Translating Sports to Tabletop Mechanics [Design]

Men's Pole Vault

It's Olympics season and I've been particularly fascinated with the game design behind the rules and formats for each sport. Here are some quick notes about how they might translate if they were rules for a tabletop game.

Modern Pentathlon has a fencing round where the lowest ranked fencer duels the second-lowest. Whoever wins moves on to duel the next lowest. This continues with the winner of each duel climbing the ranks and the loser being removed from that round and earning points accordingly. I could see a Magic: the Gathering tournament being formatted like this as a casual event.

Miss and Out Cycling has a large group of cyclists on a track doing laps around the course, but the last cyclist to cross the finish line is eliminated from that race. Laps continue in this manner, with more cyclists being eliminated. This is more or less how Get Bit works, replacing individual racers with 5 hit points for each player.

Olympic Diving has 7 scores from judges kept separate from one another, then the highest and lowest two scores are ignored, the remaining scores are multiplied by the difficulty level. It's a bit convoluted, but I could see something like this in an early Euro sort of game.

Volleyball has an interesting combination of racing mechanics and tennis victory. There are some variations, but generally each round of play may only end after a team has X points. Once a team has a point difference of Y points over their opponent, they win the round. This might lead to some extended games at the table, but I'd love to see a 2p abstract formatted like this.

Pole Vault has a classic push-your-luck mechanism. The difficulty is raised (literally) throughout the game, then players must decide to pass or attempt the vault. Three missed attempts eliminates the player. This reminds me a lot of Welcome to the Dungeon, but it might work with any push-your-luck tabletop game.

Cool stuff! Any other Olympics games you think might translate to tabletop mechanisms?

Belle of the Ball - Second Edition Rulebook and Errata Feedback

Hello party people! I'm happy to show you the Belle of the Ball second edition rulebook and some of the card errata. We wanted to get public feedback before going to print, especially from fans and owners of the original edition.

Here's a link to the rulebook for your review.

I'll keep that PDF updated as folks find typos or errors. We're looking for feedback before August 19, 2016 ideally. There's a teeny bit of wiggle room on that deadline, but not much.


In the basic game, start each player with one random Belle card.
Swap step 1 and 2 so players can use a Belle card on the same turn it was acquired. No more waiting a full round to use it.

Remove step 3. Instead, your group scores immediately when it is full, even if it’s not your turn. This might clean up a few of the awkward bits of explanation for new players. Now it’s clear that if it’s on the table, it can be added to. This also is more merciful to players who get a full group before it’s their turn when the game ends.

The rules now state that a county power is used as if it were a Belle card, during step 2 of a players’ turn.

5-player rules are now incorporated into the standard and advanced game modes, not as a separate variant.

What was formerly the 5-player variant is now renamed “Shindig Variant,” highlighting its more chaotic play style.

For detailed errata list and changes to the cards, see the live doc at the link below.


County Cards

CHANGE: Dismiss a Belle card (and its regrets) from the line.
TO: Discard a Belle card from the line. Take its regrets.

CHANGE: After scoring a group, keep one of the guests in your party.
TO: If you scored a group, keep one of those guest cards in your party in that group’s space.



CHANGE: When scoring a group, earn double points from each of these interests: [[ICONS HERE]].
TO: Score 2 points for each of these interests in one of your groups: [[ICONS HERE]]


CHANGE: Dismiss a guest card (and its regrets) from the line.
TO: Discard a guest card from the line. Take its regrets.

CHANGE: When taking a card, you may take one more, following normal rules.
TO: You may take one more card from the same line you took a card this turn, following normal rules.

CHANGE: Use this power as a substitute for spending one regret.
TO: Take a guest card from the top of the deck. Turn it face-down. It is now a regret in your supply.

CHANGE: Move one of your guests to another one of your groups.
TO: Move one of your guest cards to one of your other groups.

CHANGE: Swap a guest in your party for a guest from the line.
TO: Swap a guest card in your party for a guest from the line. (Any regrets in the line remain in place.)

CHANGE: Force a player to score (and dismiss) one of their groups of your choice.
TO: Force a player to score and discard one of their groups of your choice.

Belle Cards

The Belle seems to be Everywhere
CHANGE: Add this card to an opponent’s group.
TO: Discard this card from your hand.

The Belle Welcomes the Lords
ADD TO END: (Lords have “Lord” in their name and have a blue background.)

The Belle Welcomes the Ladies
ADD TO END: (Ladies have “Lady” in their name and have a purple background.)

The Belle Makes Room
CHANGE: This group scores when it has seven cards.
TO: This group is considered full when it has seven cards, not four.

The Belle slips a VIP Pass
DELETE: This counts as your invitation.

The Belle finds a Secret Entrance
DELETE: This counts as your invitation.

The Belle wants a Classy Party
ADD TO END: (Ladies have “Lady” in their name and have a purple background. Lords have “Lord” in their name and have a blue background.)

The Belle Keeps Things Casual
ADD TO END: (Ladies have “Lady” in their name and have a purple background. Lords have “Lord” in their name and have a blue background.)

The Belle is feeling Rushed
ADD TO END: (Full groups are scored at the end of their owners’ turn.)

The Bell says Vive la Difference!
CHANGE: Difference
TO: Différence
ADD TO END: (In other words, score 1 point for each unique icon in this group.)

Trying Some Racing Game Key Terms. Are they clear?

Holiday Snap 2: Tron

After playing Wolfgang Kramer's Top Race the other day, I'm thinking about racing games again. In Top Race, each card moves several colored cars through the track as far forward as possible. Because you're betting on the race results as well as controlling your own car, you're still invested in the outcome even if your car is trailing behind. Controlling opponent's cars is very valuable and fun way to stay engaged throughout the game, which is a common problem in racing games.

I got to thinking about how to capture that same versatility and engagement with a card-driven racing game without the betting element. One way I thought about was using conditional positions instead of specific colors. For example, say I establish these key terms.

  • You: A car or cars you control.
  • Straggler: The car in last place.
  • Leader: The car in first place.
  • Chaser: The car in second-place.
  • Follower: The car immediately behind your car.
  • Pacer: The car immediately ahead of your car.

The cards would list a series of actions that must be resolved in that order. Each action moves the indicated car forward a number of spaces on the track. For example:

You: 3-6
Leader: 1-2

You: 3-4
Straggler: 6

Pacer: 1-2
You: 4
Follower: 1

Leader: 1
You: 2
Chaser: 3

Each action is resolved in order, so you could use a card in some fun power moves.

  • For example, if you played BURST! to put yourself in first-place, then you are the Leader, therefore you could move 1-2 extra spaces.
  • If you play COMEBACK! and you're still in last place, then you could give yourself a huge sprint of +6 spaces forward.
  • If you play PUSH! to put yourself in second-place, then you're the Chaser and can move yourself an extra 3 spaces.

My main concern at this point is that it's too confusing to make up game terms for these positions or if there are already real-world racing terms for these positions. If you're aware of any or have suggestions for more clear alternatives, please share!

Just 24 hours left to back POD-X!

Less than a day left to jump in on the Pod-X kickstarter! Check out the links here for the PnP preview, the rules, and a play overview. Appreciate your support!

Card at Work: 11 - Inserting Optional Line Breaks with DataMerge

It's a new episode of Card at Work, the video series covering the basics of designing cards for tabletop games!

This time we're building on the GREP tricks from the last episode on inline icons and using similar technique to insert optional line breaks within a single cell of a spreadsheet. Using this method, you can drop a line break into a single block of text without needing a manual line break in the InDesign template itself OR using a find-replace after merging the document.

This is my first Card at Work episode in HD resolution. I'm slowly figuring out Adobe Premiere so hopefully these episodes will be even higher quality as time goes on.

P.S. I'll be streaming today live at around noon EST. I'll be working on a new round of layout updates for Chimera Station from Tasty Minstrel Games at

Support more videos at my Patreon!

Coffee & Carcassonne - "That Radical Rock"

It's the second episode of Coffee & Carcassonne! Megan and I usually play Carcassonne over Sunday brunch at home. We hope you enjoy the gameplay and dorky conversation!

Transparent Card 2-Player Abstract

2-player abstracts are really hard to make commercially viable, but that's never kept me from noodling them a bit. This is one idea that I've had on the back burner for a long time while I was focused on card games, but I'm pushing it forward a bit now that Onitama and the Duke are more prominent.

The basic idea is using transparent cards like Gloom or Mystic Vale with an abstract movement UI as seen in Onitama, the Duke, and Tash-Kalar. Each player has identical set of unique pieces. Call them A, B, C, D, and E.

To set up the game, each player draws five cards from the deck. Each player simultaneously secretly picks then reveals a card to assign to each type of piece. In the above example, player 1 picked Elephant and player 2 picked Crab. For this game, A has the traits and powers of Elephant and Crab. Then you do the same for B, C, D, and E.

Then you play the remainder of the game using those movement rules. I'm imagining the game played on a 9x9 board, I can playtest on the lines and vertices of a normal chess board.

The goal of the game is to score three points. If you begin your turn with one of your pieces on your opponent's center space on their home row, you score three points and win the game immediately. Most of the rest of their home row scores 2 points. The corners of the home row scores 1 point. So you could be aggressive and aim for your opponent's heart or do a more controlled overwhelming push.

POD-X: Find the last escape pod!

Button Shy's been teasing the release of POD-X, coming to Kickstarter in July 5 through July 16, 2016. It's their 3-4 player adaptation of my microgame Suspense, using the original "Escape the spaceship" theme I had waaaay back at UnPub 3. I'm super excited to see how it turns out. Hope you dig it too!

In Pod-X, players are trying to escape a fallen spaceship on the last escape pod. One player knows its  location, but is keeping it secret to themselves. What a jerk! All the other players are trying to deduce and bluff their way to the secret location in this quick parlor-style card game.

Fair warning though, this is basically the Dark Souls of deduction microgames. It rewards repeated play and familiarity with the card deck. We hope you'll play again and again, developing your own mini-meta within your group. Look for POD-X next month!

Designing the Job – Part 1: What does a game cost the designer?


Most professional tabletop game designers I've met have a day job. This is just anecdotal, but it seems a full time game designer is VERY rare. I’m more of a pro today than I’ve ever been, but most of my household contribution still comes from an aggregate of freelance projects, Patreon, DriveThruCards, and SkillShare. Only a fraction of comes from traditional game design work. And all of that totaled together is still only about a third of what my wife makes at her normal day job.

When I'm working on any game eventually I have to ask myself the scary question:

“Is this game worth designing?”

Is this game costing me too much money? Is it costing too much time? With this series of short articles, I want to share how I figure out whether a game I'm working on is worth designing and, if so, how much I can expect to earn for my time and expense designing it. First up...

How much money has this game cost already?

The most common expense is material costs. My prototypes repurpose sticker paper or bits scrounged from a scrap store, then I endlessly recycle those materials effectively making the material costs free. If I send a prototype to a publisher and it isn’t returned, I have to note that as an expense as well.

When I intend to license my games, I use stock art, public domain art, remixed vectors, or photos to save on the art budget. All of that will usually be changed by the publisher anyway, so it doesn't make sense to spend too much on it.

If I self-publish, I allow myself a small art budget to get some custom illustrations, which significantly helps sales. Lately I make sure I have rights to include this art as part of a future licensing package to another publisher as well.

If I travel to test Game A, B, and C, then I split up my entire expense of that travel between those three games. (This includes event registration, plane tickets, food, etc.)

Let’s look at a hypothetical example: I’ve spent this much designing NOODLE KNIGHT...
  • Material Costs: $50

  • Shipping Costs: $50

  • Art Expense: $500

  • Travel Expenses: $100

So any option for publishing Game A should earn me at least $700 over its lifetime of sales. This is the unusual case where I do intend to self-publish. If I didn't, then I wouldn't have spent so much on the art budget.

How much TIME has this game cost already?

This is an easy number to quantify, but harder to justify. You can easily track how many hours you spend developing, designing, and playtesting Game A, B, and C. But when you translate that to the most minimum wage income, it’s quickly apparent that being a tabletop game designer does NOT pay a competitive hourly rate compared to other careers.

This is where the passion for the job outweighs the practical considerations. Yes, you could earn more spending those same hours doing a less satisfying job, but that just shifts costs to your emotional well-being. We’re in a fortunate and privileged position that I can decide to take a hit to my wallet rather than my happiness.

Returning to the example:
  • If I've spent 50 hours developing NOODLE KNIGHT, that's about ~$360 at North Carolina minimum wage. If I want to earn at least minimum wage from my game, any publishing option should also earn an additional $360 over its lifetime of sales.

You also have to consider how much additional development time you would be willing to spend if the publisher has changes they want to make to the game. Publishers vary in their development practices. Some take the whole game and test their changes in-house without much additional input from the designer, which is great since the designer has presumably already done the vast majority of design work. Some will want changes, but expect the designer to develop them on their time, which just adds to the up-front costs you'd have to negotiate in your contract.


Now I have a ballpark goal of about $1060 to earn from my game. The more time or money I spend on the game, the more I'd need to earn to just break even. Beyond a certain threshold, I can't expect a retail license or POD sales to reach that number. That's why I need to keep my material costs low and development time efficient, to make any game I'm working on actually worth working on.

Any professionals out there break down their games like this? Is it too fiddly? Do you have another method of accounting? I'd love to hear it!

An Investigative Reporting Push-Your-Luck Game


I've been noodling a push-your-luck game themed around investigative journalism for a while now. At first I was exploring a reverse-auction mechanic, but the push-your-luck aspect of Circus Flohcati, Incan Gold, Dead Man's Draw, and Abyss seemed to make more sense. The idea of "digging" into the deck as a mechaphor of investigation sounded really compelling. I also really love games where the only prep you have to do is shuffling one deck of cards.

Here are the basic ideas I have right now, which haven't entirely gelled yet into a real game, but are close enough to get to the table by next week.

Cards have ranks and suits, noted by the number and large symbol along the top corner. Each suit represents different subjects your reporter is following.

Below the suit is a little arrow pointing at another suit. Lower ranks have more arrows than higher ranks. 1s are "?" and have an arrow pointing to "?"


Shuffle the deck. Deal one card to each player's hand. Discard ten cards to the discard pile face-up.

Each player begins with 0 points, 10 Credibility, and 5 Money.

How to Play

On your turn, you'll dig: Reveal a card from the deck and place it in the center of the play area. Then you must decide whether you'll stop or keep digging.
  • Keep digging: Reveal another card and place it beside the last revealed card. Then decide again whether to keep digging or stop. If you ever reveal two of the same suit, you're caught and must do the penalty action noted by the matched suit.
  • Stop: Take one card from the play area into your hand and do the action noted by that suit. Actions are more powerful the more cards there are in the play area.

At the end of your turn, you may file a report. Lay down a set of cards from your hand in front of you. Reports are either open or closed.
  • Open: Your report connects suits to each other in a linearly. For example, Media connects to Military connects to Government. When you file an open report, score the lowest rank in the report as points.
  • Closed: Your report connects suits in a closed loop. For example, Media connects to Military connects to Governments, which also connects back to Media. When you file a closed report, score the highest rank in the report as points.
When you file, you may discard 1 Money to fill in any missing connections. The next time you do this costs 2 Money. The next time after that costs 3 Money, and so on.

"?" may be used to fill any missing connections for free.

Keep your filed reports separate from one another, face-up so everyone else can see them.

This ends your turn. The next player begins their turn as noted above. Each player must dig at least once on their turn before deciding to stop.


This is just a quick list of possible suits, their actions, and their penalties. Nothing final, just something to test at the table ASAP. In all cases, the "__" in actions is the number of cards in the play area.

Entertainment: Take __ cards from the top of the discard pile. Penalty: Discard __/2 cards from your hand.

Sci-Tech: Look at __x2 cards from the top of the deck and take __ into your hand. Penalty: Discard __/2 cards from your hand.

War: Swap __/2 cards from any opponent's reports for cards your hand. The swapped cards must be the same suit. Penalty: Discard __/2 cards from any of your filed reports.

Business: Gain __x2 Money. Penalty: Discard __ Money.

Politics: Spend __ Money to gain __/2 Credibility. Penalty: Discard __/2 Credibility.

International: Discard up to __/2 cards from your hand to gain that much Credibility. Penalty: Discard __ Money.

Local: Discard up to __/2 cards from your hand, then take that many cards from the top of the deck into your hand. Penalty: Discard __ Money.

Rumor: Add __ cards from your hand to any of your filed reports. Penalty: Discard __/2 Credibility.

I'm sure there are other subjects that would fit in this list and these subjects could have more thematic effects. That's it for now though.

End of Game

When the deck runs out, the game is over.

At the end of the game, you get bonus points for doggedly reporting on the same subjects over and over again. For each suit appearing on more than one of your reports, score the highest rank in that series. In the example above, you reported on War three times, the highest rank of which is 8, so you score 8 points.

Money doesn't affect final scores.

Whoever has the most Credibility doubles their point total.

The player with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.

I like the idea of two competing strategies being equally valid: File fewer reports while relying on your Credibility to carry you through - OR - Spend a bunch of money filing shoddy reports aiming for an insurmountably high score, regardless of your Credibility.
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.