Last day for Otters! And how to run a humble Kickstarter campaign.

Today is the final day for my Otters Kickstarter campaign, so if you haven’t checked it out yet, please go do so! The project is almost 500% funded, which is wonderful and humbling.

Speaking of humbling, I also wrote a blog post on my board game site, Clay Crucible Games, about my experience in running what I’m calling a “humble” Kickstarter campaign. While it’s mainly written from the point of view of a board or card game publisher, it could be relevant for RPG folks as well.

Thanks all!

Michael Iachini

@ClayCrucible on Twitter

Moving my board game blogging to Clay Crucible Games

Hi all! This is a bit of a meta post, about my blog itself.

I started Online Dungeon Master back in 2010, when I was fairly new to Dungeons & Dragons and was starting to run D&D games online. I didn’t find a ton of blogs to teach me specifically about how to do this, so I decided I would start my own blog, sharing what I learned as I went.

Online DM now has a ton of tips for playing RPGs online, lots of specifics about MapTool in particular, bunches of free maps, and even some free adventures. Just yesterday I received an email from someone who had discovered my Staff of Suha adventure trilogy and was loving it; that made my day!

In mid 2012, though, my gaming life took a left turn. I came up with the idea for what would become my first game design, Chaos & Alchemy. I started blogging about the development and publication process of that game, which has since been picked up by Game Salute and very successfully Kickstarted. Game Salute will be getting out to backers sometime in the next few months, and I’m excited about that.

The problem, though, is that my blog is called Online Dungeon Master, but I don’t actually play much D&D (or any RPG) anymore, and none at all online. When I blog, it’s about board gaming.

So, I’ve decided that it’s time for me to move my board game blogging over to my board game web site, Clay Crucible Games.

I’m not going to remove any of the content from Online Dungeon Master, but I do hope to mirror all of the board game content eventually over on the Clay Crucible site. And future blog posts about board games will originate there.

For a little while, I’ll still post a notice here on OnlineDM whenever I put up a new post on Clay Crucible, but eventually I’m hoping that my readers who are interested in board games will just drift over to the new site. And on that rare occasion that I do have something to say about RPGs, I’ll write it right here, just like I always have.

So, on that note, I put up a new board game post on Clay Crucible today, providing an update on my NaGaDeMon project, Otters. It’s ready to go on Kickstarter, and I plan to launch the campaign in late January or early February. I hope you’ll check it out!

Michael Iachini – the OnlineDM

@ClayCrucible on Twitter

NaGaDeMon 2013 Part 3 – Otters – hiring a graphic designer

Recap: I’m participating in National Game Design Month (NaGaDeMon) again this year, making a kid-friendly card game called Otters. Previous posts:

Graphic design

Now that I have the mechanics of the game and the art for the cards, I need good graphic design to bring it all together. Specifically, I need:

  • Card layout
  • A game logo
  • Card back illustration (incorporating the logo)
  • Rules layout (probably on a card)
  • Maybe a box design (depending on how I make this game available for purchase)

For Chaos & Alchemy, I worked with a friend who is also a professional graphic designer, Bree Heiss. You can see my post about her awesome graphic design work on the game here.

Fortunately for her, Bree now works for Wizards of the Coast, doing awesome graphic design work on their games. That’s a bit unfortunate for me, though, since it means I need a new graphic designer.

Making my choice

I put out a call on Twitter, asking if anyone had any recommendations for graphic designers. Several recommendations came in, and I followed up with three different designers.

Ultimately, I decided to hire Dane Ault. You should definitely check out some of his earlier work over on his portfolio page.

By Dane Ault

By Dane Ault

Dane has done a lot of work for kids, and I love his aesthetic. I almost regret that I’m using photos instead of illustrations on Otters, since Dane’s illustration work rocks. But, since I want to get this game out before the end of the month, the photos are much faster to work with.

Want to play Otters?

While the graphic design isn’t finished yet, Otters is completely playable right now with my own (kinda crappy) graphic design. If you’re interested in trying it out, you can download a PDF with the cards (and my experimental “rules on one card”) right here! If you’d like some more detailed rules (which would probably help), you can download the rules here. I’d certainly love any feedback that you might have, especially if you try Otters with kids.

Photos by Paul Stevenson, Steven Zolneczko and Tambako The Jaguar

Photos by Paul Stevenson, Steven Zolneczko and Tambako The Jaguar

I’m aiming for a game that’s interesting for adults to play (with some strategic choices), but accessible for kids, probably ages 6 and up or so. Try it out, and if you have some feedback (good or bad), drop me a line at


Michael Iachini – Clay Crucible Games

@ClayCrucible on Twitter

NaGaDeMon 2013 Part 2 – Otters – Creative Commons photos

In the spirit of completely making a game for NaGaDeMon 2013, I’ve decided to dive all the way in with Otters. You can read part 1, about the idea behind the game, here. As a recap, Otters is a simple, kid-friendly card game that’s mechanically inspired by Smash Up (but greatly simplified).

My initial play tests have left me pretty darn satisfied with Otters the way it is right now. So what’s next? Let’s publish!

To be clear, this is a little nutty, yes. Generally a game needs tons and tons of playtesting. But this one is very simple, and it just does what I want it to do as-is.

Now, if I’m going to get a published, purchasable game done by the end of November, I’m not going to have time to commission a bunch of illustrations for the cards. That’s okay, though, since part of the inspiration for Otters was how much I love looking at photos of otters online.

Of course, if I’m going to be able to use photos, I’ll have to license them. This is new to me.

Picking a photographer… unsuccessfully

I started by going to DeviantArt (an awesome web site when you’re looking for artists) and finding a photographer with otter photos that I liked. I sent a message via DeviantArt’s system and later followed the photographer on Facebook and sent another message… but no response.

Stock photos? No.

Since I’m trying to move quickly on this game, I had to try something else. Some other designers had suggested I consider stock photos, such as from iStockPhoto or Shutterstock. Unfortunately, Shutterstock does not allow their images to be used on merchandise, including game cards, and iStockPhoto only allows such use if you buy an Extended License, which appears to cost about $200 more per image.

Yeah, that’s not going to work.

Creative Commons – woo hoo!

Finally, I realized that the power of the open source movement could help me here – Creative Commons!

I’m no intellectual property attorney, but the basic idea behind the Creative Commons licenses (there are different versions out there) is that you can put a creative work in the world and allow people to use it for various things. In some cases, people will even let you use their Creative Commons licensed stuff (like photos, but also music and more) in commercial products. Frequently, there’s a requirement that you provide the creator with credit for their work.

And as it turns out, there are tons of awesome Creative Commons licensed otter photos out there! Many of them can be found on Flickr, but I did most of my searching using the Google Image Search tool; the Advanced Search options let you specify that you only want to find images that are available to do various things with (such as use and modify, even commercially).

Cute otters!

Fortunately, I don’t need a ridiculously large number of different otter pictures for my Otters game. There are cards with the number 1, 2 and 3 – so, three different otter pictures there.

Otter 1 by Paul Stevenson

Otter 1 by Paul Stevenson

Otter 2 by Steven Zolneczko

Otter 2 by Steven Zolneczko

Otter 3 by Tambako The Jaguar

Otter 3 by Tambako The Jaguar

There are special cards that let you play an extra card, play the top card of the deck or move a card from one spot to another.

Extra card otter by Peter G Trimming

Extra card otter by Peter G Trimming

Top card otter by Tambako the Jaguar

Top card otter by Tambako the Jaguar

Move an otter by Jay Gooby

Move an otter by Jay Gooby

There’s also an alligator card.

Alligator by John Magnus

And finally, there are otter playgrounds, so I needed beautiful lakes.

Lake in Canada by eleephotography

Lake in Canada by eleephotography

Peyto Lake by Jane Belinda Smith

Peyto Lake by Jane Belinda Smith

Lake Quinault by Tom Harpel

Lake Quinault by Tom Harpel

Next step: Graphic design

Now that I have the art for the cards completed, I need some graphic design help. Specifically, I need someone to:

  • Lay out the cards with the appropriate numbers and text
  • Design a logo for the game to put on the backs of the cards (along with anything we need for the background of the card back)
  • Lay out the rules (probably on a card, front and back, in order to use DriveThruCards for publication

I’m working on picking the graphic designer now. If all goes well, I’ll have final, laid-out files soon!

Michael Iachini – Clay Crucible Games

@ClayCrucible on Twitter

NaGaDeMon 2013 – Otters: Part 1

Last year I participated in National Game Design Month, better known as NaGaDeMon. In case you haven’t heard of it before, NaGaDeMon is inspired by NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. Instead of trying to write a 50,000 word novel in November, I’m trying to design a game.

My effort last year was called Gods & Champions. It was the second game I tried designing (after Chaos & Alchemy), and while I ended up with some fun stuff, I ultimately realized that the core mechanic I wanted to explore just wasn’t that fun. I could have a fun game, but it would involve going in a totally different direction, so I decided to move on to other games instead.

Example Blessings 01

This year, I’ve decided to work on a game entirely inspired by theme:


Otter photo by Dmitry Azovtsev -

Otter photo by Dmitry Azovtsev –

Let’s face it: Otters (especially river otters) are freaking adorable. As a kid, I loved the Christmas special called Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas. It featured adorable otter Muppets that sang and played musical instruments. Later in life, I visited an aquarium and was captivated by the cute river otters.

So, for a few months now I’ve known I wanted to design a game themed around otters. I wanted it to be kid-friendly, and I wanted it to have adorable otter art.

What would be the mechanics of this otter game? I had no idea.

I started by researching otters and what they do. And while they’re adorable creatures, nothing about their lives really inspired any game mechanics in my mind. I let things just simmer.

Scavenging mechanics from other games

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I found myself playing a game that I really want to like but that I actually don’t enjoy much: Smash Up. The theme of Smash Up (pick two cool faction mini-decks, like ninjas and wizards, and shuffle them together) sounds like a lot of fun. The art is awesome. And yet the game has been a drag both times I’ve played it.

Smash Up by AEG

Smash Up by AEG

Smash Up seems like it wants to be a simple, quick, wacky game, but most of the factions have some fiddly mechanics that can lead to analysis paralysis. It’s also quite fiddly to keep track of everything on the board; with all of the abilities from the base cards plus the ongoing abilities from the creatures and actions that have been played to those bases, it can be really hard to even know what the total value of cards at a base currently is. The game ends up taking way too long for the amount of fun it contains, in my opinion.

Otters – The basic idea

So, my idea for the otter-themed game: Take the basic idea of Smash Up (playing cards from your hand to shared “bases” on the table in an effort to bring the total value of the otter cards on a base up to a target number) and simplify it, using cards with pictures of adorable otters.

Thematically, the “bases” will be playgrounds for otters (ponds, lakes and rivers). When you have enough otters in a playground to fill it up with fun, you score points for that playground.


Typically, I make quick and dirty prototypes for the earliest designs of my games. However, since Otters is all about adorable pictures of otters, I started using cards with art right from the beginning.

Now, I don’t personally own the rights to any otter photographs or illustrations, so I’m not going to show you what my prototype looks like here on my web site. Suffice it to say, I found adorable otter pictures online and popped them into a simple template.

Playtesting – you can help!

So far I’ve playtested Otters four or five times, with only small tweaks to the mechanics and rules along the way. It’s actually pretty much where I want it to be right now.

Otters is a quick (10 minute) 2-player game that’s easy for kids but still contains interesting decisions for adults. I might end up trying to expand it for 3 or 4 players, but I’m pretty happy with where it is as a 2-player game.

Furthermore, the only components are 54 cards. That’s it – no dice, no counters, no meeples, no board, not even some spare coins. Just a deck of cards. One of those cards is just a rules reference! I’m thinking I might ultimately make this game available via DriveThruCards or something like that.

If you’re interested in helping me to playtest Otters, send me an email at, and I’ll send you a PDF with the 54 cards of the game. I personally recommend printing them on regular paper, cutting them up, and dropping them into sleeves with Magic cards or something similar.

I’ll continue to post about my progress on Otters throughout November. I may be able to go from zero to game-available-for-sale during the course of the month. That, of course, will rely on me working with a graphic designer to make the cards look nice as well as acquiring the rights to some adorable otter photography (plus an alligator image as well as some ponds, lakes and rivers). I think this can be done, though. (If you have any tips on where I might be able to get such rights, let me know.)

Wish me luck!

Michael Iachini – Clay Crucible Games

@ClayCrucible on Twitter