D. Talks On Games

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Coup Reformation Variant

Posted by dimitri.horaites on April 29, 2017 at 3:20 AM Comments comments (0)

I strongly believe that the right way to play Coup is with the reformation expansion. The Reformist/Loyalist mechanic adds so much to the game that it's hard to go back to normal coup. With that in mind here is a variant.


This variant must be played with the Reformation expansion. Remove Assassins, Captains and Contessas and replace them with Agents, Provacateurs and Barons.  This variant can be played with either Inquisitors or Ambassadors. 

Agent; Steal 1 or spend 4 to assasinate. Reaction: Siphon: When a player taxes force them to put 1 of the 3 ISk into the treasury. Siphon only happens once per tax.

Provacateur: Change someones side for free. This can be used for yourself or any player regardless of their side. If all players have the same side you can use your action to reveal two provacateurs and win.

Baron: Spend 1 to block assasination. Spend 1 to block someone changing your side.


  • Agents are slightly more reliable than Captains but slightly weaker against Dukes. Because Agents don't block theft their power is more likely to go through and Ambassadors power is improved.
  • Because of the Siphon reaction Agents should still mostly win 1 v 1 versus a duke. Agents will have to decide if they want to siphon if they think it will improve an embezzle action for the next player. Siphon also replaces the money lost due to the free conversion action of Provacateur.
  • Agent takes the space of both Assasin and Captain making room for Provateur.
  • Baron costing to block assassination is important because assasination costs more too.

Bonus variant: 


Replaces Duke. Probably shouldn't be played with the above variant, but sure try it if you like.

Tax: Gain 3 income. 

If a player asks for foreign aid they can Impose Tariff. This forces them to put 1 of the 2 coins into the Treasury Reserve instead. If caught embezzling with 1 satrap lose the game. If caught embezzling with 2 satraps reveal both and draw new cards the other player takes a hit. 

Have fun!

Fixing the Card Game War

Posted by dimitri.horaites on March 15, 2014 at 4:15 PM Comments comments (0)

So on the spectrum of games that "aren't for me" the card game war has to be near the top. It falls into the category of 100% luck, 0% Skill. On top of that it takes a while to find out who wins. Talk about pointless.

Lets fix it.

Step 1: Deal out a deck of cards to two players in two equal parts. That part is fine.

Step 2: Each player reveals the top card of their pile simultaneously. Determine who is winning. Cards are valued in order from 2 to King. Aces are higher than every face card and lower than every number card. Ties go to a duel (See step 4)

Step 3: The person who is losing now has a choice. They can Challenge or Run.

a) Challenge: The player that is losing may pull the next card from the top of their pile of cards. If that card is still not higher than the opponents card then all the cards revealed go to the bottom of the winners deck. However, if the revealed card is higher than the other player is now faced with the choice to Challenge or Run.

b) Run: If the player does not wish to challenge they run. The most recent card they revealed is placed on the bottom of their own deck. They then reveal the next card in their pile and give all cards revealed so far to their opponent. The opponent puts all such cards at the bottom of their deck.

Step 4: In the case of a tie the players immediately go to a duel.  Each player draws and looks at the top five cards of their deck into their hand without revealing them to their opponent. (If they have less than 5 cards left they draw as many as they can).Then each player chooses one of the cards to place face down in front of them. Once both players have chosen a card they are revealed simultaneously. Then the losing player has the option to Challenge or cede.

a) Challenge: The player must now play a higher card, The other player may now challenge or cede.

b) Cede: instead of a challenging the player may cede. All cards revealed so far go to the other player. Both players put the cards in their hand back on top of their pile in whatever order they want.

Step 5: Calling Rout:  At any time a player can call rout. If so the game is over. The other player reveals all of their cards. If they don't have all 4 suits represented they lose. If they do then the player who called rout loses. 


And there you go! So why is this better? I tried to base the game on mostly simple binary decisions. The decision in normal play is always do I think the next card on my pile  is better or worse than the card I just revealed. If it is worse than I should run and give up the worse card. If its better then I may want to challenge.  I like tactical decisions.

The Ace mechanic is designed to make it so that even though the game has a slippery slope they can still come back from almost any position with good luck. In traditional war the game is actually done the moment that a player has all 4 aces. They cant lose but the game might continue for hours.

The win mechanic is designed to add subtlety to certain decisions and to create the possibility for broader strategies. Also, it increases the tension at the part of the game where your opponent is down to a small number of cards. You actually have to spend the most attention at this point to finish the game before one or two good cards in your opponents pile helps them turn the game around. 

Other interesting considerations:


  • If you end up with all the face cards in a particular suit you are set up to target your opponent in that suit.
  • If you are pretty sure that a player is down to their last couple diamonds you might challenge a 10 of diamonds for the chance to collect what you think is their last high diamond.
  • Also, a player who is paying very careful attention might be able to declare rout in a situation where their opponent has the game almost locked. Fun!


Try this and tell me how you like it!

Using Chess Pieces to Make a War Game

Posted by dimitri.horaites on September 14, 2013 at 7:30 PM Comments comments (0)

When designing War is not Chess I wanted to have some things that I like in a game

  •  Asymetrical Sides: Its fun to have different abilities than the other guy. The quickest way to achieve this was by giving each side a unique commander with its own rules and abilities. Usually the commander is an enhanced version of the three main unit types. This gives each side a different amount of each kind of unit, which strongly flavors their side.
  •  An element of chance: I like it when you make an attack where the probability is good,  but has a chance of blowing up in your face. That's why you roll off against the opposing piece to see which one dies. 
  • Meaningful Skill: That's why each piece has a bunch of bonuses, penalties and different possible actions. It makes it possible to use a piece well or take insane risks that (probably) won't pay off.
  • Free Components: I like making games that use pieces from games you already have.  Everyone has a chess board and some 6 sided dice. I learned that one from Cheapass Games. It saves me money and you too.
  • Flavor:  I like a bit of make believe in my games.  War is not chess has a lightly fantasy flavor that helps evoke a little fun. 
  • Forced Pace:  I included the Momentum Token to force players to attack. Defense is only fun if the other play has to try to crack it. Who want's a game where you carefully maneuver pieces for dozens of turns in between attacks? 
  • Rock-Paper-Scissors: Each of the three main unit types is intended to have some advantages against the other types. Slow Archer's have can hit Men-at-arms 1 turn before they can respond, Horsemen can dive inside the Archers Range, Men-at-Arms can surround and overwhelm Horsemen and have the best defense against a charge.
Please try it out and give me your comments. This game could definitely use some more testing and I'm curious if people find it fun. 



Finding the Right Balance of Chance and Skill. (Or What's wrong with Chess?)

Posted by dimitri.horaites on September 14, 2013 at 3:35 PM Comments comments (0)

There are three broad categories of games. Discussing them will help explain why I like the games that I do and what I am thinking about when designing them.

1) Games that are all chance and little to no skill: 

Better Players don't beat weaker players. Planning even the current turn isn't meaningful beyond obvious choices. 

 a) Games with zero skill

All the fun in these games comes from playing pretend and I don't necessarily mean that in a bad way. I love playing pretend. My siblings and I had an amazing hour of playing Snails Pace Race just by overdramatically investing in a game we had no control over. Good times.


When there isn't an element of pretend I don't like this kind of game.

  •  CandyLand: Draw a card and do what it says.
  •  Chutes and Ladders: Roll a dice and do what it says on the space you land on.
  •  The Lottery: the only choice is whether you play. The fun comes from fantaszing about winning.
  • Snails Pace Race: Does anyone else know this game? You roll the dice and move the snail whose color comes up.

b) Games with the illusion of skill.

The fun in these games is from learning the tiny amount of skill there is. Usually these games come down to convincing yourself that what you are doing matters. Some games like this are more puzzles than games. The person who has solved the puzzle will beat the person who hasn't.
  • Life: There are few choices almost all have an obvious right and wrong answer. (Go to College? Yes Please!)


  • Quidditch: Sorry. Everyone knows that the only thing that ever matters is the Golden Snitch. That game is broken. 
  • Craps: There are good bets and bad bets. If you know the good bets, then you are done with thinking.
  • Battle Ship: There's just not a lot there to build any skills around. There is a right way to play and once you know it, stop playing Battleship.
  • Any game where going first is overwhelmingly important. 
  • Any game where if you know the trick, the other person can't win. (For example: The Game of Nim).

2) Games with some balance of both luck and skill.

There is a range here of course. Still good luck can help a weak player beat a stronger player and bad luck can ruin the plans of a strong one. Thinking is rewarded, but thinking in too much detail more than a turn ahead won't be worth it. This takes off some of the mental pressure and exhaustion I get from 100% skill games. Strong players are manipulating the probabilites rather than making perfect plays.  For me there is excitement in seeing good decisions pay off or a bad roll lead to a sudden reversal. The risks involved keep me more invested. This is where most of my favorite games reside.

a) Assymetrical and Unbalanced:

Doesn't mean not fun. (A lot of my favorite games are unbalanced). Asymetrical games are much more likely to have a strong flavor. Works better with multiplayer games where weak sides can gang up on strong ones. 
  • Twilight Imperium: Starting race, board position and secret goals can all ruin your game before the first turn. I still love it but I can understand peoples frustration.
  •  Small World: Some combinations are just better than others. If you have first pick, then you are in  better shape.
  • Game of Thrones: Better after the expansion/2nd edition, but some positions just have to try harder. Lower chance than most, but the events are pretty big.  I mostly like how this game fixes the classic game Diplomacy. It removes annoying things like writing down your orders, instantly resolves all ties and does have a turn limit.  Awesome!

b) Asymmetrical and Well Balanced (if not perfectly)

Many people consider this the sweet spot for good American Style games. Whether an asymetrical game can even be well balanced is a hotly debated topic. 

  • Ankh-Morpork: Everyone has the same starting position and uses the same deck of cards. The only asymetrical part is the secret goals and I think they are well balanced (yes, even Commander Vimes).
  • The Star Craft Board Game is pretty well balanced just like the Video Game.
  • The current edition of Axis and Allies is much better balanced than the first edition. (Where the Axis had an uphill battle even if they were very skilled or very lucky.)
  • One style of cooperative games like Forbidden Island and Ghost Story give everyone an important part to play. (Pandemic is a bit less balanced). 

c) Symmetrical and Balanced:

Symetrical games are much easier to make balanced because everyone gets the same stuff to play with.  This is probably the largest category of games out there. If a game places a huge advantage on going first then it is not symmetrical or balanced.

  • Dominion: Nearly perfect Example and a huge hit. Everyone has the exact same starting position. The hand you get is what you  bought for yourself earlier.
  • Many Euro games: Settlers of Cataan, Ticket to ride, Carcassone, 
  • Some American games do fall under this category as well (including some major stinkers): Monopoly, Most versions of Risk (except Risk: Legacy where its the whole point to quickly unbalance the game and mark up the game), Scrabble
  • Most games played with a deck of normal cards.
  • Tsuro: One of my favorite low skill games. Very calming and contemplative. Each player may actually have one or two meaningful choices during the game,  but often you just play the only tile you are even allowed to. 


3) Games with little to no chance and 100% skill.

You earn every win. Thinking and Over Thinking are heavily rewarded. Unless there is a time limit competitive players should plan as much as they are mentally capable of ahead of each move. I find most of these games a bit tiring and slow. 

a) Symetrical

To be clear, I don't hate these games. I'm not even necessarily bad at them. I like a game of probabilities and reversals of fortune partly just because it makes it easier to relax

  • Chess: The king of overthinking games. 
  • Go: The emperor of overthinking. Ironically I find this one a bit more fun.
  • Shogi: Like chess with a stronger emphasis on defense and shorter movement ranges. Make of that what you will.
  • Puerto Rico: Almost zero randomness. Lots of unique building leads to a lot of analysis.
  • Checkers: 
  • Chinese Checkers: 
  • Power Grid


b) Asymetrical


  • Diplomacy: The ultimate game of losing friends. The starting positions are far from equal.  Long, Complicated and rewards over thinking and back stabbing allies at their most vulnerable moment.  Technically does not ever have to end if players are careful enough about  beating up the person in the lead. 
  • Thud: Terry Pratchett theme is funny, but ultimately a complicated redesign of Checkers.

To sum it up: 

For me the sweet spot is a game with a good balance of luck and skill.
  • Too much luck is bad. The game has to reward skill and thinking. If skill isn't involved then I'm not really playing a game.
  • Too little luck bores me. Overthinking and slow play just don't grab me the way playing the probabities does.
  • Games don't have to be perfectly balanced but its nice if you can manage it. If a game is too unbalanced it quickly gets frustrating.
  • Unbalanced games are more acceptable to me when the are multi-player. (Gang up on the one whose winning!)
  • I like an element of make believe. Flavorful games will always beat abstract games for me.
  • Asymetrical games are more likely to have an interesting flavor and interesting match ups. Asymetrical games are more likely to be unbalanced too. (and that's okay)

All of this leads to the changes I made to Create "War is Not Chess".  I'll write about that next.


Ruining Cooperative Games with Treachery

Posted by dimitri.horaites on September 14, 2013 at 2:30 PM Comments comments (0)

So I was playing a very nice cooperative game the other day called Forbidden Island. In this game you play explorers trying to collect 4 ancient treasures from an island that starts to sink below the waves the moment you step foot on it. It has beautiful components, nicely scaling difficulty and is appropriate for kids, classrooms and your whole family. This game is one of the best cooperative games out there right now and its not surprisingly created by the same guy who created the smash hit board game "Pandemic".

There's a lot of reasons to love cooperative games.They are perfect when you are playing with the type of player who gets way too competitive or always gets their feelings hurt. They are great for when you just want to all work together on a puzzle and share a high five as a team. Is your family still holding grudges from the last time you played Risk or Monopoly? Try a cooperative game.

Cooperative is nice...

Cooperative can be challenging...

With a little modification a cooperative game can become downright evil.

Here's how to ruin one of the nicest, prettiest, most family friendly games out there by adding treachery and deceit. For the right kind of person, (wrong kind?) this should be a lot of fun.

Playing "Betrayal on Forbidden Island"

Step 1: Leave a man Behind? That's just more profit for me.

The most important change is to change the win condition. Currently you can only win if all players escape with all the treasures. Not a lot of room for treachery there. In fact, lets change the win condition so it forces treachery.

The New Win Condition: At least one player must not escape the island. If at the end of the game the players that have escaped the island have equal or more treasures than there are escaped players, the escaped players win. Anyone who doesn't manage to escape before one of the failure conditions loses. If there are a  higher number of escaped players than there are collected treasures? Everyone loses. 

If esaped players have all 4 treasures the game is immediately over and anyone left on the island is immediately lost. 

If a treasure type is not available this does not end the game.

The game does not end when a player dies.

If all players escape, everyone loses.

New Rules: Players can escape from Fools Landing at any time by using the Helicopter Lift card. All other players who want to leave who are also on that space may do so. Once the player is gone from the island they stop drawing cards and cannot come back to the island.

A player who collects a treasure holds onto it and the treasure is only scored if they escape. 

Note: So now some of the players must cooperate enough to get some treasures, while betraying each other enough to make sure that some of their "teammates" won't escape.  Also, the escaped players don't need all the treasures, just enough to make a profit. (3 treasures split 2 ways is better than 4 treasures split 6 ways.) Finally, if the players who were left behind manage to escape after you have left them to die? Everyone is going to lose. A spiteful mechanic that forces you to really kill em.

Step 2: Let me hold that for you. (Betrayal Mechanics)

Now its time to give the players some additional rules that allow betrayal. 

- Very Important: Players can't steal a treasure once another player has collected it. This helps prevent players camping at Fool's Landing waiting to snake the treasure that someone else collected. Instead it makes the people who actually get a treasure instantly allied versus the people who didn't



  • As an action: you can take a card from a player with whom you share a space without  their permission.
  • As an action: you can submerge a tile that is completely dry.(but not completely sink a wet tile).
  • When using the Helicopter lift card, you can move a player without their permission.


Also, some of the characters get additional powers. (For balance and fun purposes.)


  • Engineer can submerge two dry tiles as an action or shore up1 wet tile and submerge 1 dry one, once each as an action.
  • Communicator can accept cards at a distance with that players permission (allowing long range trading. This is the "nice guy".)
  • Navigator: can move another player 1 space without their permission. With their permission they can move them two as per normal. Navigator cannot move Explorer diagonally without their permission. 

And that's it! Now go betray your friends