RSS Feed

Author Archives: AnnaMaria Jackson-Phelps

Kickstarter Preview: Psi Wars

It is the 37th century. Competing warlords have harnessed the knowledge of creation, using it to create powerful armies. This knowledge has spread across the galaxy unchecked causing mass-extinctions. Most of humanity has been wiped out. The Galactic Alliance has enlisted your help. Hyper-Card technology allows you to take part in planetary battles and help re-establish order in the galaxy.

In Psi Wars you’ll use advanced technologies to create an army of forces in order to fight for control of your planet. Creatures battle psyonically, physically, and through cyber attacks. To win, a player must use their army to crush their opponent’s forces and reduce their lab to 0.

Developed by Michael Wohl (a self professed old school gamer) and his son, Adeev (who usually wins their games), Psi Wars is a fast playing futuristic themed deck builder for 2-4 players. I chatted with the boys about Psi Wars and the game design process in anticipation of their Kickstarter launch.


What prompted the development of Psi Wars?

Michael: My son Adeev and I have been playing games for years, including all sorts of card games. Since I have been a gamer for 40 years and an an entrepreneur for 30 (thanks to gaming) – I had a lot of experience to pull from, both as a gamer and a developer. I really felt games that had absolutes, such as games where a 5 always beat a 4) were missing important elements of life. A 5 has a better chance of beating a 4, but not 100%. In life there are no absolutes, which could be reflected in a game. We realized that we could create a multi-dimensional game that had relatively simple rules with tremendous degrees of freedom of decision-making. This would lead to highly creative strategies – a beautiful balance of creativity and reasoning. We went through so many iterations and refinements together. I like Decision-Making research, Game Theory, etc, which is at the heart of Psi Wars.

Adeev: My dad and I like to play a lot of games and watch movies together. We started bending rules of some games and really enjoyed the process. We thought we could expand this idea.

What did you think about the design/playtesting process? What did you like/dislike?

Adeev: It was a really fun and educational experience. I was able to create something from my imagination. I kept thinking of new cards and abilities and would share them with my dad. I created spreadsheets with tons of ideas. It was really fun doing this with my dad, we learned a lot together and I now know what it takes to launch a business.

 I was always a bit impatient about getting the game out there and always excited for new ideas. I even started counting down the days until launch. I even get to go to game conventions for ‘work.’ I mean, how cool is that?

Michael: The design and play testing was a highlight of the entire process. Our goal was a beautifully balanced game. Every time we changed a small rule it would change us and how we played. We’d see if there was a way to ‘game’ the rules, etc. Once it was refined, we sought highly sophisticated players of other strategic card games and their reaction was wonderful – nobody has played anything quite like Psi Wars. It was invigorating to recognize the excitement they found in playing our game. The other piece was working with all of the artists around the world to create an artistic vision that works also as 3D animated lenticular cards. We were lucky to work with some amazing people to produce outstanding art. Everyone flips out over the 3D cards. From the start, we wanted the game to be mesmerizing from an artistic and sensory perspective. I think holding back Psi Wars until it was really ready to launch was hard. We worked on it for over 2.5 years and we are dying for people to play it. We are very curious to see what all of the amazing minds in the world do when they start to construct/personalize their own decks and strategies. We have non-random expansion packs in the works.

What do you hope your audience gets/takes away from the game?

Michael: Really appreciating the card art while kicking some serious butt through mind-bending strategies that make you jump up and down and scream like we do when we play.  A new joy that playing Psi Wars brings through creative strategy and decision-making. Navigating the fog of war with perfectly imperfect information, which helps so much to understand how to thrive in the world.

Adeev: I hope they have as much fun and enjoyment as we do playing Psi Wars.

Psi Wars is great intro to deck builders for new players and a intensely fast playing game for experienced ones with striking art that really evokes its sci-fi theme. Check it out on Kickstarter May 15th. Keep up with their progress and updates on Facebook and Twitter.

Indie Game Spotlight: Fire Tower


Smoke rises on the horizon. A fire rages somewhere in the heart of the forest. From the height of a fire tower, you command the efforts to defend your tower and take down your opponents. With each turn, the inferno grows. Harness the power of the wind to push the blaze towards the other towers, clear tracts of land to fortify your tower, hinder the plans of your opponents with torrents of water, and unleash an arsenal of fire cards upon your foes.

Fire Tower is a strategic pattern laying and hand management for developed by Brooklyn and Martha’s Vineyard-based designers Samuel Bryant and Gwen Ruelle. The rules are simple to learn and explain, but an ever changing environment mean no two games will ever be the same. Set up takes seconds, and you can achieve a heavier games by trying the team variant. Also, the artwork (Kevin Ruelle) is striking.

Our own Crymson Pleasure had an opportunity to talk to Runaway Parade co-founder Gwen about their work on Fire Tower, currently on Kickstarter.

Tell us about the game.

Fire Tower is a 2-4 player competitive forest fire game where players must fight fire with fire. Most fire games are cooperative with players working together to beat back the flames and contain the chaos, but in Fire Tower your only objectives are to protect your own tower and send the flames towards your opponents.


The wind is one of the main mechanics in the game, an unrelenting force that continually swells the flames. At the start of each player’s turn they must expand the fire in the current wind direction. Players also have a hand of five action cards that allow them to influence events on the board. Wind cards allow players to harness the destructive force of the gale and direct it at their opponents. Fire cards give the ability to add various patterns of fire to the board, and each variety has its own tactical advantages. Water cards beat back the flames and slow the efforts of determined opponents. Firebreak cards allow players to remove combustible vegetation and create barriers to block the encroaching flames. Every tower comes equipped with a trusty bucket for use in emergency situations. Also beware the Firestorm card, whose destructive power appears once per deck cycle and will dramatically expand the blaze.

To succeed in Fire Tower players must learn to effectively manage the resources in their hands, and use sound spatial planning to deploy them. The game incorporates an intuitive play structure that takes minutes to learn and requires negligible set-up. Each card includes a grid that visually explains the ways it can be used, saving new players from having to constantly refer to the rulebook. Although the core mechanics are easy to grasp, an ever shifting environment forces players to switch up their tactics and experiment with varied strategies, making Fire Tower a difficult game to master and each play through a fresh experience.


What was your inspiration to create it?

The guiding idea that led to the of the creation of Fire Tower was that we wanted a mechanic that would force players to work against an unstoppable force, something that could be slowed but never contained, a growing sense of urgency, a situation that became more unmanageable over time. We wanted players to not only contend with their opponents but also the personality of the game, something more unpredictable than the other people sitting around the table. We also wanted a theme that felt underutilized in tabletop, and a forest fire game, especially a competitive one, felt like it fit all this criteria. The moment of inspiration for joining the theme and mechanics actually occurred while we were on a walk in the state forest in Massachusetts. Research into forest fires really helped guide the development of the game.

When should we expect to see it? 

After working on the game for almost 3 years we’re happy to announce that we’ll be launching our Kickstarter on April 24th! In the meantime, we’ll be at several conventions. Find us on Facebook to see where we are headed next!

Follow Runaway Parade on Twitter and Facebook for the latest news about Fire Tower. 

Purse and Pocket Games – Good Things Come in Small Packages

Waiting. The average person spends six months of their lives waiting – in queues, for service, and on hold. Some of us fidget, some doodle, some mess around on their phones. ALL of us wish we had a better way to pass the time.

With the rise in the popularity of filler games (usually designed specifically to ‘fill’ the gaps in gaming rounds or waiting for players) and efficient storage design, several publishers are hoping to help turn wait time into play time. Sometimes called ‘Purse’ or ‘Pocket’ games, these are small enough to be carried anywhere, usually can be confined to small playing spaces (like a pub table) and play in as few as five minutes.

From a recent poll at Analog Game Grrls, some Real Women of Gaming favorites:

Hive Pocket
Use your insects to surround your opponent’s queen before they surround yours. This two player tile placement game takes about 10-15 mins to play and is both lighter and smaller than its full sized counterpart.


Mint Works
Be careful not to mistake this tiny worker placement game for your favorite breath mints. Mint Works accommodates 1-4 players and takes about 20 mins to play. Mint Delivery (its fiendishly cool little brother) is currently available on Kickstater .


Actually a series of various games from publisher Perplext, these games fit in a box the size of a pack of gum! With games ranging from trick taking to area control to set collection, a handful will fit in the the smallest of bags and still provide lots of entertainment!


Part set collection, part press your luck, Coloretto will have passerby’s stopping for a second look. Player count from 2-5 make this another great game for a variable group. Younger players will catch on quick, but more experienced players will still enjoy it.


Red 7
The first rule of Red 7 is to play the highest card. But the rules of Red 7 are meant to be changed. Be the last one holding cards to win in this think-y little hand management game. Two to four players, with rounds that can last as few as five minutes.

Love letter

Love Letter
With just 16 cards, Love Letter packs a great punch for such a compact game. Risk, deduction, luck, and manipulation will triumph in this classic for 2-4 players.


No two games of Fluxx are the same. Be the first to collect the items needed for the game winning condition but be aware, that condition can change with the laying of a new card. This popular little hand management game has several iterations, from Pirates to Anatomy. Game time is variable – sometimes five mins, sometimes close to a half hour.


Pass the Pigs
This “dice” rolling game has been around for decades. The object – roll your plastic pigs into any one of several configurations to score points. First player to 100 wins. Its decidedly not strategic, just good hog tossing fun for a whole table full of players!

Game of Trains
Sort your line of trains from descending to ascending order. This 2-4 player pattern building game has a little larger place space and play time than the rest of the list but was a big winner for overall strategy and art.


In this fun little press your luck game players are attempting to collect pairs through a hit or pass system. Hands are fast, and there are several art types to choose from. Two to eight players means this one can occupy everyone at the family table.


In Gloom you have one mission – make your characters suffer the most tragic fates before their untimely ends. With Edward Gorey-like art this will be a winner with horror fans. Long playing time at almost an hour, however, so maybe save this one for the midnight release line.


Flip Hue
This set collection game for 3-6 seems simple, but with double sided cards, you’re only playing half the game! Games can take as little as five mins or as man as thirty, just watch out for that flip card.

Follow AnnaMaria Jackson-Phelps at Girls Play Games. And keep up with all the latest gamer news with Real Women of Gaming on Facebook and Twitter

Kickstarter Preview: The Primary by Mountaintop Games

Do you have what it takes to win the nomination? The Primary is a strategy game for 1-4 players currently on Kickstarter. Travel the country, host rallies and fundraisers, and predict your opponents’ strategies in order to earn the most delegates and win the game! And – no politics involved!

This week I chatted with The Primary’s designer, Matt Quock, to talk game design, diversity, and the election process.

Why politics? Just an intriguing theme or motivated by the current climate?
I was definitely influenced by the last election cycle and the idea of a game based on the primary election process struck me as something potentially unique. I thought it could make for a neat mechanic how the different states vote at different points in time, as opposed to the general election. I understand politics can be a divisive topic and the theme is probably love/hate for a board game, but after developing the game, I couldn’t seem to find another theme that would match the mechanics as well.
How long have you been working on it?
I’ve been working on The Primary for just over a year. Somehow it seems both like a really long time ago and also like it was just yesterday. As my first “real” game design, it has been a tremendous learning experience – and especially on the business / Kickstarter side of things.

Ad 4-4

There’s great diversity in the candidate cards – was inclusivity a goal while creating the game?
Yes, it was. I think it is important for everyone to be involved in the democratic process and make sure their voices are heard. That being said, I wanted to make sure a lot of different people were represented in the game. I also think the same idea of diversity is important with the board game industry and hopefully inclusive / accessible games will help get more people interested in the hobby.

Do you think The Primary would be a good way to teach/learn about the election process? 

I think it will be a good jumping-off point for people to learn about the primary election process. While The Primary doesn’t follow the exact real-life process, it shows how the primary election is unique and pretty different from the general election. It will be a good way for kids and adults alike to learn about how political parties elect their final nominees for President and the News cards also provide some glimpses of more complex political concepts that hopefully create some curiosity.
With the growing number of people that play solo, the ELECT-O-BOT solo variant is an outstanding idea. Why did you develop a single player mode?
Honestly, a big factor was some of the board game design podcasts that I listen to. I heard a few interviews with solo game designers and the concept intrigued me. It was a unique design challenge, but it’s also definitely a trend that people look for in new games, like you mentioned. I’ve also played a few solo board games (whether a variant or a standalone design) and can appreciate their value.
What do you hope the average player takes away from the game? 
First and foremost, I hope players enjoy themselves playing The Primary. If it’s not fun for them, then there’s not much of point in playing a game 🙂 After that, it would be great if The Primary could be a way to get players curious and more interested in the political process.

The Primary has a week left on Kickstarter – back your copy today! The game is published by Mountaintop Games – keep up with their progress on twitter.

Follow AnnaMaria Jackson-Phelps at Girls Play Games. And keep up with all the latest gamer news with Real Women of Gaming on Facebook and Twitter

Review: Herbaceous – a Visual Feast

As an avid gardener and foodie, I felt a little like Herbaceous was directly marketed to me. While I’m not usually a fan of push your luck games, its gorgeous, watercolor style art caused me to overlook that in order to get a peak at all the beautiful cards inside. I wasn’t disappointed – Herbaceous is a feast for the eyes.

This little press your luck style set collection game is geared towards 1-4 players, and games take about 15 mins. The best play seems to be with max players as it really intensifies the nail-biting intensity of each round. The rules are simple enough that you could teach everyone at the table in less that five minutes.


How to Play

On each player’s turn they’ll take one or two steps:
The first step (potting) is optional. Each player has a set of 4 pots in which to plant their herbs. Every pot holds a specific set of cards – different herbs, identical herbs, pairs, or any combination of three. Pots can only be used once per game, so when and how much you plant is an important part of your strategy. To pot, the player collects all the appropriate herbs from their personal garden and/or the community garden and places them under the appropriate pot card.

The second step (planting) is performed each turn. The player draws a card from the stack in the center either places it it face up in their personal garden or the community garden. Another card is drawn and and placed it in the location not selected for the first card.

Play continues until all the herbs have been planted. Each player gets one more turn after that and then points for the pots are tallied.



As I mentioned above, it didn’t take much (any) arm twisting to get me to try Herbaceous. What I was particularly happy to discover was that I genuinely like the game play and mechanics just as well as I like the serene herb and potting pictures. Its never taken me more than three or four minutes to completely explain the game to someone else. While game play can occasionally be tense, most turns are both quick and simple enough that you can carry on a conversation easily while playing.

My only complaint would be that it can get repetitive after a few back-to-back plays. To that end I hope to see an expansion in the future.

Most would consider this a filler game or palette cleanser, but its enjoyable enough that I’ve pulled it out just to play a few rounds with the kids. Because of its simple rules and relatively quick play time, it makes an outstanding family game.



If you like games on the lighter side or are looking for an addition to the family game shelf, Herbaceous is a must buy. If you like denser material or dislike filler games, give this a miss.

Herbaceous was designed by Eduardo Baraf, Steve Finn, and Keith Matejka, and published by Pencil First Games. Art is by Beth Sobel and Benjamin Shulman.

Herbaceous Sprouts, a related, stand alone dice game, will be available on Kickstarter this May.

Summer Reading List: Books Based on Games and Games Based on Books

Whether it’s for listening to on Audible while working out or as we’re starting to plan that poolside novel list, most of us are always on the lookout for great book recommendations. Did you know there are more book/game tie-ins than just Lord of the Rings and Rainbow Six? Consider incorporating some of your favorite games into your spring and summer reading with our favorite books that inspired great games, or were inspired by them:


The Witcher

The Witcher is based on a collection of short stories by Andrezej Sapkowski. The success of The Saga, the full-length novels following the short stories, prompted its video game adaptation. The games take place about thirty years after the Saga. There are several books in total including a prequel, and the newest, Season of Storms, comes out in May.


The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games are based on a 1970s novel called Roadside Picnic. In the novel, the Zones are restricted areas visited and then abandoned by aliens. The book follows the  an experienced stalker who ventures into the Zone to find valuable artifacts. The novels pre-dated Chernobyl, but the site made a terrific setting for the dark and moody video game adaptation.


WDragon Age

Dragon Age
The first Dragon Age novel served as a prequel to Dragon Age: Origins in 2009. Since then there have been five novels based on the series, set in a among the games. These are consistently ranked well by Dragon Age players on Goodreads, and provide a lot of depth insofar as the history of Thedas before and during the games. The first three novels are written by David Gaider, Dragon Age‘s lead writer.


Gears of War
Written by award winning author Karen Traviss, this series really fleshes out the Gears of War story. Originally expected to be a trilogy, the five GoW novels weave in and out of the games, offering perspective of the events you’ve played as well as those you’ve only heard mentioned. Additionally, there are many backstories are here as well, fleshing out several familiar characters.


Would it surprise you to learn that there are more Halo books than there are games? There are currently twenty five novels set in the Halo-verse, with a new one, Halo: Bad Blood, set for release this year. Originally this extended universe was not overseen by Bungie publishing, which created a few canonical issues that were changed between the books and games. Since the advent of 343 Industries, the writing process the book and games stories have become much more consistent and intertwined.


Metro 2033
Metro 2033 is based on a 2005 novel of the same name by Dmitry Glukhovsky. As in the game, the book takes place in the subway system Moscow after it is devastated by nuclear holocaust and the main player-character is the same as the book’s protagonist. Glukhovsky himself worked on the adaptation.


Uncharted: the Fourth Labyrinth is a great addition to a series rich in myth and story. This book follows Nate and Sully on a fortune hunting adventure in between the 2nd and 3rd games.  Written by best selling author Christopher Golden, its a must-read for fans of the Uncharted franchise.

Got another suggestion for a great, game based read? Add it in the comments!

Follow me at Girls Play Games. And keep up with all the latest gamer news with Real Women of Gaming on Facebook and Twitter

There’s an App for That – Board Games You Can Play on Your Phone or Computer

The board game renaissance is in full swing. There are almost 200 board game conventions each year in the US alone. Friendly local games stores (FLGS) can be found on every continent (well, Antarctica is behind the curve).  Meetup boosts more then 3,700 board game groups.  If you want to get your table-top game on, there’s a place nearby for it.

But what about those times when you can’t get to the game? What if you could trade wood for sheep on your hour long commute or while you’re waiting for the cable guy to show up? wouldn’t it be great to snuggle up in bed on a sick day and create a train route from Washington to San Francisco? Or how about squeezing in a round or two of global conquest with your partner without spending an hour on set up?

Board game apps have got you covered! A number of popular board games are now available as phone apps and computer games. Here are some of my favorites:


Pandemic – Android, Steam, and IOS

One the most well-known cooperative games, Pandemic pits you and your team against virulent diseases spreading across the globe. The app includes both multiple difficulty settings, and expansions. Also included is a pass and play feature (good for road trips and/or waiting in line for a video game release) and supports solo play.
A completely solid, well-functioning app
Tutorial mode as well as a fully searchable rulebook
Legacy not available as of yet
No online play options


Twilight Struggle – Android, Steam, and IOS

Twilight Struggle,  consistently ranked in many top war games lists (Board Game Geek, Dice Tower, etc.), produced an outstanding app last year that may have eclipsed playing on a standard board. Ability to play cross platform and fully asynchronous support for multiplayer online games available makes playing with a friend a snap.
Turn based play
Fulling integrated multiplayer across all platforms
Better for players already familiar with the game


Splendor – Android, Steam, IOS

This award winning family game is one of the most polished apps on the list. With a layout that directly mimics having the game on a table, its easy to dive right into this version. Game play is smooth, the guides (like highlighting cards you can afford) are amazingly helpful, and a first game tutorial gets even those unfamiliar with the game playing in no time. Now includes multiplayer modes
Well designed interface
Completely stable
AI can be strangely erratic


Patchwork – Android, Steam, IOS

Quilt-making was never this fast and fun. A great layout makes it easy to see both your and your opponent’s boards, even on a phone screen. Asynchronous game play means you can play with a friend on different work breaks. And its a super accessible game for both casual players and those who appreciate something a little more challenging. Great tutorial, but lack of a rule book to review might be an issue for some.
Beautiful, clear interface
Skilled based matchmaking in multiplayer
Lack of rulebook
No undo button



Jaipur – Android, IOS
This version of the 2009 game is bright and colorful, but a few omissions in the tutorial might leave a new player scratching their head. It has an interesting campaign setting that will present a challenge to even seasoned players. Unfortunately multiplayer stability can be a big issue. Overall its a good fit for the platform, but it could use a patch.
Quick two player fun
Stability is spotty at best
Loud music has to be turned down every time you start


Ticket to Ride – Android, Steam, IOS

If there’s only one reason to get this app its so no one can accidentally knock train pieces all over the place. But in addition, its a terrific app with a well supported multiplayer system. The animation and sound effects really enhance game play and interface is clean, clear, and easy to read at a glance. There’s even a nice tutorial to get you started.
Animation and sound evoke table-top game play
Best multiplayer
AI in solo is wonky at best

There dozens more great board game apps available to help you get your game on, even when there isn’t a tabletop available. List your favorites in the comments below!


Diversity Matters: A Look at the Best Black Protagonists in Video Games

While Pew Research Center states that 53% of black adults play video games and on average black gamers play more per week then any other demographic, a University of California study shows that fewer then 11% of games feature black characters, and of those the majority are athletes or gangsters. Additionally, IDGA reports that only 3% of game developers are black. Fortunately these statistics are improving (if slowly) as A-list game developers begin to realize that more diverse storytelling is a vastly untapped market and more black-helmed independent studios (like Dab Studio 7 and Kiro’o Games Studio) come to the forefront.

The past few years have marked an upsurge in black characters in games  —  a number of major releases have prominently featured black characters (Watch Dogs II, Battlefield I and The Walking Dead Seasons 1 & 2, and Michonne) and many new characters came to the table via indie games (VirginiaWe are Chicago, Sunset, and Dandara) and in established franchises (Uncharted 4’s Nadine, Assassin’s Creed‘s Aveline de Granpre, Dishonored 2’s Billie Lurk).

In celebration of Black History Month we’re highlighting some of the best black protagonists in video games.

Lee and Clementine – Walking Dead Seasons 1 – 3


The Walking Dead games have long featured a rich narrative, and Clementine is their emotional center. From the initial relationship between Lee and Clementine to her growth as a character through the entire series, these may be the most in-depth characters in all of Telltale Games’ critically acclaimed games.

Aaron – We are Chicago


In Culture Shock Games’ We are Chicago you play as Aaron, a teenager living on Chicago’s south side. Through experiencing Aaron’s day to day existence – harassed by bullies, struggling get a good education, trying to keep his sister and family safe – you’ll come away with a deeper understanding of the struggles of growing up in the inner city.

Nadine – Uncharted 4 and Lost Legacy


Nadine debuted in Uncharted 4 where her no nonsense, capable attitude shows her to be smarter and more level headed in several situations than both the main characters. In Lost Legacy, Nadine’s personality is developed deeper and we get to see this tough, talented character shine as a lead.

Marcus Holloway – Watch Dogs II


On the surface Marcus Holloway is the new Gordon Freeman – a tech-savy geek type that the average gamer player can relate to. But beyond that Holloway is upbeat, enthusiastic, and well-nuanced, a fleshed-out and multifaceted version of one of the earliest nerd heroes.

Aveline de Grapre – Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation


Aveline is as capable as any other assassin, and directly confronts racial inequality in 18th century New Orleans. The popularity of this character and her story led this original solely handheld release to eventually be re-released later across all platforms.

Vella – Broken Age


Vella is introduced in Broken Age as one of her village’s sacrifices to a monster, but this character is never a shrinking violet. Beneath this gorgeous, cotton candy art style is a cunning, resourceful, intelligent young woman to be reckoned with.

Honorable Mentions
Alex Vance, Half Life 2 – One of the earliest representations of women and black characters in a major release, and arguably still one of the best
Lincoln Clay, Mafia III – Clay is nuanced with a well written back story and the 1960s backdrop provides an interesting perspective on racial tensions during the period.

Diversity is making great inroads into gaming spaces and we’re looking forward to what to seeing what the future brings!

(*Did I miss your personal favorite? Tell me about them in the comments!)

Crafty Games: Great Things Happen When Stars Align


I’ve been a fan of Spycraft for years and recently got hooked on the Mistborn series, so when an opportunity to sit down with Patrick Kapera of Crafty Games at PAX Unplugged I jumped at the chance. We found a quiet-ish corner of the vendor hall for a long chat about role playing with kids, making board games, and the future of Crafty.

AMJP: Hey Patrick! Lets start with a brief history of Crafty and how everything got started.

Patrick: Sure! So we were founded in 2005. I used to work for Alderac Entertainment Group; that’s where I created Spycraft. Alderac started to downsize, and they took a year or so to rethink things. They would come back as the board game powerhouse that they are now, but a lot of the things they were working on when they did that sort of work wound up on the sidelines. Spycraft was one of those things, and we had just launched second edition when that happened. Alex Flagg, my business partner now, was one of the principles on the design team when that happened and we got together and decided “Well, there’s a company here. Let’s just keep Spycraft going.” So, we founded the company to make Spycraft, and that mutated into a bunch of other things. We wound up making variants of Spycraft. We had a Fantasy Craft game, and, eventually, we wound up doing the Mistborn Adventure Game. Mistborn led to important card games and here we are, ten years later, with a product line that’s not anything that we would have anticipated. We just followed the opportunities and followed the muse. But it’s still the same people, myself. Alex, and Ed Healy, who does all our marketing. 

AMJP: So why Mistborn? Were you a fan of the books originally?

Patrick: It was because of a fan, actually. Somebody went to Alex and said “You need to make a roleplaying game based on this. You guys make really great roleplaying games and we think you’d make a really great Mistborn game.” And we had never heard of Mistborn or Brandon Sanderson prior to that and so we were like “What’s this?” That fan gave us a novel. Alex goes and reads it, and he comes back like “This could be a really cool roleplaying game.”
This is very early days – back before the Wheel of Time game or anything – and so Alex tracked Brandon down at a signing in his hometown and pitched it to him, on sight, with just “We’re a roleplaying game company, and we want to do this.” Turns out Brandon is a gamer so he was into it, and we forged a deal. The early days were really interesting because Brandon had a lot more free time back then, and he was able to sit down with us and say “I like these kinds of roleplaying games. I don’t like these kinds of roleplaying games…” and there are liner notes in our rpg that are from him like “This is how this came together. This is what I recommend you do in the setting.” All of that was really great. So, it happened largely because a fan said “This would be good,” and then we just sort of made it happen.

AMJP: That’s terrific! And so how though did you get from the RPG to the board game?

Patrick: We started making the roleplaying game, and we had the tabletop rights all along. We started actually doing dice. We did a Kickstarter. It was very modest but very successful for what it was, and that funded the 10 dice set that we now do—the Mistborn Allomancy Dice. People responded really, really well to that. Brandon’s agent is actually a really big boardgamer and had always been pushing us to do a board game. I had wanted to work with Kevin again [Kevin Wilson, co-creator of Spycraft]. We were looking for a project to work on for years, and, eventually, I was like “How do you feel like doing something for Mistborn?” He looked at it, and he’s like “There’s an old boardroom big business type game, and I’ve always wanted to do something with that type of free form negotiation. I think that could work for Mistborn.” He pitched us on the idea that would become Mistborn: HouseWar.

AMJP: Wow! The jump, sometimes, you don’t necessarily see it initially.

Patrick: This is exactly what I mean by “the stars have to align.” The pieces have to be there, and with us we knew they were all there. We had this game that was already really cool, the agent loved the idea, and Kevin was really excited about working on it. I adore the game; it just fit.


AMJP: So, are you guys going to continue adding things on to the Mistborn universe?

Patrick: Yeah, well, we got an expansion for Mistborn: House War coming next year called Siege of Luthedel. It adds a siege port and everybody has to choose sides, and it’ll come with miniatures.
For the Mistborn RPG, we’ve got a new book written. It’s in editing now, so it’ll be out in about… six to nine months. It’s called Nobles: The Golden Mandate, and it plays on House War a bit. It takes a lot of what we add there. We had to flesh out the houses quite a lot to make House War work because with a board game you need a lot of detail. We had to come up with how they looked and how they acted…their color schemes and symbology and all this kind of/sort of stuff. Brandon’s just been fantastic. His statement has always been “Your stuff’s canon until it’s not.” It still has to go through approvals, but, ultimately, we’re given a lot of creative freedom.

AMJ: [Can you] tell me about Little Wizards? I love the idea of being able to introduce children to RPGs, particularly since lot of our readership are parents who started playing in high school and college and now have kids.

Patrick: Little Wizards is a product I always wanted to make. I got very, very lucky with it. So, it’s actually originally a French roleplaying game Contes Ensorceles designed by Antoine Bauza. He’s since moved on to board games, but when we stumbled into this game and we knew we had to bring it to the US market. It’s a wonderful, charming little game about these kid wizards on a coin world—two sides of the same world. Inside that setting it’s like everybody just relies on these kids to just solve their problems. Adults have their own lives, and because the kids still have a sense of whimsy and access to all this power, people depend on them to make all the edges of society sort of work. Like, there are these little goblins that are going in and poisoning a chocolate factory, and the kids, of course, are the ones that solve that problem. What I really loved about it is that they’re young, but they’re given a lot of autonomy. It’s not like, “I have to answer to my parents” or “I have to answer to this noble council,” whatever it is. With kids you really want to engender as much exploration and as much a sense of ownership with what they’re doing as possible. That’s one of the things that really work for me for this game, and so our contribution to it was to leave the world 100% alone. [We] added one tiny bit of mechanics. What we wanted to do with Little Wizards was create a game where kids could play it, graduate from it, and say “I really liked this part of the game” or “I really liked that part of the game.” Their parents could say “Well, if you liked that, then go play this,” and, so, we added aspects to it that are a little bit like other, more grownup RPGs. The thing that really works, the magic of the mix for me, is that not only can older kids play with younger kids and parents play with their kids, but, at the end of the day, it’s introducing them and guiding them through the hobby.


AMJP: Kickstarters versus traditional publishing. Now that you’re done lots of both, what do you think are the pros and cons?

Patrick: Kickstarters are good and bad, right? I’m convinced it’s bad practice and bad form to just Kickstart everything you make no matter what size you are. It’s true if you’ve made one game or you’ve made 100. The benefits of Kickstarter are obvious, but they’re also nuanced, right? So, there’s a heavy promotional aspect to them because you are speaking directly to a community, and, at the end, you’ve recruited acolytes for your product. These are people that have invested in you. They are invested in going out and spreading the word, and that’s great. Also it solves a certain “cash flow” problem for companies that make things like Mistborn: House War possible because it’s a very expensive product. Making that product from zero with no form of funding upfront it’s why, before Kickstarter, so few people made board games. The problem is that it’s very easy now to just sort of put up a very splashy page and get bunch of support for a game that may not be as well developed as it could be or for a company that doesn’t really understand how to take that and turn that into a business. I think a lot of people look at it as the sort of obvious way to just launch, and everything else will just fall into place. [But] there’s a lot of things you have to consider above and beyond Kickstarter. So, for us, we only Kickstart things that we think are a good idea to Kickstart. The dice, for example. We didn’t know honestly whether or not it would work. We thought that people want these products, but we couldn’t just make them and put them out. Retail has to have some kind of idea how much demand there is. So, we did that Kickstarter primarily to figure out how much to print, and it turned out that the number we wanted to print was high enough to make it worthwhile going into distribution.
With House War, it really was a cashflow issue. We knew the game was great but we needed the Kickstarter in order to get to that next level and be able to put tons of cool stuff in the box. I think, from now on, it’s going to be a question of “Is this something that will relate to people on Kickstarter? That will resonate with them so that they can go out and actually spread the word? Is this something that benefits from it and that we can make in incrementally better with people’s help? Is this something that really needs the influx of cash, the flow in order to survive?” If those things are true, then you should put it on Kickstarter. But, unfortunately, I think a lot of other people just sort of callously put everything up on Kickstarter, and that’s not the best policy.

AMJP: And where are you at with Spycraft 3?

Patrick: So, there’s a story behind Spycraft 3. We used to be with Mongoose Publishing, and that relationship was not entirely… amicable. It was one of those unfortunate situations that sometimes happens in business. When you part with a partner, things don’t necessarily go the way you want. And one of the the things that wound up happening there is that we wound up losing all of our inventory of the second edition. Simultaneously, we had the third edition in development but it was really early days. We were still thinking that we were at least a few years away from even announcing it. So we lose all our inventory and realized we had two choices: we could either just tell people that there’s no more Spycraft or we could tell them that third edition is coming. But it was a situation where we told people much earlier than we really should have for the development that was done on it. Then, of course, Mistborn happened, and Mistborn defined Crafty for the next few years. So those things sort of dovetailed together. And it’s meant that third edition [of Spycraft] has had a very, very long production schedule. That’s good in that we’re constantly defining it, and it’s constantly getting better. But it is taking a very long time to get done, and, at this point, we can’t even really commit to dates with it because it’s just too far off. So, it’ll happen. We’re just not sure when. I would much rather be the company that says we are working on this, we haven’t forgotten about you, but there’s only so much we can do. This is going to take a long time. Because a relaunch like Spycraft is difficult. We could just release a poor game, walk away and not release and supplements, and not do any support for it, not really make it the kind of thing that we know everybody wants. We can do that in a much smaller amount of time. But we don’t want to do that, [but] a lot of stars have to align. So, it’s been a long development cycle and it’s also been sort of gauging our time for when we can relaunch and make it really, really special. It’ll happen when it happens, and it’ll be something really good and that the fans can really get a lot out of.

AMJP: Anything else up and coming that you can talk about? Where do you think you’re headed over the next few years?

Patrick: Well, we’re doing Nobles: Golden Mandate. That’ll be next year [2018]. Siege of Luthedel is coming out next year [2018], and those are the two big things right now. We have a lot of other stuff, but obviously it’s early days. There will be other Mistborn products beyond House War.
I think we’re going to see a a few more board and card games. The reason for that, I think, is that’s just where the designing space is right now because of House War. The Mistborn side is going to continue; it’s got a solid team. Spycraft will continue to be in development, and when it’s done and when the stars align, we will bring it out. We have an idea for a third RPG, but it is honestly just an idea, and Crafty Games has always been the company that let the products define the company rather than the other way around. You can hammer and hammer at them to sort of force a brand, but we’ve had much better success, and people are much happier with our products when we make the things that everybody knows work.

To keep up with Crafty Game’s upcoming releases and latest news, be sure to sign up for their newsletter

WashingCon – the District’s Best Board Game Convention

WashingCOn2WashingCon marked its 3rd anniversary as DC’s premiere board game convention with over a thousand gamers attending to play games, check out panels, inspect new releases from a few game studios, and participate in tournaments.

The organization of this event was on point – check in was a breeze, staff were easy to identify in their hot pink shirts (and plentiful throughout the rooms), and even the free game table, while understandably slow, was well managed. Anyone I approached for info was either quick to answer or to help us find who could answer (at one point I was led on a spirited chase across and around the hall to track down the RPG organizer – great pre-gaming workout!) There were notably MANY women volunteers – no real surprise with Labyrinth Games store owner Kathleen Donahue as  WashingCon co-sponsor but certainly awesome to see.

The borrowing library was well stocked with new games as well as classics. Check in/out was a little fiddly but it didn’t take us long to get out into the play space, which was abundant. Ample space between tables also meant there were no ‘dead zones’ (inaccessible spots that just become wasted space) at the center of rows and no one felt trapped once the hall began to fill up. Play was lively, but the volume was tolerable.


Events were a mix of panels, tournaments, meet and greets, and demos. There were a couple to choose from in each time slot, which gave enough variety to fill up a day but not so much that we felt like you’d be missing tons of things by picking a few to attend. Of particular note was the focus on education through gaming – panels like Pokemon for Parents and Teachers and a special area for educators to check out STEM and language games echoed Labyrinth’s commitment to education and the community. Additionally, events for both new players and new designers created a welcoming environment. My personal favorite was the Women in Games panel featuring retails, designers, and con-runners in a lively discussion about the past and future of women in the gaming community, and creating more inclusive spaces.

(Speaking of inclusive spaces, WashingCon’s Zero-Tolerance policy for harassment is clear, being posted near check in, included in the program, and printed on the back of every badge. There is no wiggle room here, and the organizers are absolute in their desire for every attendee to be comfortable and ‘Play Nicely’.)


A little room on the east side hosted RPGs. Spaces for games where reserved online, a great decision which entirely negated the long hopeful line we’ve seen at places like PAXU. Games were interesting and well moderated and a good eye was kept out for time. My only issue was volume  – this area was packed full of enthusiastic role players so it was easy for the din to rise enough that you had to strain to hear someone across the table.

Several designers were demo-ing games as well. I was particularly taken with Catlilli Game’s STEM based offerings (enough that I interviewed designer Catherine Swanwick  about women in games and game development not too long ago.) I also tried Twistocity, an hysterical tongue twister game that wound up becoming a must-buy for a friend. I attempted to resist the siren call of game buying but still wound up bringing home Herbaceous and our first Unlock.

WashingCon 2018 is one of my most eagerly anticipated cons this year (out of the twelve to fifteen I’ll be visiting.) It’ll be held at the Georgetown University Hotel and Conference Center September 8-9. Tickets go on sale March 1st. If you’re planning on going send me a note via Girls play Games – lets play something together!