Games on the Way

With Heir to the Throne out and Scream or Die on the way, Amber Palace Games is not resting on its laurels.  Instead, we’re moving full speed ahead on a variety of new offerings, locking ourselves in the basement with a boatload of mountain dew and our heads full of ideas that we just have to bring to the table.

First up is Heir to the Throne:  Rise of the Guilds!  This follow-up to Heir introduces all new ways for you to win the game and create crazy, sprawling families.  New Birth and Marriage cards focus on Guilds, granting you bonuses for being a careful matchmaker, while new action cards like Oedipus Complex let you attack rival families in ways that are you to make you smile.

Next is Dear Leader, a strategic dice game where you are a nuclear scientist trying to complete a nuclear test for your beloved country, while also trying your best to please your ‘eccentric’ Dear Leader.  Will you risk incurring Dear Leader’s displeasure to focus on your job, or will you strive to be the biggest sycophant and earn Dear Leader’s favor?

Last up is our untitled Basketball game.  Like sports?  Like 1v1 board games?  Like careful strategy?  Then you will love this game.  It’s 3v3 Basketball at its best.  You position your players on the court to take advantage of their different abilities, but watch out!  Overuse your players and fatigue will send them to the bench.  Be strong, be smart, and outmaneuver your rival to win the game.

More info will be posted, so stay tuned for the latest from Amber Palace!

Scream or Die Designer Notes

Scream or Die started with a simple idea:  A dice game where any player could score on anyone’s turn.  When we say dice game, we mean games like Zombie Dice or Yahtzee, games where players roll dice and score points.  Usually, with these games, one player rolls and everyone waits.  Our goal was to turn that paradigm on its head.  And so we did.

Originally, Scream or Die wasn’t called Scream or Die.  It was called Steamroller, and it was a steampunk-themed game radically different from what you see on Kickstarter.  Players had dice that benefited them and one other player equally, and built a slowly growing dice pool that would eventually reach 12-15 dice by the end of the game.  Like Scream or Die, players could spend resources to add or reroll dice, but the pace of the game was slow.  It took about 45 minutes.

While we were satisfied with Steamroller, it didn’t quite fit our aim.  We wanted a competitor to Zombie Dice and other light dice games, not a 45-minute $45 game. So we pared it down and turned it into Candy Dice.  Players took on the roles of the Gummi Thief, the Chocolate Priest, the Peppermint Mage and the Lollipop Warrior, and each had different abilities.  Candy Dice was, in this and many other ways, more complicated than Steamroller.

Yet, it also had a unique charm.  In Steamroller, you could ONLY score on someone else’s turn, while in Candy Dice, you could score on anyone’s turn.  Even with the complicated abilities, it was a shorter game than Steamroller that ratcheted up the fun factor.  Candy Dice never worked, however, because each player’s abilities were either too different to balance well or too similar to be interesting.  We knew we had to go back to the drawing board.

So we stripped down the game to its core components.  Scoring on anyone’s turn.  Rerolling and adding dice on anyone’s turn.  Asymmetric Dice that benefited some but not all players.  Resource management.  Collecting Resources only on your turn.

Instead of building a dice pool, we switched to randomly drawing dice out of a bag every turn.  We decided to change to 5 types of 3 dice each for a total of 15.  We removed abilities completely.  We simplified the actions to reroll or draw as many as you want at a cost of 1 per scream, but we kept in one major feature of both Steamroller and Candy Dice:  You only scored if you got at least two of your symbols on  a single roll.

The result was meh, but luckily, one of our playtesters, Anthony Puhl, came up with a suggestion that saved the game:  One symbol, one point.  We shrugged our shoulders, said why not, and had the time of our lives.  The game suddenly came alive.  It felt more fun than Steamroller or Candy Dice had ever been and we knew we needed to make the game.

So we searched for a theme.  Classic Monsters!  Movie monsters are fun, generic and easily recognizable.  Who doesn’t love a vampire or werewolf or an invisible man?   Our artist, Adam Krause, quickly made a few sketches we immediately fell in love with.  One of our developers, Dan, came up with the name, and we thought it fit.

We then began taking the game to small conventions around Michigan and got a few great suggestions that improved the game.  Brandon Beran, creator of Pocket Ops, suggested we end the game at 13 to go in line with the theme.  A play tester at Davecon convinced us that the Scream Die were boring, so we changed them to give either 1 or 3 screams instead of 1 or 2, making them a tempting target for rerolls.

And then, we kickstarted it.  During Origins.  This was a mistake.  We not only didn’t give ourselves enough time to launch, but we did so while preparing for the convention and while shipping out our first funded game, Heir to the Throne.  Yet, we’re glad we tried and failed, because out of that failure came some amazing suggestions which have made the game better than before.

First, we had no female monsters.  This was because of how we designed the game mechanics first.  We didn’t really think about the skin when we slapped on the monsters, but as soon as someone mentioned it, we realized it was a huge oversight.  It’s so important to include characters that everyone can easily relate to, especially for kids.  Thus, Mina, Cleo, Grace and Harriet were born.  Now, they’re our favorites.

Second, Kevin Nunn of Mayfair Games gave a great suggestion at Origins.  He envisioned a dice drafting variant where, instead of scoring all the screams on your turn, players take turns drafting resources after every roll.  This variant appeals more to the strategic gamer rather than people who just love to chuck dice, and it’s now a part of the game.

Third, we added a mega meeples and dice tower deluxe edition as a direct request from our backers.  While these don’t add to the game plan, they sure look cool!

Lastly, we added a 5-8 player team mode.  People commented that light games should be able to involve everyone at your game night, and we agree.  So, we made a team mode, and it’s been well received.  The most meaningful praise we got was from Jonathan Gilmour, creator of Dead of Winter. He tried out Scream or Die at Grandcon 2017 and liked the team mode so much he suggested that it only be a team game.  And he’s right, with the added element of scream sharing, team mode is really fun and ups the strategy!

So, that’s how Scream or Die came together.  We want to thank the community so much.  Our play testers, our friends and other designers who tried our game contributed so meaningfully to the development of Scream or Die.

Kickstarter Link

The Service of Terms


You know, that thing, what’s it called?

Jargon is prevalent in every aspect of our lives. From learning the basic terminology in school (noun, verb, addition, subtraction) to terms that differ radically depending on context; ‘I have a theory on that,’ verses ‘the Theory of Gravity.’ Learning how to interpret jargon and understand what is being said is vital for eliminating confusion in communication. This is extremely important in game design for creating a functional and useful user experience.

I can’t speak for other designers, but one of our reoccurring problems here is using terms that are both evocative for allowing players to immediately understand what they are referencing, while being useful and easy to remember. In an industry that uses so many similar mechanics and physical components, defining exactly what you mean is important.

Look at Dominion. In 2008 Rio Grande Games unleashed an entirely new genre of tabletop game to the world with the deck builder Dominion. It took things that were familiar, cards, drawing, discarding, shuffling, then mixed them all together in a brand-new way. Imagine you have a game of Dominion set-up in front of you and are sitting across from a player who has never played or seen it before, then you tell that player ‘Draw a card.’ Well, that player is going to have some confusion.

Vanilla Dominion has 10 randomized Kingdom Card piles, 3 Currency Card piles, 3 Victory Card piles, a Trash pile and a Curse pile. Add to that two additional piles for each player (draw and discard) and you are a looking at 18 (+ 2 per player) piles that a card can be drawn from. Luckily, Rio Grande has pretty good instructions and clear labeling methods. But, that doesn’t spring out of thin air.

People comment on the thin theme of Dominion, but it has a use for separating out what cards go where and what their functions are (Kingdom, Currency, Victory, etc.) This labeling and terminology allows players to compartmentalize what they need to focus on at given times, “When I draw a card it is from my Draw pile, when I Trash a card it goes into the Trash pile, not the Discard pile. Discard and Trash are two separate functions.” These allow for players to quickly pick up on concepts and move into the meat of the game.

In our game, Heir to the Throne, we had a few discussions figuring out what to call the Court Drama deck because it has so many different types of cards within it. Not only that, but Attack and Restoration cards had their own rules and needed to be worked and reworked so that it felt natural to players that they would use the proper terms for clarity and communication. Oftentimes, on game design Facebook groups people will ask for advice on what terms to use. This is very common and you should never assume what makes sense to you will make sense to the players.

Now, unfortunately, at the end of the day a lot of players will replace your clever terms with more generic terms. I tell people not to get too attached to their cool terms because players will call it a Draw pile and a Discard pile instead of ‘Gathering Power’ and ‘Spent Energy.’ However, let the players replace your cool terms, don’t get lazy; it can and will make your life harder. I’ve played many games where the game terms are so generic that it leads to confusion because the way they use ‘Ignore’ and ‘Counter’ run contrary to common usage. That leads to lots of rule questions and errata after printing. But, that’s a discussion for play testing and listening to your testers.

The moral of this story is make sure your terms are clear and consistent.

By Dan Blakney

Patriot Games on the 4th of July!

Every year on the 4th of July, we host Patriot Games, a local event where we invite our friends and family to play the latest and best in board gaming.  This year’s Patriot Games featured a whole host of old favorites, new party games and Origin award winners, but they are three in particular I’d like to discuss.

Mystic Vale is an incredibly innovative deck builder by Alterac Entertainment Group (AEG).  I normally don’t like deck builders, but in this game, instead of building a deck by buying more powerful cards and trashing weaker ones, you’re buying transparencies that slide into your card and buff it!  The sheer amount of customization makes this game incredibly fun, and it even includes a push your luck element that made it truly deserving of the Origins award it won this year for best card game.

Bears by Fireside Games is a game that I purchased last year but sadly sat on my shelf until this year’s patriot games.  It’s made by Anne-Marie De Witt, the same designer as Here, Kitty, Kitty!, so I really wanted to give it a shot this year and it did not disappoint. Basically, you roll dice as fast as possible and try to make sets with shotguns, bears, sleeping bags and tents, but you have to keep in mind what is running out. If only bears are left, staying in those sleeping tents is dangerous and costs you points!  The speed aspect and constant dice rolling made, coupled with shouting, “Bears!” made this fave filler of Patriot Games.

Lastly, Mangaka.  I was nervous about introducing Mangaka, because not many people at the party were anime fans and no one could draw really well, but this game ended up stealing the show.  In it, everyone draws comics under a time limit, trying to incorporate ever changing trends while keeping true to your story.  My story had to involve zombies, dolls and crime scenes, and, thanks to trends, slowly morphed from a generic attack of the zombie dolls comic to a love story between a cop and a zombie doll, torn between his love for the cop and his love for flesh.  And mine wasn’t even the strangest story. Everyone laughed, everyone had a good time, everyone loved this game.

Like every year, this year’s Patriot Games was a blast.  I highly encourage everyone reading this blog to host their own board game parties, and introduce their friends to the hobby.  We’ll post more blog posts about how to match games to audiences and keep your gaming group going.

Amber Palace Games: On Kickstarter Part 2

Dan Blakney with Anthony Tejada

Last week I explained my perspective on how Amber Palace Games began and showed my version of history. With Scream or Die being our newest Kickstarter, and with Anthony being the lead designer, I thought it appropriate to see if him and I had the same memories. So I sat down with Anthony and got his opinion on, why Kickstarter? Here is his recollection of that time.

Reading over Dan’s post a few days ago I had a good laugh about how different two people’s perception of the same events can be. I did not share his early enthusiasm for producing the games, my love is designing them.

When we started out, one of the hardest things to figure out was how can we afford to do this? I looked into and held discussions on all the traditional routes. Initially striking out hard with business loans and looking for capital. But I had just Kickstarted the Veronica Mars movie and it was a completely different way to raise money.

People who would use the product giving the money needed to make it happen. So, I started looking at how to get on Kickstarter and what we would need to do. I looked at Jamie Stegmaier and James Mathe’s stuff and was hooked.

It was a low-risk option for us. If we had a reasonable goal and didn’t meet it, we wouldn’t be out a lot of money or time. But the risk was there that if we had a hit and didn’t manage it well, we wouldn’t be able to make things work.

The next stop was the Trade Show. In Vegas the rest of the guys caught up to where I had been with seeing the risks and opportunities. After figuring out all of the things we needed to learn about, having it presented so starkly by so many established people, I thought we were jumping into the deep end. My opening excitement was being quickly overwhelmed by all the things we didn’t know. During one of our lunches I was getting ready to mention that very thing and Dan and Adam were excited by the prospect of doing our own thing and thinking anything was possible. I was hesitant, we needed more information.

We went to Origins that year and saw how hard it was to get an in with any of the developers and how much effort it took to even get one idea to the table much less all the other ideas we were working on. That strengthened our resolve to have the best game possible. We spent some time in the publisher’s room trying get attention. We met up with Dann Kriss Games and had the room pretty much to ourselves. We had a few people interested, but nothing sustained. It was rather disappointing.

At the same time Kickstarter was taking off and board games and miniature games were exploding with new ideas and new publishers constantly. One of the advantages of being an indie company going through Kickstarter is the necessity to become involved in the community to learn everything you need to know on every aspect of the game world. It lets you learn a little bit about everything. Design leads to development and playtesting which leads into talking to manufacturing and what needs to be trimmed to fit in the game budget and where money is spent efficiently and ending with fulfillment and distribution.

Without being part of an established company, we needed to learn all of those skills on the fly. and without the board game community that would not have been possible. Now managing fulfillment of our first Kickstarter, Heir to the Throne, and getting ready to start the whole thing over again with Scream or Die, we have a much better idea of what we are doing, but we are still learning new things.

In the end, despite all my misgivings back in Vegas, Kickstarter has been a wonderful decision and we are happy being part of this vibrant group of people.

Why we made Scream or Die

Way back in 2014, we had a simple idea.

We wanted to make a dice game where you could score on every turn.

Most dice games have a lot of waiting around. You roll some dice, and maybe, you roll some more dice, again and again, until you pass the cup to the player on your right. By then, the player on your right might be paying attention, but he’s more than likely staring down at his phone. In the age of the smartphone, dice games needed a paradigm shift.

So we created a game where everyone could score on anyone’s turn , but we realized that wasn’t enough. Your attention would still wander. Scoring without an element of control doesn’t feel rewarding. You not only need a game where you could score on anyone’s turn, you need a game where you’re engaged on every roll.

So we invented Screams.

Screams let you add more dice and reroll dice on anyone’s roll. This way, you’re heavily invested in what’s going on. What dice were drawn? Do they benefit me? Should I use my screams now to force rerolls? Or should I horde them? Screams keep you engaged. Screams are what make Scream or Die. Screams give that paradigm shift.

But a paradigm shift alone doesn’t make a game. Games need pizzazz. Games need flair. Games need a theme so strong that you remember it after seeing it only once.

So we brought in Vlad, Seth, Griff and Harry.

This gang of four makes Scream or Die. Take a good look, they clearly have personality. Harry is the bad boy. Griff is too cool for school. Vlad knows how to leave an impression, and Seth wants your soul. You can see it his eyes. With these four, we found a theme we could love.

So that’s why we made Scream or Die. We hope you that you enjoy playing it as much as we did making it. Huzzah!

Amber Palace Games: On Kickstarter Part 1- Dan Blakney

Being just under one week out from launching our second Kickstarter it is easy to ask the question, why Kickstarter?

When we first began designing games we wanted to find the best way to put our ideas into other people’s hands. That originally meant taking our ideas and going to established developer teams and publishing companies. Unfortunately, our first concepts were not as well thought out as we originally thought. Touring the convention circuit and hearing many versions of ‘You have a good idea, but you aren’t quite there’ it was easy to get discouraged in the early years.

In 2014 Adam, Anthony and myself went down to the GAMA Trade Show in Las Vegas and decided to see what exactly we didn’t know about the industry to help us sell our games. Turns out, we didn’t know much of anything. It was an amazing trip filled with meeting tons of great people including retailers, manufacturers, and industry giants. Everyone was encouraging and willing to look at our designs, but no one wanted to confirm they would pick up any of our games.

Trying to gather as much information as possible, all of us went to as many different seminars as we could in all of the tracks from Retail Problems to Domestic Manufacturing and Fulfillment. Every night we compared notes and saw a common thread woven in the collective experience, with a lot of luck, we could try to do this ourselves. The last day of the Trade Show had presentations about Kickstarter and crowdfunding, and we saw an in.

Upon returning home we took to the internet to see if this was possible or just a Vegas induced dream. I franticly returned emails and reached out to people we had met at the show and Anthony found Jamie Stegmaier’s blog with around 150 articles on Kickstarter. Hearing more encouragement, this time from manufacturers and other independent companies, and investigating what Kickstarter was all about, we knew it was possible.

Here we are, three years later and starting our second campaign next week. No matter how much research we did in those first couple years nothing prepared us for the exhilaration and exhaustion of running our own game company. Many mistakes have been made and we have adopted an unofficial company motto of ‘Learning is happening.’ However, as long as we keep learning, the future looks very bright.