Legacy Board Games: Legacy

Daniel Solis started me thinking about Legacy games again from his post on a Legacy style trick taking game, and an older one on how to Legacy hack some popular games. So a few years after RISK: Legacy first came out and a couple of new legacy games and concepts discovered down the line and I have a few thoughts. 

Risk Legacy cardsThe first and foremost is the problem of legacy games rewarding the winner so much. It can serve as a way to mitigate luck in a game like RISK, but it is also rewarding the player who proves himself the best at the game. When a player racks up a few wins it can become a 1 vs 3 kind of game. I haven’t personally had this problem, I’ve just heard about it in other groups.

The second problem is that of changing groups. If you can’t commit to play 15 games through it really messes with the whole legacy concept. New players have no idea what happened before, and find themselves at a disadvantage through no fault of their own.

The third idea and problem with some of the latest legacy concepts is the idea of legacy as a narrative tool, rather than mechanical one. The original concept of Rob Daviau was that of a game that becomes a story. Like a DnD campaign it continues beyond just an initial setting. I think that incorporating a narrative goes further than just naming things and giving bonuses that carryover across games. I think this is the real challenge. Creating an ongoing story. A little flavor text can go a long way here. I had the privilege to play an iteration of SeaFall at BGGcon and it was chock full of flavor and flavor text. I think this can be crucial for explaining why certain mechanics play into a story etc.

I’m still toying with some legacy concepts so I would like to explore this further. It’s a neat arena and I think ‘Legacying’ micro games or familiar games is a great area for designers to explore. Just make sure it’s about the narrative!

What games do wish wish could tell an over arching story?
I’ll start this off with Coup…
A legacy social game could be incredible!

What happened to the Sarcastic Robot?

A lot of things unfortunately. Mostly it boils down to these three:

  • The company I worked for moved from a 10,000²ft warehouse into about 2000²ft.
  • I do a lot of volunteer work
  • Sarcastic Robot was absorbing more time than I could give it

So after moving literally tons of scrap computer parts (about 10 tons or so) and 2 semi trucks worth of good computer parts I had no energy at the end of the day. That’s really bad when you have a business to run on the side. It made me realize something though. As awesome as designing, publishing, and developing is… it really is 3 jobs. I can’t do all 3, especially while trying to support myself with yet another job.

So now I’m trying to dial things back and be more balanced and honest with myself. I may play with some designs here and there but they probably won’t be published until I attract the attention of a publisher. If you guys are interested in PnPs or in what I’m up to let me know. I’m not giving up on design totally, just focusing my efforts where they will be most useful.

Here’s to the fans and supporters! You guys are the best!!
I hope to make you guys proud someday as you play one of my games. We’ll get there!
Jonathan King

With Great Power comes Great Responsibility – Interactive Media

With Great Power comes Great Responsibility. Thank you Uncle ben, Spidey and voltaire for this universal truth. Do you love your board game media? I hope so. Even if you don’t ‘love’ them do you like having them around? Then we should start showing some love and respect. This is actually something at applies to all forms of interactive media. Don’t think just because I’m talking about boardgames and you like to watch movie reviews instead that this doesn’t apply to you. If you spend any amount of time on Youtube, blogs, or listen to podcasts there are some things you should keep in mind.

  • It’s harder than you think
  • It takes longer than you think
  • What is free to you comes at a cost to content creators.

The reason I’m writing this is that many content creators have the same struggles. I became painfully aware of this during #boardgamehour 2 weeks ago. Give A Geek a Game wrote a great blog post about it the same day. They issued a challenge to all content creators to post on someone else’s content before posting their own. A sentiment I wholeheartedly support, so please participate.

What if you aren’t a blogger, or a videographer, or a podcaster? Why should you care? If we don’t show our love and support we may lose valuable content. Just like if you don’t watch your favorite show on TV then the network might cut it. This is a little different because interactive media doesn’t have gate keepers controlling what you see. It’s all about the audience’s relationship with the Content creator and how the creator feels about the feedback they receive. If they feel like the audience doesn’t appreciate them or that they are wasting their time to be ignored then they just might quit. No one wants that!

So let’s talk about just how hard Content Creators work for us.

It’s harder than you think

Have you ever edited a video before? Maybe edited a podcast? Written a blog post that wasn’t about your life? It’s pretty hard to do. Any videographer will tell you that editing can easily take as long as shooting a video, if not double or triple the time. Why? Because things don’t always sound or look the way they are supposed to the first time. I imagine podcasts work the same way, I’ve never had to do it personally, but sound engineers tell me it’s hard work. Good blog posts take forethought, multiple edits, and extra time to spruce up with pictures, links and good typography. Nothing worthwhile is ever ‘just thrown together’.

The more time you spend doing these things the easier it gets because you learn new skills. Most good content creators then fill in the time they’re saving to learn new skills to give you even better content. Content creators work hard, because they care about what they give you. They don’t want to just give you their thoughts on a game in an iPhone video. Though that isn’t a bad place to start, most creators want to present their content to you in the best way possible. Reviewers, gameplay videos and podcasts have improved dramatically because of this passion that drives your creators of content.

It takes longer than you think.

Really. It really does. Let’s talk about board game video reviews in terms of time. Let’s say a game takes 30-45 minutes to play. A good reviewer will give it multiple plays, putting their time spent at already 2 hours or so. Don’t say “but they’re playing a game”. This may be true, but if the review was requested then the game would not be at the table otherwise and this counts as research. Let’s go to actual videography part.

  • Over an hour of shooting – this is a bare minimum, likely a lot longer. Yes even 5 minute videos take this long. My 5 minute KS video took 4 hours to get perfectly the way I wanted it.
  • A couple hours of editing – again a bare minimum, a pro will edit quicker but add in more pizazz. Regardless it’s much more difficult to get things right while editing. There is always a sound you can’t get rid of, or that take that you have to splice for it to be perfect.
  • Rastering and uploading – this takes longer than you’d think too. Once all this editing is done you have to make the actual file. The time it will take depends on your computer and your software, but but in general it can be 30mins to an hour easily. Then let’s add another 15 minutes to upload it which depends on your connection speed.

So what’s our total for creating a 5 minute video review of a board game? Bare minimum 6-7 hours. Likely it could be longer for your favorite reviewer.

What about blogs and podcasts? That’s easier right? True, it’s easier than editing video. However they are still more work than you would think. Podcasts often have people in different rooms, on different microphones which must all be spliced together to sound like they are speaking at similar levels. That’s not easy. Blogs are often written, rewritten, proofread, then spruced up with links and images. That’s not a small task either.

What is free to you comes at a cost to content creators.

This should go without saying. We’ve already talked about a cost as far as the time. What about monetary costs? For video this includes cameras, and microphones as well as software. Podcasts usually require some good microphones and editing software. Blogs are the most cost efficient, but they usually have hosting and web design costs associated.

Most content creators start with something really basic, and then slowly upgrade their equipment as they have the funds to do so. Thus their early posts may be of lower quality, but steadily improve at no cost to the consumer.

What’s the big deal?
I know it’s hard work.

The point is that we need to show our support to these content creators, since they give us of their free time, energy and money. We as consumers need to make it worth it to them. Tweet about them, or post their content to Facebook. Subscribe to channels, and RSS feeds. Comment about how much you like a video. If you disagree with an opinion that’s fine too, but be respectful about it. Content creators love engagement, and comments are a welcome validation that someone is reading, listening or watching. Sometimes that’s all we need to continue on. You have a great power and a great responsibility over our work and what it becomes.

More than just emotional support you can also support many Content Creators offset some of their costs financially. Maybe even someday our reviewers will be able to make a dime or two. I support this because I want reviews and walk throughs in our industry to get the same support that movie reviewers and synopsis get. No paper in the country has a Boardgame writer on staff (correct me if I’m wrong), but we can help these people make a career from making stuff we enjoy.

Tom Vassel is now doing reviews full time. as isCyrus from the Father geek. Tom Vassel has done this through a kickstarter. Father Geek is supporting himself with ads on his site. [I made a mistake noted below by Jeff King, Cyrus still has a day job. Let’s make sure he can support himself via reviews in the near future.] Cardboard Jungle and Drive Thru Reviews have both done successful KS campaigns to upgrade their equipment and go to GenCon.

New avenues are opening to support our content creators. Tiffany Ralph (TheOneTAR) one of my favorite reviewers has a Patreon. I’m a supporter, because at least a dollar per video is a small price to pay for good content. It’s essentially buying a friend a cup of coffee every month. If you’re a designer and need game icons or you just like his blog you can support Daniel Solis’ Patreon too.

There are a myriad of ways to show our love and support for our content creators.

What is it that you do for your favorite content?
To you content creators, what more can people do to show their support?

Why Unpub? What’s in it for me?

What’s so special about unpubs/protospiels? Why do they exist?

They are a way for us designers to interact with our audience. For us to playtest on a higher level than ever before. The people who attend an unpub are generally:

  • Designers
  • People who play a LOT of games
  • Industry guests including publishers and developers

That last one is probably the most important if you are looking for someone to sign with. Even if your game is in an extremely early stage you should attend an unpub. Here’s how these groups can help you.


There is a certain camaraderie at an unpub event that is impossible not to feel one you walk in the room. Immediately after finding a table I began talking with Chris Handy about how his playtests were going and what he brought that day. I had never met the guy, but we were now friends, because we were both designers.

The best part is these designers speak the same language you do. They talk about publishers, manufacturers, kickstarter, strategies, costs, etc. They’ll be able to help you work on your game and business strategy with it to make it the way you want it or need it to be. Their input is more valuable than 10 play testers.


Speaking of playtesters you will have a lot available to you. It can be a tad overwhelming. Try and get as many people to play as possible and remember to eat at some point. You’ll have a variety of opinions, but most of these people play a lot of games so take their feedback to heart.

Daniel Solis, Kevin G Nunn and Gil Hova, have been writing a lot of articles on how to use feedback from playtests. It’s not always obvious. Remember these gamers are part of your target audience. If they don’t connect with your game find out why. If they are excited then you know you’re on the right track.

Industry Guests

This is a pretty big deal. Most Unpubs or Protospiels will have a few. I had the privilege of meeting Richard Bliss and showing him Firewall. Really wish I had gotten a photo with him. (Next time Richard). I also got to meet up with Jeff Cornelius with the League of Gamemakers and Cosmic Wombat Games. Both were part of a panel of industry Guests, many of which were published designers or publishers themselves

It’s a much more intimate environment than a Con so this is the best place to meet these people. They may not have the time at Gen Con, with all the people swarming them, but at an Unpub they just might be free to talk. Speaking of which…


Would you like to sign your game? Even if you are planning on self-publishing the input from established publishers and developers can really take your game to the next level. If a designer is worth 10 play testers a publisher you respect is worth 5 designers. 

I had the privilege of working with Seth Jaffee from TMG on my surf themed game Surf’s up (or one of a few alternate names). It was awesome. The game is so much better for it. The hour we spent talking was the most productive hour I had all day.

Why are you sitting here?

If you hear about an Unpub/Protospiel event local to you and plan on doing anything in the game industry EVER then just go.

Thanks so much to Jeremy Commandeur for organizing UnpubSJ and to Game Kastle for hosting us!!

Inquiry: Is Yardmaster fun [Y/N]

I know many reviews include the rules. This one does not, I may explain them in more detail in another post, but I recommend you look for the rules on BGG.

Yardmaster components

Initial thoughts.

The game is light on components. There are two decks, the engine cards and a few tokens. This makes setup extremely simple. The longest thing about setup is shuffling the decks, which really says something. I loved how quickly we could get into the action.

The rules were extremely easy to explain. Most of the rules are intuitive and do not require further explanation. The single caveat I have to this is that our players did not seem to remember all their possible actions (particularly the trading of exchange rates) at first. After a few turns they were fine.


Once the game is rolling it begins to pick up steam quickly (not a pun because these are electric engines). The yardmaster role is a neat way to reward players for being last in turn order. Each player was just waiting for their chance to be the yardmaster! Being able to have that extra action can be huge, especially if you plan for it!

I really like the limitation on how trains are sorted. It made you plan ahead your resources and what you bought lest you ended up with a lot of things in your sorting yard. Be forewarned, the 3s and 4s are not as common, so it’s harder to find a match for those high point cards.

The bonus cards added a nice element of surprise. If you planned them right they could make some killer turns happen. My players lean to the casual end so they clamored for more bonuses!

Overall opinion:

Yardmaster is a simple and quick game. It didn’t require much heavy thinking or planning. In fact it is a little hard to plan since there is a lot dependent on draws both from the cargo deck and the railcar deck. It seems like a nice family game, that would be fantastic for teaching counting and numbers. 

I think a brilliant addition would be a player card that explained your actions, who goes next and which way to pass the yardmaster. This would help new or young players ease into the game faster.

We did have some confusion about where to pass the yardmaster role sometimes. I guess it messed with people’s brains to pass to the right and then say ‘go’ to the person on their left. Once we were in a rhythm it was fine, but the first rounds of each game were filled with conversation about clockwise vs. counter-clockwise.

Should you back it?

I’ll can give you a solid yes if you fall into one of these categories:

  • You like trains
  • You like filler/family games
  • You’re a game designer.

I find some concepts in this game to be quite clever. Particularly the Yardmaster role. I think every designer should play this game just to be exposed to that mechanic. It’s a solid way to actively combat the feeling that your playing last.

The kickstarter just launched so you can back this game at http://kck.st/POtQpP

Well played Crash Games

A New Era – the Board Game Renaissance.

Welcome to the boardgame renaissance!

Sorry I had to capture that pun.

Why is it a renaissance? Well let me explain it this way. Which games did you grow up with? Clue? Monopoly? Risk? Yatzee? Chances are I just listed off one of them. If not then congratulations, you are part of the gamer elite. Most of the popular games when I was a kid were from the 1960s or earlier. The exceptions were the CCGs and RPGs which required a greater investment in time and money.

Games in the 70’s and 80’s weren’t terrible mind you. There are quite a few notable games from that era. Axis and Allies, Cosmic Encounter, HeroQuest and even D&D are from that time period. However these games require a large investment of time to learn and master. More time than casual gamers and family gamers, and (and even some social gamers) are willing to invest. These appeal more to the avid gamers, strategy gamers, and especially the hardcore gamers.* There are a lot of other games from this era like Taboo, Jenga, Uno and pictionary which can be fun for family, social and casual gamers, but leave hardcore and strategy gamers out in the cold.
*These gamer types are lifted from boardgaming.com/gamertypes.

You see that’s why games like Monopoly and Risk stood the test of time. They aren’t the best games. Their main problem is that there needs to be more win conditions than player elimination. But they remained appealing to strategy gamers and hardcore gamers because negotiations can be vicious, but their family members and friends who were family gamers or casual gamers would play it with them due to simple rules and easy to use components.

Lately family gamers and casual gamers have a lot more choices that also entice their hardcore gamer and strategy gamer friends and family.  King of Tokyo anyone? Forget yatzee!

The Modern Boardgame

Personally I discovered  the ‘modern’ board game with Catan in 2005, nearly a decade after it was originally published. My family and friends loved it, and we played Catan weekly for nearly a year. Then it was hard to find ‘hobby’ games. Even my FLGS mostly focused on collectible games and RPGs. Next I played pandemic, and I was hooked on the hobby.

Nearly 10 years later Catan and Pandemic is now at target, and barnes and nobles, and toys-R-us and Walmart.  The fact that you can buy these relatively new games at these mainstream stores says volumes about how far the hobby has come. No longer are we playing games that are older than our parents! At last modern games are featured at major stores!

My point is that since 1995 we’ve been designing, publishing and producing games at an alarming rate. Especially since Kickstarter launched in 2009. Does that mean that all of these games are quality? Not necessarily. Some are extremely clever, others only fit a tiny submarket. The fact is that creativity, exploration and novelty are a part of board game culture now. Just like the renaissance of the 14th to 16th century affected society as a whole.

What will be the games that we look back on to exemplify this era of renaissance? It’s hard to tell, but it is clear that we are in a defining moment for the hobby. There are already some standouts. I’m looking at you coin-age.

What game do you think was novel, or significant to the hobby in the last decade?

System Update

I had originally planned for this blog to be a weekly resource for fans of Sarcastic Robot, designers and gamers. That hasn’t happened just yet since my wedding planning took over the month of January.

February is going to be very busy with my wedding this weekend and my honeymoon directly after. I’ll be back on the 15th, but I probably won’t get back to blogging immediately. So let’s say in 2 weeks we’ll be here again, and we’ll make a post wed Jan 19th.

In March I will make a concerted effort to be more regular in posting. All of this will lead up to our relaunch of Firewall in May.

As a reminder SchWag: Schrödinger’s Wager is now available on The Game Crafter in both a Deluxe and Cards-only version. It’s a fantastic Microgame themed on a recreating a less lethal version of Schrödinger’s Cats. The game features bluffing and card manipulation and is the most tenion you can have with cute kittens on the table. It was designed by James O’Connor and David Orcutt of Stellaris Games, and plays great in a family or gamer setting. We’re going to be getting a lot of reviews and work done with it in the next few months. So expect to hear more about it!!

By the way, you guys will love my cake. I’ll try and post it up for you next week.

Why is the TIE similar in size to the speeder. I sense scaling problems!

Are Microgames a fad or a new genre?

Honestly the answer is neither.

Why is the TIE similar in size to the speeder. I sense scaling problems!
Why do we love tiny things?

Let me explain.

Microgame [mahy-kroh-geym]
A game with few components, that can fit in someone’s pocket and can be played in less than 25 minutes.

Obviously many other definitions exist. This is part of the criteria for the microgame contest from The Game Crafter.

Microgames have been around for a long time: Really they have. Do you know how many games are listed in Hoyle’s Encyclopedia? Over 200. Most games with a deck of playing cards could be considered microgames.

So why is Microgame such a buzzword right now? Well they’re becoming a huge part of the hobby game industry. Some call it a Fad, but I say it’s not. It’s that finally the genre, that’s been there for a long time, is at last receiving the attention needed from designers. Just in the last 2 years Love Letter, Coup, and Council of Verona have taken the industry by storm, and this is just the beginning.

Microgames are important for the game industry.
Why? because they work to bridge a gap. If you’re a gamer you certainly have a few friends who are not. Getting them to commit for even a 1 hour game may be possible, but they may be reluctant. You can count twilight imperium right out. If you tell them learning the game is easy and it will only take ten minutes to play then they are much more likely to want to play. Plus it’s easy to fit in multiple plays so a new player may be well onto mastering a strategy or mechanic by the end of the night.

That’s half of the battle getting people into board games is getting past their own mental roadblocks.  Make sure that they see that games can be more exciting than the ones they played as a kid. Once you’ve taught your friend a few micro games and they’ve mastered a variety of mechanics it will seem less daunting to pull out longer more complex games. They may even welcome it!

 What if your group of friends are all hard core gamers?
You still want to have a few microgames on hand at all times. You want to have something to do while waiting on your friends to show up right? What about on your lunch break? Really anytime you have to wait more than 15 minutes and you can find an appropriate surface to play on can be a good time for a microgame. More games = more fun.

You could even plan a game night on the principal of Tapas. No “main game” but a rather a series of microgames. The changing mechanics will keep everyone on their toes.

The brain also needs a rest from time to time, so try throwing in some microgames between longer heavier games. It can be a refreshing change of pace that primes you to play your next game, or a fun way to finish out the night.

What makes microgames special? Why are they here to stay?

  • Simplified rulesets – Often only taking 5 minutes to teach
  • Short setup times – Usually less than a few minutes
  • Low investment – Both in time and money. Most cost less than $20 and take less than 20min.
  • Little to no downtime – Analysis Paralysis is rarely a problem and turns move quick
  • Elegance in design – Rarely mentioned, but by their nature microgames must be elegant and they avoid problems with fiddly components, complicated rules. Many times they boil themes or a mechanic down to their essence.

These are actually lessons that larger games would be wise to take heed from. The place in the market for micro games will never die, so it’s fantastic that we are seeing an influx of them now. As the hobby continues to grow we will see even more of these tiny games to introduce to our friends and pass the time while we wait. I’m very excited to see what the next big microgame will be!


What is design anyways?


There are many definitions of what design is. I will tell you what I think it is though. Design is an art based on sciences. A designer is someone who uses mechanics and other scientific elements to make a piece of art. Graphic design is largely about proportions. I would say designing a bridge requires some hard science. Game design does too with mechanics and probability determining for the greatest part how the game ‘feels’.

But if design is so reliant on science where does the art come in? That’s where those unknowable subjective elements come in, how something ‘looks’, how something ‘feels’, or whether or not it is fun. It’s an artform to make something appealing. No amount of training in statistics and game theory will automatically make you a good game designer, just like no amount of comprehension of physics will make you automatically build magnificent bridges.

Art is incredibly subjective. It’s impossible to say who is right and who is wrong when things come down to a matter of taste. Of course I can insist on my taste and you can insist on yours, but no amount of arguing will make me like Picasso. I also won’t like dominion because so many other people think it’s great. I think it’s a good base that comes seriously short on theme and player interaction. I’m told the expansions fix that, so my view of it may yet be reformed.

Until then though I am entitled to my opinion. Far to often people argue about which game is ‘better’. What we should say is “I like this game more because…[good reason]” Or “I don’t like this game as much because…[good reason]”. That is much more useful in discussion. People have even reformed my view of monopoly like this. Do I love it? No. But I appreciate it for what it is now (a classic that introduced many of us into gaming).

Why am I here?
I want to share my art with you. By you I mean everyone. Will everyone like it? No. I’m okay with that. It’s not an easy thing to show someone your game and have them dislike it entirely. But there’s others who love it, and I’m really making it for them. If you want to design, remember, this is a subjective business. If you make a game one person really loves you’ve accomplished something. It’s definitely a long road from there before you get published, but you’ve started down the right path.

What are we doing?
Some possibilities might be the odd review now and then. I might do a walkthrough from time to time on my design process. However there are already some great resources for those two particular topics. If you would like to read about either of those things consistently allow me to direct you to:


My future plans for this space are to design a better theme for the page (Why don’t they make ones I like), tell you about Sarcastic Robot news and I would like to talk to you weekly about all sorts of in my mind that are related to gaming. Future topics are sure to include:

  • microgames
  • kickstarter (in a few facets)
  • designs I’m working on

I hope you enjoy reading this as I enjoy writing it. Let me take you on my journey through design, through publishing, through gaming and through life.
-Jonathan King
Sarcastic Robot