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  • Tokyo Game Market 2018 Spring: Report from Table Games in the World

    by Saigo

    Editor's note: Game Market took place in Tokyo on May 5-6, 2018, and Saigo — who translates game rules between Japanese and English and who tweets about new JP games — has translated his reports about the event (day one and day two) from Takuya Ono, who runs the Table Games in the World blog. Mr. Ono has given permission to reprint the photos from his post. Many thanks to Saigo! —WEM

    On Children's Day on May 5, the first day of Tokyo Game Market 2018 Spring was held at Tokyo Big Sight. The number of visitors has not been announced yet. However, according to an announcement by the Game Market Management Office, attendance reached over 10,000 people by the afternoon, so it seems certain that this show topped the attendance of the first day of Game Market 2017 Autumn.

    Approximately 2,700 people were queuing before the opening at 10:00 a.m. (according to Rael-san's report). And they dispersed each to the booths of their destination as the show opened. The venue, joining two halls, was L-shaped and had many blind spots, so it is difficult to determine which booths had especially long queues in front of them.

    After waiting for four hours, people tend to walk hurriedly.

    Still, the overwhelmingly number of people queuing to buy the new Sakura Arms game from BakaFire Party was quite remarkable. BakaFire Party had a block booth with a large stage in their area to hold a talk show to which the people who bought their games were preferentially invited.

    BakaFire Party talk show

    There were eight block booths of varied colors, such as the blue Oink Games, red GP Games, orange Sugorokuya, and black DEAR SPIELE booths. Such block booths each covering an abundant space with many demo tables reminded me of the atmosphere of SPIEL in Essen.

    Blue Oink Games
    Giant Ubongo 3-D at the GP Games booth
    Enter the gate into the Sugorokuya booth

    Perhaps DEAR SPIELE's wall-covered Privacy demo room suggested a dazzling world awaiting the visitors as they walked through the split curtain with the R-18 icon on it?


    I felt a SPIEL-like atmosphere not only from the use of the space. With an increase of participation and attendance from overseas, I frequently heard foreign languages, such as English and Chinese, at the venue. The number of exhibitors from Korea and Taiwan have also increased. Antoine Bauza, the designer of Hanabi and 7 Wonders, was playing Taiwanese board games with his friends. (An exhibitor's ability to teach how to play their games in English is very useful, especially for demoing their games to visitors from overseas.) BoardGameGeek, the world's largest board game database website, also had a booth at a corner of the venue to interview people and film their games.

    Antoine Bauza at a demo table
    BGG interviews and filming assisted by Ken Shoda as an interpreter

    My Japanese translation of the book "Leitfaden fur Spieleerfinder und solche, die es werden wollen. Ein praktischer Ratgeber" (by Tom Werneck) was released at the show before its official publication. Titled "ボードゲームデザイナーガイドブック" (which would translate as "Board Game Designer's Guide Book: A Practical Guide to Those Who Aim to Become One") (from Small Light), this pre-sale of 250 copies was well-received and sold out. I heard that many of those who bought the book had exhibitor tags on them. I hope that the book will be useful for their game production in the future.

    Board Game Designer's Guide Book

    The first issue of the analog game magazine "ALL Gamers!" was released. It includes many notable articles, such as the talk between Ginichiro Suzuki and his son Kazunari Suzuki, as well as a report on the Board Game Café Award to select the best games through the voting by board game cafés and shops.

    ALL Gamers!

    After checking the newly released games at the venue in about four hours, I managed to try some games and talk to some people. Let me report the games I tried along with those that gathered attention.

    In From Batavia (from COLON ARC), the players collect spice cards and load them on their ships. Depending on the spice cards, you can trigger special effects to improve the efficiency. The rule to hand the cards used for paying the cost to the player on the left leads to interesting gameplay.

    Patisserie Trickcake (from KogeKogeDo) is a trick-taking game in which you must follow suit and supply tasty cakes to your customers. Even if you cannot win the trick, you can still keep your used cards as items on sale and play them collectively, so it is also possible to lose deliberately to save up such cards as a strategy.

    Moneybags (from Oink Games) is a bluffing game to take coins from others' bags "to make them even" while trying to gain more money unnoticed. The sound produced when shaking each bag provides the clue.

    Trap of Love (from TUKAPON) is a card game to form melds by your hand and use them to gamble. Some cards revealed from other players' hands provide clues for gambling, but they might turn out to be bluffing.

    In Alpenzian (from Fukuroudou), the players each build their village by choosing dice rolls and drawing pictures on their player sheet.

    Glover (from New Games Order) is a negotiation game that won the Tokyo German Game Award.

    Marché de France (from Head Quarter Simulation Game Club) is another heavy game from this group after Improvement of the POLIS.

    Motto Watashi no Sekai no Mikata (from Ten Days Games) is the publisher's original expansion set to its Japanese edition of Wie ich die Welt sehe....

    In Saikoro New Town (from IOP Games), the players roll many dice, then create lands and buildings by combining the dice rolls.

    HIKTORUNE (from Koguma Koubou) is a cooperative game to pull out vertically-erected magic cards without toppling them.

    Happiest Town (from Sato Familie) is a town-building game from Toshiki Sato, whose previous game (8bit MockUp) won Game Market Award's Best Game of the Year.

    In Savannah Smile (from Bodogeimu), the players try to assess the animals' movement in order to place their smartphones in the spots to take the best shots.

    In Renkin (Alchemy) (from ruri ruri games), the players use beads to connect high-scoring materials. This group has constantly produced games with gorgeous components and few copies.

    Tsumigei Quiz ("Quiz on Unplayed Games on Your Shelf") (from Saikikaku) is a quiz game to present the names of games from their first and last letters.

    Tokyo Sidekick (from Little Future) is a cooperative game in which superheroes and their sidekicks work together to fight against villains.


    Here is my report on the second day of Tokyo Game Market 2018 Spring, which was held at Tokyo Big Sight. The number of people queuing before the opening amounted to approximately 40% of the number from yesterday (according to Rael-san's report). Lower attendance may have been tough for some exhibitors with regard to their sales (some exhibitors had wished to participate on Saturday but ended up on Sunday by lottery), but the visitors on the other hand could take seats at demo tables as well as engage in conversation with the exhibitors more easily.

    I noticed some people visiting the Game Market after other shows at Tokyo Big Sight. Regarding the changes to the kind of people visiting Game Market, increases in female visitors, couples, and families has long been mentioned. Furthermore, an increase in overseas visitors and specific game players was remarkable.

    It has been a while since we began seeing visitors from overseas publishers, such as AEG, Cocktail Games, Asmodee, and Hans im Gluck, coming to Tokyo Game Market in search of games to scout, but I also felt a strong presence of exhibitors from overseas at the current show. Furthermore, a BoardGameGeek crew was filming interviews and videos to introduce many games. Some overseas visitors were negotiating at the Oink Games booth to buy games in bulk. French game designer Antoine Bauza was visiting the show with his friends. I heard many people talking in foreign languages at this Game Market. If this trend goes on, the exhibitors might as well consider getting staff members who can explain their games' rules in English just like at SPIEL.


    By the term "specific game players", I am referring to people such as the players of Sakura Arms and Magic: The Gathering, people who mostly play TRPG and live-action role-playing games (LARP) as well as Escape Room game players. They tend to visit only a single section of the venue without walking around to check various booths. While the attendance has been rising, we might as well question the proportion of people visiting the show to see doujin (indie) board games. Besides, such board games at the show have become quite diverse, ranging from light party games to heavy ones, making it difficult to report about them all together.

    Tokyo Game Market shortly after its opening

    After checking newly released board games, I tried some games just like I did on the previous day. I limited the games that I'd buy only to those with original themes or systems, those with some degree of reliability on the designers' skills (according to their previous works and game description), and those I could not try at the venue. I did not reserve any game. Instead, I saw the games while visiting booths to check newly-released games and chose which ones to buy after hearing the game descriptions. I managed to visit all the booths before noon on both Saturday and Sunday, and I bought most of the games I chose before they became sold out.

    In our board game community, there is a wise saying: "It is better to regret buying a game than it is to regret not buying it." I agree with this, but if I bought a game and left it unplayed, I would feel sorry for the people who produced it. Thus, I bought only enough games to play in one month after the show.

    Under the circumstances, it was easier to buy books than board games at the show. I bought the first issue of "ALL Gamers!" (from AHC), Spiel Stern 2018 (from COLON ARC), Board Game Quiz Extended (from Banjiro), Gamer Tsuma no Yuutsu ("The Melancholy of a Gamer's Wife") (from Horiba Koubou), and Board Game Café Path (from Bodotte Iitomo!) and read some of them during the trip.

    Board Game Café Path sold out. Its second issue is scheduled to be released in Autumn. I also had some time to spend outside the venue, so I had lunch at the kitchen car area. I tried the food tasting of yogurt and pudding supplied by Pal System food home delivery service, then ate a plate of kebab. It was windy but the weather was fine and felt good. The sunshine was so dazzling.

    Kitchen cars, all looking nice

    The next Game Market will be held on November 24 (Sat) and 25 (Sun) at Tokyo Big Sight. Due to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, it will be difficult to reserve a venue in the Tokyo Metropolitan area starting in 2019, but I hear that the Game Market Management Office is presently on the move to secure one.

    Here are some games that I tried and some that caught my eye at the venue.

    Suzume-Jong (from Sugorokuya), a mahjong game with minimized mahjong tiles, sold a lot at the show. There was also a section to try mahjong along with many books on mahjong. The booths exhibiting Goita-related products were also popular, indicating the power of such traditional games.

    Stock hold'em (from OKAZU Brand) is a stock trading game in which the players place their cards face down and the stock prices are eventually determined according to poker hands. Hot stocks have high prices, so you would hope to buy stocks when they are low-priced and sell them as their prices rise. However, if you keep buying the same stock, other players would hinder you. According to OKAZU Brand, their sales (at a single event) was an all-time high.

    SMART 500 Games released four titles, namely Stray Cat, Negotiator, Starry Swear, and Stationeries. They have firmly revived the 500-yen game project, which has long continued in some way or other as a kind of tradition at Game Market. Their games, sharing the same box art, stimulates one's desire to completely collect such games.

    In Kokikoki Station (from EVIL Team), the players put the cargo pieces in their hands onto containers. The objective is to have the fewest cargo pieces in your hand when all the containers are filled, but you drop out if you run out of your cargo pieces before that.

    The tricktaking game Ubergang des Barocks ("Transition of Baroque") and trivia game BodoCa (from Colorful Spiele) were both designed by Aya Matsunaga, an administrator of the board game data base ボドゲーマ (Boardgamer).

    Kani no Koushin ("Marching of Crabs") (from Azb.Studio) is a cooperative game to guide and help crabs. Its Styrofoam box contains gorgeous components.

    In Morse Karuta (from GIFT10INDUSTRY), the players try to identify a card according to the Morse code tapping produced with the game app downloaded to a smartphone. Various audio versions of the Morse code are available.

    Yuusha ga Ichigeki de Yarareta! ("Our Hero Was Defeated at a Single Blow!") is a one-against-many game in which the warrior, wizard, and priest try to escape from Satan in its castle. With a point system, you might also get to survive by sacrificing others.

    The questionnaire survey on newly-released games will soon begin. Even after buying games at the venue, until you have shared your comments on such games with others and answered the survey, Game Market 2018 Spring will still continue... Read more »
  • VideoGame Previews from the May 2018 Tokyo Game Market II: Let's Make a Bus Route, Mini Wild, Bug Hunting, Mayfly, and Salmon Run

    by W. Eric Martin

    Saashi is the designer of several stylish games from Japanese publisher Saashi & Saashi, including the well-received solo game Coffee Roaster, so when we found out that S&S would have a new release at Tokyo Game Market in May 2018, we knew that we wanted to film an overview if possible.

    Let's Make a Bus Route is a relatively large entry in the somewhat new category of flip-and-write games, these being an offshoot of roll-and-write games because players are presented with the result of a flipped card (instead of rolled dice) and must then do something with it. Having cards in such a game typically gives you better control since you know that certain actions or results are coming at some point in the game; you just need to hope that you put yourself in the right position to take advantage of them when they come.

    The gist of this game is that everyone is creating their own bus route in the same town, and you want to create stops that serve lots of passengers and take riders by scenic attractions while avoiding traffic in town caused by all of the other buses that are trying to do the same thing as you!

    Youtube Video

    • Designer Kyu Takai of the doujin group I Cannot Live By Myself has published three games, with players trying to reunite a mother and daughter beluga whale in 2018's Beluga (for which we'll have a video later), trying to ensure that they can blossom and spread seeds as a dandelion on a lone island in the tile-laying game Dandelion from 2017, and trying to keep a male mayfly alive so that it can mate with a female in 2016's Mayfly, which is the subject of this video.

    One of the things I like best about titles at Game Market is that often someone sees something that they want to make into a game, then they do it. Boom! Commerciality is not an issue for many GM designers; they just have something that they want to put out into the world, so they do it, and I find those types of projects far more interesting to talk about and present than the 22nd iteration of someone taking over for a dying king. Can't you at last having a dying lion, and players need to see who will lead the pride? Or the senior class president is graduating and now all of the juniors are fighting to lead the student body? Or maybe the secondary colors stage a coup against the primary colors for rainbow supremacy in A Who's Who of #2 Hues?

    Youtube Video

    • Strangely enough, we have seen several games about salmon making an effort to return to their home grounds to spawn, so Blachoco from the doujin group Kogumayan might not be treading on virgin ground with the small card game Salmon Run, but the design features three other hallmarks of Game Market releases: (1) minimal components in a tiny package, (2) a game that is often about bluffing and reading people's intentions, and (3) specialist components that you'd never see in a mainstream production, in this case tiny origami-style boats that hold the salmon roe that players try to collect.

    Youtube Video

    • Game Market isn't only about Japanese games since several designers and publishers from Korean and Taiwan make the trip to Tokyo for each show, such as Tom Kim from Piece Craft, who showed off the "Go Fish"-style game Bug Hunting attempt to deduce which cards players might have in their hands from the colors visible on the back of them so that they can call out the bugs they want to complete their own collections.

    Youtube Video

    • Kim also showed off the Piece Craft title Mini Wild, which debuted at the December 2017 Game Market. This game has you drafting multiple cards at once so that you can assemble plants, herbivores, and carnivores into an ecosystem that will net you points in the end.

    Youtube Video Read more »
    - Newest Items

  • RPG Tools 3 [BUNDLE]
    RPG Tools 3 [BUNDLE]Publisher: Ken Wickham
    This special bundle product contains the following titles.

    Animal Generator
    Regular price: $1.00
    Bundle price:
     Watermarked PDF
    This is a flexible animal generator that is meant to aid or take the place of a Gamemaster (GM) for answering questions or finding the clues, information, or describing animals. A chart optimized for 1d12 but with results for 2D6, 1D20, 3D6, and 1d100 systems is included. It makes it a versatile description generating engine. This system is meant to give keywords, that when put together help to generate animals either real, mythical, fictional, or made at that moment. The keywords are meant to help trigger thoughtful and inspirational ideas. It's not meant to cover supernatural or alien features or powers. Included are 11 categories: movement, social behavior, food, group size, offense, defense, reproduction, life expectancy, abilities, size, and nest/den. Each of these have 12 (one h...

    Body Language Generator
    Regular price: $1.00
    Bundle price:
     Watermarked PDF
    eyelids open & wide ... This is a flexible body language generator that is meant to aid or take the place of a Gamemaster (GM) for indicating the clues, information, or describing the gestures, facial expressions, body movement, or voice tones of a character. Body language may vary by culture or region of the world, so this chart uses American body language indicators. A chart optimized for 1d12 but with results for 2D6, 1D20, 3D6, and D100 (percentile) systems is included. It makes it a versatile description generating engine. This system is meant to give keywords, that when put together help to generate a words related to emotional body language The keywords are meant to help trigger thoughtful and inspirational ideas. Its generic enough for any genre characters that can use A...

    Flash RPG
    Regular price: $1.00
    Bundle price:
     Watermarked PDF
    Flash RPG is a six-sided dice game intended for solo game play used to create flash fiction, adventure seeds, and background stories. These are extremely small stories. All of the details can be randomly generated or chosen intentionally by the player. The details will only hint at something more than is told in the fiction. There is one attribute, one conflict, one character, one result, and lasting effects of this creative player inspired story. The die roll results generated are vague enough to mold many different ideas into the flash fiction. If you want to try generating a small summarized story in under 1,000, 500, or even 100 words give Flash RPG a try. Other non-D6 Generator Chart series products may be used to expand this system. The Generator Chart Series First Series ...

    Knowledge Generator
    Regular price: $1.00
    Bundle price:
     Watermarked PDF
    This is a flexible knowledge generator that is meant to aid or take the place of a Gamemaster (GM) for answering questions or finding the clues, information, or describing what a humanoid knows. A chart optimized for 1d12 but with results for 2D6, 1D20, 3D6, and 1d100 systems is included. It makes it a versatile description generating engine. This system is meant to give keywords, that when put together help to generate a collecction or field of knowledge. The keywords are meant to help trigger thoughtful and inspirational ideas. An attempt was made to make it usable for superhero, high fantasy, or scifi powers genres. Some small changes may be needed to interpret the results in some settings. Included are 12 categories based on a modern library system of classification: General Info,...

    Sound Generator
    Regular price: $1.00
    Bundle price:
     Watermarked PDF
    tap, clink, clatter... This is a flexible sound generator that is meant to aid or take the place of a Gamemaster (GM) for answering questions or finding the clues, information, or describing what a character hears. A chart optimized for 1d12 but with results for 2D6, 1D20, and 3D6 systems is included. It makes it a versatile description generating engine. 1D100 may use the first 10 rows and first 10 columns for 1D100 This system is meant to give keywords, that when put together help to generate a words related to sounds or onomatopoeia. The keywords are meant to help trigger thoughtful and inspirational ideas. An attempt was made to make it generic enough for superhero, high fantasy, or scifi powers genres. Some small changes may be needed to interpret the results in some settings. ...

    Total value:$5.00
    Special bundle price:$3.50
    Savings of:$1.50 (30%)
    Price: $5.00 Read more »
  • Flash RPG
    Flash RPGPublisher: Ken Wickham

    Flash RPG is a six-sided dice game intended for solo game play used to create flash fiction, adventure seeds, and background stories. These are extremely small stories. All of the details can be randomly generated or chosen intentionally by the player. The details will only hint at something more than is told in the fiction.

    There is one attribute, one conflict, one character, one result, and lasting effects of this creative player inspired story. The die roll results generated are vague enough to mold many different ideas into the flash fiction.

    If you want to try generating a small summarized story in under 1,000, 500, or even 100 words give Flash RPG a try.

    Other non-D6 Generator Chart series products may be used to expand this system.

    The Generator Chart Series

    First Series

    Fact Generator - this focuses on 144 results focusing on sensory and process data

    Description Generator -  focuses on description of objects or things using 11 categories of adjectives

    Character Generator - focuses on generating a description of uses nine possible personalities, stat archetypes, encounter types, virtues, vices, and types of quirks on two charts 

    Motivation Generator - lists 144 character motivations based on the hierarchy of needs, morality system, defense mechanism, and personality temperament.

    Plot Generator - 144 plot keywords based on 12 main sets of plots

    Bundle 1 Solo RPG Tools bundle contains Fact Generator, Description Generator, Character Generator [premium], Plot Generator, Motivation Generator, and the Solo Game Engine at 30% off

    Second series

    Theme Generator - 144 sets of keywords (over 288 keywords) which can be used to find a theme or subject of a scene, session, story, or overarching story.

    Mood-Emotion Generator - focuses on 12 categories of emotions or mood; joy, expectation, sadness, confusion, anger, courage, caring, fear, guilty, strong, hurt, and weak. 12 words detail the degree and specify the emotion or mood within each category

    Outdoor Setting Generator - focuses on descriptions of locations or places. This includes biomes, weather, soil types, sparcity, and size.

    Indoor Setting Generator focuses on descriptions of rooms and interior locations. This includes rooms types, sizes, adjectives describing rooms, and material found in or used in the construction of the room.

    Bundle 2 - Theme Generator, Mood-Emotion Generator, Outdoor Setting Generator, and Indoor Setting Generator at 30% off

    New Series

    Animal Generator - focuses on the movement, behavior, attacks, defense, abilities, and living situation and survival features of a real, earth-like, mythical, folklore, made-up or similar alien animals

    Knowledge Generator - focuses on mental and studied knowledge fields such as science, philosophy, language, literature, military, agriculture, law, politics, religion, social science, and paranormal.

    Sound Generator - focuses entirely on sounds and onomatoppoeia.

    Body Language Generator - shows 12 emotion categories with 12 body language indicators for each category including eye, nose, face, jaw, mouth, eyebrow, forehead, hand, arm, leg, posture, movement, speed, voice, or gesture indicators based on American culture.

    Price: $1.00 Read more »

    Gnome Stew

  • BFF – A Game About Girl Friendship
    BFF – A Game About Girl Friendship


    I had the pleasure of interviewing Mother and Son team Terri and Ross about their new game BFF. It’s a really interesting game about friendship that is doing some really innovative stuff, and is based off the roleplaying game Fall of Magic.

    What’s BFF about?

    Terri: BFF! is about ‘tween friendship. A great and fun opportunity to try out various personalities and enter landscapes, such as: a day at Ghost Duck Middle School, a week at Camp Summertime, overnight in Tiffy’s bedroom or a sneak visit to Ms Wei’s garden. And I guess you could say the game is about adventure.

    Ross: BFF is about friendship, and how our relationships change and grow as we change and grow.


    Why did you decide to make a game about girl friendship?

    Terri: I wanted to create a game to interest ‘tween girls. What is more important at that age than friendship? There’s so much intensity around whether they are lasting, true, or disappointing. They shape us and ultimately are even more influential than our families.
    Ross: It was my mom’s idea!

    What role did you each play in the design and concept?

    Terri: Ross inspired me to even think about designing a game. Once I got the bug, I drew on my experience as a children’s author and focused on an audience of 10 to 13-year old girls, a group I felt might be underserved in story game world. I wasn’t inhibited by what was going to make it a good game; that was Ross’s territory. He is experienced in game theory and how to put it to work. Once Ross was on board, we spent hours deliberating on which of my ideas would actually work, and adding concepts of his own. We had a good balance and had fun bouncing our ideas off each other.
    Ross: I’m a mechanics and publishing guy. Mom is the guardian of the spirit of the game, we both worked together with Tay and Veta to generate the content along with our design consulting team.

    What’s it like working with your son/mom on a game?

    Terri: It’s the BEST. I’m so lucky we like and respect each other. We laugh a lot! The only thing that was tricky was getting used to him calling me, “Terri.”
    Ross: Haha, oh Terri! She also reads my mind which is creepy and useful. We get along really well. And Terri has a ton of knowledge about making media for kids.

    What are your biggest inspirations for this design?

    Terri: Of course, I was a ‘tween girl, and so was my daughter (Ross’s sister.) Those days are forever imprinted on me. I’m also inspired by Ross’s passion for games and game design. The importance of children’s stories has been a lifelong focus, from my own childhood, as well as readers of the books I write.
    Ross: The design is based on Fall of Magic, the flavor is kind of cartoon-networky / lumberjanes.

    What do you hope people experience with this game?

    Terri: This game works as well for ‘tween girls as it does for others wanting to reinvent their middle school experience. There’s opportunity to create characters like you or quite different. And we’ve provided lots of prompts to allow your own creativity to blossom. I hope players have fun, surprises, and maybe even experience thought-provoking moments.

    Terri Cohlene grew up in a suburb of Seattle, Washington where she competed with her two brothers in polliwog-hatching, berry-fighting and slug-wrangling. She is the author of nine books for children including, Witch’s Brew~Wicked, Wacky Poems for a Dark, Dark Night.
    A former art director and editor of her own imprint, Terri currently serves on the board of Olympia Poetry Network and is a writer, freelance editor, and game designer in Olympia, Washington. You can catch up with her aTerri:

    Ross Cowman is the owner of Heart Of The Deernicorn, a studio and workshop in downtown Olympia. They make beautiful games to inspire creativity, build community, and expand our sense of possibility. Check out their games at
    BFF! – The rpg of girlhood, friendship, and adventure!
    May 1st-June 1st

    Read more »
  • Gnome Stew Notables – Alex Roberts
    Gnome Stew Notables – Alex Roberts

    Welcome to the second installment of our Gnome Spotlight: Notables series. The notables series is a look at game developers in the gaming industry doing good work. The series will focus on female game creators and game creators of color primarily, and each entry will be a short bio and interview. We’ve currently got a group of authors and guest authors interviewing game creators and hope to bring you many more entries in the series as it continues on. If you’ve got a suggestion for someone we should be doing a notables article on, or want to do an interview with someone send us a note at – Head Gnome John

    Meet Alex


    Alex Roberts is a writer, designer, journalist, and roleplayer of boundless enthusiasm. She wants roleplaying to be a site of interior exploration, transformation, and healing. When not hosting her acclaimed interview show 

Talking With Alex

1) Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work. 

Big question! All right, here’s my deal. I’m bright and enthusiastic, and I have a podcast called Backstory where I interview fascinating folks in roleplaying. It’s thoughtful and gentle and even people who don’t like podcasts like it. I write fun stuff for other people’s games, like Sig, Dialect, Threadbare, and Misspent Youth: Sell Out With Me. I do production support and project management and marketing stuff for game publishers; right now with Bully Pulpit Games. And, of course, I make my own dang games! My first was HUGPUNX LIVE, for Pelgrane’s #Feminism supplement. I’m semi-secretly working on a little card-based thing right now. And of course there’s Star Crossed, the two-player RPG of forbidden love, which will be on Kickstarter April 10th – May 10th! That game has been in progress for years and I am losing my mind over how great it’s going to be.
You’ve probably heard me on podcasts or at cons talking about two player games, or romance and sexuality in game design. These are some of my favourite topics!

Backstory Podcast

2) What project are you most proud of?

It’s hard to pick just one! I do feel a certain special love for my first RPG writing credit, in Sig: the City Between. I had no idea what I was doing; Crystalia just kind of emerged from me. Sig is planar fantasy, and I was moved to write about a beautiful, perfect world of vibrations and lights in glorious pastels. Beings grow in caves and emerge fully formed, and where things are easily broken and impossible to repair. Without my intention, it came to represent this overwhelming fear of making mistakes, of imperfections, of asking for help or accepting nurturing. I still get into that headspace sometimes but I’m at least better at recognizing it, since writing it out as something external to me. I’ll think to myself: whoops, I’m in Crystalia again. Better turn around.

3) What themes do you like to emphasize in your game work?

Queerness, obviously, but also the excruciating joy of being alive.

4) What mechanics do you like best in games?

I like when a game system perfectly matches the real, felt, lived experience of something in the world. Sometimes a game mechanic makes apparent something you only sensed before, but couldn’t express. You point to it and go, “yes! That’s how it is!” Not an external realism, but an internal resonance.

5) How would you describe your game design style?

Intuitive. I am making games to feel my way through what the heck is going on. With me, with the world. Star Crossed is not just about Attraction and Relationships, it’s me making meaning of my experiences of attraction and relationships, and trying to make them into a system that I can comprehend (if not master.) Even “comprehend” is a bit too intellectual, actually. Maybe a word like “integrate” is a bit closer. Really, by making a game I’m going, okay, this is how attraction works, it’s sorta like this, a thing I can see the whole of, and live with. Star Crossed is my little diorama of attraction, with moving parts.

6) How does gender/queerness fit into your games?

I like when my work is very obviously feminine even though I find femininity hard to define. I guess, again, I must prefer to make stuff to understand rather than express. More likely I’m doing both. If pressed I would say that all my games, even when I was working digitally, put harmony, creativity, and grace at the forefront. And of course my games are going to be queer because that’s where I’m coming from. I could never make a game where relationships have a pre-determined path forward which is generally agreed upon by not only the people in it but also their broader community and culture. I’ll keep letting you get into messy, baffling, ecstatically exciting but fraught relationships instead.

7) How do you make sexy games fun?

Star Crossed

Sex is already absolutely ludicrous. And I think sex is one of most adults’ few opportunities to be playful. So, let’s just acknowledge that and make a game where you can tell ridiculous, sexy stories. It’s so much easier than people seem to think. I get the fear around making anything about sex (even in this answer I’m resisting the urge to say something like “Star Crossed doesn’t just tell sexy stories!” which is true but irrelevant) because we’re taught that whole area of life is inherently dangerous. Reflecting the reality of sexuality – that it is honestly just the most ridiculous and interesting thing – is better than trying to deliberately frame it any particular way.

8) How did you get into games?

Like everyone else, I played all the time as a kid. I was just lucky enough to keep doing it. After absorbing the cultural concept of “Dungeons and Dragons” I ran what were essentially ongoing fantasy storytelling sessions, with no rules except total DM fiat, in various treehouses and backyards and slumber parties, until I was a teen and I made friends with some boys who had the actual books and knew the actual rules. It took me a couple of years of trying to get into that to get bored and decide I didn’t like RPGs after all! Then I met a friend who showed me The Burning Wheel. And then organized a game of Fiasco. And then gave me his copy of Kagematsu and asked me to GM it. The rest is history. Thanks, Patrick!

9) What one thing would you change in gaming?

I would like to have a sophisticated culture of critique. “There’s no wrong way to have fun!” is an attempt at kindness, of course. I get that it’s a fallback to avoid a recurring set of self-fuelling arguments. Unfortunately, there are lots of ways to have fun that hurt other people. I’ve seen play used to bully, and game systems that reinforce and re-create much broader systems of harm. Being able to precisely and compassionately critique different games might help us build more fun, innovative, groundbreaking work while also helping us avoid some of those problems.

10) What are you working on now?

I have a little game about a queen’s retinue that I’m specifically cultivating for first-time roleplayers, and it turns out long-time roleplayers have been enjoying it too. It’s been fun so far! It’s been a lifeline of creativity while pushing Star Crossed past the finish line. Those are two different kinds of satisfying that fuel each other.

Thanks for joining us for this entry in the notables series.  You can find more in the series here: and please feel free to drop us any suggestions for people we should interview at

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    Sly Flourish

  • Choosing Targets

    Today we're going to talk about how we choose targets for our monsters when running our Dungeons & Dragons games. We'll focus on two ways in particular:

    • Choosing targets that make sense for the monster and the situation.
    • Choosing randomly.

    What Would the Monster Attack?

    Our first decision puts us in the mind of the monster. What would it likely attack? Is it smart? Does it know how to defend itself? Will it accept opportunity attacks to break away from a melee? Is it cowardly? Lots of questions go into the motivation of a monster and what target it chooses. Smart monsters will know to try to hit spellcasters to break concentration. Brash monsters will break away from an adjacent enemy to attack someone it hates more; thus provoking an opportunity attack.

    Smart monsters, like lichs, will know which spells to use against which characters based on their likely defenses. Dumb monsters will just attack randomly.

    Choose Targets Randomly

    Whenever it isn't clear which character a monster will attack, and this might be most of the time, we can choose targets randomly. Choosing random targets has a major advantage: rolling randomly to determine targets breaks us out of unconscious biases. We might not think we're picking on one particular character but what if we're doing it subconsciously? How could we tell? Sure, we might pick up some body language, but what if we're even blind to that?

    One way to ensure we're not favoring or picking on anyone in particular is to randomly choose targets when the monsters don't have a clear reason for attacking one particular character. It also makes the whole battle more dynamic.

    If a warlock puts a hold person on four scorpion cultists, however, that warlock just became a big glowing target for intelligent monsters so they can break concentration and get their friends back. That's where we go back to rule 1: do what makes sense from the point of view of the monsters.

    Avoiding a Tactical Wargame

    These methods of choosing targets break us away from thinking too tactically during combat. Instead of treating combat as a competition between the intellect of the player and the dungeon master, we continue to focus on the story by thinking through the eyes of our monsters instead of thinking like a competing player in a board game. This is what separates D&D from other tabletop games. We're always immersed in the fiction of the game whether we're roleplaying a lord's chamberlain or deciding who the bugbear assassins are going to attack.

    Attacking Unconscious Targets

    There's one point when choosing targets can really matter and that's whether a monster attacks an unconscious target or not. If a monster within five feet of an unconscious character attacks that character, it has advantage on its attacks and, if it hits, it automatically critically hits and inflicts two failed death saving throws on that character. If it has multiple attacks, it can kill that character in a single attack action.

    Most of the time, we can assume a monster will drop a character to zero and then move on to another enemy instead of attacking the unconscious character. If the characters, however, are continually being healed up and brought back into the battle, a monster with any brains at all will start hitting them until they stop getting back up.

    This is an area where we DMs have to consider the fun of the group and the pacing of the rest of the game when we make a choice like this. There are choices that makes sense from the tactics of the monster and choices that will put our whole game on hold if a character dies. If our game is particularly rough, like the meatgrinder mode of Tomb of Annihilation, we might let the players know that death can come quickly and thus they should have spare characters ready to fill in when their main character dies. If this is established clearly, the gloves are off and monsters may very well attack unconscious characters.

    Our philosophy on attacking unconscious characters is worth considering before it suddenly happens at the table.

    Thinking About the Small Parts of Our Games

    This might seem like a small topic but sometimes it helps us to spend some conscious energy looking at the small choices we make when running our game. This helps us focus on bringing the most fun to our game. If we can use a two-step rule for targeting that helps us avoid playing favorites, we can reduce the feeling of competition between DMs and players and focus the game on the story we all share around the table.

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  • The Emotional Investment of Dungeon Mastering

    A band of powerful adventurers explores the mausoleum of a powerful dracolich. The adventurers enter a large chamber and with sparks of unnatural energy, five slaads appear, three red and two blue. "Stand back", says the wizard and begins chanting a spell. The two blue slaads look at him and then begin to chuckle. Then they laugh. Then they roar, falling to the ground and rolling around uncontrollably. The wizard smiles, continuing his chant. "The other three are your problem", he says to his companions.

    Written out as fiction, the casting Tasha's Hideous Laughter on a pair of blue slaads sounds pretty cool. If we Dungeon Masters are invested in these slaads, however, this result might frustrate us. That wizard just inflicted the equivalent of 240 damage with a single spell. The slaad's terrible wisdom saving throw, even with advantage from magic resistance, and the wizard's ability to stay out of reach of the red slaads ensures the hideous laughter will continue as long as the characters need.

    If we had hopes for a big five-on-five battle, this single spell dashed those hopes. This battle didn't go the way we expected and that can leave us feeling like things went wrong or the system is broken.

    The Differing Emotional Investment of Players and DMs

    Players are invested in their characters. They want to see their characters do interesting things. They want to discover the world. They want to disarm devious traps. They want to uncover deep secrets. They want to swing from ropes and push over carts. They want to do awesome things. In particular, they want to kick monster ass in battles. Can they completely paralyze a monster that might have looked threatening? That's pretty cool! Like Indiana Jones shooting the swordsman cool.

    Think how pissed a player would be if his character got banished or stuck behind a wall of force for a whole battle. Sometimes, that's how we DMs feel when our monsters face the same fate. If we have a villain we really liked destroyed or incapacitated in a single round, that can suck. It's the reason we need to be careful when putting villains like Strahd or Iymrith in front of the characters. We don't want to see them put down too easily.

    DMs can't be invested in the game the same way players are invested. For most games, players only have characters die every so often. For DMs, monsters and villains die all the time. The job of our monsters is to threaten the PCs and then fall. How can we invest emotional energy into such doomed creatures?

    The Divine Art of Not Giving A Shit

    There are a lot of ways to deal with these feelings. First of all, as Dungeon World teaches us, we should, first and foremost, be fans of the characters, not the monsters. We play to find out what happens not to make sure a battle goes the way we want it to go and not to enjoy how awesome the monsters are at killing the heroes.

    One way we can ensure we don't care is to not spend a lot of time on them. The less time we spend building and preparing our monsters or planning a battle, the less we will worry about what happens if the monsters get screwed by a save-or-suck spell. We can get just as excited about it as the players were. Just like the swordsman scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, a surprise like that can be pretty bad-ass.

    Running narrative "theater of the mind" combat makes this even easier. We don't have to worry about drawing a map or putting down a gridded battle space that might only get used for a few minutes before the characters steamroll an encounter or sneak past with a great stealth check. One of the big problems with the tyranny of the grid is that we DMs put emotional investment into the battle spaces we build out. If we take the time to build something nice, we want the battle to be a solid challenge that doesn't get short circuited by a single good casting of hypnotic pattern.

    But if we don't spend time planning some of our encounters, they can get boring either in the environment or in the tactics of the monsters. How many times have you played out a battle only to discover too late that the monster had some effect you forgot to use? How many times did you roll up a treasure hoard and wonder why the monster wasn't using that Flametongue sword she was sitting on? A little time prepping a combat encounter isn't a bad thing.

    Know Your Enemy

    It really helps to know the capabilities of the characters. What are they particularly good at? What save or suck spells do they enjoy using? We don't learn these capabilities just to counteract them with monsters that resist or exploit them. We learn what the characters can do to ensure we're giving them a good chance to use those cool abilities.

    If you have a character you know can remove monsters easily, you might consider this when choosing the number of monsters. Does the enchanter always have a good way to "mass suggest" groups of foes? Add in a couple of more to increase the likelihood of a save. Do the characters dish out huge amounts of damage? Maybe max out the hit points of a few highly challenging creatures. The key isn't to hose the PCs who have this stuff but to ensure they don't get bored as they circumvent battles too regularly.

    Where Should We Invest Our Emotional Capital?

    So if we DMs shouldn't invest our emotional capital (a fancy marketing word for giving a shit) in our poor monsters, where should we invest it? What's fun for us DMs? What do we enjoy in a good game?

    As mentioned, we can become fans of the characters. We can enjoy their growth, their depth, and their desires. We can enjoy watching them kick ass, struggle, and figure things out. We can review the characters any time we feel like we're spending too much time thinking about combat encounters.

    When we are thinking about the bad guys, instead of focusing on their combat powers, we might think about the long game of the villain. If the villain is a hag, how might the hag harass and torture the characters without putting herself in harms way? How can Strahd tug his strings and squeeze his hand around the characters without leaving Castle Ravenloft? What long-term plans do the villains have?

    We can invest our time in the fronts of our villains. What are they doing right now? What do they want? What plans are they moving forward? This gets into Mike Mearls's statement about getting away from thinking tactically and thinking more about the overarching story being told. This is a huge shift for many DMs and one I think encapsulates the changing nature of D&D games these days.

    We can also invest our time in the secrets and clues the characters can discover or the fantastic locations they can explore.

    Shifting the direction of our emotional investment in our D&D games isn't easy. It requires careful thought and self analysis to put our heads around the right parts of our game, the parts we and our players enjoy together. When we aim our emotional investment the right way, we can build even more fantastic stories with our groups and all share in the joy these stories bring us as they unfold.

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