?

Trevor and my very first meeting and he asked "how do YOU start a new project?".  I responded that I always start from a simple concept that is evocative to me.  An image, or a phrase, or a feel and work from there.  Intrigued, Trevor asked what I meant..  For me, it was as simple as seeing or hearing something unique enough that it kickstarted my creative process.

Trevor:  Ok, let's try that!
Me:  Try what?
Trevor:  Let's just brainstorm some ideas and see if any of them are really inspirational!
Me:  Great!
Trevor:  Ok, go!
Me:  Huh?!
Trevor:  Go!  Brainstorm!  (though ascribing exclamation points to Trevor is misleading, he is incredibly even keeled and if you were there, you might think those should have been periods, but since I get to tell the story, he gets to be incredibly excited about the idea!)
Me:  Ok!  Ummm, Flash Gordon awakens ancient Cthulhuian evil in a retro sci fi horror madness.
Trevor:  Hmm.
Me:  Teenage mutant ninja turtles inadvertantly causing the apocalypse and now survive by hunting for pizza while driving around in solar powered dune buggies..
Trevor:  Hmmm..
Me:   Vampire schoolgirls choosing classes in college to determine how to either advance towards or away from humanity
Trevor:  Hmmmm..
Me:  Ninja Family Picnic?
Trevor:  ......
Me:  A pack of wild......
Trevor:  Wait, WHAT?  Ninja Family Picnic?

It seemed completely rational (to me, I know it's a huge stretch in reality) that ninja would have family and that the family would enjoy the simple things in life, including getting out as a group to the local park and enjoying fresh air and a bite of food.  However, how do you turn that concept into a game?  The answer was simple:  What would a ninja family picnic be like, and why would it be a challenge?  Is there anything else that would make it even more extreme / funny?

The answer was simple - the family would try to get into the park, over to the picnic, enjoy some food, and do it all without being seen.  To make things interesting, each member of the family wanted to be the first to get to the picnic and the one who went back to the picnic most frequently (to get all of the best and most scrumptious victuals!).

This was more than enough to get Trevor's mind churning over the challenge of coming up with what that meant mechanically.  He had stopped listening to me as I rambled about what they would eat, what they would look like, oh - and hey - maybe they're British?!

We laughed, we cried, and then we got to work.  Concept alone did not make for a good game.  However, ensuring that we were true to the concept mechanically WAS critical.

In a nutshell, we wanted individual ninja family members to navigate across a crowded park without being seen.  It would be competitive, so not only do they not want to be seen, but they want to jeopardize the other family members so that they WOULD be seen.

A picnic blanket / basket was located at a far point on a square park map, with the family members entering from the opposite side.  Everyone would take their turn at the same time and plan a hidden 4 part move agenda, then enact them based on the timing of their cards.  Your turn could be influenced by what others had done if their action had a higher priority..  To make things more interesting, visitors were coming into the park, wandering around following their own agendas and then leaving.

For instance, a gaggle of kids (we called them the Wee Ones) come rushing into the park, run around from one activity on the park to another, running with reckless abandon.  Another fellow might linger near the picnic basket, walking back and forth hoping for a morsel or two.

Some of the unique mechanics were the facing of the visitors, how they moved and how the interactivity of the player turns happened.

Our first attempt left us feeling that the game was too predictable, and that there would quickly come a formula for success.  We didn't want that.

Our second attempt had the pendulum swing the other way, and now it was too random.  There was no strategical or tactical distinction in the game, you could play just as well by randomly laying down cards (Trevor did this with our second revision and came close to winning.. BOOOOO)

Our third attempt tried to strike the balance.  We did this by changing the way visitors moved and faced.  It allowed for a predictive glance at the turn, without bogging down into too much detail (analysis paralysis!).  It wasn't perfect, but we were on the right track.

Next came the balancing of the individual characters.  Being "Sister" had to mean something, right?  Each character had strengths and weaknesses that should factor into turn making decisions both for the player playing them, and for someone trying to anticipate the moves.

Voila!  Our 15th (or maybe 17th) version of the game hit our primary metric for success - it was FUN!  However, it was hard to 'love' it still, since the prototype didn't have the aesthetic we wanted yet.

We needed an artist and we only had a shoestring budget.  The art HAD to capture the feel or it wouldn't work.  Trevor, being wise and just, recommended the "Speed Painting" style, and mentioned an artist he'd used previously for another game prototype.  An Argentinian gentleman named Vlad, who at a glance had exactly the style we were working for.  Without further adieu, I contacted him and gave him my set of criteria..  He got started with this instruction:

Father ninja:   He is a tall, middle-aged ninja wearing the typical black ninja clothes and standing straight up.  His right arm is extended out and holding a pipe (see the attached picture “FATHER” and imagine a pipe in his outstretched hand).  His left arm is drawn back tight against his body, and is holding a newspaper.  He has a slight pot-belly, blue eyes and an orange smoking jacket that looks very british.  He is about 40 years old.

Mother ninja:  She has her right leg extended behind her, and her left in front and bent at the knee.  Her left arm is bent with elbow pointing straight behind her (see the attached picture “MOTHER”) and her right arm looks like it is punching straight ahead of her, but in her hand she has a rolling pin.  She is wearing a white apron with red polka dots and she also has lovely blue eyes and long eyelashes.  She is about 35 years old.

Sister ninja:  She’s wearing “mother’s” clothes and is playing at being an adult ninja.  She is wearing a pink british sunhat with a wide floppy brim, a pink sash, and mother’s pink high heels.  All of which are too big for her.  In her left hand is a ninja-to short blade.  In her right, which is extended behind her (seem the attached picture “SISTER”) she is holding a teddy bear with button eyes.  She is about 10 years old.

Brother ninja:  He is kneeling (see attached picture “BROTHER”) and has a train in his right hand, and several throwing stars in his left.  He is wearing a blue and white striped train conductor’s cap, that is tilted forward over his ninja clothes so that his face is hidden in shadow and all you can see are his burning blue eyes.  He is about 7 years old

And this is where he ended up:


Vlad was a hit, he just "Got it" and seemed to know exactly what we wanted.  He commenced working on all of the visitors, food and drink for the picnic, the massive park itself and then finally the box cover.  We were impressed with Vlad's vision, his skill and his speed.  He breathed the final breath of life into our game.

We hope you enjoy Ninja Family Picnic as much as we enjoyed making it.

Thank you for reading!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Woe to the Living (Parts I and II combined)

Caine’s Bed was always cold this time of year, a full month before the rest of the nation felt it.  Cold wind whispered through dead leaves, sometimes a sigh and other times a moan, making this autumn night the coldest all year.

The doctor sat at her desk and looked outside the window, glum at the thought of braving the night.  Despite her courage she found it harder and harder to venture out into that bitter Caine’s Bed evening.  She told herself it was the cold, or even just nerves, but neither answer made it any easier.

A glance at her fastidiously neat desk showed that she had somehow powered through the bulk of her work, leaving little excuse left to stall.  Sighing deeply and casting a last hopeful glance at her desk, she stood up.

Her name was Doctor Lynn Christopher and she was a renowned surgeon, artist, astronomer, author, pilot and wife and she was afraid of a little dark and shadows?  Absurd.  Yet, there it was.  Her hand paused halfway to the door leading outside almost of its own will.  Instead of opening the door, she checked her purse again – keys, check.  Mace, check. Phone, check.  Everything was in its place!

If everything was in place, then why did something seem so out of place?  Admittedly she had been all nerves since several staffers at the hospital went crazy and killed themselves.  Rumor had it that they had been dipping into the pharmaceutical grade opiates and overdosed, causing brain damage that ultimately led to their suicide, but that answer felt too pat for the Doctor, who knew them both personally.

Weeks leading up to their deaths, they complained of hearing things, seeing things and feeling like they were being watched.  No one knew for sure, and no one would ever know for sure, considering how quickly they shut the books on that case.

Not that the staffers were the only odd thing about the hospital.  One of the other doctors, who confided in her that he too felt watched, had taken a month’s vacation recently to ‘rebuild and fortify’ his house.  She shook her head sadly to think of it.  Rebuilding and fortifying apparently meant preparing for some sort of zombie attack based on the money spent preparing his home with thick lead walls, independent power supplies and a collapsible bridge system that could isolate his family from the outside world in less than 30 seconds.  If something were indeed after him, they would have an extremely rough go of it.

Despite all of this, she resolved to remain calm and keep her wits.  Others at the hospital needed her level headed guidance, and they would get it.  She had accomplished everything she’d set out to in life, from marrying the man of her dreams to becoming a surgeon and everything in between.  There was nothing in life that kept her from her goals.

Yet.. if that were true, why couldn’t she move her hand the last few inches towards the door-handle?

Then, she heard it..  faint at first, and growing louder; footsteps, coming towards her.  They had a solid sound to them, like someone marching down a tile floor in boots.  Whoever approached was not only moving closer, but also gaining speed.  The boots-on-tile sound was now matched by hoarse breathing caused by running too hard.

Heartbeat racing, and fighting panic, Doctor Lynn Christopher spun around towards the sound, whipping the mace out of her purse as she turned.  She did not wait to see what was there, she simply pressed down on the mace’s trigger, and unleashed a spray of caustic fluid in a loud hiss.

The mist seemed to hang in the air, defying gravity and common sense both, for many long seconds.  When it finally cleared enough to see the hallway, it was sterile and empty.  One fluorescent light, sensing her scrutiny, flickered uncertainly before getting back to work.

Absurd, she repeated to herself.  Absurd!

Spinning on her heel, she closed her eyes and reached for the door-handle.  The chill of the metal handle brought her back to herself with a jolt.  Outside the night was cold, but normal.  She tried to blame the goosebumps on the brisk autumn night, but deep down she knew the truth.

The rest of the evening was a blur.  Surely it was stress that caused her to see things moving out of the corner of her eyes while reading before bed. OR.. Maybe it was lack of sleep that made it sound like footsteps outside her window while she lay sleepless in bed staring at the ceiling.  Either way, she passed the night restlessly with very little sleep.

Caine's Bed seemed colder the next day.  Fine hoarfrost covered the ground outside the bedroom window like a silk blanket.  Groggily, Lynn stumbled about the room, mumbling "Love you's" to her husband and throwing on clothing.  She knew she looked a fright, but couldn't seem to make herself care.

Blurry minutes turned into weary hours, weary hours turned into anxiety wracked days and anxiety filled days turned into weeks.  More and more the day ended in tears.   More and more it was easier NOT to go into the office and stay at home in bed.

This was completely unlike her.  Her close friends and family were concerned, but could do nothing.  They never saw the things in the shadows, the creaking of boards, the breathing against her neck.  To them it was a cry for help - help that for Lynn Christopher, had never been needed before.

Long lists of hobbies and accomplishments faded with the morning frost..  She no longer dared to get into the cockpit of her small plane.  Costly telescopes gathered dust, unused for fear of what might be seen.  The absolute worst was when she put her shaky hand to paper to go through the cathartic process of writing.  All that bubbled to the surface through the pen were..


After the third week, the letters that escaped her fingers were too frantic to be readable, and the words they built made no sense.

Mrs Lynn Christopher was strong enough not to break outright, but not so strong to completely withstand the terror.  Around her, there were many who snapped outright, caving to the stark terror.  Others rose defiantly to shake their fist at the night and gather supporters - refusing to give in.

Not Lynn.  She was too independent to call for help, too strong to bend, and in too deep to get out.

They found her sitting bolt upright in bed one morning, staring at the footprints that only she saw in the hoarfrost outside and muttering "absurd, absurd, absurd" over and over.  Her beautiful and capable mind had snapped in the night.  Now all that she heard was the dark laughter inside her mind.. growing louder and louder, drowning out all other sounds of the outside world.

Outside her window in the cold winter morning, dead leaves danced on the morning gusts.  Woe to the living on days like this...

Monday, June 18, 2012

Where did you have YOUR Showdown?

Ant and Anna face off with all due decorum on the river Thames!  The first of our "Where did you have YOUR Showdown" pictures..


Special thanks to our hero and villain, who paused in their age old conflict long enough to be photographed!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

My Life as a Gamer - Act I

It was in my 8th grade Math class and I was doodling pictures from 8 bit Nintendo games on my folder while the teacher scratched out something indecipherable on the chalk-board with a shaky hand.

Out of the blue the kid sitting behind me (Nick) said "Hey, you play Metroid? COOL, have you played Kid Icarus?" I mentioned that I hadn't, but would LOVE to try it! After school we headed to his place for 6 hours of non stop gaming, laughing and high-fiving.

Our deep and life-long friendship was born.

Later on in the school year he whispered, in a hushed but reverent tone, while at our lockers "have you ever heard of dungeons and dragons? I saw it in a game store across the street from my place.. It's about Elves and dragons.. it's sweet!"

We couldn't wait another day! We scrounged up the money we had, ran over to Comics Utah and bought the red-boxed beginner's set of D&D. This wasn't even "A" D&D.. you couldn't play a Dwarven fighter, you were just "the Dwarf" or "the Elf" or "the Wizard".

We strapped on our pointy ears, picked up our wizard's staves and we were hooked.

All of that is almost irrelevant though compared to what I felt when I walked into Comics Utah and looked at the games on the shelves:

Detectives stared suspiciously out at me from beneath their fedoras.
Knights in heavy plate armor clashed with evil wizards.
Large headed aliens dreamed of conquering Earth.

... and I was a part of all of it. I had the power to fight off the aliens, to solve the crime and save the "dame" and to help my stout ally in armor defeat the evil wizard.


At age 14ish that was heady stuff. My normal life of homework, housework and girls suddenly seemed to pale compared to what I could do as a ninja in Ninjas and Superspies. It couldn't compare to what I was capable of as a Terminator Space Marine in Space Hulk.

My imagination was the only thing holding me back from complete world domination, and I loved it. Further, I wanted to - no, I needed to - be a part of it. Somehow, some way.

It was then that I noticed that not many knew about this secret world of swords, sorcery and laser beam robots. They were oblivious to alternate universes and the complete freedom they represented.

I became a one man gaming missionary! My mission was to spread the word and get everyone involved. Who WOULDN'T want to be a part of all that?

Soon it became clear that gaming wasn't cool. Worse, I was uncool for doing it. D&D was for satan worshippers and losers who couldn't meet girls.

(PS - HA!)

I was crushed. Maybe people weren't oblivious after all, they were willfully disinterested. Maybe...... but maybe not everyone?

Over the next 4 years I continued gaming, and telling people about gaming. Pouring the unbridled passion of youth and every bit of determination I had into it. I was paid back, with interest, by my friendships developed in those days centered around a game and some dice. Some of my best friends from that time are still in my life!

One day the unexpected happened - I received a call from Comics Utah about an application I put in a while back. I could work full time, for minimum wage, at the downtown store.

Full circle! It took me four years to get back to the beginning, but I had made it. My life would never be the same.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Designer's Diary - first blush!

WOE to the LIVING!

Woe to the Living is Touch Paper Press’ third game, and will likely be the first that we get published under our own brand. But, how did we get there? Why Woe and not the first two games we designed? Also, what went INTO Woe to the Living to give it the personality we wanted?

Why a 54 card deck game, that included all of the poker suits in addition to the normal game?

Trevor and I were sitting down and looking at our other game designs not long ago. We had a conundrum on our hands that we didn’t have the experience to handle as fledgling game producers. Both the games we had under our belt were high production value games, which meant passing on slightly higher costs to buyers and dealing with delays in final production associated with waiting for art. More components equaled higher costs to us, but also, potentially higher profits..

That wasn’t really our point though. We weren’t trying to come up with a get rich quick scheme, we wanted to get the Touch Paper Press name out there and associated with quality and fun! We love games and would love to make their creation, distribution and promotion our livelihoods.

Trevor decided that we needed to come up with a game that had a few very specific requirements:

1) A game that could be played on a 54 card deck
2) Simple enough that the rules would fit onto the two poker cards
3) Advanced enough that gamers could get finer nuances out of it
4) Art that Trevor could work with himself, reducing reliance on outside work
5) Cards that would appeal to a wider range of people than just hard core gamers (like we both are) – in this case, “Poker” cards, including suits, face cards etc..

It was a pretty significant list, but we set deadlines, put our noses to the grindstone and got started.

In the beginning…

Woe to the Living started out as “Ashes to Ashes” and involved a ‘circle of life’ theme where people started off as living people, were killed, brought back as Undead and then killed once and for all. It’s an idea that Trevor has had kicking around for years, and the first attempt to fit a game into the parameters outlined above ended with Ashes to Ashes.

So we built up a prototype, sat down and played about four or five games. At the end, Trevor looked at me with his calmly intense gaze and asked the age old question.. “Any good?”

The answer was no. The mechanics, though clever and fitting all of the criteria we listed above missed one important element. An element that is so basic, it’s just assumed. So we went back to our list and added it:

6) Fun

To be fair, AtA wasn’t boring, and it wasn’t too simple, there just wasn’t enough interaction for me. In fact, the mechanics were VERY clever, but not so involved that we would be hard pressed to explain or teach it. We each played our turns and before I knew it the game was done and we never really interacted. Despite being mechanically sound, we agreed it missed the mark. Back to the drawing board.

After the playtest we discussed ways to make it interactive. It was mentioned that we could make it like a hot-potato type game, where you did not want to be stuck with something that someone else had some control of sticking you with – but only if they knew your motives. We didn’t want there to be one RIGHT way to play.

Trevor loves a challenge, so he took the ideas and did his white-paper mojo. Drawing the cards, tons of notes and most importantly, the numbers. Three days later he came to me with the new prototype and a spring in his step!

We sat down to play, and immediately were interacting. I was trying to figure out his goal and thwart it, while he was messing with me. It made me laugh, it made me angry it made me excited to see my next card.


Why the Pulpy images?

Primarily, we both love them. There are lots of other reasons, but they all wend their way back to this one.

I grew up with Flash Gordon, with Buck Rogers and with the comic greats! We grew up together, and drifted apart. Art took on a more solid, defined look. Details became more important than the feel. Quality of paper improved, and the tactile joy of opening those old pulp mags was lost. Newer comics seemed more sterile and less vibrant. Surely it was all in my head, but I couldn’t shake it.

Over the past few years the term ‘Pulp’ has become more prominent. It was slightly redefined to mean more of what they DID in those old mags, rather than the mags themselves, but there it was! Dungeons and Dragons did it with Eberron. The new Steampunk trend called heavily on the old Pulp influences and popular fiction did it too.

Then it happened; I had an opportunity to create something of my own and build into it elements that were important to me. Elements that were so much greater than the whole of their parts. Better yet Trevor loved it too. He showed me Super Showdown and the place he found the treasure trove of comics that fueled the idea and the design.

It was more than that though.. these were images that not only paid homage to an influential time in our history, but they were images that were available immediately. Something we could sink our teeth into, modify, play around with and use! We didn’t want to alter them too much, that felt deceptive to the point of using them. Instead we used a 'highlight' technique where we filtered the central figure, added color and intensity and muted the sides of the images.


It was a lot of work, but it was well worth it - we are very happy with the finished product!

Meanwhile, while Trevor was working out the art, we were on the phone daily talking about the mechanics. Artistically, the game was exactly what we wanted it to be, however, we were left with the challenge of a multi player, interactive, rules light game that would include enough depth that experienced players would be able to get just a little bit more out of it.

Our first version playtest - added the hot potato element without changing the core original mechanics:

Trevor: Any good?
Me: Hmm, better! But it's just..
Trevor: Yeah, it kind of felt 'just' to me too. Ok, I have another idea....

Version 2.0 playtest - scrapped original mechanics, first blush at the hot potato:

Trevor: Any good?
Me: Actually, it's soooo much better!
Trevor: Better, but it's still missing something. Ok, I have another idea....

Version 3.0 playtest - hot potato + hand management with a mind to build tension as the game progressed and the uncertainty of other hands built:

Trevor: Any good?
Me: Bring it in for a high-five, buddy, this is great!
Trevor: Yes! Now why did it take us so long?
Me: *sigh*

It felt good to us, but needed to be tested. So Trevor tested with his wife, I tested with mine, we tested with our brothers, our gaming buddies, our board game design groups until we were happy with it.

After that, we did the kickstarter together (a first for me) and really had a good time putting it together.

And here we are, present day and time. Hope you enjoy Woe to the Living!