Chaos & Alchemy is on Kickstarter – and over 200% funded!

Big news for me from last week: My first game, Chaos & Alchemy, is now on Kickstarter from my publisher, Game Salute!

I know it’s odd that it took me five days from the go-live date to finally post this on my blog, but man, it’s been a busy five days! I still have people who tried Chaos & Alchemy at Denver Comic Con and who gave me their email addresses to be notified of the Kickstarter whom I haven’t emailed yet. I’ll get there, though.

Anyway, as you can see from the widget, the campaign is doing really well. We hit the $5,000 funding goal in under 15 hours, and we were 200% funded by the first weekend. Stretch goals are starting to be achieved!

I really hope we hit a bunch of stretch goals, because there are some seriously awesome things that I want to see happen in this campaign. Game Salute isn’t publishing all of them yet, but I know what they are, and I know that one of them in particular is really exciting.

So, if you’ve been following my blog and reading about the whole creation process and initial DIY publication of Chaos & Alchemy from last year, you can now get in on the complete, color illustrated edition. It’s just so pretty!

Sojourn from Chaos & Alchemy. Illustration by Enggar Adirasa. Graphic design by Dann May.

Sojourn from Chaos & Alchemy. Illustration by Enggar Adirasa. Graphic design by Dann May.

Thank you to those of you who have been following me all this way, and especially to those of you who are supporting me on this Kickstarter. It’s so exciting to know that my game is actually going to be in stores soon, thanks to your help. You guys rock!

Michael Iachini

Clay Crucible Games (@ClayCrucible on Twitter)

P.S. If any of you are interested in taking a gander at my simple co-op (or solo) mountain climbing game, tentatively called Everest, please drop me a line at

The importance of imbalance

Update: In my next post, I talk about how I fixed this particular problem for Alchemy Bazaar.

My current primary board game design project, Alchemy Bazaar, has been under development for about six months. I’ve personally conducted over 30 full playtest sessions, and I’ve had at least five other groups elsewhere conduct blind playtests. It’s been exhibited at a local convention, local game stores, at board game Meetups and elsewhere.

An earlier prototype of Alchemy Bazaar in action

An earlier prototype of Alchemy Bazaar in action

Throughout Alchemy Bazaar’s development, I’ve been taking careful notes of what works and what doesn’t. I’ve been especially looking for places where the game can be simplified (which I’ve written about before).

I’ve also had a keen eye on balance. This is a game with a wide variety of alchemical shops, formula cards and action cards. Many times, I’ve tweaked one of these that seemed overpowered or underpowered to bring it in line with the others.

Each playtest gave me fewer and fewer of these power level tweaks to make. I was approaching balance across the board. Success?

Well, as the game was becoming more balanced, it was becoming less fun.

This was brought into stark relief for me when my friend Nate, who lives in Seattle, agreed to try a blind playtest with his group there. His group is made up of pretty hardcore gamers, and when Nate called to talk to me about his experience, the news wasn’t good.

Now, part of the problem was a misunderstanding of the rules, and I’ve since clarified the rulebook so that this won’t happen again. But the main problem is that the players felt like their choices weren’t meaningful. If all of the shops were about as good as one another and the same was true for the formulas and actions, then every turn would be about the same as every other..

Alchemy Bazaar had become too balanced.


Nate had a hard time putting this into words, and it was fortunate that he was going to be visiting me in Colorado just a few weeks after this playtest in Seattle. When he was here in person, we were able to sit down and talk through things. Eventually I hit on this question of whether the game might be overbalanced, and he agreed that yes, that was it exactly.

Nate used to work as a designer on Magic: The Gathering, and he pointed out that this was a lesson Magic designers had to learn, too. It helps to explain why the existence of mana screw is actually good for the game; if you never have mana screw, you won’t have that sublime joy and excitement of curving out perfectly.

Look at any game that has great success; chances are it’s not perfectly balanced. I don’t mean that players have unequal chances of winning at the start; that’s a bad kind of imbalance, in my opinion. I mean that there are some options that are more powerful than others, and players will likely be vying over these and excited when they get them.

A great game will have more situational variety in power level. By that, I mean that some options will be really powerful in certain situations and less powerful in others. That’s a wonderful thing to have in games.

But if you balance your game to the point where every choice is about as good as every other choice, you’ve overbalanced. Choices feel meaningless at that point, which is the death knell for any game.

Make sure your game has some intentional imbalance. Even though this means players will sometimes be disappointed by getting a less-powerful option, this is worth it for the excitement of getting that awesome choice at just the right time. Game design is an art, not just a science; don’t forget that!

Michael Iachini, Clay Crucible Games

ClayCrucible on Twitter

P.S. My first game, Chaos & Alchemy, is going to be on Kickstarter from Game Salute very, very soon. It has an awesome amount of fun imbalance, I promise. 🙂

Receiving playtest feedback: Unpub and more

I have three stories about receiving game feedback to share today: Two Unpubs and one blind playtest.

Unpub 3 in Delaware: Chaos & Alchemy


I learned last week, to my surprise, that my first game, Chaos & Alchemy, was available to try at Unpub 3 this past January in Delaware. As you may know, Game Salute is in the process of getting ready to publish Chaos & Alchemy, and they were apparently at Unpub 3 with games in tow, including mine. I had no idea it had been available there until this past week, when John Moller, the Unpub coordinator, mentioned that he had some feedback forms from Chaos & Alchemy from that event. How cool!

Chaos and alchemy001 chaos and alchemy002

There were only two forms, but the players seemed to get the game easily and to have a good time with it. My favorite was the place on the second form where the player mentioned liking the game, and listed “Random / dice games” as his/her least favorite type of games. If you hate random/dice games and you still enjoyed Chaos & Alchemy (which is very random and uses lots of dice), then it’s a good game. 🙂

Blind playtest feedback: Alchemy Bazaar

I’m not going into a lot of detail on this one, but I sent a copy of Alchemy Bazaar to a friend in Florida for blind playtesting. That is, I sent a copy of the game with the rules and all of the components and asked my friend to try it with a group, without me providing any input beyond the rules as written.

Poster 2

There’s no easy way to put this; it didn’t go well. When I’ve taught the game in person, it’s been a big hit all around. But the blind playtest just didn’t work, and it was almost entirely because of the rules. Lesson learned: I need to get much, much better at writing rules. I’m working hard on this, and I’m confident that I’ll get the rules to where they need to be. If I have any blog readers who are interested in giving my updated rules a read-through and providing feedback, let me know in the comments! I’d love the extra set of eyes on the rules.

Unpub Mini Enchanted Grounds: Alchemy Bazaar

The most fun bit of playtest feedback I’ve gotten recently at Unpub Mini Enchanted Grounds, which was an event this past Saturday at my friendly local game store. I was basically the organizer of the event, as well as a demonstrator of a game. We had six games going at a time: five designers who were there for the whole six hours, and a pair of designers who traded off the first six hours and the last six hours (so, a total of seven games).

Things started off a bit slowly, and I played the role of host, talking to people who came into the store and shepherding them to games that they would likely enjoy based on their preferences. Eventually I got to start demoing Alchemy Bazaar, and had the chance to run a total of three games.

Alchemy Bazaar in action at Unpub Mini. Note the game board for my super-rough game Everest in the foreground.

Alchemy Bazaar in action at Unpub Mini. Note the game board for my super-rough game Everest in the foreground.

Two of those games were won by a guy who had first tried the game the week before at Tabletop Game Day. He liked it so much that he came back this week and played it twice more. Definitely a good sign!

The feedback forms from this event were very positive. One of the games ran a bit longer than I would have liked, and that was reflected in one of the feedback forms, but that’s fine; I can tweak the length easily enough.

Unpub Mini was a rousing success for all involved, I think. Lots of players came through the store to play lots of games. Some, like Mighty Heroes and the Monster Zone, were very polished in terms of production values and will soon be on Kickstarter. Others, like my own Alchemy Bazaar, were in earlier prototype stages, but still complete games. I didn’t get a chance to actually play any of the other games, but I at least got to talk to the designers and learn how the games work.

Frankly, I’m just happy to have met some other local board game designers! I think we’ll be getting together again in the not-too-distant future.

Dealing with feedback

Through this process, I’ve learned some lessons about productively dealing with playtest feedback. The positive feedback is useful because it tells you what elements of the game are working, so that you can be careful not to change those too much. The negative feedback is even more useful because it tells you where you need to focus your efforts. I’ll admit that I took the negative feedback hard and was feeling pretty down, but I eventually buckled down and fixed what was broken (or at least worked hard to fix it; I don’t know how fixed it is yet).

So, through it all I think I’m continuing to grow as a game designer. That’s the hope, anyway!

Michael Iachini, the OnlineDM

Clay Crucible Games

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

Unpub Mini Enchanted Grounds – Come try new games in Colorado!

This coming weekend on April 6, 2013, I will be participating in an event at my friendly local game store, Enchanted Grounds, called Unpub Mini. I’m actually the “host” of the event, which means I’m the one who reached out to the Unpub organizer, John Moller, to ask about having an Unpub.


Some of you might be wondering what the heck Unpub is. Unpub is short for “unpublished” and the main Unpub convention is an annual event held in Delaware early in the year. Unpub 3 took place earlier in 2013, and it seems to be a growing event where game designers bring their works in progress, demonstrate them for players, get feedback, and sometimes even talk to publishers.


Enchanted Grounds logo

The bad news for people like me is that Colorado (where I live) is quite far from Delaware (where the convention is held). The good news is that John is interested in there being a network of Unpub events taking place all over, and he tries to make it easy. Thus, when I heard him talking about Unpub and these Unpub Mini events on the Funding the Dream podcast, I decided to reach out to him to ask about bringing an Unpub Mini to Colorado.

Fortunately, I have a great game store within walking distance of my house (yes, you can hate me now). The owner was very interested in having an Unpub Mini event, so getting the ball rolling was a piece of cake.

We have six games registered for the event, all of which will be taught by their designers. I will be showing off the latest version of Alchemy Bazaar, my worker movement game. This game is far along in development, and I’m really excited about it. The preview page for Alchemy Bazaar on the Unpub site is here. Getting feedback from strangers is always exciting; I’m sure I’ll come away from the event with some good ideas.

Alchemy Bazaar Photo March 15 2013 Cropped high res

So, if you happen to be somewhere near Colorado this Saturday or you know people who are, come to Enchanted Grounds in Highlands Ranch sometime between 1:00 PM and 7:00 PM Mountain time to try out some brand new games!

Michael Iachini, the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

Simplify, Simplify – Streamlining game design

I’m still a relatively new game designer, so I’m learning all the time. One of the best lessons I’ve learned so far about good game design can be summed up by the famous quote from Henry David Thoreau: “Simplify, simplify.”

Walden Pond

Thoreau was talking about life in general, but I’m talking about game design. My design process tends to have me start with an idea, ponder it in the back of my mind for a while (Chaos & Alchemy had very little pondering, but my other games have had more), put a prototype together, and start playtesting. My first playtests should be solo, followed by a game with my wife (though I admit that I’ve typically subjected my wife to my embryonic game ideas more often than not). After some initial revisions, I’ve historically played with a core group of friends, including my good friend Nate.

Nate is a professional game designer. He has worked on some very well known tabletop games in the past, and he currently works on electronic games. I’m very sad that he and his wife recently left Colorado, where I live, because Nate has a terrific skill for a designer like me: He can see what needs to be cut out of a game.

I’ve almost invariably found that my games start off too complicated. Too many moving pieces, too many decisions, too many things to remember for the players. I want to make games that are easy to learn and intuitive to play, which means that I have to simplify.

Example 1: Chaos & Alchemy dice

Those of you who have played Chaos & Alchemy know the basic turn mechanic: You conduct an Experiment by rolling three six-sided dice. Each die that matches or beats the shared Fortune Die counts as a Success and each die that’s lower than the Fortune Die counts as a Failure. You also get one Free Success per turn. Each Success lets you either draw a card or play a card, and each Failure forces you to discard a card.


In the earliest prototype of the game, players were only rolling two dice. They also were allowed to draw one card for free and play one card for free each turn, in whatever order they wished. This allowed for a lot of flexibility, but it was hard to keep track of.

My first solution to this tracking problem was to create three tracker cards for each player: Draw, Play, and Roll. When you drew your card for the turn, you flipped the Draw card over. When you rolled your Experiment dice, you flipped your Roll card over. When you took your free play, you flipped your Play card over. It worked, but it was still fiddly.

Nate’s suggestion was to eliminate the Roll card, since it was usually easy to remember if you had rolled yet. Simple enough.

He then suggested getting rid of the Play card and adding a third die to the Experiment. There was still a free Draw, but we were down to one tracker.

Naturally, Nate then suggested eliminating that card as well… and I tried it. Ultimately, though, the most fun solution was to have the Free Success that I ended up using. It’s only one thing to track, and it uses another die, so it works just like other Successes. Also, as a fun side benefit, you get doubles (Chaos in the game) a lot more often with three dice than you do with two (4 out of every 9 rolls instead of 1 out of every 6), and rolling Chaos is cool.

Example 2: Alchemy Bazaar tile ownership

I know that I haven’t blogged in detail about Alchemy Bazaar very much, but it’s in active playtesting now and going very well. I’m excited about this one!

The basic idea is that players add shop tiles to an ever-growing bazaar of alchemical goods and formulas, then send their apprentices through the shops to get the things they need to conduct alchemical experiments. It was heavily inspired by Lords of Waterdeep (one of my favorite games).

Playtest game by my brother Danny, at the end of the game

Playtest game by my brother Danny, at the end of the game

In the initial version, whenever a player added a tile to the bazaar, they would put a small token on the tile to show that they owned it. Whenever another player’s apprentice would later use that tile, the owner would get a benefit.

It was fun, and it made sense to anyone who has played Lords of Waterdeep (its building tiles work the same way). After the first play-through with Nate, his only suggestion was to eliminate tile ownership.

Now, this required that I revamp the economy of the game somewhat, but Nate helped me see that the core fun of the game came from moving the apprentices around the bazaar. Shop ownership worked, but it was a bit of a distraction.

And you know what? Removing it hasn’t hurt the fun of the game one bit.

Example 3: Alchemy Bazaar walls

Another inspiration for Alchemy Bazaar was originally Alhambra, which has specific rules about the way the walls on the tiles can be played. Alchemy Bazaar’s shop tiles originally had walls, too, which created various passageways through the bazaar. It was kind of interesting, and it allowed for cards that would let players pass through walls or rotate tiles and such.

My first blind playtester for this game, as with Chaos & Alchemy, was my brother Danny, who lives in Pennsylvania. He was a real trouper, creating his own print and play version of the game, and most of his confusion came about with the rules for walls. Clearly, I needed to write the rulebook better.

Later, I took the game to Genghis Con, a local gaming convention here in Colorado, and ran seven games over the course of a couple of days. Feedback was fantastic, and I usually asked players what they thought about the walls. I was noticing that these games usually ended up with the walls not really coming into play very much.

I received two suggestions. One was to add more walls. If there aren’t enough walls to matter, then make more of them! This could work, and would make those tile manipulation cards more interesting, too.

The other suggestion: Do away with walls.

I decided to try the latter suggestion. And you know what? I don’t miss the walls one bit.

Yes, I had to get rid of the cards that only matter when walls exist, but that wasn’t a great loss. And now the game is much easier to teach; the wall rules took up more time in the explanation of rules than they were worth.

A game about moving around a bazaar could be very interesting with walls as a major component. But as it turns out, Alchemy Bazaar just doesn’t need them.

Keeping it simple

Now, there are certainly cases where an overly-simple design needs an extra mechanic or something to make it interesting. But it’s my belief that more often than not, what makes a good game design into a great one is the ability to simplify the game to the core of what makes it fun. With Nate no longer here in Colorado, I guess I’ll have to take that lesson to heart myself!

-Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

Alchemy Bazaar Name Game #1: Name those tiles!

The playtesting for my tile placement / worker movement game Alchemy Bazaar is coming along really well. I spent this past weekend at Genghis Con, a local convention here in Colorado, and all day Friday and Saturday were devoted to the board game room. I ran a bunch of tables of Chaos & Alchemy, leading to at least three people ordering the game from Noble Knight (the only place that currently has any copies of the original print run in stock).

I also ran seven games of Alchemy Bazaar, all of which went really well. I’ve made some new friends thanks to the game, and I have people offering to take prototypes to groups in other cities already. Excellent! I plan to test a little more myself, and then start making prototypes to send to playtesters in various locations (rather than making people go the print and play route to test my game).

Poster 1

In the mean time, I’ve been working with the art director at Game Salute to get ready for their publication of Chaos & Alchemy. He’s been a fantastic partner who really understands the feel of the game, and he has great ideas for more evocative card names. This has led me to realize something:

I’m good at designing games with fun mechanics. I’m not that great at coming up with flavorful names.

The Name Game Part 1

This is where you come in! I know that there are lots of creative folks out there, many of whom might have fun suggesting names that will be better than whatever I come up with.

I’m partly inspired here by my wife, who has a business making fiber for people who do spinning and felting and such. She’ll dye batches of fiber in all sorts of interesting colors and then put pictures up on Facebook to ask her friends and fans for name suggestions. They have lots of fun with it, so I’m trying the same thing!

Here’s the goal: Help me come up with evocative names for some of the tiles and cards in Alchemy Bazaar. I’ll put up a few examples, and you can leave your suggestions in the comments. Anyone who submits a name that I actually end up using in the finished product will get a “thank you” in the rulebook.


The idea of Alchemy Bazaar is that the players are rival alchemists who share an ownership stake in a bazaar of shops that sell and trade alchemical ingredients and related goodies (formulas, etc.). The players choose which shops will get to set up in the bazaar and then send their apprentices around to gather the things they need to do their experiments.

Right now the names are all very drab, placeholder names. I want some creative names that get the inspiration flowing!

Shop Number 1: Spirits Central

Spirits Central 1

This is a shop that gives a player two of the “spirits” ingredient whenever an apprentice uses it. Nice and simple. What would be a more interesting name? “So and So’s Spirit Shop?”

Shop Number 2: Formula Exchange

Formula Exchange 1

When an apprentice visits this shop, the alchemist discards one formula card and draws two new ones. New name?

Shop Number 3: Metal Trader

Metal Trader 1

At this shop, the apprentice gets to trade one “metal” ingredient for two ingredients of their choice (metal, gem or spirit) and one coin.

Thank you for your help!

I hope that some of you will find this to be fun. Feel free to leave your name suggestions here in the comments, or tweet them to me at OnlineDM1. Thanks!

-Michael the OnlineDM

Book review: Characteristics of Games

A few months ago, one of my closest friends gave me a copy of a book for my birthday: Characteristics of Games by Skaff Elias, Richard Garfield and Robert Gutschera.

The quick review: I absolutely love this book. If you have friends who are interested in game design, this would make an excellent gift for them.


The authors spend the book analyzing and comparing games, but doing so in a descriptive manner (Game X has this characteristic, which is different from Game Y) rather than a prescriptive manner (game designers should do Z for a good game). They use copious examples from a wide range of games: classic board games such as chess and go, traditional board games such as Risk and Monopoly, modern board games such as Settlers of Catan and Puerto Rico, card games such as Magic: The Gathering, video games such as World of Warcraft and Mario Kart, sports like basketball, and other “games” such as crossword puzzles and “game theory” games.

I like their approach to definitions; they intentionally avoid saying “X counts as a game, but Y does not.” Instead, anything that people often refer to a game is treated as a game, and sometimes things that people don’t really refer to as a game (such as crossword puzzles) are also treated as games. This makes for a wide-ranging book.

The book assumes that the reader has a passing familiarity with the games it mentions, but there’s also a useful appendix with capsule descriptions of each game. These descriptions also tell you how important understanding the game in question is to understanding the book.

One thing that annoyed me was that the authors made the understanding of the computer game Starcraft very important to understanding many of their examples. I know that it’s a well-known game and that it has a huge following in South Korea, for instance, but having never played the game myself I found myself frustrated more than once at how often Starcraft came up. Ultimately, it’s really about the real-time strategy (RTS) genre in general, with Starcraft as the specific example used, but that’s not a genre I’ve played. Oh well; my fault for not being “well-played” enough!

Quick hit thoughts on individual sections

  • Introduction: I liked the coining of the words “orthogames” (games played for fun with more than one player, with winners and losers) and “agential” (characteristics that arise from the way people play the game, which can differ across groups)
  • Heuristics: Hugely enlightening for me. A good game has ways for new players to quickly pick up some basic strategies to get better at the game, but also ways for more advanced players to continue to get better at the game. Players enjoy this.
  • Player Elimination: I like the way they put concepts into words here, talking about players being strictly eliminated (out of the game entirely), logically or “mathematically” eliminated (literally cannot win, but still in the game) and effectively eliminated (theoretically could win, but really, really unlikely). Players tend to dislike being logically or effectively eliminated even more than they dislike being strictly eliminated.
  • Politics: Any game where you can choose another player and help or harm them will have some degree of politics. This can be good or bad, but many players dislike games that devolve into pure politics. Kingmaking is closely related (and comes out of logical/effective elimination).
  • Rules: The concept of first-order rules (the basics of how the game works) and second-order rules (these don’t often come up, but are useful for the situations where you need them) was enlightening. A good rulebook will make the first-order rules very clear, and de-emphasize the second-order rules for clarity’s sake.
  • Standards: Good games have some familiarity. Being completely novel makes the game hard to learn. It’s okay for players to say, “Ah, this works like Mechanic X in Game Y.”
  • Snowball and Catch Up:  These are very much on my mind as a designer already, and this section was packed with goodness. Randomness is a catch up mechanic. Games with lots of catch up lead to a sort of self-deception where the leader might feel like she’s farther ahead than she really is after taking the catch up mechanics into account; this is not a bad thing! It’s fun for many players.
  • Randomness and Luck: A surprisingly hard concept to nail down; for many players, they know it when they see it.
  • Downtime: One huge insight for me here is that Monopoly handles downtime well. The best things happen to you when it’s NOT your turn – that is, someone landing on your property and paying you money. That’s a fantastic way to keep players engaged when it’s not their turn.
  • Combinatorial Game Theory: Mostly handled in an appendix, I mention this because I knew nothing about it before. I actually hold a Master’s degree in economics with an emphasis in game theory, and the appendix on “Von Neumann” game theory was nothing new to me. But the combinatorial game theory section was totally fresh.

Closing thoughts

As I said, I really love this book. It aims to be useful as a textbook for a game design class; I would be happy to teach from it. As a developing game designer, I learned a ton from reading Characteristics of Games, and it’s a book I plan to keep recommending and to keep re-reading from time to time as well. Kudos to Skaff, Richard and Robert!

-Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

Alchemy Bazaar scoring mechanic: Avoid analysis paralysis

Playtesting continues apace on my newest game, Alchemy Bazaar, and it’s going really well so far. I had a great session over the weekend with a friend who is also a game designer, and as I had hoped, he helped me identify something to simplify in the game (no more tile ownership to track). I’ve put together a new set of tiles and cards, cleaning things up and adding more flavor, plus more creative tiles. Fun times!

Playtest 4 in action, with Michael getting help from Buttercup the cat

In the mean time, I wanted to talk a little bit about the scoring mechanic I’m using for Alchemy Bazaar. As I’ve said before, Lords of Waterdeep was a big inspiration for this one, and both games have a similar mechanic of collecting “quest” cards (Formulas in Alchemy Bazaar) and completing them throughout the game for points.  In Lords of Waterdeep, these points are tracked on the game board.

For Alchemy Bazaar, there are two reasons I didn’t want to go with the “points tracked on the game board” approach. The first is that there is no game board; the “board” builds up over time as players add new shop tiles to the bazaar. That’s not a deal-breaker, though; if I wanted, I could include a small side board just for point tracking (a la Seasons and some other games).

The main reason I skipped the scoreboard is that I want to avoid “analysis paralysis” where possible. Alchemy Bazaar is intended to be more strategic than Chaos & Alchemy, but I don’t want it to devolve to the point of players spending 10 minutes staring at the board before moving. One factor that can contribute to analysis paralysis is knowing exactly how far ahead of or behind the other players you are. I want players to have a general feel for whether they’re doing well or not, but I don’t want a precise number on it until the game ends.

So, I’m going with point cards. Whenever you would score points, you draw a certain number of cards from the point deck (I”m calling them Knowledge cards in the current playtest, but they might end up as Wisdom or something else). These are very simple cards with a single number on each. There are an equal quantity of 1, 2 and 3 point cards in the point deck, plus a sprinkling of 5-point cards.

I’m loving this mechanic so far. It helps to head off analysis paralysis and adds the potential for someone who’s behind to get a bit lucky and draw better point cards. It also opens the door to mechanics that let you discard point cards of your choice (get the 1-pointers out of your hand in the hopes of drawing 3s and 5s). This hasn’t changed in the slightest throughout playtesting so far; I think it’s a winner.

If you’re interested in joining the playtest for Alchemy Bazaar when it gets beyond the alpha stage, drop me a line at I have some playtesters lined up, but I wouldn’t mind a few more!

-Michael the OnlineDM – Clay Crucible Games

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

Alchemy Bazaar: A new game design begins

Those of you who follow me on Twitter have probably seen some mentions in the past week of a new game I’m working on. My first game, Chaos & Alchemy, has been very successful (by my standards) and is in the process of moving toward publication by Game Salute.

My second design, Gods & Champions, was my NaGaDeMon project this past November, but it ended up not exciting me all that much, and I set it aside.

My third design, which I’m tentatively calling Alchemy Bazaar for now, is rolling along and I’m starting to playtest the alpha version. As of this writing, I’ve run three playtest games, and each one was better than the last.

Alchemy Bazaar is shamelessly inspired by one of my favorite games of the past year, Lords of Waterdeep. I love worker placement games (Agricola is still my all-time favorite game), and I really liked the buildings in Lords of Waterdeep. So, I decided to make a game that essentially takes those buildings and makes a whole game out of them.

In addition to buying buildings and doing worker placement, I also wanted to have the placement of buildings matter, somewhat like Alhambra but not quite. I wanted the players to build a common board, and then be able to not just place their workers, but also to move them around.

How does it work?

The game progresses through a series of rounds, each of which has two phases.

In the first phase the players are landlords of the bazaar. Each player gets to choose from three available tiles (representing shops that want to set up in the bazaar) and puts one on the board. The player collects some coins from the shop proprietor, who is eager to get a spot in the bazaar.

In the second phase, players get to move their tokens around the board, shopping in the bazaar. They’re trying to collect reagents (gems, metal and spirits) to complete alchemical formulas (similar to Lords of Waterdeep quests), which will give them knowledge. The player with the most knowledge at the end of the game wins.

The part I’m experimenting with here is the placement/movement rules for “workers” (alchemists and their apprentices). You can start by putting your token anywhere you want and using that shop. Then, you may pay a coin to move to an adjacent shop and use it. Then, you may pay two coins to keep going, then three, and so on. In the next round, your token starts wherever it ended the last round, and you begin your shopping by moving to an adjacent tile, then paying to keep going if you like.

My expectations

Unlike Chaos & Alchemy, I didn’t sit down and immediately create the game as soon as I had the general notion. I noodled on this one for a while. When I did start to create it, I expected that it would more or less immediately break down in play because of all the moving parts (tiles, formulas, actions, four currencies, movement on the board, etc.). I expected that I’d try an aborted game with my wife, then fix the fundamental flaws, then try again in a week, etc.

Happily, that hasn’t been the case at all. Much like Chaos & Alchemy, this one has been fun from the start. It’s only been played three times to this point, but those are some very encouraging games. The most recent game involved me flagging down a couple of strangers at the local game store, playing a game with them, seeing them have a great time, and only after the fact learn that they’re not even board gamers. That’s a very encouraging development!

Interestingly, I’m finding out how much fun good game components can be. After my first game, I replaced the Lords of Waterdeep cubes I had been using with some cool beads to represent the reagents. After my second game, I printed the tiles onto sticker labels and put them on matte board to create actual tiles instead of the cardstock I had been using. Such an improvement!

Next steps

I haven’t yet gotten to try the game with my favorite playtester, and I’m sure he’ll have some great suggestions for me. Also, the Formula and Action cards haven’t gotten a whole lot of thought yet, and I’m sure I’ll be able to refine them to include more of the fun stuff. But so far so good!

Watch the blog for future updates. And who knows? Maybe I’ll have a second board game out in the wild before long!

-Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

Dominion: Free online version, and my top 10 MOST favorite cards!

A while ago, I talked about the awesome web site that lets you play Dominion for free online ( and the 10 cards I least liked to use. I should point out that this online version does not yet have the Dark Ages expansion, so I’m only talking about cards released before that expansion.

Today I’ll mention my 10 most favorite cards to play with, the ones that make me giddy whenever they show up in the tableau. I get sad if my opponent vetoes one of these.

10. Grand Market. I love the way this card’s presence changes the incentives of the game. Now, you’re doing everything you can to get non-Copper income, because Grand Market is that good. Once you have a couple, they make it easier to get more. And kudos to you for finding alternate ways of getting them (Remodeling a 4-cost card, for instance). And of course, it’s a lot of fun to play, powering you through your deck with more money and more buys. (The original Market gets an honorable mention here.)

9. Platinum. Playing with big money is cool; simple as that.

8. Spice Merchant. Get rid of Coppers and get a fantastic choice of things to do; what’s not to love? I especially love games where you find yourself trashing Silvers or even Golds near the end of the game in the hope of drawing the awesome cards that you need. I’ll never buy more than one, but it’s just about my favorite opening hand purchase.

7. Steward. I love versatility. Steward is great for getting rid of your Estates and Coppers early in the game or getting you an extra $2 when you need it most. If you have enough extra actions, the card drawing can be potent, too. Interesting choices equals fun.

6. Peddler. With Grand Market / Market showing up earlier on this list, you can understand why I like Peddler. If you’ve played a bunch of cards and you have an extra buy, you get a free Peddler! And if you have a few Peddlers in the deck, it becomes even easier to get more. The fact that it nominally costs $8 also means that you can do cool things with Peddler and Remodel or Apprentice.

5. Alchemist. No, this isn’t here just because of Chaos & Alchemy. I just like the card. This is the one Potion card that I really enjoy (with University getting an honorable mention). There’s something satisfying about lining up your next hand as being five Alchemists, knowing that you’ll basically get to start with a ten-card hand. It can be a little annoying to be on the receiving end of this, admittedly, but that’s lessened with the online version of the game.

4. Bishop. I like cards that let me get Estates out of my deck, especially if they reward me for doing so. I also like that Bishop can be used late in the game to turn expensive cards into points. Again, interesting choices equals fun. And this one even lets your opponent make an interesting choice, too!

3. King’s Court. There was a time when this card just annoyed me because my opponents would do ridiculous things with it and take super-long turns. Then I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb. Doing ridiculous things is fun. I wouldn’t want every game to involve King’s Court, but I’m glad the card is out there to use from time to time.

2. Expand. Remodel gets an honorable mention here. Improving your deck is an early “aha” moment for most Dominion players, and Expand is a great way to do it. I also like that it goes from upgrading your money and Estates early in the game to changing your Markets into Provinces late in the game; this can make for some come-from-behind victory stories, which I always love.

1. City. I could put any of the Village variants in this spot (original Village, Mining Village, Worker’s Village, Farming Village, Walled Village, Border Village, even Native Village), but I have a weird thing for City. It starts off as an overpriced original Village, but then it gets really good… and then it gets ridiculous and ends the game. I’ll often find myself buying a City even if I know it’s not the “best” choice, just because the potential to draw eleventy zillion cards with tons of money and buys at the end of the game is so tempting. And it’s still a Village variant, which means you get to do more cool stuff on your turn.

So there you have it – my 10 most favorite Dominion cards. What are your favorites?

– Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter