DIY games and more

posted in: games | 0

I’ve written before about publishing your own game and believe it’s something that many people can do. Years of giant established “gatekeepers” who decide what you will like are quickly falling by the wayside. They will try to keep hold of their places (and profits) and make it seem that anything less than “real” published games are somehow inferior.

Thank goodness YouTube changed that for many incredible musicians. And Kickstarter has done this for musicians, authors, and game designers.

There will always be a place for these gatekeepers but, thankfully, they aren’t the only conduit between creators and individuals.

Today, if you want to share your music, your books, your games, and whatever else, you have the ability to do so. And if your stuff resonates with others, you’ll find success. You could be the next Catan or you could be very happy being out there to a few hundred people. Either way, I think creators and individuals win.

All of this to say: if I can do it, so can you.

I’m not anything big, by any measure, but it’s been very satisfying to get our games out there and for those of you with that game, book, song, or whatever sitting on the back burner, take another step – it doesn’t have to be world domination and it can be as big or small as you like.  =)

Maker Movement continues for Mint Tin Games with a heavy-duty aluminum DIY game display for our only brick-and-mortar game retailer Diversions in Portsmouth, NH


an interesting box, some sandpaper, high-gloss paint, laminated graphics, and mounting tape make a kitchy display box for Mint Tin Pirates and Mint Tin Aliens for our FLGS of Diversions in downtown Portsmouth


Diversions is a great FLGS and truly part of the local community. They host a zillion events including our game design meetups which is where Mint Tin Pirates truly got launched!

Thanks Diversions! =)

Mint Tin Games – Roller Derby Ref Approved

I am a volunteer ref for local roller derby leagues.

This means that when I show up to officiate I don’t find myself in a big locker room where I can hang my stripes up and stretch out. In fact, sometimes we are lucky to fit us all in where they have us.

Being an official at these games can lead to downtime for us between games and at half-time. It can be 10 minutes to over an hour depending on the events.

Well this leads into me saying how much I love mint tin games.

I have a gear box that I carry everything in. Shirt, skates, gear, extra wheels, tools, basically anything and everything I need in an emergency. So that doesn’t leave a lot of room for me to have some big box board game. The fact that these games literally fit in a mint tin means that I can store them without having to carefully reorganize everything to make it all fit.

Now to touch on another wonderful part and that is the time aspect of these games. There is a very little learning curve which is a plus because I don’t want to spend the whole half explaining this great game just to have to pack it all up.

Also with the rules modified to be able to stop at any time and be able to quickly do some quick addition and have a winner is beautiful.

So for example, this past weekend we were stuffed in a small hallway. Just enough rooms for a couple of chairs and standing/sitting room only. So with the 20 minute half, I was able to set up Pirates, explain the rules, go through a demo turn or two, and have 10 minutes of play which was enough to have the other ref I played win.

Rinse and repeat during intermission between the first and second game. Get the call that we have to report back to the track and it’s just pack it up, throw it back in my gear box, and no worries.

Let me say that this game is a blessing to me and refs in the locker rooms.

Thanks subQuark for the great games!

“Scooby” Drew Ziegler


Game Design Inspiration

posted in: games | 0

This week a tweet asked “What is a game that inspired you as a designer?”

I watched MythBusters’ Zombie Special with Michael Rooker with a segment titled Dead Heat exploring how likely you could “escape the horde” in varying densities of zombies.

I got a sense of angst no zombie movie ever evoked and wondered how I could convey that feeling.

Non-player characters can be programmed in OpenSim and Ener Hax built an excellent representation of Kowloon Walled City, complete with labyrinths and mazes, that would make a great zombie role-playing sim. =)

I sketched out the elements that created my angst and realised it was beyond my tech skills to do this online. Plus OpenSim severely limits who could explore it and costs $100 a month to host. =(

Around that time, I received Zombie Dice and loved its simplicity. I bought a copy for my daughter and made brains from Sculpey clay to use as counters.

That got me thinking about making a board game instead of something online. =)

ZOMBALAMBA was born, laboured over, prototyped, and play-tested.

A nifty “AI” for zombie movement, very little in-game text, hex tiles for the board, and multiple play modes gave it some variety. I was pretty impressed with myself. *rolls eyes* =p

The prototype even fits into a mini prepper camo bug-out bag (ripped off, err, inspired by Bananagrams).

I wanted it produced domestically but my prototype cost is $26 per game!

A Kickstarter and offshore production with someone like Panda is an option but I have issues with my game made in a country with no free elections, no freedom of speech, and possibly some deplorable work conditions. There’s a reason it costs so much less to make products offshore – cheap labour and little regulation.

I’m not terribly bothered that 99% of games are made like this – I just couldn’t choose this for mine.

So I started looking at alternatives to shave costs. There aren’t many US or Canadian companies that can do this, so I decided I could do it! o_O

And why not?

I’m not scared of doing menial labour and am no primo uomo (well, I may be snobby but I don’t mind saying I had to look up that phrase). =p

Rather than $4 for a custom bag, those wide-mouthed gripper jars are 69 cents . . .

Digging deeper into box alternatives, I ran across mint tins and while ZOMBALAMBA won’t fit in an Altoids’ sized one – it was too late – I had the game design bug.

It’s like a zombie bite – I had no choice but to create a game. Must make games!

I had no idea what but serendipity saved the day.

I went to lunch with Steve, a long time tabletop gamer, and I had two meeple and a pair of dice in my pocket (I mean, who doesn’t?). While waiting for burritos I tossed them onto the table to pass the time.

That day, we challenged each other to come up with a highly portable quick playing pirate-themed game.

A few weeks later we both had prototypes and attended our first game design meetup.

I was ready for full-on blind playtesting with 3 copies of my game. I had no idea what to expect and wanted to be prepared (I may be a tad OCD and manic).  =D

The meetup group graciously played my game and jotted down notes on the instructions. I took all their feedback to heart and Mint Tin Pirates came into existence! One suggestion was to Kickstart a pair of games so I took that to heart too! =)

Maybe it was naive to think I could design and publish a pair of games but I watched a lot of Rhado, devoured anything Jamey Stonemaier wrote, studied other kickstarters, and did it one small step at a time.

I think anyone can do the same – it doesn’t have to be the next Catan – just share what you enjoy and others will like it too.

The blog is back

A few weeks back something happened to our old iliveisl blog with HostGator. A comment-related PHP script caused our server CPU usage to go through the roof. I’m not savvy enough to know how to tell what it was let alone fix it.

HostGator “restricted” the hosting account until it was fixed – that meant none of the 20 sites we maintain were online, including

This happened Friday night right after the Board Game Blender – Tiny Games video came out with a mention by Tiffany B. of Mint Tin Aliens and Mint Tin Pirates (YouTube link starting at 22:47).

I couldn’t afford to spend days figuring this out so I grabbed hosting at GoDaddy to get back online quickly. The Board Game Blender video drove many sales of the Mint Tin Games (thank you Tiffany!). =)

HostGator’s been great for years and they were very responsive via Twitter but, with little server expertise, I felt stuck. It was easier, for me, to rebuild on a new host and get subQuark fully functioning by morning.

All that to say the blog is back and while older posts have missing photos, I can start blabbing again! *ooh, lucky world!*  =p

Oh, since the commenting thing trashed it all, I disabled commenting here. Feel free to chat on Twitter or Facebook as I’ll connect these posts to both. =)

Quick games and Kickstarter update:

Mint Tin Mini Apocalypse is pretty solid and the incredible Nick Shaw has created two solo variants, a three player variant (only needs one game), and a four player variant (uses two games in a team format).

His variants are absolutely fantastic! They extend the game, add play value, variation, and a lot of fun. Thanks Nick! =)

We’re still looking to Kickstart Mint Tin Mini Apocalypse for $9 (shipping is US $0, Canada $5, World $10). That level will include a mini poker card poster with Ing’s fantastical interpretation of the game.

There will be a Deluxe reward with a themed mini playmat, a scoring journal with a “badging” element, and maybe even a full colour instruction book to highlight Nick’s instructions (yes, they are THAT good!).

Also my daughter-in-law Michelle, who is a music professor at Boston University, will create a soundtrack for the game! Fun! =D

Mint Tin Mini Apocalypse is nearly done and I’m still futzing with my kooky dream of hand embossing the lids (3D plastic print below).

However, Mint Tin Villagers is being stubborn. The peasants are truly revolting. =(

The first part of that game, cooperative worker placement, plays fairly well but the competitive endgame needs tweaking. Time will work it out. Just need to be patient and playtest, playtest, playtest. =)

That’s it for now – go have fun! =D

Copyright for Games

posted in: Mint Tin Games, uncategorized | 0

I don’t know much about copyright and what I do know is what I think I know. =p

As soon as you write something on any tangible medium (paper, web, napkin) it is copyrighted without the need to use the circle C (©) or provide any form of copyright notice. Most countries operate in this manner and copyright lasts your lifetime plus a number of years. In most countries, it lasts 70 years after your death.

Games are odd in that game mechanics can’t be copyrighted.

You can make your own version of Catan, say Mint Tin Matan, and exactly copy the game mechanics. BUT . . . you can’t copy the art or instructions verbatim.

Copyright protects your instructions and your images. You don’t have to do anything to invoke that copyright protection . . . in theory.

“Publishing” your game, even just one play test version printed at home and stuffed into some box is enough to claim copyright.

However, the challenge comes in proving when you copyrighted your game. The poor man’s copyright of mailing it to yourself doesn’t hold much water because it doesn’t prove you created it.

If you’re ever challenged over your copyright, you may need to legally defend it. If you ever want to go after someone who completely stole your work, proving it’s your copyright may require a legal court case. Going to court costs big bucks.

In the US, and many countries, you can formally register your copyright which makes your claim much stronger in court. A registered copyright is considered prima facie in court and that means you’ve met the burden of proof that it’s yours.

In the US it costs $35 and can be done almost entirely online here. While it doesn’t stop anyone from copying your game, it might give you a little peace of mind, plus you’ll send a copy of your game to the Library of Congress. Kind of neat to think your game will be forever archived. =)

In lieu of a formal registered copyright, adding your game to the BoardGameGeek database would be compelling in proving it’s your game.

Mint Tin Cancarssonne anyone?  =D

Kind of cool that these will be there for as long as the Library of Congress exists.


Can and Do isn’t Can-Do

posted in: games | 2

A can-do attitude is awesome but . . .
. . . there are many things I think I can do but only some things I know I can do.




For example, I think I could create a full size tabletop game. I have one fairly far along called ZOMBALAMBA.

It has custom hex tiles for the board, 29 zombie pawns, 6 player layout, a bunch of dice, and a nifty zombie AI. Well, I think it’s nifty because it uses a 1-2-3-twice d6 (ooh). =p

That game got stalled because of the custom hex tiles and my internal battle between what I can do and what I do do (lol, do do – I’m such a little kid!). =p

I’m pretty sure I could work with Panda or Cartamundi to make this game but the logistics scare me – big manufacturing quantities.

But . . . thinking within my “I do” circle resulted in Mint Tin Pirates and Mint Tin Aliens. The logistics of those tiny games seemed possible to me.

Can I think in bigger terms? Certainly. Can I do the bigger thing? Not so certain.

So many people have awesome ideas, I mean really amazing, for great games but stop short for many reasons.

For me, it was the logistics of big numbers and custom components.

I overcame it by scaling way back on custom components. I knew I could get custom cards printed – even just one deck. The rest was just using normal things – dice, meeple, and tins.

All things I knew I could do.

Mint Tin Games are nothing like ZOMBALAMBA, but maybe I’m a step closer to tackling what seems too difficult.

What about you? =)

Kate kicking my butt (again) - Mint Tin Mini Apocalypse - no custom components.
Kate kicking my butt (again) – Mint Tin Mini Apocalypse – no custom components.

PR pics of Mint Tin Games

Our mint tin manufacturer asked for some game photos to include in their next printed catalog. Rather than upload them to Flickr (I never remember my log in credentials) I figured the blog would work fine. The photos are of Mint Tin Pirates and Mint Tin Aliens plus a few of the prototype for Mint Tin Mini Apocalypse.

Anyone can use these under a Creative Commons license (CC BY 4.0) and simply click on the image to launch the full-size one in a new window.
















Self-publishing games – pros and cons

posted in: games, mini apocalypse, publishing | 2

In the book industry, it’s very easy to self-publish. With a Word or Google document, you can sell on Amazon in 48 hours as a Kindle Direct book! o_O

Doing a paperback book is pretty straightforward too.

Amazon’s CreateSpace is easy and inexpensive (under $50 including an ISBN number). With a bit more effort, you can become a “real” book publisher and use Lightning Source presses to print your book. This press prints many mainstream publishers like Penguin. They print around 16 million books per month.

What about games?

There’s a negative stigma with self-publishing but we see that falling away in industries like music.

The “gatekeepers” – music producers, book publishers, and even game publishers – don’t like self-publishing. It cuts into their pockets.

Did you know that the typical game designer gets 5 to 10% the MSRP? And some only 3%!

In book publishing, authors get around 10%. Doesn’t matter if you’re J.K. Rowling or me.

Back to the stigma. One reason it’s negative is that, without gatekeepers, a lot of crap gets published (books, music, and games – movies too). But that also means some good stuff never gets published. There are many stories of things that were thought not worthy to publish which later proved to be successful (Harry Potter, for example).

Apart from wading through loads of crappy published stuff, it’s also hard for people to discover self-published things.

I love going to my friendly local game store, Diversions PG, and looking at their selection of games. But even though they make me feel like a rock star and Mint Tin Pirates and Mint Tin Aliens was developed in the Meetups they host, they’ll never carry those games. =(

They don’t have the capability to deal with me or the three others from our Meetups that have self-published games. It’s easier to deal with a few game distributors (ordering, invoicing, returns) rather than a zillion self-publishers around the world.

Apart (again) from crappy stuff and difficulty in finding decent self-published games, there’s another reason the self-publishing stigma is negative. There’s a lot of crappy stuff made with crappy components!

This last point is one that I love about self-publishing. I control, to an extent, the quality of the components we use. The selection of components, cards, etc, is more limited than I like, but at least there are choices.

I’m proud to only use Chessex dice for example. We could have gone with cheaper dice and saved a few cents per game but that would affect the number of games we donate. Chessex came through with a discount that let us double those donations! A cheaper vendor would not have stepped up like that. *yay Chessex!*

Here’s a last example (woof, clearly a soap box issue for me!) – the instructions for Mint Tin Mini Apocalypse.

Making this game in a small mint tin is a driving factor in its design. But that’s not an excuse to use crappy stuff.

So far it has ten mini meeples, one standard meeple, five 12 mm dice, and two cubes. There isn’t room for much more but it does need instructions. Game play is simple and we could say “go to to see the rules” but that doesn’t seem right for a tabletop game, regardless of its size.

Since everything is used in the game, including the tin itself, all its contents will get dumped out every time it’s played.

The instructions will be constantly removed and repacked. Handling like this, especially in a restaurant setting since this is how the Mint Tin Games came about, means a good chance that they’ll get wet and maybe even greasy (not to say game peeps eat greasy food!). *yum, a burrito today sounds excellent for lunch* =p

That means something other than normal glossy paper. Lo and behold, synthetic paper! A little research and here’s one that feels and folds like normal paper but stands up well – Ruff N Tuff Non-Tear paper!

It’s ten times more expensive than glossy paper and hard to find a printer that will work with it AND cut/fold it to the size we need. So in true subQuark spirit, we’ll just print it ourselves and do the cutting and folding. Won’t be as fancy as a real publisher since I only have a black ink LaserJet, but it should last many, many plays.

This choice on something as mundane as instructions is only possible with self-publishing. And it’s the apocalypse after all, so ya just need good paper! =D

Happy New Year everybody! =)

2014-12-31 13.47

Mint Tin Pirates backstory or Dave’s Thoughts

posted in: Mint Tin Pirates | 1

Something that’s come up a few times since Mint Tin Pirates launched is what’s the story in my head for it.

It’s as simple as two pirate galleons crossing paths in the high seas. The ships are classic 16th century Spanish galleons as often depicted in pirate movies. But they could be French Corsairs or any ship you like (even steampunk ships).

For the game, the ships aren’t tied together and maybe 10 yards apart. A warm breeze blows and gentle sea swells are interrupted by an occasional abrupt wave. I think back to when I was 10 and my father had a 32 foot red snapper fishing boat and we’d go way out in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast.

The 1600s saw the first European use of the hand mortar and cast iron bombshell (grenade). I picture a hollow cannon ball filled with black powder with a fuse. They weren’t sophisticated like modern grenades and their damage could vary greatly. I also picture these often as used by Wile E. Coyote.

I imagine 12 pound cannons on these ships. A ship wouldn’t have many 12 pound cannons because the weight of the cannon balls and the cannon itself; this was an important factor for sailing speed. Eight pound cannons were more common, but I wanted these to be less in number with conservative use (takes more black powder and slower to load) but they pack a huge punch if they hit their target.

The flintlock pistols are just single shot weapons and it wasn’t uncommon for a pirate to have several on them ready to go. I picture a pirate shooting these and handing them to someone hiding below the rails who’s reloading them as quickly as possible. That could result in poorly packed shots and maybe even the ball rolling out!

As a young teenager, my dad gave me a .50 caliber percussion cap brass derringer replica.  He never intended me to actually shoot it but I made an oak bullet mold, melted lead tire weights and made a dozen balls for it!  I somehow obtained percussion caps (these came about immediately after flintlocks but work in the same manner), some black powder, and wadding (this holds the powder and then the ball in place).

I shot at an aluminum pie tin and quickly saw how incredibly inaccurate a non-rifled pistol is! Rifling makes a bullet spin as it travels down the barrel and makes it fly straight (I knew a bachelors in physical science would pay off some day!). =p

The knife, or throwing dirk in this case, is a balanced knife designed to be thrown with some accuracy. Again, as a kid, I had some throwing knives (what the heck kind of environment was I in! sheesh!). They were small knives and not like today’s tactical knives, more like carnival sideshow ones. I laced leather shoelace handles onto them and used to imagine I was a pirate (I was probably doing this when I was 10 to 12 years old!). o_O

Throwing a knife to hit a target isn’t so hard, but having the point hit, and not the handle, is a learned skill. Lots of practice and some luck. Imagine doing that on a rocking boat with some sea spray and you’d have to be mega pirate to hit anything!

So now you see my perspective on these weapons, mixed with a little naive experience.

In Mint Tin Pirates, one card represents that you have the weapon and the second card represents it’s ready (ready to light for the bombs, loaded for the cannons or guns, and sharp for the knives).

The card pair represents weapons ready for use now.

The dice roll represents the luck inherent to the weapon and the conditions at hand (waves, sea spray, wind).

The bomb fuse could fall out, you could miss with your throw, the enemy might kick it away, or they could move out of the way.

The cannon could be packed too tightly and blow up, the cannon could miss with the pitch of a wave or not enough or too much powder, or the powder could be wet.

Naval trivia: The British Royal Navy traditionally sailed with Plymouth Navy Strength Gin (57% versus 41.2%). It’s said that even if this gin spilled on gunpowder, the powder would still burn! Now that’s quite a navy! *not intended as an endorsement to drink while playing Mint Tin Pirates*=D

Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves!

For the pistols, similar issues and luck exist as the cannons. They were very inaccurate at more than a few feet and, in the heat of battle, reloading was sloppy at best.

The cannon has high odds of success (wide range of dice values) but it’s devastating when they miss and they take longer to untie, roll back, clean, reload, roll forward, re-tie, aim, and then fire (thus more scarce in the deck).

Bombs are broadly damaging in their explosion, so luck favours them a bit but not as much as cannons.

Knives and pistols could, conceivably, be in good supply and more accessible, but their accuracy stinks, so the odds are lower for success.

Now onto more imagination – Davy Jones’ Locker and the treason card.

That’s pretty much pure Caribbean voodoo and in staying with the pirate meme. Davy Jone’s Locker is the watery grave a fallen pirate is condemned to but, as in Hollywood movies, there are ways to get those pirates back! But that has a lot of unknowns and needs luck to pull off your evil voodoo ways. =p

The treason card – there are only two in the deck because they can really turn the tide (pun!) of the game. But I thought it should be there because a pirate might think the riches or captain of the other ship is better. And honestly, as pirates, how much loyalty would they have?

I hope that sheds some light on the attacks and the heavy luck in Mint Tin Pirates.

In the heat of a sea battle with old tech weapons – luck abounds! But you can still play strategy and, as some reviewers have said, the strategy can be deep, but that’s all in your hands. =)

Now about that gold and the ghost! Without either, I think the game stays true to the pirate meme and is all about resources at hand and a good dose of luck.

But Brett from our local game design meetup said I needed something for snake eyes and he wanted a kraken to be released! Snake eyes is rare with only a 2.8% chance of being rolled. But I did like that something special should happen for doubles, for what could be seen as good luck smiling down on a band of misfit pirates (as opposed to non-misfit?).  =D

What could that luck be? A gold treasure maybe? It adds something to fidgit with while playing and does favour the bearer with more resources in the form of an extra card. This fits in my head anyway (lol, lots of room for cubes in there!).

The pirate ghost is a total nod to Scooby Doo! And helps, a little, with a potential runaway leader. With such a short play game, a runaway leader isn’t a big concern, but that’s my attempt at addressing it.

As a ghost, I first wanted weapons to not have the same affect, after all, it’s a ghost!

But . . . that would mean complicating the already minimal rules (and space for the rules). Since it’s paranormal, I took creative license and figured that a two card handicap would help represent the challenges that being a ghost might present. And it should truly be a last measure (although Kate beats me regularly with the ghost and that sucks). =D

Oh, another thing about Mint Tin Pirates, the cannon doing damage to the ship is a way to keep the game from going too long. Without the damage, a game could go long as the Sorry Man, I Farted crew demonstrated with a 30 minute battle. But I think those guys (and Katie) are true pirates (or reincarnated ones) that push the strategy of the game to the max.  They also created the 4 player variant – talk about fantastic imaginations! =)

The game was balanced to play, most of the time, without the need to reshuffle the deck.

But if that is too fast, you can play the sea dog variation that Kate and I sometimes do. I also call it the injured or wounded pirate but yelling out “Avast, tis Sea Dog Pirates sailing these seas!” is fun (and geeky. This almost always need a reshuffle of discarded cards and you play each meeple with two positions.

The pirate meeples start in the standing position and lay down when first wounded (the treason card takes a laying down pirate first, if possible). This doubles the numbers of hits you can take. You can also count cannon hits twice by counting down and then back up the damage track.

For me, Mint Tin Pirates is about light play that let’s me be part of the surroundings and chat with Loco Coco’s wait staff say and answer “Yes!” when they ask if I want guacamole on the side! =)

Don’t forget Nick’s solo version: Mint Tin Pirates – The Ghost Ship and the 4 player Mint Tin Pirates: The Multiplayer Experience by Sorry Man, I Farted (2 games needed).

This post started as an answer to what was I thinking for this game and I’ll end by sharing what I’m thinking next . . .

Mint Tin Pirates: Pizza Party Edition

Six player, big hinged tin, an island with treasure, and coves to do ship repairs!

Form alliances, betray others, and be a scurvy dog! Happy Holidays All!

2014-12-24 08.33

Quandary – use mini cards to keep cost down or go full-size poker cards and full-size dice? *pizza not included* =D

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