One step forward, two steps back

boardgame, boardgame prototype, game design, playtest, Public Squares


Want to know what’s been happening with Public Squares?

1 – Rules and scoring systems

I’ve been experimenting with sets of rules and scoring conditions to motivate the players to create patterns, and it’s dawning on me why I haven’t really seen other games attempting this. Even though the brain is great at spotting patterns, turning them into an elegant, intuitive rule set is not easy. If you’re not careful there will be optimal patterns and every grid will end up looking very similar.

Ideally the players should be able to rotate shapes and patterns, even mirroring them across the grid. I created a few rule sets which do this in theory, but scoring them at the end of a game took as long as the game itself and resulted in three digit scores. Exhausting!


2 – Shapes

One of the core concepts for Public Squares is to use the pips of standard six-sided die as the shapes that fill the grid. When you take a die you can use a hammer to chip away blocks you don’t want, and then draw the remaining shape.


After playing just a couple games, I began to notice a pattern. My largest area was ALWAYS composed of repeated X shapes.

Looking at the die faces it’s obvious why. Out of the 6 possible shapes, 5 of them help you make an X! Even without modifying the shapes, you can get an X by combining 1 and 4 or 2 and 3, making it a safe bet.

It would be easy to create six new shapes which correspond to the numbers, but then the game would lose one of its unique features. Fortunately I have a few ideas on how to deal with this one!


3 – Other Games

One of the ways to test rules systems is to cut most of them and bring them back one by one, to see where they break. I always learn something when I do this, and would suggest you to do the same.

While experimenting I stumbled on a couple of rule sets which were a lot simpler but showed promise. I tried them out and they were fun!

That evening I found not one but TWO games which use the same concepts:

  • Criss Cross (Reiner Knizia): Roll two dice, draw the resulting symbols orthogonally adjacent on your grid. In the end, check how many times each symbol appears in each line and column to know how much that line/column is worth. Add them up to know your score.
  • Mosaix (Christof Tisch): Roll four dice, arrange them into a shape (reminiscent of a tetramino). Every player fits them in their grid. Their goal is to create several big areas composed of the same symbol.

This was eye-opening. These games are so close to my goal that I’ll have to take a few steps back and find a new direction for it.

Glad I found them so early in the process!

Public Squares

boardgame, boardgame prototype, game design, playtest, Public Squares


Last week I woke up at 5 in the morning with an idea for a roll and write game about Portuguese cobblestones. How could I ignore it?

In Portugal the ground is paved with limestone, often in intricate patterns that go from geometrical to historical. These are so common that, in their routine, most people forget to look down – myself included.

I only started appreciating them when I left the country and saw how grey and monotonous foreign sidewalks were.

calçada portuguesa

The main concept of the game is:


Each player is in charge of their own square, which they will decorate using the patterns they rolled. Players take dice, chip pips away using a hammer and draw them on the sheet. Negative space is important, as players score by creating patterns.

How does that sound?

I’m calling it “Public Squares” for now, a suggestion from Carlos Leituga!

This is very different from the other games I’ve designed so far but that’s part of the appeal for me. So much hinges on the scoring system, but that’s a topic for a future post.

Stay tuned!

Playtest Dublin 2

boardgame prototype, playtest, Playtest Dublin


Prototype Dublin 2 took place in August 29th, once again in KC Peaches, Dame Street.  This time we had more designers, more players and more games! Nine games showed up, seven games were played, and a couple more than once.

After a couple games enough people had arrive that we could split up and play three games at once. I’m glad because more games were played, even if I didn’t get to play them all!

As for my games, Sinking and Agent Decker hit the table. Decker hasn’t changed since it was submitted to the contest but Andrew wanted to try it out.


Agent Deegan beat the game but he didn’t like the Hawk one bit.

I updated Sinking with feedback from the previous playtest, but will write a proper post to talk about those. All I’m going to say is that it steered the game in the right direction!

Can’t wait for the next one.

Playtest Dublin

boardgame prototype, playtest, Playtest Dublin



A month ago (July 25th) Dublin’s first meetup for boardgame prototypes was born! Organized by Colum Higgins, Playtest Dublin was a joyful afternoon full of laughter and good ideas.

The venue was KC Peaches in Dame Street, central enough so everyone can reach it. They provided a room where we could hang around comfortably and play for hours.

Eight people showed up and seven games were played, followed by a healthy discussion on what was good and what could be improved. The games covered a big range of genres from drafting to blind bidding to a social experiment that didn’t require any components at all.


The meetup went so well it kept going past its planned closing time and everyone asked for it to become a regular event. The second meetup is going to take place in a couple of days (August 29th) and I can’t wait!

Thank you for getting the ball rolling Colum!

Agent Decker: One week later

Agent Decker, boardgame, boardgame prototype, event, playtest


A very important thing happened one week ago. International Tabletop day was a worldwide celebration of boardgames that is celebrated in the best possible way: by playing!

It was also the day I published Agent Decker online.

First I thought of simply sharing a dropbox link but ended up hosting it on because it’s quick to put together, gives me a nice landing page and allows me to track views, downloads, and where they come from. Behold!


First I spread the link on Twitter, Facebook and BGG, and got a moderate response. The next day I was out so I just let it spread naturally. See that massive spike on the next day? That’s Reddit.

Given the fact it’s a game for one player only, I wondered how many people would care to download it. It’s been downloaded 496 times so far!


It was fun to take part in a mini-interview, which you can read here. BGG user Morten Pedersen is interviewing all the designers in the competition who have released the components online, and the posts are well worth reading!

What’s next? Now I’m gathering feedback about the game, especially about the rulebook! This is the first time I’m really doing a blind playtest, which means I can’t be there to teach the players how to play and answer any questions they might have. I’ve made some quick sneaky changes to make it more clear, but it can be hard to reach the people who have already downloaded it.

There’s still a lot to do, but the motivation that came from seeing the player’s reactions and suggestions can’t be overstated.

Releasing games for free is a lot of fun!

Round and round

boardgame prototype, Carousel, Multiuniversum, Pizza-go-round, playtest


Just like the bikes go round and round, so does the game!

Changing the main goals in Pizza-go-round brought several issues to light, so additional tweaks were required. I was fortunate to get really good feedback and design suggestions from Vital Lacerda and now the game’s working well, so here are the changes:

First up, I replaced the standing order lineup for small piles of orders on the buildings themselves.  Instead of picking up orders to fulfill on your own, you prepare the ingredients and go to the building in order to deliver the pizza.

This increases player interaction and competition. When you see other players chop ingredients you can guess what orders they’ll be going for, and the race is on! When that order is delivered, that player keeps the order card for the final scoring and a new one is revealed. The game is over when four of the piles are empty.

That means the “Out of gas” card is out too. How could it stay, since the single pile of orders isn’t there anymore? The players weren’t big fans of the semi-random end of the game anyway, especially because they were penalized for any leftover ingredients they had. There was absolutely no downside to removing this from the game.

As you can see in the picture, the buildings have abilities now! Each one has a unique ability which is activated by the action cards. Using them is simple: play the “building” action to activate the building where you are. This creates a lot of possibilities both for the players and for the game, as building cards can have two different sides.

There’s also a “deliver” action you can use when you’ve prepared the right ingredients for the order, and a brand new one I’m experimenting with: “recycle”. Recycle allows the player to discard any number of cards from their hand in order to draw more from the deck. This allows the players to throw away cards that aren’t useful at the moment and to press their luck, while keeping the deck flowing.

Lastly, the direction of the bike doesn’t matter anymore. I thought the players would be confused now that the ramifications of their actions change, but actually it was the other way around. It flows better because it avoids the situation where a player wants to move but suddenly can’t because everything is pointing to the wrong direction, and removes the “fiddlyness” of having to turn the cards in a specific way – particularly noticeable when the bike cards are stacked in a single building.

How about a slice?


boardgame prototype, Carousel, Multiuniversum, Pizza-go-round, playtest


Come to think of it, Carousel‘s theme clashes with the game mechanics. The postman theme doesn’t really work when you’re taking things from the board and keeping them for yourself.

To fix this, I added recipients to the envelope cards. Instead of picking them up, now you had to deliver them at the right location to get those precious points. This worked very well. It brought a new set of objectives to the players, and the chance to interfere with the other players.

I was having a lot of fun, so I tackled on another issue that had become apparent during playtests. First-time players were intimidated by the amount of possible actions during a turn. To avoid that Analysis Paralysis, I decided to cut two actions from the cards.

I still haven’t found a reliable system to distribute the actions throughout the cards the way I want, so I was forced to do it manually. That’s a pretty radical change, because it requires brand new files for all the game.

Is that bad?

On the contrary, it’s a great opportunity to improve the theme! I often think about the mechanics first, and would like to try developing both at once. So…


I bring you “Pizza-go-round”!

Instead of a van you’re driving a pizza delivery bike. Orders replace the envelopes, and have varying ingredients and rewards. Action cards have six actions instead of eight, along with an ingredient. You can play actions to move between buildings and ingredients to complete your orders. The game ends as the “out of gas” card pops up from the orders deck.

The playtesters had a lot of fun! Although this is a branch, my favorite bits from Carousel are still here, along with a clearer set of goals and a more appealing theme.

Fortune Tellers

boardgame prototype, Fortune Tellers, playtest


My new game is called Fortune Tellers. It’s about predicting the future.

The idea started as a friend told me he wanted to make a game about Nostradamus. He is a great designer with several published games, but he didn’t know how to turn it into one – just found the theme appealing.

A lightbulb lit in my mind!

A while ago I sketched out a game where you combined words to make stories. While interesting as a concept, it’s too vague for a game. I needed something to narrow these stories to something relevant to the game, so this made perfect sense.

I thanked him, he said “I can take the Nostradamus idea”, but I said it’s still his. I don’t want to get stuck with a historic theme. All I needed was the bit where you predict stuff, because shady fortune tellers sound a lot more fun to me.

So that’s it: a game where you’ll predict what the other players will do during that game. You can get more verbs to predict new situations, and more assistants to do more things every turn. In short, two games at the same time!

I was invited to the latest Arcádia meeting two days beforehand. I didn’t want to wait a whole month to try it out, so I hurriedly made the first prototype. Some parts were improvised, I just wanted to check if it was fun to play – and it is!

The players liked it a lot. The “Aha!” moment when a prediction you made happens is a lot of fun, and something I haven’t felt in many games. Of course, it needs a lot of tweaks, like fixing the game’s economy, making matches shorter and even more types of possible predictions. I’m working on that.

Stay tuned! I predict it will be a lot of fun.

Carousel is done!

Arcádia, Carousel, Multiuniversum, playtest

The tips from the latest Arcádia meeting were spot-on. I took their suggestions, adapted them to the game and playtested them at home to save time. I made some changes to the icons and cards and added the coin tokens.

The Friday meeting was great. Every game got played. I thought there wouldn’t be time for mine because it was  getting so late but it got played at around 2am and everyone had a good time!

Wrote some notes down, tweaked some elements and now I feel like it’s done. I don’t see a single thing I want to change.

What’s next? Why, I’d like to publish it of course!

Carousel is evolving!

Arcádia, Carousel, Multiuniversum, playtest

First, it has colors now. Developing the icons in black and white helped to make them readable so players don’t just rely on the colors. After that was complete it was fairly quick to bring colors in. All the numbers are still there though, making it playable by the colorblind.

This experience taught me a lot about iconography and preparing editable files for inevitable changes in the future.

Second, Advance Mode has become standard because it’s much more rewarding. Players feel like they have a certain degree of control over the game’s more random parts.

Third, the new players at the latest Arcádia meeting said they wanted some more meaningful choices during the course of the game. They felt like their whole turn was useless if they didn’t score any new points. They also suggested adding coins to the game, which would be easy to get but aren’t worth that many points. Still, it is another way to increase your score if you don’t can’t deposit cards this turn.

I got some tokens, tried the game with these changes against myself. The game was so balanced that every test game ended up a tie. I started taking more thorough notes while playtesting to see which actions are the most useful.

Ended up with a new victory condition that makes the game much easier to learn, more tactical and, hopefully, fun! I’ll keep testing and bring back results.