Designer Diary 8: Choice Art

Whilst I liked the logos created for the companies, I didn’t want the box art just to be a composition of all the logos. Instead I wanted something which represented the game’s theme of offering a choice. I also wanted something bold, crisp and abstract.

I posted the job up on I was reassured by the number of other games companies posting for freelance art requirements there, and I wanted to make sure I was offering a fair wage for the art I wanted. It was an incredibly easy process, and I had plenty of applicants. In the end I went with George Adams, for one thing he’s in the country, making communication much more convenient, and I loved the style of art on his portfolio.

Looking back over the work he did for me- drafts, retouches, colour palletes etc- it’s easily been one of the best outlays of money in this whole project. I’ve collected some, but not all, of the prototype box art imagery to show how it developed. Along the way I explained the theme of embezzling money from companies, but you can see how a representation of giving a choice became central.

In current news we are less than a week away from our Kickstarter launching! Make sure you check back next Tuesday to not miss the early bird, or sign up to our newsletter!

Designer Diary 7: Asymmetric Abilities

It was a playtest session earlier this year which persuaded me to finally include Abilities in the base copy of the game (or at least, the playtesters did). I’d originally come up with variable player powers (abilities) when I was thinking how I could extend this into a fully fledged Kickstarter, and whilst everyone had fun playing with them, I was concerned about them distracting from the simplicity of the game as it stood. It was a needless worry. The Ability cards introduced a rambunctious sense of excitement to proceedings. And in most cases completely eliminating issues with calculating from almost perfect information. A lot of these cards came from suggestions, or players misunderstanding rules, such as investing cards face down. Situations in which I thought, that’s not the right way to play but it would be interesting if you played like that.

The interesting nature of ability cards like these come in their asymmetry. They lead to different ways of playing, and help enable suprises from other players’ actions. To this end it’s important to keep them as straightforward as possible- you don’t want players to be attending to everyone else’s powers, but rather have them aware of them without it being a focus. The other option with different powers is how much of a game changer they are to be. I consider this difference in terms of Agricola and Feast for Odin.

In Agricola your occupations and minor improvements will massively change your strategy. Each occupation should elicit ‘ooohs’ from your opponents as they becom envious of your new power. Every single one has an impact on the game, or isn’t worth playing. They are big influential powers that only one player can use. The space for playing them is highly contested. In the first edition there were some crazy imbalances.

In Feast for Odin, occupations are small things which might alter one or two of your moves. Occasionally they’ll hint at a direction, but on the whole they’re small fry. Sometimes you’ll just play them for the few points they are worth. But they’re all so milquetoast they’re essentially balanced.

For me, if players have random asymmetric powers, I want them to be impactful. I want a game with them to feel different to the game without. To this end, powerful abilities are the way I went. Those abilities which weren’t having an impact have gone. But I also wanted to keep them streamlined- which means that they tend to be small rules tweaks. At first they might look straightforward and small- being able to discard a card instead of investing one seems like something minor. But through playing the game players see exactly how that small tweak can have a great impact.

Designer Diary 6: ETC Industries

The theme of Forks came about quite early on, during the Wibbell competition. Why would the cards with the lowest values in the middle be negative, well because they’re being audited for having all their investment mysteriously dissapear. Post-competition I needed to decide upon my companies, frst choice- comic or realistic? I went realistic, partly to step away from other games with businesses where they don’t look like businesses. I also didn’t want a central theme to them all, such as animals or foods. I wanted all the businesses to be as distinct as possible.

An early discussion with Tyler led to a number of names and ideas for businesses, as well as logos, being conjured up. After a quick internet search it turned out all of them already exist. It turned out thinking up fake companies is more difficult then it might first appear. Especially when it came to a company with a three letter initialism ending with ‘Finance’ or ‘Insurance’. Seriously, if you pick three letters at random and add ‘Finance’ to the end, then they already exist.

After much thinking and scouring, 6 companies were created, including logos. The colours are all pastel colours, again to differentiate them from companies and logos already in boardgames, and to avoid classic colour-confused colours such as red/green. Additionally, most of the names try to describe the company in some way, or at least have another meaning.

For those wondering, Apidae is a type of Bee, after it was discovered pharmecutical companies with ‘bee’ and ‘pollen’ in the name already exist. That enables us to keep the hexagon (beehive inspired) but everyone who I’ve played it with pronounces it “‘appy day” which is fine by me. DTV is an initialisation for ‘drain tempering valve’ and Oxime is already a type of chemical compound, so no company in those areas would use those names. Or if they did they are ungoogleable. The wild rock dove is an ancestor to the pigeon (I belive, I am ready to be corrected by bird enthusiasts on that front), hence the connection to communication.

Even though we came up with 6 companies, after much playtesting, Box Resolute (what I would call a freight company) was dropped to 5-player, which won’t be in the base game (sticking to 2-4 players). But here was the logo anyway

I had the strangest compliment on each of these when I was on the Unlucky Frog podcast, and Josh said they were realistically ordinary. Just what I wanted. You can hear that here (along with some other stuff we chat about, including colonialism in games) If you haven’t heard it give it a listen- it was great fun to be on and they’re a great podcast.

Designer Diary 5: Merge/Swap

Since the Wibbell++ competition ended Forks has remained quite consistent. The number of companies has changed form 6 to 5 (and back to 6 for 5 player games), and one particularly memorable playtest session resulted in a key change to the 2 player game (it turned out not removing any cards and having hand sizes of 12 was as ridiculous as it sounds). But the main change came in the form of Merge/Swap.

Forks has always tried to be about choices. The hook, that you give your neighbour the choices, is what make the game special. But during playtesting the feeling of control early in the game was questioned- if your earlier choices are based on future information, how can they be made? Now all games feature this in someway or another, a game with perfect information is a puzzle to be solved. But when playtesters say something designers have a duty to listen. So we tried a new rule (with thanks to Alex and/or Tyler- one suggested merge and one suggested swap, but I can’t remember which).

Merge enables you to merge cards passed to you with your hand. You then invest using any card from your hand. Immediately this enabled a feeling of control, and a sense of strategy. Players become capable of strategising; you might go heavy into one company early with the intention of dumping cards into it late, or keep low value cards you can throw away to not change a favourable board state, amongst others.

That worked, and the game immediately felt better, more solid as a game. And then we tried another rule- Swap.

When players draw three cards Swap enables them to swap one with an invested card in the middle. This makes the game a lot more volaitle, but a lot funnier. Sinking companies, or drawing investments from them introduced a tactical play to every draw. In order to make sure a card you swapped stayed un-invested you needed to embezzle it, and the options you had to pass to you neighbour increased with every card invested. The game was a joy to play, but a lot more brutal and chaotic than with the merge variant.

Both variants were excellent, drawing on different aspects of the game and making them feel quite different, even though the core remained the same, so we tried them together.


The game has far too much going on for a simple card game, and turns were taking too long. Fine for a 4X, but not for this. So the question was, which one do we keep? The strategical capabilities bought about by Merge or the laugh-inducing tactical chaos from Swap?

The answer- both, but never together. Easy to implement with a double sided card. Now players can choose which variant to play, although never at the same time. We encourage people to start with Merge as that’s the most straightforward, and everyone is also relieved when they realise it means they can get rid of the junk from their hand. And that’s why the card’s double-sided (although you are free to play both if everyone’s prepared for it).

In current news- currently looking at boxes, box manufacturing and box printing. The glamourous part of the job. I want to try and upgrade from the boxes used for promo copies, which wear a little too much (although that may be because I didn’t get a protective lamination, but still). Lidded would be ideal, it’s just getting them for a non-exhorbant price. The search continues!

Designer Diary 4: Fork Your Neighbour.

Whenever I playtest or demo Forks people get the game quickly. Which they should, it’s simple with few rules. It takes a little longer for the penny to drop regarding why the mechanics set up the game- but eventually they turn to their neghbour and exclaim ‘excuse me sir/madam, but you have just passed to me the worst choice which will surely decimate me’, or words to that effect (occasionally unprintable ones). The question which normally comes is ‘Why is it named Forks?’. So here’s why.

That feeling described above, when your neighbour gives you a horrible choice and both of you know it, is what I wanted to name the game after; but ‘aaaggh you bastard’ and variations thereof didn’t really seem appropriate. Whilst I could have just named the game ‘Embezzler’ or ‘Financial Dealings with your Neighbour’ or ‘Enron:The Game’, I didn’t just want to stick to a bland description or allusion to the theme. I wanted something which said ‘Here is a choice, but if I’ve done this well, it’s a horrible choice. If I’ve played really well, it’s a horrible choice which also benefits me’. Something which described the actual game, but if it also alluded to the theme in some way that woud be nice.

Morton’s Fork doesn’t quite fit the above, but it’s close. When it comes to tax people you either admit to being frugal, in which case you must have saved enough to be taxed, or you admit to being a spendthrift, in which case you are wealthy enough to be taxed. It’s a choice, but either way you’re going to lose. The reason it doesn’t fit the game is because it’s a false choice, and in Forks there are no false choices. But it does have that central essential idea of giving your neighbour a choice they are not going to like, and alluding to theme (although in a very slight manner). Morton’s Fork was close, but when considering it I was reminded of other Forks.

I played a lot of chess when I was younger. A lot. And whilst I only teach chess these days I still remember the language used for attacks: pins, skewers and forks. A fork is where you attack two (or more) pieces at the same time, leaving your opponent to choose which one to save and which to lose. And it wasn’t always an obvious choice. Which is an apt description for the choices in Forks- here are two cards which you can invest to save a company, but you take the hit on the one you don’t (possibly). Not an easy choice, and it’s not luck of the deck, but skill from your opponent giving you the choice.

And so the name was chosen ‘Forks’. It’s still one of the earlier questions asked, but I like the name. A youth spent forking people in chess ‘I’ve forked your bishops etc’ meant I didn’t even notice the innuendo until one memorable playtest session. So, as people who know me will attest, that was completely unintentional, but I’ve grown too fond of the name to change it. Also no other game is called Forks (probably for that reason).

Small current update: Just spent some time writing the script for the ‘how to play’ video, and in Kickstarter terms we should be going live in about a months time (still waiting on final Brexit outcome to see how fulfillment can be done). If you’re interested please subscribe to the BGG page/facebook/blog/twitter etc.

Designer Diary 3: With thanks to Wibbell++

Forks (or Rainmakers) as it was sat for while after the microgame competition. There were issues with it (turns out negative numbers can cause issues for some, which means negatives have a downside), but it wasn’t until a competition run by Bez which kickstarted a new design path which fixed a whole load of issues, and discovered a bunch of new game design routes to go down.

Quick note about Wibbell++ by Bez, Wibbell++ is an ingenious set of cards which have a superbly thought out distribution of letters on cards, accompanied with numbers and patterend borders. There are a number of games which can be played with them, but it’s also encouraged to design your own. Bez ran a competition last year looking for new games which can be played with the cards, and after I submitted a word game (one which I still play), I wanted to see if I could submit a game that didn’t use the letters at all.

I adapted Rainmakers to fit the cards. Instead of just positive and negative values there were 6 values (to fit the borders of the cards). Instead of tracking the cards with a counter, the discarded card was added to the centre to see which ‘suits’ had the highest discard value- the 3 with the highest discarded value were considered the winnig suits, the others losers. Winning suits in hand were worth positive points, losing negative. And it revitalised the game. Now the cards in the middle of the table told a story about what was happening, and the choices weren’t completely obvious. The number of cards worked well, the mechanics were solid. The numbers needed work, some suits were objectively worse than others, but that just needed refinement.

The feedback was great. Top 5 at the end, and a load of suggestions which I’ve taken forward and worked on (mitigating the chaos was number 1). Since this contest I never stopped working on the Forks (although the name came later). The prize here was twofold- getting someone like Bez to play through your design and give you feedback, and being pushed into developing something, that nudge to push through a design doldrums state. Now I had structure and mechanics, the small beginnings of a theme (my entry was Economickell) and feedback to work on. Time to start the refine/playtest/refine engine.

And if you see Wibbell++, get it. It’s brilliant for inspiration and fun.

Post #Airecon Report/Interlude

I was going to write a designer diary here, thanking Bez for his competition inspiring me, but first I want to do a quick Airecon report, mainly consisting of telling you who you should be liking:

Mark of Wreck and Ruin game fame is an absolute star. Check out his game here:

It’s a post-apocalyptic dice chucker which loads of people love, and I urge you to check it out at the next big convention (UKGE I guess, but I’m sure he’ll be at others). Mark is a fantastically friendly guy who would love to talk to you about the game (or any game, including Top That!)
James Naylor, who’s game Magnate: The First City  I actually got to play, with terrible-at-rolling-dice Richard from We’re Not Wizards. It’s a city game which actually feels like you’re building a city. Not making a tableau of cards, not laying down tiles, not collecting sets, but building a city. It’s about time somebody finally nailed that, and James really has. Including the point where all the landowners sell off their buildings to foreign investors essentially scooping out all the profit and leaving a ghost town in its wake. It’s coming out on Kickstarter, so look out for it!
Ayden from Granda Games (half panda, half dragon) was there with Solar Storm, a beautiful co-op in which you have to escape man’s greatest enemy: the sun. I didn’t get to play this one unfortunately, but heard a load of good things from the people who had. If you like your co-ops thinky check this out (they’ll be at the UKGE this year, KS later this year).
Still some more shout outs to the denizens of Demo Alley: Keith from Coffee and Cardboard games:  ; Bez with his amazing Cat Wall, who is one of the greatest ambassadors of gaming, whether you’re a player or designer, And Emma was their with Quirk!, a lovely looking family card game full of strange expressions and noises.
I was also lucky enough to be there as part of Playtest UK, and we playtested a whole bunch of games. If you’ve never playtested a game at a convention before I urge you to do so. It feels incredibly rewarding, and everything you play will have something unique about it. Not all of them will see release, some of them will be hugely flawed, but behind those flaws there’s almost always a spark worth discovering. Similarly, it’s a puzzle in itself to search out problems, try and break games, and suggest massive changes just to see what happens. For more info on playtesting, the website is here:

Finally a massive thanks to all the reviewers/podcasters/bloggers who took the time to have a chat, and perhaps even stop and play Forks. I’m not going to go on about them, because I’ll just repeat myself, but they were all welcoming, easy to talk to and just great people. All of the following deserve a follow and a subscribe: We’re Not Wizards , Boardgame Opinions, The Game Shelf, Ross from More Games Please (who is an excellent Avalon liar it turns out). And a super thanks to Behind the Box: who have done a lovely video showing Forks, and giving their thoughts on the game:

And another massive thanks to Unlucky Frog, who I just had a wonderful chat with on Sunday, and also talked about Forks in their Airecon podcast here:

I caught up with Peter from ITB, we chatted about Newspeak, and how thrilled we both are that it funded and will be in people’s hands next year. He also pointed out that will mean I’m a published games designer, which feels like a dream at this point.
Finally Forks got a load of plays. A load. If I wasn’t playtesting I was playing that (or a ridiculous game of Sidereal Confluence which we timed to the bell- thanks to for joining in, and sorry I didn’t get to see your giant games the following day). Forks finally feels like a real game which is a real thing which is happening, and I couldn’t be happier with how it went. If you stopped to play, or even just take an interest in it, thank you.
As for the Con itself, Mark smashed it out the park again. More people than before, and one of the best atmospheres in any convention. Chock full of gaming, with anybody looking for a game finding one in minutes. Bring on 2020!