Pace Yourself


In any lesson, pace is one of the biggest issues for early teachers. Starting with high engagement, allowing time for deep thinking, changing things up when students are flagging, keeping a sense of progression going- it takes a good few years to get a natural sense of what your pace should be to enable these things. However, this isn’t a blog about teaching (although how we teach games is intrinsically important), this is a blog about boardgames and boardgame design. So what has pace got to do with boardgames?

Answer: everything.

Ironically faster than certain Euros

At a simplistic level I feel these three questions reveal the pace of a game:

  1. Does the game induce massive amounts of downtime?
  2. Is a player’s turn clearly structured?
  3. Is there a natural sense of build up and progression toward the end game?

There are more things which affect the pace of the game (any amount of negotiation or bidding), and clearly the people we play with will have a huge impact, along with they style of the game, but any designer needs to consider their game’s pace and what they’d like it to be. When playtesting games it’s usually clear when players are flagging, or repeating actions. We’ve all played and playtested games where it becomes clear the ’10 minute first round’ has no sense of when it should have shuffled off to make room for the second round; or the final round is identical to the second round; or every new card revealed needs a 10 minute break to decipher what it’s trying to tell us. Or the game suddenly ends oh well. Whilst I don’t think anybody can say exactly what makes a game fun, we can say a poor pace stops it being fun. My next few posts will be on what I’ve done to consider each of those when designing games, but if anybody has any thoughts or comments let me know! Especially if my three questions are ridiculously oversimplified.

Airecon- some sort of report.

So after a heady weekend full of boardgames, itching to see all the wonderful things around, and then more boardgames, Airecon is over for another year. But apart from a wonderful pun which still gets points despite moving away from the river, what else has Airecon got going for it?

Well, a lot actually. Here are some lessons from Airecon…

  • It’s just so damned friendly! And I’m not just saying that to embellish us Yorkshire folk our reputation. The first Friday evening strangers quickly became friends over a game of Fear, the boardgame pub quiz was a room of smiles, even when the entire room realised they’d forgotten to take one of the bags for the feel-a-piece round. People were able to just turn up and join teams for that and the escape room games. All in all I think it’d be the games con I’d feel most comfortable attending alone.
(excuse the poor photo)
  • There are some great games coming out:

Villagers, designed by¬†Haakon Gaarder and published by Sinister Fish is a nice little card drafting game/ set collection game. Lovely artwork and an intriguing cascading sets system, where each card can only be played if you’ve played the prerequisite card first (I’m sure there’s a better reference, but if not think evolving pokemon in the card game). I want to play it again, to check occupational balance, but definitely one to keep an eye on.

Flicky Spaceships by Room17 games is the winner of the UKGamesExpo 2015 redesign competition (the first design competition I entered, but not the last). What might appear as a simple dexterity game has a lot more to it with resource collection and power-up cards. I played two player, which was fun, but I imagine this really shines with more players. Especially as you collect resources at the start of your turn based on where you are, leading to some bowls style nudging.

Newspeak was there! Clearly I’m going to be biased here (designer), but ITB have knocked it out the park with the production on this. It was a real shame about the Kickstarter issues (more information on the We’re not Wizards podcast), but rather than resting on their laurels they’ve made it even more accessible to all. If you can get the chance to play this I urge you to do so and let me know what you think.


Gloom of Kilforth’s Tristan Hall is one of the nicest designer’s you could meet, and his game is beautiful. Also I actually learned it has nothing to do with Gloomhaven, which was a mistake that’s been lodged in my head for some time now. And really, I’ve no excuse for it.

Gloom of Kilforth
  • People who playtest games are awesome. I owe a massive thankyou to all playtesters for not just playing 3 Districts, but for then playing it again to really delve into what makes it tick and where to focus ideas. As always it’s a privilege to have such people giving up their time to help improve mine, and I hope I helped out back in some way.
Thanks to Kaleidocards for helping me playtest!
  • When I give a group of boardgamers an Escape Room puzzle to do, never promise a prize for beating the quickest time. I’d need to buy a lot of prizes.


  • At some point I’ll actually have to make time to do the things I planned to do before I get there, and speak to the people I only know from consuming their media (such as the Unlucky Frog Podcast or Rodney Smith).


  • People love playing games. Obvious perhaps, but whereas most cons have a tiny space for gaming and then ‘sales!’ Airecon was the other way around. It was incredibly hard to do anything other than play games where everyone you look someone’s setting up a new game of Snowdonia or Captain Sonar. Actually playing games really was the order of the weekend*.

Overall an absolutely fantastic weekend. Brilliant to see this convention gain traction and I can’t wait to see what next year brings!

*For the record I played Cockroach Poker, Beastie Bar, Snowdonia, Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time, Enigma, Fear, Hab & Gut, Deep Sea Adventure, Nyet, and I’m sure some more that I just can’t remember. More games played in one weekend than at all UKGamesExpos I’ve been to I think.

FODP (Fear of Disappointing Playtesters)

I’ve had my games playtested plenty of times. By friends, family, colleagues, Fiona, club members, random people at cons, folk at Playtest UK, other designers, Fiona again, and more. And every time there’s a fear that I’m going to let them down. Not that the feedback will be bad, I can take that. Or that they’ll have plenty of recommendations, that’s great (even if they’re not). No, instead I have a horrible feeling I’m about to waste 30-45 minutes of their life. Time they could have spent doing literally anything else. It’s a redundant fear- even with my worst games I’ve never had people have a less-than-enjoyable time. Sitting down playing games is naturally fun, and given my games are diametrically opposed to any kind of take-that victimisation, even if it turns out a little underbaked, we’ve still sat down and had a good time.


An underbaked disappointment


I write this, because I’m about to head off to Airecon and give this new improved version of 3 Districts its first proper playtesting outside in the big world. Whilst there are still a few things I’d like to change (work commitments have meant the iconography isn’t complete, and some cards have been removed whilst being balanced), but otherwise I’m extremely happy and excited for how it plays, even if the art is still all prototype. Playtesters should have a fun time playing my game (and if not that’s the most important thing for me to find out).

Now I just need to stop being so apologetic when I’m trying to encourage people to play it…

And the game is…

The reason I started this blog (and everything along with it) is because of a game. 3 Districts (name subject to change). I’m going to explain it in broad terms here, and use future updates for reasoning, changes, influences and everything else. There won’t be a full rules explanation here, or finished art, just the ideas I think are important, enough to give you a flavour of the game.

3 Districts is a city-building worker-placement game for 2-4 players. Each player builds buildings and visits buildings, either their own or other’s, until one player has built a set number. At that point, the player with the highest quality city wins. The game takes around 45 minutes to play, and is designed to be straightforward, but with interesting choices and plenty of player interactivity.

Key ideas:

Build your own actions– at the start everybody has the same basic action available to them. All other actions need to be built first. But something you build is available to all other players (at a cost). This means the other players aren’t just blockers, like in traditional worker placement games, but facilitators as well.

But the actions keep changing– it would quickly get overwhelming to have every action space built be usable. Therefore each player only has two spaces to build buildings. When a third is built, one of the previous two are replaced. They still count for victory points, but they’re not longer an action space. This prevents there being too many options, but also takes all players on a journey, and guarantees no two games will be alike.

Pace from an engine– each building pays tax at the start of a player’s turn. As more buildings are built they get more money. This results in a natural progression from the level 1 buildings through to the more expensive level 3 buildings.

The option to jump ahead– The buildings at level 3 are worth more VPs than level 1. Do you build up your tax base by cheaply building a host of level 1 buildings, or use certain building’s to make sure you can afford a level 2 or 3 building, changing the dynamic of the game. Different paths to victory.

All of this done with minimum randomness, genuine options, high interactivity and elegant gameplay. Hopefully you’ll eventually be able to tell me if I’ve succeeded!