Tag Archives: Game design

Boardgames in Blighty Kickstarter News – Darien Apocalypse designer notes from the Ragnar Bros

Darien Box top

Boardgames in Blighty Kickstarter News – Darien Apocalypse designer notes from the Ragnar Bros

It’s unusual to find real creativity and risk taking in the current board game industry, especially on kickstarter where there is a huge predominance of the “same old”. Quite frankly, I find little on kickstarter nowadays  that captures my attention. Thankfully there are a few indie publishers who really push the boundaries. One is Backspindle Games who I have had the privilege to work with. Another is the Ragnar Brothers who I have admired for quite some time and they have become friends.
As I’ve done before, I’ve published designer notes for their kickstarter projects and here is another of those posts for a game that I feel deserves your attention because it is quite interesting and let’s be honest, a risk for them as the theme is pretty obscure.
From the current project which you can find HERE, which has 17 days to go…
Scotland’s tragic attempt to found a New World colony; an extraordinary game experience. Can you defeat the Horsemen of the Apocalypse?


1698: The hopes of a nation set sail for the Isthmus of Panama. The Gulf of Darien promised much for the Kingdom of Scotland; independence from England and a chance to stand as equals with the great trading countries of Europe. However, the fate of this New Caledonia would be beset by famine, pestilence, war and death. In under 18 months this brave attempt to carve out a new frontier would end in disaster. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse turned their eyes to Darien and found it an affront to the order of nature. Mortal sinews and stamina would not prove sufficient to overcome the visitation of inhuman wrath and by early 1700 the only remnants of this outpost of humanity were overgrown graves and derelict huts. The Horseman had triumphed. 

Can you do better against infernal forces ? Can you build a thriving community that defies the Four Horsemen?

In this game for 1 – 4 players you will make that arduous journey to Darien and you will attempt to survive all that the Four Horsemen can send against you. Darien Apocalypse can be played cooperatively or competitively; succeed against the Horsemen with or in spite of your fellow adventurers – you choose. The fate of a nation rests in your hands!

If this doesn’t sound intriguing, I don’t know what does. Dang, you are trying to survive the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse!

Here is a note from Stephen Kendall of the Ragnar Brothers and I have put a link to the designer notes below, and put up images from the project. Please check it out as you may not want to miss out on this one!
“The Design Notes you see eventually peter out (there’s only so much a man can do!) as yet more minor modifications felt significant and needed a mention. I think the overall gist is actually far more important so don’t intend tidying these up any further.  We’re still making improvements as the rules come together – always been the way with the Ragnar Bros.”

Boardgames in Blighty asks… What do Non-Gamers REALLY want? The Magic 5 Needs of the Non-Gamer



Boardgames in Blighty asks… What do Non-Gamers REALLY want? The Magic 5 Needs of the Non-Gamer

Happy New Year 2015 to you all!

I’ve been giving some thought to some  game designs that I have been toying around with over the last year and have come to the conclusion that they would have very limited appeal. The truth, is that although I am interested in these designs, the audience just isn’t there to make them worth publishing.

What I have realised is that for a board or card game to achieve success, it has to meet a need other than my own interest. Luchador! Mexican Wrestling Dice has clearly struck a chord with quite a few people and hopefully we can broaden the distribution to the much wider audience of millions of WWE and Lucha Libre fans around the world.

From this experience, I believe that to be really financially successful, a game needs to appeal to the vast audience of non-board gamers who would be open to giving it a go. It needs to be really accessible.

How to do this… hmmm….

The first problem is the perception, self-inflicted I might add, that the general public, made up of a vast majority of non-gamers, has of us.


You know its true, don’t you?

We all have loads of non-gamers in our lives right? And indeed for some, the mere invitation to a board game night makes them feel like…


And we don’t get it really, let’s be honest…


But I suspect that the key lies with bringing on the non-gamers.  And I think that designers need to ensure that there is no disconnect between the game design and the user experience, especially for non-gamers.


But rather than assume, I decided to ask a number of Non-Gamers a simple question to see if I could discover the secret to attracting them to a game.

“When you can be persuaded to play, or you are attracted to a particular game despite not being a fan of games normally…What exactly do you look for in a board or card game that will attract you?”

Here is what they have told me so far…

For me it has to be able to be played within a 20 minute time frame, that’s from opening the box to finishing the game, rules need to be simple and yet allow complex play. The Builders: Middle Ages is a perfect example of a game that meets those requirement, Wings of Glory is another.

Non-gamer design fail
Non-gamer design fail

I like games that are funny or games that are in teams and they have to be simple!

Teamwork fail
Teamwork fail

One that requires a bit of thought


Ones that don’t embarrass but make you laugh. Thought is a good thing too.


Hardly any time to explain the rules. And people don’t take 20 mins on their turn.


Strategy and simplicity in rules….best board games I have played in younger years were Diplomacy and Risk.


Simplicity wins for me but also funny factor- like mad gab or apples to apples.


Other people’s turns are somehow interesting to me, perhaps influencing what I do next. Don’t like just sitting and waiting for someone to just be done with their turn. I like minimal rules to explain, easy to understand/catch on quickly. Laughing without humiliating.


I don’t play board games all that often. If I play them at all with family, our current favourites are “Articulate“, “Sorry!” and the “Pointless” board game. Oh, and we just discovered the “QI” travel version, complete with claxon. Of which the main appeal WAS the claxon!

Although I have a moderate amount of general knowledge stored in the deep dark cavern nestled between my ears, “Trivial Pursuit” doesn’t appeal as much as, say, “Pointless”, where each round varies from the last in how it is played. It helps if there’s a definite beginning and end to a game too.

A friend has introduced me to a few new little games along the way – some dice-based, some card-based, but all with a strategic element that helps give them extra depth! 

Games like “Sorry!” and “Ace of Spies” have plenty of scope for twists, things never quite work out how you expect them to. No. That’s not quite true. I expect to lose Ace of Spies  But the twists are good, it’s probably the only time it’s ever hilariously funny to lose something  And I do lose. A lot.


Simplicity. And I love it when even if you’re losing you can still have a chance to win.


I had success this holiday period with introducing my non-gamer dad to certain games. It was very clear the games he preferred were ones that had a theme or mechanism that appealed to his “hobbies”.


Interesting comments don’t you think? The main themes that pop out here are clear. For the most part, non-gamers are saying that they would be willing to play games that:

  1. Are simple and easy to play
  2. Can be taught quickly
  3. Have fast-playing turns and are short in duration
  4. Allow for some thought and strategy
  5. Allows you to laugh with, not at other players

I christen these the “Magic 5 Needs of the Non-Gamer”

In a crowded market place, it is very important to stand out. Especially if you want to attract non-gamers and the huge potential that they represent in terms of units sold. My sense is that too many games have been designed at the very least, ignoring the needs of non-gamers. I don’t know why this is but would guess that designers mostly design for personal taste and preference as has certainly been my own case.

Kickstarter has proved that many games can be designed and published independently. But I think that this is a false reading of success and very short term. Take a look at what has been successful on Kickstarter. Effectively, they have almost all been pitched and supported by niche audiences so they will definitely not become “evergreen” and will ultimately die away.

There are reasons why extremely few games have been really successful. Monopoly, Risk, Trivial Pursuit, Uno, Sorry and more recently, Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride, Dominion, Qwirkle and a few others have reached the heady heights of what I would consider to be really successful games. I would argue that their success has come because the they each have addressed the Magic 5 Needs of the Non-gamer as illustrated above.


So, if I want to design my definition of a really successful game, NOT just a game for a small niche just because it interests me, I need to think about and cater for the needs of non-gamers and I would suggest to any designer that they should do the same if they want real success.

Publishers need to be thinking about this as well or they will not be as successful as they would like for sure. Actually, come to think about it, Game distributors and retailers need to think more about how they attract non-gamers. And yes, we gamers need to think about this too. Those gamers who pooh pooh the idea of evangelising our awesome hobby in a way that attracts non-gamers are ultimately selfish and damage our hobby.

This doesn’t mean that there is no room for niche games. Far from it. We need them and want them of course. I love to play niche games that others design. And there is certainly a level of success in bringing a game to publication for sure.

But why not aim higher? For me, real success for Luchador and any future design will mean lots of people across the globe recognise them, have given them a go and have had fun. If many of them are non-gamers who have been introduced to gaming through one of my games, that, my friends, will be real success.

So the ball is well and truly in my court and and the same for anyone else who wants to design games with potential for what I would call, real success.  Game designing is a bit of a mystery to most people. Even myself…


But it is a fun and frustrating activity in equal measure. If I can design really successful games and this allows me the space to design games of personal niche interests, I will be a happy camper. So going forward, I will remember the Magic 5 Needs of the Non-gamer and design accordingly.